Trust no one. That was the underlying message Eli whispered to his cousin as preparations were made for Prince Jared’s funeral.
The best thing Prince Marcos and his family could do was get out of the kingdom as quickly as possible and leave the day-to-day operations in Eli’s capable, if only limited, hands.
Once again, the king boldly requested Prince Marcos stand to his right during the formal funeral proceedings, nearly shoulder-to-shoulder, with Eli to his left but one step behind. That alone was enough to send a clear message to the kingdom and the world that Mark would be his predecessor should anything happen to the king.
The entire free world was aware that Prince Elmer was ambassador to the United Nations, and Marcos Sayid was Crown Prince. Anything less than full cooperation among the royal family would likely cause a civil war. Eli shuddered at the prospect. Mark would be returning to America. Eli would be here to try to hold their kingdom together. If that were possible.
Eli didn’t mind. He’d rather be standing here in the front beside his cousin than behind his father and to the left of his brother. Kadin stood behind and to his right shoulder, with Princess Savannah to his left and the two of them holding hands with little Prince Ethan. Almost as if Eli and Mark had predicted the outcome, Ethan was nearly the same age as Mark’s son, Aaron.
Behind Prince Marcos, his advisor, Alexander stood to the right, with Princess Hazel to his left, with little Prince Aaron in between, holding each of their hands. Alexander’s wife, Krystina walked immediately behind them carrying baby Prince Owen.
The queen was not healthy enough to accompany the funeral procession, but the king’s second wife, Princess Tayma walked a few feet behind the king with her son, Eli’s father, Omar one step behind and to her right, along with his wife, Eli’s mother, Princess Nijah and his father’s new advisor, Kurtis. Princess Nimrah was at Tayma’s left shoulder along with her husband, the known murderer, Ahmed.
The one notable exception to this otherwise standard processional, was Jared’s widow, Princess Linah, clinging to the king’s arm and faking tears like an award-winning actress. Eli wondered how much she knew about the plot to kill her husband. If she knew that her husband had been planning to kill his father. If she knew why her daughter, Nimrah had married Ahmed. If she knew about the secret underground societies. He suspected she did.
As fate would allow, his cousin had the perfect excuse to board their private jet and leave the country since one of their business partners had been arrested in the United States. Not to mention Princess Hazel’s delicate condition and the impending arrival of Prince Hayden.
Eli had a private meeting the morning before the funeral with the king, Kadin, Mark and his advisor, Alexander. Everyone knew Ahmed killed Jared, yet no one could prove his guilt. The entire household had an unspoken agreement of secrecy. The only thing keeping Eli and the king alive was the assumption they were in on it too. Murder investigations were only effective if there was a way to punish the murderer. For now, they were at a loss as what to do.
Kadin served the unique position as eyes and ears among the staff and dignitaries. The information he shared with Eli was held close to the chest, but Mark needed to be kept in the loop.
The assassination didn’t make sense. If Ahmed was trying to overthrow the monarchy, why hadn’t he killed the king? If those who were part of the secret underground society in the kingdom thought of Omar as their crown prince, why did they kill his son? Why not kill the Crown? If Eli was ambassador to the United Nations, why not kill him?
There was some underlying reason Ahmed had killed Jared, and Eli needed to learn the truth. For that he needed to stay open to the whisperings and pretend to agree with their tactics. In the process, he was watching his kingdom crumble.
Eli had the sneaking suspicion that Madain Saleh was slated to be absorbed into their host country as a bygone kingdom that had outlived its purpose. Saudi Arabia would soon be the proud owners of a very nice artesian spring that provided the highest-quality water source in the Arabian peninsula, some historically significant ruins, and a state-of-the-art modern palace built by a wealthy and snobby royal family who couldn’t get along well enough to govern themselves.
Madain Saleh would fall.