Tiani’s eyes were wide with wonder at this unique structure that seemed more tree than house. The main floor was one large open space with kitchen, dining, and living room seamlessly connected.
“How large is this home?” Levi asked, marveling at the wall of full-length windows that opened up to include the outer patios as additional living space. From what he could see from the angle of the foyer, the house and patio seemed to hang over the waterfall with barely a railing separating them from a sheer drop.
“We have six bedrooms, four stories, two guest houses, and a studio, all connected with a series of covered walkways.”
Levi glanced up at the ceiling, confused. If he remembered correctly from what little he’d seen walking in, there was only a second story above the main level. Gus smiled.
“The other two stories are below us and follow the line of the waterfall so that almost every room in the house has a view of the water,” Gus said.
“Wow.” Levi could hardly picture the setup and he was standing right here. He understood why they said he’d have to see the treehouse to understand. The architect should have won an award for this design, and probably had.
A man and woman who looked to be Levi’s grandparents’ age rose from the patio furniture overlooking the waterfall and stepped back into the house through the wall of windows. Although both had a regal air, they seemed down-to-earth and friendly. Levi had no doubt he was about to be introduced to Prince Marcos and Princess Hazel.
Sure enough, Gus introduced Levi and Tiani to his parents and then held out his arm as if displaying his cousin. “Mother, father, this is Princess Tiani Sayid.” They must have picked up on the cue that Spanish was the preferred language because they started the conversation in Spanish without hesitation.
“My dear, welcome to our family.” Princess Hazel drew Tiani close and held her for a long moment before releasing her with the same glistening eyes as that of her son Gus. “We’re so glad to meet you.”
Tiani, too choked up to even answer, just nodded and allowed herself to be pulled into the arms of Prince Marcos. He closed his eyes and held her as if she was a long-lost sister he’d never met. Pulling away, he whispered with emotion, “Tell me your lineage.” The excitement in Marcos’ voice was encouraging.
With practiced elegance, Tiani stated, “I am the daughter of Chief Gabor Sayid, granddaughter of Eadrich Sayid, great-granddaughter of Emir Sayid, great-great granddaughter of Prince Marcos Sayid.”
“After Prince Marcos passed away, his son, Benjamin, my father, told me that he had a brother, Emir, who he had never met. Naturally, I was shocked because I thought my father was an only child.”
“Why had they never met?” Tiani asked. Without any invitation or request, Tiani and Prince Marcos lowered to sit on the sofa, and they turned halfway so that they faced one another.
“My parents raised me mostly in the United States, but I traveled back and forth to Mexico several times a year. Sometime after my grandmother, Princess Lyla, passed away, grandfather met Akna and fell in love. My father didn’t live in Mexico full time until after grandfather became ill. By then, he was too sick to visit his wife and Emir. I don’t know much else.”
“What about your father?” Levi asked, lowering to the sofa beside his wife. “Where is he now? Is he still alive?”
“He is.” Marcos smiled at Levi. “My father lives just south of Cancun in a little town called Puerto Aventuras.”
Levi turned to Tiani. “Maybe we could go visit Prince Benjamin when we go home to Guatemala. He could probably tell us more about Prince Marcos.”
“By the way, you can call me Mark, rather than Marcos. Most people do.”
“Mark,” Tiani said, trying out the name. “My cousin.”
“Yes, your cousin.” Mark squeezed Tiani’s hands and then glanced up at Levi. “Thank you for bringing her here to meet us.”
“Your son, Gus, is friends with my uncle, right?” Levi glanced outside to where Gus and Alex sat on the porch with their wives, Phoebe and Ellen.
“Yes, but the relationships go back much further than that,” Mark said. “Your grandfather is my advisor.”
“Advisor? Like, financial advisor?”
“No”—Mark chuckled— “Like… my royal advisor.”
“I don’t understand.”
“He was designated as such during my coronation, and that was a lifetime assignment of service,” Mark explained. “He has taken a vow to stand by my side as my brother, almost closer than a brother, really, second only to our wives. He is the keeper of my crown. My eyes and ears whenever we are called upon to serve. If I should be asked to serve as king, he will return to Madain Saleh with me.”
“I thought Madain Saleh no longer existed.” Levi’s brow furrowed, confusion warring with everything he thought he knew about the royal family.
“Madain Saleh is no longer a nation state, nor do we hold a seat on the United Nations Security Council,” Mark said. “But as long as there is still a member of the Sayid royal family willing to sit on the throne, the Saudi’s tolerate us.” Mark chuckled.
“Who is the king now?” Levi asked.
“Another one of our cousins”—Mark stopped when the door opened, and another couple entered the foyer. Mark patted Tiani’s knee. “A story for another time, perhaps. I want you to meet my son, Hayden and his wife Miranda, daughter of our reigning king. You’ll have to ask her about that sometime.” Mark stood and smiled at his son and daughter-in-law. The next person to arrive was the third of the brothers, Prince Owen, who had never married.
Levi and Tiani stood and she tucked herself close. The room was getting crowded and the ever-present rush of noise from the waterfall raked an added measure of stress to Levi’s nerves. He could imagine how Tiani must be feeling. He gave her shoulders a little squeeze and whispered down to her. “You doing okay?”
