Mune and Mura sat at their favourite restaurant in Kyoto, the area buzzing with activity as they indulged in some sake after a long day’s work. Both of their forges were running at full capacity, getting the weaponry requested by Hidetoyo ready for his planned attack on Korea. Other patrons looked at Mura out of the corners of their eye, disconcerted by the man wearing a white silk mask, revealing only his eyes and lips. He knew that it was a peculiar thing to see, but what lay underneath would cause an even greater stir.
Mura took a sip from his choko, and placed the ceramic cup on the table. “So, Mune. How many weapons did Hidetoyo commission you to produce?”
Mune gave a small smile. “Not many. He seems to commission for his trusted men only. When he made the decision that only trained warriors could bear arms, his quickly gained a large stockpile.”
“I can imagine the stir that caused among the peasants. Could you imagine our parents giving up their swords?”
“I think they would have more trouble getting used to the idea that they didn’t need one.”
With Hidetoyo’s assumption of power, he sought solutions to the long-term problems of the past. He sought an accepted peace among the people. To do so, one could not be a warrior and farmer. Those who tended fields were made to hand in their weapons, while the decision for children and men to train to be warriors meant a permanent relocation to castle towns. The rigidity grated on some, but the peace it helped usher was undeniable.
Mune nodded to Mura’s metal hand. “How long did it take you to get used to fighting with that? When we fought in the village that handful of years ago, I noticed how stiff your strikes were.”
Mura looked at his attachment. “I am still getting used to it in a fighting sense, since I have fallen out of training. There is not much that can be done about strike quailty, since I don’t have the ability to twist my wrist. It becomes a matter of turning your entire forearm, but it still cannot match my previous abilities.”
“I am sure a bit of training would help you retrieve your skills. In addition to the extra muscle you have put on from your forging, I am sure a new balance could be found.”
“You have a point. If I ever became a teacher, I would be tempted to make every student an apprentice in a forge. The work builds your arm strength, and would give them an appreciation of the work involved in creating a weapon.”
Mune nodded as he took a sip from his cup. “Do you hear from Nagahei? Does he enjoy Edo?”
Mura nodded. “I receive letters, but not regularly. Yasugawa keeps him busy, but he speaks well of the lands surrounding Edo.” He gave a small laugh of sympathy as he drank his sake.
“That is the nature of being a smith, and I doubt that Yasugawa would be paying him poorly.”
“Indeed. How long has it been since you have visited Bizen and Yamashiro provinces?”
Mune frowned in thought. “It would have been at least three years. My teachers would not be very happy, but when your superiors order you to do something for them, who are we to refuse?”
Mura lowered his head. “I wish I could go there also, to see if there are any tricks I could learn that Nagahei never passed down to me. But… I cannot bring myself to go.”
“I believe I can understand that. I am more than happy to share the knowledge from my travels with you, Mura. The fact we are bound to different masters means nothing.”
A smile came through Mura’s mask. “I have missed having someone to speak with. For so long, I kept to myself because people would cringe at my appearance. The cloak kept me from view, and the darkness it provided must have found a way into my mind.”
“That is understandable, but you have proven that your skills outshine what has happened. You keep working at your craft, and I am sure that one day you could provide weapons to Hidetoyo and Yasugawa themselves.”
“That may be so, but your forge is giving my apprentices and I some worries. You have proven yet again your skills at training your charges and keeping morale high.”
Mune laughed, raising his choko in a half-mocking toast. “A little competition never hurts, my friend. If you ever felt like it, we could arrange some duels. It would give our apprentices the chance to test the quality of the weapons they’ve made.”
Mura joined the laughter. “That would be a sight to see.”
Draining his cup, and then looking to the tokkuri now empty of sake, Mune yawned and stretched his arms. “We best get some sleep. Just because our work orders are not reaching the roof, it does not mean there is not work to be done.”
Mura finished his drink. “That is so. Same time next week?”
“Of course. Keep those apprentices of yours in line. Be sure to mention to them the weapon testing we spoke of, and see what their reactions are. I would be interested to know.”
Waving farewell to his friend, Mura left the restaurant and returned to his forge. Since Nagahei had left for Edo, he had added a small room above the forge area to reside in. The area had previously been a store of forgotten things that his former master had never got around to sorting. He had cleared some of the clutter to make the space he needed, but he still tried to find the time to find an order to the items.
Not feeling tired enough to go to bed, Mura began to sort through a section of the unsorted things. Small chests contained notes from long ago, with the basics of sword making that Nagahei had taught Mura when he graduated from cleaning the forge. There were some old weapons, some broken and some rusted, pieces of broken forge parts, and discarded repair equipment.
As he tried to achieve a sense of order with the neglected items, Mura uncovered another chest. This one was different to the others, being more ornate and feeling more important. Mura blew away the dust and coal, and opened it. Inside were not papers, but scrolls. Unrolling one, he saw that it was a discussion of the power of engraving and what properties it could add to weaponry.
He yawned as he replaced the scroll. Closing the chest, he placed it in his room with his personal possessions. Though he did not have the time to read it all now, he would try and make the time to consider the chest and its contents.
– X –