The Ironsmith: A Novel

The Ironsmith: A Novel

by Nicholas Guild

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The Ironsmith is captivating novel from Nicholas Guild dramatizing the behind-the-scenes political plots to kill Jesus and one man's attempt to save his life.

This is the story of Joshua, a carpenter from the village of Nazareth who is called to preach the coming of God's judgment. This is the story of his ministry and its terrible end, seen through the eyes of his kinsman and closest friend, Noah the ironsmith. Noah, a pious man but one who understands the darkness of a world in which treachery and murder are the common currency of power, is prepared to risk his own life to save Joshua's.

Sifting through the tangled contradictions of the New Testament, scholars have arrived at a consensus about these events and their meaning, but the man behind them can only be brought to life through an act of the imagination. The Joshua of this novel-the Jesus of Christian faith-is revealed as a man like other men, a very human hero whose defeat at the hands of his enemies imparts to him a tragic grandeur.

The product of twenty years of research and a deep understanding of the ancient world, Nicholas Guild's The Ironsmith is a story for everyone who cares about the origins of faith and the mystery of God's relationship with man.

At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466886599
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 02/23/2016
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 895,425
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

NICHOLAS GUILD was born in Belmont, California, and attended Occidental College and the University of California at Berkeley. He taught at Clemson and Ohio State before turning full time to writing fiction. He has published a dozen novels, several of which were international bestsellers, including The Assyrian, Blood Star, and Angel. Guild now lives in Frederick, Maryland.
NICHOLAS GUILD was born in Belmont, California, and attended Occidental College and the University of California at Berkeley. He taught at Clemson and Ohio State before turning full time to writing fiction. He has published a dozen novels in both the thriller and historical genres, several of which were international bestsellers, including The Assyrian, Blood Star, and Angel. Guild now lives in Frederick, Maryland.

Read an Excerpt

The Ironsmith

By Nicholas Guild

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2016 Nicholas Guild
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-8659-9


Noah, an ironsmith and a resident of Sepphoris, the old capital of Galilee, was at the forge when Hiram, his senior apprentice, came to tell him he had a visitor.

"He says he is your cousin. He's waiting outside."

The ironsmith set down his hammer and wiped his face with his right hand. He was wearing nothing but a loincloth and sandals, since at the forge, clothing had an annoying tendency to catch fire. The muscles of his arms and powerful chest gleamed with sweat. He did not seem pleased by the news.

Except for his sister, who lived with him, Noah had no relatives in the city. He had a distant cousin in Jerusalem and, for the rest, everyone who could claim kinship lived in a village an hour's walk to the south. So family visits usually meant bad news.

He looked at the bar of metal he was holding with a pair of tongs and buried it in the hot coals. It would have to wait. He reached down and dipped his hands into a bucket of water he kept for the purpose, scooping up enough to rinse his face and rub a little over his chest.

"Let's go see," he said.

Hiram followed him to the workshop door, which stood open. There was a man crouched outside. He was covered with dust and appeared utterly spent. With what seemed great effort, he looked up and smiled weakly at Noah, who recognized him at once.

"Go bank my fire," Noah told his apprentice, never taking his eyes from the visitor. "When you're finished, we'll be in the scrub room."

He waited until Hiram was gone, and then he reached down to help his cousin to his feet. It pained Noah to see him in such a condition.

"They arrested the Baptist," Joshua said, as soon as he was standing. "Soldiers came and he gave himself up. He didn't even try to get away."

Noah could only shake his head. John was a distant figure, someone he had heard spoken of, but no more. It was the narrowness of Joshua's escape that filled him with dread.

"Are they hunting you?"

"I don't know." Joshua raised his hands in a helpless gesture.

"Come with me."

Noah put his arm around his cousin's waist, partly out of affection, for they had been close friends since childhood, and partly to make sure Joshua kept his feet. The contrast between them could not have been more pointed — Joshua tall and slender and Noah a solid block of muscle not quite reaching his cousin's shoulder.

Noah led him into a small room with benches against three of its stone walls and a tub of cold water in the center of the floor. It was where he and his apprentices cleaned up after a day in the heat and smoke.

