Turnips the dog snapped at the flies buzzing around his head, circled three times and settled into the straw bed near the shoeing stool. Evening brought the onslaught of skeeters swarming around the water trough and under the weeping willow trees. Light from outside the blacksmith shop was dimming enough that the glow from the brazier seemed brighter by contrast. Turnips sighed a lazy huff and lowered his shaggy head onto his paws.
Around the side of the low ramshackle smithy, two lethargic Clydesdales ambled by, pulling firewood from the foothills into town. October was almost over bringing the first frosty mornings, but the afternoons still suffocated in a summer that refused to go away. The dust from the yard desperately needed a good rainstorm to settle it down.
Turnips lay in filthy contentment in the cooler air closer to the floor. His day had been epic, as far as dog days go. The morning was full of exploration and rolling in fun-smelling dead and flattened bullfrog. The afternoon had been spent wandering the streets of Turnips’ own town, Trinity Hollow. Now it was time for dinner after the master finished his work.
From inside the shack, a steady sound of the bellows created a rhythm for the pounding of the hammer on the anvil, which lulled Turnips to sleep.
On a short stool at the bellows sat Henry, a boy of twelve who looked forward to someday having his own smith shop. He was covered in sweat and soot, but his smile grew brighter as each blast of air urged the coals to the proper intensity of heat.
Prentice, the blacksmith, hovered over the anvil, carefully swinging his hammer to the rhythm of the bellows. Prentice was a short man, but powerfully built. His arms stuck out from his chest like cranes from a ship, long and powerful from a lifetime of working iron into useful tools and works of art. Sweating in the golden glow of the brazier, Prentice considered himself lucky to have the shop at such a young age. The shop had been his father’s — until he died — and now was his. Prentice was determined to continue the proud legacy his father had created: “To do him proud” Prentice would say to his neighbors. His happiness and his commitment to sustain his father’s excellent reputation brought him a lot of business. It also helped that Prentice was the only blacksmith in thirty miles.
Henry liked Prentice. He looked up to him. And, it is safe to say that Prentice was everything Henry wanted to be when he grew up. Henry liked that Prentice was young, independent, strong, and a good storyteller. He came to help Prentice whenever he could and would often stay to listen to the corny jokes Prentice would share with his customers.
“Excuse me, Mister Hart,” called a figure in the doorway. There stood Henry’s father. It was time for Henry to come home.
“Howdy, Mr. Turner, Come for Henry, eh?” Prentice asked, watching the boy dunking his head in the cooling barrel.
Prentice handed Henry a towel and asked, “You be back tomorrow, Hercules?”
Mr. Turner looked at Henry and asked. “Hercules?!?”
“Yep, the boy’s getting pretty strong . . . almost wrestled a bone away from Turnips today! Sometimes even I find it hard to do that!”
“Well,” Mr. Turner sighed. “I have a load of brick for the foundation of Mrs. Turner’s Teahouse, and Henry’s new found strength is going to be needed to get the brick from the front yard to the back. But, he’ll be back when he’s done, probably this weekend at the latest, Prentice.”
Prentice smiled and jokingly chided. “Well, I don’t know Mr. Turner. I’d hate to ask Turnips there to run the bellows tomorrow instead; he’s kind of on vacation this month.” Then, chuckling, Prentice reached into his pocket and pulled out two bits and handed it to Henry.
Prentice grabbed a clean hand towel and said, “I was about to lay off for the evening anyway; Turnips is giving me the ol’ evil eye.”
Prentice watched as Henry and his father disappeared down the road, laughing at Prentice’s joke about “Hercules Henry.” Then he turned to Turnips, and as he put the cover on the brazier, began to talk to his best friend and companion.
“You ready for dinner, Nips? Yeah? Right then, let’s eat.”
Night found Prentice sitting on his wood pile. He shifted a little so his shoulder blade would be more comfortable. The noise woke Turnips, who sat up and began to study his master. Prentice was deep in thought and had sat deep into the night on more than one occasion. Faraway thoughts rambled around his mind. Prentice was a blacksmith, but not a simple man. His prayers reached the Creator throughout the day, but especially at night. Lately, many a thankful prayer for God’s overwhelming provision had shot up like fireworks from the woodpile. Now he was watching the moon slip away into the higher branches of the willow trees. It might have looked as if he were a lonely man, but for the smile of contentment on his face. If you asked him if he thought he was lonely Prentice would probably have laughed and said something like, “Lonely? No sir! Now, if I was lonely I’d probably be off somewhere else doing something about it.”
“This is the life, Nips!” Prentice said, as he grappled with a handful of dirty floppy ear. “No one to bother. I live like I want, and have all I want of good eatin’. Nope, I wouldn’t exchange my life for nothin’ Nips. Look at that moon there. You couldn’t find a prettier picture anywhere — darn skeeters!” Prentice slapped a big one on his now clean bicep. “Only these darn skeeters to bother me. But, I suppose they gotta live somewhere too, huh Nips?”
Soon the moon was very high and full in the sky. Moon shadows painted the ground a pleasing contrast of light and dark, making the smithy’s front yard look like an abstract checkers board.
