“My feet are killing me!” Regan flopped down on a sofa in the suite room she shared with Renee and Amanda. It was well after midnight, and the only reason she was still awake was because she hadn’t fully adjusted to the time zone. It seemed like she had danced with every stuffy little man in the kingdom, and then some. When she finally made it back to her room her bed was turned down and a maid was waiting to help her with her dress. She gladly traded it for a dressing gown, but she wasn’t quite ready for bed.
Amanda came out of her room. “Why did you dance with so many men?”
“I didn’t have a choice! They were all lined up waiting to ‘get to know’ me. I think they wanted to make sure I had the stamina to be queen.”
“You, queen? Really?”
“Yeah. That’s what this whole trip is about — to see if I’m worthy of Julien’s continued attentions or if he should drop me and go woo someone else.”
Renee entered the room carrying a bottle of brandy and some glasses. No more champagne for him! “Here, my dear, have some of this. It’s really excellent, and should help you get to sleep.” He poured glasses all around.
Regan offered a toast. “To the Kingdom of Rubintal!” They clinked glasses and drank.
“This is pretty good. I only wish it could get the taste of politics out of my mouth.”
“Politics?” asked Amanda. “You mean that party was all about politics?”
“You’re lucky, you didn’t have to dance with all those stuffy little men of the Royal Council. I’m just glad there aren’t all that many of them, or I’d still be dancing!”
“Now my dear, it’s not that bad. There’s only twenty of them, and they aren’t all men. You had several chances to dance with Julien, I noticed, along with quite a few men who aren’t council members.”
“Yeah, the innkeeper, the guy who owns the grocery store — I think I even danced with the bus driver! Along with the school principal and a goat herder. The cream of Rubintal!”
“Most of the guys I danced with were quite nice!”
“And I had the privilege of dancing with several attractive young ladies.” Renee refilled Regan’s glass.
“Yeah, well I bet you weren’t playing twenty questions while you were dancing, either.” Regan took another drink of brandy.
“Nevertheless, my dear, I did find out a bit about Rubintal. Did you know that the King owns all the gems found here?”
Amanda added “And nobody except the miners and the King knows where the entrances to the mines are! People have been looking for years, but they’ve never been found.”
“I heard that as well,” added Renee. “Legend has it that the mines are enchanted so that only the select few can remember where they are even if someone stumbles across them.”
“Magic!” scoffed Regan. “I don’t believe that. Anyway Julien is supposed to be showing us the mines tomorrow. I’ll just make a point of remembering how we get there!” With that she tossed off the rest of her brandy and headed to her room.
The next morning they climbed back into the Royal Carriage and headed out on the lake road. Before they got to the forest the carriage turned up a side road that wound between two of the peaks.
“The peak on the left is Temperance, and on the right is Charity,” said Julien. “Our gems come from here. I find the names an appropriate reminder not to take too much and to share God’s bounty.”
Before long the road ended in a turn-around. “We walk from here. Stick close to me or you will get lost.” Several paths led away from the road. Julien headed down one of them with Regan, Renee and Amanda close on his heels. The path wound through trees and underbrush and crossed several other paths. No matter how hard she tried Regan couldn’t keep track of all the twists and turns. She quickly realized that what he’d said was true — if she lost sight of Julien she’d be completely lost.
A couple of minutes later they came around a large rock to find a hole in the side of the mountain fitted with a door. Julien pulled a key out of his pocket and unlocked the door. Inside they found a small anteroom with a couple of chairs, a table and several lanterns. Julien lighted them and handed them out. “Follow me, and watch your head!”
The passage into the mountain was low and damp, at least at the beginning. Much like the path from the road it wound and branched in random directions, and then suddenly it opened up into a large chamber. As they raised their lanterns high stars seemed to twinkle at them from all around.
“Welcome to the mines of Rubintal! Not everything that glitters is a ruby, but this is where they come from. Go ahead and help yourself!”
They all went and prodded at the walls. “Most of them are stuck pretty tight. Perhaps you’ll find something loose on the floor.” He bent down and picked up a stone. It was dull and dirty, but every now and then the light would hit it just right and a red sparkle could be seen. He gave it to Regan.
In a few moments they each had a souvenir. “Excellent! Now we’ll go back to the cutting room in the castle and see what you’ve found.”
On the way back to the castle Regan was awfully quiet, trying to remember the route to the mine. Finally she gave up and looked at Julien. “How do you do it?”
“Do what?” he asked with a grin.
“You know! Remember how to get to the mine. I know if we turned this carriage around right now and went straight back there I still wouldn’t be able to find it. How do you do that?”
“I could say magic, or I could say years of practice. Which would you believe?” He was smiling openly now.
“Oh!” She slugged his arm in frustration and he laughed.
Back at the castle they descended into a small workshop located under the King’s Keep. There they had an opportunity to watch a team of craftsmen cut and polishing rubies and sapphires of all shapes and sizes. Another group of artisans was creating settings for the stones in all sorts of unique jewelry.
“Sire? What’s that door in the back?” asked Renee.
“That’s the vault. It’s mostly full of unmounted stones. Unfortunately I’m not able to show you inside, but if you’ll follow me to the Throne Room I’ll be happy to show you our country’s most significant pieces.”
They followed him to the “business” wing of the castle, where the government offices were. The Grand Ballroom where they had danced the previous evening was on top of the wing, taking advantage of the vaulted roof to give it a light, airy feel. The Throne Room, in contrast, was on the ground floor and though large, was not nearly as large as the ballroom. Its ceilings were also much lower, giving it a more oppressive feel.
The hallway leading to the Throne Room was lined with display cases filled with beautiful jewelry, all sorts of trophies, and the paraphernalia of royalty on display. Also displayed in frames on the walls were the treaties that defined the kingdom and proclaimed its right to exist.
“Interesting place to display all these items, Sire. I take it you want to remind the commoners of their proper place in the kingdom’s hierarchy.”
“I’m sure that was the original intent, along with reminding any visiting dignitaries that, although we are small, the Kingdom of Rubintal is not without resources and allies.”
“Not displayed here, however, is the current Royal Charter that defines the governmental organization now in force. That’s kept in the Council Chamber so that it is close to hand when disputes arise.”
“I pray that’s not too often, Sire.”
Julien sighed. “More often than I would like.” He went back to showing off the Crown Jewels to Regan and Amanda while Renee continued to study the treaties.
Next chapter -> Back to New York