Tobias watched his hands shake, considering again the dread he felt facing the forge. His breath steamed in the crystalline air of an early winter. The cold outside sent sluggish spikes of pain through his belly, belying the intense heat of the almost white-hot coal. The smith picked up his hammer and tongs, spitting into the blaze.
"Another winter of this," the rugged hulk of a man muttered, "and I'll throw myself into that forge." He sighed heavily in a sort of barking cough. The knot in his belly failed to disappear.
Tobias hefted the tongs in his left hand. The Jovian weight of the hammer tugged at his right hand and arm, but was no match for the bulging muscles shaped by years of pounding metal. Hands rough and large, scarred by embers and red-hot iron. The smith stared at his hands as if seeing them for the first time. The resentment he felt for his hands flared bright in his mind. Today it felt like hatred.
Tobias choked back an oath. His hands were always dirty. No amount of scrubbing with sand or, when he could get it, pumice could seem to clean his hands. Nails perpetually grimy and creases in the skin like trenches filled with graphite. He simply wanted clean hands.
If he never again had to breathe in the fumes of smoldering coal and burning straw, Tobias reckoned he could be a happy man. The only way he knew to fix that was to find another trade. The village, he knew, wouldn't let him. They needed the things he made, that was true. But not as many of the villagers were willing to help out now and again. Not as many would want to get soot ground in their skin to do something useful. The smith scratched the back of his head with the tongs, wondering at the willingness of others to have someone else be saddled with the dirty work.
"No more," Tobias grunted, "no more. The hammer and the anvil about near to killin' me, and I reckon I've had my fill." The words sounded loud even above the low roar of the forge. Red highlights flickered on the burnished iron of the anvil, impish eyes beckoning the smith from where he stood. The anvil. Tobias squinted at in a sudden burst of desperate inspiration. He had been between the hammer and the anvil near all his life since he became a man, and his heart was sick from it. The horn of the anvil seemed to glow, and Tobias knew what to do.
He walked over to the anvil, dropping the tongs and transferring the hammer to his left hand. The right hand he laid on the face of the anvil. The cold iron stung the palm of his hand, which trembled slightly as he raised the hammer high over head. His breath held when the hammer reached the apex of the arc. Slight spasms coursed up and down his arm.
Tobias drew in a lungful of the freezing winter air. The hammer began to swing down, slow at first then blurring into a dark silver arc. The hard steel crashed into the back of the smith's right hand. The cracking of bones mimicked the crackling of the coals. Tobias bellowed, a gored ox falling to its knees with blood spraying out to stain his apron and coal-dust blackened snow on the ground around the stump on which the anvil sat. The big man fell to his knees, screaming and crying, with tears tracking silver runnels through the coal dust on his face. He began to smile. Blinding pain laced with sweet relief flooded through his gut. The smile turned into a laugh.
"I'll not be a smith no more, Lord, I'll not be a smith!" he shouted, "I'm free!" He passed out.
Folks from the village began to crowd around, drawn by his screams, and frightened by the enigmatic smile of the giant with a ruined hand.