Nagahei’s words proved correct. Mune’s many requests to speak with the mysterious Sengo were all refused.
However, the days that the visitor spent in the forge were not fruitless, as the other apprentices were more than happy to discuss their work and their methods. They were all jovial and conversational, with many a night after work spent down in the temple district sampling the priest’s latest batches of sake. They laughed at Nagahei’s refusal to join them, and teased his preference for liquor from outside the city.
Mune and the apprentices walked down the main street of the temple district one night, surrounded by many other residents sharing their appreciation of the priest’s alcohol. They took turns choosing with temple to visit, and the group made a large show of their drinking knowledge in front of a priest who was unimpressed with their jests. The group was quickly moved on, told they were moving others on from their produce. They moved off to their next choice, laughing at the touchiness of the temple residents.
One of the apprentices looked to their guest. “Do you have many temples in your hometown, Mune?”
“We have some, but certainly not in the concentration that this city has.”
“How is their sake? Does it compare favourably to what Kyoto shops produce?”
“It is hard to say. It comes down to personal preference, and the quality of the ingredients used. The drink I have a preference was brought into Bizen from Kyushu Region. Though the techniques of distilling for sake preparation were new to Kyushu, the quality of their produce is exceptional. The moisture in the air as the rice rests, or the quality of their yeast, must be different to other areas of Japan.”
The apprentice laughed. “You sound like Nagahei. He came along with us once, and left in disgust at what he tasted. Now he only drinks what his preferred restaurant provides, although I hear of troubles in Osaka when what they receive is different to their approved list of goods. He may just enjoy the fact that what he drinks is forbidden goods.”
Mune nodded in agreement. “That could be so.” He spoke to the rest of the apprentices. “How do you all find Nagahei as a mentor?”
They all said he was the best mentor one could hope for; helpful while still keeping them busy enough to learn to handle the pressure of customers wanting their weapons sooner rather than later. One apprentice said that their biggest customer was notorious for this, and the quantity of his orders were as if he was outfitting an army. Though they were not privy to the identity of the customer, they had suspicions that it was the Daimyo of the East, Yasugawa.
Mune thought over the information; it seemed he had found the forge that Hidetoyo had requested him to locate. Now that he was fairly certain of this, he decided to ask questions of a different nature.
“How many of you were in the city when the Honno-ji temple burned down?”
Three shook their heads, indicating that they were not in the city at that time. One, however, did live in Kyoto when the event happened.
“It was chaos, Mune. All the factions went into fits of conspiracy theories, with everyone from rival temples to high-bred families accusing each other of making a move to dominate the city. The fighting went on for almost a year before everyone calmed down and saw reason.”
“I can imagine. A friend of mine was sent here around that time, and he never returned home. His family still grieve for him, and hope that he may one day return. But after missing for so long, it is a vain hope. However, I have seen one thing in my time here that gives me hope.”
They all looked at him, asking what it was that he saw.
“Surprisingly, I saw it at your forge. The short time that Nagahei used to introduce me to Sengo, I saw that the sword stand in his area had a particular blade. I remember that it was my friend’s weapon; he showed it to me on our first day at the Castle we trained at. Sengo must know something.”
One of the apprentices gave a pessimistic laugh. “You will have better luck overthrowing Yasugawa than getting any information out of Sengo. He is but a shadow in the forge, and shares nothing with anyone. He lives for his sword making. None of us even know what he does when he is not in the forge, or where he lives. I don’t think anyone has even seen his face properly, since he wears a hooded robe regardless of the weather.”
Mune looked at them in surprise. “And none of you are curious about this?”
The apprentices all shrugged their shoulders. They were either tired by the end of the day, or waiting to get out into the city and make use of their leisure time. If Sengo did not want to come with them, or try to be a part of their group, they were happy to let him be.
“That is a shame, gentlemen. No person should be so isolated, even if they think they prefer it. I will keep trying to speak with him; maybe he will finally relent one day.” He looked to the sky, noting the location of the moon. “However, it is time for me to return to my accommodation. Thank you for your company tonight; my knowledge of sake has increased markedly. I shall see you all soon.”
They bid their farewells and waved as Mune departed, and they moved on to continue their assessment of the temples and their sake. Knowing that this Sengo had Mura’s sword, he needed to find a way to get him to talk. He considered ways of forcing the issue, if he could not get Sengo to meet with him willingly, as he walked back to his residence.
– X –