“I’ll never keep track of all these names,” she whispered back.
“That’s okay, they won’t expect you to.” Levi kissed the top of her head and kept his arm around her.
Levi’s grandfather, Alexander, Sr. and grandmother, Krystina arrived next and Levi evaluated the relationship between his grandfather and the prince.
Although he’d never known about the royal advisor arrangement, he could see the connection immediately now that it had been pointed out.
Mark and his grandfather reminded Levi of how close he and his twin were. A pang of longing pulled at Levi’s heart and he had a sudden desire to call Nicholas. Maybe after Prince Aaron and his wife arrived.
He didn’t have to wait long. Prince Aaron strode in with a surprise, to Levi and Tiani anyway. No one had thought to mention that Aaron’s wife, Felicia was from Guatemala and even knew a few words in Yucatec. Not very many, but Felicia and Tiani connected in a way none of the others had. Felicia’s Spanish even had a similar Guatemalan accent. For the rest of the evening, the two women were inseparable.
Levi was glad Tiani had found a kindred friend among the group. This allowed him the freedom to converse more freely with his uncle and get to know the other princes. He also remembered that he planned to call his brother.
He got Nicholas on a video chat and held up the phone to the room and called out, “Everyone say hello to Nicholas and his wife Becky!”
There was a general mayhem as the group called out hellos, then Levi brought the phone around the room to introduce each person. Nicholas was excited to see his grandparents, but they knew they would see each other in two weeks for the wedding. Felicia told Nicholas and Levi that her father was their grandfather’s cousin. Then Hazel interjected that Felicia’s father was her cousin also, since she and Alex were cousins.
“There are too many cousins,” Tiani said, and everyone laughed with her. That was an understatement.
Eventually Levi stepped away from the rest of the group and had his brother alone on the video chat. He looked out the kitchen window over the majestic waterfall and tried to hold the phone in a way that Nicholas could see.
“You’ll just have to come here sometime to see for yourself,” Levi said. He felt a catch in his throat and switched to English since it was just the two of them. “I miss you, man.”
“Don’t you dare start crying, Levi Stephenson,” Nicholas said, but Levi could tell Nicholas was fighting to maintain composure also. “We’re gonna see each other in just a couple of days.”
“I don’t know if I can do this, Nick.” He hadn’t called him by his nickname in years. “Tiani’s homesick. I’m homesick. We love being married, but this sucks. I need you.”
“I know.” Nicholas said. “I know. I know. I know.” Now they were both crying and neither of them could even speak.
Levi ducked out the front door and escaped to the privacy of his car, not wanting all those poised members of the royal family to see him break down. He laid his head against the steering wheel and sobbed, neither of them speaking. “I need you to come home.”
“I can’t, Lee. I’m planning a wedding. If I leave, Becky will kill me. You come here. Bring Tiani and come here to Houston. You can go see her family after the wedding, but at least you and I can be together.”
“Okay,” Levi choked out. “We’ll come there. We’ll leave in a couple days.”
“If you have to, you can fly,” Nicholas said. “I can get the dang car later. Don’t worry about that.”
“We’ll be okay driving.” Levi pulled himself together. “Knowing how soon I’m gonna see you will help.”
Suddenly the passenger side door opened and Tiani slipped into the front seat. She bypassed Spanish and transitioned right into Yucatec. “Levi, are you okay?”
“Yeah, I just miss my brother,” Levi answered, also in Yucatec. She leaned closer and wrapped her arms around his neck.
“Hi, Tiani,” Nicholas called out through the video chat. They all transitioned right back into Spanish.
Tiani waved to her brother-in-law, all three of them wiping tears from their cheeks.
“Tiani, will you do me a favor?” Nicholas asked. When she nodded, he continued. “Will you bring that husband of yours over here to visit his twin brother? I miss him really bad.”
“He misses you too,” she said. “Yes, I’ll bring him to you.”
“Do you want to fly?” Nicholas asked. “Or drive my car?”
“I don’t want to fly ever again,” Tiani said and both boys laughed with her. They all knew the only way she was going to go home to her family was to be brave and get back on a plane. “We will drive. Your car is fast.”
“Yes, it is.” Nicholas nodded. “How do you like America?”
“In America I am a princess. In my village I am just a tribal leader.” They all laughed. It was good to have Tiani joking around. “I am learning English.”
“What can you say to me in English?” Nicholas asked, in Spanish.
“I have learned to say, ‘no English’.”
“That is a very good phrase to learn,” Nicholas said, laughing.
“She turned our dining room table into a study area,” Levi said.
“So, in other words, it’s just a typical day at our house,” Nicholas said.
“Well, hey, you guys better get back into that party,” Nicholas said. “We’ll talk in a day or two and make some plans.”
“Thanks for chatting with me, man,” Levi said. “Sure miss you.”
“Anytime, little brother.”
They ended the video chat and Levi turned to Tiani and switched to Yucatec. “Thanks for coming to find me.”
“That’s what a wife is for.” Tiani leaned forward and they pressed their foreheads together, connecting for just a moment before going back inside.