Authors: Trevor Schmidt
An Imprint of Start Publishing LLC
New York, New York
This is a work of fiction. All characters and events
portrayed in this novel are fictitious and not intended
to represent real people or places.
THE SWORD MAKER'S SEAL
Â© 2012 by Trevor Scott.
This edition of
THE SWORD MAKER'S SEAL
Â© 2013 by Salvo Press.
All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without the express written consent of the publisher, except in the case of brief excerpts in critical reviews or articles. All inquiries should be addressed to Salvo Press, 609 Greenwich Street, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10014.
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New York, New York
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Cover iStock Photo by Bernard Allum
(Japanese storm scene from the master Hiroshige from an original woodblock print from the Edo period circa 1850.)
Kyoto, Japan - 1986
“Grandpa, tell me the story of Masamune again.”
Hatake Okazaki crossed the cozy sitting room to his old armchair, breathing out heavily as he positioned himself in the chair's divot. He motioned for his grandson to join him on his lap, and to his surprise, the boy of six wasn't as light as he once was.
“I'll tell you, but you have to promise to go to bed as soon as the story is over or your dad will be angry with me again.”
“I promise!” the boy said quickly.
“Okay. Masamune Okazaki was born during the Kamakura Period, but no one knows when he lived precisely. Nevertheless, he was the greatest swordsmith Japan had ever known, and probably will ever know. His swords were perfect, elegant, true works of art. There were many emperors and shoguns that desired his blades, but he was only one man, and he was stretched thin with requests for his work. Partially to fill his orders and partially to carry on his legacy, he took on just ten students, each perfecting a different aspect of sword making, but none ever achieving the level of perfection their master had attained.
“Masamune created a sword called the Honjo Masamune, which was considered his greatest work. Unfortunately, the sword went missing in 1946 and has never been seen again. Only a few of Masamune's swords are around today and they are usually family heirlooms or found in museums. When I was a boy I got to see Masamune's armor in a private family-owned museum in Kyoto. He wore a helmet with a crescent moon that extended into two razor sharp points and red leather mail in the old Samurai tradition.
“Now, this is the part of the story few know except our own family members. Masamune created another master sword; the last sword he ever forged. It was created in secret and was said to have certain unexplainable powers hidden within the folds of steel. It was a holy sword. The sword could cut a leaf in midair and the leaf would reform pristinely before landing softly on the ground. The sword is only capable of doing good.”
“But, it's a sword,” the boy said. “Don't all swords cut through things for real?”
“Oh yes, most swords are unforgiving in that way. But, Masamune was a priest who, by way of fate, spent his life creating weapons of war. At the end of his life he felt remorse for what he had brought into the world, so he created his last sword.”
“Well, what's the point of cutting someone if they will just get back up and keep attacking you?” the boy asked.
The grandfather eyed his grandson curiously and said, “The sword was not meant to kill. It was meant to end a conflict by destroying the desire to fight.”
He looked up at his grandpa in surprise. The boy hadn't ever thought of war in that way.
“I think it's time I showed you something,” Grandpa Okazaki said.
The graying man picked up his grandson and sat him down in the armchair's divot. He strode toward the fireplace and knelt against the old wood flooring. From his pocket he took a metal object a few inches in length and inserted it into a tiny hole in the floor. The boy heard a click and the wood panel came up to reveal a hidden compartment and a long wooden case concealed deep within the darkness. The old man stood up and brought the case to his grandson.
“Go ahead, open it.”
The boy flipped the little golden latches and opened the seemingly ordinary case. An elegant katana encased in a dark blue sheath stared back at him. The sheath was engraved with a man and woman in their ceremonial kimonos embracing under a cherry blossom tree. Everything down to the ornate handle looked hand crafted and painstakingly detailed.
“Can I take it out?” the boy pleaded.
“When you're older. When I pass away this sword will be your responsibility, along with the story of Masamune, our ancestor.”
“How come dad won't get it?”
