The King of Kalbem: Chapter 12 - The Task
Updated: Sep 21
Chapter 12: The Task
Michael sat watching Morgan at the anvil. “Day six already and we are barely starting. Fortunately, last I heard, Will didn’t even have his idea set.”
“It took time to get the supplies, and we spent good time designing,” Morgan replied drearily.
“When will this be done?”
“I don’t know,” Morgan sighed, “Probably sixteen days. We’ll still be done before her wedding.” His head hung and he stopped hammering.
“Keep focused,” Michael comforted, “this will help you take your mind off her. Now, tell me again how this whole process will work.”
“First is the forging. We must heat the sword and hammer it into its shape. Don’t be mistaken, because this takes a good amount of time; this one will be about eighty hours of forging alone. We can only work in sections about a span in length and we have to do it several times. Then we have to anneal the sword by heating it up and cooling it slowly, which will take a full twenty-four hour period. Then we grind and engrave it. Next is hardening, tempering, and then we make the handle and do all the finishing touches. It is a very involved process that will take time, patience, and attention to detail.”
“Very well. How may I help?”
“Would you like to try forging the next section of the sword?”
“I’m afraid I’ll mess up your beautiful designs, but of course I will.” After Morgan finished the section he was working on, he showed Michael where, how long, and how to heat it. Then he placed the blade on the anvil and told Michael where to pound. Michael started doing what Morgan was saying, but didn’t do it with the precision that Morgan had and made a few dents in it that Morgan had to fix.
“I’m going to ruin this,” Michael stated dramatically, “I’m betraying this kingdom in my lack of ability.”
“You didn’t do a bad job,” Morgan consoled, “you are quite new to this, after all.”
“It’s not good enough,” Michael insisted. “I have to win this match. I must. The safety of this kingdom depends on me.”
“Why would the kingdom be in any danger?”
Michael sighed and faked emotion, “Oh Morgan, I was hoping to tell you later when you were more prepared. I don’t think you are stable enough to know what Will really is.”
“What?” Morgan’s heart rate started to increase. “Is there something wrong with Will?”
“Wrong? Why he’s a... I know him well, regrettably. We must not let him be king.”
“Why?” Morgan persisted.
“I shouldn’t tell you,” Michael egged, “not now, at least. I doubt you could handle it. I don’t want to hurt you with the truth.”
“Please just tell me,” Morgan begged.
“Very well,” Michael sighed reluctantly, “but you had better sit down. This will be quite a shock. Morgan, I loved your family as my own when I lived here, and I’m afraid I have put you in grave danger. Will has no qualms in lying or murdering on a whim if it pleases him. He has always been jealous of me, so soon after his wedding, when suspicion wouldn’t trace to him, he sent an assassin to kill your family. He must have left you alive to torment me with your sorrows.”
Morgan nearly passed out. “It was him?” he gasped. “How long have you known?”
“I only found out yesterday when Hector came back with the supplies. Though I admit I wasn’t very shocked as it seems very much like the Will I have come to know. I was going to wait until after the task to tell you since the marriage of your true love to another, the exposing of your family’s murderers, and the thievery of your love was a bit too much to take all at once.”
“Wait, ‘thievery of your love’?” Morgan questioned.
Michael faked shock and sighed, “I am such a terrible friend. I am putting far more weight on your shoulders than I should.”
“What is it?” Morgan persisted.
Michael put a consoling hand on Morgan and spoke with emotion, “It is terrible what Will has done, to you alone. I found that not only was he responsible for your family’s murder, he also arranged for Nathaniel to steal Beatrice from you.”
Morgan was so full of emotions, he hardly had any rational thought left in him. He began sobbing, “That evil man! How could he do such a thing?”
“I don’t know,” Michael consoled. “He has a black heart I could never understand. You yourself said that Nathaniel doesn’t really love Beatrice.”
“He could never love her as much as I.”
“And recall he did work in the palace for the wedding; clearly Will made arrangements with him.”
“That was about the same time he came around.”
“I’m sorry, my friend. I wish the truth didn’t hurt so badly, but I could not withhold the truth and lie to you like Will would have.”
“I know. Thank you for telling me. It is crushing, but I needed to know.”
