The Fairies’ Gift

Contributed by Marilyn McPhie

Many years ago in the Spey Valley, there lived a notable woman.  Some called her a witch, but if that was true, she was a witch of the very best kind.  She was called Dame Aliset, and she had great skill and knowledge.  She could predict the weather.  And, with little more difficulty, she could also predict the future.  She could tell people where to find hidden or forgotten treasures.  She could care for animals, which seemed to recognize her skillful touch and sympathy.  She could advise young women and men about their prospects for marriage – and once they were married, she could give good advice on how to maintain happy relations.

All of these skills were much valued and much in demand among all who lived nearby, and even miles away.  But by far the most valued of Dame Aliset’s skills was in curing the sick.  Fevers, broken bones – all manner of ailments were treated with herbs, potions, and words of healing power.

One night, in the very middle of the night, there was a knock on the door of Dame Aliset’s cottage.  This was by no means an unusual occurrence.  The woman arose, lit a candle, and opened the door.  There she saw a tiny man, no taller than five feet high, wearing old-fashioned clothing, and holding the reins of two ponies.  She greeted the man and asked what he wanted.  He explained that his mistress had sent him to fetch her, as her child was very ill.

Dame Aliset dressed quickly, asked a few questions about the child who required her care, and she began to pack a basket with items she might need.  Then she set off on one of the ponies, with the little man on the other.  As they headed down the lane, Dame Aliset explained that they would need to stop briefly at the Well of Healing for water to fill an empty flask she had brought along.  When they reached the well, the little man dismounted and courteously filled the flask for her.  As he was thus occupied, Dame Aliset picked a bunch of rowan flowers nearby and tucked them into the bodice of her dress.  She had guessed who the little man’s mistress was and what she had been sent for, and she knew that rowan blossoms would be of help.

They rode along for a time and finally came to the fairy hill beside the river, and the two of them entered.  Dame Aliset was greeted by a magnificent creature, the queen of the fairies, whose dazzling beauty was only diminished by the look of grave concern on her face.  She led the woman to her daughter, who was lying on a bed of fur.  The child was moaning and tossing and had a high fever.

Dame Aliset went to work at once.  She mixed some of the herbs she had brought with some of the water from the Well of Healing and had the child drink a cupful.  Then she instructed the fairy queen to bathe her daughter with more of the precious water.  After a time, a second dose of the healing potion was administered, and later a third.  Finally, the girl fell into a comfortable sleep, her fever gone and her skin cool. 

“She’ll do now,” declared Dame Aliset, and she prepared to leave, giving a few instructions for follow-up care. 

The fairy queen was relieved and grateful, of course, and so were all of the little people.  They surrounded Dame Aliset and offered her splendid gifts of all kinds to repay her for her service, but Dame Aliset just smiled and refused to take anything.  “If you really wish to give me a gift, you can give me the gift of your friendship.  That would surely be gift enough.”

The little people assured her that they would always consider her a dear friend, but in addition, they said they’d offer an extra gift to Dame Aliset and anyone she told.  The gift was that if anyone washed in the waters of the spring that fed the Well of Healing, that person would be youthful and beautiful forever.  It is said that the waters of that well still possess the gift that was given to Dame Aliset that day.  However, sadly, the exact location of the well is no longer known.