The King of Kalbem: Chapter 15 - The Victor
Updated: Oct 19, 2020
Chapter 15: The Victor
The next morning Will turned in his scroll of parchment for his statement of worth. Since both tasks were accomplished, the sages were off to judge the tasks.
Michael’s statement read:
There are many important attributes in a leader. Above all else, a king must be selfless. He must be willing to lay down his life for his kingdom and defend it to his last breath. The king is the protector, so my item is a sword for the king to defend his kingdom with his own hands. But a king must also be clever. It has a sword breaker and a backup poisoned dart that shoots out the handle. As the king stands for truth and right, his most valuable item is the one he uses to defend his kingdom.
The sages observed the falchion. The craftsmanship was beautiful and the design was brilliant. “A very appropriate item for a king,” George commented as they rode to see the other item.
Will’s statement read:
When the herald first read the words of the late king, I was excited at the opportunity to learn a new skill, but I was disappointed that I had to make something for myself. It wasn’t until I got to know these children that I realized that the greatest item I could create as a king was a gift to my people. As I watch the fruits of my labors and see the light my handiwork brings to the faces of these young ones, I realize that a kingship isn’t about commanding the people; it’s about serving the people to the best of my ability. The king doesn’t need a special item: the people need it.
The sages looked at the play grounds Will made and saw all the children playing on it. They climbed, laughed, and played with such delightful joy, it melted the hearts of these sages. Especially Henry and Janet, who saw some of their very own grandchildren playing on it.
Later at the castle, in the counsel room, the sages were discussing the task. “It is an obvious choice,” George stated, “the play grounds structure is by far more kingly and noble.”
“I emphatically agree,” Janet replied.
“Then it is settled,” Henry smiled. “We unanimously choose the builder of the play grounds for our new king.”
Jennifer shoved a dagger through the vent from the secret passageway, opening it, “You need to reconsider your choices, dear sages.” She spoke with her natural voice, which was harsh and unrecognizable, compared to her usual vapid voice.
“Who is that?” George asked.
“The attractive assassin in the secret passageway, watching your every move and listening to your every word.” Janet began to stand, but Jennifer cut her off, “Do not even try to call for the guards and apprehend me. I assure you, the passageways are very well guarded and I have a bit of leverage that you don’t want me to harm.”
They all sat still and looked at the vent, “What leverage?” George asked.
Jennifer laughed spitefully, “Have you heard about your missing grandson, George?”
“Nathaniel?” he asked. “What of him?”
“Oh,” Jennifer mocked, “I suppose I should inform you that he was killed by my hand. I must say, I was wickedly clever.” George gasped and put his face in his hands. Jennifer continued, “And Henry and Janet, I happen to have a guest here with me. I believe she is your granddaughter; does the name Dominique ring a bell?” They stood up in shock. “Come come, Dominique, say hello to your grandparents.”
Dominique was ungagged for a moment and she immediately blurted, “Protect the kingdom; don’t...” She was quickly regagged.
“You see, it really is her,” Jennifer stated. “So with my leverage, I would like at least two of you to agree to give the crown to the maker of the falchion. If you don’t, not only will Dominique meet an untimely death, but so will probably all of your families. I’m rather skilled at taking out whole crowds; you don’t even want to see my records. I’ve killed large families, the king, and even my own mother.” She laughed in amusement.
Henry and Janet looked in shock at each other. “We can’t let our family get slaughtered by her,” Janet gasped
“How do we know she won’t kill Dominique anyway?” Henry countered. “She might be dead no matter what we do.”
“Actually, surprisingly enough, I do have the intention of letting her go this time, if my conditions are met. I figure I should do one ethical thing every few years. Oh look, I just told the truth; that’s two virtues in one day. Someone should write that down.” The fact that Jennifer had such a lighthearted tone only made it even more creepy for the sages.