“Shall we take a break, my friend? This is a lot to process, and I’m sure you need some time to yourself.”
Morgan hesitated, “No. We have to finish this task. We can’t let Will win the kingdom.”
“Indeed, we can’t let this beautiful kingdom fall prey to an evil man.”
“Let us forge this sword.”
“Are you sure you want me touching it? We need nothing less than the best, and I am inexperienced.”
Heated with his anger, Morgan replied, “Don’t worry. I’ll do the whole sword by myself. We can spare nothing for perfection.”
“You are the best friend anyone could wish for,” Michael paused, “but don’t I have to help as part of the task?”
Morgan looked at him, “That man is probably cheating; we have to do what it takes to beat him. If me doing the task for you is what it takes to win, then it is worth it for beating that murderer.”
“Profound words of wisdom,” Michael agreed as he propped his feet on the table in front of his seat.
Morgan worked exceptionally well that day. As Michael was sleeping, he again found Jennifer on top of him. She said nothing this time, but kissed him passionately then slipped out the window. He followed.
When they were out of earshot in the woods, he pulled her in closely and said softly, “I trust you have information for me?”
She rubbed her hands on his bare chest, “Yes I do. Will has chosen his item.”
“What is it?”
“It’s rather odd. He spends every evening playing with the children of the village on the grounds in front of the carpenter’s shop he works with. He decided to build some structure to aid in their games. He is calling it the ‘Play Grounds’. I’m not entirely sure what it entails, but he is putting a bridge on it with an elevated platform and swings. The children are quite excited about it.”
Michael stared at her confusedly, “A king playing with peasant children? And his grand, majestic item is for them? Peasant children are about the farthest thing one can get from royalty. What on earth is he thinking?”
“I’m not sure,” Jennifer agreed.
“This will be an easier win than I thought.”
“Don’t be too confident,” Jennifer warned. “If there is anything I know about people, it’s that they make bad decisions. We can’t trust the sages to choose your item above his.”
“We might have to take a few extra precautions,” Michael agreed.
Jennifer kissed him, “That’s my man. First though, how are things going with the blacksmith?”
“He was really slow going, but then I had a stroke of genius this afternoon.”
“I blamed everything he had to hate on Will. The assassination of his family and the marriage of the girl he loves to another in less than three weeks is now Will’s fault. Morgan is so mad that he’s determined to win the task by himself.”
“Clever,” Jennifer smiled coyly and he kissed her again.
“Thank you. I felt a little bad about lying to him, but it’s all in the spirit of truth. After all, it was the family’s loyalty to Will that got them killed. He really is a terrible person. Now what should our course of action be?”
“We need to sabotage Will’s item, make sure the sages choose yours, and have a backup plan for the case if your item is not chosen.”
“I need to stay here until Morgan finishes the task. Then I can go to the village Will is in and see if sabotage is necessary.”
“If you are seen then you will sabotage yourself. You could send your bodyguard.”
“Not a bad idea,” he agreed. “You should be the one to persuade the sages.”
“I am a very persuasive person,” she winked and started kissing him.
“As for the backup plan,” he pulled away and got back on task, “I think we should kidnap Will’s family.”
“And do what with them?”
“Even as king, Will will go after his family; he lacks the kingly quality of putting his kingdom over his heart. While he makes the dangerous journey to rescue them in Tezel, we can infiltrate the castle from all sides. The passages can manage a great surprise attack, and then we can send for the Tezelian army, if needed. My father will do anything I ask.”
He started trailing off, “He gave up on bettering his own rule years ago and now lives to give me the most power I can have. He really is a fantastic king though; the way he brought my people out of starvation was incredible.”
Jennifer raised her eyebrow and Michael got back on task, “We have the secret maze of mines navigated and can easily send troops through the passageways. You can go ahead and send for the troops to lie in wait. Then we can block the army out of the castle and take over from the inside.”
“Not a bad idea.”
“We should capture his family before the decision is made, just in case. If I win, we can do whatever pleases us with them.”
“Like a public execution to celebrate our wedding!” Jennifer chimed. “So we send Hector to burn down the Play Grounds the day before it is due, you keep Morgan on task making your item, I gather information on the sages, try to convince them, and arrange for the disappearance of Will’s family along with guards to fill the passageways?”
