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The Royal Blacksmith by Fletcher Reade

 

There was born one day in the grandest palace that ever the sun shone upon a child whose life was for many years a sad and weary one. He was a cripple from his birth; and the Queen his mother, whose heart was so full of pride that there was no room left in it for love, hated the innocent babe, and refused to take him in her arms.

He, poor fellow, would no doubt have been as handsome as any of us if he had been consulted about the matter; but as no one asked him whether he would prefer being ugly or beautiful, he could hardly have been to blame for coming into the world with one leg longer than the other.

The Queen, however, did not stop to think of this. The longer she looked at him, the more angry she became, until at last, when no one was looking, she snatched him from his cradle, and threw him out of the window.

Down through the blue air fell the baby boy; still down and down, till he reached the sea. Stretching out their arms as if to welcome such a royal playfellow, the waves clapped their white hands, until the little Prince crowed and cooed for joy.

Far away beneath the waves lived two nymphs named Eurynome and Thetis, who, when they heard what had happened, decided to adopt the child. Hastening to his assistance, Thetis took him in her arms, and the two hurried along under the sea until they reached the home which they had made for themselves in one of the loveliest of the ocean caverns.

Here the boy lived for many years, but he could not forget his old home among the mountains of Olympus.

"I shall never be happy," he said to himself, "until I regain my rightful place among the sons of Zeus."

He had already displayed great skill in carving, and the little grotto of Thetis was like a piece of wonderland, fitted and furnished with all manner of curious ornaments made by the lame boy, Hephæstus.

As he grew older he resolved to turn his talents to account, so he made friends with the Old Man of the Sea, an elderly gentleman of uncertain temper, who spent his time in sailing over the ocean in an enormous shell drawn by sea-horses.

To him Hephæstus brought a trident, hoping that the gift would induce him to offer the young exile his assistance in making peace with the Queen.

Now this trident was a magical three-pronged spear, with which the owner could still the waves in their wildest fury. It was therefore almost invaluable to the old sailor; but although he accepted the gift, and praised the workmanship, he forgot to thank the workman, and sailed grandly away.

It was not long after this that the lame Prince, walking one day through the woods, fell in with a band of wandering musicians.

Some were dancing; others were singing; and as he examined them more closely, he saw that they had legs and hoofs and even long ears like goats.

While he stood looking with wondering eyes at these fantastic beings, the leader of the band suddenly approached him, and said,

"What aileth thee, my brother? Tell me thy trouble, that I may make thee glad again, for I can not abide a sorrowful countenance."

"I am called Hephæstus," replied the Prince; "but I know not who you may be, to call me brother."

"You will be wiser when you are older," laughed his new friend. "It is enough for you to know now that I am a son of Zeus. But I like not the solemn grandeur of the court, so I live in the woods, keeping holiday all the year. These fauns and satyrs are my friends; and if you will join our company, I can promise you a merry life and a long one."

But Hephæstus shook his head.

"I can never be happy," he said, "until I have won the love of the Queen-mother. To do that I must show her that I have gifts quite as valuable as beauty; but I have no one to plead my cause, and I, alas! do not know the way to Olympus."

"If that is all your trouble," answered the merry man of the woods, "set your heart at rest, for I myself will present you at court."

With these words, the good-natured Bacchus threw the skin of a wild beast over his shoulders, and the two travellers became the best of friends as they journeyed together along the road which lies between the wooded heights where the satyrs dance, to the hill where the Olympian palace hides half its rosy towers among the clouds.

The Queen at first would not recognize her son; the unhappy Prince hung his head, and the assembled courtiers laughed long and loud at the awkward silence of the youth.

Bacchus, however, was not to be frightened by laughter, however inextinguishable, and he pleaded his brother's cause so well that the Queen finally consented to overlook his ugliness, and ordered that a palace be built for him.

"All I ask," said the Prince, "is a workshop, a pair of bellows, and a forge."

"Then you are not my son, after all," exclaimed the Queen. "You are nothing but a poor blacksmith."

"'Tis true I am a blacksmith," he answered, "but I will show you that I am no common workman."

Concealing her astonishment, the Queen ordered his request to be granted, and Hephæstus, glad but silent, limped away.

Day after day found him at his work; and at length one morning, when the King and Queen were sitting in their banqueting hall, the doors were thrown open, and there appeared at each entrance a golden table laden with nectar and ambrosia.

One by one the tables walked across the hall as if they had been alive, and close behind followed Hephæstus, supported on either side by lovely maidens, fashioned, like the tables, out of gold.

To the King he presented a golden sceptre and thunderbolts, which no one but Zeus himself could hold.

"Thou art indeed our son," cried the King. "Choose what thou wilt, and it shall be given thee."

Looking around the court, the eyes of Hephæstus rested at last on Venus—a Princess so beautiful that she was supposed to have been made of sea-foam.

"Grant me, O Zeus, that I may have this lady for my wife," said Hephæstus.

The request was granted almost before it was asked, and the wedding which followed was one of the most brilliant that had ever taken place in the country of Olympus.

Venus, however, was as false as she was beautiful, and Hephæstus was often unhappy; but he consoled himself as best he could by keeping perpetually at work, sometimes making a brazen shield for one friend, or forging a suit of armor for another.

So it came to pass that the lame boy Hephæstus, exiled from his father's court on account of his ugliness, became the world-renowned royal blacksmith, honored by all for his patient endurance of wrong, for his matchless skill, and for his loving service.