A month had passed. In one of Bizen’s forges, Hidetoyo stood alongside two warriors from Himeji.
The younger men were watching the smith finish attaching a hilt to his latest creation. When he had completed the task, he picked up the sword and placed it in his palms. He held it out to Hidetoyo, which the older veteran accepted with a nod of thanks.
Hidetoyo turned to the young men, holding out the sword. “You two have shown the greatest aptitude for weapons analysis, but I can only choose one of you. Give me your opinions of the blade, and I will form my own opinion at the end. Whoever matches closest to my own will be chosen.”
The two men decided between themselves who would make the first observation. Finally, Mune was chosen to go first.
Taking the newly forged weapon in his sword hand, Mune tilted his wrist in a variety of ways to test the weighting and balance of the sword. “The weighting is ideal. The sword shows minimal forward momentum, which is of benefit should the wielder wish to change their attack mid-stroke. I would be of the opinion that it would allow the wielder faster reflex from strike to strike.”
Requesting permission from the smith to move behind the counter, Mune moved to the front of the fire. He turned the sword, looking at the reflection of the flames off the blade. “The blade is forged such that the light reflecting off it does not distort. With the many folds of steel that form the blade, to keep such consistency is a marvel.”
Stepping back towards the entry of the forge, Mune closed the door and gestured for Hidetoyo and his compatriot to clear some space. He ran a quick drill, mixing fast strikes with sudden changes in direction. He nodded approvingly. “As I said, the sword does not resist change in direction, no matter how fast the wielder may do so.”
Turning the sword so that he held it across his palms, Mune handed the sword back to Hidetoyo. The old man then handed the sword to the other warrior, who tested the sword and gave his own analysis. Once completed, he also returned the sword to his assessor.
Hidetoyo turned to the smith. “Do you have a practice yard for training drills? I would like the test the sword there.” He removed his own sword from his belt, and handed it to the man. “You can keep this until I return.”
Following the smith’s directions, the three men stepped outside the forge and turned right. As advised, the training yard stood at the end of the street. Once they reached it, Hidetoyo bid the two men to stand. He continued forward, and then turned to stand in front of them.
“Both of you gave a good account of yourselves in your analyses. I analyse swords for quality of finish and strength.” He tilted the sword until the sun caught on the blade, and reflected it into the younger men’s eyes. Both shied away, which the veteran smiled at. “In a life-or-death battle, the smallest thing can turn the tide in your favour. Catching enough light on your blade to momentarily blind your opponent can grant you the opening you need, which a quality finish will allow you.”
Hidetoyo then struck a starting pose. “And the test of strength is if it can handle offence from multiple attackers. Draw your swords, and attack.”
Mune and his teammate looked to each other, wariness on both their faces. They both drew their blades, and began to circle. When the pair stood such that the older fighter could not keep them both in his line of sight, they moved in to strike.
The veteran’s movement was incredible for one his age. He deftly avoided the strike of one man, while defending against the strike of another. He jumped back then to the side, so that both attackers now stood in his sight. The pair charged side by side, Mune aiming high while the other began a straight thrust. Hidetoyo turned from the thrust at the last possible moment, forcing the attacker off-balance, while deflecting Mune’s attack away from the other man. He used the moment to step back into the unbalanced man, pushing him over.
With the numbers now even, Hidetoyo moved to engage Mune. Putting distance between himself and the grounded fighter in order to avoid a sneak attack, the older fighter’s bladework put Mune’s to shame. The time between his strikes was miniscule, providing Mune no opportunity to create an opening for his own offence. The strikes were of such force that it always caused the younger man to have a longer reaction time, putting him at a further disadvantage. Anyone who fought Hidetoyo needed a numbers advantage just to have a hope of victory.
The grounded fighter returned to the fray. Hidetoyo moved again to keep them in his line of sight. The pair charged again, both coming in for an overhead strike. The brunt of both attacks came down on the newly forged sword, yet it handled the force with ease. Both attackers pushed down on their swords, trying to force the older man to his knees. He lowered slowly, retaining a disarming smile as he did so. Just before his knees touched the ground, he suddenly pushed upwards.
The force pushed both attackers off balance, their sword hands flying into the air. Hidetoyo moved quickly, using the flat of his sword to hit one attacker’s wrist, making him drop his sword. He then flung himself into Mune, forcing the younger fighter to fall backwards to the ground. Before Mune could recover, the new blade was poised across his throat.
The older fighter stood up, and held out his hand to his conquered opponent. He pulled Mune to his feet, while the other fighter went to retrieve his own weapon. When the pair stood in front of him, Hidetoyo considered them.
“The sword is indeed a fine one, being able to fend off two blades attacking as one. You both, however, still have some way to go before you will be true field warriors.” The pair humbly lowered their faces to the ground.
The veteran looked between the two men. After a time, he focused on Mune.
“Mune, you will be the Shogun’s ambassador to the Bizen forges.” He looked to other man, who looked disappointed. “Do not let this weaken your resolve, my friend. One must learn the taste of defeat before he can truly appreciate victory.”
– X –