Millie kept to the same pace as the three JourneyMasters, more-or-less. She wondered about Rosalie’s surprise over her curiosity about the cane, then flushed scarlet in mortified realisation. They’d thought she wanted to know why the stick was needed. She had been so rude!
Edda looked at her as they reached the top of the stairs. “What’s got you looking like you want the earth to swallow you up?”
Millie looked back at the two healers, making their way up a little more slowly.
“I was so rude to Rosalie, asking about her cane. I can’t believe she still agreed to teach me.” Although it had been Greta who’d made those arrangements, she remembered.
Edda smiled. “Rosalie is used to people wondering at the worth of a healer with a cane. That you thought the cane beautiful? You know, I think she really liked that.”
“But she’s been hurt and I was more interested in a piece of wood.”
“Which just goes to show you made a good choice in your apprenticeship path. That was definitely the question of a greenwitch, rather than a healer.”
“What’s that?” Rosalie and Greta crested the stairs.
Edda looked at Millie, but kept silence. As a silence, it felt more encouraging than condemning, so Millie screwed up her courage.
“Edda’s trying to make me feel a little less bad about being so rude at the bottom of the stairs.”
Both healers looked confused, then Rosalie laughed. “When you focused on my cane, rather than my injury? Millie, it was delightful. It’s a beautiful cane and no one appreciates it.”
Millie flushed again, but Rosalie seemed sincere, so she made a suggestion. “We could get some ribbons or something to decorate it. Then more people might notice how pretty it is.”
All three women roared with laughter but before Millie could completely die of humiliation, Rosalie squeezed her shoulder.
“Thank you Millie, that is a lovely idea and I think I’d like to do it. I’ve had enough of feeling like I should apologise for having a cane, it’s time to flaunt it.”
Millie twisted her fingers in the hem of her top, but smiled tentatively when Greta agreed. “Absolutely, and since Millie was the first person to appreciate it, maybe she would be the best person to choose its first set of ribbons. To properly show it off.”
“I’d love to.”
The fizz and bubble back in her heart, Millie bounced a little as they walked past the bus station.
The market could be heard long before it was visible. The buzz and hum of conversations, things being picked up and put down, coins changing hands, music playing and children running and calling to each other.
Millie was almost scared to take that final turn through the trees on the side of the road. What if the market didn’t match up to the picture in her imagination? But turn they did, and the market was all she had imagined, and more.
It covered an open space about the size of a football field, then stretched into the trees on either side, where booths meandered down shady, green corridors that tempted shoppers to wander through just one more turn.
The stalls themselves were a dizzying patchwork of colours, sizes and styles, all happily jumbled together.
Simeon and Timothy tumbled into sight, Timothy carrying two large paper cups and grumbling to Simeon to watch himself. They spotted Millie’s group and raced over. Well, Simeon raced. Timothy followed more carefully and handed the cups of juice to his two JourneyMasters.
“Sorry.” He said to Edda and Millie. “I could only carry two, and Simeon spills everything.”
Millie wondered how he managed with healing potions but avoided saying anything. They were going to have classes together so she’d find out soon enough and she didn’t want to accidentally embarrass or upset someone she hoped might become a friend.
As it was, Simeon went red and looked sulky. “I don’t when it’s important.”
The silence made him realise he’d managed to make things worse somehow and Millie searched for a way to break the awkwardness.
“Have you had a growth spurt recently?”
“What?” Simeon looked at her like she’d grown two heads.
“Well, it’s just that mum says teenage boys can have really big growth spurts, really fast, and it’s sort of like wearing shoes that are too big for you, but it’s your whole body and it just takes a bit of time to relearn where everything is.”
Greta looked thoughtful. “That’s a good observation. No growth spurt yet, but he could be gearing up for one, it would explain all the energy.”
Simeon scowled. “Great, more awkwardness to look forward to.”
Millie bit her lip, she’d just made things worse. Simeon looked over at her.
“Well since girls don’t do the growth spurty thing as much, you can come and get a juice for your JourneyMaster and that way it won’t get spilled.” He grinned and Millie relaxed. Maybe he wasn’t mad at her after all.
She looked at Edda, who laughed. “That would be lovely. Something with passionfruit and mango please.”
She handed Millie a small purse. “Your apprentice allowance. Use this for treats and little things and we’ll buy your room decorations together.”
Millie grinned and clutched the purse tightly, then looked over at the two boys.
Rosalie told them. “We’ll meet you at the music tent, don’t be long, we have a lot of things to collect today.”
The three apprentices set off, but Millie was soon outpaced by the two boys. She lost sight of them within minutes and stopped at a quiet corner to try and see her way forward, or back. Should she stay here and wait for them? What if they’d run off on purpose? The boys at her old school had liked playing tricks like that.
She waited a little while longer. Still no sign of them through the crowds. Where had all these people come from anyway? There were way more than lived in the village. The never-ending flow scared her. She couldn’t see anyone she recognised, and half of them weren’t even speaking words she understood. The boys had abandoned her in the middle of this place, with no idea of anything.
What had Rosalie said? The music tent. Well, if there was only one, she could maybe ask for directions and find her way to that. She took a breath and stepped back into the flow of people.”THERE you are! Come on Millie, you have to keep up.” Simeon appeared out of nowhere, dancing around her with impatience, then racing off to disappear into the crowd again. Millie shuffled off to one side again, to try and work out where he might have gone.
And there he was again, like a jack-in-the-box in front of her. Bouncing around, then bounding out of sight. She stayed exactly where she was until he came back again.
“Honestly Millie, you’re so slow. Can’t you run at all?”
She bit her lip. “I tried, but you ran away too fast and I couldn’t see through the crowd, and I don’t know where anything is.”
“So now I’m being mean?” Simeon laughed at her.
She stopped, right in the middle of the people. “Yes, you are. And if you don’t want to show me where to buy Edda’s juice, then just go away and I’ll find my own way to the music tent.”
Simeon stopped. “It was just some fun.”
“Not for me it wasn’t. And if this is your idea of fun, I don’t want to be friends and I don’t want to have classes with you either.”
She gritted her teeth against a wobble and angrily blinked the tears away. Simeon drooped.
“I didn’t think you’d be upset by it. Come on, I’ll show you to the juice stall and I’ll even buy you one to make up.” He held a hand out, which Millie considered, then reluctantly took.
He was as good as his word, steering her through the crowd to the stall where Timothy was looking worried. He heaved a sigh of relief when he saw them.
“Oh thank goodness. I’m sorry Millie, we’re so used to this place, I guess we forgot you weren’t.”
He sounded sincere, and Simeon had come back for her, so she decided to let it slide. She wasn’t about to forget it though. So much for finding a couple of new friends she could trust and rely on.