“Excuse me Sir,” Benjamin tapped an older gentleman on his shoulder and the man turned with curious eyes. “Could you tell us how to get to the palace?”
The man turned all the way around to give Benjamin and Nisha his full attention, looking them up and down with curiosity in his creased brow.
The open air market was bustling with people and he seemed to be the only person browsing like he didn’t have anywhere important to be. Everyone else was busy shopping.
Benjamin and Nisha had intended to glance around the shopping center but he quickly grew antsy to fulfill his purpose for coming here to Madain Saleh. He hadn’t thought to ask the concierge for directions after checking into their hotel. They’d just left the hotel on foot, immediately sucked into the busy city center where shopkeepers peddled everything from clothes and scarves to freshly cooked treats, jewelry, the latest smartphones, and ancient relics pulled from the sandy landscape surrounding the kingdom. The place was fascinating, but not what Benjamin wanted to see.
“You’re looking for the palace?” the older gentleman asked. That seemed like a rhetorical question since Benjamin had just asked him how to get to the palace. But he nodded. The man looked Benjamin up and down. “What business do you have at the palace?” Was that suspicion? Or interest? Benjamin decided to just be honest.
“I believe I may have family members there.”
“Really?” The man seemed confused. “What is your name, son?”
“My name is Benjamin Sayid.” Benjamin lifted his chin with pride and honor. In this tiny kingdom his last name was associated with royalty. He wondered if this gentleman would recognize him as such.
“Are you the son of Marcos Sayid?” Apparently the man knew more than Benjamin expected.
“I am,” Benjamin said, not sure he should be grateful to be recognized or nervous. His father had fled this kingdom among allegations of sabotage and murder threats twenty-one years ago. Not sure how many people still knew the details of his father’s departure, Benjamin proceeded with caution.
“Well then, I believe you do have family at the palace. I venture to say you are a prince.” The gentleman’s tone was complimentary, as if he was excited to be in the presence of royalty.
“That I am, Sir.” Benjamin nodded with gratitude for the kind recognition.
“If you will follow me, I will lead you there myself.” He began walking in the direction of the palace which Benjamin could now see poking through the skyline.
Another man, who was almost large enough to be a bodyguard, followed behind.
“Don’t mind him, he is merely my companion.” The gentleman waved dismissively to the larger man, who grunted with apparent disapproval.
“What an honor to have a companion.” Benjamin glanced up at the guy, who narrowed his eyes briefly but not really in a threatening way. More that he was curious about Benjamin. The large man was too young to actually be a companion and Benjamin wondered if he was indeed the older man’s bodyguard.
“I see that your companion is much more beautiful than mine.” The older gentleman gestured to Nisha.
“Forgive me Sir.” Benjamin cringed at having forgotten to introduce his wife. “This is my bride, Nisha.”
“Welcome to Madain Saleh, Princess Nisha,” the older man said.
“Thank you, Sir.” Nisha nodded her head regally. She had taken on the role of princess quite well in the ten days since they’d married and carried herself with an air of dignity.
As they drew closer to the palace, people seemed to shift out of their way as if they were honored guests approaching the palace walls. A gate opened and a guard bowed low.
“Did you enjoy your afternoon, Your Majesty?” the guard asked. Benjamin almost responded to the man that his title was Your Highness not Your Majesty when suddenly the older gentleman who had shown them to the palace answered the guard.
“Yes, thank you. I met with shopkeepers in the town square.” He stepped back and gestured toward Benjamin and Nisha. “And look at my good fortune of having stumbled upon my grandson and his bride. Allow me to introduce Their Highnesses, Prince Benjamin Sayid and Princess Nisha.”
The guard bowed low as Benjamin’s jaw dropped. All this time they’d been walking through the heart of the kingdom with the king himself.
“You’re… King Sayid?” Benjamin tried to wrap his brain around what had just happened. How embarrassing that he didn’t recognize his own grandfather. Not that he’d ever met the man. Benjamin had been taken from the palace before his first birthday and his father refused to return. “Why didn’t you introduce yourself?”
“Where’s the fun in that?” King Sayid patted Benjamin on the shoulder. “Come, allow me to introduce the rest of the royal family.”
Benjamin glanced at Nisha and shrugged, then followed his grandfather along a gilded marble path toward the largest, most ostentatious residence he’d ever seen. In his imagination growing up, Benjamin always envisioned the palace in Madain Saleh to be an old castle like the palaces in Europe, or a crumbling rock structure like the Mayan ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula back home. He was not prepared for this monolithic display of gold and marble and modern elegance.
“Wow,” Nisha whispered, wrapping her hands around Benjamin’s arm, clinging to him.
“My thoughts exactly,” Benjamin mumbled in response, trying to maintain an air of dignity as he gawked at the structure before him. The rocky terrain surrounding the kingdom, and the humble shops and colorful displays in the city led Benjamin to expect something more subdued.
No wonder his father always seemed to have plenty of money. Their family was wealthier than he thought.
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If you’d like to read the entire series in its present form, here is the order:
Billionaire Crown Prince
The new series (coming in spring 2022) will be published as a three-volume series in chronological order! I’ll let you know as soon as I have those available for preorder.