The Prodigal Son
Story 3 of Tales of the Wandering Blacksmith
by Vaughan W. Smith
Vincent swung his hammer one more time and stepped back to look at the result.
“Not bad at all,” he said. William walked over and picked up the knife.
“This is fine work. You’ll put me out of a job soon!”
“Hardly. But thanks for the compliment.”
“You’ve picked this work quite quickly. It’s been a pleasure having you around these last few weeks,” William said, slapping Vincent on the back.
“It’s been a pleasure. I had no idea that this was something I could do. Vincent the blacksmith.”
“Has a certain ring to it. I think you were born to do this.”
“Maybe you’re right,” Vincent said. He had taken to the blacksmithing very well. Although he had to admit that William was a passionate and gifted teacher. Vincent had started on such simple tasks, but now that he was looking back there was an art behind every single thing that he had been asked to do. He had slowly built up his familiarity and skill with the various tools and processes required.
“I know we haven’t quite broached the subject, but would you consider staying longer? Now that you’re back to full health,” William said.
“I’m not sure if I could make this my home just yet, to be honest. But I could definitely stay a while longer.”
“That suits me fine. It gives us a bit longer to convert you,” William said winking at Vincent. Before he could speak again the workshop door swung open.
“William, come quickly. It’s our son!” Milna said. William nodded.
“Let’s go. Come with us Vincent,” William said and left the workshop. Vincent followed close behind.
“What’s going on? Why the concern?” William asked as they walked.
“You’ll see. Just hurry up,” Milna said. Vincent didn’t bother asking any questions; he just kept up with them. Within minutes they had walked over to William’s house. However, instead of going into the front, they walked around the side and approached a large barn out the back. Milna stopped out front, and William swung the giant doors open.
The blacksmith entered first. Vincent waited for Milna and then followed them in. After a moment his eyes adjusted to the darker interior. In the middle of the space sat a man on a wooden chair.
“I couldn’t convince him to come outside. So he’s sitting here,” Milna said.
“Tony! What’s going on, son?” William said. The man just grunted.
“Fetch a lamp please,” William said to Milna. She hurried off.
“It’s your father. Is everything ok?” William said. Tony didn’t respond. William walked closer and Vincent had a bad feeling. But he couldn’t put words to it.
Tony didn’t respond, so William paused and they stood in silence for a minute. Milna returned with the lamp and handed it to her husband. He held it up and had a good look at his son. Vincent stepped forward, wanting to see too.
Tony had a strange expression on his face, almost a snarl. Long unkempt hair and evidence of bloodstains on his face made him look wild and dangerous. His eyes darted around the room, not fixing on a single spot. He was sitting in a hunched position.
“Tony, you don’t look well. Has something happened?” William said. Tony whimpered in response. He tried to speak, but nothing came out. He started scratching at the wooden chair.
“Something’s wrong. I couldn’t get a single word out of him,” Milna said.
“How did you find him?” William said.
“He just appeared on the doorstep. But he looked scared and bewildered. Once he recognised me he ran off to the barn and has been here since. He’s gone through something traumatic, but I have no idea what.”
“Why don’t you examine his body for markings, that might tell a story,” Vincent said.
“Good idea. Hold the lamp and I’ll do it,” William said. He handed the lamp to Milna and addressed Tony.
“Son, I’m just going to have a look at you and see if I can figure out what happened,” he said. Tony’s eyes fixed on William for a moment, before darting around again.
William carefully checked his son’s arms, but they looked fine. Tony started a low growl. William ignored that and continued on. He grabbed Tony’s head, examining it with more care. He turned his son’s head and inspected his neck as well.
“Take a look at this,” William said. Milna and Vincent walked over to look. Clear as day Vincent could see a black mark stretching from Tony’s neck to his shoulder.
“That’s worrying,” Vincent said.
“It sure is. Tony, we’ll just be outside for a moment,” William said. He gestured at the doorway and walked out. Vincent and Milna followed. When Vincent emerged he saw William watching him.
“It looks like you have something to say. Let’s hear it,” he said.
“That mark can only mean one thing,” Vincent said.