“This is going to be easier than I thought. Though we should wait until the last week to do these things or it will give Will too much time to prepare.”
“Well, what shall we do until then?”
“We seem to be set for the time being. I may actually give you some time off, but stay close, I may need you.”
“With pleasure,” she pulled him close and kissed him aggressively.
* * * * *
“We have almost all the supplies we need,” Daniel informed Will. “We should have enough wood for this, so we won’t need anything for a while.” He looked at the charts Will drew out, “But I don’t think this inclined slope is a great idea, at least not with wood. The bars on the top will be fine as wood, and as long as we use chain or rope for the swings, I don’t forsee any other problem. But we can not make wood slick and smooth enough for children to slide down it.”
“I figured that out last night,” Will stopped sawing and looked at the charts with Daniel. “I’m going to ask Thomas the Tinker for help on that one. We’ll make the incline with tin.”
Daniel thought it over and nodded, “Very well. This is such a great idea. The children will love it. How did you ever think of this?”
Will smiled and pointed at Edmund, “You can see the whole design for the structure in the first game we played with the children.”
“Indeed,” Daniel agreed, “but to imagine this whole structure from it is rather impressive.”
“Why thank you.”
There was a knock at the door. Daniel peaked through the window, “It’s Caroline!” he nearly shouted in the softest voice possible. “What do I do?”
“Start by opening the door,” Will suggested.
Daniel ran over, straightened his hat and opened the door, actually managing a smile this time, though it still had an element of terror to it. “Come in.”
She walked in and he awkwardly stared at her. “Any messages for the future queen today?” she asked Will.
“Yes, thank you.” He put down the saw again and handed her a letter from his breast pocket. He elbowed Daniel to close his hanging mouth. “Have you heard of what we’re making for the task?”
“Yes,” she replied, “but I don’t really understand what it is.”
“Daniel would be happy to explain it to you,” Will offered. “You aren’t in a hurry, are you?”
“No, my lord,” she replied.
“Wonderful,” Will put his hand on Daniel’s back and gave him a friendly shove towards Caroline with a whisper, “Like you’re talking to me,” under his breath.
Daniel straightened up and looked at her for a second as one could almost see her turn from a girl into a boy in Daniel’s eyes. He relaxed and opened the charts where she could see, “It is absolutely brilliant, what Will came up with. You see, it starts right here on the west side. We will have a wood frame support these bars above the children’s heads where they can climb across by grabbing the next bar and in essence walking with their hands. The overhead bars will lead to a platform. A rope bridge will begin from there and lead them to the keep.”
“The keep?” she asked.
“It will just be an elevated platform with a roof; it will fit about a dozen children. If you continue eastward through the keep, you will have this inclined piece of tin that you can slide to the ground on. On the north side, there will be steps for those who may have a difficult time getting in or out of the keep in other ways. Then the south side of the keep will have a solid wall, but on the other side will be a frame which will hold two swings. And all over the frame, we will carve designs of dragons, treasures, and various other creatures to aid their imaginations.”
“Wow,” Caroline gawked at the charts, “that sounds so amazing. It’s like the little stick forts the kids make in the trees, but much more elaborate and fun looking.”
“Thank you, it should be impressive.”
“I’m impressed,” she smiled at him and the sudden realization that he was talking to a girl swept across his face.
Daniel froze up and couldn’t think of anything to say. Will was at an angle Caroline couldn’t see and mouthed to Daniel the words, “Thank you.”
“Day stew?” Daniel interpreted.
“What?” Caroline asked.
Daniel stuttered with some verbal fillers for ten seconds or so and then blurted out, “Are you making stew today? For the castle?”
“Katrina requested salad and eggs today.”
“I was just wondering,” Daniel glanced at Will. “I love stew. And fruit salad.”
“I’ll remember that,” Caroline smiled. “I need to go now.”
“Okay,” Daniel started walking back to his work.
Will stopped him and whispered, “Get the door for her, now!”
Daniel bolted to the door and opened it for Caroline and she left. He closed it and exhaled a sigh of relief. He started helping Will cut out the wood and he gave an embarrassed smile, “I’ve improved!”