After some more hesitation from the sages, Jennifer sighed, “You are taking far too long, just agree to my terms and your families will most likely live. I can’t make guarantees, of course, there is always sickness or ducks amok.”
George stood up and faced the vent, “Do what you will, monster, but I will not give my kingdom to criminals. I love my family more than anything, but they would not respect me if I gave the kingdom away for the word of a liar.”
“I’m not lying this time,” Jennifer insisted. Okay, you have a point; I am lying a little bit. Why do people never believe me? she wondered in her mind.
Henry and Janet gave each other certain looks and stood with George. Henry took a deep breath and said, “We are going to do our duty to protect this kingdom. Our decision is final.”
“Such a shame,” Jennifer kept her mocking voice, “she is such a pretty girl.” She ungagged Dominique, who immediately started making noise, but Jennifer quickly put a green handkerchief in Dominique’s face and she went quiet. “I love my job,” she sighed, “there is something beautiful about a silent death.”
She let go of Dominique’s limp body which fell on the floor with a big thud and commented, “Except of course when you drop them.” Janet fell on Henry and cried. Jennifer pulled the dagger out of the vent. “Ethan, put her with the others.”
Ethan saw she was still breathing. “You left her alive?” He was sincerely shocked by this.
“This time. I figure she is more leverage to us alive than dead. Of course I won’t use her on her grandparents again; it’s bad form to threaten to kill the same hostage with the same people. However, the information of her relationship you informed us of gives us a great tool against Will’s bodyguard. It might come in handy.”
“Yes, my lady.”
“Let the fun begin!” she sighed contentedly.
* * * * *
“I know it is difficult, but as your father-in-law, I advise you to wait to go searching for them,” Aaron advised.
“What am I supposed to do for the next day? I can’t survive not knowing if she is okay,” Will groaned.
“I know,” Sierra agreed, “but searching for her today will likely do more harm than good. The results will be announced soon; you need to be there. And if you go out searching for them with no leads, the probability of progress is virtually none. Besides, we already sent out a search party days ago.”
“You’re right,” Will sighed. “I know. And I want Edmund to come with me. I’m just so worried for Kat and Lizzy. I need to save them. What happened?”
“I don’t know,” Sierra put a comforting arm around Will.
“I know it’s not good to speculate,” Aaron added, “but I would assume it's a Tezelian plot to get Michael the throne.”
Will sighed again, “I keep imagining my precious wife, and my baby of barely a month old wasting away in that tower I spent a month in, with the heat scorching them in the daytime and the cold of the night causing them to shiver. Not to mention the isolation…” Will’s eyes started to water. Sierra rubbed his upper back.
He took a breath and continued, “Kat can barely go two days without human interaction and time outside. In Tezel, I was alone, locked in a tower, except when I was forced to smith for them, which was a relief because then at least I could do something with my time. I felt like I was wasting away into madness while I was in that prison. I can’t imagine my beautiful wife and child, alone, mistreated, and with not enough but to survive. I must save them.” Will clung desperately to one of Kat’s embroidered handkerchiefs.
“And I believe you shall,” Sierra encouraged, “but you must wait until the morrow to aid in the search. For now, we need to send our love to them in our thoughts and pray for their safety.”
* * * * *
“Dominique!” Edmund woke with a start. He looked around; his horse was three feet away, tied to a tree, and he lay on mossy roots. Realization struck and he gasped, “I have to be at the palace today.” His head drooped, “Oh Dominique, please forgive me. I have failed.” He began to saddle up his horse as he grumbled to himself, “Why, Edmund, why? Everything you do is wrong. You’ve managed to fail everyone you’ve ever loved. You even neglected your duties, failing the future king, to fail trying to save the woman you…” he quickly changed words, “care for.”
He mounted his horse to ride for the castle and looked wistfully at the mountains, “My darling, I will return for you. Even if the worst has happened, I promise I will bring you home to your father.” He put his arm across his chest and then pointed that fist toward the mountains. He lingered his gaze as he rode off.
