The Hammer’s Reign
The Stone Smithy had stood in Little Gissing so long that locals always told visitors the forge was used to make some of the arrowheads fired by Henry’s bowmen at Agincourt. This was the same forge that hauled Jeremy ‘Jem’ Stone out of his warm bed at five thirty a.m. every morning of the year, and had done so since he was a boy. As the eldest of three brothers this was his birthright, though sometimes after a nightcap of single malt the size of a top hat, he could be heard muttering into the silence about his birth wrong. Primogeniture, the infinite destiny that cast the first-born Stone.
His West Country accent was delivered with a rapid intermittent cadence that made him spit words out like they were warm pebbles, too hot to linger on the tongue. An impediment from childhood that stemmed from his attempts to converse with his father as he dashed between anvil and forge. What a boy needed to say, had to be said, before the hammer started to pummel the orange metal, and speech was rendered impotent by the hammer’s reign. The need to work in a shadowy half-light so the exact shade of the steel’s glow was always apparent, had given Jem a squint that left his brow contoured like a ploughed field. Some brave, but unkind wag, dubbed him the furrowed farrier in the local inn one night, the last night he ever drank in there.
The locals were right to wary of him, a life time swinging a smithy’s hammer and wrestling horses gave him an upper body strength that would make Hercules blush. A handshake with Jem was like putting your hand in a trap. Not that he was a violent man, just a little angry at life and its arbitrary nature. He envied his brothers’ lives, family men, both in the insurance business: for they had created feet for children’s shoes, not just shoes for horse’s hooves.
Jem was the reliable one. The one that kept the family business going through recession after recession. The one that looked after their mother when Alzheimer’s made her mind incomplete. The one that tried to save their father when the pallet of iron slipped off the wet lorry and snapped his sternum like it was nothing more than a Christmas wishbone. The one that could not resuscitate his dreams that would, from that day on, lie as fallow as poisoned earth.
Though one dream was to colour his life in ways that reality never could…
A lonesome bell tolled in the valley of stone, as she bathed in a stream of pure heat. Before he knew who she was, the lonesome bell had become three World Service pips that signaled the passing of another hour. Invasive enough to prise him out of the grip of Morpheus, away from his beloved land of nod, where dreams become an endless surreal reality, and nightmares can vanish with the blink of a sleep encrusted eye. Even before he was properly awake, he was longing to return to that world, where time could flow backwards, where the currents of fate did not drown him in their undertow, where existence was not an endless gallery of abandonment.
In sleep he was reunited with the one he once held as if she was made of dried parchment, so fragile was she. The one that was long gone, but returned every night to haunt his dreams, the one that took his brain hostage long ago, and he never paid the ransom. He quickly dressed in working man’s blues and descended the narrow staircase that was as tight as a birth canal around his huge frame. The espresso machine gurgled and hissed like an ancient steam engine, till it spat out its brown treacly goo into the tiny white cup that looked like a thimble in his huge calloused hand. The caffeine re-united far-flung synapses and he heard a ringing in the distance, a ringing that was his first memory; the metallic ringing of hammer and anvil locked in combat. He shook his head in disbelief and after finishing his coffee marched outside to investigate what had awoken him so early. Jem wasn’t a brave man, he was just fearless the way people are when the conflicting merits of life or death remain an unresolved paradox.
As he crossed the yard, the trees that marked the perimeter bowed to honor the cold front that was blowing in from the South. As he pulled open the Smithy door, it wasn’t the rapidly chilling air that made him shiver, it was the source of the ringing that had forced him awake. A phantom from his youth, who had danced through his thought dreams every day since she disappeared like a smoke ring nine years ago.
She put the hammer down “did I wake you Jem?”
she innocently asked.
Jem was in a state of shock, “Rebecca” he managed, “what happened?” “You melted into the night and no ones ever heard of you or your family since” He had to lean up against the forge, before he fell over.
“Don’t pretend you don’t know why?” “You know what your father did to us” she continued as the memory provoked anger, “Branded us as horse thieves because he didn’t want any competition round here: all our trades were long gone, so horse dealing was all we had left. We moved back down to Kent, our sort are more welcome down there, but I had to come back for Eli’s funeral, and anyway; I thought it was about time you saw your son…”