“Your Majesty and Your Grace, may I present His Royal Highness, Prince Marcos, and Her Highness, Princess Lyla,” Petra, the king’s most trusted adviser, called out to the nearly full throne room.
Mark stepped from the foyer with Lyla’s hand in the crook of his arm, both wearing formalwear and their crowns, as were the king and queen.
This was to be an unveiling of the new princess to the royal court, and Mark wasn’t sure Lyla was ready.
She held her head high and kept her expression stoic as Mark had coached her, perfectly adhering to the traditions his parents would expect.
Over the next few days she would be gradually introduced to the remainder of the kingdom, first by hosting a less formal party on the patio and spilling out into the square so that Lyla wouldn’t have to travel beyond the patio to be seen.
The following day, Mark would take her into town and introduce her to the local establishments, like his favorite restaurants and government offices.
Next, she would be led on a tour of the hospital to check in on the subjects who were currently unable to attend any of the other activities. At that time, she would be introduced to the doctor who would presumably be her obstetrician, should she need one, and Mark hoped she would.
Mark felt a tiny bit embarrassed that his physical relationship with his new bride was a topic of national interest as her conceiving a child would likely produce the next-in-line to the Crown.
But tonight was all about meeting the dignitaries. The leaders of the government at all levels, the leaders of the military, all locally appointed officials. There were no elected officials as there would be in Lyla’s home country because Madain Saleh was a monarchy rather than a democracy. He wasn’t sure if Lyla had taken that into consideration when she agreed to marry him, or if the idea was disagreeable.
The court also included the queen’s sister and brothers, the king’s sister, and several aunts- and uncles-in law along with multiple cousins he’d never have time to introduce before the end of the evening. Lyla would get to know them in time.
Mark and Lyla walked the length of the room along a perfectly preserved Persian runner, which almost caused Mark to break his stoic expression as he thought of their kiss from earlier in the afternoon.
Before ascending the three marble steps to the elevated platform at the center of the far wall, Mark paused and held his hand along Lyla’s lower back, encouraging her to take a half step forward as if he was physically presenting her as the new princess.
“Your Majesty”—Mark bowed his head briefly. — “And Your Grace, may I introduce my wife, Her Highness, Princess Lyla of Mada’in Saleh.”
Lyla curtsied and bowed her head as he’d coached her, she instinctively mastering the show of respect to her new in-laws.
“Welcome, Your Highness,” King Sayid nodded regally and held out his hand.
Mark took that as the invitation to approach the thrones and led Lyla up the stairs to where she held her hand out to the king. He didn’t kiss her hand as he’d done when first meeting her in New York, just held hers clasped within both of his.
When Lyla stepped over to greet Queen Salaina, Mark heard his mother whisper, “I can’t wait to give you a hug and welcome you to our family, but that will need to wait until we are out of the public eye.”
“Likewise, Your Grace,” Lyla said quietly and curtsied again.
After they had greeted the king and queen, Mark and Lyla descended the steps once more to where the Princess of Tayma sat with her son, Prince Omar standing at her side, regally holding up his little head as if waiting to relax his stance once given permission. He’d been trained well.
Mark was having none of it. He crouched lower and held out his arms. “How’s my favorite nephew?” he asked with a grin, completely ignoring Tayma.
Omar released a big smile and ran into his uncle’s outstretched arms. Mark lifted him to eye level and Omar wrapped his legs around Mark’s waist and his arms around his neck like he wanted a piggy-back ride. Maybe that was just what this party needed in order to relax and enjoy the evening.
“Your Highness, may I introduce your new nephew, Prince Omar of Madain Saleh,” Mark said, meeting his wife’s gaze. “Prince Omar, this is Princess Lyla, your new aunt.”
“It is an honor to meet you, Your Highness,” Omar stated in his most grown-up voice and bowed his head regally to Lyla.
“Likewise, Your Highness,” Lyla said, returning his nod.
“Ahem,” Tayma said, still sitting on her throne. The chair was much smaller and less regal than the king and queen, but a position of honor in its own right.
“Your Highness, you remember the Princess of Tayma,” Mark said through clenched teeth, then lowered his voice. “From when she so rudely interrupted our homecoming.”
“It is an honor to be formally introduced, Your Highness,” Lyla said with a small curtsy and subtle nod of her head.
“Likewise… Your Highness,” Tayma said with a fake smile and sarcasm lacing her voice. “Welcome to our kingdom.”
“Come, allow me to introduce you to my cousins,” Mark said, shifting Omar to his back for a piggy-back ride. “I’m sure you’ll have plenty of time to get acquainted with the princess.”
Mark lifted Lyla’s right hand into the crook of his left arm, a subtle reminder that it was not appropriate for her to shake hands with her subjects but merely acknowledge them with a slight nod of her head.
Lyla must have been nervous, but she never showed the slightest sign of apprehension. Mark couldn’t have been prouder of his wife. He winked at her and pulled her gently from one member of court to another, all the while carrying his five-year-old nephew on his back.