• Anne

The King of Kalbem: Chapter 16 - Poison

Updated: Oct 19, 2020

Chapter 16: Poison

Out of all four passageways, Tezelian soldiers kept pouring through. The unprepared castle subjects were no match for the small army that came from within the castle. It took little time for the Tezelians to take control. “Close the gates,” Michael ordered early in the take over. He summoned Jennifer, “Will and his bodyguard escaped. Find him and finish the job.”

“I need a guarantee that we will be wed,” she declared.

“Why, you have my word,” he assured.

“That isn’t enough,” she replied.

“Well we can’t exactly write into law, ‘Contingent upon her murdering the crowned prince, Michael will wed Jennifer on the eve of his coronation.’”

“That doesn’t sound too bad,” she replied. “I just need to know you won’t turn on me after I’ve done all the dirty work you need.”

“I doubt that will ever happen,” Michael winked, “there are far too many people providing disturbances. The only thing I’m worried about is how I know you won’t poison me in my sleep.”

Jennifer planted an indecent kiss on him and replied, “Someone as appealing as you is much more fun alive than dead. And I have a feeling I please you fairly well too?”

Michael shamelessly nodded and smiled.

“So,” Jennifer proposed, “how about we swear on our lack of virtue as liars that we won’t kill one another until after the wedding night, and we can reevaluate there?”

“Are you serious?” Michael raised an eyebrow.

“Surprisingly, I am,” Jennifer gasped. “What is it with me and telling the truth recently?”

“I’ll swear by this,” Michael pulled her in and kissed her.

“Deal.” Jennifer smiled coyly at him, “So when I’m done, I guess we have a wedding and coronation coming up.” She kissed him again and whisked away.

Michael gathered the people in the palace together, rather forcefully, and spoke to them, “This is rather embarrassing, but the vote has been recalled, and I’m going to be your new king. I want you to continue your normal work, but if any suspicious or rebellious activity is found, you will find yourselves captives of the crown, or even dead. Just remember, as long as you do exactly as I say, you will be fine. Off you go.”

Daniel found Caroline worriedly cooking in the kitchen, “I must speak with you.” She looked around cautiously and followed him into a storage closet. He continued, “I think we need to siege the castle from within. We can block off the kitchen and food storage if I fortify the doors with boxwood.”

Caroline looked at him in confusion, “Wouldn’t we starve all the other palace subjects in the process?”

Daniel hesitated, “I was hoping they would surrender before things got too bad.”

“They would surely let the palace subjects starve first and pull in supplies from the peasants; they wouldn’t surrender.”

Daniel scrunched his eyebrows, “Maybe you could poison Michael? But what would we do with him then? I don’t know what to do. Let’s lay low until we come up with a plan. May I be one of your cooks?”

“Do you know how to cook?”

“You taught me to bake bread, remember? And I make great gingerbread.”

Caroline managed a laugh, “Ah yes, I do remember those bread lessons. Perhaps we should get out of the closet now, one at a time.” Daniel nodded, then she quickly added, “If we need to talk about something we aren’t allowed to speak of around the castle, say something like, ‘My love, shall we go for a stroll?’ or something like that, and we’ll walk hand in hand to find a safe place. If we pretend to be courting, it will take a lot of suspicion away for us seeking a private audience with each other.” Daniel gave a stunned and slightly stupid look. “Do you understand?” she asked.

Daniel nodded and opened the door for her. She left and a minute later he left and found her cleaning the oven. “May I help?” he offered.

“Be my guest.” She then winked at him, “It seems I have a new cook to boss around.”

“At your service,” he smiled with a slight bow as he began to help her.

As they were cleaning, she occasionally looked at him and smiled, “Do I remember teaching you to make bread? Do you remember catching those loaves on fire and throwing them at the oven?”

Daniel laughed, “Yes, that probably wasn’t the most safe of ideas, but it was fun.”

“I still can’t believe you took the blame for that.”

Daniel winked, “Throwing them was my idea. Plus, I didn’t want to ruin your reputation by letting people find out it was you that caught them on fire.”

“Yeah, I am kind of grateful you covered that one for me; I was quite embarrassed.”

“Fortunately they assumed it was me because you’re too good to catch bread on fire. Personally, I think you need skill to actually do that, because I tried to catch mine on fire and it didn’t work.”

“And that’s not the only time you covered for me,” she continued, “you spent enough time with me in the kitchen that whenever someone didn’t like my cooking, you would explain why it was your fault, somehow managing to tell the truth at the same time.”

