It was a strange experience. As she passed the people looking at her, they seemed to unfreeze and her progress was marked by a rise in whispers behind her. She didn’t bother looking around, they’d just freeze again. Anyone would think they’d never seen a girl before.
She stopped alongside her bouncing guide, directly in front of the thrones. She curtseyed as taught then took her time in looking over the pair sitting before her.
The woman was smirking, clearly she thought she knew something Millie didn’t, rather like that teacher from two years ago. It was unlikely she’d keep it quiet for long so Millie dismissed her and turned her gaze to the man.
He, at least, seemed to be taking her a little more seriously, assessing her in the same manner she was him.
The woman spoke, “Well, introduce yourself child, don’t be rude.”
Millie smiled sweetly at her, “Oh, you can just call me ‘little greenwitch’, it seems to be the label of favour in this part of the world.”
The woman stopped smiling, “I said your name girl.”
“And I told you what you can call me.”
“Insolent. You will tell me, and you will tell me now.”
Millie put her head on one side and pretended to consider it, then levelled a heavy stare at the woman, “No and your insistence is insulting.”
The woman’s head whipped back, she tried for a smile again, it kept slipping, “Oh dear, I’m so sad to hear you’re upset, perhaps a little refreshment will make you feel better.”
Millie was fast losing patience, “Really? You think an apprentice witch, raised by a witch, is that ignorant? Now you’ve insulted my mother as well as me.”
The smile was now a snarl, “Oh what a pity, but you’re here now, and you’re not getting back through that forest without my permission, so I suggest you start being a little more cooperative.”
Millie raised an eyebrow, then turned to look at the forest behind her. She sent it a question.
The Queen paled when the entire wood shuffled to each side, making a clear, wide path directly to the portal.
The man at her side laughed, “You’ll never learn will you. So arrogant My Queen and now all undone by a greenwitch. How you ever thought the woods would pick you over her I will never know.”
Millie smiled at him, “I think it helped a little when I gave it a friendship bracelet earlier. People just don’t appreciate trees.”
“Very true, now we must make amends for your appalling treatment this morning. My Queen insulted you, your family and your power, so in turn I will answer three questions for you. You cannot defer them, and they cannot be in multiple parts.”
He turned to his wife, “And what will you contribute to atone for your gross abuse of the covenant?”
She glowered, “A simple gift, freely given and freely accepted. You must ask now and all debt between us will be erased.”
Millie smiled, “Really? Oh that’s so kind. I know it sounds a little silly but, well, I could really do with some clothes. Just sensible, practical things for an apprentice witch who’s going to be digging and clearing and generally doing things in dirt.”
The Queen stared at her, then genuinely laughed, it was quite a nice sound.
“You want clothes? Is that it?”
Millie shuffled, “You see, Mum was so fixed on me going to Mrs Honey for my apprenticeship and it’s only a short way away, so she wouldn’t let me take my suitcase on the bus. She was going to drop it over after her potion deliveries the next day, but then I got on the fae bus instead and I only have one change of clothes and I don’t really want to be always asking Edda to buy me things when I really should have that sort of thing with me.”
The queen laughed again, “I think I’m going to like you little greenwitch, very well, sensible practical clothes, shall we say a week’s worth? Plus a formal gown because I like them.”
“Oh that would be wonderful Your Majesty, you’re so kind.”
“I’m not but I’m sure we’ll rub along well enough as neighbours. Although I am disappointed you didn’t take up the apprenticeship offered here.”
Millie’s eyes widened, “Oh, so that’s what the bluebird was trying to lead me to. I’m afraid I just didn’t feel the right sort of pull for this path.”
The Queen waved a nearby faery over, “My seamstress, she’ll take your measurements and see to your clothing while you try and get three answers out of my annoying husband.”
Millie smiled and bobbed a second curtsey, then stood still while the new faery darted about her with a tape measure and quick, quiet commentary. Within a couple of minutes, she straightened and turned to the throne.
