Boilerplate: This story is copyright © 2008 and may not be reprinted, reused, retouched, rewritten, or even looked at funny in any form without written permission of the author, sapphirebard at gmail dot com.
Disclaimers: Sorry, no sex. Just a really strong independent woman with an atypical career. It's my first story; gimme a break.
I am not a hero. Or a heroine, for that matter. I'm not certain I even know what one is. I am simply a village blacksmith, as my father was before me.
You may be surprised that I earn my keep as a blacksmith. No woman before me ever has, not that I have heard. But it is all I know, and I learned well.
You see, I am my father's only child; my mother was thrown from a horse not long after I was born. My father raised me in the smithy, and my earliest memory is of his powerful arms swinging the hammer, and the sparks flying up, up, up. I learned how to heat and shape metal; how to stoke the forge; how to craft a fine sword, mend a pot, make a sturdy horseshoe. This is my life and my trade, and I do it well.
But since the failed rebellion, some have called me a hero, and a sorceress, and a savior. I do not agree, but as my father would say, such arguments only waste time.
It was on a spring evening, many years ago, when the rebel Count and his men took our village. Why they needed to rebel, I could not say--our King has always been a just man, our Queen generous and kind. But who understands the thinking of a traitor?
What mattered was that, though we surrendered our village peacefully--for even if we had had a seasoned fighter here, none could have stood against thirty well-armed men--the Count and his men did not abide by the customs of war. For the old laws say, if a man surrenders peaceably, the enemy must treat him with honor and courtesy.
But they stole from us anyway. They used our homes, took our livestock, ate our food. I understand they abused a few of the women, though none of them troubled me. Perhaps it was because they had need of my services and didn't dare injure me; perhaps it was only because they had seen me swing my hammer.
Steal from me they did, though. Shoe our horses, they said, and mend our harness. Make the Captain a new sword. And be quick about it, for there would be guards to watch me and make sure I did my work well.
Late that first night, Tom the innkeeper came into my forge. He said nothing, asking only if I had a sword left to give him. But I knew Tom had a young, lovely daughter; and his bruised jaw and angry face told me the tale his mouth could not.
I told him not to be a fool, that if he went back with a sword, they would kill him, and things would be worse for her in the bargain. I think he wouldn't have minded dying, right then, but the thought of her suffering more at their hands was enough to turn his mind from it.
It was then that I thought of the green stone.
My father's father had told him the tale, which was handed down to me. It was a simple tale, for as my father always said, embellishments are for fancy swords, not for honest words.
There had been a storm, a strange one. Witchery, they called it. Green lights flashing in the night sky, and stars falling from their heavens. The next day, a large green stone had been found in the village road. It was heavy and warm to the touch, and no man had ever seen its like.
The village elder had taken it into his home and put it on his hearth, and a week or two afterward, he had become ill. The wise woman brought him herbs, but still he sickened, and his wife and son after him.
Many of the villagers wanted to hang the wise woman for this, but my father's father blamed the green stone. He said it was metal, but the metal was wrong somehow, and he made the wise woman seal it in a heavy clay pot. Then he buried it deep in the outer bog, where no one ever goes.
My father had showed me the place when I was a child, and told me the tale as a warning. I think he meant that I should never handle things I did not understand, but that night I thought of the stone for a different reason.
In the morning I set out for the bog. The two guards they'd placed on me asked where I thought I was going. I replied that I needed peat for my fire, and as they were so interested, perhaps they'd be willing to help me cut and carry it? Then the first guard observed that I'd left my forge hot and my hammer on the wall, so I couldn't be going far; and the second guard observed that there was still a great deal of ale down at Tom's tavern. And so I set on my way, unhindered by company.
Truth be told, it never occurred to me to escape, or to try to go for help. After all, where would I go, and for what sort of help? These men had good weapons and better horses; and would be long gone before help could come.
