Chapter 9 – The Debut and the Hatchet
Until the watermill is completed, Eiji had to make the hatchet using his own power. Nevertheless, Eiji knew that, from now on, he had to put more spirit into his work, as he would be in charge of iron forging on a greater scale than before.
The temperature of the furnace was higher than usual. Once Eiji put some iron ore into the furnace, he waited until the heat would transfer into it, making it reach the right temperature.
What he needed wasn’t a great amount of pre-made steel, but soft iron.
The difference between steel, pig iron, and soft iron was the amount of carbon element inside of them. The steel would contain 2% carbon, and once it’s increased, it becomes pig iron. On the other hand, if you decrease that number, it becomes soft iron. Compared to the steel, it’s much easier to adjust the amount of carbon in soft iron, therefore creating soft iron is no difficulty.
The reason behind deliberately making soft iron, rather than steel, was to make the hatchet last longer. The steel is hard and has a great sharpness; however, as a solid item, it’s longevity is short. If one were to produce such a hatchet, it would easily become scratched and chipped. The soft iron has a dull sharpness, but it’s rather tenacious.
In order to create something that has contradictory features, such as: not breaking, not twisting, and is sharp, One would have to fuse both the steel and the soft iron.
– Oh, it melted.
As Eiji was staring at the furnace, he muttered without realizing it.
The temperature of the furnace just now exceeded 1200°C.
The metal sheet inside the furnace was dyed red, and Eiji understood that just by seeing, as he didn’t have a thermometer. It was a conduct that he was used to thanks to tens and hundreds of repetitions.
Eiji struck the soft iron as much as possible, forming a figure. He had to carefully make the joint part to which the handle was attached; otherwise, even the slightest shift in its figure could make a big difference for its user. It was a series of consecutive detailed works. He couldn’t feel relieved even for a second.
Eiji said without thinking ahead. Perhaps, it was due to him being too concentrated. The tool was ready, the only thing remaining for it was to be tested. As the final day of the deadline was approaching, Eiji felt more stress building up.
Iron is harder than bronze, there was no doubt it is superior. However, the village people might think otherwise, being convinced of bronze being better.
Perhaps it was due to them using the raw version of the iron, without knowing its refining process, which made the iron becomes rusty, and eventually led to it being called “evil iron”.
In order to break this concept, Eiji had to yield a result completely opposite to it. It was a big hurdle.
In contrast, if this gets accepted, it will result in great collateral. And perhaps, even in monopolizing the tools production of this island.
Eiji puts more spirit, as he heats the steel. While he is bending the steel which he has struck and stretched, he smears it with some straw ashes, and strikes hard. The steel melt together, becoming a lump once again.
Folding is the method used in strengthening the metal. By folding numerous times, you can create multiple layers of iron, and therefore, make beautiful patterns on the blade’s surface which are commonly seen on katanas and damascus edged tools.
Striking and stretching the iron, and again turning it into a lump is not an easy task. Eiji has to breathe life into the lump of metal, in order to create tools capable of saving human beings. That’s what a blacksmith is obliged to do.
Forming the shape of the steel. Then next attaching an ingot to it, which is lightly stretching and folding the steel, and while doing so, inserting the ingot. Finally covering it with straw ash and mud, and burning it.
It is a technique that is called koubu.
It’s also known by other names, such as Yomodzume and Honsanmai. It is used in blade-edged tools that, just like katanas, receive additional impacts from every angle. The more the chipped parts are created, the harder it is to perform.
As the work progresses, it will create various splits and broken pieces, as a consequence of quenching. The difficulty is highly dependent on the need to maintain a balanced temperature. Eiji looked inside the furnace, as if starting at something. He was checking the color of the scorching iron inside the dazzling flames.
Now! – thought Eiji.
Once he made sure the red-scorching iron was soft, he took it out. Then he proceeded to striking the lump of crimson red iron.
Eiji, being free from any obstructive thoughts, kept striking until he finally made a blade. Once he confirmed the joining was successful, Eiji carried it through further heating and tempering.
– I made it…I made it!
He was out of breath. Eiji put everything he had into this tool, as it needed to be folded 7 times, which was a quite uncomfortable number. Once he polishes it, a beautiful pattern will appear.
Single edge lumberjack hatchet style.
The black imprinted ingot showed the presence of being dependable.
It was an open area inside the village. There was a broad-leaved tree growing in this place; however, its’ leaves were now falling. Around, there was yellow soil spreading with no weeds growing. Even if one were to tread on it, there would probably be no buds sticking out.
In front of it was the house of the tribal chief. People gathered around it, as if surrounding a tree.