When Hiram came, Noah already had Joshua stripped and was washing him, since he seemed too weak to do it for himself. He sent Hiram across an alley to his house to fetch some food and wine.

"How long have you been on the road?" he asked.

"Two weeks and more. I've lost count of the days."

"How have you lived?"

It seemed a reasonable question since, as a disciple of the Baptist, Joshua wouldn't have had any money.

"People along the way took me in and fed me, sometimes."

"How long since you've eaten?"

"Three days — no, two. The day before yesterday an old woman gave me a fig." Joshua smiled. The recollection seemed to amuse him. Then, quite suddenly, the smile disappeared. "If I can stay here the night, tomorrow I'll be on my way again."

"Where are you going?"

"To a place called Capernaum. It's a fishing village on the Sea of Kinneret. I have a friend there."

"What will you do?"

"Carry John's message. What else is there to do?" Joshua shrugged, but there was something of defiance in the gesture. Noah understood and reached across to pat him on the knee.

"Well, you won't be leaving for Capernaum tomorrow," he said. "You'll need at least three or four days to gather your strength. In four days it will be the Sabbath and you can come back to Nazareth with me and see your family."

"No. I'll keep the Sabbath here, if it's all right." Joshua made a weak gesture with his right hand, as if warding off a blow. "You know what my father is like. At least here no one will tell me that I'm a fool and ought to go back to being a carpenter."

"You're a fool and ought to go back to being a carpenter."

They both laughed.

* * *

When the food came, Joshua was too weary to eat, so Noah took him to his house and made up a bed for him. Once Joshua was asleep, which was almost instantly, Noah went downstairs to the kitchen and poured himself a cup of wine.

It was early afternoon and his sister, Sarah, would soon return from her errands. He needed to consider what to tell her — and, more importantly, what to do.

With the Baptist under arrest, the question became whether his disciples would then attract the Tetrarch's interest. It seemed wisest to assume that Joshua's name was on their lists.

It did not fail to occur to Noah that Joshua's presence in Sepphoris involved certain risks for him as well. If Joshua really was a fugitive and he should be found in this house ...

The thought made him feel ashamed. Joshua needed time to rest and recover. The risks would have to be borne.

But it was also true that the danger was greatest in the cities, where the Tetrarch concentrated his power, so Joshua's plan of seeking refuge in some obscure fishing village had a certain merit. If he had friends there he would probably be safe enough. In the countryside, Herod's tax gatherers and soldiers were regarded as an invading force and were hated accordingly.

They would not have arrested the Baptist unless they meant to execute him and, once he was dead, perhaps in a few months, the Tetrarch would grow forgetful.

The problem thus became getting Joshua safely to his place of hiding.

Noah saw no point in keeping any of this from Sarah. She would have to know that Joshua's presence in their house had to be kept a secret, and therefore she would have to know why. She was neither foolish nor hysterical, and she could even be of use.

As for Hiram, he did not even know the stranger's name, and he was a good sort. A word would keep him silent.

While Noah sat alone in his kitchen, his fingers touching the rim of a cup of wine he had not yet tasted, his thoughts were the prey of recollection. He had spent his childhood in Nazareth, but he had been born in Sepphoris, in this very house, where his mother had died giving birth to Sarah, early enough that his mind held no memory of her. His father had remarried a year later. Then his father had died and, as his stepmother had not wished to be encumbered with children not her own, brother and sister had been given over to the care of their grandparents in Nazareth.

Thus, he had known Joshua all his life. As children they had learned their letters together, had played together, had sometimes quarreled, and then missed each other bitterly during their short estrangements. Each had stood as the other's friend when each took a wife, and when, only a few months apart, each had watched helplessly as his wife suffered and died, they had grieved together. What had they not shared?

And now Joshua had come with a new trouble. Well, to whom else should he have come?

Noah did not endorse the life his cousin had chosen. For all that he thought the Baptist was a good man and a true servant of God — perhaps even a prophet — it would not have occurred to Noah to go off and be his disciple, living on nuts and berries beside the Jordan River. His piety simply did not take that form. Yet he did see why it had occurred to Joshua. Even in childhood they had differed widely in temperament, but they had always understood each other.

