“I owe you, Lefroy,” Gilbert said when the three of them were out of the great hall. “I don't know what you're planning, but I owe you.”
Toadmila wanted to say something about the ten gold coins that he owed her, but she turned to look at Lefroy, waiting for his answer. She didn't know what he was planning either. And she didn't like it.
“My only wish is to serve Your Highness,” Lefroy answered, bowing his head.
“The way you serve my father, wrapping him around your little finger? No, thank you,” Gilbert noticed, wrapping an arm around Toadmila's shoulders. “When I'm king, I want an adviser who can look me in the eye and threaten me and let me think for myself.”
“I'm sure Miss Wartly fits that description perfectly,” Lefroy said coldly, the mellifluous voice he'd used before the king, giving way to a sharp edge. “However, in order to avoid war, it is best if kings don't think for themselves too much. It might not be the case if they didn't think of themselves too much, but kings...”
“Kings have the right to rule over their people as they see fit,” Gilbert pointed out, “even if that means to send them to war. For the greater good.”
“To the peasant who dies in the fray, there is no greater good than peace,” Lefroy said. He'd straightened his back and he was looking Gilbert in the eyes with fierce determination.
For a moment, prince and adviser stared at each other menacingly. Then a cheerful voice broke the silence.
“Annoying as always, Lefroy!”
They turned to see Julian, his frown replaced by a playful smile.
“I've come to save you, Gills,” he said, clasping a hand on the prince's shoulder. “Lefroy must be boring you to death. And I have a devilish need of archery practice. I thought you'd like a contest. Whoever wins gets to name Delia's puppies when she has her first litter. It should be sometime this week, if I know puppies.”
“Delia is Julian's favorite hound,” Gilbert said, turning to Toadmila, his face shining with excitement.
Lefroy stood frozen in place, his face ashen, his concerns already forgotten by the prince.
“Do you like dogs, Miss Wartly?” Julian asked, as Toadmila was fighting to extract herself from under Gilbert's arm.
“I prefer dragons,” Toadmila answered, shoving Gilbert away and rearranging the folds of her uniform.
“Dragons!” Julian exclaimed. “Now that's a pet fit for a king's adviser. Perhaps Lefroy should get one too.”
“Familiar,” Toadmila pointed out. “Witches don't have mere pets, we have familiars. And perhaps if I were to get my ten gold coins, I could have one too.”
She turned to Gilbert as she said the last words, and he smiled, as if ten gold coins were nothing.
“The royal treasurer will see that you get your gold coins, Toady, don't worry about it,” he said quickly.
“And the servants will show you to your rooms, Miss Wartly,” Julian added, steering Gilbert away with the hand he still had on his shoulder. “I hope we'll meet again at dinner. Until then, I must kidnap our prince, or he'll be bound by his tedious duties and risk death by yawning. Have a good day, Miss Wartly, it's been a pleasure meeting you.”