“There’s something about this here moon, I’m not too sure about, Turnips. I mean, here I am and there it is — the way it usually is — but there’s something different up there now. It’s like it’s alive and breathin’. Can ya feel it Nips?” Prentice leaned forward and grabbed the big dog by the neck, startling him out of his sleep. Oh, sleepin,’ eh? Wake up! I’m talkin’ at ya!” Prentice laughed, and pointed Turnips’ head towards the moon. “Look at that moon. Will ya? Ain’t it somethin’ else? Just like it was starin’ down at me the same way I’m starin’ up at it, all shimmery and brighter than ever before! Kinda spooky if ya ask me.”
But, Nips wasn’t listening to Prentice this time. His sensitive ears had picked up a sound he had never heard before, shrill and wavering but definitely melodic. So melodic that Nips got up and started to wander slowly into the moonlight. Tilting his head back and forth, Nips began to whimper.
Turnips had never acted this way before. Curiosity mixed with apprehension caused the hairs to stand up on Prentice’s neck. “You hear that too, Nips?” he asked as he stepped down from the wood pile. Standing in the shadows looking into the moonlight, the sound of his breathing mingled with the melodic warbling that seemed to come from the moonlight. Slowly walking into the light, Prentice turned to look across the road.
Standing in the dry grass on the other side of the fence across the road, and under a giant overgrown willow tree, stood a girl, or rather a very young woman. A bright pool of moonlight shone down around the woman, highlighting her silvery hair and the glittering sky blue gown she wore. But, it was her eyes that Prentice noticed first.
Set close together in an extremely petite face, the woman’s eyes looked as if they were on fire — a deep scintillating blue fire. She smiled at Prentice, revealing rows of even, small, white teeth. Prentice stood stunned in the yard. Nothing like this had ever happened in Trinity Hollow. “No one dresses like that around here.” Prentice absent-mindedly mumbled, “Nips, I don’t think that woman is from around here . . .” Prentice could not take his eyes off the woman.
The woman was staring back at Prentice and began to smile. An audible trilling sound similar to the sound that had frightened Nips began to fill the air. The sound seemed to come not only from the woman, but also from the surrounding area. It was like a dozen canaries singing in harmony — in their sleep. Prentice stood in the middle of the road, every sense brought to attention. The branches on the willows remained motionless in the still air; the moonlight outlined every detail in the grain of the wood of the fence. Each dust particle in the road seemed to stand out, and the night air expanded and contracted with each thunderous breath Prentice took. Heartbeat, heartbeat, heartbeat . . .
Frightened by the strange noise, Turnips suddenly came to life and began to bark at the woman. Instantly, the woman turned and fled with the speed of a pleasant dream upon waking, the pool of moonlight pointing her out as she flitted through the trees.
Prentice watched until the woman had disappeared into the trees. Then he sat back down on his woodpile holding Turnips, overwhelmed, speechless, and incredibly wide awake. He sat there until the moon had fallen below the trees. Who was she? Where did she come from? If only Turnips hadn’t barked! The thoughts and questions cascading through his mind would not let him sleep.
The next day, Prentice struggled to keep his mind on his work. So, he closed up early and took Turnips for a long walk out of town to do some fishing. His thoughts replayed the previous night’s events over and over. Later, after a dinner of trout and baked potato – and being the kind of man that talks to animals – he sat down to reason with Turnips to not scare the woman away again. Something was telling Prentice that she would be back.
The moon couldn’t rise fast enough that night. Unable to sit on the woodpile, Prentice paced around the yard praying for God to bring the woman back. A couple of times clouds skimmed the face of the moon as it was rising, causing Prentice to anxiously glance at the sky. He didn’t know what was happening; all he knew was that he wanted to see the woman again. She was beautiful, and exciting, like no one he had ever encountered. And, it did something to his heart. A longing was growing inside of him that he hadn’t known was there, and it was kind of scary. Part of him was stirring, coming to life. The emotions were unexpected and he didn’t know how to deal with them. All Prentice could think of was that he wanted to see the woman again.
When the trilling sound came, Prentice had just taken the precaution of tying Turnips to the water pump in the yard. It came so suddenly Prentice almost tripped over Turnips and had to grab the pump handle to keep from falling. Slowly, he walked over to the fence, his short stocky legs wobbly with expectation. “Will she talk to me?” Prentice whispered.
Prentice stopped in the road a few yards from the fence, his heart in his throat. Her eyes were even more enchanting up close, and it took Prentice some time to muster the courage to talk.
“What is your name?” asked Prentice, smiling like a little boy.
The woman just smiled back, through that moonlit aura.
That was when the midnight stagecoach came rumbling up the road almost running Prentice over. After it passed, Prentice looked up and the woman was gone, a bare glimmer of moonlight receding through the trees as she did the night before.
Prentice stood there leaning on the fence until the sky began to turn orange as the sun rose over his blacksmith shop.
Prentice did not sleep that day. Instead, he walked into town and with his life savings bought as much silver as he could afford. The woman behind the counter stood stunned by the amount of money the blacksmith spent. Then he walked as fast as he could back to his shop.
