The ring of the thundering hammer blocked out all other noises in the blacksmith shop. Hensan turned to Rison, his partner in the shop. Hensan’s old eyes, still sharp as ever, flicked to and fro along the anvil, surveying Rison’s skilled fingers pressing down on the clamps that held the red hot bar of iron in place. In his other hand, he gripped the hammer, which came down in steady, powerful movements to flatten out the yielding metal.
Rison paused in his hammering to study his work. Hensan clapped his wrinkled hands together. “Well done, Rison. Perfect.”
Rison smiled up at his mentor and nodded. “Thank you, sir. I learned from the best blacksmith in Quellos village.”
“Oh, you be quiet.” Hensan’s face wrinkled with a smile. Rison bent back toward his work, and Hensan’s eyes fell on his young face. A pang of emotions rippled through his chest, part pride and part sadness. All the memories of the last ten years teaching Rison as an apprentice rushed back to him. Rison had been but a boy, then. He had always been eager to learn, avidly carrying out anything Hensan ordered him to do. Twelve-year-old Rison wanted nothing more than to learn to carry out the magical art of forming something beautiful, practical, or dangerous out of a simple metal chunk.
Now he has reached his goal, Hensan thought. Rison is no longer my apprentice. He has mastered all I have taught him. I am…glad he will be here to take over the shop when I pass.
Rison looked up from his work again. Hensan could see in one glance that it was a horseshoe—perfectly shaped, but not quite finished.
“When is the boy coming over?” Rison asked. “The one you might apprentice?”
“Oh yes, you mean Onilas? He should be coming in a few minutes.” Hensan smiled. “He is a strong boy, quite used to work. He reminds me a little of you when you were his age. I think he would be an excellent apprentice.”
Rison nodded. “Aye. We could use another hand around here.”
“And he could use the work.” Hensan let out a whoosh of air.
Rison bit his lip. “Aye, that too. Well, we’ll see how he does on his first day of work.”
“Hopefully he will not perform quite as poorly as you did, young man,” Hensan said, straight-faced.
“It was my first day!” Rison protested, before throwing back his head and letting out a loud laugh.
Hensan and Rison turned, and the two men spotted the boy at the door immediately.
“Hello, young Onilas. Come right in! Ready for your first day of work?”
Onilas flashed his teeth in a bright smile and bobbed his head. “Oh yes, sir! I can’t wait. I had a wonderful morning, sir!”
“And why’s that?” Hensan asked.
“Someone left us food on our front porch this morning, sir!” Onilas replied as he gazed at the racks of blacksmith tools and products of the hard work. “Mum always told me never to let people give us food, but she said that because we don’t know who left it for us, it wasn’t charity. Father probably wouldn’t have taken it, but he’s still sick. So we ate it! It was good. We had eggs and bread with butter! And there was fruit, and—”
“That’s very nice, Onilas,” Hensan said, sharing a private smile with Rison. “But perhaps we should have a little less talk and get to work.”
“Oh, of course, sir!” Onilas bobbed his head several times, causing his long locks of blond hair to fall over his bright blue eyes.
“Right, then.” Hensan walked toward the woodstove. “Let’s see what you’re made of. There is wood out in the back, behind the smithy. Go fetch some for me, would you?”
Hensan watched as Onilas’ eyes dimmed, but the boy nodded almost immediately. “Of course, sir! We need a lot of wood if we want to heat metal!”
“Exactly, right,” Hensan confirmed, handing Onilas the large, empty wood box. “Run along, now.”
Onilas left by the front door, and Hensan and Rison stared after him. The day outside was beautiful, as a late summer day often was. Birds chirped cheerily in the branches of the trees surrounding the smithy. The sun had only risen an hour or so ago, and the day was just beginning.
Onilas returned a few minutes later, his shirt covered in sawdust and his face red with exertion. The wood box slid from his fingers and dropped to the floor next to the stove. It was stacked full to the brim with wood. “Is that all right, sir?”
Hensan smiled. “Very well done. Let us continue.” His eyes turned to look at Rison. “It took you a lot longer to fetch the wood on your first day.”
“Oh hush.” Rison grinned and turned back to his horseshoe.
