Once, in a small town surrounded by thick forests, there lived a young blacksmith. All day long he laboured, turning out horseshoes, railings and all manner of metal goods for the people of the town. He loved his work and could think of no better way to spend his time than beating hot metal into useful things.
One day, hard at work in his smithy, he looked up and saw a young woman standing by the door. When she smiled, he recognised her as one of the two young women who had moved into a house in the forest just outside town earlier in the year. The townspeople kept away from them believing them to be witches or – worse – lesbians, but the blacksmith was an easy-going soul and always had a kind word for everyone.
“Good day, Miss!”, he said cheerfully. “Were you looking for something?”
The young lady was fingering some of the chains hanging in skeins by the doorway.
“These are very good” she said admiringly. “Did you make them?”
“Aye Miss”, the blacksmith replied, puffing out his (considerable) chest in pride, as making chain was a time-consuming task in those days without machinery and the hanging chains represented several weeks of work.
“I think I’d like to buy some”, she said with a smile. “Always useful to have chains – especially in the forest with so many wild beasts about.”
“Aye, Miss” the blacksmith replied again, and they took to haggling and soon the young lady was the proud possessor of several lengths of chain of different sizes.
“Can you make anything, from iron?” she asked.
The blacksmith paused. “Almost anything, Miss” he replied, cautiously, for he was an honest fellow.
“Could you make…say… a collar? An iron collar, with attachments for chains, and thick flanges for a padlock? And shackles too, the same but already connected to one another with chains?”
“Aye Miss” the blacksmith replied uncertainly. “But a dog’s better off with a leather collar, you know? Iron collar’d be powerful heavy.”
“Oh, this isn’t for a dog.” the young lady replied hurriedly. “It’s for a… a beast. A big, fierce beast that we trapped. A good heavy iron collar is just what it needs. And shackles, like I said.”
“Aye, very well Miss” nodded the blacksmith, secretly rather uncomfortable as he did not believe in cruelty even to big fierce beasts. “But you don’t need flanges and padlocks: I can do you a catch that no beast’ll ever be able to work.”
“No, padlocks are best.” the young lady replied earnestly. “Can’t be too careful.”
So the blacksmith agreed to make collar and shackles, and lengths of chain between them. He tried to make them as light as he could, but iron working in those days was a crude business and the collar with its great thick flanges weighed many pounds.
Nonetheless, the young lady professed herself delighted with them, and struggled off along the path into the forest carrying her heavy load, the blacksmith standing watching her outside his smithy, thinking her a winsome creature and desperately wishing he had offered to carry the heavy restraints himself.
|These look rather unpleasant. Poor beast.
Several weeks passed, until one day the blacksmith heard a soft knock on his door and opened it to see the young lady again.
“Good day, Miss!” he greeted her. Not a problem with the ironmongery, I hope?”
“No, no!” she replied brightly. “No, the beast is thoroughly under control. They’re just right for him. And actually, that’s what I wanted to talk about. You see, we were thinking of going hunting. To catch a few more beasts… just as big and fierce. And we were wondering if you could make…. Oooh, shall we say three more sets? Like those? Maybe a little heavier, if you can…”
“Hunting fierce beasts, Miss?” he replied, his brow furrowed with concern. “That doesn’t sound very safe, for a pair of young – “
“We’ll be fine” she said, decisively cutting him off. “It’s what we do. But we need the chains and shackles and things. Can you make them?”
“Of course, Miss” he replied, proudly. “It will be an honour and a pleasure.”
When the work was completed, it filled a large sack that the blacksmith could barely lift. So with much clanking and clashing, he heaved it onto the back of his cart and set off for the young ladies’ house. Along the winding path his horse trotted, before pulling up in front of the cottage. As he dismounted, he fancied he could hear some muffled cries, but when he paused and listened more intently, they stopped, so he decided it must have been only the wind.
He hauled the sack down and dragged it across to the door, knocking gently.
The young lady opened the door with a startled look.
“Oh, hello!” she said.
“Who is it, Melissa?” came a voice from inside. The blacksmith peeked around the door and saw a dark-haired woman, hurriedly closing a trapdoor in the floor.
“Just the blacksmith, Harriet” the young lady – Melissa – replied. “I think he’s brought the things I ordered – for the beasts, you know”.
Harriet came to the door and looked at the sack. “In there? What things?”
“Oh, you remember!” Melissa replied brightly. “You know: chains and stuff. For the hunt. When we go and hunt beasts?”
“Oh yes of course, the beast hunt” Harriet muttered and with a curt nod, she went back into the house. With a certain amount of effort, and still more awkwardness, the blacksmith managed to get the sack into the house, took his payment and departed, kicking himself for not finding some excuse to be invited in by the lovely Melissa.
