The King of Kalbem: Chapter 18 - Failed Preparations
Chapter 18: Failed Preparations
Will and Edmund got up the next morning and made plans with Caroline’s and Dominique’s families. By noon, they had snuck into the kitchen with Caroline and Daniel.
“I sealed off the kitchen to the guards,” Daniel informed, “and all the cooks here are loyal, but best stay on our guard.”
Edmund put on a peasant tunic and made his way to the dungeons. He suppressed his natural urge to look at the other soldiers in the eye, and kept his head bowed. “I have brought food for the prisoners,” he told the guard of the prison doors. He leaned in, “And I got some wine from the storage for you.” The guard smiled and let him in.
The guard and the three who were in the dungeons all gathered together to drink the wine Edmund gave them. Edmund casually went about the dungeon feeding people, he approximated that there were about fifty people being held there, which were all people who resisted the takeover. At one of the cells, he nearly gasped in shock, “Dominique?” he whispered.
She looked up at him, with sweat and soot on her face, and tears in her eyes, “Edmund?” she whispered back.
She would have said more, but he put his finger to his lip to signal her to stay quiet. He looked at the guards. They were taking freely of the wine by now and were not as coherent. Edmund motioned for her to come to another side of the cell, outside the direct view of the drunken guards. He clasped her hands through the bars with watering eyes, “I thought you were dead.”
She squeezed his hands and put her head on the bars near his head, “I’m sorry. She faked my death in case she needed me. I’m fine for now.”
He looked over at the guards and then back at her. “I’m so happy you’re alive!” He tilted her chin up with his right hand and kissed her through the bars. She put her hand on his chest and rested her head on the bars again. “Hold that thought,” he slipped away.
The guards were making merry of themselves, and Edmund did not have too much difficulty in knocking all four of them out. He pulled out the cell keys from the front door guard’s belt and went back to the prisoners, “I can’t let all of you out right now,” he warned, “this is meant to be a very slow prison break, so only four men will be allowed out. We are going to slowly replace the palace subjects with our people, let our army in, and then we are going to retake the kingdom. Will lives, and is in the keep right now.”
There was muttering among the prisoners as Edmund chose four men to clothe themselves as the guards and the originals took their place in their cells. Edmund opened Dominique’s cell and she ran out and hugged him. “Dominique,” he sighed, “it pains me, but I must leave you in this terrible place for now. But know that I will return for you as soon as I can.”
She nodded, “I understand,” and embraced him.
After hugging her tightly for a minute, he cupped her face in his hands and smiled, “I do owe you a proper goodbye.” Her face lit up and he slowly kissed her. He walked her back to the cell and lovingly shut the door. Stephen took the place as the main guard, and Edmund made his way back to the kitchen.
“Dominique is alive!” Edmund practically shouted at Will when he returned, then added as an afterthought, “And the operation went successfully.”
“Dominique?” Will gasped. “Why, Edmund, that is wonderful! What happened?”
“Apparently the assassin faked her death.”
“So Dominique might be able to tell if it’s Jennifer. Not sure if Michael has others, but I’m guessing she is the important one. How could we get Dominique out of the cell?”
“We could possibly disguise her as one of the servants to sneak her out. Though we should wait until most of the guards are replaced so the surveillance is down.”
Edmund didn’t question Will, and followed what he said.
* * * * *
A guard walked up to Stephen, “Where is Hampton? I thought this was his shift.”
“He’s inside,” Stephen replied, “want to see him?”
“Sure,” the guard replied, “I’m off now anyway.”
Stephen opened the door and he walked in. The guard was quickly knocked out, put in the prison cell and replaced with a Kalbemite guard in his clothes, who left and tended to his duties.
* * * * *
“Our soldiers are practically trying to scale the walls of the keep to get in,” Will noted. “If we can just get the gate open then we could probably retake the castle by force before the Tezelian army gets here. Edmund, go talk to Dominique and get all the information she may have.”
