by R Thomas Allwin
“Her hair was the colour of fire.” The old blacksmith’s voice was strained, his lungs wheezing with each breath. “Just like yours.” He reached out and wrapped a strand of his daughter’s bright fiery hair between his thick, calloused fingers. She smiled. “You look so much like your mother, Kenna.”
“Start at the beginning, dad.” She took his large hand between her own and kissed it. He nodded, cleared his throat and strained to push his massive frame into a more upright position, triggering a new round of dry coughs. Age and sickness were taking their toll on him, turning a once powerful body against him.
“Alright, girl. Fetch me a glass will you? A small snifter.” He raised his thumb and forefinger and showed a small measure, then winked and widened the gap as much as his hands allowed. Kenna scowled at him, but went to pour a tall glass of his home made wormwood-infused spirit. He took a large mouthful and swirled it around, savouring the bitter taste before swallowing. “That’s better,” he smiled. As he set down the glass next to him, Kenna settled in next to her father on the bed – small and lithe in comparison, despite her being considered a tall woman.
“It was thirty three years ago at the close of summer and the leaves had already started to turn. We had word of your mother’s arrival a full day before you set foot in the village. There were rumors of witchery and black magic and consorting with devils; claims of milk turning sour, horses running off, grown men withering at her touch.” He put his hand on Kenna’s shoulder and looked her in the eye. “All superstitious talk, mind you. No one would meet her gaze. They’d stare and whisper, but look away as soon as she turned toward them. I was sitting in Old Man Pritchard’s place when she walked in. She was the most stunning thing I had ever seen. But he just mumbled at her, wouldn’t even serve her let alone offer lodging. It was embarrassing.
“I got up from my seat, stepped over and offered my hand as I told her to not mind the superstitious twats. ‘They’re not accustomed to such beauty’ I told her. She smiled at that, took my hand and we ade introductions. Her hand felt hot even to my hands.” He smiled and took his daughter’s hand in his. “Just like yours, my girl.” He brought it to his lips and kissed it.
“Anyway. I offered her food and lodging at the smithy, and she agreed.” He reached for his glass, took a sip and leaned his head back against the headboard with a sigh. “I made some simple food for the both of us, gave her ale and my special blend to drink,” He held up the glass, as if there was any doubt as to what he meant, “and insisted that she take my bed for the night. She reluctantly agreed and I made my bed on the floor of the smithy, between the anvil and the forge.” A smile spread over his face. “I awoke in the middle of the night by the sound of knocking. The fire was low, casting a dim red glow over the room and on the woman who stood in the doorway. I could hardly believe my eyes – she had not a thread on her, save this.” He touched the pendant hanging around Kenna’s neck. “But there was no glow in it that night.” He rubbed the stone, furrowing his brow – there was only a soft glow in it now, barely perceptible. “The light from the fire gleamed off her hair, making it shimmer and look like flickering flames. Her eyes sparkled and glowed as she stepped inside and crossed the room to me. She was so beautiful.” The blacksmith sighed deeply, closing his eyes.
“I started to sit up, but she knelt beside me and put her hand on my shoulder. Without a word she undid my clothes, kissed me, and…” His voice trailed off into a smile as he remembered her feverish, burning skin on his as she slid up over his body, taking him into her, riding him. He took a deep breath, coughing hard as he exhaled. “And, well…you know. She…laid with me.” He cleared his throat, embarrassed. “I fell asleep holding her in my arms but I woke alone. She was gone. I’ve loved her ever since.” The big man fell silent again, fighting back a tear.When Kenna put her hand on his arm he recoiled as if touched by a searing flame, sending him into a new fit of coughs.
“All her clothes were by my bed and no one had seen her leave. I was distraught. For months I asked every passing traveler for news of where she might’ve been seen – but there was nothing. Then, just as life was settling back to normal with the arrival of spring, there you were!” He smiled and stroked Kenna’s face. “I came into the smithy one morning and saw a small baby girl – you, my sweet, beautiful little baby girl – laying right on the edge of the forge, dressed in naught but soot and your mother’s pendant, now burning from within. I rushed forward to save you from the heat…”
“But I wasn’t in any danger, was I.” Kenna smiled.
“No, you weren’t, love. You were happy as could be – your bright eyes looking up at me; hair the colour of flame curling onto the stone, seemingly merging with the fire. I picked you up, marvelled at how hot you were, and checked you for burns or other wounds. There were none.”
“Of course not.”
“I rushed you to Mrs Howell, the midwife, thinking you had a fever. She took one look at you and crossed herself.” The blacksmith shook his head, a sad look coming over him. “After that, the rumors began. You know them well – talk of how I consorted with a devil, you being a witch child, a demon, a bad omen. Had I not been the only blacksmith in the area I’m certain they would have chased us away. Or worse.” Kenna nodded solemnly, stroking her father’s hair gently. “But, I protected you and raised you and taught you the trade. And now you’re a better blacksmith than I ever was!” He beamed with pride and pulled her close. “My little girl, all grown up.”
With considerable effort, he slid back down in the bed, making himself comfortable. Kenna tucked him in, kissed his forehead and stroked his cheek. “Good night, dad.” He murmured a reply and took her hand in his. She stayed with him until his grip loosened and the heat went out of him. As the sun rose on her first day alone she missed the body that had been her father and whispered a soft ‘thank you’ before going out to tell the village the sad news.
The leaves were starting to turn yellow and the air held a chill even her inner fire couldn’t keep at bay. As she walked, Kenna took out her pendant and looked at it. The glow inside the stone was fading – almost completely gone now. She would have to find a mate soon.