Meda took a deep breath as she looked out over the garden. It had taken quite a while to build this space, but it had definitely been worth it, though she would have preferred to have been working with some apprentices, as she was used to doing back on the Isle. Still, Molpe had arranged that she could have slaves in this separate compound, and Lukos and Perseus were both very helpful.
She knelt, her mind absently running over how she had arrived here, in this place, as a lone Gatherer.
From a young age, Meda had been left with the Gatherers while her mother worked with the bees. Phoebe had been firmly of the opinion that she would not allow her daughter near the bees until she was ready, because if Meda were to be stung, it would be doubly bad – the hive would lose workers, and Meda might develop a fear of the creatures.
The other northern gatherers had instead done their best to school the thoughtful, quiet child they had been left with, along with their own daughters. Phoebe was one of four de facto leaders, each in charge of the hives at a different point on the island. Each of the other leaders seemed to have multiple children, but Phoebe only had Meda.
Eventually, when the gatherers had come to the conclusion that the girl was ready, Meda had been carefully introduced to the hives, and taught everything around them that was capable. Her mother was proud of her, and eventually, she had become a Gatherer herself, helping in the gardens, mixing up treatments for any troubled hive, and doing her best to be an asset.
But when Polgara came to the Gatherers, stating that the tribe she was headed to did not have a Gatherer, things had changed. All the youngest Gatherers had been rounded up, and Polgara asked if any of them wished to journey with her. Meda and a few others had stepped forward, and from them, Polgara had chosen Meda and taken her to meet Queen Clodia, mother to Queen Molpe.
All this, Meda remembered quietly, while behind the fence the two slaves began talking idly.
“Do you think the queen will have a daughter?” Perseus asked, while Lukos smiled.
Both were good-natured men, who had been introduced to the tribe. Perseus was talkative, although Meda knew he was not Amazon born. He and Lukos had both arrived into port at the same time, on different ships, and Polgara had picked them out personally.
Lukos was more thoughtful, more quiet. He was a tribal son, and had arrived on the Taygetian ship that sometimes came by that port. He had gently taught Perseus what he needed to know, and through patience, Meda knew more about both of them now than she had when they had helped her set up the beginnings of this garden.
Perseus’ mother had been a concubine, and had the misfortune to bear a boy when the wife of her master had done so. The idea of a political rival to her son had enraged the wife, and so both Perseus and his mother had been tossed aside. Perseus had been raised as a servant to his brother, until he was old enough to be sold.
He was saddened by this, of course, but the new freedoms of his life seemed to cheer him greatly, though he seemed a little taken aback by the idea of dying once an Amazon had a child.
Lukos, on the other hand, was the son of a Scholar. His tribe was a smaller one than the Isle, but larger than Hesperia, though he did not often talk about it. His mother had been a distant figure to him, one he barely saw. Instead, he had lived with the slaves from a very young age.
“Meda, what do you think?” Perseus shouted. “Lukos will not answer me!”
In a rare show of amusement, she smiled warmly at the two of them.
“For good reason. We do not yet know whether the queen will bear an Heiress, and we must be patient, Perseus.”
He gave her a reproachful, boyish look, but she simply smiled at him again.
“Any baby will be a blessing on the tribe, and one we thank Hera for. It is she who watches over the queen, not us.” She gestured to him. “Come, Perseus. I need some assistance with the newest plants. This sun dries them out so quickly.”
He climbed over the fence, startling a laugh from her, while Lukos shook his head.
“My lady…” he said, and Meda sighed.
“I will attend to it, Lukos. Will you go fetch some fish for our dinner?”
“Meda, is something the matter?” That winning smile was on his face again, but Meda knew she had to address this.
“Perseus, your manners are fine by me, but they will not be so by the queen. I know that your freedoms here are wonderful…but if you address the queen so casually, or act so in front of her…or even Polgara!” Meda sighed in exasperation. “You must learn not to be so bold in front of us. We are not the women you are used to. We will not wear courtly dresses, or be married off, or married at all. Our civilisation is one that is quite different to the one you knew, and now you are part of it.”
Though her tone remained light, her face was worried, and even Perseus knew she was serious.
“I…Well, it…” He felt tongue-tied.
Meda was sometimes very disconcerting to Perseus. She was, of course, quite right. He was not used to women like them, and when he had been told that he would be assisting her along with Lukos, he had been quite at ease with it.
But were the queen to see him acting like that, it could be trouble for everyone. He did mean well, but sometimes he crossed into insolence.
What are you, a boy trying to get attention?
“I would never act like this in front of the queen,” he said, instead.
“And how can I accept that? You act like this so often.”
“Well…I cannot be Lukos, Meda! I was not born into this. I have not known this all my life.” He huffed.
“You act as though I have slighted you, Perseus. Is something wrong?”
He swore she knew more than she was letting on, and he let out a sigh.
“I feel as though you prefer him, sometimes.” He felt embarrassed admitting it. “He seems to receive your attentions more often.”
“You really do have much to learn.” Her blue eyes landed on him. “For you, this may seem strange, but my giving orders or speaking to you is not attention. It is merely performing my role as a Gatherer and as a warrior. You, on the other hand, must learn what is and is not attention.” She sighed, before continuing. “You are used to a reciprocal society, or perhaps a reversed one, where you perform and wait for the reciprocation from a woman, am I correct?”
He felt flustered, but nodded.
“Here, it is very different. We will choose you by declaring our intent. We do not go for something so weak as attention. We are not birds, to fluff and perform and hope in such a manner. We are a different breed of creature, and you are no longer a bird.” She paused, waiting for him to catch on, but he stared at her blankly, so she smiled.
“You may stop peacocking.”
How could she fluster a man so?
“But then…how do I…” He must have been as red as he felt, for she laughed.
“You do not. I might, if I felt like it, or indeed as you worry, I might decide upon Lukos. But you do not have to worry about performing like that! Have you never found it silly, or unnecessary?”
“It can be fun!” He found himself protesting.
“But if it is mandatory, can it really be so entertaining? I want you to relax, Perseus. You will know when a woman is interested in you, I promise. So do not worry that I am paying attentions or anything of the like, and simply focus on what is important. Our roles here are like that of the bees.” She did not seem to mind that he was so flustered, but pointed to the hive. “We work hard for the sake of our queen. That is crucial at this time. We will provide food for the children to come.”
The idea that he had been so transparent made him feel embarrassed. Yet Meda did not seem to mind, though he knew others might have.
“I understand…my lady.”
“I have a compromise. Call me Gatherer Meda.” She gave an awkward smile. “That is technically my title, but like you say, you are not Lukos. I do not wish you to be, either. You must simply keep in mind what I have told you.”
After Perseus walked away, Meda tried not to sigh too loudly. Perseus had brought up, unwittingly, a fact that she had not yet faced. As part of a small tribe, she would at some point need to bear a child, and it would likely be the child of one of the slaves who she spent her days. It could not be Pallas, as she did not find herself attached to his company.
She would, at some point, need to choose. But for now, it was important to maintain the garden, and hope for the best when it came to Queen Molpe and her child.