“With pleasure, my lord,” Edmund replied. He went to the dungeon, holding a water jug. Stephen let him in without question and Edmund quickly let Dominique out and into his arms. “My darling,” he kissed her gently, “I need you to tell me everything you know; any information could be helpful to our cause.”
She looked around nervously, then back at him, “Since I saw you last, I got up to fetch some water, then a man on a horse rode up, and the next thing I knew, I woke up in a dark cavern. I was held in the same place as Katrina and Elizabeth. They were moved to a different place, but Kat confided in me that Michael wanted to take her child away.”
Edmund showed visual disgust at the thought. Dominique continued, “At one point, I was blindfolded and brought to a tunnel near my grandparents, and the woman holding me identified herself as an accomplished assassin. She said she’d kill me and then the next thing I knew, I was back in the room with Kat. I don’t know why she didn’t kill me, because my grandparents didn’t do what she said.”
Edmund pulled her in closely, “I’m so glad she didn’t.”
Dominique continued, “When they moved Kat, they sent me to this cell because Will was believed to be dead, but they might still want me as leverage against you. That’s all I know, but it did sound like I may be part of a wedding execution.”
Edmund made careful note, then tilted her head up, “I’m taking you out of here.” He reached into the water jug and pulled out a cleaner peasant dress. He also had a damp cloth with which he wiped the dirt off her face and hands. “Change into this, and you’ll be one of the castle cooks. We have a sanctuary in the kitchen.”
She dressed herself and followed him out of the dungeon. She walked slightly behind and beside him as he navigated back to the kitchen. “Dominique!” Caroline exclaimed, “I’m so glad you’re safe. Come, you can help as a cook.”
Dominique tended to her duties and the men in the dungeon continued to switch with guards they could pick off. “We need to be faster,” Aaron told Edmund the next morning when he came to check on them, “there are already a few people who are suspicious that they can’t find certain people.”
“I agree,” Edmund replied. “What needs to be done?”
Aaron thought, “Only about eighty guards are left that took over the castle, and we have replaced about ten so far. We have twenty-six more soldiers in the dungeon to send in.”
“So after we do that, they will only have forty-four or so guards, and when we let our army in, it will be easy. The question is how to replace the rest without getting noticed.”
“Yes,” Aaron replied. “However, once we can get the gate opened, we do have an army that can come in.”
“Someone needs to alert them of the plan so they are prepared when the gate is opened.” Edmund clarified, “In reality, it seems the bigger issue is getting the gate opened and having the army ready to take back our keep?”
“Yes. Opening the gate will take a few more men in Tezelian uniforms, but I think I can do that. I don’t know how to prepare the army in time.”
“I could get to them,” Edmund assured. “When will you have the gate opened?”
Aaron sighed, “You need to start preparing the troops now. I will try to get it opened as fast as I can. Hopefully it will be at noontime, but it may be a bit later than that. Wait for the gate and then charge in.”
“Yes sir,” Edmund went back to the kitchen and explained his plan to Will. Edmund bid Dominique farewell and climbed out the window. He made his way to the barracks and got the soldiers’ attention, “Prepare to take over the keep. The gate will be opened after noon and then we need to overthrow the usurper.”
* * * * *
“Katrina is in the secondary royal chambers with the baby. She’s confined there. Michael sometimes visits, but that’s about it, your highness.”
“Thank you, Samuel,” Will cringed at the thought of Michael visiting his wife and child. I need to save them! In a wave of desperation and the masculine tendency to not tell anyone what he was doing, he left the kitchen to find Kat.
Dressing as a servant and looking down was quite effective in helping him go unnoticed. The person who did recognize him received a begging look and a finger to the lips which the lady obeyed without question.
There was one guard by Kat’s door. Will looked at himself compared to the guard. There was no way he could get into the royal chambers as a servant. That guard was far too big and experienced for Will to attempt to fight him, especially with a broken collar bone, and he had no help or backup. He then remembered the window in that room and continued further down the hall to another window. After looking around, Will climbed out the window to the narrow ridge of stone that went from the bottom of his window to the bottom of the next.
