The King of Kalbem: Chapter 6 - True Friendship
Chapter 6: True Friendship
Kat watched as Michael wrapped up his practice for the day. “You are so close to knighthood, Michael!” she cheered.
“Indeed,” he smiled proudly, “it should only be a few more months.” He walked up and kissed her warmly. Ever since the kiss with Will, Kat had felt less comfortable kissing Michael, but she allowed it.
“That will be a splendid day. It is so impressive that you’ll probably achieve knighthood by your 19th birthday!”
“Only the strong have a right to power. I like to outperform the average.”
Kat’s eyebrows furrowed slightly and she nodded trepidatiously, “You certainly perform very well. Where are you going?”
“I’m going to brush my horse, shine my sword, review the knight’s oath again, and have a word with that awful blacksmith, Borin. I can’t count how many of his pieces I’ve broken. Of course, I don’t use his work, but the other knights do. I’ll catch up with you later.” He kissed her and walked off.
Kat felt slightly disappointed, but had a thought and walked towards the silversmith shop. Will was working on an ornate decoration when she walked in. He immediately put the item down and stood up, “Hello, Katrina. What brings you here?”
Kat shrugged shyly, “I didn’t have much to do and thought I’d pay you a visit. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“You’re not an interruption,” Will assured. “I can finish this piece tomorrow.”
“You can finish it up. I’d love to watch you work.” Kat smiled. “I would love to learn more about what you do as a silversmith.”
Will smiled and proceeded to work as he explained the purpose of each action he made. She admired the way he worked with the flame and made such beautiful patterns and shapes with great precision. After he finished, he put his iron tongs in his boot and explained a special compartment he made for them, “After all, you never know when you need tongs. They would have come in handy back when I was in prison.” He then offered to take her walking in the garden, which she gladly accepted.
“It’s been so nice talking to you these past three months,” Kat reflected as they walked past the hyacinth flowers. She bent over to absorb the rich fragrance. “These are almost as wonderful as gardenias.”
Will picked a blue one, knowing its meaning of constancy in love, and handed it to her. She smiled, unaware of the deeper meaning, “I’m so grateful to have you in my life.”
After Will escorted Kat to her chambers for the evening, Michael confronted him in the hallway, “What are you doing spending so much time with my woman?”
Will looked at him calmly, “I don’t recall any implication that she belongs to you.”
“She certainly doesn’t belong to you,” Michael countered. “If you haven’t noticed, we’re courting.”
“Yet she has so much time to spend with me because you’re too busy to give her the time of day.”
“You’ve only been around for three months, and now that Jennifer is gone, you’re trying to steal my lady?”
“I’m not defaulting to Kat; I’ve always cared for her greatly.”
“Then you used Jennifer and ignored Kat. What kind of nobility is that?”
“I didn’t have a chance with Kat until recently,” Will argued, barely keeping his tone calm.
“And you shouldn’t. She’s mine.” Michael’s tone was escalating.
“Shouldn’t that be her decision?”
Michael grunted, “I already won her fair and square. Now it’s time you leave us alone and accept that she is with me.”
“What if that isn’t what she wants?”
“Of course she wants me, I’m stronger than you, more romantic than you, and I’m also…” he cut himself off, as he almost revealed his royal heritage.
“How about we let her decide?”
Michael gritted his teeth, “Fine, I will ask her.”
“No need,” Kat walked in sight, “I heard the whole thing.”
Will closed his eyes tightly, kicking himself for forgetting how well Kat could hear through closed doors. Michael softened and feigned a bright smile, taking her hand, “Katrina, you know my feelings for you. We’ve been together for so long, wouldn’t you agree we are courting?”
Kat turned to Will.
Will looked into her eyes, “It is your decision. I can leave the two of you alone, if that is what you desire.”
“Are those my options?” she looked at both of them. “Do I have to choose only one of you to be in my life?”
Michael ran his hand down her arm, “Kat, it’s hardly appropriate to see both of us at the same time. I believe you do need to choose.”
She gave a pained expression, “Very well, but may I think about it?” They nodded cautiously. “I’ll meet you both in the garden tomorrow after dinner.”
