Thursday, February 24, 2011

When Reggie Came To Town

The first time Reggie came to town, he caused quite a stir. Arnold had been mucking out the stables and was carting the third load of manure out to the garden when he saw him from afar. Reggie was coming up from the valley road at a halting, limping gate. Arnold stopped to stare. "Now there is something you don't see everyday," he thought to himself. The late afternoon sun shone brightly from Reggie's coat and mane. He didn't have the dull luster of the local work horses whose hide often sported burs and bald patches. The breeze caught Reg's hair just right and it fell across his face as he approached. He shook it back and addressed Arnold in a quiet, timid voice.

"Pardon me young sir," he began, "but is there a blacksmith in town and could you kindly lead me to him? I'm a stranger here and I need some help." He sounded embarassed to admit the last bit.

"Yes sir!" Arnold brightened, "My master would be more than happy to help you gentle sir. Come, it is only one street over." Arnold smiled as he thought of all the notoriety that he would garner among the locals as the one who brought the forrest creature to town. He smiled as he pictured himself retelling the tale for weeks around the inn's fireplace to a rapt audience. He would be famous. He turned to look at his new charge, the subject of his newly minted fame. The centaur followed at a slow pace and with every step of his right forefoot, he winced.

Arnold led him around the corner of the stables to the open courtyard of the smith. "Master, we have a customer!" Arnold called out. The smith turned from stoking the fire and out of habit, wiped his dirty hand on his leather apron before turning to greet his new customer. He blinked at Reggie who was framed by the late afternoon sun. The smith paused a moment before he stammered out, "What can I do for you sir?".

Reg put his forefoot up on the wood block and steadied himself from the cross beam. "I've got this bad hoof you see. It hurts like the devil to the point it goes clear up my leg. It's not a stone bruise, it hurts too badly for that. I don't know what to do with it and I was hoping you did." Reg wiped his brow on his forearm and looked the smith in the eye.

The smith scratched his beard and looked at the hoof, then he called out to Arnold, "Boy, go and fetch our guest a drink. Tell Mr. Miller we will have a pail of ale on account," and then in a much quieter voice he said, "and hurry yourself too!"

Arnold dashed off as quick as his legs could carry him and only paused to dodge Mrs. O'Leary and Mrs. O'Donnel at the well as he passed. Breathless, he asked Mr. Miller for the ale. "What's the hurry boy?"

"We've got a customer of some quality at the smithy and we need some of your excellent ale, but there is some haste about it or the customer is lost." Arnold fibbed and he hated to do it, but he knew he had to hustle the slow innkeeper or perhaps he would be missing precious time away from the centaur. If he wasn't there, then who would be able to tell the whole story to the village later? He had been the first to spot Reggie, so he had an obligation to be there for the whole thing, if for no other reason than having the bragging rights to the tale and make a name for himself.

No sooner did Mr. Miller set down the pail of ale than Arnold was off. Again he passed the old ladies and they called to him, "Where ya off to?".

"Gotta customer, gotta go," he called back over his shoulder. Arnold fetched the gourd dipper and held it up to Reggie as the smith got down on one knee and examined the hoof more closely.

"I'd advise you to have some of the ale the boy has brought. You've come quite a ways under a hot sun and I expect you'll be needin' some relief." Reggie took a long draw from the dipper and nodded his thanks. The smith started with his hands on his knee and slowly slid them to Reggie's ankle. "This may sting a bit but I gotta know." His probing hands slid lower and cradled Reg's hoof in his hands until he winced.

"I'll have a bit more of that ale now boy," Reggie said, perspiration standing out brightly on his forehead.

"Have you been runnin' any fever or had some chills perhaps?" the smith asked after he had sniffed the hoof very closely.

"Now that you mention it, I haven't felt myself for the past couple of days. What? What is it?"

"Rot. You got hoof rot. Some kinda infection an' there is only one kinda cure," the smith shook his head.

"What is it?" Reg asked.

"I gotta split the hoof and get it out."

Reggie just nodded and the smith got his chisel and hammer. In two blows, the hoof was split and the yellow seeped from it. The smith washed it with the last of the ale and patted it dry. Throughout the experience, Reggie kept a brave face, only pausing now and then to sigh softly. Arnold admired his courage.

"Now comes the hard part," the smith explained. "Hand me the hot tar there by the fire." Arnold carried the hot pot at arm's length and the smith daubbed it into the split hoof. The air smelled of char, but quickly the smith waved him away as Reggie took a deep breath. The smith eyed his work and smiled. In a moment, he had mounted a shoe on the split hoof. In twenty minutes, he'd done the other three.

"That'll hold ya for now," the smith grinned, "but in thirty days, you should come back and let me take another look at it. You'll be wanting to keep it clean and dry. Take this bottle of medicine and smear it on every night before ya bed down. It'll kill anything the tar didn't."

Reg looked down at the bottle in his hands and then back at the smith. "I don't know how to thank you," he began, "I've naught with me for payment..." he trailed off.

The smith smiled. "My wife's been after me to go up in the hills for some gooseberries and I been tellin' 'er that it just ain't time for them to be ripe just yet, but I figure thirty days will ripen 'em up quite a bit. When you come back, maybe you could bring enough for a couple of pies."

Reggie gave a brief nod and the sound of his fresh shod hooves resounded throughout the town as he dashed away for the cover of the deep forrest once more. "I'll never see the likes of him again," thought Arnold as he watched him fade into the gathering dark of the valley road.

For two weeks afterwards, Arnold could be found at the fireside of the inn retelling the tale about how he had coaxed this shy sylvan creature from the woods to seek the help of his learned master for his wound. By the fourth telling, the smith only entered the story slightly. By the eighth, the smith had only been there to hold the hot bucket of tar and to marvel at the skill of his young apprentice. When pressed for confirmation, the old smith would only scratch absentmindedly at his scraggly beard and say, "It is as the boy tells it," and he would hide his knowing smile behind the rim of his ale cup.

Thirty days had passed swiftly and everyone in town had heard Arnold repeat his story to the point it was old news and no one wanted to hear it yet again. The smith sent Arnold out to fetch more wood for the furnace and he was relieved to be away from the heat, if only for a moment. They had spent the morning working on some hinges for Mr. Miller's cellar door and the afternoon hammering out new shoes for Mr. O'Leary's mare. As Arnold filled his arms with wood for the greedy furnace, he happened to look down the valley road. His heart leaped and he took off at a run. Breathless, he rounded the corner of the smithy.

"Where's the wood boy? That furnace ain't gonna feed itself," the smith chided.

Arnold panted, "Master, he's come back! He's back and we better lay in some more shoes as there must be thirty more with him!"

Doc

6 comments:

  1. Wow, I liked that. Where did you come up with that idea?

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  2. Awesome story! Hope there enough ale for all.

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  3. Coaster Punchman- I saw the painting at the top of the page in an art book and the story just seemed to present itself. The artist's name was Arnold Bocklin so I used it as the name of the main character.

    Beach Bum- Thanks buddy, and no, there is never enough ale.

    Doc

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  4. Fine work, Doc. Well written and the characters really popped for me. Loved the smith and how he just let young Arnold go with his stories.

    The Smith sounds like a man I would share a drink with anytime!

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  5. Wow, Doc! This was wonderful - I was rivetted right through!

    A great ale tale! (and there's another ale tale here, too!

    (BTW - I really must get back into the FFF 'habit' !)

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