The Forge in the Forest  by Padraic Colum

The Horse

dropcap image HE King who had turned blacksmith now made ready to put the fourth shoe on the horse's hoof—the shoe that he had shaped out of the hilt of his own sword. He seared the hoof with the burning iron, and he said to the four brothers, "I know this horse that you have brought to me—by many tokens I know this horse."

He put his hands into the long, thick mane of the horse, and standing in that way he spoke to the brothers: "Wild this horse has been, but before you tamed it there was one who had been mounted on it. I have been on this horse's back, and have gone dangerous ways thereon."

He motioned to the four brothers to seat themselves, and when they had done so, he said, "Although I am of royal blood I have been a merchant, and, some years ago, I went with a band of merchants through lands that are east of this. And one day, as we went on, we saw a castle with banners upon it, and the banners looked so inviting that we went to the castle. When we entered the courtyard we were received by women who welcomed us with smiles and sweetly spoken words.

"There were none but women in the place, and there was a Queen over the women. They entertained us most pleasantly, making a feast for us. The Queen herself entertained me, and the rest of the women entertained the others of my band, and we walked through the gardens of the castle, and we laughed, and never before in our lives had I or the men who were with me been so gay.

"But as I walked in the garden, with my friends and their companions, I saw something that brought memories into my mind—memories of something that I had once heard. I saw an iron house standing there with the red light of the sunset upon it. And then I remembered that one had come to my father's house in the days when I was a child, and had told us about the Amazons, about the women who, without men, rule a wide country. They had a castle, the man who told that story said, and they draw men into that castle, and after they have entertained them they put them into an iron house, making prisoners of them; these prisoners they send into distant countries, exchanging them for the women of their bands who have been taken captives in the wars which they, the Amazons, are constantly waging.

"None of my friends knew of this, the story that had come back into my memory. I was not able to speak to them and tell them of it, for the women kept us one from the other. I looked around and I saw the women guards about the castle, each with a bow in her hand and arrows ready to shoot at us. And I saw some of the women struggling with a young horse that had just been taken from a herd of wild horses; they had forced a bit into its mouth, and they were striving to make it obey the rein. I went towards where the horse was; before they knew what I was about to do I sprang upon its back, and seized the rein and urged it away. And I had got far away before the guards shot their arrows at me."

He lifted up the hoof of the horse and fitted the iron to its hoof, and made ready to drive the nails in. "This is the horse," he said, "that I rode on away from the castle of the Amazons. All night I rode on, and all next day. My way was across a plain, and I knew not in what direction I should go. In the day-time I came back on the very tracks I had made in my flight in the night. At sunset I came before the castle of the Amazons. And a band of them, mounted upon horses, came down upon me. Their charge threw me off the horse. They took me and brought me before the Queen. As I went I looked towards the iron house; again I saw it in the sunset, and it seemed to me that I heard the groans of my companions coming from within it.

"The Queen did not have me shot to death with arrows, either because she did not want to have me die before her face, or because the Amazons would have my punishment made very great. She had me bound to the back of the horse that I had tried to escape on, and they loosed the horse once more.

"I have reason to know this horse and the way it gallops up hill and down hill, and across the plains, and through the forests. The horse with myself bound upon it dashed on—it might be that it was seeking the herd it had been taken from. All night I journeyed on, my face turned to the stars; there were aches in every joint of my body. Then day came, and the sun blistered me. Hunger and thirst and dizziness came to me as the horse went on. I would awaken as it stopped to graze, and I would faint again when it would race away. Great horse-flies came and stung me. The last of my journey that I remember was through a forest. A branch crashed across my head, and after that I remembered nothing more.

He drove the nails in, fastening the last shoe on the horse's hoof. "The horse brought me good fortune," he said, giving the rein into the hand of the eldest brother. "Go your ways with it, and may it bring you good fortune also. It brought me into the country that I now rule over. Men found me and they loosed me off the horse, letting it go free. The men who found me treated me with honour. Their King had died, and they treated me as one miraculously sent to them to be their King. I was near to death on account of my suffering, but they ministered to me, and I became sound again. Only this remains upon me as a token of my flight from the castle of the Amazons." He lifted up his arm and he showed a mark upon it; it showed where the leathern thong that had bound him to the horse had cut into his flesh. "May the horse bring you as good fortune as it has brought to me," he said.

They thanked the Royal Blacksmith who had shod the horse for them, and praying that it might bring them good fortune the four brothers left the Forge in the Forest.


Blacksmith, blacksmith, by the cross,

The great craft is thine!

You can make the black iron flower

On your anvil.

You'll not woo the flowers to stay,

Daisy, rose;

You will have them edged with gold,

Ruddy, glowing—

Then you'll toss the flowers away.

Who waits on your ringing blows?

'Tis the delver.

And the spade for him is shaped—

Spade to make the ridges rise

Where the grass was.

Who waits on your trusty blows?

'Tis the soldier.

Edged and fine you make a sword

He may trust to.

Who waits on your manly blows?

'Tis the woodman.

Weighty, keen, you shape the broad axe

That the forest falls before.

Who waits on your hearty blows?

'Tis the ploughman.

And you make for him the coulter

That the land breaks.

Who waits on your ready blows?

'Tis the horseman.

And you make him shoes of iron,

And the bridle for the mastery

Of the steed.

Blacksmith, blacksmith by the cross,

The great craft is thine!

Spade and sword and coulter, too,

Axe and bridle and horseshoe—

All that gives to man the mastery

On your anvil is

Shaped by you!