The King of Kalbem: Chapter 17 - Regrouping
Chapter 17: Regrouping
Leaving Lizzy with Dominique, Kat was dragged into a room with Michael.
“Katrina,” he smiled, “it has been so long since I’ve had a conversation with you.”
“That last one didn’t really leave me wanting more.” She glared at him, “What do you want?”
“Right down to business now?” he commented. “Wonderful, I hate to waste time. If you didn’t notice, I have just taken over your castle.”
“Wonderful. My kinghood calls for a coronation and I wanted to give you a choice.”
“I have a feeling I won’t be excited over either option,” Kat coldly stated.
“So pessimistic, my lady. I thought I had quite a generous offer in mind.” He pulled her in close. She struggled, but he was far too strong for her to fight him. “Marry me and become my queen.” He kissed her rather forcefully.
She pulled away as hard as she could, which was only when he let her. “You cad!” she slapped him as hard as she could. “I am married.”
He slightly bothered, but chuckled and grabbed her hand, “Not for long. If Will is still alive, he won’t be for long. I have my best assassin out for him. But if you want, I can delay this conversation until his death is confirmed.”
Kat held back her tears unsuccessfully. “There is no need,” she tried in vain to pull away. “I’m not leaving Will, even after death!”
“Please don’t be so hasty,” Michael’s voice was as smooth as silk, his grip as firm as iron, and he kissed her with passion. “You have no idea my feelings for you.”
She bit him and pleaded, “Please, if you really cared, you wouldn’t force me against my will. And you wouldn’t try to kill my husband and take over the kingdom.”
“But Kat, I had my own reasons that you wouldn’t understand for that. Everything I ever said to you was true though. I really do have feelings for you, Katrina. Please reconsider my offer and be my queen.” He ran his hand down her arm.
“I would rather die than betray my husband,” she cried.
“That was the second option,” Michael sighed. “Either you marry me and we rule together or you can be executed and I can raise your child.” Kat gasped, widened her eyes, and lost the ability to move.
“Besides,” he continued, “your husband is dead, so you’re finally available.” He advanced again; she struggled and slapped him so hard her hand was red. He then brought her to a guard outside his chambers, “I’ll let you think about it.”
She broke down crying as the guard dragged her away. “Will!” she cried, echoing off the halls of the castle, “Where is Will!”
Working in the kitchen, Caroline heard the servant gossip, “Kat is being held hostage here in the palace,” one of the maids said. “We heard her voice through the halls, calling for Will. So many of us heard it, we are sure she’s here.”
We’ll have to notify Will, wherever he is, Caroline thought, then replied, “Thank you for telling me.” She rushed to find Daniel. “Daniel!” she calmed herself to sound less urgent. “Shall we go for a stroll?”
“Okay,” Daniel said, standing there.
Caroline cleared her throat, “Daniel, shall we go for a stroll?”
“Oh yes,” he realized. His eyes widened and he looked at her hand. Then he looked at her for approval. She gave an expectant look. He looked back at her hand and reached for it slowly. He closed his eyes as he grabbed it.
“You can exhale now,” Caroline laughed. The two of them walked into a broom closet. Daniel looked at the hand he was holding as if he was holding the end of a lit rope. He then looked at her and dropped her hand. “I’m sorry I keep pulling you in closets,” she apologized, “as it’s not terribly appropriate, but there aren’t safe places, and there aren’t many people I trust.”
“It’s fine,” Daniel replied, “I wouldn’t try anything.”
“I know,” she giggled softly. “Now, what I needed to say was that Kat is in the castle.”
Daniel perked up, “What?”
“Yes,” she affirmed. “Several palace subjects heard her calling for Will in the halls. It sounds like she is being held prisoner here. Will needs to know where she is, but we don’t even know where he is.”
“We don’t have to,” Daniel replied. “You know the information system farmers developed? When messages are shouted from field to field by the farmers of the kingdom, information can travel faster and wider than a man on a horse. If we send it through that system, then Will will most likely hear about it.”
“That is a brilliant idea!” Caroline agreed. “But we can’t get out of the castle to spread the rumors.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Daniel winked. “I may have put a certain something by the window on the north side. Even with the dress, you should be able to make it in and out.”
“That’s wonderful,” Caroline exclaimed. She hugged him in excitement, then looked up at him, “I’ll go home tonight and get my family to spread the rumors throughout the kingdom. Hopefully our prince will hear about it.”
