It had been about six months or so since the birth of the princess, and Diana had been surprised to find herself dealing so well with both Icarius and Odysseus. Perhaps because she had been so used to helping Polgara, or perhaps because both were easy to get along with, she found herself enjoying her time with them, and trusting herself to care for them without Polgara watching over her.
Odysseus was an energetic young boy, and always liked to tell her about his day. It amazed her how many different things he could find to do, and she also found him very kind, as he often brought her back a shell or a stone if he thought it a good one. Sometimes, he would simply talk and talk while she calmed Icarius down enough to take a nap.
As for Icarius, he was a sweet and funny little boy, who always liked running around after his brother. He was still growing quickly, and Diana was always reminded of when Marcella was the same age. It seemed impossible that Icarius could ever be as grown up as Marcella was now, just as it had seemed impossible for Marcella to grow up when she was his age.
He called her ‘Danna’, and babbled sometimes as much as his older brother did, but she would always listen and try to follow along with what he was saying, with some success.
Being around the children was certainly something Diana enjoyed, but she did wonder sometimes whether she was truly doing right by them. She struggled to align the idea that these were the queen’s sons with how they had been placed in her care, but she knew how Hesperia treated boys and girls differently these days. It just still seemed strange that the boys who would have been princes in her homeland were nothing more than boys here.
But then, in her homeland, they would have a king for a father, and a queen would not be as powerful as Queen Molpe was. Perhaps it was for the better, after all.
As she watched them playing together, she could not help but thank the stars that she had been so fortunate as to find her way here. These days, she more and more thought of her previous actions – what she had done to come here, and how she had unintentionally endangered her daughter with the journey – and felt a rush of shame.
The life she had before, and who she had been before, along with the feelings that had spurred her to be such a fool…well, around the time that Marcella had left for the palace, Diana had finally decided that it was all in the past. There was no reason to keep clinging to her life from before, and the only thing remaining from it was Marcella, who gave her great joy and pride each day. She had been overwhelmed with happiness to learn that Polgara would be training Marcella to be a Provider, and very proud that the queen herself had decided on the matter.
No, instead, she was resolved to be Diana of Hesperia until her dying day. The queen had taken in both of them, after all, and Marcella was undeniably Hesperian by nurture, if not by birth.
As she mused on this, a small disagreement broke out between the boys, and she hurried over to sort it out, finding Odysseus frustrated and Icarius about to cry.
“Danna!” he wailed, immediately.
She smiled at him, trying to calm him, before turning to Odysseus for an explanation.
“He wanted me to be a horse, and I want to build a palace in the sand.” Odysseus sighed heavily. “Diana, I do not wish to–“
“Well, it is time that he was fed. I was coming over to fetch him, so you may go build palaces, Odysseus.” Diana smiled at him, before picking up Icarius, who fussed and whimpered. He would, she thought, need a nap after he had eaten.
She carried him away, talking to him softly.
“There now, little one, there now. Do not worry, all is well.”
He still fussed, but she did not give up, talking to him gently, and eventually getting him to settle down.
Indeed, she reflected, as she sat him in a chair and fetched some fruit from where she had been keeping it in the shade, it was far better to be Diana than the person she had been before.
The sun shone down on the palace, and within it was a hive of activity. Ever since the birth of the princess, there had been a slight lull, but now, everything had returned to how it had been. With two young girls in training, one to watch, and a baby in the nursery, there was much to do.
Anikka’s training and research was going splendidly, and she had been careful to note down everything she needed to about Thaleia’s birth, and also that Marcella had begun her training. Anikka herself was now learning Parthian, a far harder undertaking than learning Frankish, as she was reliant on her sister and on books to understand the language. Still, it seemed as though her studies satisfied her, and Molpe had promised that when she became a Scholar, she should have everything she needed.
Today, Anikka and Marcella were taking a stroll outside the palace, talking about many things – Thaleia, Marcella’s training under Polgara, and Gorgophone, who still seemed nervous about joining them, although they had invited her. Gorgophone had settled into the palace somewhat, and seemed more relaxed around Marcella, but did not hold the same ease around the princess. She also seemed to cling around Polgara when she could, but that wasn’t often.
As the two girls headed down the stairs, Gorgophone having refused, Anikka sighed.
“I hope that she may put her fears behind her soon. It would be nice to be able to talk with her a little more, but she seems only to want to talk with you and Polgara.”
“Even with me, she is reserved.” Marcella shook her head. “I think it is because you seem entirely like a warrior to her, on top of being sister to the queen. Her reservations with me seem to be related to my training, so perhaps that holds some weight as well.”
“How wise you are, for one so young!” Anikka teased, as they walked towards the door. “I see why my sister wished you to be a Provider, however. Your heart is kind enough for all.”
On their way through the grounds, they saw Timandra walking towards the palace, and Anikka looked at the priestess, surprised.
“She must have come to talk with my sister, or perhaps it is something else. They really are very close these days, though.” She tilted her head. “It is still so strange. My sister seems so much happier these days, but I never thought of her as being sad before.”
Marcella looked at Timandra too, stepping behind a bush slightly. The priestess always seemed so confident, wherever she went, and her beautiful white robes always drew the eye. It was almost a shame they would not hear what was said, but Anikka started walking on, and Marcella had to follow quickly or lose her.
Timandra was greeted at the palace by Molpe, who smiled as soon as she saw her.
“Timandra, I must thank you once more for coming. How have things been up at the temple?”
“As well as they ever were, my queen. I have come as you asked.” Timandra bowed her head. “What did you wish to discuss?”
