Kiera was hunting for firewood on the edge of the forest when she came across the first snowdrop. The white bell nodded in the breeze like a tiny snowflake left behind from the latest thaw. Kiera touched it gently with her finger, marvelling at the pale green line edging the petal as if someone had come in the night and painted it whilst no-one was looking.
"I found snowdrops by the thorn trees this afternoon, Gramma," she said as she carried the carefully chopped logs and placed them in the box by the fire.
The older woman smiled, the light from the oil lamp casting soft shadows on her face and making her young again. "I've always loved snowdrops. They bring promise of spring and show that winter cannot last all year long."
"I saw the men building the Imbolc roundhouse when I was searching for wood earlier. Will I be allowed to join the celebrations this year?" Kiera's eyes were wistful. Ever since she was a little girl she had asked if she could be allowed to take part in the ritual.
It was her favourite part of the year, when young lambs were born and creamy milk from the ewes given to the children to make them strong. Usually she sat with the other children on piles of straw playing with the lambs and joining in the singing and dancing as gifts were offered to the Goddess - new ploughshares forged by the blacksmith, strange smelling potions from the healers and songs and poetry from the bards. All these to honour the fire Goddess, Brigid, who inspired all these different crafts.
"What makes you think this year should be different for you, Kiera?" her Grandmother asked as she did every year when Kiera made her request. The girl looked into the fire and thought for several long moments.
"I'm different this year, Gramma." and her eyes as she searched her Grandmother's face were wide and open in the firelight. "This will be the nearest rite since I saw first blood and I should dearly love to be allowed to honour the Maiden. She is the one who is breathing life into all things in preparation for Spring.
"I've not really noticed it before, but this year it is as if I can sense the days becoming longer and when I'm out in the woods there's a humming under my feet as if the roots of all the trees are waking. I've watched the leaf buds change from brown to green and thicken on the twigs and branches and all the birds are singing to mark their territory and find their mate." Her voice dropped almost to a whisper.
"Sometimes, Gramma, if I go to the woods in the fog, it seems as if the whole world is waiting for the God to appear, as if the fog is his silent caress to the earth. Everything is so quiet, so breathless....."
Her Grandmother nodded. "And what have you created that might be a gift for the Goddess?"
"I've made Her a song, Grandmother! May I sing it to you?" and when she saw the other's assent she began to sing in a clear, sweet voice,
"A lamb for the Goddess I bring to you
Here's snowdrops for welcome and crocuses too
The green of the ivy for life ever new
These gifts do I bring to you
Some milk for the Goddess I bring to you
Here's cheese from the shepherd and wool from the ewe
The brown of the soil where young shoots will grow
These gifts do we bring to you
Some wine for the Goddess we bring to you
Here's fish from the river and salt crystals too
The blue of the goblet reflecting the sky
These gifts do we bring to you
Our love for the Goddess we bring to you
Here's garlands of evergreen woven anew
Our hearts ever joyful to welcome the Spring
These gifts do we bring to you."
"That's a lovely song, Kiera!" Her Grandfather stooped as he entered the room, his head almost touching the thatch as he stood up. "Shall you be singing it when the full moon rises in two days time?"
Kiera looked at her Grandmother. "I think so, Ranulph. She's shown that she can listen as well as speak and she uses her eyes to watch for the hidden secrets as well as the obvious mysteries. She's aware now of the waxing powers of the sun over winter's darkness. I think it's time for her to wear the yellow cloak and sweep the roundhouse clean before we begin."
"Oh Gramma, thank you! thank you!" Kiera flung her arms around the older woman's neck and hugged her tightly.
"You've got a lot to do in these two days, Kiera." Her Grandmother told her. "Imbolc is a time for purification, for cleansing both mind and body of winter's sloth and despair, ready for doing what must be done in the coming year. You must use this time to plan your spirit's journey through this passage of the wheel, to wonder at the marvels of the earth and to explore the gifts that the Goddess and the God have made manifest to you."
She went to the linen chest and took out the yellow woollen robe and placed it in Kiera's arms. "Go home and tell you parents everything I've said now, dear."
"Yes, Gramma and thank you again!" Kiera kissed her warmly on her cheek and rushed out to find her family and tell them the wonderful news.
"You've made a very happy lass, Guytha!" her husband said, enfolding her in his long arms and drawing her to him. "I can remember when you wore the yellow cloak for the first time and sang for the Goddess. I knew then you were the girl I wanted by my side so we could serve the God and Goddess together through the Wheel of the Year."
Guytha rubbed his cheek with the back of her hand. "It's not been easy, Ranulph, all these years, seeing to both the physical and spiritual needs of our people."
"That's why Imbolc is a special time for us as well, love, for it's a time to celebrate all soul midwives, those like you who assist our spiritual paths towards the light. I, for one would have been in darkness far longer if you hadn't been around to light my fire."
"Ranulph!" Guytha buffeted his arm in mock reproof. "Trust you to say something like that when I thought you were being so solemn!"
"But it's true, Guytha!" and he swept her up into his arms as if she were still his young bride and not his loving wife of forty years. "Now is the time to celebrate and what better way to honour the God and Goddess than by lighting the fire of our love so that it can burn long and merrily until spring returns again!"