Well hello my little ducks, I see you are back for more tales! What story would hold your fancy tonight—The Dragon and The Sailor, maybe? The Wizard Cat and his Pet Knight? How about the story of the Elf Assassin with a Love for Opera?
No? Oh, you’re back for another fairy tale, are you, you want to hear more of Rue. Well come closer and settle by my fire, I’ve plenty more to tell.The Blacksmith and the Baker
You are all far too young to remember the blacksmith and his baker wife who lived down by the woods at the edge of the neighboring village. He was a sweet tempered man; he loved showing off his trade to the little children, making new toys and giving to those who needed it. He was a kind and caring man, always putting the needs of his neighbors ahead of his own; in fact plenty a family paid off a badly needed horse shoe with visits from the little ones rather than gold. I’m sure you can guess, being such bright little things you are, he and his wife were unable to conceive a child of their own. His sweet baker wife, who always handed out miniature pies to go with the blacksmith’s gifts, cried and cried for years sure her aching heart would have broken right in two if not for the love of her gentle husband. They watched their little nieces and nephews grow up, and soon begin having little ones themselves. The blacksmith and his baker wife were saddened, but never did they cry to the heavens and ask why them. Instead they worked and adopted the rest of the village as their own and carried on as best they could.
(What? Yes, yes this is a story about Rue, just wait.)
One night in the middle of winter Lover Boy, the blacksmith’s great wolf hound, started wildly scrabbling at the door desperate to get out. The blacksmith and his wife had never seen such a display and ran to throw open the door. Lover Boy bounded out into the snow and took off towards the woods, came back with a woof and bounded off again when he saw the blacksmith hurry after him.
On the edge of his property he came across a little old woman, huddled against the icy wind and shivering among the pines. The blacksmith quickly scooped up the woman, who seemed to weigh no more than a bag of potatoes, and ran off to his cottage with Lover Boy close at his heels.
He and his wife brought the old woman warm blankets and hot soup, strong tea and a small thimble of brandy. The old woman thanked them in a high quavering voice, saying she went out to bring some treats to her grandchildren and lost her way in the snow. The blacksmith and the baker asked after her family name, surely if she was so close they would know who she belonged to in the village. The old woman just smiled and sipped at her tea, scratching Lover Boy behind the ears (while this may seem troubling to us, the blacksmith’s own dear mother had suffered from the forgetfulness of age and while she could often not remember her own name she always knew the path home).
The blacksmith and the baker insisted the old woman spend the night, the blacksmith would bundle her up in the morning and bring her to find her lost family, or anyone who could help. The old lady thanked them for their generosity and said she was so looking forward to hearing all the stories of her children and grandchildren, and could they please tell her a bit about themselves, as she has found a good story after dinner always helped with digestion.
(And make no mistake, my pets, she is right!)They told her of their courtship—meeting at the village dance so many years ago under the soft moon light with the flowers barely budding in the trees; their October marriage and happy honeymoon to the next village over; their desire for a child…but St. Cuthbert’s will was instead to give them the whole village to adopt and care for. The old woman smiled and spoke of her own love, a fierce handsome husband who stood by her and risked death and destruction to save her. Her darling children and the joy of watching her daughter play on a tire swing in a beloved old tree. After her tales the woman dipped into her purse to pay the blacksmith for his troubles—but they would have none of that! “No no,” they said, “keep your money and use it to spoil well your little ones. We are more than happy to help out one such as you in need.” The old woman once more smiled and put her purse away, still sipping her steaming tea—which should have been long cold by now, as the embers in the fire were starting to die themselves.
The baker and blacksmith were fortunate to have a small guest room saved for the many apprentices the blacksmith took on. They tried to help the old lady into the bed, and watched in amazement as she leapt out with a screech of agony. The blacksmith and baker hurried to throw back the blanket to see what could have caused the poor woman so much pain, ashamed they were not fulfilling their roles as proper hosts.