“Well, it occurred to me that with the younger ones going into their apprenticeships and training, I ought to ask you about what you expect from an apprentice. I know that we do not have one for you currently, but I know what is required of most, except for a Sister of the Moon. Your calling is one that I know, of course, but there seem to be no requirements, and it is clear that we must always have a priestess.”
“You wish to know what qualities to look out for?” Timandra asked, with a smile. “Well, I would certainly say that perception and calmness are good qualities, though they can be learned. But as it stands, my queen, if I may speak frankly…”
“You may, of course.”
“I wish to tell you if I feel a child is suitable to become a priestess. It is a big undertaking, and I would only ever take on a young woman once she was old enough to understand what must be sacrificed. A priestess finds her daughters, she does not bear them, and there is a lot of solitude to the life we choose. Of course, finding the right temperament is not always a given, but I believe that we now have the time to wait. I would train a young girl even in my old age, and I am far from that.”
“I see.” Molpe hesitated. “So, you do not see anyone you could find suitable?”
“No, my queen. I know what you are asking, of course, but that child will be better suited to pursuits that fit her temperament, and she shows much attachment to those around her. If you wish to consult me about her future once she is a little older, I will be more than happy, but the seclusion would be a burden greater than that of Atlas for her.” Timandra looked sympathetic. “I am sorry that I cannot offer her a future at the temple, but it would be unfair to her.”
Molpe knew that what she said was true, and simply sighed. She did not know quite yet how she ought to place Gorgophone, but she was resolved that she would do so before long.
Upstairs in the nursery, Polgara was singing softly to Thaleia, who gurgled happily.
“Did you know, little one, that your mother loves you more than anything else in this world?” Polgara said, gently. “Your mother is queen, and yet you are the most precious thing in her kingdom to her. I know you will grow up to be a strong princess, and one day be a wonderful queen.”
Thaleia giggled, and Polgara placed her gently back in the cot, smiling at her.
“You are the most precious thing,” she repeated, lovingly, as she looked at the baby princess. It was as if looking at her melted away the long time that they had waited for her, and the worries they had had for those years. It was almost impossible to feel anything but joy around such a sweet little baby.
In fact, Polgara was starting to wonder about certain things, though she knew that she would not be able to go forward with such a plan until the princess was a bit older, and Marcella further into her training. But recently, she had been wondering if she ought to ask the queen about having her own child. After all, Meda had born Gorgophone, and Diana had Marcella, and Polgara had always wanted to have her own child, too. There had simply never been the time before.
But Polgara could not deny that she wished to have her own child. It was simply that she felt it might be selfish, as busy as they were now, and it was not as though she was bereft of children to love as her own. She sighed, letting the little princess grip her finger with a tiny hand. Perhaps someday soon she could talk to the queen properly.
Polgara finished placing her things upon the shelves in the room she had been away from for so long. It felt so good to be back here, with the queen and princesses, and she had definitely missed both Molpe and Anikka during her time away.
Still, everything was not as it had been. Anikka was no longer a child, but instead a young girl who was nearly a woman, and Molpe was no longer a queen taking her first steps, but instead the mother of a princess. Besides that, Polgara had more solid duties this time around, which included watching over four children – Anikka, Marcella, Gorgophone, and Thaleia. It might be quite a lot to handle, but it was nothing that she could not endure.
It was Marcella she sought to speak to, as she left her room and walked upstairs. Gorgophone was waiting anxiously outside Polgara’s own room, uncertain about the changes happening, but Polgara merely smiled at her before she went up the stairs and into the room that had been rearranged so that Marcella and Gorgophone could easily share it. Marcella was already in her nightwear, ready to sleep.
“Marcella, may I speak with you?” Polgara asked, gently.
“Of course.” Marcella bowed her head, smiling. “It is so good to see you again, Polgara. We never got to speak at the celebration last night.”
Polgara smiled back at her, sitting down on the bed gently.
“I was rather preoccupied, but indeed, I would have liked to speak with you if I could. I am sure that you and Gorgophone spoke then, but she is quite nervous about living here at the palace. I will be very busy with the young princess and your training…” Polgara stopped. “Well, as for that, Marcella, I am very happy that you are to be my apprentice. Your mother is already such a great help to me, of course, but I look forward to seeing you become a wonderful Provider for the tribe.”
Marcella beamed at her, and Polgara continued.
“So, as a small part of your training, I want you to look out for Gorgophone. She has a good heart, and I believe you to be capable of bringing out the best in her. I want her to feel at ease here, and I think you could help with that.”
Marcella nodded earnestly, and then hesitated.
“She seemed sad to not share your quarters here. Will this really be for the best?”
Polgara sighed. “Yes, though she cannot know that now. Babies do not sleep well, and I shall be up as many times as the princess needs me. It would constantly disrupt Gorgophone’s sleep, night and day, and so it is best for her to be here, with you. Someday, I am sure you will understand, but for now, simply support her, and I am sure the path ahead will be smoother. Now, I will go fetch her, and if you have any troubles, you may come to my room and fetch me.”
With that, Polgara gave her a short hug, and left Marcella in her room to walk back down the stairs to where Gorgophone was waiting. With a motion of her hand, she gestured for Gorgophone to head up the stairs, which the young girl did reluctantly.
As she stepped in, Marcella looked over at her and gave her a friendly smile, but Gorgophone did not quite meet her eyes.
“Marcella, I thank you for sharing your quarters with me.”
She said it so formally that Marcella could only laugh slightly, and wave her hand.
“No, no. Gorgophone, it is truly alright. After all, we are both guests of the palace, are we not?”
“But…you are to be Polgara’s apprentice, and you are training under her soon. Plus, you are companion to the princess.”
