THE BLACKSMITH AND HIS WIFE

©1980 by Michael Clifford

Near the village of Balar Beimann, in a small cottage, lived a skilled blacksmith and his wife. On the first day of autumn the smith returned home from his forge to find his wife sitting at her loom with tears running like a stream down her face.

What is wrong, my love?” he asked.

We have waited for seven years to have a child and no fruit have I born. I have much around me to make me happy but I am barren and the love for own child burns within and will soon be extinguished.”

Hearing this made the smith downcast for, like his wife, he dearly longed for a son, or a daughter. He went to the village and sought council of the wise old man of Balar Beimann who, in turn, advised him to travel to Gascony to find the revered magician of the mountains.

The blacksmith travelled for seven days and seven nights. At last, on the eighth morning he emerged from a thick forest of dark oak to find the magician’s castle before him. He sought out the magician and spoke to him of his desire. The magician at last spoke: “It is not wise for you to have a child, some fields need to be barren to enrich the earth. Be proud of your fruitfulness in all else. Tell this to your wife: love other’s children. You need no child. You have everything you want. Heed this well.”

The blacksmith was vexed and upset by this advice and ranted and pleaded for his need to be fulfilled, but the magician would only repeat the same words.

When the blacksmith arrived back at his cottage footsore and weary, he found his wife sitting at her loom with tears like a river running down her cheeks.

What is wrong my love?”

We have waited for seven years and seven months to have a child and no fruit have I born. I have much around me to make me happy, but I am barren and the love for my own child burns within and will soon be extinguished.”

he told her the purpose of his travels and of his meeting with the magician. He spoke the magician’s words. “Some fields need to be barren to enrich the earth. Be proud of your fruitfulness in all else. Love other’s children. You need no child. You have everything you want. Heed this well.” At these utterances the blacksmith’s wife fell to weeping on the kitchen tiles and her river of tears became an ocean.

Now the blacksmith dearly loved his wife more than he loved himself and was much grieved to see her in such melancholy. After the magician’s words he resolved to live without a child, but he knew his wife would die or wane with the moon unless she conceived, and used her burning love.

He had a plan, but it lay on him with much fear. He had heard from one of the forge apprentices who lived in the nearby town of Cruahawn the tales of a wicked but powerful witch, evil beyond measure, who was reputed to live in the country by. Without telling his wife the purpose of his journey he bade farewell and he travelled ever in the neighbouring county to find the witch. At last in a wood of braying wolves and with the leaves adance in the moonlight above, she appeared to him.

She was dressed in red scarlet gossamer which floated down from her slim body and her outstretched arms. To either side of her were tiny women, of whom each only had one eye. The floated above her, wearing the same loose red swathes of silk crepe. The blacksmith was transfixed with fear.

The beautiful witch began to speak. “I understand, blacksmith, why you are here. Now listen hard: I shall agree to your request upon this one condition: When you hear a clock strike the hour you will say aloud, ‘Oh ‘tis true, ‘tis true like my heart!’ After every stroke. If you do not do this your wife will surely turn to stone. Do you accept this condition?”

If I agree to it, you will make my wife with child?”

Surely.”

I agree.”

Then it is done.”

As soon as the apparition had vanished the blacksmith became so fearful of what he had seen he sped home as fast as his legs would carry him and resolved to tell no one, not even his wife, of his meeting.

One year later the blacksmith’s wife gave birth to a red-eyed daughter, which they called Rapoza. She was a sickly child and often in bad spirits, but apart from her humours her mother and father were happy.

Now the blacksmith had not told his wife of his bargain with the witch in case it should frighten her, but as a caution against the witch’s trickery he had removed all the clocks from the house and buried them. To replace them he erected a sundial in the yard. His wife found this new arrangement irksome and very impractical.

Seven years had gone by without event when one afternoon the wife heard the knocking of a hand on the outside door. It was a tradesman whose horse had lost a shoe on his way to Cruahawn. While the blacksmith led the horse away to be shod, the wife eyed with glee the trader’s furniture on his cart. Rapoza took a fancy to a large brown clock and also her mother too. She wound it, set it and placed it on the mantel, and all three stood back to admire it. At that moment the smith returned and when he saw the clock he became sick with fear and insisted the trader remove it hastily and go.

