Chapter Twenty-Seven: Legacies
"The finest swords have histories as detailed as the
Great Clans' sagas. Such swords share their spirit and power with their rightful
owners…if the swords deem them worthy."
Kakita Toshiki ran a hand over the fine calligraphy, his aged face wrinkling into a small smile, "Your technique has improved slightly, young master, though there is still something wrong with the spirit of the stroke."
"There always is," the student said with a grumble. Doji Fujiya was a bushi, not a courtier or an artist; the blood of Lady Doji did not run strong in him. Indeed, he had only been returned to the Kakita Academies for training, in order that the masters might 'strengthen his wayward chi.'
So far, the masters had succeeded only in gaining headaches…though they gave as well as they received.
"Calligraphy is not unlike fencing, young master," the courtier said, his clean-shaven face smiling despite the complaint. "Both require the same discipline, and both awaken the soul." The artist's eyes were as still and calm as a duelist would be, and even the bushi could see the fire within him.
Fujiya bowed slightly from his seat, though his face did not display an agreement. "I will work harder, Master Toshiki." The samurai drew out a fresh sheet of paper, setting down to his work with a proper amount of duty.
A moment later, a knock came on the door, "Master Toshiki?"
Recognizing the voice from somewhere in his past, the master painter turned towards the door. Upon opening it, the first thing that the Kakita saw was the smiling face of an old friend, complete with shaven head and his shining daisho, and now sporting a small bandage along the bridge of his nose. "Mirumoto Nikkan? Fujiya-san, please go to my quarters and get the scroll wrapped in green silk. Nikkan-san and I have some work to finish from his last visit."
The monk smiled slightly, turning to look back at the samurai that stood by his side. "Though I would always visit you, o' master of beauty, I am afraid that this request is not my own." The Mirumoto turned, giving Toshiki his first look at the second man. "He has a few questions for your wisdom."
Toshiki's eyes widened slightly, his calmness dissolving in an instant of utter confusion, "Kakita Koshin?"
The samurai bowed his head, a strangely guilty smile filling his ageless face, "Toshiki-sama."
"I must admit," Toshiki said with a smile, admiring the trees that bloomed in the Kakita garden, "that I thought that my sister might have been confused, when she wrote that you had come to call. Even Kaori makes mistakes, after all…and neither of us are as young as we once were."
Koshin smiled slightly. "No mistake, Toshiki-sama…though sometimes the circumstances even confuse me." Beside him, Nikkan was shaking his head, spending more time staring at flowers than listening closely to the two Crane. "The whole story is rather…complicated."
The artisan nodded. "Complex. Perhaps. Reforging the blade with certainly be a task, even for Tanako-sama. But a sword is more than a blade. It holds within it the stories and soul of all that have used it before. That one in particular has a troubled spirit, from troubled times. Famous, but fame does not always bring fortune."
"It is a famous sword?" Koshin asked, his eyes immediately drifting to the bladesmiths as they continued their cleaning work at the garden's far end.
Toshiki smiled, his face showing only a few wrinkles as he did. "Of course; it is the sword of Kakita Koshin, an immortal wanderer who has survived both the blade of the great Mirumoto Tenryuu and the dark maho of the Shadow."
"Be serious, Toshiki-sama," Koshin almost pleaded. "That sword has protected my life many times, and yet I know nothing about it."
Nikkan raised his head from the flower he had been studying, a much more wrinkled smirk formed on his face. "You had best tell him what you know quickly, master painter…I should remind you that he is still a young man with a bad temperament."
Toshiki watched with mischievous eyes, wondering if he could duplicate with paint the color the normally composed swordsman had turned at the comment. "I am sorry, Koshin…the sword is indeed a famous weapon. Of course you must have heard of the katana of Kakita Rensei."
"That sword," Koshin said as the masters flaked more rust away, "is the blade Ukigumo?"
"Indeed," Toshiki said, watching the blade start to shine as it was cleansed with water and steel. "This story was related to me by Kakita Kensei, a direct descendant of Rensei-sama. It has never been proven, and if it is indeed true, then it could mean a war…"
Koshin nodded. "I had heard that Floating Cloud was lost following Rensei's disappearance."
Taking on a low, haunting tone, the master painter's voice grew into a great, commanding thing that drew the attention of both of his companions. "Ukigumo bears the mark of Master Kakita Sanosuke, who created the blade five hundred years ago for the famous warrior Kakita Miura."
