For the sake of convenience, the wizard's tower was once again attached to the main building of the palace. A long, twisted staircase lead to the room at the very top, where Lefroy kept his books and his crystal ball. Toadmila studied the rows of shelves packed with old volumes bound in gilded leather, trying not to look impressed.
“You know this isn't going to work, Wartly,” Lefroy said, taking the crystal ball off a shelf and placing it carefully on the round table in the middle of the room. “The crystal only tells you what you already know.”
Prince Gilbert looked at him intrigued.
“How so?” he asked.
“There's no magic for telling the future,” Toadmila explained, “because the future isn't decided until the moment it happens. Scrying devices can show you the present and the past, as long as the image you're trying to see isn't hidden or clouded by a different spell. But for telling the future, one can only gather data from the present and make a calculated guess about what is going to happen. If you see a villager leaving his home and heading for the woods, and he's not carrying an ax or a bow, then he's not going to get firewood and he's not going hunting, so it's easy to assume that he's headed for the local witch. And if you hear him talk of an ailment, then that's what he's going to the witch for. You can predict when he'll arrive by how far he is and by how fast he's going. You can predict what he wants by the look on his face, by how he drags one leg or both, by a lot of things.”
“But you can't predict a war, or how to avoid that, if you don't have any knowledge of what's going on in the enemy's palace,” Lefroy added. “and you know very well that all palaces and noble residences are hidden by powerful shielding spells.”
“And how do you know there's going to be a war?” Gilbert asked.
“I grew up among noblemen and palace intrigue,” Lefroy answered. “I know a war in the making when I see one. If you refuse the marriage proposal, you offend the princess, and if you offend the princess, you offend her country. That's reason enough for war.”
“You say Beartrania's army is strong?” Toadmila asked, leaning over the crystal ball.
“They have been preparing for years,” Lefroy answered. “Recruiting troops, training them, building siege weapons... All they need is a reason to go to war. Or a reasonable excuse for it.”
Toadmila nodded. Before her eyes, in the crystal ball, the Beartranian army was marching in all their splendor. The training grounds were shielded, of course, but scrying had revealed their latest military parade, in honor of Princess Constance's eighteenth birthday.
“Is that the princess?” Gilbert asked, leaning over the crystal ball and nearly bumping Toadmila's hat off.
Toadmila waved her hand over the crystal, and the image focused on the princess's face, beaming at her parade.
“She's pretty,” Gilbert noticed.
“What allies do we have against them, if there's a war?” Toadmila asked.
“None,” Lefroy answered coldly. “Our king has married a noblewoman from our own kingdom, instead of straightening an alliance with a foreign power. It was, undoubtedly, a move required by internal tensions among the noblemen at the time, but it leaves us defenseless. If Prince Gilbert insists on declining...”
“No, no,” Gilbert said quickly, his eyes still on Princess Constance's image in the crystal ball. “My country needs me. I'll marry her.”