“Before my father’s accident, he always told me that whenever something went wrong when you were with a woman, you had thirty seconds to apologize and explain why it was your fault. Mom gave us lots of practice on that.”

Caroline chuckled, “That makes a lot of sense. Thanks for the help on this oven. Could you go make bread now?” She paused and added, “The kind that doesn’t burst into flames.” She winked and they parted for their tasks.

* * * * *

“I’m torn,” Will sighed in despair, “I need to save my family, and I need to save my kingdom. Choosing one neglects the other and is not likely to succeed. Time to just make a decision and work from there.” Will took a deep breath and thought for a minute. “I need to save my family. Let’s head toward Tezel. I pray I am making the right decision.”

“I will support you in your decision, my lord,” Edmund responded.

“Let’s head towards the mountain pass.”

The two began riding again southward. Shortly after, they heard the high-pitched calls from a familiar voice, “Will! Help! Where are you? I need you! I’m scared!”

“Jennifer?” Will realized. He turned around, followed by Edmund, to meet her.

She sighed in relief when she saw him, “Will! I’m so glad I found you! I’m so scared. I barely got out during the take-over. Please don’t leave me.” She attempted to embrace him over her horse and almost fell onto his horse. He caught her and placed her back on her horse.

“I will bring you to safety, my lady,” he assured. “Though I won’t be able to stay with you the whole time as I’ll be putting myself in danger soon. Let’s find an inn to spend the night.”

Since Will wanted to go to Tezel, later that day they found themselves at the village in which Morgan lived.

“Are you sure about this place?” Jennifer shivered. “It looks questionable to me.”

“Nonsense,” Will assured, “I have done business here on many occasions. I know the cooper, the candlestick maker, the tanner, and the blacksmith.”

Knowing Beatrice was the daughter of the tanner, Jennifer suggested visiting the candlestick maker, if they visited anyone. Will looked over the supplies, which were very meager for the week-long journey he was expecting. They did have a good amount of money on them though, so they got supplies at the inn. The prince was well-liked among his people, so added gifts were provided by various people.

Will got a room for Jennifer to stay in, but resolved to sleep outside to save money. Jennifer tried to convince them to stay in the room with her, but Will assured her that it would be good weather tonight, and they might as well get used to sleeping outside since they would be for the next few days. “Surely it won’t be our greatest discomfort we have to face,” Will told her. “And if it will be, then I’ll be grateful.”

They ended up not leaving the inn to make social calls, because as soon as word spread that the prince was there, people came to visit him. Jennifer lurked in the corner and Edmund was a perfect shadow while Will socialized.

“Where is Nathaniel, the cooper?” Will asked the tanner. “Last I heard from him, he was engaged to your daughter.”

The tanner’s eyes drooped, “He’s dead, my lord.”

Will’s eyes widened, “On no! I am so sorry to hear that! He was a good man. I knew him. When did this happen, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“Barely over two weeks ago, he disappeared. No one knew where he went. He was to be married last week, so there was speculation he was running away from that. But just today we received word that he was murdered by an associate of the competitor that made the falchion.”

“Michael?” Will gasped. “Why would he do that?”

“I don’t know,” the tanner replied, “but as a village we feel ashamed, because we took Michael in; it was our very own blacksmith that helped him make the item.”

“Morgan? How is he?”

“No one knows. He hasn’t left his shop since we found out. Beatrice has been asking me if she could go talk to him, but I don’t trust him alone with her. I would go with her, but I wouldn’t be strong enough to restrain him if needed. He does have a wild temper.”

Will looked at Edmund, “We could go with her now, if you want. We can’t be out late, but we do want to help. I know Morgan and Michael were close friends for years, so this may have come as quite a shock.”

The tanner thanked him and fetched Beatrice. Her loose, brown curls were draped over one shoulder and she looked at Will with sad, big eyes, but with a small glimmer of hope that could likely be snuffed out with a slight gust of wind. She took a deep curtsey and Will invited her to recover. After a small exchange of introductions, Will, Edmund, and Beatrice were on their way.

“I know I broke Morgan’s heart when I got engaged to Nathaniel,” Beatrice explained, “but his mood swings were too much. I do care greatly for him, but I couldn’t marry him out of pity.”

“I agree,” Will replied.

Beatrice continued, “Nathaniel was an amazing man. He respected me, took care of me, and always treated me like a queen.”

