The Forge in the Forest  by Padraic Colum

The Forge in the Forest

dropcap image AVING caught the wild horse that for some reason was called the King's Horse, and having tamed it, the next thing to do was to have shoes of iron put upon its hoofs. So they brought the horse to the Forge in the Forest. Strokes of iron upon iron sounded within the forge.

Two went within and two stayed outside with the horse. The two who went within the forge saw a man with brawny arms and a curling beard hammering an iron upon the anvil. They had been told that the smith was shaggy and dwarfed, but this man was very upright.

"Smith, smith!" they cried.

The man went on shaping the iron, not looking towards them. "Smith, smith!" they cried again. Still he did not look towards them. They saw that what he was shaping upon the anvil was the hilt of a sword. And as they watched him they knew that this was not the Blacksmith of the Forest, but the King who had come into the forge to make a sword fit for his own hand.

"Who be ye?" he said, as he took what he had shaped and plunged it into a cauldron of ice-cold water.

"Lord," said the two who had come into the forge, "we are four men, brothers, who have brought a horse here to have shoes of iron put upon it. It happens that although we are brothers we have each come from a different part of the world. And we are story-tellers," they said.

The King who had turned blacksmith looked at the horse that was held outside. As he looked at it he put his hand upon an arm on which there was a scar to be seen.

"Has the horse ever had shoes of iron upon its hoofs?" he asked.

"No, lord," the two brothers said, "this has been a wild horse. For a long time we tried to capture it, and at last we have succeeded. We have tamed it, too. We have to hurry away now, and we thought that we could find in the Forge in the Forest a smith who would put shoes of iron upon the horse."

"You have found one who should be specially willing to put shoes of iron upon this horse."

"Not you, lord?" the two brothers said.

The King looked again upon the horse that was held by the two brothers who were outside the forge. He looked at the two who were within the forge, and he said:

"You are story-tellers, you say. What stories can you tell?"

"Lord," the two said, "we four can tell stories for every stroke that a smith strikes shaping two pairs of shoes for a horse."

"If you are better skilled in your craft than that, I will make shoes for the horse you have caught."

"In what way better skilled, lord?" the two said.

"The blacksmith makes shoes out of the four elements—Fire, Water, Earth, and Air. If you can tell a story that goes with each of the elements——"

"Lord, we can tell two."

"That would be skill indeed. If you can tell two stories that go with each of the elements, I myself will make the shoes for your horse."

But now the two men were doubtful. "Lord," they said, "one of us has no knowledge of what stories the other has. It may be that we spoke hurriedly, and that we cannot tell two stories that go with the Fire, the Water, the Earth, and the Air." Then the two men who were in the forge spoke doubtfully to each other; they went without and they came back with the two others, and the great white horse.


The four brothers brought the great white horse to the Forge in the Forest.

Then the King whose pleasure it was to work in the forge, making for himself swords that fitted his own hand, took out of the ice-cold water the blade he had shaped. It was taken away to have the first edge put upon it. Then the King took iron to shape into a horseshoe. The apprentice-smith blew with the bellows; the fire mounted up.

"The first element," said the King.

He put the iron into the fire.