“I was only companion to the princess when I arrived, and I am sure you will be something similar. It shall be interesting to have more girls around here, really. Anikka talks about how at home, many of the young girls spent time together, so I am sure she will enjoy this as much as I will.” Marcella patted the bed. “Come sit down. Polgara will be up soon to check we have gone to bed, after all.”
Gorgophone did so with that same uncertainty, and Marcella turned to her with a smile.
“I know that the palace can seem daunting, but you will soon get used to it, and it looks like I should be returning with you when you do leave, anyhow. So, if you do not mind it, I would like to spend some time with you. It will be nice to share my quarters with someone close to my age.”
“I have always shared Polgara’s quarters, except for when I lived with Mother.” Gorgophone looked a little hesitant. “We would have made your old room into mine this winter, though…”
“Well then, we have already shared a room, have we not?” Marcella smiled at her. “I suppose they will expand the Provider’s hut for us when we return. Is that not something wonderful to think about?”
“It seems just strange to me.” Gorgophone shook her head. “I would have liked it to stay as it is forever.”
Marcella tried her best to look sympathetic. “That, I can understand. I missed Mother terribly when I came here, but I was also excited for everything new. And we get to spend time with Princess Thaleia, too. We can go down tomorrow morning to see her if we go to sleep soon.”
For the first time, Gorgophone smiled, and Marcella found herself surprised by how happy the other girl could look. This might be a little bit of an uphill battle, but Marcella was sure that in time, she could win Gorgophone’s trust, and help her open up.
Besides, Polgara was relying on her. She could not let her mentor down so soon after she had asked Marcella for her help.
Tonight was a special night for the tribe of Hesperia.
It could be felt in the air – an excitement, rising like bubbles in the water, as the seconds ticked by. Tonight, they would celebrate the birth of the princess, and come together as a tribe to welcome her in. Though the princess herself could not attend, given that she would be sleeping in the nursery, they could truly give thanks for her.
As they waited for the queen, Meda smiled at Diana.
“Lukos was thrilled to watch the queen’s sons tonight,” she said, with a smile. “I, on the other hand, am thrilled to see my daughter. I must thank you for the care you take with her.”
At Diana’s side, Marcella looked over to Gorgophone. She hadn’t seen her for a while, and she was certainly no longer a baby. In truth, Marcella was nervous that they would be sharing a room from tomorrow, but Gorgophone seemed wholly preoccupied with the rare treat of seeing her mother.
“Mother!” she called, excitedly. “Mother, do you know the name of the princess yet? Polgara would not tell me, she says that the queen will tell us.”
As she said as much, Anikka walked by, gracefully smiling at both Meda and Diana before looking at Gorgophone.
“Just so. My sister will announce the birth of my niece along with her name once she arrives, and then we may celebrate. With patience, you will know everything that you wish.”
Meda smiled to herself as she heard the gentle admonishment. It seemed strange to her that Anikka, once herself an impatient young girl, should now be nearly grown and teaching the younger generation about patience. How far they truly had come to reach this day!
Gorgophone flushed, and looked to her mother, who simply nodded in return. The young girl mumbled an apology, and Meda knew that she should step in.
“My daughter is still young, Princess Anikka, and has the gift of time to learn what she can from you. I must thank you and your sister for taking her in at this time.”
“We discussed it extensively, Gatherer Meda, and found it to be the best option for all. I am sure that her time here at the palace will benefit her, just as it benefits Marcella. Perhaps we shall create a tradition this way, though for now it is all practicality.” Anikka smiled at both Meda and Gorgophone. “Besides, she is honest with her feelings. It is a wonderful trait.”
Meda felt a soft pang in her heart at that, but Marcella moved forward, clearing her throat and whispering something to Gorgophone, before the two of them sat down on the bench nearby. Relieved, Meda turned her attention back to the conversation.
“Now that we are both fortunate enough to have our daughters living under the care of the queen, I suppose we are bonded in a way,” she said to Diana, who hesitated for a moment, before smiling back at her.
“I am very proud of my daughter, Gatherer Meda. She will learn much, and seems happy. I wish the same for Gorgophone.”
“I do, too.” Meda smiled at Diana. “You seem to be speaking our language well these days, Diana. It is good to talk to you, for my Frankish does not do well.”
As Diana began to reply, Anikka looked towards the entrance to the palace, where Molpe had come out, followed by Polgara. The queen was dressed formally, her smile wide as she walked towards the members of her tribe, passing them on her way to the large arch of leaves and flowers behind them.
“Hesperia, tonight is a wonderful night!” Her voice rang out clearly. “Tonight, we are gathered under the sight of the moon to welcome my daughter to our sisterhood, to announce her birth and celebrate it. I thank each and every one of you for coming here, and I invite you to join me in welcoming Princess Thaleia of Hesperia, first of her name, into this world!”
There was a soft murmuring, and Molpe laughed, gesturing them closer.
“Come, come! We have much to talk about tonight, and we celebrate the first princess born into this tribe.”
The women rushed towards her, including Anikka, while the two girls stayed sitting on the bench, feeling the excitement fizzing in the air. It felt as though the Goddess’ magic had gathered just here, just for tonight, and everyone could feel its uplifting touch.
“Timandra is performing the rites, of course, in the temple, but she asks that I pass on her apologies for not being able to celebrate with us all.” Molpe smiled around. “My sisters, we have waited so long for this, and now we may rest and have peace within our minds. Hesperia will pass to Thaleia, and we have our princess.”