Will looked at the stretch of ledge, no wider than the length of his foot, with no grips for his hand other than the textured rock next to him. He faced the wall, and despite the sharp pain in his collar bone, he unslinged his arm and spread both arms out on the wall. I must be out of my mind, he thought, this is really stupid.
He carefully started inching along the ledge. He felt terrified as he went, since he was one slip away from a rocky fall. But he kept his eye on the balcony to Kat’s chamber. Once he got through this part, he would be with his family.
Will felt a surge of pain over and over as he inched along the walls. He started to get a little dizzy, so he stood still, hugged the wall, and closed his eyes. Kat is on the other side, he reminded himself.
He gripped what he could and kept going. As he hit the halfway point, he felt a gust of wind and held his position as firmly as he could, despite the pulsing pain he felt shooting all over his body. Don’t lose traction! He shouted internally. Keep your feet on the ledge. He slowly moved his right foot and then slid his left foot closer. He repeated in his mind that his family needed him and was very close.
There were several times he felt like he was going to pass out or fall to his death, but after much torment, Will finally reached the window. He almost lost his balance in getting in, but he managed to catch himself with his good arm and got inside.
Kat lay on the bed with her baby in her arms. She noticed the hand on the edge of her window and almost screamed, but then she saw it was Will, so she put her baby down and ran to him, “Will!” she exclaimed quietly, but with emotion, as she embraced him.
“Gardenia!” he exclaimed joyfully, then winced, “Watch the arm; I broke my collar bone.”
“What?” she gasped. “Do you need anything? How can I help you?”
He pulled her in with his right arm and embraced her tightly. “I’m fine.” He was bursting with emotion, but he couldn’t seem to get any words out. They both knew each had been through a lot and were so concerned about the other. They just stood there, hugging and kissing for several minutes until Will finally got some words out, “I’ve been so worried about you. Are you well? Have they mistreated you?”
Kat’s eyes suddenly soaked themselves, “Terribly, my darling. They haven’t beat me or done anything to hurt me physically, but Michael has been advancing me so atrociously. I tried to stop him, but I couldn’t.”
Will was shocked and tensed, “I’m going to kill him!”
More tears came, “I never wanted to betray you.” She buried her head in his chest and cried.
Will was moved with compassion for his wife and softened. “My dearest love,” he lifted her chin so their eyes met, “You did not betray me; he is much stronger than you and capable of forcing himself upon you.” He paused, “How far did he...”
She continued crying, “He stopped on his own, but it was a lot. Please forgive me, my prince.”
He looked tenderly at her, “There is nothing to forgive, my princess.” He kissed her, “I could not have asked for a more perfect woman.” She hugged him again and after a pause, he mentioned, “By the way, I have a confession to make as well. You see, I was poisoned with a lethal dose of hemlock...”
“That’s what I heard,” she interrupted. “They said you were dead. How on earth did you survive?”
“When I was nearly suffocating, two barmaids took turns blowing air into my mouth and running my breathing for me for two or three days straight. So it was a bit like kissing, but I was paralyzed; I couldn’t feel what they were doing… And they didn’t really ask for my permission… We weren’t really kissing… Please don’t kill me?”
Kat smiled lovingly at him, “Honey, if they saved your life, I owe them my thanks. Don’t worry about it. I trust you.” She kissed him and then coyly smirked, “I guess that doubles how many girls you’ve kissed.”
He chuckled, “I have nothing on your number.” She reacted with a funny face.
“The only kisses I ever want to relive are right here,” she kissed him.
Will got back on track and began to explain their plans. “Except I don’t have a plan to get you out of here; I just kind of went for it.”
