Paolo Abrego strode across the throne room with poise when he returned to Phantasia. His boots echoed against the marble with its swirls of gold and the ivory pillars that supported the vaulted ceilings, painted with murals of angels and heavenly skies. His amber eyes remained steady on the three jeweled thrones ahead. The queen and princess were seated upon the two on a three foot platform with the king seated a step beneath and ahead of them in an even more ornate throne.
Such prosperity would catch the eye of most explorers, or at least give them pause. Paolo Abrego, on the other hand, knew that what was secured in his coin purse was much more valuable than all the jewels on the thrones.
He reached the appropriate distance from the monarchs and dropped down to one knee, dipping his chin down in a bow.
"Welcome," King Federico boomed in the echoing chamber.
"Your majesties," Paolo rose and removed the coin purse from his belt, "I have returned with a gift of appreciation, because you have sent me on a journey upon which I pleaded to go. You are worthy of all my gratitude, which can be equated with these precious gems."
He reached into the suede pouch and uncurled his fingers to reveal the sparkling gems on his palm.
"Rare diamonds in orange, yellow, and the most rare, red. Precisely cut and scrupulously polished. The fire gems. As individuals, I have affectionately nicknamed them lemon, mandarin, and raspberry."
He pinched the raspberry diamond between this thumb and index finger and raised it ahead of his one open eye so the sunlight would stream through.
"So richly red, one can imagine the raspberry juices in this beauty."
"Magnificent," Queen Edvige breathed. She was a delicate, fair queen with platinum curls and ice blue eyes. She almost leaned to the edge of her throne to squint at the gems.
"We accept," King Federico answered with a smile. He was a genial man with a russet beard and hair, although the latter was scarcely seen within his golden crown.
A servant approached Paolo and cupped his palm for the gems. Palo tipped his hand and watched them sparkle as they tumbled into the hand of the servant, who then approached the throne with a bowed head and outstretched hand. The king accepted the gems and examined them against the sunlight again, nodding to Paolo to indicate that he was dismissed.
When the explorer was gone, the king expressed his mind: "These are a more beautiful treasure than the rest of our gems combined. Extraordinary. By what means did a man of his stature come about them?"
"What could it matter?" asked his queen. "They are genuine. Anyone can see. We must consider them our crown jewels. They are incomparable!"
Princess Capricia stared in silence at the jewels as she had since the explorer exposed them. She swallowed and darted her eyes to her mother, who took no notice.
"Shall we wear them?" she asked eventually.
"It shall be discussed," the queen answered.
"Crown jewels are to be worn ceremoniously," King Federico answered curtly over his shoulder, "not as daily adornment."
"Can an exception not be made?" Queen Edvige asked incredulously.
"We can discuss it another time," the king snapped.
And that was the end of the discussion until supper. The royals seated themselves around the rectangular table in the scarlet painted banquet hall and awaited their servants.
Eventually, three came up from behind and placed crystal plates ahead of each person. Princess Capricia caught the sleeve of hers and discretely produced a slip of paper. He accepted it and disappeared back into the kitchen.
That night, the gems were stashed by the king and queen in their bedroom, where anyone who entered would arouse their suspicions. In the eyes of the queen, they themselves were the only ones suitable to guard the treasures.
Around midnight, Princess Capricia entered the room and closed the door gently behind her. She approached the massive bed of the sleeping king and queen and set her candle on the side table before kneeling down beside her mother.
"Mother," she roused the woman's shoulder.
The queen stirred and moaned. "What is the matter, my dear?"
"I've had awful dreams tonight," Princess Capricia lamented as she reached beneath the bed and picked up a small wooden box.
"Darling, you are much too old to come to your mother after a nightmare," the queen murmured.
"You are right," Princess Capricia rose and leaned down to kiss her cheek. "Good night, mother."
With that, the willowy princess slipped out of the room.
She set the candle down on a carved wood table beside the door and pried open the box with her fingertips. She released a smile when the candlelight glinted on the flaming gems. She closed the wood box and whisked the candle down the hall and down the stairs.
"Are you ready?" hissed the servant who had served the princess dinner as he waited by the door.
"Yes," Princess Capricia paused at the door long enough to kiss him on the lips. "Let's go."