She turned to Polgara, who returned her smile. Of course, Polgara knew that Molpe would be the one most at peace now that the future of her tribe was secured. It had been a long time since Polgara had seen the queen so at ease, and she was happy to see Molpe returned to her old self, and happier still that she would be trusted to watch over the princess as Provider.
Of course, while no one would dare say such a thing on such a night of celebration, Polgara could not help but let her mind wander to the fact that if Thaleia had not been born, things might have been very different. There would have been no gathering, for one, and a third boy sleeping soundly in the royal nursery. While Hesperia, Sirena, and Metis did not hold with such a tradition, some tribes, like Tribe Juturna, would cast out a warrior who gave birth to three sons consecutively. Molpe’s power as queen would have been called into question by them had she done so, whether that was fair or not.
With Thaleia’s birth, it was their power as a tribe as well as their future that had been secured, and Polgara closed her eyes as the queen turned to Diana and thanked her for her agreement to watch over her sons. By the fire, Gorgophone turned to Marcella with a smile.
“Thaleia is such a beautiful name. Perfect for the princess, is it not?”
“It is! The queen says I shall be helping Polgara out with the princess a little bit.” Marcella felt her own secret bubble up with the excitement. “Princess Anikka told me yesterday that I am to be trained as a Provider and be Polgara’s apprentice! Can you imagine?”
“You will be a Provider?” Gorgophone asked, hesitantly. “I…You must be so excited, Marcella.”
“I am looking forward to living with my mother again, it is true, though I enjoy being companion to the princess. Besides, I think it will suit me!” Marcella looked over at Diana with a smile, and waved, getting a quick little wave in return.
Gorgophone looked over to her mother, standing with the other women and chatting. She was excited to see her, as she did not always get to, and she had felt a warmth when Meda had spoken to the princess for her, but she did not quite understand why she now felt unsure of herself.
“It will be lovely, all of us living together,” Marcella said, gently. “You will see, Anikka always tells the best stories, and the queen is very kind, and…and you and I will share a room. So do not worry.”
“I am not sharing Polgara’s room?” Gorgophone said, slowly.
“No, no. Polgara is downstairs, to attend to the princess. It will be wonderful, for my- our room, I mean – is just next to Princess Anikka’s room.” Marcella smiled. “Is that not wonderful?”
Gorgophone did not know how to answer, and instead nodded, falling silent as the conversation near them grew louder.
“Of course, we have Timandra to thank for setting us on the right path…” Molpe trailed off. “Oh, I must thank you all for your presence here tonight, but really, drink, enjoy yourselves, and I think perhaps the younger ones should head up to bed soon. Anikka, would you come over here?”
As the other three began talking amongst themselves, Anikka and Molpe went off to the side, making sure to find something of a quiet corner.
“I will take Marcella and Gorgophone upstairs, sister.” Anikka looked back at the two younger girls, chatting by the fire. “It seems so long since I was that young, does it not?”
“I remember when our mother celebrated your birth like this.” Molpe seemed to relax a little more. “Anikka, I am sorry that I have been hesitating about your training. I…I must admit to you, I was worried I would need to put the future of Hesperia in your hands.”
Anikka’s eyes went wide, and Molpe lowered her voice immediately.
“I never wanted to consider it. You were born to be a Scholar, and Thaleia will one day benefit from your skills, as will so many here. You are wonderful, and I am…so proud of you, but I was worried that my…That if I could not do my duty by the tribe, you might need to become the next queen. I am so, so sorry that it was ever something to be considered, and so I wanted to speak to you of it.”
“Molpe…” Anikka said, softly. “Sister, you would have never done it willingly. I know you are always thinking of this tribe.”
“You are my sister, Anikka. You have always been in my priorities from the day we arrived here, and I have always tried to do my best for you. I always will.” Molpe looked for a second as though she might cry, and Anikka immediately wrapped her arms around her, shielding the queen’s face from the others.
“Thank you,” she whispered into Molpe’s ears. “Thank you for making sure I could be a Scholar still, and for watching over me. I promise to make me proud.”
“Every day, you do. All I ask is that you become a Scholar who can teach Thaleia all that she needs to know. You must help me watch over her now.” Molpe drew back, wiping her eyes discreetly. “Oh, Anikka, this does not seem real.”
“I shall sit with her, then.” Anikka put a hand on her sister’s shoulder. “You stay here, tonight, and I shall watch her. That is what I can give back to you, tonight. Celebrate in my stead.”
Molpe laughed, and Anikka quietly gathered the younger girls, leading them inside the palace. It seemed an age away that Anikka had been the princess who had been celebrated, and Molpe simply a young girl wide eyed at the lights, drinking, and dancing. How had Anikka grown up to be such a wonderful warrior?
No, not just a warrior. A Scholar, soon, in her own right. Molpe watched the lights on the fire dance, feeling a bittersweet happiness. Someday, she would settle that title on her sister’s shoulders, and Anikka would leave the palace.
How empty it would be, then. But for tonight, she need only celebrate her daughter’s birth.
Molpe stood in the royal nursery, breathing heavily. She had summoned Polgara, but the contractions were coming quickly – her child wished to be in this world now, even though the Provider was on her way. She paced up and down, trying to breathe steadily. Neither of her other children had rushed her as much, so why was this child in such a hurry?
This pregnancy had been slightly different, for all she had reassured her sister that she had done this twice before. She had been more tired, and the baby more active, and now she was unprepared for the birth, and all she could do was pray, repeating herself over and over like a mantra.
“Goddess, watch over me. Goddess, bless me. Goddess, watch over me!”