* * * * *
Jennifer barged into the kitchen, “Good heavens, who even makes eastern food anymore? Surely that’s the reason for this suffocating smoke.” I guess cooks have as little need for air as I have, she thought to herself. She approached Caroline and Dominique, “Cook, I need lobelia.” She spoke with her natural, harsh voice, then caught herself and switched to her usual vapid voice, “For the wedding, of course.”
“Very well,” Caroline replied uncomfortably, “I’ll add it to the foods it’ll go with.”
“No, I want a bottle of it,” Jennifer corrected.
“Why would you want a bottle of it?”
“Do not question me! Do as I say; I am your future queen.”
“Yes, my lady,” Caroline went off to get it and Jennifer looked Dominique over. Dominique uncomfortably bowed and did not meet her eyes. Jennifer raised an eyebrow, smirked, grabbed a bottle of oil, got the lobelia from Caroline, and whisked away.
“I’ve never seen her before,” Dominique remarked to Caroline, “but there is something about her that I really don’t like.
Jennifer went straight to Michael’s chambers and immediately leapt onto him in kisses. “I believe we have something going on that we don’t know about,” she warned him. “Dominique, the tinker’s daughter, is currently in the kitchen, posing as a cook.”
“Really?” Michael replied, somewhat uninterested in her advances. “That does sound suspicious. I’ll have to send guards to check the dungeons. Would you like to apprehend Dominique?”
“I think the person freeing her is more important than her herself,” Jennifer noted. “I’ll tend to my duties like a proper little lady, and you can let me know if you need anything, alright?”
“Deal,” he kissed her, “I’m going to go check the dungeon now.” They left the room and she began walking towards her chambers, but once he was out of sight, she went to Kat’s chambers.
“She has grown so much in the past month,” Will was fawning over Lizzy as Jennifer barged in.
Jennifer’s eyes widened and she nearly shouted, “You’re alive?” Usually she contained her shock on the rare occasion she was shocked at all, but she had never failed an assassination attempt like that. She then caught herself and switched back to her vapid voice, “Michael told me you were dead.”
“Yes,” Will replied, “he had someone attempt an assassination on me, but it was unsuccessful.”
“Why that is terrible, simply terrible! I’m so glad you’re safe, Will.”
“Doesn’t it disturb you that you’re marrying this man in four days?” Kat asked.
“Not really,” Jennifer shrugged, “it’s not the worst thing I’ve seen him do. He may be a power-hungry, lying guttersnipe, but he is very handsome, and has two kingdoms. I don’t see much of a downside for me.” Will and Kat looked at her in confusion and she drew nearer, “So how is my baby doing?” motioning to Lizzy.
Will and Kat stood protectively over her. “She is not yours,” Kat stated, “and she never will be.”
“Oh tush,” Jennifer motioned her hand as if Kat were a fly to shoo.
“Jennifer,” Kat tried to reason with her, “Michael is an evil man. You must not marry him; he will not hesitate to betray you.”
“I know all about betrayal, Kat. I can take care of myself.”
“In the past few days, he has kissed me and handled me in such a way that would not be appropriate for a married woman and an engaged man. He serves no one but himself, and he does not stop himself at you.”
Jennifer was shocked to find herself genuinely hurt by this. It may have been the first genuine feeling she had felt in a long time. I’m plenty to keep him satisfied, she thought, am I not enough for him?
She concealed those thoughts and shrugged, “All I want is the power and money anyway. Michael is just a nice sideshow.”
Will looked at her seriously, “Jennifer, are you the assassin he sent after me and my father?”
Jennifer laughed and returned to her natural voice, “Now why would I tell you that if it were true? Though it certainly took you long enough to figure it out, I mean, I practically sign my name on the bodies, but no one even thinks to expect the vapid Lady Jennifer.”
* * * * *
Michael brought ten guards to the dungeon, where Aaron and his men still were. Since all the men loyal to Will were out of their cell, which were a good twenty, Michael and his men were quickly outnumbered. He sent a man to call for backup as he faced Aaron and the Kalbemites. As he was an expert fighter, he went through men quickly, and began to fight with Aaron.