In addition to the tribal chief and Eiji, there were other people, like Mike, Philip, Fernando, Jane, and Tanya. All of them were the people who associated with Eiji the most. The tribal chief stood in front of everyone. She had lots of wrinkles and her hair was white, but contrary to her appearance, Bona’s posture and gaze was powerful.
– Well then. Shall we begin? Eiji, I hope your preparations have been progressing well.
– Yes. This is the hatchet I made using the iron. And next to it is the one he normally uses.
Eiji’s hatchet was next to Philip’s one.
Both of them were different in outward appearance. Philip’s hatchet which was made out of bronze was straight, while Eiji’s one was curved, and had a design placed all along the sharpened edge. Philip, while trying to shoulder the hatchet made of iron, adjusted it.
– So, is it easy or hard to operate?
– It’s good.
– Then, the only thing remaining is to check its sharpness. I’m looking forward to that.
Fernando, who had already witnessed the convenience and sharpness of the iron nails, was smiling pleasantly. Contrary to that, there was a person with a pale face, filled with tension. That was Tanya.
Faith and worry are two different things. While lightly holding onto Eiji’s clothes, her eyes were shaken with anxiety. Don’t worry – said Eiji, once he placed his hand on her shoulder, and gave her more confidence which seemed like purifying her face.
– So Philip, can I have you swing a dozen of times with your hatchet, using your usual power?
– Here I go. One, two…
First, he swung using bronze-made hatchet. You could hear the high sound of the hatchet cutting through the tree’s skin. One could feel Philip’s spirit passing through the blade’s edge, to which he was very accustomed. So as to make it fair, it was sharpened, specially for this occasion. It was quite sharp.
– I see. The bronze hatchet cuts well by itself, still…
– With this, doesn’t it seem like there’s no need for the iron-made one?
– Now, now, Shouldn’t we judge once we see the iron hatchet in action?
Because of what Bona and Mike said, Eiji felt a little bit anxious.
There’s no telling whether a good product will be sold, and same goes here.
Despite it having superior features, there were lots of merchandise lost to oblivion, just like the number of stars on the heaven.
Because of that, Eiji’s future depended on how Philip’s evaluation went.
Philip-san, I’m counting on you…
And the iron hatchet was swung.
kon, kon, kon – together with clear sound of hitting the wood, the blade of the hatchet sucked into the tree, sending the splinters in all direction.
Five, dozens of times… there’s no doubt that it will cut the tree.
But the question is how big the difference will be? However, for someone like Philip, who made his living, lumbering trees, it was more than enough to understand.
– Incredible…Eiji, incredible!
Philip, who was usually calm and silent, gave out from himself a voice full of excitement.
He was staring fixedly at the hatchet with a great interest.
His excitement was that of a child who was given a unique toy.
– Wow, this is the first time for me seeing Philip this excited.
– My husband is saying some rare things there. I agree with him.
– And me too, we wouldn’t have known, had we not heard from someone with the first-hand experience. I think this would be enough proof for it to be superior.
– That’s right… Philip, there’s no mistake in what you said?
– T-he best. The response coming from this was light, and I don’t feel tired at all.
Let me see – said Fernando while holding on the hatchet. As he swung it down, he opened his eyes widely.
-W-what? That’s true. The response coming from this is totally different, and the hatchet is moving smoothly, as if sucking towards the tree.
– Hey, let me do it!
– Well then, Eiji.
– From now on, I acknowledge your skills, and that you’re one of us. You shall be given the status of executive. (I’m not sure if you can use in this context, but more or less just like this)
Yay! – A shout of joy and congratulations were heard coming from everyone. Tanya hugged Eiji.
– Eiji-san…! congrat…congratulations!!
Being cheered, Eiji’s face became red in confusion. While doing some troublesome movements, he looked at the tribal chief.
It didn’t seem like a joke.
– Everyone present here have the status of executive; therefore, all of us will acknowledge you. I’ve heard from Mike than you’re quite knowledgeable regarding field work.
– But..I’ve only known you for three months. What’s more, even my identity remains unclear. Is it fine to appoint such person as the executive..?
Primarily, a village society does not welcome in any outsider. Still, why is some like him being welcomed this much? There was no reason for him not to be happy; nevertheless, it was something beyond his understanding, making him rather anxious,
As a result of this reprimand which gave a sensation as if firing someone up, Eiji’s body felt pinned down. While maintaining her stern face expression, she spoke.
– Once we make use of your wisdom, the villagers will be able to endure the winter. It will contribute to them producing more stocks, and safe delivery of children. So what’s the matter with you being an outsider! If you have time to utter such unreasonable things, then I’d rather have you and my granddaughter bear children.
