“My love, we must tread softly. The queen is mourning her son.” Eli paused outside Queen Salaina’s suite and lifted Savannah’s hands in his. “Even if she is not able to provide us with that elegant piece of jewelry, I don’t want to wait.”
“I don’t want to wait either,” she said. “I don’t need a ring; I just want to be with you.”
“You have to make me a promise,” Eli said.
“Promise me you’ll return to college after your spring break and finish your degree, no matter how much I beg you to stay.” Eli chuckled.
Savannah lowered her gaze and blushed a soft pink. “I promise.”
“Serving as a princess is not easy.”
“Will I sleep beside you every night?”
“If sleep is what you desire,” Eli teased.
“There are lots of things I desire.” Savannah’s voice lowered.
“I hope by this evening I’ll legally be allowed to fulfill your every desire.” Eli leaned closer and whispered near her ear.
Before Eli could pull away from Savannah, the queen’s door opened, and a young woman stood with her arms folded.
“Your queen would like to inquire why you’re standing outside her door rather than coming inside.”
“We have no reasonable excuse,” Eli said, extracting himself from Savannah’s arms. “Have we permission to enter?”
“Of course, Your Highness.” The woman stepped aside and held open the door.
Elegant as ever, Queen Salaina perched on a perfectly sized sofa strategically placed in the sitting room to greet anyone wishing an audience. Her flowing black dress had been draped across her lap as if her lady had smoothed it that way prior to her opening the door. The queen was staged in much the same way as the room. There was no outward indication of the sobbing she’d displayed earlier in the day.
“Your Grace, may we have a moment of your time?” Eli bowed respectfully to his great-grandmother.
“I’ve been expecting you, my dear.” Salaina raised her hand to invite them forward.
Eli leaned down to kiss her hand and Savanna curtsied.
“Please have a seat.” The queen gestured toward the low sofa to her right. “Might I be the first to offer you congratulations on your intent to be married.”
“Thank you, Your Grace.” Eli nodded.
“I already know why you have come,” she said.
“I have known the two of you all your lives. You have come to play in my suite many times over the years.”
“You do keep a nice collection of toys and books and puzzles up here.” Eli glanced to the far corner where a little play area was provided for when her grandchildren and great-grandchildren came to see her. He and Kadin and Savannah loved to come play under the loving attention of the queen.
“How else do I expect to draw young people into my life?” She chuckled.
“Indeed.” Eli laughed softly.
“Let me speak to Savannah a moment.” Salaina turned her attention to the beautiful woman holding Eli’s hand.
“Would you like me to leave the room, Your Grace?” Eli leaned forward, prepared to rise if she requested.
“No, my dear, you need to hear this as well.”
Eli settled into his seat again, suddenly anxious.
“Princess Savannah, you will serve as a princess for longer than I will be alive on this earth.” Salaina’s gaze penetrated across the small space between her chaise and the sofa where Eli and Savannah sat. Eli loved the way the queen had already paired his bride’s title with her name. “Shortly after my death you will be asked to serve a much higher calling.”
A chill ran down Eli’s spine. What did she mean by that? He felt Savannah’s shoulder rest against his as if she were leaning closer for safety.
“I have faith that you are prepared for that challenge, or at least you will be by then. Learn all you can. Your education will be the driving force in your ability to succeed.”
Savannah nodded and gulped but didn’t respond with words.
“Now, Your Highness.” Salaina turned her attention back to Eli. “You also will be required to serve in ways you never dreamed necessary. I have already requested that the king appoint you as ambassador to the United Nations.”
“You have?” Eli sat back against the sofa cushions as if someone had pushed him.
“But I must ask a favor.” She leaned forward with a conspiratorial note of humor. “Allow His Majesty to pretend the idea was his.”
Eli chuckled and nodded. The queen winked at Savannah.
“Always let the men think your ideas were theirs. They don’t have much purpose in this life, and it makes them feel better about their inadequacies.”
Savannah giggled and glanced up at Eli. He leaned toward her and kissed her lightly on her lips. He couldn’t help himself.
“Now, for the most important item of business.” The queen glanced over at her lady who was still hovering off to the side of the room. “Could you bring me the boxes I asked you to retrieve?”
“Of course, Your Grace.” The young lady left the room briefly and returned with two velvet boxes, one nested upon the other. Eli knew exactly what items were inside.
“Princess, when you were too old to play with the toys in the corner, you continued to come visit me. I welcomed your attention and humored you with tea parties and dressing up in my dresses and makeup and jewelry. And when my eyes grew tired, you read me stories.”
