Today Airmid, the herbalist had assigned her to collect leaves from as many of the sacred trees as she could find. She hummed as she wandered through the woods. She already had oak, ash, hawthorn, rowan and hazel, and was heading for the pond in the center of the forest where she knew there were willows and reeds. She was saying the properties of the leaves in her head. Oak is for strength and protection and it was a gateway. Ash linked the inner world to the outer world. Hawthorn was chastity, cleansing and more protection. As she was saying this the woods the woods got a little darker and a little stranger until she came to a clearing she had never seen before.
It was huge and scattered with trees that looked like they were holding up the sky in a giant building except she could see the sky high over head. The bluest of summer skies, it was beautiful. Amongst the trees were pools of varying sizes and shapes and one large one out in the middle of the clearing. She couldn’t see what was feeding the pools. There was no stream running into the clearing that she could see. This was a very strange place and she had never seen it before on any of her rambles through the woods before. How strange?
She noticed that there were berry bushes around the outside and flowers dotted the forest floor and she stood and gazed at the wonderful sight. She didn’t notice the man seated in a throne like rock in the center until he spoke. “Welcome and enter, Aisling, child of the forest.
Startled she looked at the man. She assumed he was a man, he had a man’s voice but he certainly didn’t look like a man. He was covered in leaves. As she walked closer she noticed he even had leaves for a beard and eyebrows. He looked really funny but he also looked kind and wise. Even his clothes were made of leaves and they looked like all the leaves of the sacred trees she was supposed to be collecting. She hoped Airmid wasn’t planning on having her make a tunic like this. She knew that she could never copy something this wonderful and magical. She was afraid she was being rude and staring so she looked at the nearest pool.
“Come, come and sit by me.” The man said and motioned to a rock cushioned with moss.
Aisling made her way through the pools looking at all the flowers as she went. She noticed that there were all sorts of forest creatures around. There were squirrels and badgers, hedgehogs and bunnies, foxes and a large white wolf, all at peace with each other. Aisling was beginning to feel very small and very out of place and very out of her world. She made her way over to the rock and sat down and looked at the man closely. He was all varying shades of green and brown and one minute faded into the background and the next he was vibrant and alive like the most beautiful summer day.
She also noticed he had beautiful kind brown eyes but she had a feeling they didn’t always look so kind.
“Madainn mhath,” she said carefully. She thought it was still morning anyway and she wanted to be polite and wish a good one.
“Madainn mhath,” the man said back, “I’ve been waiting for you.”
“Waiting for me??!” squeaked Aisling. She wasn’t sure she liked the sound of that. Although she didn’t think she had done anything wrong. This man was a bit frightening and she could feel the power around him.
“Yes, waiting for you. You didn’t find your way here by accident. I called you.”
“Called me?? Whatever for?” Aisling was scared she had really messed up and this was obviously not a shepherd living in the forest.
“Because I’ve been waiting for someone kind. Someone who loves the forest and all it’s creatures as much as I do and I think you do.” The man said quietly looking at Aisling with a questioning look.
“Oh, I do love the forest. I love it even when there is rain or lightening or wind. When the sun shines through and when it doesn’t when it smells of flowers in spring and when it smells of rotting leaves in fall. It always feels friendly to me. It’s the one place that does.”
“And you don’t get in trouble here,” the man laughed.
Aisling was uncomfortable, so he even knew about that but it didn’t seem to bother him at all so she relaxed.
“Do you know who I am?”
Aisling shook her head, suddenly very shy.
“I’m the one they call the Green Man. I’m as old as the first tree and so old I’ve even forgotten my name if I ever had one. I needed to see who loved the forest so much that I could feel it the minute you entered my forest. I need to see who one of my next protectors would be.”
Now Aisling was really confused. Protectors? She was going to protect him?
“Protect you?” Aisling cried.
“No. Protect my forest and my friends.” He waved his hand indicating the whole woods.
“Every generation I choose a human to be my lands protector and you are the one I choose. You are strong and kind. You love the trees and the animals. You are curious and you will be a great protector for my land.” Said the Green Man.
Aisling felt a glow start from deep in her heart. This person thought good things about her. Nobody but the Arch Druid and her teacher ever said good things about her and she could feel that he felt all those things to be true. Aisling wanted more than anything for them to be true.
The Green Man reached down into the large pool and scooped up some water. He swiftly touched the top of her head, her forehead, her lips and her heart. “Be one with all that lives here. Be one with all that grows here, Be one with my heart and most of all be one with yourself.” The Green Man stood and smiled at her.
“Come let me show you my woods.” The Green Man reached down and took her hand and they started to walk around the pools.
That was the last thing Aisling remembered until she found herself walking out of the wood with a basket with one leaf from every one of the sacred trees. She felt like her head was going to burst and she couldn’t remember learning all the things that were now crowding her brain. She looked down at her tunic and around her neck was a silver oak leaf on a thong. Where had she gotten that?
She left the forest and noticed that it was almost noon. She felt like she had been gone for days and it was still morning. She didn’t know if what had happened was real and if it wasn’t for the silver leaf and the basket she would have thought she dreamed it.
She heard a noise from above and two squirrels dropped an acorn on her head and sounded like they were laughing. She picked up the acorn and decided it was time to talk to the Arch Druid and headed down the path.