"Look, Mama, is this the plant we need?" the little boy exclaimed and pulled on his mother's sleeve, pointing at a large amount of small, dark green leaves and white blossoms growing in the shadow of an oak – kingsfoil.
"Yes, it is," the woman affirmed, setting her basket on the forest floor, "well done." She knelt down and started murmuring the old rhyme her grandmother had taught her long ago. She did not understand the words – maybe they were not even real words – but she always said them before pulling a plant out of the soil, and so did all the other herb-wives she knew. It was one of many ancient traditions, probably not much more than that.
"Why do you always say this poem?" her son wanted to know when she was finished.
Carefully she began freeing the delicate plants from the dry leaves that covered them and pulled them out. "Why, to appease the Lady of the Woods and to thank her for gifting us with these herbs," she explained, retelling the old story every child in the forest knew.
The boy's eyes widened. "Who is she?"
"She is said to be one of the mighty fairies who lived here ages and ages ago," she explained. "She was the wisest and most skilled healer far and wide. Her hands had healing powers and whatever she touched became healthy and strong again. It is her power that makes the plants in this forest so wholesome, so we must show her our gratitude and respect." She smiled at her son's curious expression.
"Papa told me about the fairies," he added. "He says that he once got lost in the forest as a boy and saw a huge white elk that showed him the way home. He thinks it was the king of the fairies in disguise."
His mother grinned – she would have to ask her husband about that particular event. "Perhaps it was," she answered. "The king protects all that lives in the forest. We never hunt more animals than we can eat and use all parts of their bodies from the meat and the fur to the bones, remember? Come now, let's go home."
She grabbed her basket and took her son's hand and together they made their way along the path. The boy was very quiet and threw curious glances over his shoulder now and then. Maybe he was hoping to catch a glimpse of the fairies, just like she had as a child, his mother thought and smiled to herself.