“That’s good. A woman should always be a queen in her man’s eyes.”

“And for you, it is both figurative and literal,” she winked.

“We have not been crowned yet,” Will smiled, “but when it comes down to it, my Katrina, and now my Elizabeth, are my reasons for living.”

Beatrice gave a longing sigh, “I know. You might be surprised at how often your romance is told; it’s like it came straight from a storybook.” She paused. “It’s almost unreal.”

“But it is real,” Will smiled. “That is the best part. And you know what else? Stories have an ending, but we don’t. No matter what happens, Kat knows I will always come for her, and she will always wait for me. Even if one of us dies, we’ll find a way to be together in the hereafter. And as long as I have her love, I consider my life a happily ever after.”

Beatrice stared at him stunned, “Wow, she married well. I wish there were more men like you.”

“Thank you,” Will replied.

“Nathaniel was my dream come true, but that ended.”

“You can have all the happiness with a man in the world. Just don’t give up. And become the kind of girl the man you desire would want. My beautiful wife would, throughout her life, consider the choices she made with me in mind. Her goal was to become the woman I wanted to marry. If you are the woman that the kind of man you want would want, then he will find you.”

They arrived at Morgan’s house, so she didn’t have time to respond. They knocked and the door almost immediately opened. Without warning, Will took a hit to the shoulder with a prybar as Morgan shouted, “Murderer!” Edmund immediately grabbed the arm wielding the prybar and glanced a hit with a hammer to his arm. Beatrice backed up as Will and Edmund worked on restraining Morgan, as he shouted, “How dare you! I hope you rot. All hail King Michael!”

Will and Edmund dragged him inside and began tying him to a chair. He thrashed and kicked, but they managed to restrain him. He kept shouting and struggling, until Beatrice walked over and planted a kiss on him. He quickly began to relax and get involved with the kiss. As soon as he had calmed down enough, she pulled away. “Beatrice,” he pleaded.

“First thing’s first,” she interrupted, “why, in the name of sanity, did you just attack our prince?”

“He ordered the murder of my family,” Morgan replied with emotion.

“What?” Will interjected, “Where in the world did you get that idea?”

“I have it on good source,” Morgan replied as Beatrice began looking at the hits Will and Edmund took.

Will was in a lot of pain, but adrenaline pressed him through the conversation, “Your family was loyal and kind to me. I had no reason to want them dead. Did Michael tell you this?”

Morgan nodded cautiously.

“What else, pray tell, did Michael say about me?”

Morgan hesitated, “I don’t trust you.”

Beatrice interrupted, “Your highness, your left collar bone seems to be broken.”

Will winced, “That sounds about right. Edmund, how are you?”

“It wasn’t a direct hit,” he replied, “so I don’t think it’s broken, but it’ll have a wicked bruise to go with the blood blister; I’ll be fine.”

“So will I,” Will winked as Beatrice ripped off a strip of her skirt to use as a sling for Will’s arm. “Though I really need to sit down right now; I’m getting rather dizzy.” Edmund pulled a chair up and Will sat.

“Morgan,” Beatrice asked, “did you hear the news this morning on Nathaniel?”

He avoided her eyes, “Why do you think I haven’t left my home today? I’m surprised the lynch mob hasn’t come to my door already.”

“I am too,” she replied, “but I think everyone wanted me to approach you first since… Anyway, do you know what happened to Nathaniel?”

“I know as much as you do,” he replied. “One day, he was nowhere to be found. Michael and I speculated, but we didn’t do anything. Michael wouldn’t have killed him. I’m sure the rumor is wrong.”

“It’s not wrong,” Beatrice persisted. “I have here a personal letter from Nathaniel’s grandfather, George. When they were deciding the winner of the task, a hidden assassin threatened to kill a girl named Dominique if they didn’t choose the falchion…”

Edmund wasn’t one to speak out of term, but he blurted out, “Dominique?! What of her? Was it the tinker’s daughter?”

Beatrice looked at him, “I don’t know. The letter just said that she was the granddaughter of the other sages.”

“What happened to her?” Edmund pressed.

Beatrice hesitated, then painfully let out, “She was killed.”

Edmund’s heart dropped. Surely this was the same Dominique, as he knew she was the grandchild of the sages, and had no cousins by the same name. He turned away and let silent tears flow.

Will put a comforting hand on Edmund’s shoulder and Beatrice continued, “The assassin identified herself as Nathaniel’s murderer…”

“Herself?” Morgan questioned.

