Abidan had resigned himself to the oppressive rules imposed upon him by his advisor long ago. Raja insisted he drive everywhere they travelled, for safety reasons, he said. Whatever.
Raja had just as much stress navigating the bustling streets of Ramallah as Abidan would. The difference was Raja white-knuckled the drive and Abidan clung to the grab bar above the passenger side door of the black SUV.
Leaving the city to make the one-hour journey to Jerusalem for the Tribute Festival would be a welcome change with a peaceful drive through the rocky wilderness. If they could ever get out of Ramallah.
His hometown and center of his family’s territory had grown in recent years to one of the largest and most diverse cities in the region. Abidan was honored to represent the tribe of Benjamin at the festival.
The Kingdom of Israel was finally at peace after three thousand years of conflicts. Abidan’s lineage traced directly back to Benjamin himself, a son of Jacob the prophet. As the oldest of the princes who would be attending the festival, Abidan knew everything there was to know about the twelve tribes of Israel.
At twenty-five, he should have been embarrassed that he had not yet found a woman smart enough to marry. Not that anyone at the festival would be worthy of his attention. The only person who had ever been kind to him was Nahshon, Prince of Judah.
Nahshon had mentored Abidan through the years and was the second oldest of the princes. He was also holding out finding a wife insisting that he would only marry a Levite. Good luck with that. Abidan snorted out loud just thinking of the challenge. His advisor glanced at him with a raised eyebrow.
“What’s that conniving smirk on your face?” Raja asked.
“I was just looking forward to seeing Nahshon again and wondered if he’d finally found himself a Levite woman to marry.”
Raja also snorted. “He’s going to be a bachelor forever if that’s what he wants.”
“Agreed,” Abidan said. “Who would ever want to marry a haughty Levite anyway.”
“Uh… you are literally going to this festival to pay tribute to the keepers of the temple,” Raja said. “You might want to change your attitude in the next hour.”
“I don’t care how the descendants of Levi have managed to hold onto that designation for thousands of years, but they will always be the enemy to me.”
“Whatever you say, Your Highness.” Raja didn’t sound like he believed a word Abidan said.
They finally merged onto Route 50 and Abidan was able to relax. The drive was literally downhill from Ramallah to Jerusalem.
Abidan was excited to check into the Waldorf Astoria again and wished he could move his entire household there. Nothing in Ramallah even came close to the luxury, not even his palace.
All guests of the Waldorf Astoria received royal treatment and Abidan found that refreshing. He wished he could collect that opulence and bring it home to the refugee camps in his territory. A sobering thought he pushed to the back of his mind as Raja slowed his approach into the metropolitan area of Jerusalem.
The Old City was a tourist attraction under normal conditions but during the time of the Tribute Festival, traffic was a nightmare. Their hotel was practically across the street from the Jaffa Gate and people swarmed the area. Abidan was shaking by the time they pulled up to the entrance and Raja handed off the keys to the valet.
Several members of the concierge approached their SUV including the hotel manager, who addressed Abidan with a bow of respect. “Your Highness, welcome to the Waldorf Astoria. We are honored to have you as our guest.”
“Naturally,” Abidan said, then reined himself in. No need to leave the gentleman with an impression of his snobbery. “We’re delighted to be here. Your accommodations are the finest in the kingdom.”
“Thank you, Your Highness.” The hotel manager, whose nametag read Zaid, nodded politely. “We try our best.”
“And it shows, good sir. Where shall I find my suite?” Abidan glanced at the two members of the concierge, who had finished unloading his luggage.
“The Ambassador Suite has been reserved for you on the nineth floor,” Zaid said. “You are adjacent to King Jacob. I understand you are the eldest of the princes this year.”
Abidan chuckled and smiled at the man, elbowing him in jest. “Is that your way of politely noting that I have yet to choose a princess?”
“Gosh, Your Highness, I hadn’t even taken that into consideration.” Zaid winked conspiratorially. “Perhaps by the time you leave next week, your status will have changed?”
“I’ll have to report back to you, sir.” Abidan grinned.
“I look forward to a full account, Your Highness,” Zaid said. “For now, let’s get you settled in your suite. Our concierge will take you there.”
“Much obliged.” Abidan patted Zaid on the shoulder and turned to the concierge.
“Right this way, Your Highness.” The concierge led the way into the atrium, the grandeur of which rivaled even the Saudi king’s palace.
Marble flooring shined, grand staircases graced the sides with balconies on every level, an elegant clock tower acted as centerpiece, and natural light bathed the atrium with inviting warmth. Yes, Abidan wanted to move here permanently.
His attention was drawn to the staircase on his right where four men flanked an angel in white so elegant, she was nearly sparkling in the sunlight. Although her gown was modern, it hinted of antiquity and seemed to have been designed to hug her bodice. Her hair was upswept and tucked around a silver band that almost resembled a tiara as if she wanted to give off the impression of royalty. She sold it well.
Every man, and woman, in the atrium stopped what they were doing as she descended the last flight of stairs and someone nearby grumbled, “How many bodyguards does the prophet’s daughter need?”
“Four, apparently,” someone else answered.
“The prophet’s daughter?” Abidan whispered to his advisor. “She’s grown up in the past year.”
“That’s Mira?” Raja asked in awe. “She has… matured.”
Abidan’s feet moved as if on their own accord in Mira’s direction, but Raja stopped him.
“Now who’s crushing on a Levite?” Raja mumbled under his breath.
“I’m not crushing on her,” Abidan insisted. “I would simply like to pay my respects.”
“She’s out of your league, Your Highness,” Raja said.
“I am the Prince of Benjamin—” Abidan turned to his advisor. “There is no woman on this earth who is out of my league.”
“Yeah, well, that woman is now out of the atrium, and you’d look like a lovesick fool following her down the hallway,” Raja said. “In the time it took you to brag about your title, you lost the opportunity to introduce yourself to the Levite of your dreams.”
“I am not marrying a Levite,” Abidan declared with falsified confidence.
“Whatever you say, Your Highness.”
“Shut up, Raja,” Abidan mumbled. “Follow our concierge. I’m certain a fine bottle of Scotch is waiting for me in our suite, and I need a drink.”
“And a cold shower,” Raja mumbled back.
“What was that?” Abidan turned and glared at his advisor.
“Nothing, Your Highness. Just following our concierge, like you requested.” As Raja continued after the men with their luggage, Abidan turned one more time in the direction where the princess had left the atrium.
Daughter of the prophet, Abidan corrected himself. Mira is not a princess… yet. A tiny smile pulled at his lips as he turned and followed the concierge.
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