That night after dinner Regan and Julien took a boat out into the middle of the lake, just the two of them. They watched as the crescent moon set behind the surrounding peaks.
“My! It gets dark out here when the moon sets.” Regan pulled her coat tight around her and leaned back into Julien’s arms.
“That’s because we don’t have all that much development.” He wrapped his arms around her and spoke softly into her ear. “But the castle is still lit up. Take a look!”
She turned to look at the castle, which was dark but for the lights glittering at the windows. This brought their faces together, a golden excuse for a kiss which Julien took advantage of. After a long minute Regan wasn’t feeling the cold any more.
“Look over there on the hillsides, you’ll see many of our farmsteads and hamlets. During the day you wouldn’t even know they were there, but at night their lights give them away.” Regan turned her attention to the darkened hills where the occasional window light indicated the presence of humanity. There were no lights at all visible where the forest came to drink at the lake, a black mass that climbed up and up until …
“Oh, my! Look at all the stars!” Regan tilted her head back in wonder. Never had she seen the stars shining so brightly, a river of sparkling light stretched across the sky. “Now I know why they call it the Milky Way!” Only now did she notice that the stars were also reflected in the tranquil waters of the lake, turning the countryside around them into a doughnut of darkness being dunked into a sea of stars.
They sat together for a good long time, simply enjoying one another’s company as they watched the celestial parade advance across the sky and chatting about the important trivialities that lovers discuss between kisses. This was the first time they’d been able to be alone together since arriving in the Kingdom, and they were loathe to return to the castle and the pressures and obligations it contained.
When they finally did return Regan went straight to bed, foregoing the evening’s debrief with Renee and Amanda. She didn’t want to spoil the mood and instead drifted off to sleep between the down comforters dreaming of the fairy tale being married to King Julien might be.
The rest of the week in Rubintal was a happy, busy time for Regan. The next day they rode horses up to a high alpine meadow for a picnic. Afterwards they followed a stream down to where it cascaded over a series of rocks ending in a waterfall. Had the weather been warmer they could have gone swimming in the pool below.
On Saturday Julien took Regan shopping in the village. “As you can see, our village is too small for much variety in our local shops beyond the basic necessities. The bus makes two trips a day into Maribor, Slovenia, for those who want a wider selection. It is less than an hour away.”
“And of course you can always head into Vienna, right?”
“Yes, but as you recall that trip is significantly longer. We’ve been thinking about getting another bus for trips into Graz, Austria, but haven’t yet.”
“What do you do if there’s an emergency? Is there a hospital here?”
“Let me show you the clinic.” The clinic turned out to be an up-to-date medical facility housed in a medieval building on the edge of town that appeared to have an attached barn. Julien showed her through the facility, taking obvious pride in the modern diagnostic and treatment facilities. “And if we encounter something we can’t handle, there’s always this.” He led her through another set of doors into a large space where the lights came on automatically. Inside was a helicopter fitted out as an air ambulance.
“Oh, my! I wasn’t expecting this! This is much too bucolic a place for modern technology like this!”
“If we need to get someplace in a hurry this is what we use. Tomorrow it will take you to the airport in Vienna in about an hour.”
“Tomorrow! I don’t want it to be tomorrow. I want to stay here with you!”
“I understand, but you must realize we both have many things to do before that can happen. For one thing, you need to talk to your parents.”
Regan turned red. “How did you know?”
“My security is very good. I don’t know why you’re estranged from your parents, but you should have known we’d find out about them sooner or later. You need to at least let them know what you’re up to.”
She buried her face in his chest and he put his arms around her. “You don’t make this easy, you know,” she said.
“Doing the right thing isn’t always easy. And you know this is the right thing to do.”
She looked up at him. “I know,” she said, and kissed him.
The next afternoon the helicopter was rolled out of the barn and Regan, Amanda and Renee climbed on board.
“Aren’t you coming to Vienna with us, Sire?” asked Renee.
“Unfortunately I cannot. The helicopter isn’t big enough to hold the three of you, myself, and the escort I am required to have anytime I travel outside the Kingdom, so I must make my good-byes here. Maurice will make sure you get to your flight.”
“In that case, Sire, I will bid you adieu. You have a delightful kingdom full of wonderful people, and have been a gracious host. I look forward to visiting again.”
“Thank you, Herr Spiegel. I look forward to your return.”
“I, too, enjoyed my visit, Your Majesty,” added Amanda. “I hope I will be able to return someday.”
“You will be most welcome, Fräulein Clarke.”
“Oh, Julien! I wish I didn’t have to leave you!”
“Nor I, mein liebchen. Keep in touch, and in a few months you’ll be back.”
“I’m already counting the days!”
“As am I.” One final kiss, and Regan climbed in with the others. Julien closed the door and retreated to the barn as the rotors started spinning. In a moment they were off. Regan watched the King watching her until he was no longer in sight.
The flight to Vienna darted over hills and between mountains. It seemed like no time at all before they were landing at the airport and once again firmly in the grips of the modern world. Already their time in the Kingdom of Rubintal seemed like a dream.
Maurice guided them through the intricacies of getting themselves and their luggage from the private aviation side of the airport through Customs to the commercial terminal and back to the Lufthansa gate for their flight. “This is where I leave you,” he said. “It has been a pleasure serving you, and I look forward to your return. Have a safe flight.”
Once they were seated on the plane (once again in first class) Renee turned to Regan and asked “Well, my dear, are you planning to take him up on his offer?”
“Why, to be his Queen, of course! Rubintal is a small country, true, but it’s not every girl who gets a chance to be a queen.”
“I’d love to be a queen,” interjected Amanda from across the aisle.
“First off, he hasn’t asked me yet. He’s doing a serious amount of checking into my background, first. For example, he’s already found out about my parents.”
“Oh, my. Do you think that will pose a problem, my dear?”
“I don’t think so. Second, I haven’t really had a chance to do a similar check on him. I’m sure there are disadvantages to being queen. For instance, while I may be able to buy anything I want, there really aren’t all that many shopping opportunities around there, or didn’t you notice. And you saw the entourage that followed him to New York. I suspect that somewhat limits any travel opportunities I might have.”
“But just think! You could rent a yacht and spend the summer cruising the Mediterranean, or something. That would be dreamy!”
“Now my dear, Regan’s right — there are probably restrictions to a queen’s movements that ordinary people like you and I don’t have.”
“In addition,” continued Regan, “ I’m sure the Queen has responsibilities, too. In addition to bearing children, which some of those stuffed shirts I danced with hinted at.”
“Good point, my dear, good point. So what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know. Think about it, I guess, and try to find out as much as I can about Julien and the Kingdom. Fortunately I don’t have to make a decision right away.”
“Well, my dear, when we get back to New York I will start asking around and see what I can find out.”
“Thank you, Renee. You’re a real help.”
Next chapter -> Fight with the Council