The city of Osaka buzzed with activity. In the same way that Yasugawa had transformed Edo, Hidetoyo had done the same to his adopted city. It had transformed from a quiet village into a centre of seaside commerce many years ago, but the Daimyo of Japan rebuilding its castle and declaring it his residence had raised its prominence amongst the rest of the country. Though Kyoto remained the nation’s capital, Edo and Osaka had become the places to be.
Mune had inquired his way to the forge district, and found it a less prominent area of the city than Kyoto. The area was full of people, some that he recognised at rival smiths in Kyoto. After walking through the streets for an hour or so, he finally found Mura with his mentor Nagahei. The pair greeted each other warmly, as friends did after a long absence. By the end of the first day in Osaka, it was as if the years had not passed.
Mune had the rare chance of speaking with Mura’s mentor, and found that Nagahei was indeed a master of his craft. The weapons that he had carried with him from Edo were of outstanding quality and design, and were sure to test the abilities of the Kyoto smiths when the Daimyo considered the weapons of the two cities.
Nagahei considered his past apprentice’s friend. “Mura has told me much about you. The pair of you have known each other for a long time now.”
Mune nodded. “Indeed we have. We met on the first day of training at Himeji Castle… twenty-five years ago. My goodness, I feel as if there should be some grey strands.” He jokingly ran his hand through the side of his hair.
The older man nudged his former pupil, who still hid his face under the hood of his cloak. “I can imagine that you two were as thick as thieves back in the day. Your training years are never easy, with the constant competition for rank and other students trying to assert their dominance in any way possible.”
“That is true. Mura had it hard in the beginning, but he proved himself the better of those who sank to childish tricks and taunts.”
Mura walked with his head lowered, ensuring no-one could see his face. Many people walking past considered him, suspecting that this was the ‘Faceless Smith’ who had disappeared from Kyoto and suddenly reappeared in Edo.
Nagahei continued his interrogation. “Where did you learn your smithing arts, Mune?”
“I accompanied Hidetoyo to Bizen some fifteen years ago, around the time of Nobuoda’s unexpected demise.” He looked to Mura, not knowing if mentioning that time would cause distress. “The time spent there was truly enlightening, with many of the smiths renowned for their works. After that, I spent some time travelling in Yamashiro province.”
“Those are indeed great places to learn the art of weapons forging. Do many smiths remain in Bizen and Yamashiro, or have they followed the army into the castle towns?”
“The old makers are too settled in to ever leave. But the younger smiths learn what they can, and then move into the castle towns as you said. You go where the work and money is. Such is the way of the world in these modern times.”
After the trio had spent the day touring Osaka, admiring the city’s amenities and the towering castle that Hidetoyo resided in, they bought some fresh produce from the market and selected a residence to use for the next week. Eating a fresh meal and drinking some quality sake, the three men talked well into the night about their crafts.
Nagahei seemed intent to keep up with the younger men in the drinking stakes, but had not been able to do so. In a slurred voice, he recounted his earlier days and his remembrances of Mura’s time as his apprentice.
“I tell you, Mune, this boy was the most pig-headed person you would ever meet. Tell him he could not do something, and he would find a way to. I told him the two-storey high forge chimney could not be cleaned by a one-armed man, yet he found a way. He was black as a winter midnight when he came back down, and had worn clean through the soles of his boots from supporting himself, but he did it.” He gave a friendly nudge to Mura, who returned a small smile and continued his reserved drinking.
“A stubborn man he is, Nagahei. I remember the many nights we sparred in Himeji, where I was able to always defeat him with this one trick. The sulking that followed was highly amusing.” He looked to Mura, who was giving him an indignant look. He gave him his tell-tale wink. “Then he finally managed to catch me out, and in the final of the Challenge Tournament no less.”
The old man nodded, raising his cup to Mura in praise of the accomplishment. “Ah yes, to win one of those tournaments was always a big deal for the victors.”
Mune looked to his friend. “When do you plan to let me inspect this weapon of yours? The letter you sent me was almost dripping with pride in finally accomplishing what you had struggled with for so long.”
Mura gave him a knowing smile. “When all the weapons are inspected by Hidetoyo, you shall see along with everyone else.”
“You are mean, keeping me in suspense like this. Nagahei, were you ever able to successfully create a weapon with the scrolls?”
The old man almost choked on his sake. “The scrolls? What do you mean?”
“The weapon Hidetoyo carries was what I created with their knowledge. And now Mura has finally created his own, after many years of attempts and failures.”
Nagahei looked to Mura. “Is this true?”
The scarred man nodded.
“What have you done? You have no idea of the powers you were toying with. I did create one successful weapon, and that was enough. I hid those scrolls thinking no-one would find them.”
The two young men looked at each other, very concerned with Nagahei’s words.
Mura spoke warily. “You did? What happened to it?”
The old man spoke with great sadness. “I presented it to my master. He killed himself with it. The blade willed him to.”
– X –