“Our lives have changed quite significantly since the first time we entered this room,” Alex muttered under his breath, hoping no one else was close enough to hear their private conversation. Sound in the throne room amplified, so they needed to be especially quiet standing near the doorway, preparing to enter.
“That they have.” Mark had requested that Alex stand at his shoulder briefly prior to entering the room as a means of analyzing the situation.
The royal family on the marble platform at the far end of the room held almost the same people as the first time they arrived five years prior, but there was no grand reception. Most of the room was empty, including the throne where Prince Jared would have sat.
“How morbid they left his throne on the platform.” Mark barely moved his lips.
“And I can’t believe they allowed Ahmed to enter this room as a member of the royal family knowing he murdered Prince Jared,” Alex whispered.
“Allegedly, as they say,” Mark muttered.
“Hmpf.” Alex fought the need to narrow his eyes at Omar’s advisor, who now sat at a place of honor beside his young bride, the Princess of Nimrah. Thinking of their conversation earlier in the day, Alex wanted to laugh out loud at the implication of Nimrah’s lack of enjoyment on their wedding night. He forced his face into a mask, attempting to show no emotion. “You ready?”
Mark didn’t move or speak but the tiny grunt from the back of his throat was all the direction Alex needed. He fell back from his prince’s right shoulder, allowing Hazel to take her rightful place at his left.
Walking into the throne room was different. No fanfare or caller announced their entrance. Prince Marcos and his wife, Princess Hazel stepped forward, her hand tucked in the crook of his arm. Mark carried baby Owen and Hazel held the hand of young Aaron, who lifted his chin with confidence as he’d been coached.
Hazel was every bit the elegant princess. Her hair piled high in cascading curls perfectly complementing the golden jeweled crown. Her dress was high-waisted and pleated to enhance and celebrate the growing life within rather than attempt to conceal her extended belly.
Mark wore a very formal suit and his full crown, and his boys wore little matching suits. Alex had chosen a slightly less-formal suit to avoid upstaging his prince.
Krystina had donned a tastefully elegant evening dress, downplaying her colorful personality in favor of a conservative cut and style. As luck would entail, her dress was a creamy white that with the additions of some flowers in her hair and a string of pearls would transition easily into a simple wedding dress. Alex tucked Krystina’s hand in the crook of his arm, leading her into the throne room like a lady and gentleman entering a formal ball.
Their progress was painstakingly slow, keeping pace with Aaron’s little legs. This allowed the four of them to take inventory of the royal family, and the rest of the family to evaluate them.
Queen Salaina had declined in health and Alex wondered if they’d be returning to the kingdom for another funeral in the near future. The Princess of Tayma also looked quite a bit older than she had the last time they were here.
Omar was a shell of the man he once was. When they first met him, he had just lost his beloved uncle. This time, he’d lost his oldest son, and his advisor was no longer at his side. He also no doubt realized his title of Crown Prince was long since stripped from his head. His crown was smaller and less ornate than that of Prince Marcos. The platform on which his throne sat was lower than the one that had been prepared for Mark.
A photographer was hovering to the side waiting to capture a rare multi-generational photo of the entire living royal family.
As they approached the marble steps to the stand, Mark handed baby Owen to Hazel and gently brought Aaron to his side. Prince Marcos lowered to one knee and helped Aaron—just as they’d practiced in their suite—lower to his knee.
Alex caught Queen Salaina fighting a grin, pursing her lips together. Although the king had visited with them earlier, this was the queen’s first look at her little great-great-grandsons.
“Your Majesty, and Your Grace,” Mark called out in a clear and confident voice. “May I present His Highness, Prince Aaron and His Highness, Prince Owen, along with my wife, Her Highness Princess Hazel. I am also joined by my advisor, Alexander Cohen-Stephenson, and his bride, the lovely Krystina Clark.”
“Welcome,” King Sayid called out, holding his hand out as if to invite them to join him on the stand.
Mark helped Aaron to his feet and rose from his knee. Before they ascended the stairs, he lifted baby Owen out of Hazel’s hands and offered her his arm to help her up the stairs.
Little Aaron attempted to help in a similar fashion. He took his mother’s other hand, pulling her up the stairs with a determined grunt. There was no stopping the chuckles from several directions. He was just too cute for anyone to resist.
They made their way to the top of the marble stairs, Alex and Krystina a few steps behind. Mark bowed to the king, as did little Aaron, then kissed Queen Salaina’s hand and coached Aaron to kiss his great-great-grandmother’s hand. Mark held out baby Owen for the queen’s inspection, and she took his little hand in hers, making funny faces at the little prince.
Hazel and Krystina each curtsied to the king and he kissed their hands, then they curtsied to the queen and she spoke quietly to the ladies.
“Good to see you again, Princess.”
“Likewise, Your Grace,” Hazel whispered back.
“And congratulations, Ms. Clark. I look forward to celebrating with you this evening.”
“Thank you, Your Grace.”
“Darling?” Mark held out his hand to help Hazel down a step to her place of honor on a throne directly to his left, and Aaron stood to his right, one hand on the arm of his father’s throne, chin lifted like a confident little gentleman. Mark continued to hold baby Owen on his lap.
Alex helped Krystina back down the stairs and led her over to one of the chairs near the edge of the room, then ascended the stairs again and took his place behind Prince Marcos’ throne to the right of his shoulder.
With no more preparation than that, the entire royal family faced forward as the photographer took many shots from different angles, requesting minor changes here and there. One person needed to turn their head just so, another needed to move a hand to an arm rest or folded neatly in their lap. Finally, after dozens of shots, the photographer left the room and the mood in the throne room shifted.
King Sayid was the first to rise to his feet and he leaned down to help Queen Salaina from her throne. From somewhere off to the side, an assistant quickly approached to work with Sayid to help her down the stairs where Salaina was immediately lowered into an ornate wheelchair that was quite literally fit for a queen.
As soon as his wife was comfortable, the king turned to the rest of the group and called out, “Let’s adjourn to the dining room, shall we?”
Sayid shooed aside the assistant and took the handles of the queen’s wheelchair, personally guiding her into the dining room.
Prince Marcos, Hazel, and their boys followed closely behind. When Alex returned from retrieving Krystina, he noticed sneers and curled lips from several other members of the royal family. He ignored them and took his place behind his prince, ahead of everyone else.