“Sounds good,” Daniel replied. He hardly heard anything she said as she was hugging him. After a moment of looking into each other's eyes, they separated. “Now,” he continued, “I’m not sure what there is to do about the situation in the castle. We need to be on our guard, and hopefully we’ll come up with a plan before Michael is crowned. Anything else we need to say right now?”
“I think we’re okay for now.” She paused. “We should probably leave here as we came.”
“Oh,” Daniel realized. He looked at her hand, then at her, then back at her hand and took it. He held it so stiffly, his hand was shaking with strain by the time they left the closet.
* * * * *
Jennifer slipped into Michael’s chambers, “Hello handsome. Come and greet your future bride!”
Michael strode across the room to her, “I take it Will is dead?”
“I gave him double the lethal dose of hemlock. He is surely dead by now. Now can wedding arrangements be made?”
“Of course,” Michael agreed. He didn’t mention the offer he made to Kat.
Later that day, a decree was made to be sent out to the various parts of the kingdom.
* * * * *
Caroline arrived home and explained everything to her family. “We need to spread it through the kingdom that Princess Katrina is in the castle of Kalbem. Can you do that for me?”
Her little sisters looked at each other, then winked at her. “We’ve got this,” they said in unison.
* * * * *
Will was allowed to sleep that night, under constant supervision. There were many times that he stopped breathing, and whichever barmaid was assigned to watch over him at the time would repeat the process of getting him to breathe again. In the morning, they tried to help Will drink, but he nearly choked and had to be helped in his breathing again.
As Hannah finally had some moments to relax and think, she picked up the dart again and examined the flower that had been attached to the dart, “Cyclamen? That’s not a common flower. It means resignation and goodbye. I would be willing to bet that whoever did this knew William.”
At noontime, a herald came to the village to read the decree, which Edmund listened to as he hid in the treeline.
“People of Kalbem,” the herald read, “the coronation of Prince Michael as king of Kalbem will take place in one week’s time. That morning, Prince Michael will be wed to Lady Jennifer, then in the afternoon the coronation will take place. There will be a ball held for the nobility that evening. Be prepared to welcome your new king.”
Edmund rushed in and told Will about it. Will tried to speak, but he had barely begun to consistently breathe. He was able to force out a groan.
“Why would Michael marry Jennifer?” Edmund wondered. “You don’t suppose she had any part in this?” Will was too focused on breathing to think it through.
A few hours later, Bartholomew rushed in, “Rumor around the kingdom says that Katrina is in the castle, here in Kalbem!”
Will perked up at the sound of that. My Kat is in Kalbem? I knew I was supposed to go to Kalbem. He was grateful to know that his duty and family no longer brought him in conflicting directions, but his mind started racing as he tried to imagine where his family was located and what was being done to them. He struggled to breathe again and Edmund helped force air into and out of his lungs.
Hannah could sense his desperation, “It’s going to be alright, Will. You’re going to make it. You’ve already made it through the worst part. The first day and a half are really hard, then the next while is recovery. I took about three days to recover.”
“How do you know so much about Hemlock?” Edmund asked.
“I’m an herbalist,” she replied. “I study this stuff. As for my personal experience with hemlock, I thought it was Queen Anne’s Lace. Fortunately I figured it out before I took a lethal dose. It wasn’t a pleasant experience. My breathing didn’t stop, but I basically couldn’t really move for three days. Nasty stuff, hemlock is.”
That night, Will slept with only a few times he stopped breathing. In the morning, he managed to say, “Water.”
Hannah got some water for him and Edmund sat him up. She put a small amount of water into Will’s mouth, then stroked his throat to help him swallow it. “More,” he groaned. It took her a while, but she emptied a canteen of water into him. “I… think… I can talk… now,” Will worked out. He spoke very slowly, “I can’t move, but I’m starting to feel my face.”
“That’s wonderful!” Edmund was overjoyed to hear Will say so much.
“Now that he can drink, I’m going to infuse some herbs for him. Jasmine, watch over Will.” With that, Hannah rushed out.
Jasmine leapt over to Will and exclaimed, “Does that mean you can explain your cryptic response of ‘give it a map’, from earlier? I am rather curious.”
Will slowly forced the words out, “Your story’s moral was to follow your heart. That’s not how our story went. My dad, Silas the Silversmith, always told me, ‘Follow your heart, but be sure to give it a map.’ I was fixing the moral to your story.”
