The prompt for this one fitted in with a story that I’ve been mulling over for several years (!) about a blacksmith who’s afraid of the sea – and for good reason, as this piece illustrates.
Once again, I’m amazed by what just comes out if I give myself even the tiniest opportunity to write. But I think the strictness of a writing prompt with a 15 minute time scale is really helpful. You can’t do anything but let your subconscious take over.
The sea took his sister first. She was six, he was eight, and they knew of the dangers of the water – or at least they knew the water itself could be dangerous. They didn’t know then – and Elisa would never grow old enough to find out – about the other things the sea held and about its very greatest danger.
It wasn’t even a summer’s day, not the kind of day when the other village children took turns showing off their bravery by jumping from the jetty into the sparkling, cool water. No, when the sea took Elisa it was grey and coolish, only barely into spring, and the water was bitterly cold.
Samuel had always felt fortunate that it had in no way been his fault. He hadn’t been minding his sister that day – hadn’t even been conscious, sick with a fever that had his mother at his bedside, frantic that she might be going to lose one of her children.
And so she had. But not him. Instead, Elisa had sneaked away from their father – not a difficult task when he was intent on forming metal in the smithy – and Samuel’s parents only realised she’d gone when the solemn procession came to a stop outside the house, Elisa’s soaked and lifeless body laid out on the handcart of the shellfish gatherer who’d found her.
Even in his fevered dreams Samuel had heard the screams, and the nightmares generated by the ensuing uproar had almost finished his fever-weakened frame.
But he’d survived. And so had his parents, although they never really spoke to each other again. Samuel’s father, always a taciturn man, had become almost silent, only speaking to give Samuel an instruction as he taught him the business of smithing. And his mother had turned from the village schoolteacher, lively and with always a kind word for everyone, into a grey shadow of a woman who took in mending and rarely left the house at all. Samuel had learned to buy food for what was left of his family, visiting the market every day with his mother’s basket over his arm, and if the other village children made fun of him to begin with, they stopped after he beat two of the bigger boys – older than him by several years – into a bloody mess. Learning to be a smith meant developing a smith’s muscles too, and it was not a profession known for its daintiness.
At 17, Samuel became a smith in his own right, and his masterpiece of an ornate sign to hang above the door of the village doctor had drawn appreciative comments from his father’s colleagues who’d come to assess it. The next day, his father went into the sea. As if he’d only been waiting all these years for Samuel to be able to provide for his wife.
But she didn’t live long either, pining away even further and finally just falling asleep over a pile of mending and never waking up again.
So Samuel found himself alone, with a livelihood and a house to be sure, but no love in his life – not even much companionship, as it was rumoured that he was a jinx and would carry on bringing ill luck to anyone coming to close to him.
Then he met Abigail, and he was sure the bad luck was over.
But the sea hadn’t finished with him yet.