Kallisto stared down at her daughter, her heart swelling with pride. Little Andromeda cooed and gurgled, looking up at her with wide eyes, and Kallisto held her closer.
“Little dove,” she said, softly. “My little one, my blessing.”
For that was what Andromeda was, a blessing. In her heart, however, Kallisto was mourning, and with good reason. Her sweet Meleagre, after their time together, had passed away, her loyalty and faithfulness now memories to be treasured.
Andromeda would never know the sweet dog that Kallisto had raised by herself from a puppy. She would never know how obedient Meleagre was, and she would only know stories. Meleagre had gone to hunt with the goddess before Heleus was given to him, and somehow, Kallisto had been unable to look at the father of her daughter for it. Perhaps that was wrong, but she had been so sure that Meleagre would have many more years ahead of her.
Or perhaps she had deluded herself.
Still, she could take pride in the five puppies left behind, though all of them were full grown now. Meleagre’s second litter had only been two small puppies, but Marpesia and Demophon both were gentle giants who she had been training even in the days before giving birth to Andromeda. Meleagre had left a beautiful legacy behind, even if her passing broke Kallisto’s heart.
She had left Ajax, too, who had become a close companion. Perhaps the two of them were grieving together, but Ajax followed Kallisto around everywhere these days, and guarded Andromeda as though she were one of his own pups. Kallisto, in turn, had been spending as much time with Ajax as she had once with Meleagre, and trusted him to guard her child.
Of course, everyone had been delighted that she had borne a daughter, and Marcella had already told her of all the arrangements being made for when Andromeda would move into the Provider’s hut with the other children. Not that she would be there too long, if Kallisto had any say. No, in Kallisto’s mind, she would appeal to the queen to have Andromeda as her own apprentice, once she was old enough. She would far rather have her own daughter to teach the practices she had been taught than any other child, and surely, the queen could not or would not object.
And it was not as if she had not tried to think of her daughter as somebody else’s apprentice, or of training another girl. She truly had. But in truth, she could not imagine any other child under her care than her own daughter, her own little dove. Was that so wrong of her?
Perhaps not where she had come from, but she knew Hesperia was different, and that she would need to convince the queen. Her daughter may be a blessing to her, but she was also an asset for the whole of Hesperia, given the size of the tribe, and there were some who might see her request as selfish.
But those who did had not come up against her determination yet, and her will had been strong enough to carry her here to Hesperia, despite the odds against her. And her little dove would be under her wing again, no matter what.
Molpe had to admit that she was curious about why she had been asked to visit her sister, especially amid the repairs and reports she had to deal with in the storm’s aftermath. However, if there was one person she could always make time for, it was Anikka, and it had been some time since they had been able to talk properly with each other. As such, she had left her children in the care of Polgara and Gorgophone, and made her way over to her sister’s hut.
Anikka was waiting for her in the doorway, and strode to greet her with a smile.
“Sister, it is good to see you. Tell me, how are my nieces?”
“Taller every day, it would seem, and so is Poledra. It does my heart well to have a child in the nursery again, truly. How do you fare, here? You must have been busy recording the damage that the storms did to us.”
“Very busy, and sadly so. Thankfully, my roof was repaired yesterday, and my books are mostly intact.” Anikka seemed a little restless, but smiled still. “Telephassa and I weathered things well, truly, but I was very worried for you and the children. Though, I suppose these days I can hardly term Thaleia as such. She has grown into a true Heiress, now.”
“I would happily discuss my daughter any day, Anikka, but you still have not told me why you called me here. I hope, of course, that all is well, but I have never been one to be kept in ignorance.” Molpe hesitated. “Is all well with you?”
“Perhaps that is something to discuss inside.” Anikka gestured to the hut. “It is much cooler there, too, and I would prefer privacy for this. But it is nothing to worry about, either, I promise.”
“And now I do worry, Anikka.” Molpe followed her sister, walking towards the modest hut. “Was it something you could not have discussed with me at the palace?”
“Molpe…” Anikka stepped into the hut, and then sighed, gesturing to the table. “Please, sit. I simply wish to talk about this openly with you as my sister before I must talk to my queen.”
“I hardly find that reassuring.” Molpe obliged, however, and sat down. “What is it that you wish to speak with me about, then? What is this…discussion we are to have?”
Anikka took a breath, closed her eyes, and then cleared her throat.
“I am a warrior of this tribe, and work as hard as any other, Molpe. I am no longer a princess, as I once was, and while the same blood runs through our veins, you are a queen and I am Scholar to this tribe. I hold the same status as any of the other warriors, but I am your sister, which sets me apart. This, you cannot deny. I have recorded our tribe, written new name after new name in our records. Odysseus, Marcella, Gorgophone, Icarius, Thaleia, Gariel, Harpe, Evander, Garath, Sarpedon, Poledra. Their names are all in that book, and their mothers known, and I have decided that I wish to add names there myself. I wanted to be honest with you before I have to come and request your permission as your subject.”
Anikka held up her hand. “I want children. I have thought it over, and I think that I am ready to make this decision for myself. But, as you well know, our traditions state that we must be granted the permission of the queen, and I thought perhaps we could discuss it openly before I ask you for your permission officially. I wanted us to talk as sisters, not as our roles.” Anikka took a seat opposite Molpe. “I wish to talk to you, not Queen Molpe.”
