The Fairy Doctress

But all this time the fairies were not idle; for it was at this very season of dances and festivals, when the mortals around them were happiest, that Finvarra the king and his chosen band were on the watch to carry off the prettiest girls to the fairy mansions. There they kept them for seven years, and at the end of that time, when they grew old and ugly, they were sent back, for the fairies love nothing so much as youth and beauty. But as a compensation for the slight put on them, the women were taught all the fairy secrets and the magical mystery that lies in herbs, and the strange power they have over diseases. So by this means the women became all-powerful, and by their charms or spells or potions could kill or save as they chose.

There was a woman of the islands greatly feared, yet respected by the people for her knowledge of herbs, which gave her power over all diseases. But she never revealed the nature of the herb, and always gathered the leaves herself at night and hid them under the eaves of the house. And if the person who carried the herb home let it fall to the ground by the way, it lost its power; or if they talked of it or showed it to any one, all the virtue went out of it. It was to be used secretly and alone, and then the cure would be perfected without fail.

One time, a man who was told of this came over from the mainland in a boat with two other men to see the fairy woman; for he was lame from a fall and could do no work.

Now the woman knew they were coming, for she had a knowledge of all things through the power of divination she had learned from the fairies, and could see and hear though no man told her. So she went out and prepared the herb, and made a salve and brewed a potion, and had all ready for the man and his friends.

When they appeared she stood at the door and cried, "Enter! This is the lucky day and hour; have no fear, for you will be cured by the power that is in me, and by the herb I give you."

Then the man bowed down before her, and said, "Oh, mother, this is my case." And he told her, that being out one day on the mountains, he slipped and fell on his face. A mere slight fall, but when he rose up his leg was powerless though no bone seemed broken.

"I know how it happened," she said. "You trod upon a fairy herb under which the fairies were resting, and you disturbed them and broke in the top of their dwelling, so they were angry and struck you on the leg and lamed you out of spite. But my power is greater than theirs. Do as I tell you and you will soon be cured."

So she gave him the salve and the bottle of potion, and bade him take it home carefully and use it in silence and alone, and in three days the power of the limb would come back to him.

Then the man offered her silver; but she refused.

"I do not sell my knowledge," she said, "I give it. And so the strength and the power remain with me."

On this the men went their way. But after three days a message came from the man to say that he was cured. And he sent the wise woman a handsome present also; for a gift works no evil, though to sell the sacred power and mysteries of knowledge for money would be fatal; for then the spirit, of healing that dwelt in the woman would have fled away and returned no more.