“Edmund is at the gate!” Phillip rushed in to tell Will. Will immediately ran out to meet Edmund.
Edmund leapt off his horse and hurried to Will, “My lord, are you well?”
“I’m fine,” Will replied.
“That bad?” Edmund asked.
“I’m so sorry,” Will put a hand on Edmund’s shoulder. “Did you find any clues as to her whereabouts?”
“No,” Edmund sighed. “I suppose I had a fool’s chance, because finding anything in those mountains would be nearly impossible due to their vastness and the thick forest covering.” He paused. “I just thought there would be some noise or trace of something, but I saw nothing. So in the end I failed both my master and the girl I… care for.”
“You have not failed me, Edmund. I have been quite well. You would have been miserable if you had stayed with me and wallowed in the ‘what if’s.”
“Enough of my sorrows, my lord. Are there any clues on Kat and Lizzy?”
Will sighed, “No. However, I’m guessing they were kidnapped, and likely by Tezelians. If I’m declared winner of the task, then I will probably hear of them for Michael to use as leverage against me.”
“Sounds like a logical assumption,” Edmund agreed. “Do you think the same people might have kidnapped Dominique?”
“I can’t be sure, but I doubt it was a coincidence that they were kidnapped within a day of each other and were both closely associated with me. Come, you are just in time for the announcement. This is sure to be an interesting day.”
Will and Edmund made their way to the stands in the courtyard where the herald gathered people to hear the announcement. “My lords and ladies, on this, the last day of the kingly task given to the winner of the joust and our prince, we will announce the winner of the task and new King of Kalbem.” The crowd applauded in nervous anticipation.
The herald pointed up George, the chief advisor and sage. “My lords, and my ladies,” George began somberly, “Henry, Janet, and I were charged with judging between two items for their kingly qualities, with no knowledge of their makers. After a month of solitude in the palace, so as not to let us become aware of the items being made, we finally saw them.” George proceeded to give a description of each item and read its associated statement. “The decision was unanimous that the maker of the play grounds shall be the King of Kalbem.”
Will humbly stepped forward and Michael shouted, “This is biased. You chose Will because he is of Kalbem, not because his task is most noble.”
“We have many witnesses that can assure you that we have not had any contact with William to even know which item was his,” George assured. “We took every precaution to ensure we did not know it was his.”
“Well then you were biased because Will made his item for your grandchildren,” Michael declared.
“I don’t have any grandchildren in that village,” George corrected, “and Henry and Janet admired the giving quality and focus on the people that the play grounds had over your sword.”
“What judges are you to decide what is most kingly?” Michael challenged. “You are not warriors, so you can’t appreciate protectors. You are old and useless to a kingdom.”
“That does not matter,” George countered, “because we are who the king chose, so it is all legal and well.”
“The king was unfair in the law!” Michael insisted. “He rigged the task to make sure Will would win. He left no chance for me.”
“I assure you that you had a fair chance,” George calmly replied, “however, arguing with you is pointless. In the end, it doesn’t really matter if there was a bias, because Kalbem is meant to be ruled by a Kalbemite. Will won the kingship fairly, so pardon me, but you’ll not be ruling Kalbem.”
“This is mockery! I’ve more right to the throne than he has!” Michael fumed. He stomped up to Will and got in his face, “Very well, your majesty, you are king now. But I declare war on Kalbem!”
Will gave him a confused look, “But only royalty can declare war.”
Michael gave an exasperated sigh, “You are so thick, Will. I am the Prince of Tezel!”
Will was shocked, but calmly stated, “Very well. Guards, take Prince Michael to the dungeon.”
Michael struggled as he was apprehended, “You can’t do this. I have a right of sanctuary for my entire stay in Kalbem.
“Yes,” Will agreed, “but that is only under the condition that you don’t provide a threat to this kingdom or its inhabitants, and I’m pretty sure declaring war qualifies in that category.”
