“I had a difficult time maintaining composure during our council meeting this afternoon,” Eli muttered under his breath, his voice low enough he was sure no one else could hear.
“What a coincidence,” Ahmed answered, his voice just as low. “Neither could I.”
They stood together in a dark alcove to the back of the cramped meeting room deep in the underground bunker of the palace. The oppressive desert heat from the surface was replaced by a damp chill with the essence of standing water.
Brilliant location for a secret meeting. No self-respecting member of the royal family would slink this far.
Yet here he stood next to Prince Omar’s advisor watching his brother, Prince Jared, relay a passionate speech about the outdated views of the monarchy and the importance of changing the Crown before the king dies.
“I’m not sure what disgusts me more about this,” Eli grumbled. “Her desire to marry you, his willingness to go along with the plan, or your sadistic desires to take a little girl as your bride.”
“The princess is old enough to choose a husband.” Ahmed’s whisper made Eli’s skin crawl. The salt and pepper grey in Ahmed’s thinning hair and the fine lines creasing his forehead were a reminder that the princess should be choosing someone her own age.
“What’s the matter? Been in my grandmother’s bed too long? Needing younger stimulation? You’re a sick man.”
“And yet the ladies fall at my feet.” Ahmed chuckled.
Princess Nimrah’s beauty was unmatched in the kingdom. She could snap her fingers and have any man she wanted. Why she wanted Ahmed was a mystery. “There’s more to this story and I intend to get to the bottom of it,” Eli said.
“I highly doubt you’ll succeed.” Ahmed didn’t turn to Eli, but his menacing words sent chills down his spine. “Three years from now you’ll look back in wonderment at what I’ve accomplished.”
“What you’ve accomplished? I thought this was Jared’s plan.”
“Do you honestly think your brother is smart enough to come up with this elaborate scheme on his own?”
Definitely not, but Eli didn’t vocalize his agreement, just grunted and listened with more interest to the words falling from Prince Jared’s mouth.
“Which side of history will you be on?” Jared paced back and forth across the front of the meeting room, calling out to his enraptured audience. “Who will you follow into the next millennium? Who will be your leader?”
He stopped and pointed to a man in the front row, one of the palace guards. Eli wondered whether his father-in-law, Captain Dumont was aware his guards were down here.
“Will you hold onto the idealistic dreams of an old man as he passes the mantel to another old man? Or will you embrace the new way of organizing this kingdom?”
Jared looked up again and his gaze swept the audience. He raised his fist in a powerful gesture of solidarity.
“We are the young and the strong. We are the ones who have seen what the future holds and can grasp that future. Who here is ready, right now, to pledge their allegiance to me as your king? Who is ready to stand beside me as we take down the old ways and bring in the new?”
The men in the room stood and cheered as one voice. Eli turned on his heel and exited through the back tunnel, not willing to stomach one more moment. As he escaped into the dark, he wondered where Kadin was hiding within that audience, and more importantly, to whom he was pledging his allegiance.