“Yeah, sorry about telling such an odd story,” Jasmine apologized. “I was trying to keep you awake, and I thought the best way was to keep you shocked and completely confused. The liberties I took on your love story, and history were entirely made up. However, my love life was not exaggerated.”
Will twitched a brief smile. He was about to ask about how Jasmine knew so many details, but instead blurted out, “Is it true that Kat is in Kalbem?”
“That’s the local gossip,” she affirmed, “and I’ve learned to trust it pretty well as the farmers usually have good sources. They just have to be careful to send a very brief and clear message so it doesn’t get distorted as it travels through the kingdom.”
“I need to save Kat.” He struggled. “I can’t even get up. I need to save my wife!” He groaned, “I feel so weak. Though, I actually don’t really feel anything at all. My broken collar bone doesn’t even hurt.”
Hannah ran back into the room, “Help me get him to drink this. It’s an infusion of peppermint, borage, ginger, and comfrey.”
They let it cool, then poured it in his mouth, sip by sip, and stroked his throat until he drank it all. He lost his breath, so Hannah helped him get it back. By the end of the afternoon, Will was breathing normally and was able to carry on conversations at a slow pace.
“So basically,” Will summed, “Kat and Lizzy are being held hostage for unknown reasons in my own castle, which was taken over from the inside, Dominique is… you know, Michael is crowning himself as king next week, and I’ve been poisoned by an assassin and should be dead. Did I miss anything?”
Edmund tried to lighten the mood some, “After we win, you’ll have to explain to your wife that you’ve been kissing barmaids.”
Will scrunched his eyebrows and smirked, “I think she’ll understand. It’s not like I’ve had much feeling in my lips to notice them saving my life.”
Jasmine whispered to Hannah, “I sure noticed! Even half dead, he’s a good kisser.” Hannah gently elbowed her in response.
Will looked at them, “Who knows about my condition?”
“Only the people that work here,” Hannah responded. “This room has been blocked and we have taken time off without explanation. We figured we shouldn’t let it out that our rightful king was dying in the back room.”
“I appreciate it,” Will replied. “It may play to our advantage if they think I’m dead. I doubt the assassin waited around to make sure I died, so to Michael, I am probably out of the picture, which would give me the element of surprise. We need to find a way to sneak into the castle.”
“We need to find a way for you to recover,” Hannah insisted.
“We do,” Edmund agreed, “but we might as well start planning what we’ll do.”
“First though,” Will changed subjects, “what is it with flowers being used in assassinations? My father also had a flower in his robes when he was killed.”
“He did?” Hannah chimed in. “That’s odd, because when Morgan’s family was found dead, there was also a flower associated with it. What flower was left with the king?”
“Black-eyed susan,” Will recalled. “I was told it symbolized justice.”
“That’s true,” Hannah replied.
“I didn’t even know there was a language of flowers until Lady Jennifer…”
Hannah cut him off, “You know Lady Jennifer?”
“Do you know her?” Edmund questioned.
Hannah nodded, “She’s also a master herbalist. We’ve trained together and exchanged supplies. She always had a fascination with the language of flowers.”
“Everyone knows that,” Will stated.
“And poison,” Hannah continued.
Will’s eyes widened and he got short of breath. He correlated all the events in his head, then once he could talk, softly spoke, “That would make sense. She arrived the night of my father’s assassination, she loves flowers, she knew what my father was immune to, she knows poison, and now she is set to marry Michael. Oh my goodness.” He caught his breath, “She’s the assassin!”
He contemplated, “And the flowers were her message to us. My father was justice. What was Morgan’s family?”
“Sunflowers, which symbolize adoration,” Hannah informed.
“And then my flower was what?”
“Cyclamen, which is resignation and goodbye.”
“Maybe she thought my father’s death was just, in some twisted way, I’m not sure what adoration has to do with murder, and then she was saying goodbye to me.” He winced in pain and started concentrating on breathing.
* * * * *
“Good news, Kat,” Michael entered the hideout where she was being held prisoner, “I had it confirmed that Will is dead. He was given twice the lethal dosage of poison, so you aren’t married anymore.” Kat bit her lip and let no noise out as the tears dropped down her cheek. “Though I need to amend my previous offer,” he added.
Kat said nothing as silent tears flowed.