Will clapped hands with him, “My friend, you have improved a lot. I am so proud of you. Soon enough we’ll have you talking to her like a man talks to a woman.”
Daniel’s face went a little pale, “I don’t know how to talk to a woman.”
“Well, the last few days you have been making conversation with Caroline, who happens to be a woman.”
“That doesn’t count because I’m talking to her like she is you.”
“You’ll get there eventually,” Will assured.
Another knock came and Edmund opened the door for Dominique. “Hi,” she smiled shyly. “I thought you might like some company as two boys doing carpentry every day might be a bit dull for their loyal guard.”
Edmund smiled and looked at Will for approval, which he gave with a wave of his hand. “I’d be delighted,” he offered his arm and escorted her to a corner by the window.
She began sewing as she talked to Edmund and after a while, she was showing him how to sew along with her. “We’re all learning new trades, it seems,” Will teased from his work.
“Nay,” Edmund replied, “it is my duty to serve.”
“Have you tailored before?” Dominique inquired.
Edmund gave a mischievous smile, “Yes, my lady. Is there anything an oldest sibling isn't required to do?”
“Your secret is safe with me,” she winked.
* * * * *
“It is day eleven,” Michael impatiently remarked, “and you are still forging. Making swords felt so much faster back when I left the shop as you worked.”
“One of the biggest fables of blacksmithing is we take a piece of metal and the next day it is a fine sword. People don’t realize how long or how dangerous the process can be.”
He worked for a while longer until he saw Beatrice and Nathaniel out the window. He continued, but he couldn’t get his eyes off them. He pounded half-heartedly as he watched them. “Why him? How dare he steal her from me. That rat of a prince we have! Beatrice is mine. She never wanted to…” He shouted in pain.
Michael ran over, “What happened?”
“I burned myself,” Morgan groaned, ran to his tub of water, and dunked his hand in. He squelched his agony as much as he could, but still moaned some.
“How bad is it?” Michael asked.
“My hand won’t be doing any blacksmithing for the rest of the day, at least,” Morgan replied.
Michael sighed in disgust, “This is all Will’s fault. Look at what has happened in the past three days. The forge went out, yesterday the siding caught fire, and now you burned your hand. Each of these because Will sent Nathaniel to taunt you with Beatrice. They would intentionally distract you and some disaster would happen.”
“I’m sorry,” Morgan sighed.
“No, it is not your fault,” Michael consoled. “This is Will’s fault. He is the one who sabotaged you.”
“You’re right,” Morgan agreed. “Let’s get my hand functioning so I can work tomorrow morning.”
“How far behind does this put us?”
“The forge took an hour, the fire took two, and I’ve worked three today, so that totals one full day of work.”
Michael gave an exasperated sigh. That night he met up with Jennifer. “The cooper has proven to be a disturbance in the plan.”
“I can eliminate him for you!” she offered eagerly.
He winced slightly, but weighed the options, “We’ve been planning this takeover for too long to trip at the finish line. I suppose it’s better for one man to die than a nation to fall to the wrong king.”
“How would you like it done?” she asked.
“It would be preferable if he disappeared with no evidence.”
“That shouldn’t be too difficult. Does he live by himself?”
“Until he is married within a fortnight.”
“We can do the deed before dawn. But I demand to have some fun with this one.”
“You are one sadistic woman.”
She squinted her eyes and forced a smile, “But that’s what makes me so interesting.”
A few hours later, in the very early morning, Michael knocked on Nathaniel’s window. Nathaniel stirred and opened his window, “Do you need something?”
“Please, Nathaniel, there is a girl trapped in the woods and she needs our help. Who knows how long she’s been there. This really can’t wait until morning. Will you please help me?” Nathaniel agreed and came outside. “Thank goodness,” Michael continued. “There is a lady caught in a tree and she needs our help desperately.”
Nathaniel followed Michael deep into the woods. After a while they came across Jennifer, who had some raggedy clothes on and was high up in a tree. “Help,” she cried to them, “I have been up here all night. I can’t get down. My dress is caught, I can’t climb down, and it is too high to jump.”
“How on earth did you get up there?” Nathaniel asked.