“How dare you!” Michael seethed. As he was being pulled off, he shouted, “Release me if you ever want to see your wife and child alive again!”
Will halted the guards holding Michael and ordered them to bring Michael to a more private area for conversation. He then looked at his people who were quietly watching this scene and called to them, “My people, it seems my rule is off to a rocky start. Rest assured that I will do everything in my power to protect this kingdom. The Tezelians have unsuccessfully attempted to wage war on us before, so I pray we can handle it as well again. I will try to keep you as informed as I can without risking the safety of our loved ones. For now, go to your homes and let your families know how much you love them.”
Will’s voice got slightly choked up, but he cleared it so his people wouldn’t notice and continued, “We never know how much time we have, but we know the ones we hold dear should live every minute knowing they are loved. Always remember this: love is shown in the little things. Not only would I die for love, but I will live for love as well. I love my family, I love my friends, and I love you, the people of my kingdom.”
The people stood in awe, not knowing how to respond. They resorted to reverent claps and Will waved his hand and then walked off to talk to Michael.
Aaron, who as captain of the guard always took over when the king was absent, stepped up, “Our future king has said some profound words. We are very fortunate to have such a man to rule us, and I am very proud to call him my son-in-law. You are in good hands. Take care of each other, and fare thee well!”
Will walked into the throne room where Michael was being held, “Are they in Tezel?”
Michael looked at him with more confidence than one would expect of a prisoner, “So eager. Patience is a virtue, my dear William.”
Will came close to him with a desperate look, squelched, but visible on his face, “Where is my family?”
“They are safe, for now,” Michael replied smoothly. “However, that can be easily changed as I can make the order to dispose of them at my convenience, even from the dungeon. How convenient you have targets so easy to threaten. Personally, there isn’t anyone I care enough about to be vulnerable.”
“How about yourself?” Will threatened.
Michael shrugged, “I am confident that you won’t let anything happen to me, as I know my death is not worth the death of your loved ones to you. The order is that they live no longer than I do, so I suggest you take good care of me.”
“What do I need to do to get them back?” Will begged.
“Give me your kingdom.”
“Give these innocent people to a vile traitor, like you? I would rather die!” Will defied.
“That can be arranged,” Michael assured. He then shouted, “Attack!”
Suddenly, the door to the passageway behind the throne opened and soldiers started pouring out. Duncan called to Edmund, “Get him out of the castle!” He then ran straight into the crowd of soldiers and madly hacked, slashed, and took any blows or arrows coming Will’s way.
Edmund grabbed Will and rushed him out towards the servants’ areas. “Don’t look back,” he urged. Will had seen enough of Duncan’s act to bring tears to his eyes. But it only made him faster, as he didn’t want Duncan’s sacrifice to be made in vain.
They took a route out of the palace that avoided all the passageways. Since the openings were so small, it took some time to fill the palace with soldiers. Will and Edmund got to the stables with only one encounter, leapt onto their previously supplied horses, and sped off out the gate. Some arrows were shot at them, but they didn’t come very close to hitting the two. The gate was closed before the Kalbemite army could help.
When Edmund and Will were out of sight and were confident that no one was following them, they slowed their horses. They stopped to take a knee in silence to honor Duncan's sacrifice.
After remounting their horses, Will sighed, “So my wife and child are prisoners of Tezel to be used as leverage or bait against me, Dominique is nowhere to be found and is probably also a prisoner of Tezel, the Tezelians have complete access to the secret passageways (how did they even know about the passageways?), and they have just taken over the castle from the inside. Which leaves the kingdom under the rule of a tyrant. Did I miss anything?”
“The likely death of half the palace subjects?” Edmund cringed.
Will looked down, “What do I do? I can’t leave my kingdom, but I must rescue my family. However, if I go back to the castle, I’ll be killed, and if I go to Tezel, I’ll be killed, and those two places are where my duty lies.”
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