Michael continued, “You see, I’m technically engaged, but I wasn’t sure if I’d keep Jennifer around long enough to marry her; she is a scary piece of work. But then I thought about it, and realized I could marry her and still keep you around… to be our child’s caretaker. And of course when I say our child, I mean that one.” He pointed to Elizabeth.
Kat still said nothing. “I should show you to your chambers.” Michael turned to Dominique, “Put her in the dungeon. We’ll see if I need her.”
He brought Kat to her chambers and put the child in her bed. He then pulled Kat in and gently kissed her, “I’ve missed that,” he sighed. “I wish you would cooperate with me. There is something special about you that Jennifer doesn’t have.”
Kat didn’t fight as he kissed her. She couldn’t speak or move; it was as if her entire body had shut down.
He seemed to enjoy her compliance and continued kissing her. He laid her on the bed and started running his hands down her.
“Please,” she begged, “don’t.” Somehow, she couldn’t get anything else out.
Michael looked at her pleading eyes. He saw the sorrow and he turned away for a minute. He sighed and got up.
“I’m sorry, Kat. I wish things were different for us.” He left the room and closed the door.
Kat lay there motionless for some time before she curled up and cried.
* * * * *
Will got up difficulty, “It’s been over three days, and I finally can move normally.” He faltered.
“But you are still so weak,” Hannah replied.
“I can’t hold off any longer. My family and my kingdom need me. The coronation is in six days, and if I’m to overthrow the usurper, I need to get a move on.” He stood up, with very little balance, hardly able to stand on his feet.
“You are so disoriented,” Hannah observed. “We need to get you a bit more in shape before you can ride anywhere.”
He was aided and given refreshment, but by noon time, he and Edmund were off, after a sincere thanks to Bartholomew and the barmaids with promises that if Will was successful, they would be greatly rewarded for saving his life. He had a hard time staying on the horse, but Edmund helped him along. They decided to go to the village just north of the castle since a direct approach to the castle would likely end badly. They arrived at Dominique’s house at dusk.
“Will, Edmund,” the weary tinker greeted them, “come in.”
They walked in and Edmund took a deep breath, “I need to tell you about Dominique.”
“I know,” Thomas replied with moist eyes.
“I’m so sorry,” Edmund despaired, “I tried to save her, but I failed. But I promise I will bring her back to you for a proper burial.”
The men and boys all gathered around for some group mourning.
Zachary informed Caroline’s family that Will arrived, and as soon as Caroline found out, she ran speedily to the house. “Will!” Caroline called upon entering, then remembering her place corrected, “Your majesty, did you hear the message that Katrina is in the palace?”
“So it’s true?” Will asked. “I did hear it. I almost went to Tezel.”
“We have to stop Michael’s coronation in six days,” she pressed.
“Tell me everything you know,” Will requested. “I’ve been near death for the past few days and have missed a lot of details.”
Caroline took a breath, “When you were named king, the passage doors all burst open and guards flooded the castle. The keep was quickly sealed off, leaving Kalbem’s soldiers outside. Michael sent for an army to come from the outside, but they probably won’t arrive until the day before the coronation. I’ve only been able to make it in and out of the castle because Daniel constructed a makeshift ladder so I could get out through the window. We’re burning a certain oil in the kitchen that produces suffocating smoke, so the guards don’t frequent it.
“There are a lot of guards in the palace, but not an army. Most of the palace Kalbemites are in the dungeons. Everyone who isn’t in the dungeons is too afraid to do anything. Both yours and Kat’s families are in the dungeon. The only ones who have slipped under the radar are Daniel and me. Like I said,” she smiled proudly, “there are certain kinds of smoke that will burn you from the inside and make you cough up a storm. They are rather unpleasant for soldiers; they are trained in battle, not in food.”
She paused and got back on task, “Kat’s voice was heard by several servants in the halls; she was calling for you. Michael is engaged to Lady Jennifer, and their wedding is to be held the day of the coronation.”
Will stared, “This is complicated. Could you sneak us into the castle?”
“I think so,” Caroline replied. “The kitchen staff is loyal to you. Michael didn’t exactly bring his cooks to help take over.”
“Wonderful,” Will replied. “Perhaps we’ll be able to do a slow infiltration from the inside if we let some people out of the dungeon and let some people through the gate. We’ll sleep on it and then we’ll head to the castle in the morning.”
Copyright © 2019 Doles