When she got to the trees, Millie reached out a hand to the nearest trunk, “Thank you so much, but please don’t strain yourself in keeping the path too wide open, I really do love your greenery and shade.”
The forest quivered and relaxed, the path shrinking in size, but staying straight and clear through to the clearing and the portal path on the other side.
Millie thought there might have been a small sigh of relief from one or two of the fae behind her but decided not to look.
She was overtaken by the bluebird as she reached the second clearing, the bird landed and transformed into the girl again, a little out of breath this time, “Her Majesty says to remember to come by this time next week for tea and to collect your formal gown.”
“Oh, yes, I will. It was most kind of you to chase after me.”
The blue girl smiled, changed back, and took to the sky again.
There was no sign of the man under the tree, but Millie thought she caught a glimpse of black, shiny raven feathers in amongst the higher foliage.
At the entrance to the second path, she thanked the trees again, and promised to try and bring more friendship ribbons next time.
A minute or so later, the path blurred and changed to the outskirts of her new home village and she stopped in surprise at the large, anxious group of people in front of her.
Edda threw her arms around her, “We were so worried!”
Millie tried to juggle the clothing bundle to return the hug, only succeeding in drawing attention to it.
Edda looked down, “What on earth is that?”
“Um, clothes. The fae queen gave them to me.”
The faces in front of her all turned to shock. Shaun was the first to recover.
“Alright everyone, it looks like Millie got herself back, and has quite a tale to tell. How about we head back to the village square and she can tell us all about it.”
Once everyone was comfortably tucked onto the odd collection of seats in the pergola, Millie started to explain her morning. The impulse to explore, the conversation with the human form of Quoth (Edda muttered darkly at that little bit of news), the bluebird being a girl and then the audience and successful visit with the fae King and Queen.
She finished to a round of applause, although Edda looked serious and worried.
As the other members of the group started to wander off, she shook her head at Millie, “If you needed clothes, all you had to do was ask. I’ve never had a chance to shop for a daughter before.”
Millie felt awful, “I hadn’t really thought about it, it was just that I needed to think of something really quickly and it seemed useful and not insulting. I’m sorry.”
Adam was equally put out, but for different reasons, “Why did you ask those questions? You should have asked for next week’s winning lottery numbers or something that they couldn’t answer and then they’d owe you something.”
Millie frowned, “I don’t want them to owe me anything, I want them to like me so I can visit again and not have to worry about doing or saying the wrong thing by mistake.”
It was Shaun’s turn, “I’m guessing from your story that you didn’t meet Anton? The building mage?”
Millie grimaced, “No, the King said he was sulking because Edda got me instead of him but that I will probably enjoy visiting with him.”
Shaun picked up on the grimace, “Not sure if you want to?”
She looked around and leaned forward, “Well, it sounds silly when he’s a master mage but, he sounds a bit childish and I’m glad I never felt a pull to that path during my apprentice journey.”
Shaun nodded, “He is a little petty and prone to sulking, but a good craftsman. I’d suggest only visiting him with a friend, ideally me, Edda, or Adam, as he might try to take advantage of your magic to push forward a few of his projects.”
Edda spoke up, “In fact, until you know your way around, and the people around here know you, I’d be much happier if you only went to new places with one of us as company. I do trust you, and you clearly did well in your conversations with Quoth and with Their Majesties, I would just rest a little easier if I knew there was someone on hand to ease your way.”
Millie tried not to pout, Edda sighed, “I know, it feels like I’m putting restrictions on you, just as you were feeling a bit more free. Let me re-phrase it. I would like it if you took one of us along to visit or meet anyone new. Anyone in the village, or the immediate forest is a friend – you’ve met most of them and they all know you, so you don’t need support there, but if you’re going into the fae lands, beyond the Court clearing, or to wider places. It would ease my mind if one of us were with you the first time.”
Millie thought this through, it actually seemed fair and reasonable to her and she said so.
Edda laughed, “I’m so glad. You’re on your journey to adulthood now and the last thing I want to do is have you think I’m treating you like a child.”
She took one of Millie’s hands, “Will you tell me if I ever do seem to be doing that?”
“Of course. But could you tell me what I’m going to be doing as an adult? I’ve never been told what greenwitches actually do.”
Edda’s face scrunched up, “It’s not as ordered and organised as your mother’s work, or Mrs Honey’s from your description.”
That made Edda smile, “I suppose the quickest and easiest answer is that we do what’s needed, when it’s needed. It means we travel a bit, it’s one of the reasons we have the portal so close, and we never quite know what’s going to come next.”
She stood, “Come on, we’ll have tea and I’ll tell you more about the things I’ve been asked to do as a greenwitch and it might start giving you some ideas on what to expect, and what you think you’ll want to focus on for the first stage of your learning.”
“I can choose?”
Edda shrugged and smiled, “Our magic is so broad, and the needs so diverse, it’s best that you start with something you care about and want to learn, and once you’ve learnt how to learn, well, that’s probably the most important thing.”
Millie turned to follow Edda to the house, her face screwed up in thought, Adam nudged her.
“She does that, comes out with deep and meaningful statements like they’re meant to make sense. I find they usually do, eventually. Very, very eventually.”
His humour worked, as it always did, and she relaxed into a giggle as she hoisted her fae clothing bundle and headed for the house.
Everyone’s attention was diverted by her gift once they were in the kitchen. Shaun cleared a few odds and ends off the big table.
“Pop your ill-gotten gains up here and let’s see what sort of things the fae think suitable for a ‘little greenwitch’.”
“I’m pretty sure they’re fair-gotten, but I would like to see what they’ve given me.”
Shaun laughed at that and they clustered around as she unwrapped the bundle.
A short while later, Edda stood back and went to put the kettle on, “Well done Millie, you’ve clearly made a very good impression on not just the queen, but her underlings as well.”
Millie, looking over the sensible, but utterly lovely clothes, gave a happy bounce.
Adam had retreated when they’d got to the underwear, announcing he had no wish to be scarred for life (he’d made Millie giggle again by dramatically fleeing the room), and Shaun, while paying attention and making all the right noises, was clearly more interested in his dinner preparations.
She moved across to help Edda with the tea preparations and, anxious about having hurt her Journeymaster’s feelings, asked, “You don’t mind that I asked for clothes? It’s just that I only had enough for today and I forgot to say anything.”
Edda wrapped a fond arm around her shoulders and gave her a quick squeeze, “It’s fine. I think it was a very sensible solution and I’ll still be able to shop with you for your room knick-knacks on the weekend, and for more clothes as the weather changes.”
She took another look at the table, “Although, you may want to see if the fae would like to keep outfitting you. Once they see you in their clothes, they might enjoy it.”
“Will you come with me to collect the formal dress next week?”
“I’d be delighted. You don’t need my support with them, obviously, but I’d love to join you and I would like to be on hand, just in case Anton’s come out of his sulks and wants to whisk you off to show you what you missed.”
Edda nodded at the table, “Now how about you tidy those away and I’ll get on with telling you about the life of a greenwitch?”