Hensan set Onilas to clean out the stove, then to start a new fire. He showed him how to build the fire so hot that it was ready to melt the metal. Afterward, Hensan ordered Onilas to fetch water for the cooling bucket. With each chore, Onilas’ smile faded more and more. The chores continued on throughout the day, until late afternoon when Hensan told Onilas to walk to a pastry shop in Quellos village for later. As soon as Onilas was back, hair plastered to his temples and shirt sticking to his shoulder-blades with sweat, his next chore was to sweep the floor of the smithy.
“No!” Onilas said suddenly, throwing the broom he was handed to the floor.
Hensan raised his eyebrows. “I beg your pardon?”
“No!” Onilas said again, louder this time. A catch stood out in his voice, and his eyes grew misty. “I thought I came here to learn how to become a blacksmith! But all I’ve been is your errand boy all day. I thought you were going to teach me how to create things! Nails, horseshoes, even something like that!” The boy’s hand flew up and pointed to Hensan’s greatest work, a sword that hung in the very center of the back wall.
Hensan shook his head. “Onilas, my boy. Being a blacksmith is so much more than swinging a hammer. You must have patience.”
“I’m not your boy!” Onilas yelled. A tear trickled down his cheek, creating a path through the dirt and grime the boy had collected on his skin. “You’re not my father! My father is sick! Mum says he will get better, but he’s dying! I know it! I’m not a silly kid anymore! And soon I’ll have to take care of Mum and my sister. I have to know how to blacksmith! I have to become your apprentice and craft great things! Things that we will be able to sell for lots of money!”
Hensan shook his head, his eyes flooded with compassion. He knelt and laid a hand on Onilas’ shoulder. “I know, Onilas. I’m so sorry. But blacksmithing takes patience. Today is your first day, my young friend. You will have to trust me that this is how to start learning the craft. You will not be making swords today, or, in fact, for many years. But you will learn, and you will begin to create things very soon. Learning the fundamentals of this craft is the first step, and it will help you the more you progress. You must have patience, Onilas. I’m doing everything I can for you.”
“No!” Onilas swiped at the tears rushing down his face. He sniffed. “You have done nothing for me! You don’t care about me or my family. You don’t want to teach me correctly! You probably think you can make me your errand boy forever!” Onilas spun and rushed out the door, allowing it to crash shut behind him.
Silence reigned in the room. Hensan let out a long sigh and stood.
“He is impatient,” Rison said quietly.
“Aye,” Hensan sighed. “He is. But he will learn. He has to achieve the patience it takes to become a blacksmith.”
“You think he’ll be back tomorrow?” Rison asked, studying the horseshoe he had finished.
Hensan’s lips twitched, and he turned to Rison, his eyes soft and sure. “Oh yes. He’ll be back tomorrow. And we’ll continue his training. I think he will make a good apprentice.”
“Well…” Rison sucked in his breath and tossed his horseshoe into a box at the front of the smithy. “That’s finished.”
“Well done, Rison.”
“I guess I’ll call it a day.” Rison glanced out a window at the setting sun. “Goodnight, my friend.”
“Goodnight, Rison. I’ll close up the shop soon after you. However…I must do something before I head home.”
Rison smiled, his eyes twinkling. “I know.”
The sun’s orange rays split the air just above the mountains in the West. Hansen walked along the cobbled road of Quellos village, the cool evening breeze blowing his gray hair away from his face. He admired the sky’s colors as they shifted from orange to pink to a deep, deep, endless blue. The first stars were beginning to show their faces as the sun retreated behind the mountains. Hansen smiled and turned his gaze back to his surroundings. Up ahead, he spotted a small cottage nearing the end of the village, and his pace quickened to reach it. He lifted the latch on the gate in front of the house, and his fingers dug into the rotting wood. Creaking at its rusty hinges, the gate slowly opened at Hansen’s push. It swung shut behind him, causing the entire fence to quiver dangerously.
Hansen tiptoed down the dirt path in the middle of the overgrown yard and ascended the stairs to the porch. From his cloak, he produced a small basket and set it carefully next to the door. Out of the basket wafted the delicious smells of hot rolls, sausages, and fruits. A peal of laughter came from the house, a girl’s laugh. Then, moments later, a boy’s laughter joined it. Onilas’ laugh. Hansen smiled briefly, and the old blacksmith turned and left the way he had come.
Wow! It’s been a long time since I posted a short story…I believe the last time was back in August! Goodness! Well, I hope you enjoyed this post! Please tell me what you thought in the comments below, and whether you’d like to see short stories on here a little more often!
Thanks for reading! Until later,