"Miura used the blade many years, even after his retirement to teach at this academy," the artisan continued, his eyes still drifting along the long, flawless blade as it rose from the steamy water and into the sun's light. "Miura was a calm man, and it is from his sword style that Ukigumo draws its name. In time, the sword passed through Miura's family, until it came to the hands of Rensei, his descendant."
Koshin remained silent, staring fiercely at the sword. Toshiki offered the samurai a sideways glance, and smiled at the man's passion, before he spoke again. "According to Kakita Kensei, Rensei was denied his duel by the Matsu daimyo, Kaoruko, for three months. At last, the Lion agreed to a duel, for she admired the spirit of Rensei-sama…"
"And Rensei killed the Lion with one stroke," Koshin said softly.
The Crane master nodded, watching as the Kakita began to wrap its tarnished handle in fresh silk. "He did. The Matsu, enraged, pursued Rensei for many weeks after the duel. In the end, however, even the great swordmaster could not slay all his foes, and, rather than allow the dishonor of losing his family blade to the Matsu, Rensei committed seppuku, falling with blade in hand into the great sea."
Nikkan bowed his head, "I can see how that tale might start a war, Toshiki-sama."
Toshiki nodded slowly. "Kensei said that the Matsu, embarrassed at their failure to avenge the blood feud, covered up the incident and refused to speak of it again."
"Ukigumo," Koshin whispered as the finished blade was placed into his hands. The sword, even sheathed, was now a masterpiece reborn, its new saya a deep blue to match the silk that bound the edge. The cleansed tsuba was silver, worked into the image of a whirling windstorm.
Drawing out the katana into the sunlight, the bushi let out a low sigh. Shimmering with the blue-white gleam of a true Kakita sword, the mark of Kakita Sanosuke stood on the edge of the blade. Its temper line surged like a wave, transforming the entire edge into a shining steel flame.
The master remained emotionless, his pale eyes catching the sword's inner flames. "A sword does not gain power through hatred or rage. A sword gains its strength from the purity of the artisan, the wielder and the lord. This sword carries the strength of legends," he said, catching the swordsman's eye, "it demands a man of strength to carry it."
The blade of a master, Koshin thought, seeing his own face reflected in the steel.
A true master.
That night, as the winds of autumn played across the plains of the Kakita, Koshin and Toshiki stood alone, there eyes staring deeply into the flickering flames of the fireflies as they danced through the vast garden. Eyes so similar to each other's, both in their stillness and their strength.
When the artisan spoke, he did so softly, as if fearful to shatter the peace of the night, "Koshin, what do you know of Kenshuko?"
Koshin did not turn his head. "So, you know about her too."
"I do," Toshiki said simply. "When Taehime came here, the Kakita opposed her. My sister and I grew to be close friends with her during those difficult days. We both correspond with her daughter as well. Somehow, I always knew that one day she would come to understand the truth…"
"She does not know," the ronin said quietly, his eyes beginning to glow softly in the moon's gentle light. "I have no business ruining her life."
"Only lies bring ruin, Koshin-san." The painter held out his hand, allowing one of the fireflies to land upon it. "They are the shadows in which dark things grow. Truth is like Lord Sun; not always what we would wish it were, but healing and uplifting just the same." He paused for a moment, watching the spark rise back into the sky.
"Hearts cannot grow in shadows, Koshin-san. And a heart that cannot grow has no choice but to die. What then?"
It was nearly the end of winter, when Koshin took his leave of the lands of the Crane. The bushi had passed the time in thought and meditation, spending nights in soft laughter with his friend and unknowing kin. He said nothing to his hostess upon his disappearance, leaving a note of apology for another sword that he had borrowed from her collection, as well as a promise he would return. When he read the note for himself, Nikkan could not help but smile.
"'The heart cannot grow in shadows,'" the Mirumoto said softly, reading the note's end to the Master when he returned to finish the work at his home. "Your words, I believe."
Toshiki smiled back, his brush still poised as he spoke. "I may have offered some advice."
The Dragon nodded crookedly, eyeing the painter with those questioning orbs, "And do you know what he wrote to her, in response? It really is rather poetic." The Mirumoto held the note tightly, its finely folded edges still creased and beautiful in the morning light.
"Is it not obvious?" Toshiki asked, adding a dab of crimson to their painting of the dawn.
"Is it?" Nikkan asked, glancing over and nodding as he observed the master's stroke.
Toshiki nodded, glancing into the distant dawn as he began brushing in a
lonely figure, silhouetted against the rising sun, "He has gone looking for