The only blacksmith in Penthistle Ferry, Nicholas Bartholomew, struggled to keep pace with the demands. He worked day and night.
Sweat gleamed across Nick’s body, forming beads that rolled down his torso. His corded muscles pulsed as he hammered the red hot metal into shape. With each pound of his hammer, sparks flew in all directions.
He paused, “The sword! I forgot the sword. I must deliver it tonight.” Nick Recalled what Parson Greely said, ‘Nick, you must deliver the sword from the Flames of Ferrum to me on the night of the blood moon. On that night, the sword will gain its full power.’ If I get the sword to him tonight, I stand to make a considerable amount of money.”
Nick walked over to the bucket sitting on one of his workbenches. Reaching for a clean towel next to the bucket, Nick dunked the cloth into a cold bucket of spring water. Then wiped his face. The damp cloth soothed his irritated eyes dried from the searing heat.
He turned to hear his Aunt May’s voice, “Nicky, come eat, your dinner is getting cold.” She stood at the smithery door.
Patting his face with the cloth, “Auntie, I am finishing as we speak. I will be in shortly.”
“Hun, make sure you scrub well before you come in. You always smell like smoke and sweat.”
Aunt May, now in her seventies, Penthistle Ferry’s sole midwife and herbalist, delivered Nick. Though not blood related, Nick’s mom died in childbirth; May adopted Nick. He filled a void from the loss of her only child.
Aunt May, a widow, had a daughter, who died a tragic death at twenty-one.
A half-hour later, Nick walked into the kitchen, cleaned, and dressed for travel. He sat down in front of his plate. Cold, warm, or hot, Nick didn’t care. After a hard day’s work, he wolfed down the stew then chased his food with a mug of May’s homemade mead.
Getting up from the table, Nick walked over to the fireplace, where his aunt sat in her rocker, enjoying the warmth while she knitted and rocked.
Looking at her, he paused. When she acknowledged him, he bent down and kissed her on the forehead. “I must travel tonight. Parson Greeley is expecting the sword immediately. Concerned that Hallow’s Eve is upon us, ghostly activities will peak on that night. He said something about the Flames of Ferrum and magical properties to dispel the restless spirits.”
May jumped up out of her chair, grabbed Nick’s arm, “Oh, dear, no. Tonight is the blood moon. Can your journey not wait until morning? I have heard the howlings more frequently. Nicky, these are not ordinary wolves. But wolves spawned in the fiery pits of hell.
Besides, some claim the ghost of my dear daughter, Wanda Penthistle, haunts the river’s bend at this time every year. I don’t believe it. Wanda was such a sweet girl.”
Nick chuckled, “Auntie, you are the wisest woman I know. But your superstitions get the better of you. I will be fine. I now have the finest sword in Penthistle Ferry.”
Nick stopped laughing, became grave, “Aunt May, all of these years, and you have never told me how Wanda died.”
May sat back down in her rocking chair, cocked her head back with her eyes closed. She rocked for several silent moments. Tears began pooling from under her eyelids and ran down her wrinkled cheeks.
“Nick, as you know, I come from five generations of midwives before me. Wanda was the seventh generation. A beautiful, loving girl who treated everyone with kindness. She received the Gift. So attuned with nature, she was. Wanda could communicate with the animals, plants, and trees, and she knew things. Cotton Greely, Parson’s father, falsy, accused poor Wanda of dark sorcery then tried her as a witch. Cotton and his ilk drowned her at the river’s bend. The rumor is that my dear girl roams at the bend for six nights haunting all that come near there. On All Soul’s Day, she returns to her watery grave.”
Shaking his head in disbelief, Nick responded, “Auntie, you don’t truly believe those fairy tales, do you?”
May grabbed Nick’s hands and shook them as she spoke, “Lad take Faringo. He is the fastest and most sure-footed of the steeds. The wolves will be hot on your trail. Do not stop near the river’s bend. Some claim your father disappeared there. I suspect that that carousing drunken rascal probably ran off with some harlot to other parts. Now, you said that you forged the sword with ore from the Flames of Ferrum?”
