Aisling couldn’t sleep. She was really tired but she just couldn’t fall asleep. She tried counting sheep but even in her imagination they seemed to mill around and then the shepherd’s dogs arrived and then drove them away. She thought she’d be better off mentally counting Druids but they didn’t stay still in her mind’s eye either.
She listened to the drowsy tokking and muttering of the Raven who had now built her nest up in the thatch of the cottage. The other druid students in her cottage snored or muttered in their sleep as much as the Raven did. It wouldn’t have been bad if she could have understood what all the muttering was about but it was just an annoying mumble.
She could hear an owl from time to time out in the woods and finally she decided to get up and see what the owl was up to out there. She decided she might as well go outside and take a walk.
The village was quiet with just a few torches left burning so people could see their way to the latrines at night and not fall in although sometimes on festival nights people celebrated too much and fell in any way. Aisling decided to go sit out at the edge of the village and the beginning of the forest.
It was a perfect night at the beginning of summer, not too cold and not too warm. Aisling sat and enjoyed the light breezes hitting her face. She closed her eyes and could smell the woods and the scent of lilacs in the air so faint you could almost miss the sweetness. She listened to the leaves move and could hear the owl hooting from close by. You could never hear owls fly. Some people didn’t like that the owls flew so silently and found it scary. Aisling thought it was one of the things that made owls so special. She kept an owl feather in her ciorbolg that she had found in the woods. She took to pull it out of the bag at her waist and stroked its softness.
The bench she was sitting on dipped and she opened her eyes. There was an old woman with long white hair and a grey cloak. Her hair looked oddly feathery.
“You like my feathers?” The woman asked and smiled.
“Huh…Your feathers?” Aisling said rather surprised.
The woman smiled, “Yes, my feathers. Why do you think they call us old women of the night?” (An owl is called cailleach oiche in Gaelic.) The woman laughed softly. “There is nothing more beautiful than an early summer night.” The woman looked around her. There were some mushrooms softly glowing below the trees. She could see some moss glowing lightly too. The sky was a deep, deep purply blue with thousands of stars twinkling over head. She could hear the drowsy sheep over in the fields.
“So are you learning to be a good guardian of the woods like the Green One asked?” The woman said. Ailsing started so that was why owl woman was here?
“I guess so.” Replied Aisling. “I have so much to learn but Raven is helping me.”
“Well, it seems like you are having trouble sleeping?” The woman lifted an eyebrow. “How about some night help?”
“Okay…” Aisling was wondering if she was going to get in trouble if she went tromping in the woods at night with someone who said she was an owl.
“Come along.” The woman got up and started walking along. They walked into the dark woods and Aisling was very glad there was at least some moon visible.
“You have to use all your senses at night like you were doing on the bench. You have to listen for the movement of animals. I can hear a mouse family over there.” And she pointed over ahead. “But don’t worry I’m not going hunting with you…tonight.” The woman laughed to herself.
Then she continued. “You have to use your sense of smell. You have to use the eyesight you do have and you can use your sense of touch. Guardians are Guardians at night as well as day. Some day the Green One will want you to know the forest at night as well as during the day.”
Aisling was starting to stumble because she was finally getting sleepy. She wondered about all the life around her that was drowsy and sleepy too. “How will I know when he wants me?” she asked the woman.
“You’ll know. Trust yourself.” The woman turned and was gone. Aisling looked down and there was a flight feather on the ground. Aisling picked it up and wondered how many other strange people she was going to meet and why no one else seemed to have these experiences. Although for some reason she thought the Chief Druid might know.