After breakfast Millie headed to the pergola outside, disappointed to see Quoth seemed to have given up on waiting for her. She looked around and decided to see if she could find the blacksmith.
She wandered towards the side of the square when a flash of blue caught her eye. It was her friendly bluebird, although she thought it might be better to think of it as her nosy bluebird from now on. She wondered who the information it had clearly been collecting was going to.
On impulse, she changed direction and headed towards the path the bluebird had beckoned her to the previous day.
As she stepped between the buildings forming the small lane, she thought she heard shouts behind her, but they faded almost immediately and she continued on between the houses until the path spilled her out into a clearing. Similar in size to the square in the village, this one was entirely surrounded by trees and dominated by a single, massive tree at its centre.
Looking behind her at more trees, Millie realised she’d managed to step through a portal and wondered where she was now, and whether she could get home again.
She was about to walk back through the trees to make sure when a voice from under the tree addressed her, “You’re safe enough girl. Just make a note of the correct trees and you’ll be fine to walk back through them to the Humanside village any time you wish. It would be silly for you to come all this way and not even say hello.”
Millie nodded, turned to the trees and looked carefully at them. Then, just to be on the safe side, she took off a ribbon bracelet a school friend had made for her and slipped it over a convenient branch.
She smiled at the feeling coming through, “Of course you can keep it if you like, just please make sure you keep it safe so I can find my way home again.”
The voice laughed, “Well you must be the new little greenwitch then. In that case, come and stay to tea.”
Millie turned back toward the tree and started walking carefully towards it, “Well I’m very pleased to be invited but I must check with mother, I mean Edda, first.”
“Oh Edda won’t mind, she’ll be pleased you’re making friends. I’m sure you must be missing your schoolmates from home quite dreadfully.”
Millie gave the shadow starting to take form within the shade a hard stare, “Are you the one who set that bluebird to spy on me?”
The form gave a start, “You’ve been followed by that twittish little bubble beak? That’s not good news. The folk that put her out and about are pesky at the best of times and malicious at worst.”
“Well she tried to get me to go down the path that leads here when I first arrived yesterday.”
“Ah. And what stopped you?”
“I had a talk with Quoth, who said I should think about what I wanted before I made a choice.”
The shadow resolved itself into a tall, slightly stooped man in a dark cloak, “So you heeded him yesterday but today, you let your fancy follow the bluebird?”
Millie treated him to a hard stare, “I think you know all about it. I think you’re Quoth.”
The man laughed, and in it, she heard the caw of a raven.
“You’re a clever little greenwitch, you found me out in minutes where none of the others have ever realised.”
“Well if you hadn’t called the bluebird a bubble beak, I might not have made the connection.”
“But you did, so come and sit down and share some tea and cake.”
Millie sat quite happily but shook her head at refreshments, “No thank you, I only just had breakfast. You never mentioned where we are exactly.”
“Why you’re in the fae realm of course. I had a feeling one as curious as you would follow the bluebird’s path soon enough, so I decided to pop ahead this morning, just in case, and catch you for a chat before you went any further in.”
“So I really shouldn’t eat or drink anything. Did you try to trick me?”
“Oh my food’s safe enough, I brought it with me from the village. Fae food’s much too fancy for a plain old raven like me. But filling up now would keep you from sampling later, although it seems you’re better informed than I’d thought.”
“I’ve had the proper witch training.”
“So it seems, for all that your mother seemed determined to pull you as far from the veil as possible and immerse you so deep in mediocre magic and suburban normalcy that you’d never surface.”
Millie didn’t much like the sound of that, or the way Quoth described her mother, “Mum is just very careful, that’s all. And she was careful with my education too.”
“Oh very well, claws in little greenwitch. I’ll be careful as well and remind you on top of your mother’s lessons to never give your true name to a fae in these lands. Your everyday name is acceptable as it’s a shortname, but you may prefer to choose something else entirely.”
“Something such as ‘oh, just call me little greenwitch’?”
The raven man grinned and hunkered down for more tea, “If you’ve a mind to explore, I’ll not hold you back, now you’ve shown yourself familiar with fae ways.”
Millie stood, then paused, “Edda said she thought you’d want to become my familiar once I’m old enough but I don’t think you would, would you?”
“No, I have no wish to be so tied.”
“Would you be able to advise me though, when I do need to choose?”
Quoth stood and bowed, “I would be honoured and delighted.”
Millie thanked him in a roundabout way, earning another grin, then stepped around the tree to explore further, spotting the bluebird sulking on a tree at the far edge of the clearing.
She walked towards it, stopping as it brightened at her approach and hopped to a tree slightly further down the small path it had been guarding.
“Give me one good reason why I should follow you down there. You’ve been spying on me for ages, which is very rude and now you’re trying to get me to do something I probably shouldn’t.”
The bluebird bounced, then turned into a small, plump girl, all in blue, sitting on the tree branch, “I’m just doing what I’m told and it’s not like anyone can do anything bad to you, you’re protected by apprentice magic.”
Millie huffed, but stepped forward, “Fine, but you can stay in that form and walk with me and explain how long you’ve been watching me, why, and how you found where I was.”
The girl jumped down and skipped down the path beside her, “Been watching you for a full turn of seasons, a year as you call them. I watch you because they tell me to and they tell me where to find you too.”
“And exactly who are ‘they’?”
“You know, the Lord and Lady.”
“No, I don’t know, who are the Lord and Lady.”
The blue girl stared at her in astonishment, “Why the Lord and Lady of Underhill of course, the rulers of the fae court.”
Millie turned around, “Oh no, I am in no way ready to meet high fae. I only met my first pixie brownie yesterday.”
The girl looked scared, “You can’t turn away now, you’ve crossed the threshold and they’ll be ever so offended if you leave.”
Millie scowled, “Fine, but I’m blaming you if anything at all goes wrong.”
Blue girl skipped again, “You’re a greenwitch, you’ll be fine.”
A minute later, she stepped out from under the trees and into a second clearing, this one draped across with layers of gauzy fabric providing shade from a gentle sun and strewn about with silken carpets and cushions, with a wide range of folk lounging and walking.
Those closest to the path turned at Millie’s arrival and froze, others behind looked in turn, and froze in turn, creating a strange ripple of stillness across the space.
The blue girl tugged Millie forward, towards the centre of the clearing and a canopy of glorious colours, where Millie could just make out two figures sitting on what were probably thrones.