Tears sprang to her eyes as she let out a yell with the last word. She could not think beyond what was happening here, and she repeated the words, faster. Surely, Timandra’s prayers would have drawn the Goddess’ eyes, and Pallas’ sacrifice – her own sacrifice, even – had to mean something?
“Please, Goddess. I beg of you.”
Polgara arrived in time, thankfully. She coaxed the queen to lay down, apologizing for her late arrival, and worked through the night, sending Anikka to instruct Pallas and Magnus to prepare what was needed, and sent her own prayers to the Goddess. She was not the only one, either – the whole tribe knew by now, and offered up their prayers to their Goddess, asking her to watch over the queen and bless her.
Perhaps the many voices finally swayed the Goddess, or perhaps the devotion of the queen was responsible, or perhaps Timandra had guided them down the right path from the start, but by morning, Molpe held a baby girl in her exhausted arms, overjoyed. Her tribe had its heiress, and she had been well worth the wait, for now, their future was secured.
“Hello, little one,” she whispered. “Hello, my darling daughter.”
In her arms, utterly unaware of who she was or how important she would be, Princess Thaleia of Hesperia gurgled, snuggling up close to her mother.
Anikka made her way quietly to her sister’s room as soon as she was dressed and ready, where Molpe waited with a smile on her face. As Anikka hesitated, Molpe nodded, and Anikka felt relief rush in.
“You’re with child?” she said, unable to keep the excitement from her voice.
“Polgara thinks so, and I intend to go to the temple today to consult with Timandra. I am also rather sure, having had two children before, and we may only hope for the Goddess’ blessing.” Molpe smiled. “But yes, it seems I must be.”
“Sister, this is wonderful news! Do you wish me to come with you to the temple?”
“No, but I must talk to you about Marcella. I have been thinking on her future, you see, and also on how to arrange things should we receive the blessing we need. Should I give birth to an heiress, I will need Polgara to come care for her here, and of course, that presents a problem. However, before we discuss that, I want to ask you if you think Marcella would make a good Provider in the future. You know her best, and I think you should have some say in the matter as such.”
Anikka was surprised by the idea. Marcella was still a child herself, surely, but her sister continued.
“If we are blessed, and Polgara is here, Marcella may do her training under her. She would be able to remain your companion, and she is reaching an age where her future must be decided upon. She is the oldest girl from the Provider’s hut, and I believe she must have picked up some knowledge, and she also speaks Frankish very fluently, which a Princess must be taught. But I do not wish to force her into something that would not suit her, so what do you say.”
“I think…I think she would make an excellent Provider. She remembers stories well, and is kind, and while she is young, you…you are right.” Anikka felt a lump in her throat. Somehow, it felt as though something had come to an end with this discussion, though she could not say what that was.
“Now, the only problem left is Gorgophone. I suppose she shall have to come to the palace with Polgara, for she cannot be left with Diana. I do appreciate her help, but…”
“Gorgophone must be raised by a Provider.” Anikka inclined her head. “I understand, sister, I do. But if you do bear an heiress, we shall have a baby, Gorgophone, and Marcella–“
“And yourself.” Molpe laughed a little. “Yes, we shall be a little crowded, but I believe that Marcella and Gorgophone can share the room upstairs, as long as you agree.”
Anikka smiled. “It is great fortune that you are blessed so, my queen.” Her use of the formal title was with a teasing tone, but she immediately seemed very excited. “I must record this immediately, that you are with child! The last thing I recorded was the completion of the temple. My writings go well, by the way, sister, and I have been trying to keep a journal each day.”
“When I get back from the temple, you may show me your writings, then.” Molpe smiled. “I am sure I shall enjoy that.”
At the temple, Molpe walked in through the archway to find Timandra waiting for her, smiling.
“My queen, I appreciate that you have come all this way. Are you alone?”
“I left Pallas at the foot of the path here. It would now not be safe for me to travel alone.” Molpe rested one hand on her stomach. “I am with child, Timandra. I wished to come see you.”
“My queen, please let me congratulate you. I was lighting the candles as you arrived, and now I must light the fire, if you would like to sit with me for my prayers. I am sure the Goddess would not mind in the least.”
“I wished to consult you, if that is possible.” Molpe hesitated. “Do you think, perhaps…”
“I cannot speak on what the Goddess chooses to do, my queen. I can only interpret what might best honour or please her, and spend my life worshiping her. But you have done that which was necessary, and this child will most likely be the key to separating yourself from these worries. Now, come, we shall sit, and you may talk to me about whatever you please.”
With that, Timandra turned around to light the bonfire, fiddling with a piece of metal for a few minutes, until the blaze picked up. The heat slowly started coming off of it, and she sat down on the bench besides Molpe.
“I will miss Pallas, I know I shall,” Molpe admitted, as she sat down. “I have known him all these years, and never questioned his loyalty.”
“To miss him is natural, my queen. You simply must recognize that you are doing what was intended.” Timandra gave her a very understanding smile. “But this is the necessary path, not the easy one. If it were effortless, it would not be such a big step.”
“I can only hope for the Goddess to bless me, Timandra, I know, but part of me wants to know for certain. I just feel as though I am walking into the darkness with no light to guide me, some days.”
At this, Timandra closed her eyes. “The moon’s light is always there. Even if you cannot see it, you can feel it, if you know what you are looking for.”
Molpe closed her eyes as well, trying to simply focus on where she was in the moment – the cold stone of the bench, the heat of the fire, and her own breathing. She opened her eyes after a minute or so, feeling more relaxed, and found Timandra sitting with her eyes closed still.
“My queen, we cannot always be certain of the outcomes of our decisions, but we can be certain of our reasons for making them. Trust in yourself, and trust that you are as loved as any other of the Goddess’ daughters.” She opened her eyes at the end of the sentence. “If you can build that trust, even a little bit every day, I am sure that peace will find you.”
