The reflection of the forge’s flame intensified the manic glare in Mura’s eyes. In the remote location that he had set up his forge, he had no need of a cloak or mask to hide behind. The fire made the red amongst the black seem like his face burned still, and deepened the shadows caused by the rage contorting his features.
He hammered mercilessly at the materials he was forging. Behind him sat a pile of broken weapons, constantly reminding him of the past five years of failure. While he was failing miserably, he thought angrily, Mune was in Kyoto and the toast of the country’s weapons community for the sword he had presented to Hidetoyo. Despite the depths of his fury, it was not directed at his friend. It was at himself, and his inability to match his friend’s accomplishment of imbuing a sword with the power of the engravings.
As he finished the forging of the weapon, he went to the nearby riverbed and placed it in the shallow waters to cool. As the blade lost his redness and began its transition to grey, Mura engraved the symbol for protection into it. Once the weapon had completely cooled, he took it back to the small bamboo hut near the forge. Hanging it from hooks in the wall, he lay down on his small reed mat and quickly fell asleep.
He dreamed of the day he would present his weapon to the person who ruled Japan. He never saw the person’s face in his dream, but he recognised the location as Hidetoyo’s personal courtyard in Osaka Castle. Carrying the sword in an exquisite casing, he knelt before the figure and held it out for them. The weight lifted, and the quiet sound of the weapon being removed from its casing came from above. After a time, he was requested to rise. The figure had a sword in their belt, which they removed. The two blades were held side by side. Mura’s sword was then raised high, and the other was dropped to the courtyard floor. As others gathered to inspect the ruler’s new blade, he looked to the discarded weapon. Recognising the symbol on it, he knew it was Mune’s.
Mura awoke with a start. The morning was cold, but he had grown used to the conditions. He looked to the new weapon, which reflected the first rays of the morning sun beautifully. Happy with this, he removed the blade and stepped outside his hut. A light mist stood low to the ground as he walked towards the tree he tested his weapons on. Looking at the sword, he could see no fault with it. As he reached the tree, which bore the marks of previous testings, he placed the sword in his metal hand. As he directed a standard horizontal slash to the tree trunk, the blade liquidated on impact.
Staring in shock at the puddle of water that was a blade some seconds ago, he looked to the hilt in his hand to see what remained. It was as if the blade had never been there. A howl of frustrated anguish escaped him, which reverberated through the surrounding woods. He threw the hilt to the ground, and black soil flew as he kicked the useless weapon away. He fell to his knees and started punching the ground.
“Why won’t it work? I have done everything described in those cursed scrolls! Why must I be tormented like this! I am the best weapons maker in the whole known world! This should not happen!”
After a time, he raised his dejected figure from the forest floor and retrieved the hilt. He slowly walked back to his forge, his face showing a blank stare and no emotion. As he reached his workplace, he threw the hilt amongst the pile of broken weapons. Sitting on the small chair inside the forge, Mura turned to the shadows behind the door and pulled out the chest.
He spent the rest of the day intensely studying the words in the scrolls, trying to find the piece of information that was denying him his dream of using the power it described. As the sun began to set, he placed the scrolls back in the chest and put it back behind the door. He stared out of the door into the quiet and peaceful forest, at a loss for what it was that he should do.
He collected some vegetables from a small patch nearby, and made a modest soup for his dinner. He knew he needed strength to continue his work, but the day had drained him of any motivation. Hearing the sounds of small creatures rustling through the trees above, and the soft steps of rabbits nearby, did nothing to stir him. Finishing the soup, he lay down on his mat. As he had not exerted himself, and his mind ran over the steps in his process of forging weapons, the sleep did not come quickly. When he did, the same dream came again.
When he woke the next morning, Mura considered his options. He could accept defeat, and forge his weapons as he had before. He could make the long trip to Edo, and beg Nagahei to tell him why he could not use the knowledge. Though this location was far removed from any villages, he would still be able to reach the East Sea Road and walk to Yasugawa’s flourishing home city in less than four days.
He could return to Kyoto, but did not see why he should. Mune would likely have the largest forge in the whole city, showing its once unimaginable success in its fittings and decorations. Seeing it would only push him further into despair, which he knew would likely make him take his own life in shame.
Mura decided to make the trip to Edo, believing the time it would take would help distract his mind. Once he reached Nagahei, he was certain that his former master would have strong words for him. After being scolded for leaving the forge and essentially disappearing, Mura would attempt to discuss the contents of the scrolls. He could only hope that Nagahei would have some information that could enlighten and guide him.
His trek to join the road to Edo was uneventful. Once he reached it, the Tokaido was busy with travellers heading for both Edo and Kyoto. He put his cloak on, blending in many others who were also wearing them. The talk that Mura heard was centred on the progress of the peace talks, with many saying that they had broken down completely and Hidetoyo was sending the bulk of his forces back to Korea.
Another piece of information that caught his ear was that Yasugawa had begun to take on religious figures as his advisors and representatives. The Eastern Daimyo had begun to repair the temples that Nobuoda had destroyed in his attempt to remove rivals of any description. A name he heard enough times to remember it was Kaizuiten. The man was described as a Buddhist monk, and Yasugawa’s envoy to Kyoto.
The handful of days finally yielded to Mura the city of Edo. It had indeed grown in splendour since Yasugawa had been presented the Kanto region by Hidetoyo earlier in the decade. From its imposing walls to the many people bustling through its East Gate, one would be forgiven for thinking this was the capital of Japan and not Kyoto.
Mura requested some guidance to the Nagahei forge from the gate’s guards. Looking suspiciously at him due to the deepness of his hood, the pointed him in the requested direction and moved him on quickly to avoid congestion around the gates.
– X –