Many Tezelian and Kalbemite guards returned, but soon the Kalbemites were outnumbered and a bloodied Aaron surrendered.
“Who let you out of prison?” Michael demanded.
“A hero, trying to save Kalbem,” Aaron answered.
Michael held a sword to his chest, “You want to tell me who is causing problems in my castle. It may be quite terrible for you if you don’t.”
Aaron looked defiantly at Michael, “You know exactly who is causing problems in this castle; he’s pointing a sword at me right now.”
Michael slashed Aaron’s arm and Sierra gasped, catching Michael’s attention. “Watch your mouth, Sir Aaron; it could get you killed.” He then smirked at Sierra and motioned for his guards to bring her over. “Or even worse,” he pointed his sword to Sierra’s throat.
“He’s not even in the keep right now,” Aaron tried to keep his beating heart and cold sweat unnoticed.
“Who isn’t?” Michael asked.
“How do I know you won’t hurt her?”
“You are just going to have to trust me,” Michael sneered. “Though her probability of survival is none if you don’t tell me what you know.”
Aaron sighed, “Edmund, Will’s personal bodyguard, let us out.”
“Loyalty to a dead master,” Michael remarked, “I guess we saw that coming. That does explain Dominique’s freedom. I guess it is fortunate we kept her around to motivate him to stand down.” He turned back to Aaron, “I’ll let you live for telling the truth. After all, if it gets out that I’d kill people whether or not they cooperate, then they aren’t likely to work with me.” He then slashed Sierra’s arm. “To match yours,” he laughed. “Lock them up.”
The Kalbemites were locked in the dungeons and the Tezelians were released. Aaron put pressure on Sierra’s arm and she put pressure on his. “At least he doesn’t know that Will is alive,” Sierra relieved, “but how are we to get the gate opened now?”
Michael sent a few guards to get Dominique from the kitchen. They didn’t patrol there because of the burning oil, but since they had a specific mission, it was completed without difficulty. She was brought to Michael’s chambers while he went to check on Kat.
* * * * *
“What do you plan to do to us?” Kat asked.
“I’m not sure,” Jennifer contemplated, “I honestly hadn’t thought of Will being alive, so I’ve had no time to think this through. I’m not particularly fond of any of you, so there’s little motivation to keep you alive.”
“What is your motivation?” Will asked.
She shrugged, “Power, money, and a good time. I’d like to have your kingdom. And that calls for either you to be dead or for Kat to be dead and you marrying me.” Will and Kat stepped back in concerned shock, but then Jennifer looked around like she heard something, “People are coming. Do not acknowledge I’m here.” She slipped behind a bed curtain.
Moments later, Michael walked in, and jumped back when he saw Will, “You’re supposed to be dead!”
“I assure you, my death was only barely exaggerated,” Will replied.
“Seize them,” Michael commanded his guards.
Kat and Will were pulled apart, and as Will’s arm was grabbed, he gasped in pain, “Please, my collar bone is broken.” The guard continued to hold his arm anyway. The pain caused him to collapse to the floor.
“You and your father don’t die easily,” Michael sighed. “Perhaps a certain assassin has outlived her usefulness.”
Will replied, “Are you just toying with Jennifer so you can get the throne?”
“You figured out it was Jennifer!” Michael congratulated. “Technically my father hired her to help me get the throne. She is awfully convenient to have around though and is quite pleasing. I used to be against killing people unnecessarily, but she has shown me that it is very practical.”
“How can you two even trust each other?” Will countered. “Both of you are liars that are likely to turn on each other as soon as it’s convenient.”
Michael looked threateningly at Will, “I am not a liar. I merely even the playing field because you are the cheater. First it was your father, and now it’s you.”
“Michael,” Will pleaded, “we’re cousins. Why do you hate me because our fathers don’t like each other?”