And now Joshua wanted to go off to some fishing village in the north to preach the Baptist's message of repentance, and Noah had no trouble grasping why, for Joshua, that might be the inevitable choice. Thus it was also inevitable that Noah would help him to do it.

The only question was how.

The first step was to restore Joshua's strength.

It had been a shock to see him in such a condition. They had not met since the Passover, two months before, and he had looked wild enough then, with his torn, faded cloak and his tangled beard down to his breastbone, but now he appeared spent, as if the life he had been leading had at last used him up.

He needed rest and quiet and safety, and these things, at least, Noah could provide.

When Sarah came home, Noah told her that Joshua was asleep upstairs. Then he told her that the Baptist had been arrested. She seemed to guess the rest.

Sarah was tall and thin, which made her arms appear even longer than they were. When she grew nervous or excited she seemed to lose control of her movements and was always knocking things over, which explained why she wrapped one long hand around the other and held them both against her modest bosom as she asked the inevitable question.

"Is Joshua a fugitive?"

"He doesn't know. They didn't try to take him with the Baptist, but they could easily change their minds. I think it best we assume they will."

"What can we do?"

"Hide him until he is fit to travel and then help him escape to the north."

"Is he ill?"

"No. Just worn out."

"I bought fish," she said, smiling as if everything had worked out perfectly. "It is strengthening and easy on the stomach."

Noah kissed his sister on the cheek.

* * *

It was only the middle of the afternoon, so Noah returned to his forge.

As soon as he was gone Sarah went upstairs to the spare bedroom, where Joshua was asleep. The door was slightly ajar and she could tell from the sound of his breathing that he would not wake up for some hours. She returned to the kitchen, where she had to make decisions about dinner.

Half a carp, split down the backbone, dried and salted, was wrapped in palm fronds and lying on the table. Careful planning was essential when one cooked for only two people, and Sarah had been hesitant about buying a fish — even half a fish — that was nearly a cubit in length, but with Joshua there it would be just enough. She would soak it in unmixed wine and then add some water, a few herbs, and a little flour and let it all simmer in an iron pot until sunset.

It would be pleasant to have Joshua in the house for a few days. Like Noah, Sarah had grown up with her cousins, the sons and daughters of Joseph and Miriam, who lived in a house separated from her grandfather's by little more than a few paces of open ground. Joshua was not her particular favorite, but he was family, and Sarah had been a close friend of his wife. She had played with Rachel when they were children. As young women, hardly out of girlhood, they had shared many secrets, and Rachel, her womb torn open trying to give birth to Joshua's dead son, had died in Sarah's arms.

It was another bond with Joshua, the grief he and Sarah had each endured when Rachel was lowered into her grave. She could not look at Joshua without remembering his wife.

Still, she had always thought Joshua odd, and he had grown even odder since Rachel's death.

For one thing, she did not understand his piety. He had always been pious, but in recent years his feeling for God had grown into something that Sarah could hardly put a name to. It was odd. That was the only word for it.

The Baptist was a prophet, and that was a whole other thing, but ordinary men were not prophets. Joshua, she felt quite sure, was not a prophet. He was a carpenter who had lost his wife. It was the duty of ordinary men to live in the world according to God's law. God bid us to say prayers at the proper times, to honor the holy days, and to keep His commandments. That was enough. That was righteousness. Joshua should go back to his trade and marry again.

For that matter, Noah should marry again. In Noah's case, his sister had particular reasons for thinking so.

Just as the sun was going down, Sarah removed the iron pot from its hook in the fireplace and set it aside. By the time Noah entered the kitchen, dinner was ready.

"Is Joshua still asleep?" he asked, after he had sat down at the kitchen table.

"Yes. I looked in on him just a few minutes ago."

Her brother nodded, and then his face became shadowed with anxiety.

"Eat your stew," Sarah ordered, in a voice that perfectly mimicked their grandmother's.

This made Noah laugh and the shadows disappeared. He picked up a piece of bread and tore it in half. He began using it to scoop up pieces of fish.

Sarah, who had not touched her food, sat with her hands folded together. She seemed to be trying to take up as little space as possible.

"Will Joshua go back to Nazareth?" she asked.

