Regan turned to Julien. “When were you going to tell me?!”
“Just as soon as we got home. By the way, my home is over there.” He led her around the front of the bus. In front of her appeared a modest little castle — maybe six or eight stories high, a couple hundred rooms, nothing much — out in the middle of a lake surrounded by mountains. A stone bridge about a hundred meters long connected the road where they stood to the castle. It was barely wide enough for the bus and covered with even more people, who let out their own cheer when Julien came into view.
He held his arm out for Regan. “Shall we?”
She took it, and together they walked into the throng, which parted before them. Regan looked over her shoulder to see Maurice guiding Renee and Amanda in their wake. One glance was all she was afforded, however, for immediately people were grabbing her free hand and greeting her, often in words she couldn’t understand, but occasionally in English she heard “Welcome, milady!” and “So good to meet you, milady!” and “Welcome to Rubintal, milady!”
The crowd continued through the gate and into the courtyard, but eventually they made it up the steps and into the castle proper. One last wave to the crowd and they ducked inside.
“Welcome to my humble home,” said Julien to his guests. “This is François, the Chamberlain of Castle Rubintal. He will show you to your rooms where you can freshen up from the trip. When you are ready someone will show you to the dining room where dinner will be waiting — nothing fancy, so don’t worry about dressing up or anything like that. There will be a formal dinner tomorrow night, but for tonight just rest up from your trip and the jet lag.”
François led them up some stairs to a large guest suite, where other servants were unloading their luggage. “Monsieur, Madame, your rooms are over here. Milady, yours are over here. If you need any assistance please just ring the bell, and someone will be here immediately.” He left them to themselves, and Regan went looking for the bathroom.
What she found was a Bath Room — a room dominated by a large claw-footed bath tub, with a maid already filling it with hot water. “I assume you will be wanting a hot bath, Milady?” she asked.
“Yes, thank you.” Regan looked around. “Uh, where is the toilet?”
“It is across the hall, Milady.”
“Thank you.” Regan tried the door across the hall, and discovered a rather tiny water closet, with a toilet, sink, and what she later learned was a bidet. She decided not to waste her time exploring the unfamiliar bathroom appliance, and took care of business instead.
Back in the bathroom the tub was filled with bubbles and a small table covered with soaps and scents was arranged next to it. “Let me help you into the tub, Milady.” Regan felt self-conscious as she undressed and let the girl steady her as she climbed into the tub. “May I wash your hair?”
What the hell. When in Rome, and all that! “Certainly!”
Dinner was small, with only Regan, Julien, Genevieve and the nurse, Renee, Amanda, and Maurice in a dining room big enough for twelve. Afterwards everyone was feeling the strain of the trip, so they retired to their rooms. The tour would have to wait until morning.
The next morning Regan met Amanda and Renee in the suite so they could go down to breakfast together. “Did you sleep well, my dear?” asked Renee.
“Like a log! Getting up this morning was a little strange, however.”
“Oh? Did you wake to someone opening your curtains, too?”
“Oh yes! And then I found my clothes all laid out for me, and someone waiting to help me put them on.”
“Me, too!” chimed in Amanda as she entered the room. “It was weird!”
“When in Rome, my dear, when in Rome!”
“Well, I’m glad they’re providing guides,” said Regan. “It’s way too easy to get lost around here.”
Down in the dining room they found coffee and croissants, and some cheeses set out on a sideboard. Julien joined them moments later. “We’re not very formal about breakfast around here, so help yourself.” He put a croissant and some cheese on a plate and poured himself a cup of coffee, then sat down. Everyone followed his lead.
“As soon as we finish here I’d like to give you a quick tour of the castle.”
It seemed like they had been climbing stairs forever, when finally they ended on a small landing in front of a carved wooden door. Julien took out a key and unlocked it, then led them into a large, airy room with windows on every side. “Welcome to the King’s Keep. Come and enjoy the view!” He led them to one of the windows the looked along the roof of the castle.
“Over there you see the Queen’s Tower. Her views are just as nice, but her room is a bit smaller.” He led them to another window that looked directly over the lake. “Below us is Tranquility Lake. Castle Rubintal is built on an island in the lake. Across the lake you can see some of our mountains. The seven peaks around this valley define the extent of our kingdom. They look big from here, since they are close, but the Slovenians and Austrians call them the Seven Dwarfs. We call them Keuschheit, Zurückhaltung, Wohltätigkeit, Fleiß, Geduld, Freundlichkeit, and Demut, or in English, Chastity, Temperance, Charity, Diligence, Patience, Kindness, and Humility.”
“You named your mountains for the Seven Virtues?” asked Renee.
“Yes, as a way of giving thanks to God for all his bounty, and to remind ourselves of our duties to Him. Our founding fathers were very devout Christians, and we try not to stray too far from their example.” He turned to his guests. “They are also the source of our wealth. Our mines are hidden in those hills, and we believe that as long as we keep the faith they will continue to provide us with the wherewithal to stay quietly independent.”
He strode back to the door. “This is the highpoint of our tour. Everything is downhill from here. Below us is the King’s Suite, just as the Queen’s Suite is below the Queen’s Tower. Let me show you.” They started descending through the castle, stopping at each floor where Julien pointed out the key features.
Next chapter -> Carriage Ride