“Press conference?” Alex asked. “Why?”
Gus felt numb. He stared straight ahead with slacked jaw and a blank expression. This was more than just losing his great, great-grandfather. He’d never met the man. This meant a decision had to be made about his successor. As long as King Sayid had been alive no one had to address the inevitable. Gus answered his best friend, “Because of the contested throne.”
“No cell phones in the classroom, gentlemen,” Mr. Avery called out. “You know the rules. Hand ‘em over.”
“Sir, we’ve had a death in the family,” Alex said.
“Oh really? Who?” Mr. Avery folded his arms across his chest.
“Gus’s great, great-grandfather,” Alex said quietly.
Phoebe’s quick intake of breath told Gus she knew exactly who had died.
Gus rose from his seat and walked to the front of the classroom where he did something very few people did anymore. He unrolled one of the ancient paper maps that still hung from the ceiling like a movie screen. Google Maps provided all the geography research anyone needed in the modern world, but the country he wanted to see didn’t exist on any modern map.
By some divine intervention, their geography teacher, Mr. Avery had yet to retire even though he was beyond the age when the school system should have kicked him out, and by some divine intervention, Mr. Avery refused to let the school remove the ancient map scrolls that had been installed sometime in the sixties. Gus had come to this location many times in his three and a half years at the high school, privately, hiding his obsession from everyone, even his brothers and his best friend. He knew exactly which scroll to unroll.
His eyes didn’t need to search, and his hand moved as if on its own accord until it rested over the place where his father’s father’s father would soon be interred. Tucked in the furthest reaches of what had become Saudi Arabia, near the once-contested Jordanian border, lay the tiny desert oasis known as Madain Saleh.
“Arabia’s hidden treasure,” Gus whispered, then reverently he pronounced his ancestor’s homeland in its ancient pronunciation, “Mada’in Saleh.”
The classroom was silent. If there had been anyone in the room who hadn’t figured out who died, they knew it now. His lineage was not unknown among his peers but was mostly used as a derogatory way of making fun of him. All his life people had jeered and rolled their eyes, looking down on him while simultaneously lifting him on a pedestal.
Everyone wanted to be his friend, or lover, just to get close to him, to be in the presence of royalty. But only few truly understood the richness to his bloodline.
Press conference. What would his father say? Aaron was the crown prince. Would he leave America and challenge their cousins for the throne? Would they travel to the Middle East for the funeral? Did he really want to go there? Or would he rather allow this kingdom to exist only within his imagination.
What if reality didn’t meet his expectations? What if the beautiful desert oasis he’d always envisioned turned out to be merely ancient palaces carved from the rocks, windblown and eroded until the hieroglyphics were barely visible and only translatable by a chosen few?
Gus traced the ancient trade route that ran through the center of his kingdom then bowed his head and closed his eyes.
“Goodbye, grandfather,” Gus whispered. He allowed one tear to fall, then pulled the cord to release the map and allow the scroll to capture the land of his inheritance once again.
He turned to face his classmates and held his chin high. Without meeting anyone’s curious gaze, Gus spoke with authority.
“I am Prince Augustus Sayid of Mada’in Saleh, son of Prince Marcos Sayid, grandson of Prince Benjamin Sayid, great-grandson of Prince Marcos Sayid, great, great-grandson of the late King Sayid of Mada’in Saleh, and brother of Crown Prince Aaron Sayid of Mada’in Saleh.” He paused and met the eyes of his best friend, Alex, then took a deep, shaky breath, and continued. “I go now to a press conference at which my brother will either announce his intention to challenge our cousin for the throne… or abdicate.”