“So, we are being honest with each other, then?” Molpe let herself relax, eyeing her sister. “Well, in that case, I am sure that you are aware that barring misfortune, any royalty of your line likely ends with you. If Thaleia and Harpe both were to bear only sons, it would be your daughters who had the strongest claim, but…”
“I doubt that would happen, nor would I want that for a child of mine.” Anikka seemed to be turning something over in her head. “And of course, my daughter’s education would be no different to any other child, bar what I can pass on to her.”
“They would have my favour, but nothing else to set them apart from any other girl of our tribe.” Molpe leaned forward. “Of course, they would be cousins to Thaleia when she does take the throne, which would not be ignored, but they would hold none of the responsibilities that my daughters currently do.”
“Having been in your daughters’ shoes, I can only be thankful.” Anikka laughed. “I am happier as Scholar than I was as the first princess, I will admit.”
“Nor do I blame you. I used to worry very much about you, sister, when we first arrived, but I think that our separate paths suit us, these days. And if this is where your path leads you, I am hardly one to complain, now, am I? If the Goddess so willed it, you would give my daughters a cousin, and should you bear a son, he would be wanted in his own way.” Molpe adjusted one of the pins in her hair, smiling at her sister. “I will admit that it seems strange to have this conversation with you, but I suppose it was inevitable.”
“I have written every birth of our tribe in that book, sister. It will not be too long before Kallisto’s child is written in there, too. I simply wish…” Anikka cleared her throat. “It is not unreasonable to want the same for myself as any other warrior.”
“Of course it is not, Anikka. I wish no less than your happiness.” Molpe hesitated. “I shall…perhaps find it strange, but I would not wish to hold you back, either. I am sure that everyone would be happy for you, too.”
“Are you?” Anikka looked at her, worry writing itself clear across her face. “I know you want me to be happy, sister, but are you happy for me?”
“Without question,” Molpe said, firmly. “Focus on your own path, now, Anikka, and see where it leads you. Even as your queen, I would be wrong to hold you back from that, and nor would I want to.” She stood, crossing to the other side of the table, and smiled at her sister.
“When we came here, Anikka, you were so young, and you did not wish for this. You were as honest then as you have been now, but it was my duty to protect you. No, more than that…I wanted to protect you, and keep you from harm. You are my beloved younger sister, and it is hard to put down my shield when it comes to you. But for your sake, I shall step back. You need not ask my permission again. You have it, without question.”
“Thank you.” Anikka sounded formal, but then a smile broke across her face, and she flung her arms around Molpe. “I mean it, sister, thank you.”
“I shall send Polgara to talk to you, of course. Marcella may be a Provider, but Polgara has many years of experience. That is my one condition.”
“Oh, yes, you must. You of all people know that knowledge is a weapon in any battle, Scholar Anikka. Now, should you wish for us to talk again, simply let me know, or come to the palace. I will always welcome my sister, and my daughters are always happy to see you.”
With those words, Molpe turned, leaving as gracefully as she had entered, and leaving her sister behind. Truly, things were different now, even if Molpe had not wished to see it. Anikka was not just a grown woman, but she was beginning to change, and become someone else. The echoes of the conversation the queen had had with Polgara rang through her brain, and she sighed. Polgara truly was right, in this regard. You could not fight against the changes, and treat someone like the child they had been, but you could accept and get to know the person they were now.
It felt as though the entirety of Hesperia let out a sigh of relief when the storms passed them by. It had been many days, and there was much work to do with repairs and doing what had been impossible in the bad weather. Poor Meda had many things to replace in her compound, but her bees had survived. The princesses, who had spent many days restlessly pacing in the palace, were happily strolling around its grounds, and Molpe, while she had much to oversee, seemed relieved to see the last of the bad weather.
Polgara, for her part, had brought Poledra out of the palace and into the sunshine that had made a welcome return. Such a day was not to be wasted, after all, and now that her daughter was able to walk somewhat steadily, it would be a shame to miss such fair weather. She smiled as Poledra wriggled impatiently.
“Mama, down?” Poledra asked.
“Wait a minute, sweet one.” Polgara walked with her over to where they would still be in view of the palace, and then gently set her down on the grass, next to the fire pit. “There, how is that? Now, do not go far from Mama, Poledra.”
Poledra screwed her little face up, thinking it over. She really was such a sweet child, though her curiosity about things these days often made Polgara worry for her. An imaginative child was a blessing, to be sure, but Poledra was often seconds from danger, and something interesting could lead her away like a siren’s song.
“Do not go far from me, little one,” she said, once more, and Poledra toddled over to her, reaching her hands out.
“Mama, where Harpe?” she asked, frowning still.
“Princess Harpe and Princess Thaleia are on a walk, sweet one. They wanted to be outside too, just like Mama.” Polgara smiled. “And just like Poledra, too. Are you not glad that the rain is gone?”
“Hmm…” Poledra seemed to think about it, and then reached her hand out. Looking to where her gaze was, Polgara smiled as she saw a bird fluttering out of the trees.
“Come here, Ledra.” She called to her gently, and Poledra toddled towards her, still looking at everything around her.