“The Blight?” William said.
“But if he’s infected, then why isn’t he attacking us. What’s different?” Milna said.
“What if he’s not infected anymore?” Vincent said. Milan’s mouth hung open.
“Could you explain that to us? What are you suggesting?” William said.
“Clearly he’s been through something. He isn’t as he used to be. If you consider how he’s acting and how he looks it seems obvious. He was infected by the Blight and was turned into a Blighter. But something has cured him,” Vincent said.
“When you put it together like that, the signs are there. But nothing can cure the Blight. Why do you think he’s cured?” William said.
“It’s just an idea that popped into my head. But now that I think of it, remember those strange lights we had recently. What if they were a spell?”
“A spell to cure the Blight? That’s unbelievable!” Milna said.
“It is. But look at your son. Is there any other explanation for his current condition?” Vincent said. He looked over at William and Milna and neither had an answer for him.
“You seem to be knowledgeable in this area. Are you a wizard? Do you know one well?” William said.
“No connection to a wizard, just thinking out loud. It’s such a strange situation,” Vincent lied. He was torn between offering hope and assistance to these people and protecting his past.
“Well, what you said does make sense. I just would never have considered it. Do you think our son is lost forever?” Milna said.
“No idea. But he must be in there somewhere if he found his way back to you,” Vincent said.
“That’s true. I suppose we need to take things slowly and see if we can undo the damage done to him. He should never have left us,” William said, sighing.
“Don’t blame yourself. Kids do things all the time. They have to forge their own paths, make their own mistakes. You can’t live their lives for them,” Milna said. Vincent reflected on his own circumstances. He had defied his father, left to do his own thing and gotten in a whole heap of trouble. Only luck separated him and Tony. Only luck and an incredible intervention by his father.
“Milna is right. It’s just bad luck. But whatever happened, he’s here now. Maybe there’s a chance for him,” Vincent said.
“You’re both right. We can’t focus on the past; instead, we must concentrate on what we can now. I won’t give up on him,” William said. He turned and re-entered the barn.
“Vincent, we need some time. Maybe you can mind the shop for William today,” she said.
“Of course. Let me know if you need anything,” Vincent said. He slowly walked back to the workshop. The emptiness of the workshop was quite pronounced. William’s towering presence was missing, and there were no customers. Vincent threw himself into lots of mindless tasks. He prepped materials, cleaned the benches and prepared for the next day. He achieved nothing major but kept himself busy.
Darkness came, and Vincent locked up the shop. He left and started walking back. The thoughts that he had been avoiding all day were now waiting for him.
“What hope is there for a Blighter cured of the Blight?” he thought. It seemed like the toll on Tony had been too great to recover, although it was still early. Perhaps there was still a chance for him.
This led to other thoughts about his father. Granthion had cast some sort of spell to cure the Blight; that much was obvious. Somehow, it had affected a lot of people, though, not just targeted to Vincent.
“Did my father know what effect it would have on people like Tony?” Vincent thought. It unlocked quite a terrifying idea. That if Tony was not able to recover to his former state, then Vincent had essentially sentenced Tony and others like him to a cursed life, not quite human but no longer consumed by the Blight.
“Dammit. I don’t need that hanging over me,” he thought. He decided that one way or another he had to ensure that Tony recovered. At least that way he could feel better about the situation. Because there would be so many others like Tony out there, and he didn’t want to be responsible for them all.
William was sitting on the front porch of the house. He was rocking back and forth in a chair.
“Is everything ok?” Vincent said.
“No. Tony passed away.”
“I’m so sorry. What happened?”
“I don’t know. He was so agitated and scared. We both spent a lot of time with him. Reminding him of who he was, and who we were. It looked like we were getting through to him,” William said. He paused and choked back tears.
“We left him to go fix some lunch and try to get him to eat. When we came back he was lying on the floor and not moving. I have no idea what happened.”
“I’m so sorry. I don’t even know what to say. I was so sure we could help him,” Vincent said. He placed a hand on William’s shoulder.
“I know. It’s not your fault. It’s nobody’s fault. But our son, he’s gone now. At least he’s no longer suffering. Oh, what he must have gone through.”