“Apparently,” Beatrice affirmed. “And when they refused to give the kingdom to a murderer, she killed Dominique.”

Edmund made an audible sob and quickly quieted himself.

“Very well,” Morgan consented, “I could believe Michael had Nathaniel killed. But it’s for the greater good.”

“What?” Beatrice knelt in front of him, with tears in her eyes. “How can you say that?”

“Don’t concern yourself with the evils of the world, Beatrice. I can protect you.”

“I don’t trust you though.”

“Why? I have always been here for you. I have always loved you, no matter how irrational you were, and I never backed out on my word to you.”

“But you lose control, have mood swings, and have a temper. It’s not healthy. And now you attack our king, justify a murder, and won’t tell me why, but ask me to simply trust you? No. I need an explanation. I appreciate it when I’m protected from the vile things in the world, but I need to know. Either explain it to me, or explain it to our prince. I will not trust you until we have reason to.”

Morgan drooped his head in defeat, “You are the only one who can be reasoned with, my love. I want to protect you from the truth and keep you innocent.”

“I can leave you with Will, if you like,” she offered.

“No,” he snapped, “He’s evil!”

“Just tell me the whole story,” Beatrice listened attentively.

Morgan sighed, but explained, avoiding eye contact with Will, “I know all about Will’s schemes. He was the one who arranged to kill my family two years ago. He has sought vengeance on Michael for years, and since I’m his best friend, he attacks me to hurt Michael. Nathaniel was a co-conspirator in his plot against me. He had Nathaniel tell whatever lies it took to woo you to take you away from me. Nathaniel was being cruel to me, and impeding my ability to complete the task for Michael, so it would make sense if he got rid of him.”

Beatrice gasped in shock and Morgan continued plainly, “We had to do whatever it took to give Michael the throne, to protect Kalbem from him,” he glared at Will. “Perhaps they aren’t the best means, but they are to a noble end. And the lives lost were not innocent. I’m sure this Dominique woman was equally as bad as Nathaniel.”

Edmund got up sharply, then regained his composure and stood silently. Beatrice was in tears. Will spoke gently, “I can assure you that you are dealing with false information. I am not the man Michael says I am. But talk is cheap. I won’t try to convince you with words. Knowing how long you and Michael have been friends, it will take a lot more than words to undo the lies you’ve been fed. I will let actions speak for themselves.”

Will knelt in front of Morgan, “I can’t imagine the pain and torment you’ve been through losing your family and the girl you love, but I know someone who does.” Will gave Edmund a nudge towards Morgan.

Edmund spoke up, “My family was also murdered, by Tezelians. It’s a terrible feeling, being the last one left.”

Morgan bowed his head slightly, “I’d rather I had died with them.”

“Me too,” Edmund replied. “But then you have to think about why the world still needs you.”

“The world doesn’t need me.”

“Then make yourself into something the world needs. I couldn’t protect my family, so I made it my life’s duty to protect his.” Edmund motioned to Will.

“How do you brush it off so easily?” Morgan wondered.

“I don’t,” Edmund replied, “I simply absorb myself in service. I realized that my family wouldn’t want me wallowing in misery because of them. They would want me making the most of every second I have on this earth, and helping others to the best of my capacity. I honor my family in my good deeds.”

Hearing this made Will question his decision to put his family over his kingdom.

Morgan drooped, “I wish I could be like that. It would be easier if I hadn’t lost the love of my life.”

Will interjected, “Actually, Dominique, the girl mentioned in the letter, is Edmund’s love.”

Morgan looked up at Edmund as if he was the only person who understood, “Is that true?” Edmund sadly nodded.

“I’m sorry,” Morgan remorsed. “Will you please unbind me? I swear I won’t attack you again.” Will nodded and Edmund and Beatrice untied Morgan. “I really don’t know what to think about all of this,” Morgan sighed, “but if you are innocent, then I’m sorry about the collar bone.”

“I’m fine,” Will shrugged and then gasped in pain. “We do need to go; it is getting late.”

Edmund and Beatrice began to follow them, but Morgan gently grabbed Beatrice’s hand, “Wait.” She turned to him and he looked at her with wounded eyes, “Why did you kiss me?”

“Do you really want the honest truth?” she asked. He nodded and she explained, “I needed to calm you down. You were so filled with rage and hate; the feelings needed to be replaced with something, so I did something with a powerful enough effect to calm you.”

He looked down, “So you didn’t feel anything?”