“It’s not only about that anymore,” Michael’s tone started to harshen. “Sure, our fathers had their issues, but then as I was working like a slave to become a knight faster than anyone thought possible, you swept in and stole my girl. And then when I beat every knight that stood in the way of the throne, you beat me by building a toy for children, while I did all the labor and an actual kingly task. The throne was my right anyway, as my father won it fairly. He just wasn’t strong enough to take it back. Now I can finally right the wrongs done to both him and me.”
Will knew Michael was too far gone for reason and hung his head.
“Now,” Michael got back on task, “how should I kill you? I tried to go for the effective way last time, and that didn’t work, so I might decide to have more fun with it this time I kill you. My clumsy assassin may not have been able to kill you with her poisons, but I imagine you won’t survive it if your head is removed from your shoulders. But first...” Michael pulled Kat in and kissed her in front of Will. Kat struggled, but she was held firmly. Will fought the guards, but couldn’t break free, and the pain from his collar bone buckled his limbs. He could still see Kat as Michael planted kisses on her, and he heard the screams of his crying baby.
* * * * *
“Morgan?” Edmund was shocked to see him with the army. “What are you doing here?”
Morgan took a deep breath, “I have been thinking about this a lot, and I’m still not sure what to think, but I believe Beatrice. I am here to fight for William, our rightful king.”
Edmund took Morgan’s hand and each patted the other on the back briefly, “Glad to have you.”
“Thanks,” Morgan replied. “And by the way, I’m sorry for what I did.”
Edmund and Morgan had the soldiers in good order preparing to retake the castle. There was still no sign of the gate opening, but it wasn’t too late after noon. Edmund found one of the captains, and left him and Morgan in charge to lead them while he slipped back into the kitchen.
Caroline was frantic and Daniel was standing there, helplessly watching her panic. “Edmund!” she cried. “Dominique was just barely taken away by the guards. There was a disturbance in the dungeon, so I’m pretty sure the plans for the gate have gone sour. And Will disappeared without telling us anything, so who knows where he is and what happened to him.”
Without a word, Edmund was off. Daniel finally got the idea and pulled Caroline in to hug her. She clutched onto him as she cried out her stress. When she finally calmed down, Daniel said, “I think I know how to raise the gates!” He darted off, leaving her standing there.
Edmund rushed up to the chambers Kat was held in. He was only stopped by one guard, which he beat easily.
“It seems the better man won,” Michael laughed. “Kat is mine now. However, I need to use you to threaten your people once my father’s army arrives. Guards, keep a hold on him. The Tezelian army is on the horizon, so it won’t be long.”
The door burst open and Edmund charged in. Michael was too distracted with that fact to notice that Jennifer tranquilized the men holding Will and Kat. Edmund quickly incapacitated the two men near the door and engaged Michael.
Michael was an expert at the sword, but so was Edmund. Will and Kat watched helplessly as Michael and Edmund swung powerful blows. As Edmund deflected a parry, he took out a dagger and slashed Michael’s fighting arm. Michael was still a good fighter left-handed, and caught Edmund’s sword and broke it with his falchion. Edmund immediately pushed the sword away with the hilt, rolled in towards Michael, and took his sword. Pointing it at Michael, Edmund said, “You are coming with us.”
Will pointed a sword at Michael as Edmund escorted him through the halls. Kat and Lizzy followed closely behind since Will didn’t want to leave them in the room with Jennifer.
“Get Dominique!” Michael shouted to some nearby guards.
Edmund tightened his grip on Michael, “Don’t you dare hurt her!”
“It’s an easy trade,” Michael replied, “me for Dominique. You can take the joy in killing me at the cost of her life, or you can hand me over in exchange for her. The choice is for you and your conscience.” Michael relaxed a little, satisfied. After all, these bleeding hearts were always slaves to their conscience.
A guard brought Dominique with a knife to her throat. “We can make a switch,” he recommended, “Michael for Dominique.”
“No!” Dominique quivered. “Don’t give up the kingdom for me!”
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