The blacksmith’s last apprentice, Joseph, it seems had been a bit on the superstitious side as nestled near the foot of the bed was a twisted old iron horse shoe.
The blacksmith and baker spun to the face the old woman, and if you’re a clever little thing you would know that standing there was no longer an old woman. In her place was now a bat-winged young lady with grey skin and deep twinkling black eyes, great rams horns—and a smirk on her face (see, I told you Rue was coming into my story if only you were patient). The blacksmith turned back to the bed and grabbed the horse shoe, knowing how damaging iron was to fairies….
And ran to the window to toss it out on the snow.
“Many, many pardons, my Lady. We didn’t know the shoe was there, or else we never would have helped you into the bed. Please, sit down and my wife will see to your foot; I hope we have not done you a great injury.”
The fairy just smiled widely once more and disappeared in a small puff of smoke with a giggle (she does like her theatrics, doesn’t our Rue?)
The blacksmith and his baker returned to their kitchen and grabbed a small wooden bowl, filling it to the brim with milk and honey to place by the hearth for good luck. They were shaken, as many mortals are who encounter an unexpected fae, but knew they were as gracious hosts as could be and went to bed.
The next morning the blacksmith found his forged tidied up and all of his work finished for him (well, all but the ironworks, of course); the baker found her pies for the day already cooling on the window sill and some lovely breads just beginning to rise in the ovens.
However, the blacksmith and the baker were puzzled to find the milk and honey still filled the bowl by the hearth! They hoped they had not offended the fairies with the wrong offerings, and vowed to lay out the choicest parts of their dinner that night and every night hereafter (after Lover Boy had been fed first, of course).
Day after day the scene repeated itself, work finished and offerings not taken, until after a full week the invisible guests just stopped lending their aide to the blacksmith and the baker, still snubbing the small filled bowl on the hearth.
Now, most people would grumble about the ungrateful nature of fairies, their flighty tendencies and grumpily take up their own tasks once more while sighing. Not our blacksmith and baker; no, they happily took up the work where they had left off and still they laid various offerings out, just in case the little things came back. Again, the scene repeated itself day after day, no work done but offerings still made and not accepted.
One dark stormy night, about a fortnight after the visit from the old woman in disguise, the blacksmith and the baker sat down to a simple dinner of Shepard’s pie and wine huddled together to ward off the chill from outside. The baker asked her blacksmith if he wanted more bread and heard an ethereal voice pipe up “Oh, I’d love some bread, please, your dinner smells so nice.”
Well, my darlings, I’m sure you can imagine that both heads sprang up in surprise as before them once again was the fairy woman! This time she was accompanied with a young man of about 12, a skinny scrawny thing with a worried look on his face, while the fairy broke out in a wide smile. “Hello, I found your child!”
The blacksmith glanced at his baker, then looked back at the fairy. “Thank you, my Lady, but we never had a child to be lost.”
“Oh, he wasn’t lost. I stole him!” was her cheerful reply.
The blacksmith gaped at her, and knew she spoke the truth. “Well, my Lady,” still carefully polite, because one is when addressing the fae, “do you think perhaps you should return him?”
The fairy narrowed her eyes at this. What a foolish man to try and decline a gift from a fae such as her! “You want me to bring him back? Back to a home of empty stomachs, daily beatings…and worse? Back to where he knew no love, only insults and pain? I stole the boy so he could know love. If you think he is unworthy of that…” here the fairy trailed off and glared at the blacksmith and the baker, as the young child began to sniffle beside her.
“No, my Lady, no!” The baker found her tongue and cried out, “We only meant that a boy should be with his loving parents. If you think that we should hold that honor, then why we would be more than happy to open our home and hearts to him.” She elbowed her husband sharply, so he could not but help grunt his agreement.