She lifted his chin to meet her eyes, “I was terrified. There wasn’t time to feel anything.” His heart sank in recognition and she continued, “Do I miss the feelings that were once there? Yes. But you aren’t stable enough.” She backed up and let her hand slip out of his, “I’ll always love you, but love is not enough.” With that, she left.

A few paces away from Morgan’s house, they found Jennifer wandering. Her voice was frazzled, “Will, you left me! I followed you, but I couldn’t find you.”

Will rushed to help her, “I'm sorry, but I needed to help Beatrice with Morgan. I'll walk you back to the inn, but then it is goodbye.”

She gave a disappointed sigh, but clung close to his arm the whole way back. In the middle of a lecture on the proper care and maintenance of shoes, she stumbled and tripped. “Ow!” she screamed. “My ankle! I think it's broken!”

After looking at her ankle some, he said, “You probably just strained it; it'll be fine.”

“Well I can't walk!” she insisted.

“If you need it, I can carry you,” Edmund offered.

“I don't even know you,” Jennifer snubbed. “Will, I need you to carry me.”

Will looked somewhat desperately at her, “Jennifer, my collar bone is broken. I can't carry you.”

“Then act as my walking stick,” she insisted, pulling in really close to him. He sighed and helped her back to the inn. Upon arriving at her bedroom door, she turned to Edmund, “Oh, I forgot my handbag. I left it on the corner table. Could you fetch it for me, please?”

Will nodded, so Edmund left to get it. Will opened the door and helped Jennifer into her room. “Good night, Jennifer,” he began to leave, but she grabbed his arm.

“Will, I never got to say goodbye. You and I were together, then suddenly I woke up and you were married. Do you have any idea how hard that was for me?”

“I am sorry,” Will replied, keeping what distance he could with her hanging on him, “but that is past and you have to respect the fact that I am married now.”

“Can’t I have a goodbye kiss?” she begged.

It hurt him to see her in pain, but his loyalty was sure, “No, Jennifer. I will not betray my wife.” She began to cry and pulled closer to him. He pulled away, “Truly, I don’t like to see you in pain, but I must go. This is not an appropriate setting. I apologize for any pain I’ve caused you, but this is goodbye.” He slipped out of her grip and left.

Edmund arrived at the door, “I can’t find your handbag, my lady.”

“I forgot I left it here. Thanks.” She then turned to cry. Once the door closed, she sat up with completely dry eyes and wiped her lips with a red handkerchief, “Okay, plan two.”

* * * * *

Kat hugged her crying child in the royal hideout, “It’s okay, my darling; Daddy will save us.” Lizzy started chewing on her silver spoon and began to calm down. Kat lay down on the bed with Lizzy and held her close. Dominique lay on another bed in the same room. Kat didn’t know why they were held captive here. It was the hideout Kat had first shown Michael. Eventually Lizzy slept, but Kat found another sleepless night.

Lost in thought, she realized that today was the last day of the task, as it had been three days since their captivity. She had seen the soldiers rushing through the passageways and guessed there was a hostile takeover. She cringed at the thought of what they would do to Will, if he was captured. A sob choked out as she prayed he was alive.

She wondered if Will was on a mad quest to Tezel to save her and sighed, wishing she could let him know where she was. She wondered, I don’t know what Michael is planning, but I have a feeling this takeover won’t satisfy him. There must be something I can do for Will. She sighed. It’s been days, and I still have no clues.

Her mind lingered on her beloved husband as she prayed for his safety.

* * * * *

Will lay down on the ground near some bushes. The night was still, excepting the sound of crickets and the wind rustling the leaves.

Jennifer waited nearby, debating with herself, To be sporty or not to be sporty? She weighed the options between making a big reveal alongside a dramatic assassination and simply shooting him with a hemlock dart. The hemlock option was a safer bet, but felt boring to her.

But this is the big target, she argued within. I can’t just kill him like everyone else. Though failing on the big target is a bad idea. Where is the sport in that?

She hesitated and then groaned at herself, Okay, I’ll do the practical thing for once and kill him the normal, dependable way. She promised herself that she would have some real fun with another target very soon.

A few hours into the night, Jennifer crept into range in a nearby tree. Edmund woke up and looked around. So paranoid, Jennifer thought, I hate light sleepers. What’s he so worried about anyway? I’m just going to kill Will. Some people just don’t know when to relax.

