Eloran stared into the small dining room at his brothers. He was the last to arrive. Seth had taken the head seat. As heir to the throne, it was his right and privilege to sit at the head of the table if King Falk was not in attendance.
To his right sat the Earl of Lothling. One look at Seth and Michael and it was obvious they were brothers. They both had their mother’s blond hair, but King Falk’s hazel eyes. They were also thin like Clara, but had King Falk’s height. Clara, though a powerful woman in her own right, was not very tall.
To Seth’s left sat the next oldest, Randolph, the Duke of Taren and Leo, the Sheriff of Taren. Their mother, Irene, had been large boned, very muscular, with dark hair and eyes. Randolph and Leo were mirror images of the warrior woman.
Laurence was missing from the group, the only one Eloran resembled. Though they had different mothers, they both took after King Falk. Both had brown hair and hazel eyes and were as tall as their father. That was the end of their similarities. Where Eloran liked to socialize, Laurence only did so when his duties as a diplomat demanded it of him. Laurence was a good diplomat, but his skills were best used in small groups.
“Eloran! Come in here and close the door! We grow tired of waiting!”
The young Prince grinned at Leo but did as asked. He took the seat next to Michael, as that was set for him. He looked at his brothers and smiled.
“Before I tell you about the woman I’m interested in, I have a question for you. What do you think about the Finarans?”
Seth cleared his throat, looked directly at Michael, and answered. “They are our allies and will remain so when I become king.” He held his hand over his heart. “May that not be soon, as father is a good King.”
The others murmured in agreement. None of the men wanted King Falk to pass on. He was a good king and father. He treated all his sons with love and respect, regardless of their personalities.
Michael cleared his throat and seemed reluctant to speak. “Some live in Lothling and are quick to help when needed.”
Eloran frowned. “I didn’t know some lived in Grenlacks. I thought they only visited.”
Michael shrugged. “Dwarves and trolls, mostly. The mountains in Lothling are rich in minerals they use.”
The young Prince frowned at Michael. “You seem to be leaving something out.”
Seth cleared his throat, and Michael looked to the Crown Prince. “Damn it, Seth. I will speak my mind. We’re all family here.”
Eloran leaned forward and looked to Seth. “Let him speak, please.”
Seth held up his hands in defeat.
Michael shook his head. “The problem with the dwarves and trolls is that they like their alcohol a bit too much. They are fine on most days, but on celebration days, they drink to excess and cause many problems. Destruction of property – their own and their neighbors – killing livestock by throwing them. They always pay for all the damages, but I fear that at some point, they may kill a human.”
“I see.” Eloran’s words were said softly.
Randolph made a noise. “They’re not all like that. Taren has trolls and dwarves and we don’t have those issues. They’re also trying to help us with the bandits in the Taren forests. They sent elven and troll warriors, who seem to be working out well.” He chuckled. “And Pic is always a fun addition to our celebrations. Especially when drunk.”
Leo laughed. “Well said, brother. But with humans as with Finarans, you will have some that are a bit rowdier and can cause issues. If we have troubles with a particular Finaran, or human, we tell them to get out.” Seeing that Michael had more to say and not wanting to hear it, Leo looked to Eloran and frowned softly. “Why?”
Eloran took a deep breath. “I’m interested in a Finaran. Please allow me to broach the subject with Laurence.”
The young Prince looked to Randolph and Leo. “Have you heard of Gateway?”
Though he had asked the ones that lived in Taren, who were close to Gateway, all four brothers answered in the affirmative. Eloran sighed in relief and continued.
“There is a woman there by the name of Anan. She is the Guardian of the Gate.”
Seth spoke up. “You’re interested in King Nassir’s youngest.”
Eloran smiled proudly. “I wanted to invite her to the ball last night. Klaes stated that due to her position, I should give her more time.”
Seth looked to his youngest brother with some amusement. “I don’t believe it. You’re the youngest of us and the only one to come close to being with royalty.”
The others laughed. It was a running joke with the brothers. The neighboring kingdoms did not have daughters either. The only kingdom with daughters was Finara. Though the countries tried to make a union between Finara and Grenlacks by marriage, it never seemed to work out.
When the laughter died down, Eloran looked to his brothers. “Does anyone know why Laurence dislikes the Finarans?”
“Lora, his mother, hated them and passed that hatred onto her son. Father tried hard to show us that the Finarans are the same as humans. Most of our mothers felt the same way. When Laurence was born, father had a war to avoid and was not able to instruct him as one on one, like he did with the rest of us.”
Seth shook his head and continued as he thought back to his childhood. “I’m surprised that Laurence has any tolerance for them. He does not act out toward Klaes, but Lora did.”
The others shook their heads, and Randolph spoke for Leo and himself. “I’ve no idea. When father married Lora, Randolph and I were already training to be guards.”
Seth sighed. “She always seemed to look down her nose at the Finarans, as if she thought she was better than them. I tried asking her about it once. She said something about the Finarans being indecent, then told me that if I knew what was good and right in this world, I would stay away from them.”
Michael touched Eloran on the arm to gain his attention. “Look, I may not always be happy with the Finarans in Lothling, but I won’t stop you if you you’re happy. And don’t worry about why Laurence doesn’t like the Finarans. Worry about how to make him change. It is what we all must do. If you are serious about this one, that is.”
All the brothers laughed and Eloran looked to Seth. “Does this mean you won’t mind if I ask a certain princess to your birthday celebration?”
Seth raised his glass and waited until the others did the same. “Eloran, if you want to be with this woman, then I say, bring her. It will be a fine day when we meet the woman that helped you to grow up.”
As the others laughed, Eloran allowed himself to smile in pleasure. He did not feel as if he were different, but if his brothers felt it, and for the better, than so be it. He would not argue against it.