She slipped back into her chambers and put her face in her hands. She knew she couldn’t agree to have Will leave her life again, but she loved the passion and romance she had with Michael. Will cared about her affairs more than Michael, but she didn’t know if he would ever see her as something more than a childhood friend. She agonized over the choice for hours, but in the end knew she couldn’t give up Will.
The next day, Kat found a note from Will in front of the door to her chambers. It read:
I am sorry that my presence has caused problems between you and Michael. I didn’t mean to get in the way. I have greatly enjoyed our time together, but I understand why you want to be with him. Please do what makes you happy; that is what I want for you.
Right before meeting in the garden, Michael pulled her into one of the secret passageways, “Kat, please choose me today. You know I’ll show you a better time than Will. Does he kiss you like this?” Michael gave her a passionate kiss. “Does he hold you like this?” He picked her up in his solid arms and held her close. “Please, Kat, I can’t lose you to someone who doesn’t love you like I do.”
Kat pursed her lips as she surged with emotion. She considered that perhaps it would be a mistake to choose Will. Michael had never before said he loved her. “You love me?” Kat asked softly.
He stroked her cheek, “Of course. I’m sorry it took so long for me to say it.”
Tears ran down her face and she buried her head in his chest. I don’t think I can let him go, she worried within.
He waited for her to speak, but no words came out. He sighed and kissed her slowly, “Please choose me. I don’t want to lose you.” He left her, completely torn, in the passageway.
Later, in the garden, Michael and Will approached her as she sat on the glass bridge.
“Both of you have meant so much to me,” she started, “but there is one of you I’ve learned I absolutely can’t live without. Michael, since you’re the one making me choose, I’m going to choose Will, my dear friend.”
A grateful smile swept over Will’s face while Michael’s confidence turned to disappointment and then anger. He turned and punched Will square in the jaw, “How did I know you would take my girl away from me. You’re a treacherous pig, just like your father! I wish I had never saved your life.” He stormed off.
Will rubbed his jaw and turned to Kat, “You would rather spend time with me than continue courting him?”
Kat was still stunned by Michael’s outburst, but smiled, “Like I said, I can’t live without you, Will.”
He smiled lovingly at her and put his hand on her face. He leaned in to kiss her, but then pulled her in for a hug. She felt reassured that she had made the right decision.
That evening, after retiring to her chambers, she found Michael there. “Michael? What are you doing here? This is hardly appropriate.”
He spoke with a soothing voice, “Katrina, I meant it when I said I didn’t want to lose you. If you really want Will, then I’ll bow out gracefully, but please, may I have a proper goodbye? I just want to feel the way I’ve felt with you one last time.”
Though she wasn’t comfortable with the request, she couldn’t deny her desire. He gently ran his hands up and down her arms and back, kissing her repeatedly. She resisted his forwardness, but cooperated. After a very passionate kiss, she took a deep breath, “Goodbye, Michael.” He sighed, gave her one last kiss, and walked out the door.
It took her a week to build up the courage to explain the event to Will, which disappointed him that she complied with Michael’s request, but after sincere discussion and great learning on Kat’s part, they were able to sort it out between them.
A lovely summer passed by and the two friends made special effort to be there for each other. They had many responsibilities as he was learning the duties of a prince and she a lady, but they did make time to see each other and had a most lovely time recognizing what their friendship meant to them. He didn't kiss her again, though that memory of his birthday on their bridge still remained cherished in their minds. They awkwardly avoided romance, though they gave it silent consideration. They were happy with things as they were; they always had each other, and two palace subjects could never have been more trusting or happy to be together.
Michael devoted his time to training to become a knight and navigating the mines past the secret passages of Kalbem. It was tedious work, but Jennifer would sneak in to help him with it. Though his relationship with Jennifer escalated, he always missed the feeling of being with Kat. He could see how inseparable Kat and Will were though, so he knew he didn’t have a chance. This only increased his resolve to put Will in his place, when the time was right.
* * * * *
On Katrina's seventeenth birthday, Kat and Will were found in the garden by Silas and Kimberly having a tickle war in the corsican mint. “She's seventeen today,” Will explained. “Doesn't that mean I get to tickle her for seventeen minutes?”
“Is that a gentlemanly thing to do, my prince?” Kimberly questioned.