After looking around for a few minutes, Edmund settled down. Jennifer attached a flower to the poisoned dart, took aim, and shot it right into Will’s neck. Will reacted and Edmund awoke. Jennifer, concealed by the luscious foliage which was already being rustled by the wind, made a quick getaway through the trees.

Another flawless assassination, Jennifer congratulated herself and made her way to the castle.

With the moon as his only light, Edmund could hardly tell what was going on with Will besides his trembling. He did find the dart in his neck and pulled it out. “Poison,” he gasped. “Will, what do you need?” He checked Will’s pulse, which was racing.

“I don’t know,” Will mumbled, “I doubt you can do anything.”

Edmund picked Will up and carried him to the inn, which they had set camp very nearby. The innkeeper, Bartholomew, was awakened and helped Edmund put Will on a table in a back room where they could actually see him. Will’s pupils were dilated so that the green hardly even showed. His heart rate had slowed dramatically, and his tremors almost stopped. His breathing became slower and more painfully executed.

“Will!” Edmund called desperately. “Can you speak at all?”

Will’s chest jerked as he let out a strained gust of air. Edmund frantically explained all he knew and showed the dart to the innkeeper, and his barmaids present. “Hemlock,” said one of the girls, named Hannah, after examining the dart. “I’ve seen it before. There is no known cure.” She looked down, “Most victims die within hours because they are paralyzed and can’t breathe.”

Edmund turned to Will desperately, “Will, you can’t die! It is not an option! You have to live!”

Will strained for breath as Hannah tended to him. “It will get worse,” she sighed, “victims can only fight it for so long.”

“Then we’ll have to help him fight it,” Edmund determined. “Please, help me save him.” If Will wasn’t so disoriented, he would have been stunned as he had never seen Edmund so frazzled or desperate.

Hannah looked into Edmund’s pleading eyes, and at the pain of her prince. “I’ll do what I can,” she sighed, “He is starting to lose control of his extremities. Soon, he will be completely paralyzed, and in a few hours, he won’t be able to breathe.”

As the hours passed by, Edmund and Hannah kept watchful eyes on him; Will felt less and less of his body and had less ability to move.

Inside, Will was panicking. Why could he not move his body? He couldn’t talk and he couldn’t breathe. He desperately tried to move his chest up and down to force some air in. I don’t remember how to breathe! he screamed inside. How do I breathe? A tear rolled from his eye.

Suddenly, in his mind, he heard the voice of his mother, Elizabeth, saying, “William, your will is the only thing that can’t be taken from you.” He then heard the voice of his adopted mother, Kimberly, saying, “You live for Katrina and Elizabeth now.” I can’t die leaving Kat and Lizzy, Will thought. I need to save them. I need the will to keep breathing.

With great strain and effort, Will choked out the audible noises, “Aaa… kaa… t.”

Edmund looked at him, “Kat?” Will couldn’t see, but he heard Edmund and tried to affirm with two blinks of his eyes. Edmund leaned over him, “Don’t you dare give up on me. I can’t take care of Kat for you; you have to live and save her!”

Will jerked a bit, but his breath was strained. “He isn’t getting air inside him,” Hannah looked desperately at him. “You, keep him motivated, as I think he can understand us, and keep him awake; his breathing will only happen while he’s conscious. I’ll try to get some breath in him.” She plugged his nose, blew air into his mouth, closed his mouth, then pushed on his chest to release the air, and then blew air into his mouth again, pushing his body through the function of breathing.

Edmund stood over her as she worked and spoke to Will with passion, “You always say that not only would you die for love, but you would live for love. This is not the time to die. You have to live, for Kat and for Lizzy! They need you. You can’t give up, and you can’t stop breathing. I know it is hard, but you can do it.”

Edmund could see the emotion in Will’s eyes and continued, “There is no incurable poison, just the lack of determination to keep your body functioning. I believe in you. You can do this. Kat needs you. You can not leave this world while your wife and child are wasting away in prison. You have to live, for them!”

This seemed to help Will, so Edmund continued, “Kat loves you; she believes in you, and she needs to see you again. Don’t quit on me. You have to survive! Don’t give up. Find the will to live, for Katrina and Elizabeth!”

This continued for hours. Another barmaid named Jasmine came in to help, so she and Hannah took turns blowing air into Will’s mouth. After a while, she pulled out a pair of bellows and said, “This might make it easier for all of us.”

Edmund’s face lit up, “That’s brilliant!” He proceeded to take his turn helping Will through the process of breathing.

