“How did I do?” Mark asked Eli in a hushed tone. The two princes stood beside each other near one corner of the throne room, waiting for the meal to commence. They each held a glass of wine, more as props than refreshment. Mark had never even tasted wine, having grown up in a sober family and not even legally old enough to drink alcohol in the United States. He hoped there were other choices of beverages in this arid country or he’d suffer from dehydration before returning to the States.
“Better than I could have predicted,” Eli said, his voice as low as Mark’s. “Nimrah has already requested the seating arrangement be reorganized to have you at her side. Her left side, of course.”
“Of course,” Mark sneered. “I will be sure to offer her my undivided attention.”
“Don’t get caught in her web, my cousin,” Eli warned. “And do not go anywhere alone with her.”
“If she tries anything, I’ll make mention of my intended bride back in the States,” Mark said. “The daughter of a powerful U.S. senator.”
“I’m not sure that’s wise either.” Eli pursed his lips in thought. “At least not until the last day you’re here. Flirt with her tonight, then stay regrettably busy meeting with the king and other princes over the next few days.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Mark said. “I look forward to that anyway. Any advice about my audience with the king?”
“Do not bring up your suspicions about the likely affair between his second wife and his grandson’s advisor,” Eli said.
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Mark said. “And tell me more about your older brother.”
“Jared is next in line behind my father, although Nimrah calls the shots in that family.”
“Seems a lot of power bestowed upon a fifteen-year-old girl,” Mark said.
“There has never been a Crown Princess in the history of our kingdom, and the Princess of Nimrah seems to think that should be remedied.”
“Have you considered the claim my grandfather made that he was the rightful Crown since his older brother died?” Mark asked, sensing now was as good a time as any to broach the subject.
“By de facto bestowing that right to yourself, no doubt?”
“Naturally,” Mark said.
“Is that your intention? To challenge the throne?”
“What are your thoughts on the subject, Your Highness?” Mark asked.
“The claim has merit—” Eli hesitated. “You would have an uphill battle, that’s for sure.”
“I am wearing the crown,” Mark stated, knowing his grandfather had brought with him his older brother’s official crown, the one bestowed upon the Crown Prince at his coronation. Mark’s brazen display of the adornment at this reception was enough to raise suspicion and cause division among the royal family.
“I’m aware of that,” Eli said through clenched teeth. “Boldly, I might add.”
“I’m not sure I intended that as a compliment,” Eli said. “I’m undecided.”
“I will tell you this,” Eli said, finally turning to look Mark in the eye, man to man, cousin to cousin, prince to prince. “I would stand at your side should you make that choice.”
“I would welcome your support,” Mark said honestly.
“You would be a far better ruler and more honest.” Eli sighed and glanced around the throne room as if he were a stranger evaluating those in attendance at the reception. “I fear for the future of our country if the Princess of Nimrah gains any more power than she already possesses.”
“Let’s discuss this again in a few days after I’ve taken full assessment of the situation,” Mark said.
“I look forward to that report,” Eli said.
Just then the same gentleman who announced Mark’s arrival called out that dinner was ready to be served.
“Your princess awaits,” Eli said with a chuckle.
“Wish me luck,” Mark grumbled.