It took me no more than an hour to find the potmy father's words were always exact. I cut enough peat to keep from being a liar, and long before noon I was back at my forge. As I heated the green stone and drew it out, I hoped that I would not sicken; but my father's father had kept the stone for one day only, and he had lived to old age. Perhaps I too would be spared, if I finished in one day. Still, to be safe, I used my oldest tools to work with the stone, and resolved to bury them in the bog when I had finished, in case the spell lingered. After all, as my father always said, if one buckle is good, two are better.
All that evening and all that night I heated and hammered. Carefully I layered my ordinary stock with the green-stone metal; heating it, folding it and hammering it again, until the two metals became one. Obediently I mended their pots, made horseshoes and nails, and even forged a few passable weapons. Nothing fancy or fine, just serviceable swords with heavy handles. I hammered until the new day lightened the sky, and after.
In the end, the officers nearly came to blows over the swords. The layers of green stone had given the iron an odd silver sheen, and the men had never seen its like. They debated staying another day so that I could make more; but I told them I'd used the last of my sword stock, and did not know when I could get more. Which was not quite a lie either, as I had in fact used up all of the green stone.
They considered leaving a guard behind, so that we could not warn the King's men; but settled for taking our horses instead. And that was the last we heard of the rebel Count.
Later that same year, as the days began to shorten and the leaves to turn, a troupe of men wearing our good King's livery rode into the village, asking to see the woman blacksmith. I hastily put on my cleanest apron, and the King's soldiers escorted me to the tavern.
There, in the tavern's common room, sat our King himself! He gave Tom a whole gold coin for a few pitchers of his ale, and insisted that I sit down with him. Me, a simple blacksmith, invited to raise a mug with the King. Wishing I had better clothes or cleaner hands, I sat as he commanded; and he told me a strange story.
It seemed that an odd plague had passed through the rebel troops shortly after they had left our village. By the time they'd gathered enough forces to attack the City as they had planned, many of them had fallen ill, or broken out with strange sores. The horses, too, all began to founder and had to be slaughtered--and at this I grieved, for I have always loved horses, and hated to do them harm.
In the end, the Count surrendered, but not before most of his troops had sickened and died. A tale had gone around of a powerful sorceress masquerading as a blacksmith, who cast evil magics with her hammer; and before he himself died, the Count ordered all the things I had made for him to be thrown into the sea.
The King asked me what I had done, and though I was frightened, I told him truthfully about the green stone. He listened, then nodded wisely, saying that his sorcerers had heard of such magics, and he cautioned me never to handle such things again. At his concerned inquiry, I assured him that I had not fallen ill from the power of the stone, and that I had discarded everything that had touched it.
Then the most wondrous thing of all happened. The King thanked me! He gave me a small pouch heavy with silver--to assure my comfort, he said, in case the witchery ever returned to plague me--and then asked Tom and I to tell him the value of what the rebels had stolen or destroyed throughout the village. He left us coin worth more than double, though we protested.
What's more, a week after he and his troops took their leave, a drover came to our village with a herd of the finest horses we had ever seen, plus some fat heifers and sheep, as a gift for the entire village. The drover, it seemed, was a widower from the City whose wife and son had died of the sleeping sickness. He was much taken with Tom's fair daughter, and rather than being affronted by her heavy belly, praised her fertility as much as her face. And as they were wed in the tavern before the child was born, none can say he is any less its father than he is of the children she has borne since.
As for me, I still swing my hammer, and I still enjoy a good story and a flagon of ale down at Tom's come nightfall. I have food enough to eat, a fine horse of my own, and the best smithy in the Kingdom. I have no need of a husband, and I've no wish for a child, though I often enjoy the company of Tom's young granddaughter when she comes to my forge to watch the sparks fly.
This is my story. Thanks for reading it. If you have any constructive criticism or commentary, please feel free to email me at: sapphirebard at gmail dot com. If you have any destructive criticism, I'm sure you can find Sen. Santorum's web site on Google; send it to him.
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