It had been a long, hard winter. Although the snow had come and gone, frosts and freezing rain had taken their toll on the people and the land. Constant rains had turned the fields to mud baths and those cattle and sheep that were not in barns found little to forage.
Snowdrops had come and violets too in sheltered woodland; sticky buds hung on the trees and catkins had been swinging amongst the branches of hazel trees for weeks, but still there was no letup from the constant rain. Signs from the west showed there should be more snow.
"How can there be snow?" wondered the boy to his mother as he watched her pound the last of the grain for their evening meal.
"How should I know?" his mother sighed. "Such knowledge is not given to me. Go away and play, Joschin, I am very tired."
So the boy went and sat amongst the empty sacks, thinking of a time when snow only fell at wintertime. When Ostara came, the promise of Imbolc was fulfilled and the weather grew warm again
"It's not fair!" he grumbled to himself. "Things have never been right since Emmy went to be with the ancestors. If she were here, Spring would come again, Mother would not be so tired and Father might smile once in awhile"
Suddenly he stood up and said to himself, "I'm going to find her! She should know she is needed here with us, not amongst the darkness with the ancestors. She is young and beautiful and her laughter is like birdsong in the dawn. I want her back with us...now!"
The boy found his cloak and his walking stick and set off into the rain to find his sister. After a while, the rain stopped, but the wind blew against him, freezing his cheeks.
He thought he heard tiny voices crying in the wind. Turning around, he cried aloud, "Stop buffeting me, wind! I am going to find my sister. She is sleeping with the ancestors in the darkness; do you know where I might find her?"
The voices in the wind did not answer him, but a huge grey owl took off from the branches of a nearby tree. It flew across the path in front of the boy and then up towards the nearest hill.
He took it as a sign that he should follow the owl and started to climb towards the summit. When he reached the top, he stopped for a moment to get his breath. He shielded his eyes with his hand, trying to see an entrance to the world of the ancestors.
Just at that moment, the clouds parted and the sun shone through leading a beam of light into the valley below.
"Follow the river," he heard a quiet voice say. The boy could not see a river, but he knew that little streams were often found on the valley floor, so he set off once more and strode down the other side of the hill until he came to a glade of trees.
"Is this the way to the world of the ancestors?" he asked politely as he entered the glade. The bare branches of the trees rustled in the wind and tall green ferns shook their fronds at him.
"Follow the river." He heard the voice again and this time he caught the sound of water tinkling along a stream bed. He walked towards the sound and there, sure enough, was a stream merrily tripping over large stones as it made its way down the valley.
The boy followed the stream for many hours, but it never reached the entrance to the world of the ancestors.
"What am I going to do?" the boy asked.
He knew that the ancestors lived underground in huge caverns; that was where they had taken Emmy the previous autumn, when the leaves had turned golden and brown and had fallen from the trees. The Shaman had told him that the Lord of the Underworld would cherish her and she would return to them again one springtime when the flowers bloomed.
If he could not find the entrance to the underground caverns, how could Emmy return? He began to despair he would not find her and Spring would never come again.
Just then he heard a great splash! When he looked towards the sound he saw an enormous salmon leaping out of the water. He ran forward and threw himself down on the rocks beside the stream to see where the salmon had gone, but all he saw was a shimmering whirlpool with clear water going round and round in tight circles.
"Follow the river!" Once again the voice came in his head.
"Follow the river where?" the boy wondered, but at the back of his mind the thought came to him that the world of the ancestors was underground and the whirlpool was also going down into a secret place. Maybe if he dived into the whirlpool, it would take him to the entrance he sought.
Without another thought, he threw off his cloak and his shoes and dived headfirst into the swirling water. He found himself floating down a huge shaft of blue grey stone. The air was warm and silky smooth and somehow he was gently lowered into the entrance of an enormous cave. The place was lit by huge, flickering torches and light danced on the cave walls, revealing giant paintings of many different animals.
The boy walked towards the middle of the cave, awestruck as he watched the animals run and jump in the torchlight around him. First he saw a chestnut horse run across the plains, kicking its legs in the long grasses. Then a lion rose from its hiding place and ran after the horse, but it could not catch the flying hooves. As the boy watched, the lion turned into a running sheep and then into a goat with curled horns that were almost as big as its body.
The goat began to stand on its hind legs and grew larger and larger until it filled the whole cave. Its coat hung down in long woolen ringlets and between the horns there was a face - forbidding yet kind, dark and yet surrounded by the light from the golden wool.
The boy fell to the ground in front of the huge beast.
"Please, my Lord, "he begged, "I have come to fetch Emmy, my sister. She has spent long enough amongst the darkness of the ancestors. We need her laughter and her smiles to coax back the Spring or Winter will never leave us!"
The huge figure was silent and the boy wondered if he had said too much, but when he looked up again into the creature's face, the cave was empty. The boy rose slowly to his feet wondering what he should do now. As he turned around, he caught sight of another glow of light in a further hidden part of the cave.
As he ventured towards it, he heard someone talking.
"You'll like it in the light, my little friend," a soft voice said. When he peeped around the rock, there was his sister, sitting on a stone, feeding lettuce to a tortoise.
"Emmy!" he cried, rushing towards her and taking her in his arms.
"Hello Joschin," she smiled, "I've been waiting for you to come and find me. Has Spring returned to the world yet?"
"No Emmy, it's waiting for you," he told her. "Will you come back with me and teach us to sing again?"
His sister smiled at him and stood up, taking his hand.
"We must take my friend with us," she said, pointing towards the tortoise, "he's been asleep too and now he's awake and wants to walk in the sunshine."
Joschin picked up the tortoise and held him under his arm, but as he turned, he found their way barred by the Lord of the Underworld.
"Would you take away that which is mine?" Cernunnos demanded.
"But, Sir," the boy said. "They belong to us both. Once light equals darkness, you cannot keep them here underground when they need to be with us amongst the trees and flowers. What would we do if the light did not grow brighter and crops did not grow and trees did not bear fruit?"
The Lord of Beasts growled softly in his throat. "If light truly equals darkness, then I cannot keep her here, but know you that when the tortoise sleeps again, she must return to me"
The boy looked at his sister and a great sadness grew in his throat, but he swallowed hard and nodded. "It shall be so, my Lord" he said, bowing his head. "When the tortoise sleeps, I will bring her back myself."
The creature nodded and opened his arms towards the girl and she ran to him, giving him one last embrace before she returned to her brother and once more tucked her hand into his.
The boy wondered how they would find their way back to the land of men, but as he blinked, he found himself once more in the woodland glade. Emmy ran forward laughing, reaching down to pick the primroses growing on the edge of the field. The rain had stopped and the sun was shining above them while an enormous rainbow arched from the sky to the land.
As they walked back up the hill they could see lambs in the fields with their mothers and birds sang in the trees as they passed. When they reached the village, all the people came out to greet them. Everyone wanted to touch the girl who had returned to them from the world of the ancestors and Joschin was taken up and rode high on the shoulders of the tallest men, for he had found her.
After the feast that night, when Emmy was asleep in her little bed, Joschin went to his mother and said quietly, "We cannot have her back for ever, Mother,"
"I know, Joscin, I know." his mother said, stroking his hair, "but you did well to bring her back when you did. Even though she must return to the Lord of the Underworld, she is not lost to us, only sleeping until Spring sees her back with us once more."