“Your Majesty I can supply the everyday clothing for her from stocks already to hand. The gown may take a little longer. Do you have any preference for colour.”
The Queen gave her a level stare, “She’s a greenwitch. I think any colour other than green might just be a little silly, don’t you?”
The faery flushed, bobbed a quick curtsey and scurried off.
The blue girl brought Millie a chair and she sat, thinking through her three questions.
She looked at the King, who smiled back at her.
“I’m probably going to have all sorts of people telling me I’m wasting questions with you but these are the things I’d like to know.”
The King looked intrigued.
“First, what was the apprenticeship offered to me here?”
“You do know my wife probably would have told you if you’d asked in your conversation.”
Millie shrugged, “She might, but fair’s fair.”
“Very well, it was an offer to apprentice with a human mage who lives in Underhill and manipulates trees and other living things into houses and suchlike for those who wish to live in nature. He’s particularly in demand with the elves. He’s sulking at the moment, he was looking forward to putting one over Edda and gaining a talented apprentice, otherwise he’d be here. I hope he’ll recover in time as I’m sure you’d enjoy visiting with him.”
Millie thought he sounded a bit silly and childish. It was a good thing she didn’t get that pull to the bluebird’s path. She’d have to ask Edda about him though, as it did sound like interesting magic.
“My second question is a bit of a muddle I’m afraid, I sort of need to talk it through but I’m not even quite sure what I’m asking.”
“Honest and honourable. Little greenwitch you are going to turn my kingdom upside down.”
She giggled then sobered.
“When I arrived yesterday and came down the stairs, I felt two pulls. One to the pergola and one to the forest. I think the forest pull was for the healers. When I went to the pergola, Quoth was there and told me I had greenwitch magic and to choose whichever path matched the magic I most wanted to learn. It was only then that I felt the pull to Edda’s house. Why is that?”
The King leaned forward, elbows on knees, eyes alert, “Now that is interesting. Are you saying you didn’t know what your magic was until Quoth told you?”
“Yes. I mean it was pretty obvious it was plants, but that’s all I knew.”
“You grew up a long way from fae didn’t you.”
“Yes. The bus yesterday was the first time I’d met anyone who wasn’t human.”
The king looked at his equally interested wife, “I think we may have missed something over the years. So ridiculously obvious we’ve looked right over it.”
He turned to Millie, “Most fae of middle to great power can see your magic, and each type has a very distinct pattern to it. The more powerful, the more elemental, the simpler it is. Frankly your identity as a greenwitch is as obvious to me as your nose.”
“What I hadn’t realised is that, since humans don’t see magic, they don’t see the patterns. I think we’ve been far too useful to our varying portal neighbours in identifying the abilities of their young, simply because we never realised we were giving them information they didn’t have.”
“Oh, am I going to be in trouble now? That’s not a question by the way, that’s just me being worried.”
The King laughed, “I’ll give you that for a bonus one and no, you won’t. It’s so natural for us, we’ll keep talking of it with the allies and neighbours we like. We’ll simply know what we’re doing now and maybe be a little more reserved with people who don’t deserve the knowledge.”
Millie heaved a little sigh, “Oh good. And my last question, can I come back and visit you both?”
She’d clearly taken both of them by surprise, the King recovered first, “Any time you wish, little greenwitch, you will be more than welcome in our home. We hope to entertain you many times over the coming years.”
The Queen added with a sly smile, “I might even get that pesky raven to bring us some of his precious human world tea so you can visit properly.”
“I’d like that very much!”
“Good, and now, here are your clothes. You probably should be getting back, I’m sure your village friends are getting a little worried by now.”
Millie looked confused.
The King grinned, “That pesky raven closed the portal after you so Edda couldn’t follow.”
“Oh dear! I’d better go back straight away. I’ll enjoy wearing the clothes and look forward to returning for tea very soon.”
Millie stood, and with a final quick curtsey, headed back the way she’d come.