Millie was the daughter of a witch and, being nearly twelve, was about to embark on her own apprenticeship towards witch-hood.
Her mother was a careful and caring women with a penchant for potions. She liked the certainty and science behind the measuring and mixing, the predictable application of her practical magic.
Millie’s magic was a little less ordered, it gloried in the indulgence of green, growing things and the creatures they sheltered and nurtured.
So it was, on the morning after her twelfth birthday, her mother took her to the nearby bus stop to catch the bus across town to her mother’s friend, Mrs Honey, who grew many of the ingredients for the potions Millie had grown up around.
Tradition stated that a witch entering her apprenticeship must travel alone and must take the first vehicle that stops for her. This had yet to cause trouble as the magic innate in all young witches contained a strong (and nasty) defence reaction, enough to keep any and all would-be wrong-doers well away from small children, just in case.
This didn’t stop concerned parents from doing their best to influence the outcome of the apprentice journey but sometimes the magic had other ideas.
And so Millie’s mother walked slowly away from the bus stop. Just as she was turning the corner back into her street, a strange bus came trundling down the road and stopped in front of Millie. It was not the local bus that had taken them both to visit Mrs Honey so many times. This was an old-fashioned thing, decorated with vines and butterflies.
As Millie’s mother hurried towards it, she realised the bus’s decorations weren’t painted, they were real plants, real insects and her daughter had already boarded it. She slowed to a stop as it calmly trundled away and sent up a wish for everything to be alright. Such diversions from apprenticeship plans were highly unusual these days and she could only hope her daughter stayed safe.
She did the only thing she could now do – returned home and phoned Mrs Honey.
Millie of course had no such wish. This was a much more interesting bus than the one she had been expected to catch and she finally allowed herself to realise how little she had wanted to go and learn the ordered planting and careful control of Mrs Honey’s gardens.
This bus did not seem to care about straight rows and correct spacing. The vines wound around the windows and up the supports of the seats placed haphazardly down its length. Butterflies and bees danced between upright poles and the other passengers smiled in welcome, then returned to their own activities.
That was a surprise in itself. That there were other people on such an unusual bus and, as Millie took a seat and began to look around, she realised the people themselves were unusual as well.
There weren’t many of them, and only one or two were possibly human, although she couldn’t be sure. She suppressed a shiver of delight. She’d been taught about the fae races, it was an important part of any witch’s education, but she’d never thought to lay eyes on any given the quiet humdrum normalcy of her upbringing and home town.
The person at the back of the bus, carefully guiding a watering pot over a bed of flowering bushes was most probably an elf. The one halfway down, reading a paperback with a very bright cover looked to be at least half troll and the wings on the figure across from them meant that one could only be a fairy. Millie wasn’t sure which kind. She thought one of the others might be a pixie or maybe a brownie, the pictures in the books were never very clear, and she wasn’t sure about the other two sitting closest to her.
The bus kept going and it occurred to Millie to wonder how she might know when to get off.
The question was solved some time later. It might have even been as much as an hour, Millie had never been very good at measuring the passing of time, and the view outside the window was nowhere like any part of her town or the land surrounding it.
As she tried to figure out how the bus might have got to wherever they were, it pulled up at a low building with a wide verandah and everyone started gathering their things and moving towards the door.
The troll gave her a friendly nod as they walked past, “This is the end of the route little missy, it’s your destination.”
Millie smiled and said thank you, then picked up her backpack and jumped off behind them.
Once on the roadside, she looked around, trying to decide what she was supposed to do next.
The pixie-brownie gave her a little nudge, “Your ma wasn’t planning on you having to decide your way was she?”
Millie shook her head.
The fae smiled reassuringly, “Never to mind, you just take a look around and choose the path that calls you. When a seeking apprentice is picked up by a fae bus, there’s usually a bit more than pure coincidence involved. So just trust in the magic, it won’t steer you wrong.”
Millie smiled gratefully and began to turn slowly in place, taking in her new surrounds.
The bus had ambled off during her conversation and the space it left revealed a deep, old forest on the far side of the road, distant mountains at the end of the road ahead, a shimmering tunnel on the road behind (ahh, she’d come through a portal, more magic she’d never thought to see) and, beside the long building, a path led to a set of stairs going down into a hollow of some sort.
She started walking towards the path.
As she reached the top of the rickety wooden stairs, she was met by a bird that seemed strangely familiar. Small, blue, plump and friendly, she was sure she’d seen it in the trees near her home from time to time. It trilled a greeting and flew around her head in what Millie assumed was welcome.