“Would you like a story, little one?” She smiled as Poledra quieted down immediately, looking up. That, luckily, always caught her daughter’s attention.
“Once, there was a warrior who had been raised by a she-bear in the mountains. She grew as strong as the bear’s cubs, and the goddess looked on her with kindness, for this warrior devoted herself to the goddess. She lived simply, and protected herself with the weapons beloved by the goddess – the bow and arrow.” Polgara smiled. “Indeed, she was so fierce that some thought she was a bear herself, like her foster mother. One day, a town who had spurned the goddess in their rites found themselves beset by a boar unlike anything they had ever seen. It was of monstrous size, and its bellows rang in the hills, and no one knew how they would defeat it…But then, they called upon mighty warriors, and among them was the bear-woman, Atalanta.”
Poledra gazed up, transfixed, and Polgara smiled lovingly down at her before she carried on.
“Together, the warriors chased the boar, determined to cease its rampage. Though they hunted it, and each warrior thought himself above fighting alongside a woman, it was Atalanta’s arrow that pierced its hide first, and together, the warriors ended the boar’s reign over the town. Its hide was gifted to her, and then stolen, but what need has a warrior of the goddess for such a trophy? Instead, she left back to her woods, and the goddess herself inflicted no punishment on Atalanta for her part in the boar’s demise.”
“Atalanta…” Poledra repeated the name, and then giggled. Polgara smiled back at her, and nodded.
“Warriors like us are like daughters to the goddess, and Atalanta may have been one of those that she loved most of all. Her strength and devotion made her stand out, and one day, I shall tell you how she turned from a bear into a lion.” Polgara took her daughter’s hand, and smiled. “But for now, I think we shall walk together, just you and me.”
That evening, after she’d tucked Poledra into bed, Polgara quietly went down to the throne room, where she knew the queen would be waiting. More and more these days they would spend the evening talking, with old memories surfacing like washed up treasures in the sand.
“I can only hope this weather will last,” Molpe said, as Polgara walked up to her. “Our roofs are damaged, our stores are low, and everything feels as though it has been set back months. The bigger this tribe grows, the more responsibilities I have. I worry that Thaleia will need to help me, soon.”
“Many an Heiress does so, my queen. Perhaps it would be best to look at this as an opportunity to see how she does with such tasks. I am sure with everything you have to do, there is something that she could handle with care.”
“Certainly there is, but…Polgara, I would feel dreadful to give this work to my daughter. The storms have been heavy on us all, but I wish to handle this alone, and let her watch me do so. Can she not learn from that?”
“Had I taken that approach when Marcella was apprenticed to me, she would not be half as capable as she is now, if you will forgive such plain speaking. One learns better by doing things, in my experience, and certainly some small responsibilities would do Princess Thaleia well. Perhaps she could be sent to give thanks at the temple, or bring you reports from the further compounds.” Polgara waved a hand. “There are many things that she might be asked to do, and many that she would be glad of. If there is anything I know, my queen, it is that children become bored when they cannot roam freely.”
“If there is anyone capable of speaking freely to me, Polgara, you hold that position.” Molpe smiled. “Perhaps Thaleia would benefit from such tasks, but…”
She sat down, and Polgara sat down beside her, without needing to be asked.
“It is hard, watching them grow older,” she said, sympathetically, as the queen sighed.
“It has never been harder. All of my children seem to be ready to fly away if I look away from them for too long. My sons are grown, my eldest daughter is ready to help me, and Harpe is no longer a baby reliant on me or you.” Molpe sighed. “Is it always this hard?”
“If you fight against it, my queen. But truly, there is no greater gift than getting to know the wonderful people that your children will become. Your daughters are already a credit to you, and I am sure they will continue to be so. Besides, it will be you comforting me in a few years, when Poledra is Harpe’s age.”
“Poledra is a delight now, as I am sure she will be in the future. But… I must thank you, Polgara. I simply look at my daughters sometimes and wonder when they stopped being those babies I held in my arms.”
“They never will, my queen.” Polgara smiled. “Shall I call for some wine for us?”
“Oh, most definitely.” The queen smiled. “After all, if I cannot have wine on an evening, then there would be no point in being queen.”
Laughter echoed through the hall, as though they were girls themselves once again.
Princess Harpe bit her lip as she hovered outside of Gorgophone’s door, trying not to jump at the sound of the thunder. Though she was certainly not a baby any longer, the sound felt as though the very gods were roaring in the skies, and she had been told many tales of their anger.
Her sister and mother were deep in discussion downstairs, but Harpe had been put to bed by Polgara, who had encouraged her to at least try and sleep. Poor Poledra had wailed at the sound of the thunder, and Harpe had felt selfish for being scared too, but every time she heard those growling, awful sounds, she had wanted to hide in Polgara’s skirts, or call out for her mother.
The thunder crashed, and she cried out, darting inside Gorgophone’s room. The older girl blinked in surprise, opening her mouth to say something, but Harpe spoke first.
“I cannot sleep, Gorgophone, I cannot!” She looked up at her, lip trembling. “It is far too loud, and I cannot ask Polgara, and Mother and Thaleia are too busy, and…” Her jumble of words ran into each other, and she began to feel tears welling in her eyes.