Molpe anxiously waited for Timandra’s arrival, knowing that the priestess would be here soon. She had summoned her, after all, for this most important talk.
Still, her unease would not leave her. What if she were not blessed? Would she keep providing the tribe with sons? Would her sister have to become the next Queen once she had no chance of providing an heiress to her throne? Her thoughts raced, and tears formed in her eyes as she continued to worry.
Fortunately, Timandra arrived just as she was about to spring up and go back to her chambers to await her arrival, and was shown in by Marcella, who quickly scurried away. The priestess smiled after the young girl, and then approached the throne.
“My Queen, you asked for me?” she said, gently, seeing the concern on Molpe’s face.
“Timandra…we must go somewhere private for this discussion, if you do not mind walking with me. I must discuss this with you, for I…” She hesitated. “Come with me.”
The priestess bowed her head, and Molpe led them both from the palace, determined to find clarity once and for all.
“I have spoken with you before, but truly now I see I must try and bear a princess again. But I cannot see why the Goddess withholds her blessing from me, or what I must do to gain it. Our tribe needs a princess, and I do not wish to steal my sister’s future from her. So, as you have thought on the matter, please, tell me. What must I do?”
Molpe could hear the frantic note in her own voice, but thankfully, Timandra seemed calm.
“My queen, it has become increasingly obvious to me that there is something that should be addressed. You have taken to being the queen of this tribe wonderfully, and you have built it well. You have taken in a woman and a girl who arrived from the sea, you have accepted in many like myself, and you are doing everything you can, but at the same time, one thing is being held back. You were given three gifts by your mother, but have not used them all.”
“Three gifts?” Molpe asked, slowly.
“One, your sister was entrusted to you, and you have seen to her future splendidly, and let a Provider bring out her talents. You oversee her training, and are shaping her into a jewel for the tribe. Thus, you have used that gift well. Two, Septimus, as I believe he was called, who allowed you to bring forward your first child, and helped with the foundations of the tribe. You therefore used him, and exchanged his life for Odysseus’, as is custom. However, the third gift walks around, unused, and has not been used even by the women around you. How could he be, when his purpose is clear?”
Her meaning was clear, and Molpe felt a slightly cold sensation of shock.
“Pallas?” she whispered.
“I cannot vouch that his child would be a princess, for I would be a fool indeed to claim to know the future, but he is what still ties you to being a princess of Sirena. His potential is unused, and with him around, you are still partially what he once knew you as. To move forward, you must leave Princess Molpe of Sirena behind completely, and I would urge you to choose Pallas as the next man to father your child. You must completely become a queen, for only queens can bear a princess, and the tribe desperately needs its heiress.”
Her words did make sense, but Molpe still felt torn.
“What if I bear a third boy?” she asked, quietly. “My mother’s tribe never cast anyone out for that crime, but surely–“
“Some tribes may enforce that rule, but you do not. It is not for you to judge yourself for what the Goddess wills, my queen, but instead, you must keep moving forward. If Pallas’ child is a boy, he may be the boy who breaks the cycle, which in itself would be something to celebrate. You have asked for my advice, and I am giving it.”
They walked back soon after that, in relative silence. How powerful the words of a priestess were, how self-assured! Timandra had said all she needed, and clearly saw no need to say more, but her words had reassured Molpe, and she felt as though she had been shown onto a clear path. Once they reached the palace, Timandra bowed.
“Farewell, my queen. If you need my advice again, you are always welcome at the temple. May the Goddess shine her light upon you.”
With that, she strode off, and Molpe watched her go, the afternoon light making her white dress seem almost like a traveling star as she walked further and further away.
That night, Pallas was invited to Molpe’s chambers, and she knew that she must be completely honest with him, and explain things to him. When he walked in, he seemed hesitant, and she walked up to him, almost fearful.
But the future of her tribe had no time for her nerves.
She explained to him some of what the priestess had said, how he must be the one, how he was the last of what linked her to the former tribe. She made sure her voice was steady as she expressed her regret that he could not have been with her for longer, and as she almost lost that steadiness, he took her hand, squeezing it lightly.
“I understand, my queen,” he said, steadily. “I feel also that this must be the way forward, for I have found…that perhaps I miss Septimus too much these days, and it may be that I find my rest, but Timandra is right. I see you as my queen, but also as the princess of the tribe we both came from.” He stopped, but she knew then that the path was set.
She could only hope Timandra was right, and that the cycle would break.
To be queen was to know both the triumphs and the downfalls of your tribe, and to also shoulder the responsibility for both. Since the birth of Icarius, Molpe had feared that she might give birth to another son, and she had instead focused on the education of Anikka, and later Marcella. She had been so hesitant to even consider trying for another child, and worried for what might happen should she be unable to bear an heiress.
But that was not all, either.
The latest letter from her mother had been pressing her on the matter, asking when Clodia might congratulate her on producing an heiress for her tribe. Molpe had still not replied, but she knew that the correct thing to do now would be consult Timandra, and thus gain the blessing of the Goddess. Even so, there was the issue of inheritance if she was unable to produce a princess.
For the tribe already had a princess, who was set on her path, and who would be a wonderful Scholar were she able to do so. Molpe knew in her heart that if she could not produce an heiress, it would be Anikka who would have to give up her future and become Queen when Molpe died, and it would be Anikka who would have to bear an heiress. And even when Molpe did bear an heiress, it would be expected that she ensure at least one more princess for her tribe.