“Why, Mom, I want to be nothing less than a gentleman. If you say so, I will stop.”
“Unless I get to retaliate!” Kat teased as she pounced on him with her fingers. Will lost all look of dignity as he laughed and squirmed. He quickly overpowered her and held her hands at bay.
“That’s cheating!” Kat playfully replied.
“You aren't children anymore, so perhaps you should be a little more dignified than to have tickle wars. Though it looks like great fun.” Silas chuckled.
Kimberly took that as an invitation to start tickling him. The two exchanged a few smiles and left Will and Kat to their business.
After half an hour of tickling, of which much more than seventeen minutes of tickling Kat happened, Will sat up and Kat rested her head on his leg.
“I really like to see you smile,” Kat sighed and continued in her thoughts. You are even more amazingly attractive when that happens. That's why I love it when you tickle me, because you get that look in your eyes, and you look so happy.
Her pendant fell on Will's leg. He picked it up, “I can't believe you still wear this. Most necklaces are worn a lot for the first few months and then very rarely after that.”
Kat was still giggling. “But this necklace is special. It was made by my best friend, and it reminds me of him. I've worn it every day since.”
“I know. It lifts me every time I see it.” He found the moment too serious and tickled her again.
It took her another half hour to stop giggling, where they just talked, and he sat there amused at her hysterical laughter.
Kat noticed that Will kept on looking distantly into space; she could tell something was very much on his mind. “What are you thinking about, Will?” she inquired.
“I would say 'nothing', but that would hardly be honest as I do have a great matter on my mind. Would you mind sitting on our bridge with me, Katrina?”
“I couldn't think of anything I would want to do more.”
They sat on the bridge just smiling at each other. Kat gazed into his eyes and thought, He's always been there. He's always known me so well, he's always been a friend, and he's always cared. Perhaps he always will. Her smile dimmed, But then again, maybe not.
Will was mustering his courage. This was his best friend. He wanted so badly to talk about the promises made between them at six, and the deeper feelings developed since then, but that subject hadn't been brought up in nearly eight years. It's been so long; could she possibly give him a chance to win her again? And what would possess her to want a prince? He was afraid, but something had to be said. He could live in silence no longer. Come what may, he had to know what she thought of him.
“Katrina,” he stammered, “I need to ask you something.”
“Yes?” Kat was hoping he might finally bring up that topic she had been wondering about for years.
“Do you remember when we were children and promised to marry one another?” He spoke in a slightly joking way, as rejection was a real fear in his mind.
“Of course I remember that,” Kat laughed. “We were so adorable.” Why was he bringing this up?
“Indeed,” he sighed. “It's been so long, and we were so young. But did you... I mean, have you... Well, I'd like to… Are we thinking the same thing, Katrina?”
“That depends. What is it you are thinking?”
“I am so not good at this,” Will said to himself, though Kat could hear him. He turned back to her, “Very well, I shall just say it, though I'll admit I'm nervous. Katrina, I love being with you, and I never want to leave you. I want you to be with me always. You're my dearest friend, and I love you more every day... Well, actually, yes: I do love you. I've always loved you. There has never been anyone but you.”
Kat was shocked at this sudden outburst of emotion from Will. Obviously he had been holding this in for a while, and when one doesn't let out certain emotions for a period of time, they come out rather forcefully. “Oh my,” the excitement wasn't quite as apparent on her face as Will had hoped.
Kat realized that he was getting more nervous from her response, so she forced whatever words she could out, “I'm speechless. Thank you… But how? I'm sorry… You look so attractive right now. Did I just say that? I mean it's true, but...” Kat had always been rather eloquent with men, but right now, with her best friend, she was babbling like a cretin.
He laughed at that, which eased the tension inside somewhat, “Are you always this awkward around men?”
“Why of course not! But with you, it's different.”
“Why is that?”
“The people in my life come and go, and I've accidentally hurt them, and they me, but it doesn't really matter after a few months because there are always more people. However, with you, I have so much more to lose. There aren't more William's. If you got mad at me, nothing could substitute for you in my life. You've meant so much to me throughout my life; no one could hurt me more than you could, because you are the dearest to my heart.”