Without looking up, her brother shook his head.

"If they want to arrest him, that will be the first place they look. He has it in mind to go north, to some fishing village where he has friends."

"What will he do there?"

"Preach, I assume. He wants to carry on John's teaching."

There followed a silence, which Noah understood to be his sister's way of expressing her disapproval. He looked up at her and smiled.

"Did you think that he would go back to being a carpenter?"

Sarah didn't answer immediately. Instead, she looked down at her stew, then tore the corner off a piece of bread and began eating.

This indicated, as clearly as any words, that she was upset.

"What do you think they will do to the Baptist?" she asked finally.

"Given that the Tetrarch is Old Herod's son, I think they will kill him."

"Why would they do that? He is a holy man."

"Why then would they arrest him? The Tetrarch is no David. He will not suffer even a prophet's rebuke."

With a shade too much haste, Sarah reached for her wine. A drop spilled out and ran sluggishly down the side of the cup. She instantly put the cup down again.

"Perhaps this village in the north could use a carpenter," she said, almost defiantly. "Joshua needs to settle down somewhere and begin his life again."

Even as she was speaking the words, she knew they implied more than she intended. She had merely to look at her brother's face to know that he understood what was in her heart.

You want him to marry again, his expression said. As you want me to marry again, so that then you can marry Abijah.

Instantly she felt ashamed. It was not Noah's fault. He had told her, many times, "I will not perish because you are not here to cook my meals. I can hire a servant. Abijah is a good man. You should marry him and be happy. The very last thing I want is to deny you this."

And she did love Abijah. He was so handsome. And he loved her — skinny, awkward creature that she was. Every girl in the district was half mad in love with him, yet he wanted only her.

But her brother — her good, kind, pious, learned brother, the best of men — how could she leave him? She remembered how crushed with sorrow he had been when Ruth died, how his heart had bled with mourning. Sarah had come to stay with him after that, to keep him company and see that he remembered to eat his meals, and she had never left.

She could never leave her brother alone. Never. Abijah, she could only hope, would be patient.

Secretly she blamed Ruth. Sarah could not have brought herself to say such a thing, or perhaps even to think it, yet she felt it. Ruth had been a good enough sort of woman, but nothing beyond the ordinary. Why did her memory hold Noah in such bondage?

And there were certainly plenty of women who would have been prepared to take her place. One was Sarah's friend Huldah, who showed a lively enough interest that Sarah persuaded her brother to invite Huldah and her father to dinner.

Noah had spent most of the evening in conversation with the father about some question concerning the calendar. He was perfectly gracious to his sister's friend, but that was all.

For three days Sarah heard nothing from Huldah, and then they met at the house of a mutual friend. With some hesitation, Sarah brought up the subject of the dinner party.

"Your brother looks at me with no more interest than if I were a cooking pot," Huldah said. She was right, of course, and that ended Sarah's efforts as a matchmaker.

"This stew is very good," Noah said, smiling. He meant to distract her, she knew. She had the feeling sometimes that he could peer straight into her mind. "The broth is delicious."

* * *

About two hours after sunset, Joshua woke up. Noah had been sitting in the dark, waiting.

"Are you hungry?" he asked.

"Yes. And very thirsty."

Sarah had kept the stew warm. There was also fresh bread, and Noah watered the wine eight parts to three. It was a meal for an invalid.

Nevertheless, Joshua seemed to enjoy it.

"John cared nothing about food," he said. "Sometimes it would be days before he would remember to eat. If Simon hadn't brought his fishing net, the rest of us might have starved."

"Is he your friend in Capernaum? You said it was a fishing village."

"Yes. That's him. Simon went home to visit his wife about a week before John was arrested, but he left his net."

"What was John like?"

"You never heard him preach?"


Joshua shrugged, as if he had decided to forgive the oversight, and then he said, "John was the purest soul I ever knew."

"In what way?"

"In every way. He cared nothing about pleasure or comfort. For John, there was only God. He was God's prophet."

"So naturally the Tetrarch arrested him."

"Of course. John expected it."

"Did he?"


Excerpted from The Ironsmith by Nicholas Guild. Copyright © 2016 Nicholas Guild. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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