But she had to do what was expected, or it would be Anikka on the throne, robbed of her position as Scholar.
Unaware of her sister’s thoughts, Anikka was setting up the chess board to play a game with Marcella. Marcella had actually been improving in the game, and they usually spoke more frankly about deeper things during a game. It was something of a tradition, now.
Marcella arrived hurriedly from her own room, bowed, and took her place across the table.
“Are you ready, Marcella?” Anikka asked, in a teasing tone.
“Of course, Princess Anikka.” Marcella raised an eyebrow. “So…have you heard anything of interest from your mother, then?”
“Oh, nothing much. She simply reminds me of my duties as a Scholar – or rather, one training to be one – and she tells me that I must record in detail the birth of an heiress. To be honest, I look forward to the celebration when it happens.”
“What happens at a celebration?” Marcella asked.
“I keep forgetting that there are things you do not know! Well, every woman in the tribe is invited to a celebration, so that as sisters and warriors we may welcome in the new princess.” Anikka smiled. “And then the queen announces her name to all gathered, and the celebrations can last into the night. Molpe said that when I was born, she got to hold me for at least half the celebration, not any of our other sisters.”
“Sirena must feel so far away these days, now that you and your sister rule Hesperia.”
“Oh, well…I would not say I rule it in any way. Molpe is the one who sits on the throne and makes the decisions.” Anikka sighed. “I would not wish to do that, either. I mean, as a princess, I attend to show unity, but my opinion does not matter, much.”
Marcella frowned. “How so?”
“I am to be a Scholar, someday, but for now I am a displaced princess. I will not inherit, because Molpe will have a daughter someday, but I am still her sister and a princess of Hesperia. We have talked about this before, Marcella.”
“But as her sister, surely your opinion carries weight. You are the only sister by blood she has here, after all.” Marcella’s frown turned into a concerned expression.
Anikka paused, picking up a chess piece before moving it to take one of Marcella’s pieces.
“It is not as simple as that. She listens to me in private, and during our lessons, but on the throne her decision is what ultimately must go forward. Besides, for serious decisions, Timandra may advise her, too.”
Marcella seemed satisfied with this, and the conversation quickly moved on to a different subject, that of the returning Frankish merchants. Anikka had been trusted to go with the supervision of Polgara, and she had heard snatches of gossip about changing borders, and how the men at the port had grumbled about it affecting their business as they talked to each other.
“I wonder what it is all about? This Frankish nonsense has been dragging on and on, but at the very least, the traders are back and their prices are low for the moment. Polgara thinks we ought to get hold of supplies while we can, and of course, we have fewer men these days.”
Marcella sighed. It was true, of course, but she could not help but wonder the same. She had not told her mother what she knew, yet, but at the same time, yearned to ask her about the Frankish Empire and who she had been before now. But still, she knew her mother likely would not speak of it.
She wondered whether someday she would be able to go to market alongside Polgara or Anikka, and what it would be like. She had never been to the port before, but she knew that it was full of many merchants selling wares, and people outside of the tribe she had known all of her life. However, with the curiosity came a little fear, as Anikka had told her how many people there were – far more than she had ever been around, to be sure.
Molpe looked in her mirror as she heard the sound of Marcella and Anikka talking from upstairs. She was glad her sister had a companion, and Marcella was a sweet girl. It seemed only the other day that Diana had arrived with her, looking for sanctuary, but the girl was now a true Hesperian, and Molpe had started to think about her future.
Obviously, talking to the girl herself would be necessary, but Molpe thought that the girl might make a good apprentice for Polgara, in time. She was a naturally kind child, and her mother might never be a Provider, but even so, Diana had found a place in the Provider’s hut. Surely, Marcella would be happy there, and if Anikka became a Scholar, she would not need Marcella by her side constantly. That, or perhaps she might make a Tamer, but then Polgara did need an apprentice, one way or another.
In fact, were she to bear a princess and summon Polgara to the palace, it might work out nicely. Only if the Goddess were to bless her, of course, but then Marcella could train within the palace walls and then return to the Provider’s hut. It was certainly a good plan, but she had no idea if it would work out. She sighed to herself. If only the Goddess had blessed her sooner, she could be more certain of how to plan this future, but instead she found herself unsure, and a little afraid. A queen should always be certain, and yet here she was, doubting her own plans.
One thing was clear. She must speak with Timandra as soon as possible.
Princess Wilhelmina waited in the cold autumn air as the sun sank down over the horizon. She was waiting for him, before he led his men away to try and restore the borders of her country.
It should have been his father, not her Alexander doing this, but Mortemer had been badly wounded when he recovered one of the border towns. The people of his own country and hers hailed the man as a hero, but now Alexander must take his place as head of the Goethe family and ride out as the prince he was.
It seemed even more unfair that this should be on the hands of her sisters, and of course, she heard the whispers that were directed at her. The expectations that were laid at her feet, the way people looked at her, all of them because one sister had been seduced and the other had put them in danger. Her mother had quietly let her know that Antonia had been placed in a convent as its ward, but told her not to mention it to anyone. Instead, she was to pretend she had not been told, which she could understand.
As for Constantina, she truthfully did not know where she was, and neither did her mother. The girl she had left with must be a good deal older now, but even despite her mother’s best efforts, they had failed to find her. They knew she had left of her own volition, but her mother feared the worst, as she had written in her most recent letter.
The evening finally fell, and she heard someone behind her. She slowly turned around, to see Alexander there, looking far too solemn.
It was the name only he used, these days, and she felt as though she might cry.
“I wished to speak to you before you left, Alexander. I want you to be careful out there”
“I worry about that myself. I know I am not the man my father is, but I must show the people our support and strength. But I promise you, I shall return to you.”