“Yes. Parson Greely gave explicit instructions to travel inside the heart of Lion Mountain, draw molten ore from the Flames of Ferrum then beat the ore into a sword before it cooled the first time. Parson claims that Michael, the archangel forged his sword from that spot millennia ago. The ore is always red hot molten. He said that if I draw the sword from the Flames of Ferrum, then the newly forged sword will maintain certain magical properties. Laughing when I asked him what magic? He refused to tell me. He emphasized, ‘Nick! Do verbatim of what I say, and you will receive a year’s wages.’”
“And did you follow Parson’s instructions?”
“Yes, mam, Though not a superstitious man, I have my integrity. I followed his instructions and forged the sword in the heart of Lion Mountain. I have been so busy that I forgot and procrastinated until the last minute.”
A glint of hope formed on the old woman’s face, and She conceded, “Be swift about your business. KEEP THAT SWORD CLOSE AT ALL TIMES. This old woman’s heart is on edge until your safe return.”
Parson Greeley lived up the river about five miles. The bend Aunt May spoke of is approximately halfway to the Greely estate.
The red glow of the moon provided very little light under the canopy of the Ash and Oak. As Nick rode, occasionally, the red-silvery light reflecting off the river broke between the trees.
Fidgety, Faringo moved along the trail that followed the river. The howling wolves could be heard in the distance but seemed to get closer. Faringo fought to turn back home.
With all of his strength, Nick coaxed the stallion forward, “Whoa boy, it’s okay, steady, The wolves won’t get you. I will see to that.”
The trees cleared as Nick neared the bend. The river slowed and widened into a small lake. Nick paused for a moment to observe the beauty of the moonlight off the river.
In a trance staring at the river, Nick lost track of time. A woman appeared suddenly out of nowhere. Faringo reared back, throwing Nick and the sword to the ground then fled toward home. The sword flew several feet away.
After seconds of the world spinning around, Nick worked his way to his elbows to see a woman standing about ten feet from him watching him. She had such a calm smile on her face. The silvery red moonlight reflected off her eyes as she cocked her head. “Sir, are you alright?”
Nick shook off the dizziness. Struggling to get his balance, he stood. Looking the woman up and down, “Mam, what are you doing out here by yourself.”
She placed her hands on her hips, “Well, I could ask you the same thing.”
“I am on an errand. Some might say a fool’s errand. My name is Nicholas Bartholomew, but most people call me Nick. My Aunt May calls me Nicky. And. You are?”
Wanda pulled down her hood. The moonlight gave her an ethereal glow. In awe, Nick whispered to himself, “She is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.” Smiling, she bowed her head slightly, “I am Wanda Penelope Penthistle.”
“Wanda Penthistle! You are supposed to be dead!” Nick frantically searched for the sword. He spotted the sword about fifteen feet behind him, glowing a soft eery blue — Nick dove for the sword.
Wanda disappeared then reappeared at the sword before Nick had time to move a muscle. She reached down and picked up the sword. Circling the sword in her hand, she looked at Nick with disappointment. Nick braced for an attack.
Grabbing the sword by the blade, She extended the grip toward Nick. “I could never harm you. Or anyone else.”
Nick grabbed the sword and shook his head in dismay, “What about all the rumors of you luring and drowning men to their death?”
Wanda lowered her head then looked up to meet Nick’s gaze, “Nick, you look like a sensible guy. Do you believe everything you hear?”
Nick sighed, “No, I guess not. Up until now, I didn’t believe in ghosts or the supernatural. I thought they were old wives’ tales. Why are you still here? Why haven’t you moved on? Your mother speaks of you as if you are an angel from heaven.”
“A powerful sorcerer, Cotton Greely, cursed me because I refused to marry his son. I discovered that Cotton performed the dark arts sacrificing animals. I could hear their deathly cries. When he suspected that I knew, he brought me before the Paladin Counsel. They condemned me, then Greely executed me.”
