All too soon, the time came when the king and queen thought that their son was too old for a nanny. Nanny disappeared deep into the castle to fulfill servant duties, and Tom never saw her again.
Growing older always means having new responsibilities, yet growing older as a prince had even bigger responsibilities. It was now time for Tom to prepare for his future. Every day, he sat in a large room with the royal scholars in order to learn knowledge and skills he would require as the future king: the history of Danin, foreign languages, the rights of the people, and diplomacy. Often, they would take him to the royal court, where subjects would come to the king, asking him to help them with whatever problems they had. This way, Tom would get a first-hand experience of what sort of things he would be expected to deal with as king.
Tom tried to adjust to this new routine, yet only found it boring. Nothing interesting ever happened in Danin--it was nothing like what had happened in the stories he loved. More and more, he couldn't help wishing that he wasn't a prince.
He missed Nanny terribly, only he knew that she wouldn't want him to mope around because everything was changing. No, she'd want him to keep his chin up and do his best. He resolved to do everything he could to make her proud, even if it meant staying cooped up in the castle all day.
However, one thing didn't change: he still would read a story from the old book every night. Someday, he thought, staring at the pages fixatedly, I will have adventures just like the heroes in these stories.
When he was about to reach his eleventh birthday, things started to look up for Tom. Turning eleven meant that he would start to learn fun things, like sword-fighting (in case he ever needed to defend the kingdom) and horseback riding. He was also going to meet his betrothed, Princess Waverly of Cumbent, at his birthday celebration. He hoped that she would be interesting, or at least more interesting than the other royal children he was acquainted with.
Then, on the week before his birthday, something extraordinary happened: a real witch had come to Danin. Apparently, she wanted to collect her debt to a farmer who lived on the outskirts of the kingdom. Years before, she offered to use her magic to help his crops if he would give her his youngest child. Desperate to improve his financial situation, the farmer agreed without a second thought. His crops grew well and were sold successfully throughout the kingdom. But when the witch came for the child, the farmer refused to give up his child.
The matter got so ugly between the two of them that they decided to take it up to the king himself! By this time, everyone in the kingdom had heard of the situation and gathered in the royal court to see how it would all turn out.
Tom was there, dressed in his finest attire, seated in a throne next to his father. For once, he was very excited about attending the court. Nanny always told them that witches really existed, and now he would finally get to see one in person!
The witch stood defiantly in front of the king. She looked exactly like the witches in the stories--a squat woman dressed in black, with a long nose covered in warts and gray hair. She kept shooting dagger looks at the farmer, his wife, and their seven children, all of whom were standing a great distance away from her.
"Look," the witch said irritably, "the farmer and I had a deal: I'd help him with his crops, and he'd give me his last daughter. I fulfilled my half of the bargain! All I want for him is to keep his promise!"
The king eyed the witch suspiciously. "And what exactly were you planning to do with this child?"
"Exactly what I wanted to know, Your Majesty!" piped up the farmer, stepping forward. "What would a witch want with my daughter? She would probably turn her into a newt or something!"
The witch looked highly offended at this remark. "First of all," she said, trying to keep calm, "I wasn't going to hurt the child. If I wanted to do that, I wouldn't be the type of witch who would help a poor farmer! I was merely going to raise the girl as my own. I don't have any children, and he has so many that it would be doing him a favor!"
A shocked murmur went through the crowd at this sudden outburst.
"And second of all," she went on, turning to the farmer, her voice rising with her anger, "if you were afraid I'd put a spell on her, then why would you even agree to the deal in the first place?"
"Enough!" thundered the king. "I've made my decision. The child will be free to stay with her family. And as for you, witch," he said, pointing at her accusingly, "your kind isn't welcome. You are hereby ordered to leave Danin at once!"
At this, the crowd applauded and cheered. The witch looked absolutely furious. "NO!" she screamed, stamping her foot. "You can't do this to me! I had a deal! I have the same rights as any mortal who lives in this kingdom!"
"Guards!" bellowed the king. Automatically, ten soldiers armed with swords rushed into the court. "Remove this creature from my sight!"
But the witch quickly pulled a wand out of her robes. "You will pay for this, my king," she snarled. "If you will not let me have that child, I will not let you have yours!" She pointed the wand at Tom, who was frozen to his throne with shock, and started chanting strange words.