American weddings are nothing like weddings in Madain Saleh. Eli thought he was attending a royal reception but with church pews and flowers everywhere and ribbons and pageantry. When Mark said he’d managed to pull things together quickly Eli was expecting a few dozen people in a small room with a champagne toast and a cake.
There were hundreds of people in attendance with women dressed in pastel colors, and men wearing sportscoats that they draped over the backs of their chairs as soon as they entered the ballroom filled with round tables covered in white linen. Eli half expected Zaffa drummers, Egyptian dancers, and Dabke. Instead there was a small orchestra in the corner playing soft dinner music.
Several distinct groups of people became evident. There were Senator Alejandro Cohen’s friends from the United States’ democratically-elected congress, the royal family from the kingdom of Madain Saleh, the elite Cohen family members who’d flown up from Mexico, practically royalty in their own right, and then the college-age and teenage crowd—to be expected when the bride graduated high school weeks prior, and the groom was a university student. Everyone seemed to attempt intermingling but would fall back into their groups after a little while.
The wedding itself was a mixture of cultures, including a religious prayer or blessing of some sort offered by one of the elder Cohen family members from Mexico, cliché American wedding vows, and of course a coronation to crown Princess Hazel as Mark’s bride. That was a part of the ceremony Eli could relate to. He wrapped his arm around Savannah and leaned over to kiss the top of her head.
There were no formal contracts signed as there would have been in the kingdom, but they referred to a marriage license that sounded like a similar document. Eli had a lot to learn about customs outside of Madain Saleh if he was going to serve on the UN Security Council.
Mark was pulled in a million directions and yet handled each interruption with grace and dignity. Eli was reminded again how much he supported his cousin eventually taking over as king. He seemed to fit in and complement each separate group as if he already belonged with them even though they didn’t all belong with each other.
Hazel was every bit as playful and eccentric as Mark had described. Mature for her eighteen years, she handled the spotlight on Mark’s arm as if these events were normal. Perhaps they were here in her world. Perhaps growing up as the daughter of a senator, she’d had to endure fancy parties and smiling for cameras.
From his standpoint seated at one of the round tables, Eli took inventory of the royal family. They were easy to spot because most were wearing crowns and formal robes.
The king and queen seemed enthralled with the legendary and dignified Nicholas Cohen, who was apparently Hazel’s grandfather and had been best friends with the late Prince Marcos Sayid.
Jared led his daughter, Princess Nimrah, around to introduce her to anyone and everyone he thought she needed to know. His wife, Princess Linah, was left seated at the table beside a woman who Eli thought was one of Jared’s lovers. Neither of them looked comfortable, Linah with her crown and expensive diamond ring, the other woman with a smug expression and eyes that rarely strayed from Jared.
Prince Omar and Princess Nijah were on the dancefloor, cheek to cheek with soft smiles and renewed affection. Eli couldn’t help feeling a little prideful for having pushed his parents closer together. They deserved some happiness.
Mark’s father, Prince Benjamin Sayid, had flown up from Mexico, along with his wife, Princess Nisha, although neither of them were wearing crowns. They fit in better with the Cohen family than the Sayid family.
“Oh, little Ethan just kicked me,” Savannah said out of the blue, distracting Eli from his contemplative state. “Put your hand right here.”
Eli did as his wife had suggested, resting his hand on her rounded belly. A little nudge bumped against him and Eli startled. “Fascinating.” Another member of the royal family to add to the group.
He smiled and leaned over to kiss Savannah. Her second trimester had seen welcome improvements from the early days of illness, and she was finally enjoying being pregnant. Eli was looking forward to becoming a dad.
What kind of world would Ethan witness? Murder plots against the royal family, a contested crown, a kingdom surrounded by desert that is holding on to the last-ditch effort of its monarchy. Poor Ethan might someday shoulder the responsibility of running the kingdom, depending on who was chosen as the next king.
Eli glanced over again to where King Sayid laughed heartily with Nicholas Cohen and hoped his great-grandfather held on to this life as long as he could.