Had she just said all of that? I say things so much better when I plan what I'll say ahead of time. She actually had planned this conversation in her head before, but he wasn't following the script, and she couldn't remember what she had planned to say anyway.
“Does that mean there is hope that you could love me?” he pressed.
“Far more than hope, my dear; I've loved you ever since that day we promised to be married, and my feelings have only grown over the years.” She turned away slightly. Despite what he had previously said, she doubted her interpretation of it and was worried he wouldn't feel the same way.
“So you did remember our promise! And I don't mean just remembering factually, but you remembered with your whole self.”
“Now you're talking like me, Will. I thought you had forgotten.”
“How could I ever forget the girl I liked who grew into the lady I now love?”
Kat's eyes lit up, and she did not even try to hide their sparkle, “You love me?”
“You know I have always loved you.”
“Well, I guess so, yes, but that's different; it was as a friend. We've always had that deep care and respect for each other. You've always put me first. But it hadn't crossed my mind you could think more than that of me.”
“There is already a great deal to think of you in that way, which I would never throw away. Often romance is best bred in friendship.”
“That's something Lady Rachel told me!”
“Funny, because that's what her husband told me. I also asked people a lot about relationships, though I wasn't as obvious about it as you were.”
“I was just preparing for you.”
“Even though you thought I had forgotten?”
“I promised. And what’s more, I grew to like the idea more and more as time went on. I just prayed that by some miracle you would one day feel the same way I did. Though it looked hopeless, I kept preparing for you.”
“I'm flattered. I could say I did something very similar. I'm not quite as sentimental and sappy as you are, but there have been many times in my life when I was about to do something and then thought of you; I knew I had to be the perfect gentleman in order to catch your eye.”
“Oh Will, I always knew you were a romantic at heart. You just hid it from me. But I guess I'm guilty of the same crime. Let's resolve to not keep anything from each other and not be afraid to tell the other how we feel about things. Unless of course it's just some stupid annoyance, like eating grapefruits the wrong way. No need to ceaselessly pinprick each other.”
“Agreed,” he smiled, then took her hand and squeezed it. “My darling, I am emphatically in love with you!”
Kat smiled back, and then paused, “Wow, you do remember! But if that's true, why did you stop calling me Gardenia?”
“You stopped responding to it. I remember one day I had picked a bouquet for you, and after waiting for over an hour for you to pass by, I called to you, by the name Gardenia. You looked straight at me, turned back, kept walking, and then you suddenly turned and said, 'Hey Will! I'm going to a celebration in the Volez kingdom, and Lord Jacob will be there!' You left for an entire week, without so much as a hug farewell. I threw the flowers in the stream and resolved to never call you Gardenia again.”
Kat took a moment to place the memory and gasped, “Oh my goodness. I am so sorry! I was so stupid. I didn't even hear you that day. I was just strolling through the garden right before I left for the celebration. I looked at the bridge wistfully thinking about our good times, kept walking, and then I realized that you were actually sitting there, so I told you where I was going, but I realized that I had lost track of time, and had probably left the carriage waiting, so I didn't have time to greet you. I didn't even see the flowers. I didn't mean it that way, though it makes sense why you'd see it that way. What a funny world; it's amazing what misunderstandings can happen. I really am sorry.”
She embraced him. She could feel him, in ways not explainable, apologizing for every time he had ever hurt her in any way. His mode of communication was one that just had to have been felt in order to be understood. He radiated care and sincerity, and she could understand all he was saying without a word. Kat likewise radiated care and apologized in her wordless way.
An onlooker would just have seen two people hugging at a difficult angle for nearly 15 minutes straight, but in their silent embrace, they were communicating most effectively and speaking to each other without a word. Years of experience had led to this. Kat felt like they were discussing their lifetimes of experience in that time.
They separated, Will caressed her cheek and said, “I love you, Katrina.”
Katrina felt a tingling sensation throughout her body at those words. “I love you too,” she smiled, then mimicked her six year old voice as well as she could, “Does that mean you want to marry me?”
He smiled at her playfulness, and resumed his six year old voice, “Why sure it does. I think I'd be mighty happy if I married you.”
His recollection was impressive, though Kat had a slight advantage as she had recorded in her diary the exact wording of the original event. She continued, “Then why don't you ask me if you want to?”