“Princess, you really ought to try sleeping. There is nothing any of us can do about lightning or thunder, for all we might wish to. Besides, once the storm has worn itself out, I am sure that it will pass us by.”
“When? It has been like this for too long now!” Harpe felt the threat of tears recede, but her frustrations still bubbled over. “I cannot play outside, or walk with my sister, or with Calliope.”
“The weather is not something that one can have any say over.” Gorgophone took a deep breath in, and then out. “My mother is facing damage to her plants that she has cared for since her arrival, Marcella and her mother have many children to soothe, and it has been hard on many others too. However, with storms like this, there is no way around them, and you must go through them and do what you can to still be standing once the sun shines once more. And we are lucky, Princess. The sun is brother to our dear moon, who watches over us so lovingly. I am sure that it will not be long before these storms pass.”
“But…” Harpe held up her hands. “It does not seem as though they ever will, right now.”
“Well, I shall sit with you, then. That is the duty of a Royal Warrior, I think, to protect a princess who needs her.” Gorgophone gave one of her rare smiles, and a wave of relief swept over Harpe. The older girl might be somewhat intimidating, but she had always been kind with it.
“Thank you, Gorgophone.” She tried to recover her composure somewhat, but there was little point in doing so after how she had rushed in, and Gorgophone merely gestured to the doorway of the room.
“I shall sit with you until you are truly asleep, Princess, and if you need me again, you need only fetch me. I am sure by then your sister will have finished her discussion, too.” Gorgophone began walking, and Harpe followed after her, their steps echoing in the empty corridors.
“Is your mother’s garden truly so damaged?”
“Somewhat. Mother grew up on an island, too, so she is aware of storms and how they can wreck plants. But the bees were kept safe, which is the most important thing, and it took more time than she wanted.” Gorgophone smiled. “You can always sow more seeds, but there are things that would be more difficult to replace, and Mother brought those bees with her from Metis when she pledged herself to serve your mother.”
Harpe wondered then, for a moment, what the rain and thunder must be like for the bees, confined in their hives. She had been a little scared to approach the buzzing boxes before, but she felt sorry for them as she stepped into her room.
Once Harpe was ready for bed, Gorgophone sat at Thaleia’s desk and waited patiently.
“What if I still cannot sleep?” Harpe asked, after a moment.
“Then I shall wait until your sister returns. If you cannot sleep, you cannot sleep.” Gorgophone glanced at her. “However, as a child, I always tried to lay down and close my eyes even if I could not sleep.”
Harpe hesitated, but closed her eyes anyway, hoping that her sister would soon return. It could not be long now, and her thoughts were harder to hold on to as she turned over under the blankets.
From the desk, Gorgophone waited, until she heard the princess’ breathing slow, and sighed in relief as she saw the princess slip into a deep sleep not too long after. She carefully tucked the blankets in around her, hoping that Harpe would stay asleep, or that Thaleia would return soon.
She could see why the princess was so anxious, however. These storms had been unlike anything Harpe had ever known, and indeed, they had been lucky these past few years. Of course, her mother and Polgara had dealt with many a storm on Metis, but rarely had the weather been this bad on Hesperia.
“May the storm pass us quickly, Goddess.” Gorgophone stepped back, her hands clasped together. “Please.”
It so happened within the past weeks that storms had become frequent, upsetting the children and animals, and worrying everyone. Rains would pour down on the sea and land, thunder would rumble in the distance, and lightning would flash across the sky. Queen Molpe had ordered everyone to focus on their safety. At the moment, it was simply pouring rain, and inside the Provider’s hut, Gariel was feeling restless.
Marcella had banned him from fishing in this weather, and had made it clear he was to stay inside with the other boys. Both Sarpedon and Garath were unhappy with the noise of the storm, and would cry if it thundered, and though Gariel had been clear he didn’t mind the rain, Marcella had made it clearer he was to stay put. As such, he was sitting in the room he now shared with Evander, kicking his legs back and forth. He just wished to go outside, that was all, but neither Diana or Marcella would let him, and there would be no sneaking out without consequences.
It was while he was mulling over this that Evander walked in, sighing.
“Will this rain ever stop?” he asked, grumpily. “All I want is to go for a walk, not to be stuck inside with Sarpedon and Garath!” He looked sideways at Gariel. “Do you not wish to be outside as well?”
Gariel sighed, rolling his eyes. “I wish for the skies to be clear and to go fishing, certainly. What are we supposed to do inside all day?”
“Shh!” Evander put a finger to his lips. “If Marcella hears you say such a thing, she will make sure you have something to do. Mother had me helping her with her mending when she heard me say I had nothing to do.”
Gariel could not help but laugh, then. He had wondered where Evander had been, but he had not expected that the poor boy had been pulled into chores.
“See, I would never be so foolish,” he said, grinning. “Surely you must know better than that by now!”
“I never wish to see another needle so long as I live,” Evander grumbled, waving a hand. “At least it is all done now, but Marcella thinks that staying inside is a good chance to get all the chores done. She and Mother are tidying up the rooms and checking the food, and they keep talking over my head about the most boring things.” He rolled his eyes. “And Marcella said I would have to come make my bed.”
“You had better do it, then,” Gariel told him, seriously. “Provider Marcella is kind, but she checks on these things, and she will make sure you do it properly if you do not do it now.”
