Chapter 52 – The Oral Tradition
It was the same night after the mining work had concluded.
The starry sky unfolded, and the chilly air of spring was deadly silent.
While everyone in the village was resting and preparing for the next day, the watermill near the workshop continued to generate sound.
The usual noise of the river reverberating near the river bed at night was completely dominated by the sound of the working watermill.
It was an unusual sight.
Eiji stared at the soft, orange-colored light coming from the pine tree charcoal.
The wind that blew from the pair of bellows was strong at times.
The light radiating from the charcoal turned strong as well, and the sparks scattered closely.
*Pachi* – together with the bursting sound, his face turned hot with a roar.
Without holding fire tongs or the iron hammer, he watched the furnace.
Eiji’s face was shining dimly.
Soon after, a single person arrived at the workplace.
Once he stood up, he looked in the direction of the entrance.
Because of the dimness inside the room, Eiji was unable to see whose face it was.
However, even without that, he could recognize this person.
And there should be no visitors coming here at time like this.
Eiji called out by himself.
– So you arrived, Pietro.
– Yes. Master, is there anything you need?
– First, close the door.
– Yes? Got it.
*Gii* – The hinge of the door creaked as the door closed.
The inside of the shop, which was already dim, turned even darker once the moonlight was cut off.
Burning the pine tree branch with the furnace fire, Eiji filled it inside the pipe bowl and transferred it into the torchlight.
As soon Pietro was told to put the bolt on the door, he couldn’t refrain himself from asking.
His voice was filled with suspicion.
– Ain’t we being quite secure? Just what’s the matter?
– You haven’t told anyone besides your family that you’re coming here, have you?
– That’s right, it’s because I was warned to do so. Only my parents know about Master calling me, still, they have no idea where I’m heading towards.
– Then it’s fine. I too, didn’t tell Tanya-san where I was going.
– Not even to Tanya-san?! Just what are we supposed to do from now on…?!
– I’m going to pass on the secret of smithing to you.
– The secret of smithing… to me….
Pietro couldn’t grasp the depth of seriousness in Eiji’s attitude.
However, his body trembled at once suddenly.
He probably knew well how important the matter in question is.
It was something that was known a long time ago, during the Edo period.
Back then, there was once a time when more than 10 thousand swordsmiths were believed to exist, and a single master had as many as 10 disciples.
Nevertheless, among those disciples, there were only 1 or 2 people worthy of being passed a secret skill.
What’s more, leaking it to strangers was restricted by rule.
The rules were sometimes so strict to that even the secret would become lost in oral passing.
In order not to do any harm to the owner, like by committing a forgery, or creating a half-hearted item, the rule was also a form of rigorous self-discipline.
Even the reason why Eiji called Pietro without letting anyone else know was a part of that rule.
It was for the sake of not letting the secret being overheard by the other disciples.
However, Eiji wondered himself whether it wasn’t still too early for Pietro.
There was yet another reason behind not recklessly disclosing one’s secret.
Even though Eiji decided to bestow it upon his disciple, Pietro will probably not gain the full understanding of that skill, as he was yet unable to craft his own product with a satisfactory level of quality.
Still, there was no doubt that Eiji wanted Pietro to acquire that skill first and grow up slowly starting from that.
Pietro didn’t seem to notice Eiji’s trouble.
He probably received too much stimulation from the fact of being about to be told the skill.
Despite the dim light coming from the torch inside the darkness, one could understand Pietro’s face flushing with red.
Well, I guess it’s fine?
By telling him fast, it will become food for his deeper thought. Now, let’s sow the seed. Let’s wait patiently and believe that the seed will someday grow into a large tree. – Eiji thought.
– Despite saying so, today, I will tell you just one secret.
– What? Are you unsatisfied with that?
– No! There’s no way for such thing—
– Even if I tell you everything now, it’s not like you will be able to remember at once.
– That would seem so.
– There’s a kiridashi knife that I just happened to think about during my work, and want to try it out for tomorrow. We will use this.
– A Kiridashi?
– Yeah, we are going to quench this.
Kiridashi is one of the knives that are considered precious for cutting small articles.
As soon as Eiji stood in front of the furnace, he grabbed the kiridashi with a pair of fire tongs and tossed it onto the top of the charcoal made from a pine tree.
Sinking the iron piece inside the heat, Eiji operated the pair of bellows.
The fire still wasn’t hot enough.
Eiji intended to slowly bring the iron near its desirable temperature.
While waiting for it to reach the target temperature, Eiji made an explanation that would become a prerequisite.
– There are several things you need to consider when quenching.
– The first one is to completely coat the iron in Yakiba-tsuchi, but, you should only make the blade side thinner where you want to harden the thickness. Whereas, it’s fine to leave the side that is covered with ferrite to remain thick.
– So this is what Master always kneads together by yourself, isn’t it?
– That’s right.
The Yakiba-tsuchi is primarily made using the materials that are right next inside a workshop.
