Illustrated by: Robert Rayevsky
Published by: Morrow, 1991
Copyright © Marilyn Singer 1991

The Golden Heart of Winter


When the leaves were crisping and the grass glowed in its final burst of green, a blacksmith felt the autumn in his sinews, laid down his hammer on his anvil, and called to his three sons.

“No one can make a sword that sings like I can,” the eldest was boasting.

“My knives are so fine, they fly from their masters’  hands without being thrown,” the second son bragged, waving a dagger before him.

“Enough!” bellowed their father.  “Be quiet and listen to me.”  He looked around the forge. “Where is Half?”

“Here, Father,” his youngest son said from the corner where he’d been watching a mouse. Half, so named by his brothers, did not make knives or swords.  No one would let him near the forge, for they all thought him a fool.  Instead, he fetched wood for the furnace and cleaned out the ashes.  And he was very good at soothing the horses that had to be shod.

The blacksmith looked at his sons and shook his head sadly.  “I am tired,” he said.  “I am growing old.  Soon I will lay down my hammer for the last time.  I would have all three of you run this smithy, but I see that it cannot be.  Therefore, one of you alone must take my place.”

“Then that one shall be me,” said the eldest son.

“No, no.  It shall be me,” insisted the second son.

Half said nothing at all.

The blacksmith raised his hand.  “Listen well and learn how I shall choose my heir.  Go forth, each of you, and bring back something of value.  Whatever is worth the most will mark the master of this forge.”

The two eldest sons looked at each other.  Then they turned to Half, who was studying a beetle scuttling across the floor.

“This half-wit as well is to go on such a quest?”  The eldest laughed.

“Yes, he will go.  He, too, is my son.”

“But, Father…” the second son began.

“No more words.  There will be time enough for words when you return.”