“Were these truly the beds of the queen’s sons, though?” Evander’s attention was wandering again, as it often did. “It is strange to think they could ever have been our age, really. They are grown now…”
“Even Provider Marcella was once a child here,” Gariel replied, smoothing down his own blanket. “Gorgophone, too, before she went to live at the palace. It is not so strange, but these will not always be our beds. One day, Garath and Sarpedon will take our place.”
“I wish Garath and Sarpedon were the ones having to make the beds, then,” Evander said, with a grin. “But I am sure that Mother would scold me for saying such a thing.”
Gariel thought of his own mother, and his sister who would be living at the palace. He was, of course, proud of Poledra, and often told Garath about their sister, who would grow up among the princesses, but he wondered sometimes what it might be like to have a mother so close by as Evander did. He shook his head, bringing himself back to the present, and standing up from where he sat.
“Well, all we can do is hope for the storm to pass quickly, and then we may go fishing together, or perhaps just for a walk. If it is not raining, they surely cannot object.”
“I do not understand why you would wish to fish in the first place,” Evander said, lightly. “Just the thought of them flopping around…”
“It gives you time to think! Besides, Icarius taught me how to do it. The secret is to have something a fish will be hungry for, and trick him into thinking he is to have a great meal.” Gariel smiled, leaning into whisper. “And of course, the biggest secret…”
He waited, and then laughed. “Is to have patience, which you do not!”
His laughter echoed in the room as Evander gave him a light-hearted shove, rolling his eyes once more, but the two jumped as Marcella entered the room, looking between their beds.
“Good, you have that done at least,” she said, sounding relieved. “We will be having vegetable stew tonight, I am afraid, but I thought honey cakes might be nice for afterwards.” She smiled between them, before briskly walking away, as one of the two younger boys cried out.
“Is she not very busy at the moment?” Gariel said, thoughtfully. “I have not seen her smile as much.”
“Those two find thunderstorms frightening,” Evander said, as though he was trying to shrug things off. “Mother says Marcella has hardly gotten any sleep these days, because Sarpedon likes her better than Mother. It is only a storm, after all.”
“I remember when you used to cry all the time,” Gariel said, swiftly. He liked Evander, but the younger boy could swagger a little too much from time to time, and besides, Garath was only a baby, really. Evander should not be judging him for that which could not be helped, and he was a little gratified to see Evander look a little embarrassed at his comment. He just hoped the rain would pass quickly, and sunny skies would grace them once more.
It was with proud eyes that Polgara could watch her daughter toddle around the royal nursery. Her daughter, at last, a true blessing from the Goddess, and whose birth had been the cause for much gratitude, though no great celebration had taken place. Her father’s features showed in her here and there, but overall Poledra had her mother’s dark eyes and curling hair, and seemed to be determined to run before she had mastered walking.
With Molpe’s permission, Poledra would be brought up in the palace until it was time for her to become an apprentice. Having already trained Marcella, it was clear she would not be a Provider, but what she would be was still unclear. Besides that, Polgara was simply happy to watch her darling daughter grow up. The future could wait, and the present, where Poledra was merely the baby of the palace, was gift enough.
Indeed, it had been a source of much mirth to watch Harpe fuss over Poledra, lately. The young princess seemed relieved that she was no longer the youngest, and had been sternly acting like an older sister, even if Poledra paid no attention. Princess Thaleia was happy to play with Poledra when she got the chance between her lessons, and even the queen was known to visit the nursery and see her youngest subject. Polgara was happy to watch her daughter become so loved by those around her.
As Polgara was thinking this over, Poledra stumbled, and lifted her arms up to her mother, lip wobbling.
“Yes, yes, little one. Mama is here.” Polgara lifted her daughter up until she was face to face with her. “Do not cry, sweet one.”
Poledra settled easily, her sweet face relaxing as Polgara held her close, soothing her as she had done many a child before. But her daughter was different, and Polgara could not help but hold her a little longer, a little closer, and smile more while watching her. Even so, as she watched her daughter, she could not help but think on how many of the children she had cared for were now of age, and the true second generation of Hesperia. Anikka, who had been a lost and lonely child, was now a bright and determined Scholar who had been the one to record Poledra’s own birth and that of Gariel and Garath, while sweet Marcella was a Provider that Polgara could be proud of training. Gorgophone’s training had turned her into a force to be reckoned with as a Royal Warrior, and Thaleia…
Polgara smiled a little at the thought of the eldest princess. Watching each child grow and reach their potential had been a reward in of itself, but with Thaleia, who had clearly worked hard in every lesson and paid attention to every bit of advice, it had been more than a simple reward. Princess Thaleia would one day be a great queen, and Poledra would be one of her warriors.
The would-be warrior wriggled in her mother’s arms, and Polgara was swiftly recalled to the present, laughing a little as Poledra cuddled into her.
“My dear one, you will have a wonderful life,” she whispered. “Your sisters are strong warriors, and your mother shall be here for you always, and your queen will protect us all.”
Poledra cuddled closer, and Polgara smiled at her, brushing a curl back behind her daughter’s ear. Truly, her daughter was a blessing she would never once take for granted, and one she had waited a long time for. And though Polgara knew in her heart that Poledra would not be a Provider like her mother, she had not given birth to her to train an apprentice. No, she had brought her into this world to love her as her daughter, raise her, and watch her grow into who she was meant to be, and to spend their days together.