“You always had the newest releases long before the palace library.” Savannah shrugged as if that explained her reason to visit.
“Every little drawer had to be opened. Every pair of shoes tried on. Every scarf, every necklace, every ring.” Salaina lifted the smaller of the two velvet boxes. “There was always one particular ring that you had to try on each time you played dress-up.”
“The chocolate diamond,” Savannah and the queen said at the same time.
Eli’s heart pounded. The queen already knew which ring Savannah wanted before he even had to ask. He leaned forward in awe as his great-grandmother ceremoniously opened the little velvet box to reveal the hundred-year-old chocolate pear-shaped diamond with the thick band that Savannah had requested.
Instead of handing the box directly to Savannah, the queen handed the box to Eli. “I trust you know what to do with this?”
Eli took the box with shaking hands and turned to Savannah, who had streams of tears down her cheeks. This was a moment he’d dreamed about for years and couldn’t believe it was finally here.
Was he really going to propose to Savannah in front of his great-grandmother? Why not? She had loved them both all their lives, watched them grow up, and had gifted them the perfect diamond ring. He couldn’t think of a more appropriate place to ask the most important question of his life.
Lowering himself to one knee beside the sofa, he rested the ring box on Savannah’s knee and gazed up into the most beautiful mysteriously colorful eyes he’d ever seen. Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, he spoke from his heart.
“My first love. My only love. I promise to cherish you forever and be yours forever. Will you marry me? and be mine forever?”
“Yes, forever and ever, yes!” Savannah almost bounced with excitement.
Eli carefully removed the priceless diamond ring and set the velvet box aside. He slipped the ring onto Savannah’s finger just as the door to the queen’s suite burst open.
“Did I miss it?” King Sayid leaned over and rested his hands on his knees. “Oh, thank goodness. I’m not too late. I hurried as soon as Deborah sent me that text.”
“Your Majesty.” Eli hurried to his feet and bowed to his great-grandfather.
“You know I wouldn’t do this without you, darling,” Queen Salaina said. “I would have found a way to stall them.”
“S—stall us?” Eli glanced down at the ring he’d just placed on Savannah’s hand. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know you wanted me to wait.”
“Oh phooey, that’s merely a ring.” The king waved his hand dismissively. Regaining his composure, Sayid stood to his full height and strode across the room to take his place beside his wife. In a rare show of affection, he leaned closer and kissed her with a love and devotion Eli hadn’t realized they shared.
Eli had a hard time grasping how a man could love his wife yet allow another woman to steal him from her bed. Still, it wasn’t his place to judge. The king had chosen to marry the Princess of Tayma for reasons Eli may never understand.
“Would you like to do the honors, Your Majesty?” Salaina handed the larger velvet box to the king and folded her hands in her lap.
“Thank you, Your Grace.” Sayid turned to Eli and Savannah. He took a calming breath and spoke directly to Savannah. “Princess, this has belonged to you for many years.”
“This was the one item of jewelry I never let you try on.” Salaina smiled knowingly.
King Sayid opened the velvet box to reveal an elegant and simple band of gold inlaid with dozens of jewels and intricate carvings. A crown befitting a princess.
Savannah gasped and held her hand to her chest. She turned to Eli with wonderment. “That’s for me?”
“What’s a coronation without a crown?” Eli asked softly.
“All I need is you,” Savannah whispered.
“Sorry, we’re a package deal. If you choose to marry me, you are choosing to become a princess. If you’re having second thoughts…”
“Shut up, Eli, I’ve known all my life that I was destined to be your princess.” She chuckled and leaned forward to kiss him. Eli had to force himself to break away. A few more hours to wait.
“Well, do you have a dress, my dear? Or would you like to raid my closet for that as well?” They all chuckled at the queen’s jest.
“Yes, grandmother, I have a dress.” Savannah rose from the sofa and crossed the distance to reach for a hug from Salaina. Afterward, she threw her arms around the king as well. “Thank you both, so much.”
“Hey, I have ulterior motives,” the king said, holding Savannah at arm’s length. “I expect great-great-grandbabies out of this union.”
Eli coughed lightly and stood. “On that note, I think it’s time to prepare ourselves for our wedding.” He reached for Savannah’s hand and helped her to her feet, pulling her into his arms.
“This evening we dine in honor of your new life together,” Sayid said. “Thank you for helping lighten this day that started so dark. Here’s to new beginnings.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty.” Eli leaned down to hug his great-grandparents, forgetting all conventions. In that moment, they were not the king and queen. They were family.