Gus had been right to question the validity of his childish imaginations. The red earthen palaces were more majestic than he could fathom, yet more barren. The juxtaposition was dizzying.
“Who would want to live here?” Gus asked. He pulled the linen wrap more closely around his head and neck, cringing at the dusty wind that seemed to be everywhere at once. “Apparently our cousins are choosing the role of scapegoat rather than demanding that we honor their right to the throne.”
“Do we really know who these people are?” Owen asked. “Has anyone taken the time to follow the bloodlines and discover why they think they are the rightful heirs?”
“I have,” Gus said, turning to face his three order brothers.
“You have?” Hayden asked. “Why?”
Gus lowered his gaze and shuffled his foot in the dusty red earth. “I want to know who I am and where I came from.”
“Enlighten us, little brother,” Owen said.
“They have a valid claim,” Gus admitted. “When Aaron came of age, he was named as the Crown, right?”
“Uh… sure.” Owen nodded.
“What if he had a child, would that son be next in line?”
“Next in line is not the same as Crown,” Aaron said, shaking his head.
“What if the Crown dies at a young age, say twenty-four, and has a five-year-old son. The five-year-old son would be next in line. But who would inherit the Crown? In this scenario, the king is still alive, and the Crown had a younger brother, who was twenty-two—having come of age—old enough to be named Crown.”
“You have completely lost me,” Hayden said.
“The five-year-old, while next in line, is not of age. The twenty-two-year-old is of age, but not previously considered next in line.”
“So, which one does the king choose,” Owen asked, completely enthralled with the story now.
“He didn’t. He demanded that the twenty-two-year-old produce an heir before being named Crown. He hurriedly married, immediately conceived and his wife bore a son. But by that time the five-year-old’s mother had bewitched the king and convinced him to marry her and name her young son as Crown.”
“So, what happened to the twenty-two-year old?” Hayden asked.
“He took his young bride, Lyla, and their newborn son, Benjamin and sought asylum amidst his best friend’s family, none other than Nicholas Cohen.”
There was a collective intake of breath when his three older brothers realized that he was talking about their great-grandfather, their father’s namesake, Prince Marcos of Mada’in Saleh. Gus didn’t wait for any more questions before he finished his philosophical speech.
“Our great-grandfather led his progeny out of this land.” Gus turned in a circle with his arms wide, linen robes billowing in the ever-present sandstorm that was Arabia. “For what purpose? That is for us to discover. We have his fortune, and his bloodline, but we are free from the constraints of the Crown. What would he have us do next?”
The four young princes regarded one another in a loose square, surrounded by the palaces that had stood on this sacred ground for thousands of years. This was their past, and they were here to say goodbye.
“Wherever life takes us, I’m glad to have you as my older brothers,” Gus said, meeting each of their gazes. “But first I need to go home to America and graduate high school.”
They each chuckled at the lighthearted return to the present, and reality. The tension was broken, and they jostled one another as they collectively traipsed through the dust to meet up with the extended royal family and bury their king.
“Plus, I kinda want to go home and make out with Phoebe, so call up the private jet and get me out of this desert wasteland,” Gus said.
“How is it that our younger brother wound up snagging a hot chick before the rest of us?” Aaron asked, draping his arm around Gus’ shoulders.
“I learned from the best, remember?” Gus grinned. “Your collective wisdom has rubbed off on my young, impressionable mind.”
“Yeah, well, rub some of that wisdom back on us, will ya?” Hayden said.
“Our second-cousin is quite pretty,” Owen said, looking at Aaron. “Having abdicated the Crown, you could go and marry a princess.”
“Very funny,” Aaron said.
“She is beautiful,” Gus pointed out, still captured under his eldest brother’s arm.
“Shut up, Augustus,” Aaron said, then dropped his arm and called out, “Last one to the palace has to ask out the princess!”
They all took off running and Gus wondered which of his older brothers would purposely lag behind.