Prentice hurried to his shop and began to work on an idea that had grown out of the sleeplessness. He worked through the day creating a mold for the surprise he had in mind for the woman he was now calling Moonfire. The mold was finished after a hasty lunch, eaten under the baleful stare of Turnips, who was still tied up to the water pump. Melting the silver quickly followed to prepare it for pouring in the mold. When darkness came he worked on cleaning up his messy blacksmith shop while the silver cooled.
Finally, as the sun was beginning to drop past the fence across the street, Prentice began the process of removing the silver from the mold. As he carefully chipped the mold away, a silver tiara came forth in the light of the brazier. With a piece of steel wool and a soft cloth, the silver began to shine. A work of love was revealed.
Prentice had convinced himself that this woman, Moonfire, was someone the Good Lord had sent to him. Moonfire was special and the last two nights had convinced Prentice that it wasn’t good for him to be alone anymore. The time had come to deal with that, and also that this was an obvious sign from God. So now he was going to do something about it. Although Prentice knew he wasn’t a beautiful man– short, stocky and probably smelly– he knew how to create beauty and was sure that this skill would help him convince this gift from God that he was worthy of her.
The time weighed on Prentice, increasing his anxiety. His eyes were trying to pierce the darkness outside of the shop, and his ears were sifting through the millions of night sounds. But, he didn’t go outside. He stayed inside polishing the tiara.
Soon the moon arrived over the shop lighting the yard, the road, and the fence across the road . . . and then the trilling began. Prentice and Turnips both stood and looked for Moonfire. But, instead of running to the fence, Prentice sat down on his shoeing stool, holding the tiara and waiting in the dark, hoping to draw Moonfire into the shop. Prentice figured that he could limit the interruptions in his own shop.
Slowly the sound came closer, until a bright silvery glow edged around the door. Standing apprehensively by the door, peering into the darkness of the room, stood Moonfire. Curiosity overcame her animal-like skittishness. She was acting like a deer carefully approaching a salt lick, wary of being ambushed.
At first, Moonfire wouldn’t come any closer than the door. But, when Prentice stood and beckoned her into the room she blushed and slowly walked into the room. Soon, she was standing right in front of Prentice, closer than she had come before, and it looked as though she was trying to say something to him. Prentice thought perhaps if she saw the gift he had for her she would say something, so Prentice brought it out into the light of the brazier and presented it to her.
“Please take this. I . . . I don’t know you. But, I think you are the most beautiful person I have ever seen. Please, I made this for you. I made it so that you might feel like talking to me. I really don’t have anyone here to talk to, except old Turnips. I made it for you. I hope you like it. It’s real silver, you know.”
When she made no move towards taking the tiara, Prentice slowly reached out and put the tiara on her head and leaned forward to kiss her.
The woman smiled but placed her hand gently on Prentice’s lips to stop him. “Thank you Prentice, but this is not for me.” I am merely a messenger sent by your Father in Heaven. I have been sent to bring you a message from Him. He wants you to know that He loves you and will take care of what you need. He created your heart, hears every one of your prayers, and knows you are lonely. Only you must understand that I cannot stay with you. As much as I would like to, I am an angel and I must return to Heaven. My name is Arendal, and I watch over you always.” Arendal reached up, took the tiara, and placed it back into Prentice’s’ hands.
“An angel?” Prentice thought. God sent me an angel? “You watch over me?” Prentice asked.
“Yes,” Arendal replied. “I am your guardian angel. I have watched over you since you were first born. Your heart is strong and your love for the Father and His Son is praised around the throne. You are not alone, Prentice, never alone when the King of All is your Father.”
With that, Arendal disappeared and left Prentice standing in the light of the brazier holding the silver tiara.
Later the next morning – Prentice prepared to return to his routine. Still pondering what had happened the night before, the tiara sat on the shoeing stool, watched closely by Turnips. Prentice was tying his apron around his waist and pulling his heavy hammering gloves onto his hammer-shaped hands, when he heard someone approaching, the sound of a horse being led by someone, a horse that had thrown a shoe. He thought more work . . . then turned to look at who was coming.
Standing in the doorway was a young woman, the woman who had sold him the silver from town the day before leading a beautiful coal black mare and a horseshoe. She looked down and saw the tiara sitting on the stool, then looked at Prentice.
“So that’s what you did with all that silver!” she exclaimed. “It’s beautiful!! I see that you are more than a blacksmith; you are an incredible artist! What do you plan to do with it?”
Prentice’s mouth fell open. She was the spitting image of Arendal! He had not noticed her the day before. But, there she stood, plain as day, the answer to Arendal’s reminder that God knew what he needed. Here was the Hand of God demonstrated in a tangible way. Arendal was as sure a sign as any.
Prentice stepped forward, took the reins of the horse, and as he checked the hoof said, “I have not figured out what to do with it yet. It is for someone special.” He looked up at the woman and their eyes met and Prentice felt his soul soar with the love he saw staring back at him.
“What is your name?” Prentice asked.
“Nancy,” she replied, as she joyfully reached out to shake Prentice’s hand.