“I don’t know,” she sobbed. “I can’t remember anything about last night. I just woke up and I was here. It’s lucky my dress was caught or I may have fallen.”
“I think between the two of us, we can catch her,” Michael suggested. “I asked her, and it’s just her overskirt that is stuck; she can take that off.”
“My lady,” Nathaniel called up to her, “we are going to try to catch you, so if you remove the stuck clothing, you can jump.”
“Are you sure?” Jennifer shuttered.
“I am a cooper,” he assured. “My job requires a lot of strength.”
“And I am a knight,” Michael added, “we can catch you.”
Jennifer took a deep breath and agreed. She took her overskirt off and leaped from the tree into the men’s arms. Her arms clung around Nathaniel’s neck. “You saved me!” she exclaimed and immediately kissed Nathaniel.
He took a moment to realize what she was doing and pulled away, “Excuse me, my lady, but I am engaged.” He subconsciously licked his lips.
He put her down and she apologized, “Sorry, I was just in the moment. Thank you so much for saving me.”
“I’ll take the kiss!” Michael offered.
She smiled at him and winked, “Walk me home and I’ll give you a better one than his.” She turned back to Nathaniel. “Thank you, kind sir.”
“I am glad you are safe,” Nathaniel replied. “Now I need to…” He paused and then fell over.
Michael raised both eyebrows and turned to Jennifer, “Was that poisoned lipstick?”
“Yes, it’s a new method I developed! There are several different mixes I created. The one I just used on him has a deadly poison, mixed in with a tranquilizer. So he’s still alive for now. He’ll be dead in about an hour.”
“That is clever,” Michael said slowly, as he wasn’t sure whether to be impressed or terrified.
Jennifer pulled out a red handkerchief and wiped her lips, “It’s safe now. I’m very careful with this stuff because it being on my lips makes it quite dangerous for me as well.” Michael hesitated, but she kissed him forcefully. “See? It’s safe. Now, do we have a place to hide him?”
“Yes,” Michael replied. The two put Nathaniel under a fallen tree trunk and covered anything showing with leaves.
Jennifer lay a marigold blossom on the body, “Marigold means despair, grief, or jealousy. Nathaniel caused each of those for Morgan.”
Michael returned to his bed as if nothing had happened.
Morgan was able to work in the shop again the next day. He didn’t get distracted as he didn’t see Nathaniel and Beatrice around. It took a few days until word got to the blacksmith shop about Nathaniel’s mysterious disappearance.
“No one has seen him for three days,” Morgan explained to Michael.
“That is odd,” Michael replied. “Perhaps he didn’t want to go through with the wedding; it is scheduled in only nine days.”
“Or perhaps he was called on unexpected business?” Morgan suggested.
“Who knows,” Michael shrugged. “Honestly I couldn’t care less what happens to him. Any pawn of Will’s is no friend of mine. I hope the wedding doesn’t happen; he isn’t nearly as good for Beatrice as you are.”
“You think so?”
“Don’t shortchange yourself; it is an obvious choice.”
“I admit I hope the wedding doesn’t happen. I just hope he is alright.”
“He’s not a terrible man.”
Michael laughed, “My friend, you are in love with Beatrice, and Nathaniel stole her from you in the midst of your darkest hour. If that isn’t the work of a terrible man, I don’t know what is.”
Morgan was silent for a while. “Well, maybe he is a bad man, but he isn’t deserving if he died or something.”
“If his death gave Beatrice back to you, I would be grateful for it.”
Morgan was slightly shocked, “Michael, that is a horrible thing to say.”
“No, Morgan, and I’ll tell you why. You know what their engagement did to you, and after your whole family was murdered, no less. They might as well have killed you, but that was too merciful for them. That man murdered you with his actions, and a murderer deserves death. I would dance on the grave of a man who killed my best friend. It disgusts me, what he did to you. I hope he is eaten by dogs on his unexpected journey.”
Morgan silently hammered for a few minutes, then uttered, “He did kill me.”
“Exactly,” Michael encouraged. “So he will gain no sympathy from me.”
“He doesn’t deserve any,” Morgan’s anger was growing. “What a vile snake.”
The blacksmith continued his work through the forging process, unaware of the manipulation he was being put through. The two continued to work steadily through the task.
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