The workingmen of the kingdom were not privy to the politics of their plight. They knew a little, of course - court gossip makes its way from courtiers to nobles to servants and from there, it's common gossip. They knew enough that the situation was bad, and that their only hope lay in labor.
The Lord of the land had made his announcement - women and children were to evacuate, anybody who could contribute would work to the last possible second. He intended the advancing evil to find hot forges and fresh sawdust on his inexorable march towards the stronghold.
So, the smiths smithed, the carpenters sawed. And they all cursed the name of the Queen.
They cursed the Queen who was of foreign blood, but not because of any ill will to her people. They cursed her for her scheming, and the plot that had brought them to this dark hour.
A year previous, nearly a year to the day, the ailing monarch of a neighboring kingdom had offered his daughter to their Lord as a political gesture; as ever, a tie of blood and a mutual claim to each others' thrones by marriage would bring the states closer. The problem lay with the then-Princess.
She was infatuated with a courtier from her father's inner council, and had allowed herself to be ensnared in his plots. Born of common stock, this man had rendered service to her father, but royal grace cannot change one's birth, and the smallest of slights drove him to madness. He had turned her away from her duty to her people and peace, had promised her that they would rule together, lovers at the head of the dual throne.
He was a mighty warrior-mage, and had bought the gratitude of her father the king with his conquests. He was possessed of both physical strength and magical ability, and none in the land was his equal. He wielded a mighty hammer with incredible strength and speed, capable of shattering anything that lay before him. It was said that he could conjure the elements and bend nature to his will; whispered tales said that he had once caused a meadow of wildflowers to burn itself to ash. He could jump so high as to pluck feathers from a bird on the wing, and line his cloak with them to gain the power of flight for himself. He had conquered the serpent-men that had once plagued the land and tamed one of them to be his mount.
No matter his endless laurels and the love of an entire kingdom; it was a crown he craved.
The workmens' Lord knew that he could not face the warrior-mage on an even field. He knew his only hope lay in traps, treachery, and organized retreat. He had ordered no resistance be mounted, and all efforts set to fortify the tower.
Fire sprites were summoned, pits dug, strange mechanical traps built into the very walls, and every curious beast from the royal zoo was let loose to roam the corridors.
And, of course, there were the barrels.
The forges roared, the sawmills buzzed, and the coopers fit the iron hoops to the oaken staves with such haste that the hot metal scorched the wood. Apprentices ran them to the stockpiles set for Lord Kong, and work continued without rest until sentries reported that Mario had reached the base of the tower.
High in the parapets, Lord Kong sighed as he descended to the first layer of defenses. He dismissed the workmen, the apprentices, even his personal guards, ordering them to flee, and prepared to face the invader on his own.
Thank you, zephronias for pointing this nodeshell at me. It's perfect.