The boy, Toadmila decided, could be called a man. For one thing, he was heavy enough. For another, he was to turn twenty-one in a few months, as she remembered when she finally recognized him. Recognizing him should not have been a problem. She'd seen his portrait at the Academy, though he had been just a boy in that painting. Large blue eyes, golden hair, and a face that had looked young for his age even as a child, as if the pampered life he enjoyed had kept him younger, careless, carefree. The pampered life of a prince. The King's son. The King's only child. As she placed him in her bed and released the spell that had carried him there, Toadmila thought that the childlike face suited him.
She wished his men would come looking for him, so she could hand him over to them and be rid of him. She wished he'd at least awaken, so he could leave on his own. But he didn't awaken. Toadmila thought of all the usual methods of waking up a man in his condition – cold water and a vigorous slap or two applied to his face – and found them unfit for a prince. So she decided to let him sleep. She brought a chair from the main room and sat in it, preparing herself for a long wait.
It was morning when she fell asleep. One moment she saw the first rays of light touching his hair and making it shine, the next she was back at the Academy, in the portrait gallery, trying to read the plaque under the painting of a cheerful little boy with golden hair, the plaque that had his name on it. The letters made no sense. They kept shifting before her eyes, and she suddenly realized that she was asleep.
She woke up with a jolt. On the other side of the room, a pair of large blue eyes were staring at her. When she jumped to her feet, sending the chair rattling to the floor, he screamed.
There was an awkward moment as they both stood at each other in silence. Fortunately, Toadmila's lessons at the Academy had been meant to prepare her for any situation. She quickly performed a perfectly practiced curtsy, and he seemed to relax.
“Good morning, Your Highness,” Toadmila said, with her head bowed, still trying to remember his name. “Does your head hurt?”
“Did you cast a spell on me, witch?” he answered, leaning his head back and smirking.
“You fell off your horse,” Toadmila pointed out, raising her head and her chin a little too high for good manners. “And if you aren't in any pain, I'm sure you can find your way back.”
She raised her wand and gave it a little swish and the door opened slowly. The prince's grin fell and he shook his head as if to wake himself up. He grabbed the side of the bed with both hands, and pulled himself up slowly.
“How dare you speak to me like this?” he asked haughtily, when his feet were on the floor. “Do you know who I am? I'm the Crown Prince! That means I'll be a king one day.”
“That only means you'll be an orphan,” she answered. “I already am one, it's nothing to brag about.”
He stared at her, still shaking his head.
“Are you all right?” she asked with some interest.
“I feel strange... dizzy...”
“I have a potion for that,” she answered perkily.
She was out of the room in an instant, and she was back just as quickly with a small jar containing something green and slimy.
“This will be one gold coin,” she said with her best professional smile, presenting the slime to her royal guest. “And you must drink it all in one go.”
“Everything that's on the king's lands belongs to the king,” the prince said, reaching out an unsteady hand. “I don't need to pay for anything.”
“Then you don't need to take the potion,” Toadmila said,pulling her hand back, and the jar with it, out of his reach. “I've worked for this, and even the King pays for the work of his servants.”
The prince stood up, his legs wobbly, but his face menacing. He took one unsteady step towards her, then another. Toadmila didn't flinch, fixing him with her round, green eyes. He was now so close that he could have yanked the potion out of her hand. But his legs were getting shakier. He swayed for a moment, then fell, bumping his chin against her shoulder and grabbing her with both hands to steady himself.
“One gold coin,” Toadmila repeated coldly. “And you shall let go of me, your Highness.”
The prince groaned and clung to her a little tighter.
“Ten gold coins,” he said, “and you'll escort me and my horse back to the palace.”
Toadmila raised her wand and the prince found himself flying backwards. He hit the wall behind him and fell on the bed.
“Ten gold coins and I'll find your horse and escort the two of you to the palace,” Toadmila said, handing him the potion.
He took the jar and swallowed the green slime without wincing, a feat which even Toadmila found exceptional. For a few moments, the potion worked its magic through his body, making him shake from every joint. When it was over, he looked at her with clear eyes, and a confident smirk on his face.
“I'll go find your horse,” Toadmila said, taking back the empty jar.
She turned to leave, but he grabbed her hand and pulled her back.
“Your name, witch. I can't call you 'witch' forever.”
She pulled her hand out of his and made another practiced curtsy.
“Toadmila Wartly, resident witch of Grimwood Forest,” she said.
“I'm Gilbert,” he said, reaching out to shake her hand.