– Apart from now, I’ll tell you about the method of making the clay again later, however, as you can see, we generally add some powdered charcoal with clay and mix them together with polishing stone powder, fine soil from mountains, and borax. Depending on what school it is, there are truly many methods of making it with each of them being kept as a secret. Because of that, we don’t know much about the subtle differences that exist in their compounding. For example, it seems that a sword made in bizen tradition requires it being heat up inside India ink, and mixed with borax.
– Bizen tradition?
– It’s fine to consider it as a part of a famous school. It’s a technique that has been passed down for a long time in my country.
– I don’t quite get what India ink and borax is, but I get it.
– That much should be enough. It is fine as long you can understand that various methods exist. As for more details, I’ll leave it for the next time.
Even when they were talking, Eiji’s senses were focused on the furnace.
His eyes observed carefully in order not to let any spot form on the iron.
During that time, once a spot appears on it during the heating, it will become a large particle.
As a result, the iron will chip and its sharpness will considerably fall.
It was just the matter of a small difference.
And the time when every blacksmith’s nerves are unusually frayed.
However, Eiji loved the moment when the heat would increase the iron’s temperature the most.
It was a scene that one couldn’t see unless that person was a blacksmith.
The pitch black iron that was cooling down gradually became bright.
It was turning into red from the brown color, then changing into orange. With further heating, the iron became yellow, radiating with the light that was nothing but dazzling.
By slowly watching that light, Eiji was able to distinguish the temperature.
However many times he watched, he wouldn’t get tired. Rather than that, the light would captivate him more and more, making him want to investigate thoroughly.
The appearance of the iron turning red.
It was a marvelous view, to the extent of making Eiji forget about his own blinking.
– I probably told you before, but—
– Never perform quenching during the day. Do it during slightly cloudy days, with closed doors, or when it’s night. The changes in the iron’s color are visible depending on the level of brightness. Those blacksmiths who do it in daytime can be considered only second-rate at best.
Unless the iron reaches the perfect temperature, it won’t become hard.
Ascertaining the color of the iron is of utmost difficulty.
The people a long time ago used various colors to describe the desired temperature and turned them into their own secret.
As far as Eiji knew, in Bizen tradition there were azuki bean’s color and sappanwood’s color.
Whereas, in Soushuu tradition, somewhat poetic expressions were used to describe different colors, such as the color of the fire passing through a lantern paper, or the color of the moon sticking out from the edge of a mountain during a summer night.
Once you grasp the changes in the iron temperature, you will see that the expressions hold true.
Still, there was no way to tell Pietro directly about them.
That’s because all of these expressions were only passed on in Japan.
I wonder, what should I do in order to convey their meaning correctly to him? – Eiji wondered.
No matter how many times he tries to explain with great attention to detail, it takes too much time.
And then, Eiji came up with a single idea after thinking.
– When it’s autumn—-
– Wouldn’t you talk about autumn colors?
– That’s right. Even the leaves that change from yellow to bright red are lovely.
– If you find a leaf among the fallen ones with the color that matches quenching the best, then pick it up. It’s fine to stare at it every day.
– If that’s the case, I can learn that even without having Master show me.
– It’s probably faster to memorize the color by observing it each day. After that, it should be fine to completely imprint it inside your head. We will begin the practice of quenching from that point, and this time you will remember it as the color for iron.
– But, I’ll be able to enjoy it only when its autumn.
– Is that so?
Normally, quenching would also be performed by checking the mercury bar on a thermometer and the level of hardness with any hardness measuring device, however, in case of this present day, it was not possible to resort to any of these examination methods.
Because of that, they could only make use of their memory and experience gained through their 5th sense rather than depending on scientific numbers.
While observing the beautiful light radiating from the iron, Eiji soaked it inside a bucket filled with water for quenching purpose.
*Ksssssssssssh* – hearing the intense sound of water evaporating almost instantly, Eiji finished the quenching procedure.
The iron returned back to its black color.
Once it’s carefully sharpened, the iron will probably shine with gorgeous silver color.
– Did you see?
– Yes, I’ve been properly observing.
– Excellent. For the next time, we will carry out tempering. As for today, it’s okay to go back and reassure your parents.
– Master, thank you.
Looking at Pietro, who was gently bowing with his head, Eiji wondered whether he too was able to act suitably as a Master.
Until now, they had been working together just like a father and son.
Raising the small kid, while taking care of him, was a bit troublesome at first.
And once Eiji thought he would finally get used to it, more problem children, who were mixed with political intentions, appeared.
One couldn’t think of future prospects as being only bright.
Eiji could only continue his method of trial and error while bluffing.
– Don’t tell anyone about tonight.
– Yes, I’ll definitely not tell anyone. Good night.
Still, to think that there were pupils who would deal with this seriously.
Considering that way, one would feel even more motivated.
Staring at Pietro, who was going back, Eiji too returned home.
Translator and reference notes:
: A type of a clay mixture for quenching. Here you can find more about it, as well as how the Japanese sword is made in pictures: http://www.samuraisword.com/REFERENCE/making/japanse_swordmaking_process.htm