Holding her close, she kissed the top of her head once more, and smiled, sending silent thanks to the Goddess.
The sun shone brightly as Meda waited for Kallisto, who had promised to pay a visit today. Her dear friend had been rather busy of late, following the orders of the queen and raising the offspring of Meleagre and Ajax, but they would finally be able to meet today, for the first time in what seemed like an age.
She found herself pacing, wondering whether Kallisto would see the hard work that had been done here, whether she would ask about the hives, or whether they would rush straight past that. Either way, she would be glad to see her, she knew. Conversation was scarce here, and orders to the men could hardly be called that, either. Lukos could sometimes speak with her, as they knew each other well, but there was always that wall between them, ever since…
Well, since the inevitable. Memories would surface too quickly for any conversation to be long, and she would excuse herself. She had been foolish to allow a friendship to form with a man who must give his life, and though there had never been anything between Perseus and her to frown upon, there had been a closeness that she would never allow again.
When Kallisto did arrive, she swept Meda into the Gatherer’s hut, away from any other, her smile bright and clear on her face. She had news, she said, and when she spoke, it was with excitement, as though she had thought to speak of nothing else.
“I have been to the priestesses and the queen, now that the pups are growing fast, and respond well to commands. Of course, I wished to ask the priestesses for their advice before I went to see the queen, and that was a tale in of itself, my friend.” Kallisto shook her head. “Those priestesses danced around the subject for a while, though they encouraged me to talk to the queen, but at least Eurydice and Iris are settling in well. Of course, both of them were happy to see me.”
“The priestesses?” Meda asked, thoroughly confused, and feeling as though a storm had swept through her compound.
“The cats, of course. But my news, Meda, is that the queen gave me permission to bear a child, Heleus’ child, once the pups have been trained and placed.” Kallisto raised her eyebrows. “Of course, I know you do not seek the same for yourself…”
“I do not, but I am happy for you, Kallisto.” Meda looked back at her friend. “I simply hope to be able to keep the dog from the bees. There was an incident back on Metis, with a hunting dog that was loose…”
“My dogs are trained very well indeed, dear Meda. I shall teach you their commands, and they shall never stray from your orders. But, if I might ask a favour, I was wondering if you would mind my naming a daughter for you.” Kallisto hesitated, just slightly. “You have been a dear friend, like a sister to me, ever since I arrived, and if I had a daughter, I should want you to watch over her as my own sister would.”
“Kallisto…” Meda felt as though the wood beneath her feet had become that of a boat, the world shifting as she tried to take in those words. She did not know how to feel, whether to let sadness and regrets tug her towards their familiar waves, or let happiness bring her to the surface. In truth, Kallisto had become as a sister to her as well, and she could only wish her all the blessings she would on any sister she might have had, if her mother had given her one. She did not wish them to become different in this way, but she could never deny her closest friend happiness.
“I know, Meda, that this is much to ask, but I mean what I say.” Kallisto waited, shifting almost nervously, a strange expression on her face.
Meda nodded. “You may give her my name, if you are so blessed, Kallisto, and I shall look out for the girl. And…your sentiments are shared in return. I have been blessed by your company, and hope that I may continue to be so.”
“It will be a strange day where I leave you, Meda.” Kallisto relaxed, smiling more at her. “Oh, but did you not say before that your second hive has settled well now?”
Relieved at the subject change, Meda nodded swiftly. “Yes, the new queen has been settled in well. It was a sore trial to separate her from her old hive, but as long as the queens cannot see each other, there will be no problems, and we will continue to have honey in abundance. With the help I have here, we will be able to gather honey and wax to sell and trade when we go to the Frankish markets, and watch it turn into liquid gold.” She laughed at her own joke. “Of course, it is merely honey, but we are beyond merely providing for ourselves with it, and I will do my best to set up another hive next year from the oldest one, though only they will say if it will work.”
“It would benefit us well if you were able to make three hives, though,” Kallisto remarked. “We may not be Metis, but we do have your knowledge to rely on.”
“You flatter me, Kallisto. I simply know what I was taught.” Meda sighed. “In truth, I shall need to prepare for an apprentice soon. There is much a gatherer must be taught, especially when it comes to bees. You cannot afford to make any mistakes with a hive, and if we were to lose either hive to swarming…”
She did not need to finish her sentence, as she knew Kallisto understood. Both of them, in their way, cared for living things, and had to adapt to the nature of them, rather than try too hard to control it. It was refreshing to talk with someone who did not need an explanation.
As Molpe stepped into the room that both of her daughters now shared, she was flooded with memories at seeing her youngest seated at the table, moving the pieces about as she pleased. Harpe might take after Molpe, but echoes of both Anikka and Thaleia at the same age flashed through Molpe’s mind as she smiled, walking over to take her seat opposite her daughter.
“Mother!” Harpe looked up eagerly. “Thaleia told me that you had meetings for most of the day.”
