The two walked through the common areas of the Castle, following the steady stream of people, after Nagahei had moved off quickly to find one of his Edo colleagues. The old man had become distant after the revelation that the two had created enchanted blades.
Mune looked to his now-cloaked friend. “You said in your letter that you had discussed the scrolls with him. Why was he shocked at us creating weapons?”
“I told him that I was interested in the theory of the scrolls. We read through them, discussing the finer points. “
“So you did not tell him that you intended to create a weapon? That I had?”
Mura shook his head. “It became obvious that something was amiss. He hesitated in discussing some parts, and refused to talk on others.”
Mune nodded to the sword in his friend’s belt, its blade hidden in its casing. “And he did not check on you when you were forging it in his own shop?”
“He made me promise that I would not attempt to use the knowledge to create a blade. Once I did, he left me alone as was the standard when we were in the Kyoto forge.”
“And yet you did?”
A slight shrug of the shoulders was the only answer Mune received.
The pair walked in silence as they flowed with the crowd towards the Osaka Castle main courtyard. When they reached it, what they saw left the two young smiths in awe. The square dwarfed the main courtyard of Himeji Castle, and the quality of the paving and its surrounding accommodation was masterful. It showed that Hidetoyo wanted to amaze anyone who visited with its size.
The number of people moving around the courtyard was immense. It did not seem possible that the smiths of only two cities were present, even if those cities were the size of Edo and Kyoto. The wave of people flowed towards the steps leading into the castle proper, where two people stood on a stone dais set into them. As they got closer, the two friends saw that the two were Hidetoyo and Yasugawa, both adorned in their finest fighting armour, with another figure standing behind them. The two elder statesmen were having an animated discussion. With the peace talks rumoured to be cancelled, it could be that they were planning their second incursion.
Mura turned to Mune, and spoke like he was choking with rage. “Do you see that man behind them? I heard of him on my trip to Edo. His name is Kaizuiten, a Buddhist monk and an advisor to Yasugawa. I passed him in the street when I arrived, and would have killed him then and there if the city guard were not passing also.”
Mune looked at Mura in shock, then turned and struggled to see this Kaizuiten’s face from ten rows away. “Am I supposed to recognise him?”
The cloaked face turned to him, and Mune could swear he could see two orbs of fire. “You should. Every able-bodied warrior supporting Hidetoyo flocked to Kyoto all those years ago to avenge Nobuoda’s murderer. He stands right there, behind those two as if nothing happened.”
Mune struggled again to focus on the figure, trying to understand Mura’s words. “It cannot be.”
“You think I would forget the face of the man who destroyed my sword hand and my face?”
Hidetoyo and Yasugawa looked out to the gathering people. Everyone moved quickly into straight lines, showing that many of them had been former army men. Once the lines were arranged to the satisfaction of the Daimyo of Japan, he addressed them.
“I thank all of you for making your way to Osaka Castle.” He gestured to Yasugawa at his left hand. “My trusted friend here suggested we have this meeting, hoping to find a truly exceptional smith among those who forge in Kyoto or Edo. In the spirit of fairness, I invited any smith in Japan to attend this gathering. To have only the weapons makers of two cities would be a disservice to any who do not reside in either, and be limiting our chances.”
He stepped back, letting Yasugawa address the smiths. “I do not deny I desired this to show off the talents of those in my province, and my adopted home town. Our leader was correct in adjusting my request. The rumours of a second invasion of Korea are true, and we have word that our foes have increased the quality of their weapons. We must do the same, and I seek reassurance that we can from what you present to us today.”
For the rest of the day, the smiths stood under a cloudy sky that threatened rain, but never fulfilled it. The two respected figures walked among them, with Hidetoyo holding his own weapon out of its case. The eyes of the smiths seemed to forget who stood in front of them, as they stood entranced by the Daimyo’s weapon. Yasugawa took each smith’s weapon, which was compared against Hidetoyo’s, but none came close to its quality. Mune looked to his friend as they waited their turn, unable to see Mura’s eye but was sure he was staring at the figure that remained at the back portion of the dais.
Hidetoyo and Yasugawa reached Mune. The Daimyo warmly greeted him, and introduced him to Yasugawa. The pair inspected Mune’s new sword, comparing it to his original masterpiece. They were impressed, though it was noted it did not match the sword that Hidetoyo had named ‘Hizashi’, meaning rays of the sun.
They moved next to Mura. The cloaked figure kneeled before them, presenting the sheathed sword. Yasugawa looked amused at the gesture as he took the weapon, while Mune watched in anticipation as the sword was removed from its case. Everyone who could see the weapon, included the two statesmen and Mune, gasped in amazement.
The blade was the deepest imaginable black, and seemed to absorb light. Despite this, there were innumerable bright white flecks amongst the darkness, and ran along edges of the sword. The Daimyo and Yasugawa looked shocked by the weapon, and then looked to the still kneeling Mura with a respectful look in their eyes. Yasugawa drew him to his feet, and queried him on the weapon. The cloaked man said that he had named it ‘Sutaraito’, as it looked like starlight imbued the blade.
Hidetoyo compared the blades, before handing both blades to Yasugawa. The former Eastern Daimyo made his own comparison of the blades. In a moment Mura recognised from a persistent dream, Yasugawa lifted both swords to the sky. Sutaraito remained aloft, while Hizashi was lowered until it slipped from his grasp.
– X –