A New Beginning
Story 2 of Tales of the Wandering Blacksmith
by Vaughan W. Smith
Vincent trudged along the road, his feet slipping and sliding in the mud. The path was not a good one at the best of times, but the torrential downpour had made things considerably worse. He looked behind, to see how far he had come but it was hard to judge.
“No point looking back, there’s nothing for me there. It’s a fresh start, just push forward,” he thought.
He didn’t know the area well at all, but he suspected a town was close by.
A shriek from up ahead shook him out of his thoughts. Someone was in danger and it sounded like a woman.
“I should investigate,” he thought. Continuing along the road he saw the vague outline of shapes in the distance.
“Better not get seen,” he whispered and left the road, instead skirting the bushes on the edge. He had to duck the occasional tree branch and was hit a few times by ones that he didn’t notice. But his focus was on the altercation up ahead.
He drew closer and noticed three shapes. Two men and a woman, but it was hard to see. Multiple times he had to brush his waterlogged hair out of his face. He crept closer, sticking to the cover of the brush. He started to pick out some voices.
“It’s quite simple, we know you’re loaded. Just hand it over,” the first voice said.
“What’s it we usually say? Ah yes. Your money or your life!” the second voice said. Vincent started to get a better look and saw one man produce a large knife. The other appeared to be holding a woman roughly by the arm. Next to the group was a horse and cart, which had been run off the road.
“I don’t have anymore. I was just doing a delivery,” the woman said between sobs.
“We’ll settle for the jewels, cough em up!” the first man said. He squeezed her arm harder.
“We are simple people. I have nothing more.”
“I think we need to make an example of her,” the second man said, twirling his knife in the air.
“This is bad, I have to do something,” Vincent thought. But he was hungry, tired and unarmed. And he had no training in how to fight. Looking around he spotted a rather thick tree branch on the ground. It was about the right length to serve as a weapon.
“At least I have something,” he said to himself, picking up the branch and doing a quick test swing. Another shriek spurred him into action.
Vincent crept onto the road, trying to use the element of surprise. If he could just disarm the man with the knife, he had a chance.
“Help! Help me!” the woman cried out as she noticed Vincent.
“Here we go,” Vincent thought. He rushed at the man with the knife, swinging wildly with the branch. He clipped the man’s arm, causing him to drop the knife.
“Who are you?” the first man said with indignation. He let go of the woman and started striding towards Vincent.
“I got their attention, what next?” he thought.
“Run!” he called out to the woman. She hesitated a moment and then started running. She left the horse and cart behind.
“There she goes!” Vincent said, pointing at the fleeing woman. The man who had been brandishing the knife turned to look, and Vincent ran over and swung at the man’s head. He connected with a loud ‘thunk’, and the man dropped to his knees clutching his head.
“You bastard, you’ll pay for that,” the first man said, descending upon Vincent.
“I need to get out of here,” Vincent thought. He dropped to the ground and scrambled for the knife. He reached for it, and it slipped out of his wet fingers. On his second try he held it tight and rose quickly. Both men were now upon him and Vincent felt weak and nervous. He threw the knife away into the bushes.
“Let’s keep this civilised shall we?” Vincent said. It was his best chance of surviving. He was terrible with a knife, and it would be more likely used against him.
“I’m going to enjoy this!” the second man said and launched an attack. Vincent ducked and stepped backwards. The first man started to come around from the side.
“Here goes!” Vincent thought. He ran at the first man and dived at his legs. The man wasn’t expecting it and they both tumbled to the ground. Vincent was up first and started to run. Something caught his foot and he fell again.
“You’re not getting away that easily,” the second man said. He clenched his fist and lined up a big punch.
Vincent did his best to protect himself and rolled away. But he could not escape the next blow. And the next ones. They kept coming, and once the first man recovered he started kicking Vincent as well.
“That’s for interrupting us!” the first man called out.
“And that’s for being a penniless waste of space,” the second man called out. Once they had exhausted themselves, they stepped back. Each man was panting from the exertion.
“Let’s leave this bum, and try to find your knife,” the first man said.
“Maybe the rain will wash this trash away!” the second man said. He leant forward to spit on Vincent. They both laughed and walked off, heading in the opposite the direction to where the woman had run.
“They’re not going after her. Good,” Vincent thought. That probably meant the town wasn’t too far away since they didn’t bother pursuing.
