“Congratulations, Your Highness.” Mark spoke softly, coming up behind Eli where he stood at the base of the grand staircase, waiting for other family members to join him. Although not taking time to plan a formal wedding, they had spread the word throughout the palace that Prince Elmer and Princess Savannah would be signing marriage contracts that evening in the grand foyer. Many people were already milling about, standing in little groups talking amongst themselves.
“Your Highness?” Eli startled to see Mark and Alexander in full formal robes, similar to his own, having changed out of their black mourning attire into something more festive, more fitting for a wedding celebration. “I thought you had already left to return to America.”
“When I heard you were planning to marry your princess this evening, I delayed my departure. I couldn’t miss the chance to see my cousin voluntarily committing to a life of servitude.”
“Very funny.” Eli chuckled and accepted a hug from Mark. How quickly the two had become friends. “If a life of servitude means I get to sleep in the arms of my lovely Savannah, tie me in chains and shackle me to the bed.”
“I hear you. Waiting for Hazel to be legally allowed to become my wife is torture.”
“What is holding you back?” Eli creased his brow.
“She’s only seventeen”—Mark glanced at his watch in gest— “for another two months.”
“Shoot, that wouldn’t stop anyone here in the kingdom. At seventeen she would have brought forth your first son by now.”
“Well, she’s an American and perhaps a year from now you and I both will be celebrating our first sons.”
“I sincerely hope so, my cousin.”
A movement caught their attention at the head of the grand staircase and Captain Robert Dumont stepped into view in full uniform, wearing his usual stoic expression. On his arm was an elegant woman Eli hardly recognized.
Her raven curls had been tamed into cascades of waves, draping across her shoulder like a cape, the top of her head uncovered by a veil and ready for the crown that would be placed there in a few short moments. Her dark hair paired with her flawless copper skin and hauntingly mesmerizing eyes contrasted with the white gown that rivaled any Saudi princess he’d ever seen. She must have commissioned the dress months or years ago to have something so elaborate available in less than two days’ notice.
A tiny smile played on her lips when she noticed him standing at the base of the staircase and Eli straightened to stand erect. Chills ran down his spine. The grand staircase curved around an open atrium, pulling light from the three-story cathedral ceiling, the color a soft pink from the setting sun.
The captain stepped down first and reached up to offer his hand to his daughter, always remaining one step below her as if to prevent her from falling should one of her feet slip on the marble staircase. When they reached the bottom step, Robert lifted Savannah’s hand and placed it symbolically into Eli’s. They met one another’s eyes, man to man and Eli promised without an exchange of words that he would care for and serve Robert’s daughter. He nodded once and took a step back, leaving Savannah in Eli’s protective embrace.
With very little pageantry, but an abundance of solemnity, King Sayid recited the oaths Eli and Savannah were committing to one another by signing the marriage contract. They agreed verbally and then were invited to come forward and sign those sacred documents.
The first signature read Savannah Shaia Dumont Sayid. After the coronation, and for the remainder of her life, her signature would include her title and remove her surname. Eli stepped forward and with confident strokes wrote Prince Elmer Sayid of Mada’in Saleh. Below their signatures, were their two witnesses, Captain Robert Dumont, and Prince Omar Sayid of Mada’in Saleh.
The final signature, and the one with the official power to complete the contract was King Sayid of Mada’in Saleh.
“Princess, are you prepared to accept the responsibilities, rights, and duties of your title?” the king asked
“I am, Your Majesty.” Savannah nodded reverently.
King Sayid lifted Savannah’s commissioned crown from the velvet and Mahogany box that sat on the table beside the contract and floated the gold band with inlaid jewels toward her. She curtsied and bowed her head with vulnerability, offering herself to accept the crown.
The gold band seemed to meld into the crown of her head, symbolically becoming one. Eli understood the feeling of wearing a crown, almost as if a weighted blanket were draped across his shoulders and the world was complete when that gold band was fitted to his head.
Savannah rose from the curtsy and gazed up into the eyes of her king. Tears spilled down her cheeks. King Sayid turned her gently toward Eli and his breath caught. No princess had ever been more elegant or regal.
Eli had a strange flash forward moment envisioning Savannah wearing his great-grandmother’s crown. A queen. A higher calling. Almost as quickly as the vision materialized, it vanished, and his princess once again stood in place of his queen.
The shock nearly caused Eli to stumble. He was not Crown. He would never be king, which meant Savannah would never be queen. There had to have been a manifestation of an alternate reality brought on by his great-grandmother’s strange prediction.
With the wedding and coronation complete, Eli was invited to kiss the lovely woman before him, and he dutifully complied. He was glad they had not prepared a reception because he had no desire to be surrounded by friends and family a moment longer.
He remembered the words of the limousine driver suggesting the backseat of his limo on the way home from the airport was neither the time nor place for that particular activity. Now was the time, and he could hardly wait to carry his bride up that grand staircase.