“Indeed, my dove, I was worried I would be late.” Molpe smiled. “Of course, none of them were anything out of the ordinary, really, but even the most ordinary things must be done right. It seems as though we should have enough honey that we will be able to start trading it, and the second hive has settled successfully thanks to Meda’s care. Kallisto has made her report to me about Meleagre’s pups, Polgara reports that your Frankish is improving, though your public speaking skills need some work still, and Marcella has come to me to report on how the children under her care are doing. I only need see her once every month.”
“It is just hard speaking to an empty room, Mother.” Harpe shifted in her seat. “And it is only worse if I imagine people standing in front of me.”
“It is a hard skill to master, but you must keep practicing until you have. You are the second daughter of the queen, and if your sister were to be unable to attend a meeting, you would represent her and all of Hesperia.” Molpe picked a piece up. “As for your knowledge of the queen’s game, you are improving, but you must practice.”
Harpe kept her eyes on the board for a little while, before biting her lip, a little nervously. Molpe knew her daughter well, and waited patiently for her to speak.
“Mother, when will I be apprenticed?”
Molpe’s hand hovered, holding the piece she had picked up, and looking at Harpe with raised eyebrows. However, she made her move, and then looked at her daughter.
“It would be easier to make you an apprentice if you were not a princess, dear heart. I am afraid you are going through what your aunt had to, when she was your age, and I shall not let it be unspoken. The second princess has the chance to be heiress if one is not born in time, and so assigning you to any role is rather…delicate. There is, as always, the chance that you will need to leave it behind and take on more responsibilities, or that your children will be the ones to sit on the throne, rather than your sister’s.” Molpe’s gentle gaze did not leave Harpe’s face. “Each of us is given the education fit for a princess, as is our birthright, and in many tribes, you would simply remain a princess all your life, though your children would be warriors rather than princesses. In Hesperia, we cannot afford for this to be so, due to our size.”
“Thaleia told me all about succession when we talked about it, but…I want to know when I will become an apprentice.” Harpe seemed a little nervous, picking up a piece and hesitating before putting it down on the board again. “I know there are other things you must concern yourself with, but…”
“Sweet one, my daughter’s future is not something to be put to one side. First, you must accept that truly, you are your sister’s apprentice, in some ways, and that you cannot compare any other warrior to a princess, simply because your duties will always be different. Secondly, I have considered the options available to you, and I feel as though the best path will likely be to have you apprenticed to Anikka, if you have no objections.”
Harpe blinked, as though surprised, and Molpe smiled kindly at her.
“My dove, I have carefully considered everything. Your aunt would look after you well, and I would not worry so much as if I had placed you with Meda or Kallisto. Animals do not respond well to hesitation, and Meda’s compound is far enough that you might feel lonely if you were unable to visit us. If you have any complaints, however, I will listen to them. We are discussing your future, after all.”
“What if I am not good enough?” Harpe asked, immediately.
“No apprentice is. That is the point of training, to learn. No one springs out of the ground as though from dragon’s teeth, knowing all, and each of us must be taught what we know.”
“And…will Anikka be alright with my being her apprentice?”
“Harpe, she loves you dearly. I would be very surprised if she had any issue with it at all.” Molpe reached a hand across the table to hold her daughter’s hand. “Your future will always be in safe hands, sweet one. As my daughter, you may rest easy on that front.”
As Harpe relaxed, smiling, Molpe felt a little flicker of sadness stir within her. To see her youngest child desperately wanting to grow up before Molpe was quite ready to let her fly the nest was something bittersweet, and though she was happy to give Harpe the support she would need, it still made the facts of everything stark and clear. Anikka was old enough now that she would be able to watch over Harpe, and though it had seemed as though mere days had flown by, it had been many years. Molpe’s duties were now to prepare her daughters for their responsibilities, and carefully watch over Hesperia, but its next generation was already blooming, reaching for the sun with eager hands.
She brushed her thoughts away, and smiled back at Harpe. Whatever Harpe’s future held, Molpe was sure she would be proud of her, as she was proud of all her children. But why, oh why, had they all had to grow up so quickly?
The pups were just old enough to be walked outside, but Kallisto delighted in doing so. Her wonderful Meleagre had given birth to a litter of three, one female and two male. Telephassa, the female, was a beautiful little thing who took after her mother in colouring, and Kallisto could not be prouder. Of course, as the queen’s sister, Anikka had unspoken precedence, and so Telephassa would be joining the scholar when she was old enough, and unlikely to ruin any precious books.
Deucalion, her brother, was surprisingly sweet, and Kallisto loved him dearly. Like his sister, he took after his mother, and the shadow of Meleagre in the pups caused Kallisto to fuss over them as much as possible.
And of course, Rhadamanthus, the final pup, had surprised her by taking greatly after his father. One of the two boys would be chosen by Meda when they were old enough, and the other would remain here for the time being, but each puppy was sweet-natured enough that Kallisto could not help but love them dearly. Training three puppies at once would be no issue, as she had been used to overseeing more than that previously. But for these to be her sweet Meleagre’s children brought her great joy, and she hoped that they would bring both Meda and Anikka great happiness and companionship.
She felt for Meda especially, her friend through these years. It had become clear to Kallisto that the Gatherer was suffering through loneliness, and though Meda dearly loved her daughter, Gorgophone was often far too busy with her duties at the palace to visit her mother as often as either of them would have liked. Indeed, the girl was now nearly a woman grown, and Meda had meanwhile become somewhat isolated. A dog would make a good companion, especially one borne of sweet Meleagre, and Kallisto was determined to train every single pup to the best of her ability for that reason.