I like the clock,” said his wife. “I wish to keep it. I have paid silver gilder for it.”

It is of no matter, the clock must go!”

You may be the master of this house, but I wish to keep the clock. Do I have no say? Am I just a provider of meals?”

At he began to reply the clock struck loudly.

Oh ‘tis true, ‘tis true like my heart.”

You don’t consider me or your daughter at all!” she cried. The clock struck the second time.

Oh ‘tis true, ‘tis true like my heart.”

So now, I know you have never care for me at all. Is that so? I darest though to say it.”

The clock struck again.

Oh ‘tis true, ‘tis true like my heart.”

And when the man’s gone you are going to set about chastising mummy with blows, aren’t you,” said Rapoza

The clock struck its forth stroke.

Oh ‘tis true, ‘tis true like my heart.”

This was too much to bear for the blacksmith’s wife and she implored the tradesman to take her and Rapoza to Cruahawn, to her mother’s cottage. Upset by what he had witnessed he agreed in spite of the pleas of the blacksmith. The blacksmith cried out in anguish as his wife and daughter, sitting in the trader’s cart, rode off down the hill.

The afternoon following the blacksmith’s head was laid heavy as lead upon the table when he heard a hand knock at the outside door.

They are but returned,” he said with joy. He rose quickly, but his brightness left him when he found two men in King’s colours with frozen faces appear before him.

You are to come with us. You are summoned to appear before the county courts.”

Disbelieving his ill-fortune he prepared himself quickly to be accompanied to Cruahawn.

On the way he began to ask questions, but neither of the men’s faces thawed and less so did their tongues. He was much troubled in his heart that his wife, whom he loved so dearly, could put him to this.

He stood in the dock with the judge hovering before him.

How does the defendant plead?”

The blacksmith espied his wife and daughter in the court and waved to them.

How does the defendant plead?”

Excuse me, my lord, but I have no knowledge of what I be accused of.. apart from the sad affair of a disagreement. A small misunderstanding between me and my wife.” He waved at them again.

A man in a wig stood up and spoke. “M’lud, the defendant is obviously pretending to be unaware of the simple argument behind the prosecution case. Permit me to ask him a few questions before he answers.”

Objection,” said another wigged man standing quickly. “The defendant should not be cross examined at this stage M’lud.”

I see no harm in a few questions,” said the judge. “Objection overruled.”

The first man was back on his feet again and asked these questions of the blacksmith.

Yesterday afternoon your wife and daughter left your house with a furniture trader after an argument. Is that so?”

It is.”

You tried to stop them leaving?”

It was so. I love my wife and daughter.”

And you hated the tradesman?”

Aye. I did so, sir, yesterday.”

Why was that?”

Because he, unknowing to himself, started the argument.”

Surely it was because he ran off with your wife.”

Well.. not exactly.. Only in a manner of speaking.”

Let me put the truth to you like this. He rode off with your wife and daughter much against your wishes. You hated him, as you’ve already spoken on oath, and so you mounted a horse, overtook the cart by some circuitous route and then attacked it from behind. You shot him dead with a gun and rode back home.”

The blacksmith was overcome with such shock he had to hold himself steady against the dock.

You realise that we have one witness who says she recognised you attacking the cart.”

The blacksmith looked round the court as if he was deep in a dream. Then his gaze settled on his daughter with her hard red eyes staring straight back at him. His wife was sitting next to her with her head drooped, with tears running like a river down her face. He felt so much in his heart for his wife and knew she loved him. When he looked back to the benches he saw the judge was about to speak.

Let me ask again. How does the defendant plead?”

The blacksmith was so mortified by what he had heard and he heart was so full that his voice did not stir.

Let me put it plain to you,” the judge said, near to losing his moderate humour. “Did you murder the tradesman who rode off with your wife? Are you guilty?”

Just at that moment a clock – at the back of the court – struck the hour.

 

 

 

ENDS 1805

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