Hannah’s face scrunched up, “Jasmine, how long ago did you think of that?”

Jasmine looked away guiltily, “A while ago.”

“Why didn’t you bring it up earlier?”

Jasmine’s face turned innocent, “Can you blame me? I didn’t want to miss out on the chance to say I gave mouth to mouth to the prince!” She winked at him and Will’s eyes widened.

The bellows made for much easier work through the night and into the morning. It seemed to help Will as well.

The innkeeper was fortunately very understanding and allowed the barmaids to remain with Will as the morning passed by. Adrenaline kept Edmund and the girls moving lively despite their sleepless night. Hannah boiled some herbs nearby for some additional breath support.

“His pulse is weak, but he’s still alive,” Hannah noted at noon. “Most people are dead within a few hours, so he’s made it longer than most. I had two leaves once and took three days to recover. His dosage is much higher, surely meant to kill, but he has a fighter’s spirit. Let’s try to work a miracle and save his life.” Will had stopped breathing, so she proceeded to blow air into his mouth.

Edmund shook him, “Will, stay awake, and keep breathing. Is there anything you can move now?”

Will made great effort to move something in his body, but only his eyelids would move, and he could shape his words some as the air was pushed out of his lungs.

I am the child of King Alexander, Will thought to himself. He knew his father was immune to hemlock and wondered if maybe he had inherited some immunity to it. After struggling to breathe again, he dismissed that thought. I just have to stay alive until it wears off. His thoughts turned back to Kat, Katrina, you’re the reason I’ve made it this far; I’m coming for you!

A wave of exhaustion swept over him and his eyelids started to flutter. He woke himself back up, I have to keep breathing! Suddenly he remembered something; his collar bone was broken, wasn’t it! He took a moment to be grateful that he didn’t feel the pain of that at this time. He moved his thoughts back to Katrina, Elizabeth, and Kalbem, They need you, Will; keep breathing!

The others were feeling the same wave of exhaustion, though Jasmine was the most lively. Edmund rested his head on the table Will was on, “Jasmine, Will wants to hear about Kat. Is there anything you can say to him? I’m afraid my speeches have been slightly repetitive.”

Jasmine smiled, “I may have just the thing.” She hovered over Will, “Katrina needs you. How about I tell you your own love story, as it is told in the kingdom? That will remind you of the beautiful love you have and the wonderful woman you need to live for.”

Will blinked twice, which had been decided earlier to mean “yes”.

“Oh goodie!” Jasmine giggled and began, “Once upon a time, in a far away land… Or rather, it was this land, in the beautiful castle of Kalbem, framed by the mountains, there were two young children by the names of Katrina and William. They were arranged to be married when they were very young. Will’s older sister, Samantha, had a big hand in the arrangement, as she was present at all the negotiations between their parents. Kat and Will were very obedient children and decided to make things work, so they spent their childhood together and became best friends. Soon, one could hardly tell if they had been arranged or if they had come up with it themselves. Clearly the match was made in Heaven.”

She paused to start his breathing again, then continued, “For Kat’s birthday one year, Will made a beautiful necklace out of pewter. ‘My love,’ he said, ‘as a token of my deep devotion to you, I have made this necklace of kissing dragons for you and me, to always remind you that I am with you in heart and mind, always.’ He then kissed her for the first time over the gardenia bush. As the time passed by, they stayed close, but kept proper distance for their age. That all changed when he found out he was king. His long lost father, our late king, finally revealed to him that he was the rightful heir to the throne. He regretfully informed Will that he had to override the betrothal between Will and Kat so Will could marry Lady Jennifer of Volez for political reasons. Will, being one to never shirk his duty, agreed to the arranged marriage and began courting Jennifer.”

Will was shocked, both because the story was completely inaccurate and because it had too many accurate details. He had no idea his private life was so public. Again, Jasmine helped him breathe, then continued, “Kat wasn’t allowed to know that he was the prince, so she was told the betrothal was off without explanation. She begged Will to tell her why he no longer loved her, but he stayed true to his word that he wouldn’t tell her, though it nearly killed him, and he spent many restless nights lamenting over the loss of the love of his life. The breakup was hard on Kat, so she started courting as many men as she could to take her mind off Will. Over time, her suitor Michael found favor with her, so she began steadily courting him.”

I guess that part is mostly true, Will agreed internally.