“I can make it,” he told himself. But it was more bluster than based on fact. He wasn’t confident. Once the thieves were far enough away he slowly stretched out and tried to get up. The pain was more intense than he had realised. Now that the danger was over he noticed it much more.
“That smarts,” he said as he sat up. The rain continued to pound him in the face, enriching the experience.
“Surely I can reach the town,” he thought and dragged himself to an upright position. He started to walk, carefully at first. He clutched his stomach as he went. For whatever reason, it seemed to help with the pain.
“You idiot, why did you do that?” he thought. There really had been no other possible outcome than him being beaten soundly, but he had done it anyway.
“She got away, and I’m still alive. Not so bad,” he summarised. The events of the previous days had turned his world upside down. And now there was nothing more he could lose. If by some miracle he made it to the town, there was hope there.
“Just need to keep putting one foot in front of the other,” he thought and focused on just that.
The rain increased its intensity, and he found himself slipping and stumbling even more. He could see buildings in the distance, no doubt the town he was aiming for.
“Just a bit further,” he thought, spurring himself on. Unfortunately, he didn’t spot a large pothole on the ground and rolled his ankle, tumbling into the muddy hole.
“I’ll just rest here,” he thought, praying that when he awoke things were better.
The sun finally came out and woke him up. He tried to rise but struggled.
“Is this it for me? No, it can’t be,” he thought. With a concerted effort he pulled himself up into a seated position.
“The town’s right there!” he whispered, looking out. He had no idea where he was, but there it was. A collection of houses and other buildings, with an assortment of people starting to mill around now that the rain had finally stopped.
“Let’s go take a look,” he thought and tried standing. He was shaky and the pain returned, but he ignored it. He could survive this, knowing the town was so close. He walked as normally as possible, trying not to look out of place. But he was badly injured and his clothing was terrible.
“I look like I’m homeless. Which is accurate,” he realised. His only chance was someone taking pity on him. As he reached the town gates, he saw the townsfolk giving him odd looks. None of them friendly.
“Maybe I’ll just be passing through,” he thought with a grim laugh. But he persisted. Suddenly there was a flurry of movement ahead of him. It was a woman, and she was running.
“Hey there! Hold up!” she called out. Vincent slowed but didn’t stop immediately. He didn’t trust himself to stay on his feet with any sudden movements. Now that he was closer and the weather was clear he had a better view of her. She was older than him by at least twenty years, with long brown hair and a curvy shape.
“It is you. Thank you so much for your help. What happened to you? What happened to the thieves?” she said. The concern in her voice was obvious.
“I got the jump on them and knocked their knife away. But before I could escape they tripped me over and let loose their frustration. I’m a little worse for wear, but I had nothing worth stealing so they just left,” he said.
“It’s incredible that you survived. You have to let me thank you. My name is Milna and my place is not far away. Come with me.”
“I’m Vincent. Thank you, I would really appreciate that.” He didn’t want to impose on the woman, but he desperately needed to eat and rest. At the very least he could recover and then move on.
Milna walked slowly, keeping an eye on Vincent and offering her hand if he looked shaky.
“What brings you here Vincent?” she said.
“What’s here? Sorry, I’m not familiar with this town,” he said.
“You’re in Oltone.”
“Oltone? Never heard of it. I’m just travelling at the moment.”
“I see. Here we are, come inside and sit down,” Milna said. They had arrived at a small cottage. She opened the door and guided Vincent to an old but comfortable looking chair. He sank down, and let himself relax.
“I have some soup on, you just wait there and I’ll bring it out,” she called out as she walked over to the kitchen. Vincent looked around and noticed that the house was comfortably but simply furnished. Soon enough Milna rushed back in the room, a bowl of steaming soup sitting on a metal tray.
“You don’t need to move, just eat there. It’s my special chicken soup,” she said with pride.
“Smells delightful,” Vincent said. Anything at that point would have, but he didn’t want to be rude by pointing that out. It did smell good, though, and he carefully spooned himself some and blew on it. Milna watched in anticipation as Vincent swallowed the first spoonful.
“Do you like it?” she said.
“Thank you. Eat up, there’s plenty more.”
“I’ll see how I go,” Vincent said. As the soup cooled he increased his pace. He was trying to eat slowly but his hunger took over. As soon as his spoon clanked against the bottom of the bowl, Milna rushed in and took it from his hands.
