“Let me show you the kingdom.” They followed King Julien out into the courtyard where a handsome open carriage waited, with four white horses and a driver and footman dressed in livery. Julien and Regan sat in the front facing seats while Renee and Amanda sat opposite them. The horses set off at a walk into the village.
“Our village isn’t terribly large, but then again neither is the kingdom,” said the King as they passed between the quaint buildings. The streets were nicely paved, but quite narrow.
“Where do people park?” asked Renee.
“We have few private cars,” said the King. “Those we have are kept in the stables on the edge of the village, alongside the horses. The kingdom is so small that such transportation isn’t really necessary, any more than it would be in New York or Paris.” He grinned. “All the walking helps keep us healthy.”
The road quickly left the village and wound along the shore of the lake. Little side roads, some not much more than tracks, ran away from the lake into the hills. “About half the population lives in the village. The rest live in scattered hamlets or individual farmsteads up in the hills.”
“Your total population is …?”
“Right around two thousand people. You saw most of them yesterday.”
“Such a tiny country!” said Amanda.
“It has its advantages. For one thing, everyone knows everyone else. And everyone’s business, of course. It keeps down the court intrigue.”
“I imagine so,” said Renee.
“What’s that?” asked Regan, pointing to a column of smoke rising from the forest.
“Looks to me like Johan Danilo has his still going again. He makes some pretty good whiskey. I wish he could make more of it so we could export some, but every time he makes a batch the miners throw a party, and well, there’s not much left afterwards.” He turned to the footman. “Make sure to get a case or two this evening, before its all gone, ok?” The footman made a note.
The forest ahead came all the way down to the water’s edge, and the road wound its way through the trees. It was significantly darker here, and Amanda looked all around with eyes wide. “Do you have lots of wolves or bears here?” she asked.
“Not many bears, but wolves and wild boars, yes. They rarely come down to the road during the day. Hunting is a popular sport around here, and wild boar is quite tasty. I believe some is on tonight’s menu.” Amanda looked uncertain at that, and Renee leaned over and spoke into her ear. “Remember, my dear, when in Rome!” She smiled weakly.
When they left the forest they were on the opposite side of the lake from the castle. The carriage stopped for a moment to allow everyone a chance to stretch their legs and take pictures of the castle in the lake with the picturesque village behind it and the mountains looming in the background. The carriage had been supplied with disposable cameras for just such an occasion.
“Be careful around the water, my dear, it looks rather cold!” said Renee as Amanda asked Regan to move so she could better frame a shot. “It certainly is,” agreed Julien. “The lake is surprisingly deep, and most of the shoreline drops off very quickly. There’s only one spot that’s good for swimming, and that’s because we dumped lots of dirt there when the town was being built ages ago.”
Once they’d climbed back into the carriage it set off at a trot. “The rest of the shoreline is pretty much the same as what we’ve already seen, so we’ll just head on back unless you see something unusual. Ok?” They rode past farmers working in their fields, some with modern tractors and some using draft animals. There were also small herds of cattle, sheep and goats, and other signs of a pastoral lifestyle. The people they saw seemed both hard working and well fed.
“Where are your mines?” asked Renee.
“They are hidden among the hills. I’ll take you to one tomorrow, although I expect you will be rather disappointed in it. It’s really not much more than a hole in the ground, but that’s where we find the gems. Afterwards I’ll show you the cutting and polishing operations, too. But tomorrow’s the day for industry — today’s the day to see the countryside. And to prepare for tonight’s ball.”
“A ball? I didn’t expect a ball! You told us not to pack any formal wear!” Regan didn’t like surprises like this.
“That’s because we have a wonderful selection of gowns for you to enjoy! When we get to the castle I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
Next chapter -> Ballroom Dancing