Alex had been to exactly one inaugural ceremony before. His parents had taken him to see President Marcador take the oath of office back when he was thirteen. That president had turned out to be ineffectual, serving only one term and, even at his young age, Alex had the sense that Marcador was going to be a footnote in Legado history. The man projected so little presence, almost as though he didn’t have enough internal energy to put a persona out there. What Alex subsequently learned was that Marcador was a compromise candidate during a period of transition for his country. The story would be decidedly different sixteen years later, when a wildly charismatic candidate – one who happened to be Alex’s cousin – would take the nation by storm and win the election in a landslide.
Alex could hardly believe the ceremony he was watching today had the same function as the one he’d witnessed as a boy. This one had so much pomp, so much music, so much color. Javier Benigno was easily the most popular political figure to rise from Legado since the late, ever-beloved Viviana Emisario, and perhaps the first to inspire the passion from the people that seemed to have been extinguished when Viviana’s helicopter had crashed during a diplomatic mission. Viviana’s death had snuffed the joy from a nation. It had done more than that to Alex, but that was a story he would forever keep to himself.
“Legado was always our most vibrant colony,” said a voice to his right. “This ceremony has more hues than a Joya de la Costa garden.”
Alex turned to look at the speaker. The man seemed to be about his age and height, though he was a bit heftier all around. Maybe this is what I’d look like if I didn’t spend as much time in the gym, Alex thought.
“I assume you’re aware that Legado hasn’t been a colony since your great-great grandfather was a twinkle in his mother’s eye.”
The man flashed a heavy-wattage smile. “Oh, well, of course. But one never stops thinking of their children as children, do they?”
“Well, we’re all grown up. And we’ve been a democracy continuously for more than a century. I don’t believe our ‘father’ can say the same thing.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” the man said, laughing boisterously. “The public elected El General to each of his nine terms. By an overwhelming majority, in fact. Usually more than ninety percent.”
A huge cheer went up at that moment. Looking down from the grandstand, Alex could see that the new president’s motorcade had entered the staging area.
“Yes, ninety percent,” Alex said to his companion. “My cousin should find that humbling, as he only received fifty-nine percent of the vote.”
“Cousin? I assume that makes you a Benigno.”
“Soberano, actually. Javier is a cousin on my mother’s side.” Alex put out his hand. “Alejandro Soberano. My friends call me Alex.”
The man shook. “Fernando Alfonso Trastámara. My friends call me Fernando.”
Alex should have recognized the man. He’d certainly seen the heir to the Léon throne in enough tabloids. “They don’t call you ‘Your Majesty.’”
“God, no. They will hopefully never call me that.”
“I assume that means you’re wishing for a very long life for your father and not that you’re expecting El General to come back from the dead.”
The man beamed again. It was easy to see why women found him so irresistible. Between the smile, the future crown, and the massive fortune, what was there to resist? “No, El General is gone forever. Just to make sure, my father sends an envoy every day to dance on his grave.”
Alex nodded approvingly. The people of Legado did indeed consider Léon to be close family, and the last thing that Alex would have ever wanted was a return to the days when El General dominated Léon so absolutely. Alex was barely in elementary school when the dictator had suddenly stepped down, allowing Fernando’s father, Juan Alfonso Trastámara, to take his rightful place on the throne and to allow for a duly elected prime minister to operate the government, but he could remember his mother spitting invective at the television every time she saw El General speak. And while Alex didn’t truly understand the cause of celebration on the streets of his hometown when El General resigned (and the only slightly-less-raucous celebration that happened when the dictator died eight months later), he would never forget the taste of the pastel con tres leches his mother made that night to mark the occasion.
“Very wise of your father,” Alex said. “Is he here?”
“He wishes he could be. He thinks highly of your cousin. But there’s a gathering of several European heads of state that Léon is hosting, so he of course needed to attend that. He sent me to represent the crown in his stead. He’s accurately deduced that my one statecraft talent is waving and smiling broadly, so I’m the perfect man for this assignment.”
Fernando did some smiling and waving at that point and excused himself. At the inaugural ball that evening, though, Fernando came up to Alex with two glasses of Champagne and offered him one.
“I noticed you didn’t have a drink,” he said.
Alex took the glass and tipped it in Fernando’s direction before taking a sip. “I was pacing myself.”
“I don’t have the remotest idea why anyone would do that.”
Alex grinned at Fernando’s acknowledgment of his excesses. “Lots of family around. And I wouldn’t want to do anything that might embarrass my cousin.”
“Hmm. Interesting perspective.”
“It was nearly time for another drink, though, so I appreciate the Champagne.”
“Happy to be of service. So, I hear you’ve been conscripted to accompany me to Anhelo tomorrow for the hospital ribbon-cutting ceremony.”
Just a few hours earlier, Alex had learned that his cousin, the president, had requested that Alex be part of the prince’s travel party for the opening of a new hospital that Léon had funded. The request had surprised Alex, because he’d never performed any sort of official government function before, and there were surely dozens of people on the presidential staff who could have filled this role. Had someone seen Alex and the prince speaking at the inauguration and decided that Alex would be a good companion? He did notice his mother looking at them a lot during the inauguration and then he saw her talking to the president later. Maybe she wanted him to become friends with the prince? But he doubted she would have such influence on the new president, even though he was her younger cousin. Did President Benigno think this might help groom Alex for some future place in his administration – something Alex had never considered and wouldn’t particularly desire, especially now that his career was kicking into its next gear? Regardless, he wasn’t going to turn down the new leader of his native land, and some pomp and circumstance at the side of the prince of Léon could be entertaining.
“Yes,” Alex said. “It appears they needed to tap the absolute best available talent for this engagement.”
“I’m flattered. I was afraid I was going to get a member of Benigno’s rotund retinue. Is it just me or is everyone in the president’s inner circle at least forty kilos overweight?”
Alex chose not to respond beyond a polite smile.
“No matter,” the prince said. “Tell me: is the Colina after-hours club scene as ribald as its reputation?”
“I wouldn’t really know. I’m down from New York, and I grew up in Anhelo. I’ve never taken much advantage of the clubs when I’ve been to Colina in the past.”
Fernando nodded thoughtfully for several long moments. Then his face brightened. “Care to join me on a bit of a research expedition after this event is over? Purely for cultural reasons, of course.”
Alex lifted an eyebrow. “I believe our plane is scheduled to leave at eight tomorrow morning.”
Fernando shrugged. “We’ll make it an early night, then. In bed no later than four.”
Alex had heard that Fernando could be a bit dangerous when out on the prowl, and Alex not only had his own reputation but the reputation of Legado’s new president to uphold. Still, it was difficult to avoid getting caught up in Fernando’s enthusiasm.
“I’ve heard of a few places that might be ideal for your ‘research.’ And I’m sure they would love a visit from the future king of Léon.”
“Excellent. One condition, though: you really need to stop calling me the future king of Léon. I already get all of the reminders I need about that from my father.”
Excerpt from Birth Right by Julian Iragorri and Lou Aronica. Copyright © 2019 by Julian Iragorri and Lou Aronica. Reproduced with permission from Lou Aronica. All rights reserved.