“I reckon I will, but this time I want to do it better.” He left for a minute or two.
Phillip, who had his sister’s knack for snooping, rushed out of the garden to get Samantha as quickly as he could. “Come on, Samantha,” he dragged her, “Will is about to propose to Kat!”
Samantha and Phillip arrived at the hiding place right as Will came back into view with one hand behind his back. The glass bridge was just big enough to stand on, so he gently led Kat with one hand to stand up on the bridge as he joined her. Fortunately, they both had impeccable balance, as the bridge was only three feet across.
He knelt down on one knee, and produced a large, beautiful gardenia blossom from behind his back. Holding both her hands in his, and offering the gardenia, he spoke. Since Samantha was an artist, she was tempted to ask them to stay in that position while she captured the image from the downstream side of the couple. But as she didn’t want to spoil the moment, she took a vivid mental picture of it and vowed she would paint it as soon as she left the garden.
Will was kneeling on the lovely, slender glass bridge to Samantha’s left, and Kat was standing in front of him to Samantha's right. The sun shone almost exactly overhead, but was slightly behind Will, which gave it a perfect angle to illuminate Kat’s raven black hair and smiling face. The sparkle in her eyes could be seen from quite a distance. The sky was a perfectly clear blue. The apple blossoms behind Kat were a beautiful white contrast to her black hair. He was backed by pink hydrangea blossoms. The stream was refracting the sunlight in a way that sparkled. There was a slight wind upstream, which waved her hair. The green grass on either side of the stream created a beautiful border, spotted with violets. A robin flew overhead and Will’s blonde hair looked like gold in the sunlight. He looked up into her eyes with a sincere, yet shy smile.
“Gardenia, as heir to the throne, this request is dangerous as well as a huge responsibility, but I assure you that I will do everything in my power to keep you safe. And I will love you with all my heart. I know you to be a lady of breeding, so I am confident that you will make a wonderful queen. My dearest friend, I know I asked you this once as a child, but now after years of learning more and more each day about love, I would like to say with the sincerity of a now grown man, that I am deeply, emphatically in love with you. I want to love you more each day, and I want to be with you always. I feel I don't deserve you, but I continue to work every day to be the kind of man you want. I love you for who I am when I'm with you, Katrina. Will you please give me the honor of marrying you?”
Kat had many times in her life imagined this moment, but she had never quite pictured his speech to be like that. She not only heard his words, but felt them as well. She couldn't have imagined this moment in a more magical way than it was happening right then in front of her.
“My dearest William,” she smiled tenderly, and delicately inhaled the sweet flower, “I can assure you that nothing would give me more joy than to be yours! Yes!”
In her fantasies, she had made equally flowery speeches and poured her heart out in her words, but in that moment, there was nothing more she felt a need to say. And fortunately, Will didn't need her to say any more; he understood her well. As she said yes, his entire face lit up. There was nothing he could have said to express himself, but she understood entirely. He stood up and hugged her.
Then they pulled back slightly, looked lovingly into each other's eyes, and slowly their lips met. In retrospect, she realized that the kisses she had in the past were not always noticeably different to a casual onlooker, but the feeling behind them was what made them. Often, her kisses had been more for the purpose of pleasure, but when it was Will, of course she still enjoyed it, but her first priority was his happiness, and his was hers. It was just as much about giving the kiss as getting the kiss. This was simply another way she could express her love and appreciation for him.
The usual description of kissing as fireworks and church bells were simply because there are no ways to describe true love's kiss until one experiences it for oneself. She thought nothing could ever be as pure and beautiful as that first kiss they shared, but this one had added understanding and experience with each other to it, which made it even better. Dreams could not compare to this.
Samantha and Phillip, now that the moment was complete, made no more effort to conceal themselves and ran up to congratulate the couple, almost causing everyone to fall off the glass bridge. Phillip ran through the palace announcing to everyone he could find that Will and Kat were now engaged while Samantha began the painting.
There is much and little to be said about the rest of that day Will and Kat had together. Outside of being greeted and congratulated every so often, there were hopes and dreams shared, plans made, and the flower of love was in full bloom. The lovely thing these two learned over the years is that the flower of love can always be in full bloom, and it can become more beautiful every day throughout eternity.