“My prince, I’m here, brother.” Marcos hurried to Jared’s bedside and grasped his hand. Between the helicopter and private jet, he’d managed to make it home to Madain Saleh in just over nine hours.
“Marcos,” Jared choked out in a raspy voice. “We don’t have much time.”
“I’m here now. I’ll sit with you through the night.”
“Hear my words,” Jared demanded in a much stronger voice than Marcos would have thought possible considering his obvious pain.
“Forgive me, my prince.” Marcos lowered his eyes obediently to the man who was slated to be his king.
“No, you forgive me,” Jared pleaded. “I have made some poor choices, and I need you to forgive me so that you can lead my people.”
“I forgive you, my prince,” Marcos said. “What would you have me do?” Lead his people? Is that really what he’d said? Marcos lifted his eyes and met his brother’s gaze.
“My wife is not fit to raise the future king,” Jared said. Marcos agreed but didn’t vocalize his concern. “Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“I understand.” Marcos nodded with increasing confidence. “I will lead our people as best I can.”
“I fear you may need to flee this land,” Jared said. “My wife will fight you on my decision.”
“How am I to lead if I flee the country?” Marcos was confused.
“As long as father is alive, you won’t be needed here.”
“Good point,” Marcos said.
“You need to get married,” Jared insisted, cringing in pain. “The Crown needs a father and a mother to raise him.”
“I’m starting to understand the desire to settle down.” Marcos chuckled, thinking of the spunky blonde who’d already texted him to offer her condolences. “I think I can accommodate you on that request.”
“Promise me one more thing.” Jared gripped Marcos’s hand with more strength than he’d thought possible.
“Anything, my prince,” Marcos promised.
“Raise him as your own,” Jared said.
“You want me to raise your son?”
“Your future king…” Jared’s weak voice trailed off.
Marcos froze as realization entered his heart. Jared wasn’t asking him to assume the role as Crown; he was asking Marcos to raise the future Crown, his five-year-old son, Omar.
“No,” Marcos whispered, not sure his brother could hear him anymore. “He’s not of age. When you die, whether that be tonight, or ten years from now, unless your son is of age, I inherit the title of Crown. I will help raise him, but not as my future king.”
Jared never responded with words or even a twitch of a muscle to indicate he’d heard his younger brother’s declaration. His breathing grew more and more labored as the night wore on.
Clutching his older brother’s hand, Marcos kept vigil through the long night and by the time the sun rose, Jared no longer had a heartbeat.
Marcos pried his hand from within Jared’s clutch and rose from his chair to inform the king that his oldest son had died.