“I can’t even imagine it.”
“Nobody can. Let’s go inside and give Milna some company,” William said. He rose and opened the front door, beckoning Vincent to go inside.
They found Milna cooking in the kitchen. Her usual spark was gone and she was going through the motions. But she was compiling a huge feast with many dishes.
“Dinner will just be a minute,” she said. Vincent started to speak and William stopped him and pulled him into the next room.
“I was just going to say that she doesn’t need to make so much,” Vincent said.
“I know, but leave her be. She needs to keep herself occupied. Let’s just be around, but not requiring anything of her.”
“Sure, not a problem,” Vincent said.
Dinner was quiet, only the minimal exchanges required for passing food around. Vincent ate mechanically, not feeling hungry. He could see William and Milna doing the same. After dinner, he pulled William aside.
“I don’t think it’s right, me staying in Tony’s room anymore. I’ll sleep on a couch,” he said.
“That may be best, for now. Please bear with us,” William said. Vincent said goodnight and found the biggest couch, stretching himself out to sleep. He didn’t find it as uncomfortable as he expected, but he still struggled to sleep.
“I can’t help but feel responsible for the pain this family are feeling. There’s no other explanation except that my father cast the spell to save me. He didn’t want to wait longer than required, and couldn’t find me to do it in person. Tony was a casualty of that,” he thought. The weight of responsibility was heavy on his shoulders. His mind would not let him rest. Eventually, though, he did find a restless sleep.
The next morning, William woke up early as usual and they went about their routine. Nothing else was mentioned. Vincent noted the absence of talk about Tony and didn’t bring up the subject.
William opened up the workshop and looked around.
“I like what you did here. It will make today’s work easier,” he said.
“There weren’t any customers, and I needed something to occupy myself with tasks that were fairly simple.”
“Understood. I appreciate it, and maybe we can try and do more of this. I’ve been so set in my ways, I can see what I’ve missed by having a different approach.”
“I doubt that this is entirely new.”
“Oh no it’s not completely new, but I would never have laid things out this way. So thank you. Let’s see how today goes and we will refine it for tomorrow.”
“Sounds good to me.”
“Now we should get started, these jobs won’t build themselves,” William said. He was off, preparing for the day. Vincent shadowed him, happy to lose himself in the work.
Just before lunch, William pulled Vincent aside.
“I want to talk about yesterday.”
“My son, and our conversation. I’ve been doing some thinking. Firstly I thought it was entirely meddlesome for some wizard to just cast a spell with such far-reaching consequences.”
“And I still believe that. It certainly doesn’t help us that wizards just do things that suit themselves without explanation or consultation,” William said with a pause. Vincent felt sure that he knew the reason behind that particular spell, or at least had a good suspicion of what it was. Not that he felt like finding his father and confirming his suspicions. He would not return until he felt like he had established his new life. Then they could reconnect. He could see William was about to speak again.
“But now I have had a realisation, one that took some time to work through. Without that spell, if we’re calling it that, we would not have seen our son again. Or if we had, he would have been entirely unrecognisable. What we have been through is horrific, but it would have been more so had we found him when he was turned. I choose to view this event as a gift. As hard as it is, the truth is that our son was already lost to us, we just didn’t know it.”
“That’s right. And we have no idea how long it has been,” Vincent said with a sigh.
“And part of that is upon us. We never took the opportunity to go find him and see how he was doing. We expected him to come back to us. That’s our burden to bear.”
“I disagree. He knew where you were, and had every opportunity to come back. He was probably waiting to prove himself before he returned.”
“Perhaps you are right. He was quite stubborn and proud. He wanted to make something of himself. Thank you for your support. Milna and I have come to think of you as a trusted friend, and times like this only reinforce that. I hope you’ll consider staying longer.”
“I will certainly consider it,” Vincent said. He liked the two of them and wanted to stay for a while. But he didn’t feel like he could settle down. There was much more he had to do, and more he had to explore. And even seeing the situation unfold with Tony and his parents, he still felt like he couldn’t return to see his father. Not yet.
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.