Anikka had been dreading this day for a long while.
She had heard Molpe talking to Septimus about it, and heard the moving of furniture from the floor below hers as the rooms were made ready. A Provider stayed near to the nursery, and an empty one was situated next to Molpe’s room, but with the layout of the palace, this meant that the Provider’s room was quite near to her own quarters.
Anikka remembered her last Provider. She had been a nice young woman, true, and had led them all in games, learning, and stories. She had impressed upon them the importance of behaving appropriately, too. If Anikka’s last Provider had been in charge of her…well, the woman would have cried in shame. She had been upset enough when Anikka had thrown a tantrum in her quarters about being sent away with Molpe. In fact, Anikka had not given her a proper farewell, come to think of it.
Her stomach churned with shame and unhappiness. Now, her behavior had been even worse, and Molpe had said that she would be telling this new Provider all about it.
It had not been easy, being confined to the palace. When previously she had hated being here, confinement had her longing to swim in the sea or walk along the beach looking for shells. Pallas would occasionally bring her ones he found as gifts, but his kindness felt undeserved.
Molpe rarely spoke to her. Well, no, it was more that she did not have the courage to speak to Molpe, not at the moment. They passed like ghosts whenever they met, Anikka with her head down, and Molpe as silent as could be. It was a horrible change from before, when Molpe had been coaxing her into conversation and explaining things to her.
Footsteps came up the stairs, and she turned around just in time to see a woman she had never seen before, with beautiful curling hair and a gentle smile standing in her doorway.
Her heart skipped a beat from nervousness, and Molpe stepped into the room ahead of the woman, leading her in.
“Anikka, this is Polgara. As of today, she and Andromeda will be part of our tribe.” Molpe looked immensely satisfied, and more relaxed than she had in weeks. Anikka looked at her, surprised, but Polgara was smiling kindly at her.
“It is a pleasure.” She looked over to Anikka’s bed. “Shall we sit there?”
“Polgara is your new Provider,” Molpe said, quietly. Anikka stared at Polgara for a minute.
The woman in front of her did not seem reviled, nor did she seem angry. In fact, she seemed quite eager to meet Anikka, and so she slowly nodded, sitting down on the bed. After the weeks of anxiety, this seemed a little unreal.
“I am quite happy to be here now,” Polgara said, confidingly. It was strange. Though Molpe was in the room, and of course could hear them, the conversation felt as confidential as her tone. “I was very eager to come as soon as your mother explained the situation. It is quite unusual for a new queen to bring her sister with her, though not unknown.”
“Not unknown? I have never heard of it, and I love stories of all the queens.”
“Oh, but it has been done before.” Polgara smiled at her. “Though of course, the tradition where I grew up was very strict that any who wished to be a new queen could take no other woman with her. However, there are shared stories of other tribes, and I do remember hearing one about a warrior queen whose tribe was almost annihilated and who lost her home. Her younger sister was just two years old, and the princess knew her mother must fight, so she took her and went into hiding. They ran from their home, hoping to return…but the village was burned that night.”
Anikka’s eyes went wide. “Is it a real story?”
“Very real. The princess became a queen the night the village burned, and she swore that she would devour those who had killed her mother even if it meant her own end. That is how the Ouroboros tribe came into being.” Polgaraa drew a circling shape in the air. “The serpent that devours itself. The tribe was born of vengeance, but the younger sister was nurtured and cared for by the queen, and became the tribe’s Gatherer. Though it was a tribe of two, they slowly grew, and when the Heiress was born, the queen did as she had sworn and killed the tribe who had destroyed their home.”
“How do you know that story?” Anikka asked, slowly. She knew of the Ouroboros tribe, and of the Ouroboros, but she had never heard of this story.
“It was recorded by an early Ouroboros Scholar, and is celebrated in festivities among their tribe. However, not many know the actual story outside of the tribe, as the festivities show a queen becoming a dragon while her sister wears a cape of flowers. I heard the story from the Isle’s Scholar.” Polgara smiled at her. “I come from the Isle of Metis, and the Scholar there told me the story so that I might teach it to the young girls under my care. As you are now under my care, I thought you might like to hear it, especially as it has more significance to you than anyone else I know.”
Anikka felt her spirits lift, and for the first time in what felt like an age, smiled. Polgara’s story had not only won her, but the manner in which she spoke felt open, honest, and caring. She relaxed a little more, and did not even notice her sister leaving the room.
“The Ouroboros queen, Orithia, and her sister, Evadne, are celebrated even today. Evadne is remembered almost as the gentle side of Orithia, and it is not forgotten that her sweetness came from the love with which her sister raised her. It is seen as good fortune for Gatherers from that tribe to name their daughters after her, and Harmothoe, the Scholar I mentioned, said that the weaving of the flower cloak for the festivities is only done by the gatherers.” Polgara smiled. “I think it is wonderful that such sisterhood is remembered so deeply.”
“Evadne sounds amazing!” Anikka could not contain her enthusiasm. “When we learned about the great queens, all we knew of Orithia was that she founded the Ouroboros tribe and passed it on to her daughter, Queen Barkida!”
“Evadne was amazing. Although, if you wish to hear of more princesses, I have more stories for you to hear.” Polgara put a finger to her lips. “Did you ever hear the tale of Lykopis, the princess who raised two wolf cubs to fight alongside her?”
As she began telling the story, Anikka listening raptly, Polgara felt a sense of relief. Anikka might be sad, and she might have been angry at Molpe, but she had grasped onto Polgara’s own kindness like a drowning sailor. If Polgara could but help her and give her the attention and guidance she needed, none of her long journey would have been in vain.