“I’ll be back with more,” she said and strode away. Vincent sat back, letting his food digest. It was good to eat again. It had been a few days since he’d had a proper meal.
As promised Milna returned with more soup, only this time it also had a big hunk of bread in it. Vincent dove right in, devouring this bowl faster than the first.
“More?” she said.
“No, I think that’s enough for now. I can’t thank you enough. A hot meal like that is exactly what I needed.”
“Looks like you’ve had a rough time.”
“I have. It’s been a crazy few days. Something big has happened.”
“I know. All those strange lights? I have no idea what it was. Do you think it was magic?” she said.
“No idea. Probably. Was there a lot around here?”
“Oh yes, I think everyone in town was affected by it. Some acted really strangely afterwards, but most were the same.”
“That’s interesting. Who changed?”
“Farmer George for one. He’s always been so secretive and surly. Disappearing at strange times. Now he’s like a different person all of a sudden. All open and friendly and relaxed.”
“That’s good isn’t it?” Vincent said.
“I think so, but it’s very confusing,” she said.
“These are strange times indeed. But let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth, so to speak,” Vincent said. He didn’t want to dwell on the subject, for fear of letting slip his own opinions on what had happened.
“You’re right, we should embrace the good things. What do you do, when not travelling?” she said.
“My father was,” Vincent started to say. But he decided it was best not to mention that his father was a wizard. His parentage had already caused problems, it was best to keep that whole aspect of his past hidden. He paused for a moment and started again.
“I never learned a trade, so I’m travelling the world to discover what I should be doing next. Clearly, I’m not doing well on that front,” he said.
“Have you been suffering hardships for a long time?” Milna said, looking over Vincent’s clothing. She had a concerned look.
“No, it’s all happened recently. My father and I had a falling out, and a lot of bad things occurred after. But I’m still here, and that’s behind me,” Vincent said.
“I have a good feeling about you. I can’t think of anybody in this town, save for my husband, who would have stood up to those thieves. Why did you do it?” Milna said.
“I’m not entirely sure. I was outnumbered and outmatched by them. But I saw you in trouble and had nothing to lose. I wanted to help you, and it felt right. I’m glad that I helped,” Vincent said. Milna nodded and removed a ring from her finger, placing it in Vincent’s hands.
“Look at this ring. What can you say about it?” Milna said.
“It’s gold but is otherwise quite plain. Has aged quite a bit, and there are signs that there used to be a stone of some sort embedded,” Vincent said. He handed the ring back.
“Would you say it is worth a lot?” she said.
“It is worth everything to me. My husband gave me this ring the day we were married. When times were tough we sold the gem within. But I still have this ring, and every day I look at it I am reminded of just how lucky I am. Those thieves would have taken it and sold it for a pittance, but thanks to you I still have it,” Milna said. There were tears in her eyes.
“What an amazing story. I’m so glad I was able to help,” Vincent said.
“I wanted you to understand the impact that you made today. And also to remember that these hard times will pass.”
“Thank you, for the advice too,” Vincent said. He heard a slam, and a large shape came in through the front door. It was an older man with short grey hair and massive arms and shoulders.
“Here he is, that’s my husband. William I would like you to meet Vincent,” Milna said. Vincent stood carefully.
“Nice to meet you, Vincent,” William said offering Vincent his hand. Vincent took it gingerly, expecting his hand to be crushed. However William was firm but restrained when he shook it.
“Please, take a seat,” William said. He walked over and settled into another chair nearby.
“Vincent was the one that helped me this morning,” Milna said.
“You have my thanks. Looks like those thieves worked you over pretty badly,” William said.
“Happy to help. Surprisingly I’m not that concerned about being beaten up. I’m still here to tell the tale,” Vincent said.
“Nonetheless it was a very brave act. Where are you staying?” William said. Vincent felt uncomfortable but decided to reply honestly.
“Not sure yet, but don’t worry I’ll be out of your hair shortly.”
“Nonsense. We have a spare room and nobody to occupy it. The least we can do is show you some hospitality while you recover.”
“Are you sure? I don’t want to impose on you and your wife.”
“Absolutely sure, I won’t take no for an answer. And from the look of things you aren’t in a position to refuse,” William said with a bit of a chuckle.
“It appears that way. I will accept your kind offer,” Vincent said.
“Excellent. Time to eat, and then I need to return to the workshop. Please excuse me while I clean up,” William said before leaving the room.
“What kind of work does he do?” Vincent said.
