Mune reached the South Gate of Kyoto. The city had undergone considerable change in the years since the Honno-ji had burned to the ground. As he had not been back here since Hidetoyo had left Bizen with his troops to exact revenge on Nobuoda’s assassin, he took his time in surveying the city.
The Western Daimyo had taken an active interest in the city upon his victory. Believing Kyoto’s state of disrepair unacceptable as the nation’s capital, he had drawn all available resources to the city in an attempt to rebuild its honour. The temples were bundled into one area in the centre of the city, keeping in line with the Daimyo’s idea of keeping industries in one area. Mune remembered Hidetoyo saying he did so to let the feuding priests have their quarrels without causing disruption to the rest of the city.
Considered the heartland of Japan, Hidetoyo and Yasugawa had gone to war for the land between Kyoto and Nagoya, the mutual borders of Kansai and Chubu Regions. Yasugawa had tried to use the forces of Nobuoda, whose control had passed to his sons, to supplement his own in the conflict. The alliance failed to defeat Hideyoshi. In a show of mutual respect, the Daimyos agreed to improve the cities of the area. The pair believed that their conflict should not destroy the country, and that the winner should inherit a strong nation.
As he walked the streets, Mune saw that the population remained wary. Instead of battles between nobles and religious figures, it became a battle of who would succeed where Nobuoda had failed. The agreement between the Daimyos did not incite open conflict, but there were occasional fights between supporters of either side. He saw merchants fighting over the quality of their goods, believing the side of Kyoto they had come from proved the superiority of their goods.
Mune finally found the section of the city that held its forges. He wandered the area for a while, trying to decide which forge would be the new source of Yasugawa’s weapons. He saw one forge that was much larger than the others, as if it had grown and engulfed those surrounding it. The quality of its signage and curtain hangings described it as a prosperous business.
Stepping inside, the front office of the forge maintained the impression of its exterior. The walls were stylishly adorned with the weapons prepared in its forge, and the wooden desk and flooring was of a quality reserved for palaces and the inner sanctums of powerful people. A portly yet well-dressed man stood at the counter, holding a sword in his hand.
Mune stood at the counter. “Are you the owner of this shop?”
The man stopped looking at the weapon, placed it on the desk and looked to Mune. “I am. Welcome to the Nagahei Forge. I am Nagahei.”
He gave the owner a small bow of respect. “I am a sword smith, and I have been travelling the country to increase my knowledge of the art. In my travels, I have heard much praise of your work. I came in the hope of being able to talk of the art with you, and have a tour of your forge if you would be so generous.”
Nagahei’s eyes narrowed, appraising Mune. “That would depend where you have travelled from. My weapons have been, shall you say, promised to remain only to the east of the city.”
“I have no desire to take any weapons, as I have my own.” He took his sword from his belt, and handed it to the owner. Nagahei assessed the sword, nodding in admiration. “I only wish to see you forge for my own inspiration, and speak of sword making with such an accomplished master.”
Looking appropriately flattered, the man gave a warm smile. “You are a smooth talker, my travelling friend.” He handed Mune back his weapon. “As your sword has impressed me greatly, I shall accommodate your request. Follow me.” The owner lifted a section of the desk, allowing access to the forge.
The area glowed with the fires of the handful of forges, but the coal feeding them ensured a healthy coat of black dust across all surfaces. The sound of hammers hitting upon metal rang throughout the room.
Nagahei spoke to Mune as they walked through the room. “I have five apprentices to assist me, as the quota of weapons requested by my customers has increased markedly recently. I originally focused on spears and engraving, but swords is now where the money is.”
Mune counted the apprentices he could see. “I only see four here. Is the other away for the day?”
The owner shook his head. “Sengo? No, he is here. He is a secretive man, and sits out of view. He is one of my strongest workers, and would work all day if I allowed him. His work is exceptional.”
“If that is so, I would like to meet him. I can only improve by seeing the exceptional work of others, and accept any lessons they could give me.”
“We can try. He sits in the back corner, where the light is poorer.”
The two men moved towards the back of the room, where the light seemed fearful of entering. A small wall obstructed the view, but the glow of a forge was visible around it. The pair turned the corner, and saw a figure sitting with their back to them.
“Sengo? I have a visitor. He is a travelling swordsmith, seeking further knowledge. He would appreciate a chance to see your work.”
The figure did not turn, but picked up a sword from a stand to his left. He held the blade over his shoulder, which the owner took with great care.
“Do not mind him. He talks very little.” Nagahei handed the sword to Mune, which he took and looked over in appraisal.
“This is a fine blade. You do good work, Sengo.” He carefully placed the sword back in the stand.
The figure continued to work, seemingly unaware of the men. As the pair turned to return to the front of the room, Mune looked to the swords on the rack. Though the light was poor, he was almost certain he recognised one of the weapons.
– X –