King Sayid of Madain Saleh arrived at the Baccarat Hotel with his queen and entourage to very little fan fair. He was a private man who mostly stayed within the walls of the palace in his tiny kingdom.
Mark was ready to greet his father wearing a formal suit and simple crown, his fiancé at his side wearing an evening gown and sparkling diamond ring.
The crystal chandeliers and lighting, together with the black and white motif of the reception room offered an elegant backdrop for the royal family to meet their future princess and her parents.
“Your Majesty”—Mark offered a formal bow to his father. “May I present Miss Lyla Donovan and her parents, Wesley and Rebecca Donovan.”
Mark had coached the Donovan’s in advance that it was not necessary for them to bow to his parents because they weren’t subjects. They were to merely offer their hand, palm down, for the king to choose how he would prefer greeting them. When greeting each of the ladies, he pulled their hands to his lips for a kiss, and when he came to Wesley, the king shook his hand like any two men greeting one another.
The opposite was the case when greeting the queen. She presented her gloved hand to the Donovan’s, palm down, and gave each of the ladies’ hands a friendly squeeze, like kindred spirits. Lyla also chose to offer a subtle curtsy to the woman who would soon be her mother-in-law. Wesley kissed the queen’s hand in much the same way the king had kissed his wife and daughter’s hands.
Formalities aside, the king and queen retired to their suite for an hour or two to get settled and dressed for dinner. Mark and the Donovan’s were led to an informal sitting room where they were served light cocktails and hors d’oeuvres.
“Thank you for humoring them,” Mark said, sitting on a settee next to Lyla, draping his arm around the back of the sofa. “You’ll get to know them better at dinner.”
“They seem lovely,” Rebecca said, reaching for a plate.
“Your mother is… elegant,” Lyla said. “And formal.”
“That she is.” Mark chuckled. “She is a queen first, and a mother second. I know she loves me, but I had several nannies.”
“Is that what”—Lyla gulped and lowered her gaze to her hands folded in her lap, which were shaking. She suddenly lifted her chin and locked her eyes with his— “Is that what you want for your wife?”
“Just the opposite.” Mark placed his hand on top of hers, hoping to calm her nerves. “I want you to walk by my side, as an equal. And I want to help raise our children. Together.” He gave her hands a light squeeze and winked.
“Maybe,” Lyla suggested, a playful gleam in her eye. “We could just have a nanny to change the diapers.”
They all chuckled at that, and Mark decided to change the subject. “How did the shopping go this morning?”
“We found the most elegant wedding dress with dozens of tiny buttons made of pearls with loops of silk thread to hold each one in place,” Lyla said, pulling out her cell phone. “Here, I’ll show you some pictures.”
“You most certainly will not, young lady,” Lyla’s mother said, snatching the phone away. “The groom is not allowed to see your dress before the wedding.”
“Oh my gosh, that is so old fashioned, mother.” Lyla shook her head then turned back to Mark. “Anyway, we were lucky to find something off the rack that needed very little alteration.”
“What about in your country, Mark?” Wesley asked. “What would a wedding be like in—how do you pronounce the name again?”
“In modern days the pronunciation has shortened from the more formal Mada’in Saleh. Most people eliminate the extra syllable in Mada’in and pronounce it Madain.”
“And why have we never heard of your kingdom prior to now? Why isn’t it on the map?”
“Oh, it is,” Mark said. “If you know where to look. Because we are completely contained within the country of Saudi Arabia, most people just consider us to be part of that country. But we are a sovereign nation, neither subject to nor controlled by the Saudis. We are quite dependent on their protection, however.”
“Understandably,” Wesley said.
They were interrupted by the hotel staff presenting them with samplings of the meal that would be presented the night of the wedding, including a few bites of an elegant cake that melted in Mark’s mouth.
By the time the king and queen returned from their suite prepared for dinner, Mark and the Donovan’s were no longer hungry. They went along anyway. Meals were rarely intended for satiating a person’s appetite; rather an opportunity for diplomacy.
That night was no exception. The king started most discussions with a question for Lyla or the Donovan’s. Mark played mediator, helping lead the conversation toward an answer that would be comfortable for everyone, addressing potential concerns before they were even voiced. He was a gifted diplomat and had seen more of the world than everyone else at the table combined.
He felt confident he could pull this wedding off. He was hopeful anyway.