Mune and Mura: Chapter 4 Scene 2

In the restaurant district of Kyoto, Mune and Nagahei discussed the art of sword making as they ate their meal.  The forge owner had brought him here for the best sake in the city, which he said that the cook had a way of smuggling off the regular ship to Osaka.  The visitor appreciated the fine work of the drink’s producer, and enjoyed the restaurant’s exceptional cuisine.

The city resident looked to his dinner guest.  “Like you, I travelled around Japan in my formative years to seek new methods to improve my skills.  Were there any particular smiths that helped you?”

Mune thought for a moment.  “I found a lot of exceptional work in the Bizen Province, and the Saburo forge there stood out to me.”

Nagahei nodded approvingly.  “Of course.  The methods of sword making that came from Bizen have produced great weapons.”

“My master spoke with great respect of the swords produced by the Awataguchi forge. I am sure he mentioned that one of the blades produced there has remained in his family for many generations.  To visit this forge was one of the reasons I came to Kyoto, until your shop and forge caught my eye.”

The forge owner laughed as he poured more sake for his companion and himself.  “I have to plead guilty to indulging in finery to get people’s attention.  With so many renowned forges, with such long histories, my reputation did not draw people to my forge as it did for others.”  He took a sip of his drink, closing his eyes as he savoured its flavour.  “My shop was modest before, but I still dressed it up nicely enough to draw the eye.  I was fortunate that a particular customer, who is my highest paying at the moment, noticed me.”

Mune nodded as he drank some of his sake.  “You are lucky in that regard.  It helps one believe in fate when one small event makes such a large difference to your life.”

“That it does, my friend.  As for the Awataguchi forge, its produce is believed to have fallen in quality since the death of their greatest smith.  Once Yoshimitsu died, their swords just did not seem the same.  The Rai forge stepped up and took the honour of the best forge from them.”

“Your forge is not the best, Nagahei?”

The portly man chuckled.  “Not yet.  I am currently benefitting from being noticed by a person of some importance, but that is only his preference.  I have many more customers to convince before I can hope to be considered as such.”

“I am sure that it will come with time.  Were you the only person in your forge before you were noticed?”

“I was.  Some years after starting my own forge, I considered taking on apprentices to share my knowledge.  I was too poor to do so for my first years, so I took the opportunity to recruit at the first chance.”

Mune smiled.  “It is gracious of you to pass on your knowledge.  Some smiths I have met guard their secrets more jealously than they do their wives.”

The jest, with some assistance from his liquor, prompted a hearty laugh from Nagahei.  “That they do, but those secrets don’t keep you warm at night.  And if the next generation does not learn your methods, of course the quality of work will lower.”

“Indeed.  Did many wish to apprentice with you?”

Nagahei shook his head.  “No.  Many think that long-time members of another forge looking to break out on their own were believed to have been dismissed, unless their name is known in the community.  Mine was not, but I wished to set my own path.  I started my forge eight years ago, and I took my first apprentice four years ago.”

“Did the apprentice prove capable?”

“They did, though it was a difficult decision to make to begin with.  Business was not good four years ago, especially in the aftermath of Honno-ji being destroyed.  There was fighting everywhere in the city, and no sane person wanted to live here.  But this one man came to me, hidden in the dirtiest robe I had ever seen, begging for any type of job.  I had seen rats in the street cleaner than him, but I remember the determination in the eyes under the hood.  I set him to cleaning the shop, since I was so busy making swords that the place was dirtier than a chimney neglected for decades.”

Mune nodded .  “I did such jobs in my trainings.  I always thought the smiths did it as a discipline exercise, seeing who would do what needed to be done.”

“I would have, but the shop was just plain dirty.  He was as meticulous as a castle servant, and the shop looked better than many of the others nearby.  One day, after finishing his duties, he watched me crafting a sword.  He begged me to teach him.  Since I was busy with a handful of customer orders, I did show him.  He had some difficulties to start with, but I helped him address them and mentored him.  More requests to apprentice with me came in, but none that I have taken on have been as good as him.”

“You must be proud of him.”

“I am.”

“Can I hazard a guess to who your first apprentice was?  Was it Sengo?”

Nagahei nodded.

“If I can, Nagahei, I would like to find a way to speak to him.  The swords in his stand were exceptional, but one stood out to me.  I would be honoured for him to tell me of it.”

“I can try, but I cannot guarantee that he will speak with you.  He is an intensely private person.  As his work is of such high quality, I respect his privacy.”

– X –

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