“Oh, he’s a blacksmith. Been doing it all his life. We have a son but he left to be a trader, so there’s been nobody to take over. I think secretly William loves it and would continue doing it regardless,” Milna said.
“It must be great to have such a passion.”
“Everyone needs a purpose. You know, sometimes I think you don’t have to find one. You can make one,” she said, her eyes looking directly into Vincent’s.
“I’d like to think I’ve learned a thing or two over the years. Now you rest up, we’ll all talk more tonight when you’ve more strength,” Milna said. She left Vincent to relax and conversed with her husband.
Vincent napped through the afternoon and awoke as dusk was settling in.
“Let’s see how bad things are,” Vincent thought. He sat up and assessed his condition. He still ached, but not as badly. And he had some terrible bruises. Milna walked into the room as he completed his assessment.
“Let me take a look, I spent the better part of my life assisting the town healer,” she said. Vincent did not protest and she examined his chest.
“You are quite badly bruised, but I don’t think any bones were broken. You are quite lucky,” she said.
“Good to know. Some people wouldn’t call me lucky,” he said, joking with her.
“Some people wouldn’t have helped either, so I’m lucky because it was you,” Milna said. Vincent heard footsteps outside, and the door swung open.
“Honey I’m home!” William called out.
“Welcome home, dinner is ready,” Milna said.
“Great, because I am starving!” William said. He walked over and look at Vincent.
“You have a bit more colour in your cheeks now. How are you feeling?” he said.
“Better. And your wife thinks there are no broken bones so that’s a relief.”
“Fantastic news. Come along, let’s all sit at the table,” William said. He offered Vincent a hand and helped him up. Vincent felt his legs were stronger than before, and a little more stable.
“You’ll be fine, just take your time,” William said. He walked to the end of the room and Vincent followed. Through another door, they were in the dining room. Vincent saw a wooden table set up for dinner with three places. There were four chairs around the table.
“Sit here please,” Milna said. She served out the soup and provided bread as well.
“Delicious as always,” William said smiling. Vincent took a moment to appreciate the feeling before digging in. They warmth between the two of them felt so homely.
“I could get used to this. But I’ll be on my way soon,” he thought.
“Vincent, I have a favour to ask,” William said.
“Anything, I’m at your service,” Vincent said.
“My knees are playing up a little, so I’d really appreciate some help in the workshop. Do you think you could stay a few days and assist?” William said.
“Sure, that’s no problem at all. But I don’t know the first thing about blacksmithing.”
“Not a problem, I can direct you.”
“And I’m stubborn. And have been known to pick fights that I can’t win,” Vincent said wincing in pain as he laughed about it.
“Excellent qualities from where I’m sitting. I’m afraid we can’t pay you, but at least you’ll get your fill of Milna’s cooking,” William said.
“It’s so good I should be paying you on top of helping out!” Vincent said. William let off a deep laugh and Milna smiled at him.
“You’re too kind,” Milna said. After dinner, she showed Vincent to a spare room.
“This was our son’s room. We keep it ready for when he visits,” she said.
“I hope I won’t be an inconvenience. I’ll vacate it as soon as possible.”
“Oh, there’s no trouble. It’s been a few years since he visited,” Milna said, her eyes looking off into the distance. Vincent followed her gaze and realised she must have been looking out towards where her son was.
“I do appreciate your hospitality, and I’ll help your husband as much as possible,” Vincent said.
“You’re quite welcome. Get a good rest, William likes to start early,” Milna said as she left.
“Goodnight,” Vincent said and closed the door behind her. He climbed into bed gingerly and slept instantly.
Vincent awoke to the sound of loud footsteps nearby. He sat upright in a flash, looking around the room. He was still in the bed, but it was quite dark. He saw the door begin to open.
“Rise and shine. Breakfast is on the table,” William called out before stomping away. Vincent relaxed.
“It sure was nice to wake up in a bed again,” he thought as he rose. He hadn’t had that many nights out, but enough to appreciate some simple comforts. It took a minute to wake up, and then he made his way out to the dining room. Milna and William were seated and waiting patiently to start.
“Take a seat and let’s eat. We’ve a big day ahead of us,” William said. Vincent smiled and sat down. It felt good to be a part of something, even if for a short time.
These stories have been through only minimal editing to make them available for free online in a timely manner. Eventually they will be taken down and compiled into a book so please take this opportunity to read the story as it unfolds.