– Granddaughter? Children?….Tanya-san is tribal chief’s granddaughter?
Eiji took a glance at Tanya who was hugging to him while nodding.
I see, no wonder I was appointed as an executive – he thought.
– With that, the trial is over. Everyone, please start preparations for the festival. Eiji, I need to speak with you, so drop to my house later.
– Ok! Tonight we’re drinking.
– It looks like fun. Still, I won’t forgive if you go wreak havoc.
– Congrats. Well, I knew that you would be fine with those skills of yours. By the way, I took care of the rest of nails.
As the tribal chief entered the house quickly, the other members run off to do the preparations. Only Tanya and Eiji were left.
– Eiji-san….I’m really glad for you. I believed you could do it.
– It’s also thanks to you, Tanya. Once again, I look forward to working with you
– Yes, my husband.
And they shared a kiss, while holding on each other. There was someone one he wanted to protect, and be protected by that person. It seemed like Eiji could withstand any hurdles awaiting him.
This was the second time for Eiji to visit the tribal chief’s house.
As always, it was big, and had lots of room ornaments.
Once he sat in the wooden chair, he faced the tribal chief, and drank the water handed to him by the tribal chief. It was in a wooden cup with its inside gouge out. Her facial expression, unlike before, was much gentler.
– I have three things to talk about. First being about Tanya, second being about your job, and the last being the item which you made.
– Just as I said before, Tanya is my granddaughter. Both of her parents passed away a long time ago due to illness. Don’t you think it’s weird that she didn’t try to make you her next husband?
– I thought about it, the reason why she did not while looking after someone else.
After the tribal chief gave out a sigh, she shook her head. She had a rather displeased expression.
– Because our people tend to marry only inside this village, there is a risk of homogeneous lineage; therefore, we wanted to find someone from outside for Tanya. And finally when someone who met the criteria came from the neighboring village, despite numerous insists, that person just died in a war, without even leaving an offspring.
– And then I came.
– That’s right. Your origin might be unknown; however, it is clear that you’re not affiliated with anyone in this neighborhood. Of course, had Tanya deemed you to be not appropriate, she could’ve just as well kicked you out. Nevertheless, it seems like she took a liking in you.
Fufufu – Smiled the tribal chief.
Eiji could do nothing but reply with a smile.
– Next will be the village. Be it during your break from forging, or when you’re not setting up a fire. Use that moment to get an apprentice, and teach him your art. Anyway, even if it’s a little so that this village could prosper, I’d like you to use the utmost of your knowledge.
– Understood. In addition to farming tools, I’ll do everything in my power to become a helpful person.
Uff – sighed Eiji tiresomely.
Was I able to draw out the reply which would make the tribal chief at ease? – Eiji wondered. Somehow, he doubted that viewpoint. However, he was standing in front of someone who seemed to act appropriately for her age, to the extent that even one couldn’t feel the usual spirit in that reprimand of her’s.
– With that I feel confident, but there’s still one more problem.
– You mean the iron, right?
– Aaa, the iron… yes that’s it. I still remember seeing it being used as a child.
– Is that true?
– I swear it’s true. That black radiance and the powerful sharpness. My uncle used it in the hoe.
– Then why did you cease to use it?
I cannot believe it – thought Eiji.
Why did they revert back to bronze, even though they knew of iron’s properties?
Around 14th century B.C, the Hittites invented the method of carbonizing, and became able to produce steel. Since then, it marked the beginning of steel era, making bronze a thing of the past.
– I don’t know. In the first place, this village couldn’t produce using either iron or bronze. Perhaps, the villages belonging to the feudal lords will know something about this. Once the time for tax collection and trade take place, I’ll take you with me.
– Please do.
As Eiji’s trial ended, a taste of unsolved mystery remained.
Once the fest end, Eiji plans to publicly exchange the marriage oath with Tanya.
No matter what kind of hurdles will be involved, inside his heart, he swore not to give up.
Translator and reference notes:
Two ideas of what Eiji’s hatchet’s head might look like, Western: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/f9/bf/b6/f9bfb69fc503699559a66f4e2dae7113.jpg (just the head); Eastern: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/2f/f8/cf/2ff8cf3275365a021d68c8bdca0542a2.jpg to give you an idea
Some damascus axe designs: http://www.trueswords.com/images/prod/legends-in-steel-damascus-axe-a06-bk2455.jpg also, https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/7a/11/a9/7a11a96d3d17aa77a32c2d82af55e670.jpg