The woman laughed, “Oh I do like an eager apprentice. Not that I’ve ever had one before mind you, greenwitches are a little few and far between.”
“How did you become one then?”
“Thankfully there was a greenwitch available to me as I am to you.”
Millie started and blushed, “I haven’t even introduced myself.”
She stood and gave a little curtsey, as young witches should, “My name is Millicent Hall, but everyone calls me Millie.”
“I’m delighted to meet you Millie, my name is Edda and I’m so glad you’ve decided to become a greenwitch.”
Millie smiled and sat back down again, “You sound like it’s not the most obvious choice since the raven said that was my magic.”
Edda sighed, “There have been at least four other potential greenwitches since my apprenticeship ended and only one of them took up that calling. Two of the others became healers and the third chose the farming branch. There’s a strong pull to make things feel better, work better and grow better when you’re as connected to nature as a greenwitch is.”
The kettle on the hob started to jump and bubble and Edda pulled it off to fill the pot for tea.
“Now as soon as you’re properly fed and watered, we need to phone your mother. Reassure her you’re safe and well. I’d say seeing you hop on that fae bus and disappear into the distance gave her a bit of a nasty turn this morning.”
Millie looked down guiltily, she’d barely spared a thought for her mother through the events of the day, and it hadn’t occurred to her that those events may have been seen in a different light for the one left standing on the road.
“You have a phone? I’m sorry, but I don’t even know if I’m in the human world or the fae one – portals can go anywhere I was told.”
“And so they can. The one you came through simply compressed several thousand miles of land and sea rather than sending you off into a different world. This is still the human side of the veil, but it’s in a spot where that veil is very, very thin, like gossamer. Where you were living before, it’s more like a heavy winter blanket.”
Millie giggled at the description and sipped at the tea that had been poured for her.
“How do you know so much about me and where I’ve come from?”
“That silly bluebird wasn’t the only one keeping an eye on you. He was just the only one who let you catch sight of him. Quoth has been keeping an eye out for you for about two years now and is quite possessive, I think he’ll petition to be your familiar as soon as you’re old enough to take one.”
“The raven you spoke to in the marketplace. He’s his own bird but will run errands and keep an eye on people of interest when it suits him, and he found you fascinating.”
“So I’ve had people watching me?”
“I’m not sure about the bluebird, but Quoth is very particular about a person’s privacy. He tended to spend most of his time watching your world, so he could better prepare us for what you’ll find different and uncomfortable. He did say you had a number of friends at school but didn’t seem to spend much time with them outside that.”
Millie propped her head on one hand and pouted, “Mum never let me because I always had witch things to study and I was going to be moving across town for my apprenticeship so would be going to a new school this year anyway.”
“Well she was right about the last part, but you have a bit of time before they’re expecting you.”
“I’m already in a school here?”
“Of course, we knew you’d be coming to one of us if you got on that bus, and you’d have been disobeying apprentice journey rules if you didn’t, so we thought it was best to be prepared. They’re quite used to getting unusual students from elsewhere so it’s quite a simple process.”
“What sort of unusual?”
“Well since the veil is so thin here, it’s a popular place for magical people and creatures to settle, along with children and apprentices, so you’ll find your class will be very different from the one you’ve been in ’til now.”
Millie finished her tea and sandwich as she thought this over, it sounded much more interesting than her old school already.
Once she was done, Edda herded her through the inner door and along a passageway to a neat, sunny study.
“We can phone your mother from here, do you have the number?”
Millie dug through her bag, then pulled out the file of emergency tips and information her mother had put together with her over the past few months. They nearly hadn’t included the number, since Mrs Honey already had it, but Millie insisted on filling it out completely and correctly, so there it was.
“We’re only a couple of hours in time difference which is good. You’re in the other hemisphere though, so our seasons are opposite to the ones you’re used to.”
Millie tried to picture a cold Christmas as Edda keyed the number from her book into the phone.
“Hello, yes, is that Trina Hall? Lovely to meet you, my name’s Edda and your Millie’s just arrived to take up her apprenticeship with me.”
“Oh yes, she’s fine.”
“No, we’re at the confluence, the bus had to take a portal to deliver her.”
“A greenwitch, it’s her core magic after all. Would you like to talk with her?”
Edda handed the phone to Millie with a smile, she raised it to her ear, “Hi Mum.”
“Darling are you alright? What on earth possessed you to get on that strange bus? You know what the one to Mrs Honey’s looks like.”
Millie took the phone away from her ear and stared at it, not understanding what she was hearing. She brought it back to her ear, her mother was still talking.
Her mother stopped.
“Mum, you know the rules of the apprenticeship journey, you were the one who taught them to me. I must take the first path that opens. I did what you said, why are you cross with me about it?”
“I’m not cross darling, it’s just you’re now with some strange woman in a strange place and you won’t be able to enjoy your wonderful apprenticeship with Mrs Honey.”
Millie decided brutal honesty was needed.
“It would have been a horrible apprenticeship.”
“It would, it was completely wrong for my magic but you never listened and you didn’t care.”
“Darling, I do care.”
Millie sighed, “Okay, you care, but you don’t understand and Mrs Honey doesn’t either. But Edda does.”
“But you’re a plant witch and you would have been learning about plants, it’s perfect.”
“Little soldier plants being sent in to battle, trapped in straight rows and boxes. Mum, I can’t breathe when I’m near them. Didn’t you hear what Edda said? I’m a greenwitch. My magic is nature, not plants, it’s different.”
“Oh dear, you have got some ideas in you head. You’d better put me back on to this Edda so I can sort out what you’re really doing.”
Millie had had enough, she pushed the phone at Edda, “Mum doesn’t believe me, she wants you to tell her what I’m really learning.”
Then she burst into tears and ran. Out of the study, down the hall and through the kitchen. Straight into a boy and a man coming in through the kitchen door.
Knocked flat by the impact, Millie sat up in time to see Edda run into the kitchen behind her and stop, hand to heart, as she caught her breath.
“Oh you poor thing, are you alright? I’m afraid I was very curt with your mother. We may have to call back so I can apologise.”
The boy gave Millie a hand up, “I’m guessing you’re the new apprentice but what’s the drama?”
Millie looked up at him, and up and up, he was awfully tall.
Edda put a companionable arm around her shoulders, “Yes, this is Millie. Millie, I’d like you to meet my husband, Shaun and my son, Adam. Adam’s halfway through his apprenticeship but his journey’s quite an easy one so he’s able to visit us for a few days each month.”
Millie smiled awkwardly and greeted both of them, trying to ignore her red nose and tear-streaked cheeks.
Adam, who would be sixteen by Millie’s calculation of apprenticeships, and all gangly arms and legs gave her a grin, “Yep, I’m here to pester the olds all the time.”
Shaun smiled, then looked at Edda, “The drama?”
“Oh yes, Millie’s mother doesn’t believe she’s a greenwitch.”
Two jaws dropped, Shaun recovered speech first.
“Every tree in the forest has been talking about her for the past twelve years. The dryads are beside themselves and your mother said you were lying?”
Edda looked at him, “She said Millie was mistaken.”
Adam spluttered, “You need to get her to visit here and take it up with the forest, rather than Millie going back there for visits, and please, please, please let it be when I’m here.”
He went on his knees in front of his mother, begging theatrically. Millie giggled.
Edda smiled and shook her head at her son, “We’ll see.”
Adam grinned at Millie, “That means yes.”