Wanda lowered her gaze, “I am condemned to walk the earth for six nights then return to my grave. I am bound here by the three wolves. They arrive every year at the time of my awakening.”
Nick turned to hear growling behind him. Three giant wolves stood ready to pounce. He raised the sword toward the wolves, the blue glow intensified.
Nick pointed the sword to keep each wolf at bay, “I have never seen anything like this.”
One would fake an attack then the other attempting to tire Nick.
At first glance, Nick thought they were black wolves. But these wolves were like shadows. They appeared to absorb the light around them. They had eyes that burned orange and glowed like the flames of hell. When the wolves snarled, their teeth dripped red venom to which even the restless dead are not immune.
The alpha stood center while the other two flanked Nick and Wanda.
Wanda raised her arms and sang. With the voice of an angel, she sang an ancient song in an unknown tongue. The wolves paused for a moment. Nick plunged the sword into the heart of the closest wolf. Throwing off Wanda’s enchantment, a second wolf raced to attack her. As the beast leaped toward her, she disappeared then reappeared on the other side of Nick. Nick swung the sword severing the head of the creature.
Cunning and patient, the alpha paced back and forth, looking for an opening. Nick followed the beast with the sword extended.
“Nick, it looks as though you are at a standoff with this beast.”
Nick dared not take his eyes off the supernatural beast but darted a glance to see Parson Greely and three of his men on horses. “Give me the sword, and I shall defeat the final beast.”
Nick sensed a sullenness emanating from Wanda. “Aunt May did say she had the Gift.”
Keeping the sword between him and the wolf, “Parson, why is this sword so important to you?”
Parson smirked, “She didn’t tell you? Well, if you must know.”
Wanda interrupted, “Nick, he intends to use the power of the sword to resurrect me then force me to marry him. He has waited twenty-three years for the blood moon to fall on one of the six nights that I walk the earth. I would rather die than marry this man. He is of the same evil as his father.”
Wanda strolled toward the wolf, “Just one bite from the wolf, and it is over. I may spend eternity with the damned but better than with Parson Greely.”
At the moment, the wolf was to sink its teeth into Wanda; Nick threw the sword. The sword pierced the beast’s right eye to the hilt and exited out the left ear. Nick quickly charge and pulled the sword free. “Wanda, you are free.”
Parson yelled, “Nick, give me the damned sword. Now!”
Nick turned to see that one of Parson’s men had sheathed an arrow.
Wanda teleported herself in-between the archer and Nick, “Parson, if you harm this man. I will leave, and your chance blown.”
Parson raised his hand, “Lower your bow.”
Wanda had a trick of her own up her sleeve. She sang, and the nearest ash tree came to life. The tree reached down then pulled the four men off of their horses. Like a constrictor, branches coiled around them binding their arms to the sides of their bodies. The four dangled off the ground helplessly
“Nick, go! I will hold them until you are safe.”
Wanda’s courage and bravery stirred something deep in Nick. “Wanda, how would you like to live again? You could see your mother before she died. And.I. I could get to know you.”
Wanda gazed in Nick’s eyes for several seconds. “Yes, I would like that. I want to get to know you too. Oh, of course, see my mother.”
“What must I do to resurrect you?”
“Plunged the sword deep in my heart. When you pull out the sword, the magic will happen.”
Nick did as she told him. Wanda fell face forward into his arms. He was sure that she was indeed dead. After several long seconds, she stirred.
Sunlight broke the horizon as Wanda and Nick neared his home. “What will happen to Greely and his men?”
“Oh, I told Ashbury, that’s the trees name, to hold them for the night and let them go today.”
Aunt May rounded the corner of the house from gathering eggs for breakfast.
Dropping the basket of eggs, she drew her hands to her cheeks, “Nick, who is…My girl, Wanda, you are home!”