She felt uneasy, but shook her head.
“Alexander, you are every bit the man the people need you to be. You shall do perfectly well, but you must return to me.” She almost reached out to him, but knew she must focus on making him feel better. “When you return, I shall be waiting for you.”
“Do you not wish your betrothal was not made out of convenience?” he asked.
So that was what bothered him, or one of the things. She shook her head, immediately.
“Alexander, I have told you before that I love you. I do wish we could have a betrothal that took the regular course, but I would only ever wish to be betrothed to you. Besides, your forgiveness for the misdeeds of my sisters is a rare gem indeed, for most would consider the scandal reason enough to scorn me. You are courteous, kind, and a friend I have known all my life. You are the one I wish to be betrothed to, and who I have given my days to. Please, do not go off to battle without being reassured of my love for you.”
He seemed more reassured, but she could tell he still would not consider himself above his father. She walked forward, pressing a chaste kiss to his cheek.
“Return to me, Alexander. You must promise me.”
“I promise.” He caught her hand, pressing a kiss of his own to her wrist. “Mina, I promise you I shall return to you.”
It was another warm day in Hesperia, with the sun shining down brilliantly on the Provider’s hut and the sand that surrounded it. The waves were gently splashing against its sides, and on the shore, Odysseus, son of Molpe, was engaged in building a castle from the sand.
He had got most of his foundation, and he was enjoying the peace and quiet. Ever since his brother had arrived, his peace had been interrupted, and he was not quite sure yet that Icarius could do much beyond sleep, cry, and run around.
He sighed immediately as he heard his name called from inside.
Diana’s voice, meaning that he could linger a little longer. He had not even managed to finish this castle yet, and it would have been so fun to build it properly. He stayed quiet, hoping she would not need him.
“Odysseus, come inside!” Diana was much louder this time. He abandoned his castle with a little pang of regret, and dawdled as much as he could walking back.
When he walked inside, Diana was holding his brother on her hip, but smiled as she saw him. He felt a little guilty for taking his time, but she didn’t seem to have minded.
“You should be careful outside, Odysseus. The sun is hot today, and you have no water.” As always, she spoke gently, and he felt a little bad for worrying her, but also happy that she had been worried. In her arms, Icarius wriggled about, and she shushed him gently.
“I was building a castle,” he explained, and she smiled, a gentle look on her face.
“Tell me about it, yes?” She waited, expectantly, and he felt a happy bubble rising in his chest. He liked Diana, because she always listened to him.
“I wanted it to be a big castle, a really big one. Maybe it could be as big as this hut!” He stretched his arms out, and let them drop back down. “And then we could all go inside of it, like the crabs do.”
She laughed, looking down at him. “That sounds fun! But now Icarius needs sleep, and you need water.”
With that, she walked with Icarius through to the room Odysseus and his brother shared, and he could hear her soothing Icarius’ fussing. He knew that know, he’d have to get some water instead of going back outside to play.
Begrudgingly, he fetched himself some, drinking slowly, and once finished, sat at the table. Behind him, he could hear stomping feet, and rolled his eyes slightly. Gorgophone, of course.
Odysseus was very glad he didn’t share a room with Gorgophone. She was demanding, often threw tantrums, and called him ‘Thee-uth’. Polgara and Diana doted on her, of course, though he couldn’t be sure why. Sometimes she made him wish he lived in the palace with his mother, his aunt, and Marcella, but he also knew that would never happen.
Gorgophone wandered up to him, imperiously. “Thee-uth! Play with me!”
“Gorgophone!” Polgara was immediately behind her. “No, you are not playing now. We have a small lesson, and then you can play. I am sure Diana will go on a walk with you.”
Gorgophone sat down with Polgara, who looked stressed. Probably because Gorgophone always ran off mid-lesson to do what she wanted, but then she was just a baby, after all, even if she was older than Icarius.
“Now, let us do this again. Who is the queen?”
“And how do we say queen like Diana does?” Polgara asked, with a smile.
Odysseus didn’t like Gorgophone’s lessons, but he disliked these ones most of all. He had never been taught to speak Frankish, although he could listen in on these lessons and pick up bits and pieces. He knew he was not meant to, but he had never been given lessons like Anikka, Marcella, and Gorgophone all had.
He did know how to say ‘queen’ in Frankish, though, and some phrases and words, but he knew just as much as Gorgophone did, or maybe even less. Behind him, she clapped her hands, and Polgara praised her.
“Gorgophone, you are so clever! Now, how do we say ‘mother’ in Frankish?”
“Well done! Can you say my mother is Gatherer Meda?”
“My mother is…” Gorgophone hesitated, and then beamed. “Meda! Mama is Meda!”
“Yes, just so!” Polgara smiled, and then scooped her up. “Come on, let us bring you to Diana. She will take you on a walk and play with you, little warrior.”
“Diana!” Gorgophone cheered, allowing herself to be carried away into the other room. Odysseus sighed, only to be surprised when Polgara came back to sit at the table, and smiled at him, while Gorgophone chattered loudly from Diana’s room. It was a wonder she did not wake Icarius up.
“So, Odysseus…how was your day?”
“I…am not sure,” he said, surprised. Polgara always took care of him, but her attention these days was mostly on the younger two. This was somewhat unusual.
“Well, I want you to know that you may always talk to me, when you wish to. You seem quieter recently.”
She must have noticed, then. He nodded, and she smiled in a friendly way, and then got up from the table, making the short walk back to her own room, although she still shared it with Gorgophone. He sighed, and very quietly practiced what he had learned.