Oh, my darlings, how Rue lit up with those words! Her eyes once more sparkled with joy rather than anger and she dragged the boy to the blacksmith and the baker. “Oh good! His name is Jeremiah. He’s eleven years old, and strong for his age. I wanted to take him back to my own children like the others, but he seemed so sad and worried that I though a good mortal home would be best for him instead. Not that my Lily wouldn’t have done her very best to coax a laugh or two out of him!” here her mother’s pride came through. “He wants to be away from his plight, that much is true, but you can see he wants nothing more than a father and mother to dote on him, and Jay and I are so busy with all of our battles that it’s just so much simpler to take charge of the ones who truly want to be in my realm. So I decided you can have him.” The fairy beamed, obviously very pleased with herself for so thoughtfully righting two wrongs with her cunning plan.
The boy still shuffled next to Rue, staring intently at his own feet. The baker, always a mother at heart even if not yet in name, could not help but step forward and speak directly to him for the first time. “Hello, my strapping young sir, are you hungry?”
Finally the boy looked up and smiled weakly “Yes ma’am. Miss Rue tried to give me lots to eat but my grandfather always told me if I ate fairy food I’d be turned into something dreadful and I was afraid.”
Rue shook her head at that “I gave you rabbit and squirrels from your own forest you little dolt, and I told you that every time. Why would I steal you away from somewhere you hated only to imprison you elsewhere? Do I look like a wicked hag? No I do not, thank you very much, there’s not even a wart to be found on me.” The fairy turned to the couple before her, “Feed him, now, please.”
The blacksmith and the baker tripped over themselves to find an extra plate for the boy and the fairy (just in case she decided she wanted something to nibble on herself, it wouldn’t do to offend her after all this). They loaded the boy’s plate with pie and bread, and filled a cup with clear cool water. The fairy’s plate they piled high with bread and honey, and poured her a goblet of wine.
Both fairy and boy seated themselves and tucked in as if they had never eaten before. The blacksmith and the baker settled back down to their dinners and picked at their food, watching in amazement. Was this young man really for them? A boy to love like the son they never had, a boy to raise and care for?
Rue finished eating and addressed the couple. “You will take him in, I assume? I will not have to go through a whole charade of finding someone else to take him? There was a nice enough couple in another village, but they didn’t leave any gifts for my hobgoblins, and when the work was stopped they grumbled a bit, which was very rude. I’d prefer to leave him here with you. I like you. I’ll also leave you with a few brownies to help around the house when needed, but I do want something in return.”
The blacksmith and the baker looked at each other, hearts sinking a bit as they saw a trap laid out before them. The blacksmith spoke carefully, still remembering his manners. “My Lady, my wife and I would be happy to help you with whatever we can, within reason. May I ask what is it you desire, and we shall see if we can accommodate such a request?”
Rue’s eyes twinkled again with a mischievous glint. “Oh, just a small, little thing, really. I want the heart of your neighbor’s first born son. Steal beating, if possible.”
Well, my darling dearies, you can imagine the silence slammed into that room like a hammer on an anvil! Murder the nice Owens boy? Never!
But…then they would have to send the child, who they’ve already come to think of as their child, away and who could tell where he would end up if someone was willing to exchange one life for another so callously.
Before either one of them could speak the fairy gave out a loud laugh and clapped her hands. “You mortals are too easy! What would I even do with a heart? Keep it on a shelf next to my other trinkets? I’m sorry but sometimes you are just too fun to play with.” The blacksmith and the baker gave a shaky smile, not quite enjoying her jokes at their expense. “No, I don’t want you to give me a heart (had I wanted it I could have taken it for my own anyway); I need you to do me a service, for as long as I call on you. You have made weapons in your forge, correct, sir?” The blacksmith nodded, his tongue not quite unstuck in his mouth yet. “Good. I want you to make me arrows. Hundreds, thousands of arrows, and these are only to go to me.” The blacksmith nodded again, this was something he could do. “But, there will be a trick to them. I want the arrows to be made from iron, then dipped in gold and silver, which I will give you.”
