Only a handful of people were gathered in the spacious front room of the mansion and Mark barely registered them in his peripheral vision as he pushed past others and knelt beside the low sofa, one of the many mismatched items of furniture his grandfather had collected over the years.
The decorations in the palace were an eclectic combination of influences from around the globe but mostly Mexico and the Middle East. There was even a Persian rug and imported silk tapestries.
“Grandfather,” Mark said, lifting his hand gently. “I’m here.”
“Ah, my little prince, all grown up,” Crown Prince Marcos Sayid of Madain Saleh reached his other hand to pat Mark on the cheek. “Thank you for coming to see me one more time.”
“Grandpa, I don’t want you to go.” Mark’s words caught in his throat and he had to stop.
“Son of my son,” Marcos said with more power than his frail body should be capable. “Your father gave you my name because he knew what you would become.”
“What would you have me become, Grandpa?”
“When I die, child, you are the Crown.”
“What?” Mark pulled away but didn’t release his grandfather’s hand. “No, that passes to my dad next, your son, not me.”
“You are of age,” Marcos explained. “The mantle passes directly to you.”
“No, my dad first. I always thought…”
“Your father was next in line until you came of age. You have been next in line for almost a year. Now you must take your place because I won’t last much longer.”
“Grandfather, come to the United States,” Mark pleaded. “We have the best health care in the world. We have diagnostic equipment to figure out what’s wrong, and miracle medicines and surgeries that can cure or fix just about anything. You can be healed.”
“I will never leave my home,” Marcos said, waving off Mark’s concerns and changing the subject. “I ask this of you, that you marry a fine, young woman and have lots of beautiful babies, and be happy, and learn all you can about science and art, and do good things with your life.”
“I promise, Grandfather. I will do that. I will make you proud of me.”
“My boy, I am already proud of you.” Marcos took a deep, ragged breath. “There is more I ask of you.”
“Anything,” Mark said, squeezing his grandfather’s frail hand lightly.
“Listen to the words of your father, Benjamin. Pass his wisdom to your children, and your children’s children, that they will never forget. And learn all you can about our kingdom. You may be called upon to lead our people and you need to be ready.”
“Yes, Grandfather,” Mark said. “I will listen to my father, and learn all I can, and be ready to lead.”
“That’s my boy.” Marcos patted him on the cheek. “Now, go and do fun things while you are here. Honor my life and my name and my memory by swimming in the ocean and sailing with the breeze in your hair, and ride one of those kiteboards that fly over the waves.”
“Yes, I’ve always wanted to ride one of those.” Marcos laughed gently then pulled his face into a serious mask again. “Do not sit at my bedside and wait for me to die. Take your friends out into the sun, build campfires on the beach and find girls to kiss.”
“Gee, if you insist.” Mark chuckled.
“Come closer so I can ask you something,” Marcos whispered.
Mark moved his face forward so their cheeks were touching.
“Have you met Nick’s granddaughter, Hazel yet?”
“Yeah, I did,” Mark whispered back, predicting where his grandpa was heading with this line of thought.
“She’s a cutie, right?” Marcos asked. “I met her a little while ago and thought of you. There is no finer family in the world than those Cohens. You would do well to marry her.”
“I just met her today.” Mark chuckled.
“I had spent less than eight minutes with your grandmother before I asked her to marry me,” Marcos said. “You had six hours on an airplane together. You should have been down on one knee by now. By gosh, son, what are you waiting for?”
By that point they were no longer whispering and were both chuckling.
“I need rest now,” Marcos said, pulling his hand away. “Get outside and soak in some sunshine. Don’t they have sunshine up there in the northern hemisphere?”
“Not for college students they don’t.” Mark sat back on his heels and smiled. “But it’s spring break so I’ll take your advice.”
“When we meet again, I want a full report.”
“You got it,” Mark said, standing up and releasing his grandpa’s hand.
“That report better include lots of babies and grandbabies,” Marcos said.
That gave Mark pause and his smiled faltered. Grandpa wasn’t talking about a report tomorrow about the fun things they’d done in the sand and sun; he was talking about a report when they saw each other in the afterlife, if such a thing existed. That meant grandpa didn’t intend to see him tomorrow. That meant… Mark rushed back over to his grandpa’s couch and pulled him into his arms. “I’ll miss you, Grandpa.”
“Carry on my legacy,” Marcos ordered with firm resolve.
“I promise.” Mark released his grandfather from his arms, stood tall with his chin raised and bowed regally to his namesake. “Goodbye, Your Highness.”
Mark turned on his heel and maintained a stoic expression as he passed by the others who had witnessed the exchange. He held his composure all the way to the front door of the mansion, then bolted down the road, flying as fast as his legs could carry him.
He ran past all the other palatial homes down to the beach, where he finally collapsed onto his knees, grateful for the early darkness provided by the close proximity to the equator and the soft sand to catch his fall. Mark screamed and pulled his hair and screamed and screamed until finally collapsing into tears.