As for Meleagre and Ajax, they doted on the pups, and it brought a smile to Kallisto’s face often to see Ajax, as large as he was, playing gently with each puppy. Meleagre followed them around, and curled up with them each night, watching over her children with gentle eyes, but always trusted Kallisto with her pups. A good thing too, given how much Kallisto had to pick them up or check on them.
As for Eurydice and Iris, they had been old enough just before the pups were born for Kallisto to take them to the temple, and she would be going to check on them soon, to ensure they were settling in. Truthfully, she had no real fear that they would not, but she wished to consult with the priestesses about her future and what it might hold, and from there she would be able to make up her mind about when she might approach the queen next. Polgara had clearly done so, and Kallisto was determined that her own apprentice would be her own daughter, though she knew that if the queen commanded otherwise, her loyalty would demand her to give up such a dream.
But if she could, she would proudly teach her daughter everything she knew, and leave behind a legacy to be proud of.
Not unexpectedly, time wore on. Though Molpe awaited each letter from her sister with worry, it seemed as though all remained as it had been in the tribe she and Anikka had been born into, and in time, she felt as though she could rest easy.
As for Polgara, the goddess had clearly smiled upon her, as in the summer she bore a daughter whom she named Poledra, the first girl to be born since Princess Harpe. Poledra’s cries filled the royal nursery, but Polgara could not have been happier, and no one in the palace could have been more relieved that both mother and child had made it safely through the storm. Poledra’s father, Brennus, cupped his daughter’s face, whispering to her, before he was led away and Polgara was left with her daughter.
It was soon after when Thaleia, who now shared a room with Harpe, was interrupted while composing a letter to her cousin. Harpe had sat up on her own bed, kicking her legs back and forth, her eyes drifting off somewhere in her own thoughts.
“Do you think they know yet whose apprentice Poledra will be?” she asked. “Anikka needs an apprentice, but so does Meda, and Kallisto will likely wish for one too. Who do you think she will go to?”
“I hardly think anyone can say when she is but a babe in arms, Harpe.” Thaleia raised an eyebrow at her sister. “What makes you ask?”
“I was just…wondering, I suppose.” Harpe ‘s smile faltered slightly. “I suppose everyone shall want her as apprentice, once she is old enough.”
“Well, when she is old enough, and the time comes, you will have your answer then.” Thaleia turned back to her letter, resolving to tell Europa of this very conversation. Her sister had a tendency to dance around subjects, and prying her meaning from her could be a great deal of work, but Harpe still had a tender heart.
Harpe sighed. “At least you know you are the Heiress, Thaleia. I do not yet know what Mother plans for me. Do you think she has thought about it?”
“You certainly will be no priestess.” Thaleia rolled her eyes. “And despite being Heiress, I am simply a princess for now, and shall likely remain so for some time. All the title grants me for now is more work and lessons. You ought to be grateful I took the trouble to be born first.” She smiled, but her sister did not return it.
“I will not be a queen, though, will I?” Harpe kicked her feet back and forth. “And everyone treats me as though I were you, but someday I will be like Anikka, simply another warrior.”
“Anikka is not simply another warrior, she is the queen’s sister and part of our royal line.” Thaleia knew that her sister was simply voicing her frustrations, and tried to be patient, against the tide of her own rising frustration. “She is to be respected, for one, and for another, you must pay better attention in your lessons. If something were to happen to the queen, claimants from the royal line could put forth their own daughters or themselves for the throne. As for not being a queen, if I were unable to have daughters, you would be my heiress, just as Anikka would have been for our mother.”
Harpe fell silent, turning it over, and looking concerned, and Thaleia came to sit next to her on the bed. Her sister’s worries probably felt heavier to a young girl, and she knew she must be sympathetic.
“Harpe, it is not as if you would like being queen either way. If you feel the pressure of being the second princess, you would dislike making the decisions for the whole of Hesperia. Besides, I would never push you to do something you did not like.” Thaleia waved a hand. “If you still wish to worry, I suggest you talk to Polgara or Mother. Both of them will understand better than I can.”
“I just want to be someone!” Harpe looked at her sister pleadingly. “How can I be someone if I don’t know anything?”
“You can start by working hard at what you enjoy, or finding your talents. That will set you up well. But for now, I assure you that I will always look for your place. You will not have to worry about it then, will you?”
“Would you do that?” Relief washed over Harpe’s face, clearing the worry from her brow.
“Of course, Harpe. Heiress I may be, but I am your sister above all.” Thaleia smiled at her, reassuringly. “Of that you may be sure above all else, no matter what. As for Poledra, do you really wish to guess her path when she is still so small?”
“I suppose not.” Harpe giggled, caught off guard. “Imagine a baby crawling around after Gatherer Meda!”
“Imagine, indeed.” Thaleia shook her head. “Now, I must get back to my letter to our cousin, but you must promise me you will talk to Mother if you have any more concerns. She will listen, Harpe, I promise you.”
Harpe nodded, and Thaleia stood, satisfied, before heading back over to her desk. Her sister really was a sweet girl, but sometimes, Thaleia wished she would be more direct.