"Tell me what you want."
In the end, there is only one choice he can make.
"I will be Eldest of Southlands," he says.
The Eldest of Southlands has been a position of ruling since the most ancient times of Southlands' history. Through the course of Veiled Rose, we get a brief glimpse of one of the very first Eldests during Rose Red's journey through the Netherworld. A portrait hanging in the gallery of the Eldest's House depicts Panther Master, who ruled Southlands in the age of the Wolf Lord. It is a romanticized portrait of him, painted several hundred years after his lifetime. But it demonstrates just how old the office of Eldest is.
Back before the Eldests ruled a unified Southlands, the land was broken up into various warring tribes, ruled by tribal elders. But that was long ago, back when Southlands was cut off from the rest of the world, hidden behind its ringing mountain range, secluded and isolated. Since then, roads have been carved through the mountains, and Southlands began to trade with other nations and to assume more of the cultural norms of their more powerful nations. The surviving elders, now united under the Eldest, became barons instead.
But the Eldest, though called king as well, retained his ancient title.
At the time of Veiled Rose, Southlands is ruled by Eldest Hawkeye, Lionheart's father. At his right hand stands Queen Starflower, however, and one cannot help but wonder how much power she actually holds over the nation, possibly as much or more than her husband. For the last many generations, the Eldests have all been men. This (as we will learn in a later book) was not always the case. Long ago there were female Eldests, powerful sovereigns in their own right.
The concept of the Eldest was one I toyed with back in my sophomore year of college. For a creative writing class, I wrote a short story version of Starflower (now set to release in novel-length form this October), and invented the title "Eldest" for that story. Since then, the history and culture of Southlands has expanded significantly. But I maintained the office of Eldest over time. It's interesting to me seeing the kings of a far more contemporized Southlands called by the title of their ancient tribal rulers. It shows a proper spirit of connectedness to the past.
But will Prince Lionheart succeed in gaining his dream come true and step into that honored office, succeeding his father to the rule of Southlands? We will have to wait and see . . . .