24. The Blacksmiths

WHEN THEY HAD BEEN for a long time roughly tossed about by the waves, they saw land in the distance. As they came near the shore, they could hear the roaring of a great bellows, and the thundering sound of smiths’ hammers striking a large glowing mass of iron on an anvil; and every blow seemed to Máel Dúin as loud as if a dozen men had brought down their hammers all together.

Then, across the water, they heard the heavy, booming voices of the smiths in conversation.

“Are they close at hand?” one asked from inside the great smithy.

“They are,” replied a smith who was standing in the doorway of the smithy, observing the approaching curragh.

“Who is it that approaches?” asked a third voice.

“Why, it is a gaggle of little boys, in a cockleshell!”

When Máel Dúin heard this, he hastily addressed the crew.

“Put back at once, but do not turn the curragh! Reverse the sweep of your oars, and let her move stern first, so that these giants will not realise that we are fleeing.”

The crew at once obeyed, and the boat began to move away from the shore, stern forward.

The first smith again spoke. “Are they near enough to the shore?” he asked the one who was watching. “Are they near the harbour?”

“They seem to be at rest,” answered the other, “for I cannot see that they are coming closer, and yet they have not turned their little boat to go back.”
Their voices rolled across the water like thunder.

A short time later, the first smith asked “And what are they doing now?”

“It seems,” said the other, “that they are fleeing! They are further off now than they were a moment ago!”

At this, the first smith rushed quickly out of the forge. He was a tall, burly giant, and he held in a great pair of tongs a massive ingot of iron still sparkling and glowing red from the furnace. Running down to the shore with long, heavy strides that shook the ground, he flung the red-hot mass with all his might at the curragh.

It fell a little short, and plunged into the water just near the prow, causing the whole sea to hiss and boil, and heave up around the boat. The voyagers plied their oars, so that they quickly got beyond his reach, and sailed, relieved, out into the open ocean.


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