Jasmine continued, “She knew of his royal heritage and was making plans to become his queen, but when Will was taken hostage by Tezel, Kat couldn’t take it anymore and said, ‘I must be with Will or no one!’ She promptly dumped Michael and waited by the window every day while Will was in prison. When Will came back, he gave Kat a gardenia and a kiss, then begged his father to let him marry for love. Since Jennifer was believed to be dead, Will’s betrothal was off. After the most beautiful and impassioned speech about his love for Kat, the king conceded to let Will pursue her. At the moment of consent... ”

Jasmine blew more air into Will’s mouth with the bellows, “At the moment of consent, Will sped off to call on Kat. After six months of courtship, he took her to the glass bridge over a stream, and as depicted in Samantha’s painting, he asked her to marry him, saying, ‘Katrina, you are the light of my life. I was only courting Jennifer in the line of duty, but I realized that my first duty was to my heart. I couldn’t bear losing you. Even if I had to lose my kingdom, my profession, and all those dear to me, I had to be with you. I choose to follow my heart, and my heart is with you.’”

If Will could show near horror in his eyes, he was doing it at that moment. Jasmine smirked and continued, “Katrina beamed and replied, ‘My dearest love, I gratefully accept your proposal as you are the deepest desire of my heart. I feel the need to apologize for my behavior as well since I betrayed my own heart in courting other men. I couldn’t bear the thought of you marrying another, so I tried to fill the gaping hole in my heart with Michael. I wasn’t happy though, as no one could fill that hole in my life but you. I will marry you or no one, so I ditched the glamour of Prince Michael and clung to the hope that fate would bring us together again. I guess it has, so yes, I will marry you!’”

Will’s eyes were wide with shock at this strange story. It was definitely his life she was talking about, but where were all of these odd motivations coming from. Was this really how the kingdom thought he and Kat got together? Jasmine helped him begin breathing again and continued, “After a long year of preparations and diplomacy, they were finally wed. Kat put special consideration into the dress and flowers. She used gardenia designs in everything: the tapestries, the table arrangements, the bridesmaids, the cake, the silverware, and everything. They spent their honeymoon in a field of gardenias and had a beautiful daughter named Elizabeth.”

Will laughed on the inside, She did have gardenia designs everywhere. I hope no one gives her that field of gardenias idea though - she’d try it.

Jasmine leaned in close to Will, “One day, Will was poisoned, but against all odds, he pulled through. He then saved his wife and child, overthrew the evil tyrant, Michael, who was jealous that Kat didn’t love him anymore, and they lived happily ever after, standing as a lasting symbol to Kalbem that true love conquers all.” She smiled triumphantly and leaned in closer to Will, “Do you know what the moral of the story is, your highness?” She blew more air into his mouth.

Will was wide awake by now as he struggled to respond to this inaccurate detailing of his love life. He summoned all the control he could get over his body and breathed out the sounds, “Kif… ita… map.”

Edmund jumped at the sound of Will talking at all.

Jasmine looked confused, “What did he say?”

“‘Give it a map,’ I think,” Edmund replied.

“That’s what I thought, but it makes no sense. Maybe he wants a map?”

Will strained to swivel his head, which he did, but in the process lost his breath, which Jasmine worked to bring back. He blinked once, which meant no.

“The moral of the story is you have to live, Will!” Jasmine pleaded.

He felt himself drifting. Live? he thought. Living and breathing are so hard. I can relax and it won’t hurt. Death would be easy and painless. Yes, dying sounds nice. He then envisioned his wife and child cold, starving, and mistreated. He heard Lizzy crying and Kat calling, “Don’t leave me, Will. I love you!”

William! he shouted within himself. Dying is not an option. Kat needs me. I don’t care if it’s hard; Kat is worth the fight to live. I must protect her, and I can’t do that when I’m dead. Find the strength to stay alive! With more determination, he called out in his mind, Kat, I’m coming for you! Will strained and groaned within himself, but he kept fighting. Don’t give up, he kept repeating to himself.

They watched him through the afternoon. He was making efforts to breathe, but often needed help. At one point, Hannah turned to Jasmine and said, “That wasn’t how their love story was told in the kingdom.”

Jasmine winked, “It kept him awake, didn’t it? I’ll apologize after he thanks me.” She turned to Will, “Now, my prince, you still aren’t allowed to sleep. Allow me to tell you the history of our kingdom, and when we’re done with that, you should hear about my love life.”

Copyright © 2019 Doles

The King of Kalbem Introduction

Chapter 15: The Victor

Chapter 17: Regrouping



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