Back at his smithy, all through the afternoon, he found himself working metal into the shape of a capital ‘M’, with increasingly curly and ornate serifs. He was in love.
|Harriet and Melissa. I don’t know why they’re wearing nighties… it’s ages until bedtime.
Four days later, in the forest, Melissa again opened the door to see the blacksmith standing there.
“Oh, it’s you” she said, immediately thinking it an extraordinarily stupid thing to say. “Is everything all right?”
“Well, yes and no, Miss”, said the blacksmith wringing his leather cap in his hands. “See, I don’t know if you heard the news in the town but… three young men went missing two nights back. They were on their way back home from the inn and they just vanished. Everyone’s in a terrible state about it.”
“Yes, we heard about that.” Melissa replied cautiously. “Very sad. I hope they’ll turn up… boys do run off from time to time, though, don’t they? Headstrong things.”
“But not these three, Miss!” the blacksmith responded, earnestly. “One of ‘em was due to be married today – and another his best man! Makes no sense they’d go a-running away before the wedding.”
“But what’s it got to do with us?” Melissa asked.
“Well Miss”, the blacksmith said, wringing his leather cap more than ever. “I was just thinking-like. With those three lads missing… missing in the forest like as not, this forest where the two of you live…”
“Go on…” Melissa said, narrowing her eyes. Harriet appeared, standing silently behind her. She seemed to be clutching something behind her back, but the blacksmith didn’t notice.
“And… and then I got to thinking of all those shackles and chains and things that I made you. Well, I thought…”
“Yes…?” Melissa said.
“Well, I just thought perhaps you could help look for them, Miss. Being such good hunters and that.”
“Oh!” Melissa replied in surprise. “Oh, I see. Because we… because we hunt things. We could help look for them. Yes, that makes sense. Perhaps we could… what do you think Harriet?”
Her friend looked equally surprised. “Yes, we’ll erm… we’ll certainly keep an eye out. When we’re hunting beasts.”
“Yes, we’ll keep an eye out!” Melissa confirmed. “If we see any clues, we’ll be sure to let the town know, all right? Good day, now!”
And she shut the door in the poor lovelorn blacksmith’s face.
A week later, the blacksmith was overjoyed to see Melissa walk into his smithy yet again.
“Any news, Miss?” he enquired, eagerly.
“News… about?” she replied, somewhat perplexed.
“The missing lads, Miss. I suppose you’ve seen neither hide nor hair of them.”
“Hide nor hair” she giggled, as if at a private joke. “No, I’m afraid not. No: I came with another job for you actually. Another set of shackles and chains… to collar one more beast.”
“My pleasure, Miss” the blacksmith replied. “Same as before, then?”
“Maybe these ones… we thought…a little bigger?” Melissa replied, looking up at the brawny young blacksmith. “Three more inches for the collar, I’d say.”
She glanced down at his hands. “And maybe an inch or two extra for the wrists – forelegs. For the forelegs. And good and strong and heavy, please: this beast is the strongest of all.”
“Aye Miss” said the blacksmith, and when her lovely form was no longer lighting up the darkened workshop, he set to work.
This time, he didn’t even try to make the devices lighter. His kindliness towards animals had been quite forgotten, in his desire to please the lovely Melissa. So he heated iron and beat and pulled, and quenched and bashed and filed, until he had a set of the most fearsome iron restraints imaginable. The collar alone weighed 15 pounds and when the ensemble was put together, he could barely lift it.
He put out the furnace, left the smithy and carefully locked it all up, as if going on a long journey, without even knowing he was doing it. He was about to load the restraints onto the back of the cart when he thought better of it, patted his horse on the nose and set off staggering under the weight of the heavy irons, all the way along the winding path to the cottage in the woods.
He paused to recover his breath once he’d reached the clearing where the cottage stood. He gazed at the cottage, then took a long look around as if taking in the fresh air, the trees, the sky and all of the smells and sounds of the forest. Then picking up his sack once more, he strode over to the door.
Melissa opened it, before he could even knock and stood there smiling at him. A shaft of sunlight through the forest canopy caught her hair and it seemed made of the finest spun gold, burning in the sunshine.
“Who is it, Mel?” came Harriet’s voice.
“It’s the blacksmith.” Melissa smiled, delightedly. “He’s brought his collar and chains.”
Harriet came to the door and hugged her friend around the waist. “So he has. Isn’t that sweet?”
“Isn’t it just?” Melissa murmured.
“You’d better come inside.”
|In the years that followed, the blacksmith got to put his expertise at forming iron into the letter ‘M’ to good use, although he usually had to add an ‘H’ to it as well.