“Father, the Crown should not be contested,” Mark insisted. “The title is mine in the absence of my elder brother.”
“Not if he has an heir,” Tayma argued. “My son is the rightful Crown.”
“Omar is five years old,” Mark said. “He is not of age and could not rule if the King were to die.”
“Planning my demise so soon, my youngest son?” King Sayid chuckled.
“You know that’s not what I meant, Father. Please, hear my reasoning.”
“I hear you, Marcos,” Sayid said. “My biggest concern with you is that you’ll never marry and produce an heir of your own. You are twenty-three already and haven’t even considered taking a bride.”
“But Father, I have considered marriage.” Mark jumped on this chance. “I met a woman and I’m quite enthralled with her. I would very much like to marry her.” He didn’t point out that he’d met Lyla four days ago and didn’t even know her last name or where she lived or if she had any royal bloodline.
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Tayma said, sticking her nose in the air. “Produce an heir and then we’ll talk.”
“You are not in charge, Princess.” Mark sneered at her.
“That would be Your Highness, thank you very much.” Tayma crossed her arms and lifted her chin higher.
“I outrank you by blood and status, Tayma.” Mark emphasized her given name to purposely cut her down a notch. “I’ll call you whatever I darn well please.”
“Children, would you please stop fighting,” Queen Salaina cut into the conversation.
“Sorry, Your Grace,” both Mark and Tayma said, then lowered their gazes. The only person above the queen was the king and even Sayid often took direction from his wife. She didn’t speak often, but when she did her words were powerful.
Mark took advantage of this diversion and knelt at his mother’s feet, pleading to her maternal nature. “Your Grace, what is your opinion on the matter of naming the Crown?”
“I’m not allowed to have an opinion, son.” She held out her hand for him to grasp, in a cross between loyal subject and devoted son.
“Of course, you are, Mother.” Mark glanced toward the king, wondering if he’d be reprimanded for speaking to the queen so informally. Seeing no objection in Sayid’s eyes, Mark took his plea to a higher level of informality. “Father values your council.”
“I want to hear more about this future bride of yours,” Salaina cleverly changed the subject. “What’s she like? How has she captured the heart of my young prince? She clearly has; I can see it in your eyes.”
“She’s beautiful, Mother.” Mark sighed and settled on the top marble step leading up to the stand where the thrones sat at the highest point in the room. “But she doesn’t like to be told that she’s beautiful. She liked it when I called her feisty.”
“Oh, you’ve got it bad, my son.” Salaina chuckled.
“Oh, brother, this is ridiculous,” Tayma grumbled. “I’m outta here. I’ll see you at dinner.”
“Princess of Tayma,” Sayid commanded. “You have not been dismissed.”
“My apologies, Your Majesty.” Tayma curtsied and lowered her gaze.
“I have not made any decisions,” Sayid said. “I will take both of your testimonies into consideration and consult my advisors. We are in uncharted territory and the choice I make could have generational implications. I will not take my responsibility lightly.”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” Tayma said softly.
“You are dismissed.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty.” Tayma hurried out of the throne room and the tension seemed to lift from Mark’s shoulders.
“As I was saying, her name is Lyla and she has long, blond hair and crystal blue eyes and she fell for me quite literally when I rescued her from drowning.”
“Where is she from? What is her lineage?” his mother asked.
“I’m pretty sure she’s not a princess, if that’s what you’re asking.” Mark’s eyes crossed with unfocused dreaming and he laughed to himself. “Although she kind of liked when I called her my princess.”
“How about this, Mother? I’ll send her a text to ask if she can provide her lineage and we’ll discuss her some more at dinner.”
“You are dismissed, my son.”
“Thank you, Your Grace.” Mark bowed to his mother and then turned to the king with expectant eyes. “Your Majesty?”
“You’re dismissed, son.”
“Thank you, Father.” Mark bowed to this man who could reprimand him for the casual manner in which he’d been addressed multiple times today. Mark stood and hurried from the room, pulling his cell phone from his pocket as he did.
My parents want to know everything about you. Do you have time to talk?
Mark sent the text and looked forward to hearing Lyla’s voice.