The blacksmith, finally shaken from his daze by thoughts of his trade, gave her a curious look. “But my Lady wouldn’t arrows such as those bring yourself harm?”
The fairy smiled at him. “Then design me a quiver to carry them. I do not plan on shooting myself, obviously, but those who try to rip my kingdom from me. I have been underestimated in the past, and I plan to be underestimated in the future. Who shakes with fear in the face of golden and silver arrows? Who truly fears an ornamental weapon brandished their way? Why, if someone held a golden letter opener to your neck, you would know you were in danger of nothing more serious than a nick from shaving. So let the fools rush me and my pretty shiny arrows—and see what happens when they dare try to take what is mine.” The room had grown colder, the blacksmith and baker unconsciously had drawn the young boy to them for warmth shielding him with their bodies, their love.
As quickly as the cold came, it vanished and once again the fairy was all cheerful smiles and laughing eyes. “Here!” she threw a bag of gold onto the table, “Make me 400 arrows and a quiver with this, and you may keep what remains. If I like what you create, I will return for more as I need them.”
With that the fairy popped one last piece of honey soaked bread in her mouth and vanished.
The boy spoke up “May I have some more, please? It’s very good.” The baker rushed off to fix another plate steered by a mother’s need to see her young filled to the brim—be it with food or love.
The blacksmith cleared his throat and looked thoughtfully at the boy. True, he was a bit young, but seemed strong for his age, and where he had looked scrawny from afar the blacksmith could make out the beginning of some good wiry muscles, useful in his forge. “Jeremiah, please know we want you here, we will not send you away and will happily care for you until our last dying day. But, son, I need to know—do you want to stay here? If you tell us the name of your old village, we can bring back to your family, and I will make sure you are cared for.”
The boy chewed carefully before he answered. “Don’t remember my village, or my family name. Miss Rue took them when she spirited me away, and all the bad memories too. I had some nightmares the first few nights, but she was always there with me and they faded soon enough.” The boy shrugged, unconcerned with the missing pieces of his mind. “She said I was free to go with her, or out on my own, or she would find me a new family. I knew she had some other children she cared for, they came to play with me one night and they seemed happy enough—but then they told me stories of Robert.” The boy shivered, “He was my age, and turned out to be a big bully once he escaped his father’s fists. Sally said Robert kept picking on Ollie when Rue’s back was turned, little things like a shove or a pinch at first and he would steal half his treats when he could; but one day Robert pushed Ollie so hard he fell out of the tree and broke his arm. Sally said Rue was so mad she gave him the head of a pig and sent him back to his family with a note pinned to his shirt saying it served him right and that a family as rotten as them deserved such a pigheaded son.”
“Dear, do you think perhaps the other children were teasing you? Telling you stories to try and scare you?”
“Oh no, ma’am. I asked Miss Rue herself and she laughed and nodded her head. She said she was proud of that punishment, but she didn’t think she’d ever have to punish me like Robert. I just didn’t want to give her a chance. Can I stay with you, please? I’ll work hard and I promise I won’t eat so much anymore.” The young boy turned his pleading eyes to what he hoped would be his new parents, and they were his new parents because of course how could they say no to such a pitiful thing as him?
Well, my loves, I’m sure you’ll be happy to know that young Jeremiah took to a blacksmith’s forge like a duck to water! He grew up as kind and thoughtful as his adopted parents, and went on to marry a sweet young seamstress of his own. When his father handed down the fairy debt with his forge Jeremiah continued to craft the silver and gold arrows Rue loved so dearly (and on occasion had his seamstress sew a lovely gown for the creature who handed him such a happy life); and from what I have heard, our Jeremiah plans on training his own young boy to do the same once he is old enough to grip a hammer’s handle.
Now, isn’t that a lovely tale to warm your bones on such a cold night?
What’s that? Not exciting enough?! My, what greedy ears are huddled before me tonight. Alright, alright, fill my cup again and I may just find a more exhilarating tale in me somewhere.