The Blacksmiths Cosmos and Damian
By Connie Phlipot
The villagers loved them, or to be more precise, “respected” them, because the love was tinged with a bit of fear. How could you not be a little afraid of such strong characters. They looked as if forged from the same iron as the harnesses and rails and pots and pans they made. No one had ever seen them get hurt, or look sad. They smiled, though, especially at the village children who wrapped their arms around the blacksmith’s legs and begged to be lifted up — high up on the blacksmiths’ shoulders. In a country of short, block-shaped peasants, stocky women with thick thighs and wide hips, men solid and stubby as the tree stumps the lumber jacks left behind the blacksmiths were giants.
The village could not exist without them. Fixing the farm and carpentry tools, shoeing the horses, bending harnesses to fit any size horse. The village needed the blacksmiths to carry on their farming as much as they needed the rain, the sun and the rich dark earth that yielded the best wheat and sugar beets around. Cosmos and Damian never turned down the villagers’ requests for help — any time of day, on Sundays and feast days and even during the harsh Lent when they ate so little.
Except one request they would never fulfill — to enter their forge. The villagers knew not to ask because by the time they were old enough to the walk to the fields alone, they had heard the story. The landlord’s new foreman, a guy from the town, had been walking about, getting a sense of this place he was living in. A place so dull. The sole store sold only dry goods; you had to wait a week for the traveling salesperson to bring tobacco or alcohol. Most of the villagers made their own brew. Foul stuff it was. But the forest enchanted him. Silvery birch leaves sparkling among the fur trees as richly green as the prince’s velvet jacket. And the wide river with low banks reflected the mood of the sky like a fairy tale mirror. Happy, fluffy clouds, jubilant sun, scowling storm clouds. You could read the sky in the river. He heard the fish were fat and the fighting kind that tasted best. Worth the struggle to catch them.
In a cleared section of the woods, the foreman saw an intricate wrought iron fence. He thought it was a thick vine until he touched the smooth cold metal. Its creator had covered it in metal leaves, a sort of ivy that he had never seen except in picture books. The whole fence could be just a decoration for a fancy house except that the structure was so strong and tall, it had to be designed to keep people out — or something in. He put one foot on the bottom rung of the fence; he wobbled. The sharpness of the thick mass of metal leaves made it difficult to safely grasp the rail for balance. He caught his breath and tried to figure out how he could scale the fence.
He heard a rustling, or whistling, like wind blowing under a tin roof. The two tallest men he had ever seen approached him from the other side of the fence. Their faces were iron masks of rage. He put his foot down on the ground and backed away, slowly, until they disappeared. He ran back to the landlord’s house. He left the village the next day and never returned.
Cosmos and Damian didn’t mention the intrusion, but no one ever attempted it again. Life went on… the seasons of planting and harvesting. Generations of peasants, never questioning that the blacksmiths never died, never even got old, just kept mending, forging, shoeing.
Until the war. The villagers had paid little attention to the conflict. They knew about it, of course. Some young men had even been conscripted, but otherwise it didn’t concern them.
One night a flash of light, like the intense storm after a hot summer day, sent the villagers rushing outside. An airplane blazed in the woods. The first airplane they had ever seen and here it was lying on one broken wing. Then they heard the growling — a pack of dogs? But the dogs were already inside the courtyards for the night. A black mass moved from the wreckage. Large glittering eyes stared at the villagers and an iron tail swung left and right, slashing trees. They ran back to their houses.
The airplane flames sputtered out. The villagers forgot their fear of the dragon-like creature and searched through the ruins for pieces of metal that the blacksmiths could make something useful out of.
Except that Cosmos and Damian were gone. Had the serpent destroyed them? Someone said the creature was really the blacksmiths themselves. But they never found out.
Sunday Writers' Club Member
Connie is a retired U.S. diplomat, who has recently completed a novel based on her grandparents emigration from what is now Belarus. She is now working on a novel or linked short stories focused on her fascination with Central and Eastern Europe.