I watched his hammer slam, over and over and over again, against the white-hot piece of iron. The metal seemed to resist the brutality. Its shape did not change; only sparks. Yet the smithy continued beating the strap of metal without mercy, as if it had done unspeakable things to his daughter. The rhythm of his abusive attack never varied. I discerned no deviation in the constancy of his abuse; the unwavering rage of his hammer was breathtaking.
Finally, he stopped. He looked hard at the piece of dirty iron, as if searching it for answers to unanswerable questions. After a pause, he grasped the piece with heavy pincers and thrust the throbbing molten beast into a barrel of coal-black water. An explosive hiss erupted from the bowels of the cask, followed by the popping and cracking of hot iron reducing itself to something hard and cold.
The smithy drew the defeated piece of iron from the water and set it next to four identical strips resting on a tree-stump near the furnace, each of them perfect silver bands, curved into arcs, almost circles. He pulled his elbow-length heavy leather gloves from his hands and placed them next to his creations, then wiped the sweat from his brow with a grey rag, stained with smoke and rust. “Just twenty more and you’ll have the makings of five fine oak barrels, provided you’ve done your part in hewing the oak.”