“Your father has never been interested in the sword and doesn't believe the stories. Masamune's sword must be entrusted to someone who will protect it with their life. I know you'll take good care of it.”
“You promise I can have it?”
The old man winked at the boy and put the sword back in its compartment, replacing the wooden panel and locking it with the metal object.
“Now then, it's time for bed.”
“Ah man! Can't you just tell me one more story? Did Masamune get into any battles? Did he ever fight Ninjas?”
“Bed! Remember? You promised” the old man said sternly.
That night, the boy lay in the guest bedroom of his grandfather's house replaying the story of Masamune in his head and thinking of his Grandfather's promise. When he finally fall asleep, his dreams were filled with never-ending feudal Japanese battles and with the warrior with the crescent moon helmet whose sword cut through steel like butter.
Portland, Oregon â 2009
Ezra Thorne sat with his back against the apple tree in his front yard, deciding how to spend the hot summer day. Despite the heat, he wore a long-sleeved shirt and drew the cuffs down over his fingers. His summer was winding down and the fourteen year old was nervously preparing for his first day of high school. Ezra was excited to be finished with middle school and hoped his overbearing parents would finally take him seriously.
Mr. and Mrs. Thorne were both professors at Pacific University a few towns over. His father, Eliot, found it necessary to constantly remind his peers that he was named after the prolific writer T.S. Eliot, making reference to his writings whenever he could. Ezra hadn't escaped being named after a famous writer, but nonetheless, he liked his name. It was different.
Eliot Thorne was a thin man with equally thin features, sometimes appearing crane-like. He would often forget to eat if he were engrossed in a volume of literature. He would make due with a steaming cup of coffee, which he would hold daintily in his hands, occasionally spilling or leaving a coffee ring in unfortunate places. When Mrs. Thorne confronted him on the subject, he would quote modernist poetry until the accusations stopped. It occurred to Ezra from an early age that there was sadness within his father. He would often write in his office, which was really just a secluded corner of the master bedroom, in the hopes of writing the next great American novel. As far as Ezra could tell, he had been rather unsuccessful thus far.
Mrs. Matilda Thorne on the other hand was commonly known as the strictest teacher in her institution's history. When a student spoke up in class their answer was wrong. Mrs. Thorne would twist the question ever so slightly to show off her own extensive knowledge of the subject. For Ezra, nothing was more entertaining than sitting at the dinner table and pushing his parents' buttons in just the right way to make them argue furiously. It never took much.
The Thornes had two German Shepherds, Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm. Mr. Thorne believed himself to be some sort of genius for naming his two German Shepherds after the Brothers Grimm. Ezra didn't care much for Jake, but Wilhelm was not as rowdy and liked to sleep next to Ezra's bed like a watchdog.
Ezra was not sitting under the apple tree like a normal boy of his age, plotting his water balloon revenge against the girls across the street, or waiting for a friend to come by on his bike. No, Ezra was tapping his feet and fingers in time to his favorite song, deciding whether he should go to the public library or the Ancient Artifacts Museum first. It was the last Monday of the month of August, which meant a new exhibit should be coming to town. He picked an apple from the tree and brushed a few stray leaves from his chestnut brown hair, which he often fussed with, and decided he would see if the new exhibit was set up yet.
Ezra walked through the kitchen and, unsure of where his parents were at the time, yelled through the house that he was on his way to the museum.
“Be home by five,” his mom's voice came back unenthusiastically. “There's a few dollars on the counter for the MAX fare.”
Ezra took the money from the counter, counting each dollar bill out loud. Satisfied, he slipped on his sneakers, the laces were always already tied for quick exits, and hiked the three blocks to the light rail line. Portland's light rail system is called the MAX but neither Ezra nor his friends knew what it stood for.
On the train he saw all manner of people, from businessmen and women on their morning commute, to transients riding the rails to escape the heat. No matter how many times he rode the train he was always surprised at the assortment of people he could see all in one place. His foot tapped away as was prone to happen when Ezra was excited, nervous, or perhaps just plain hungry. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a small purple matchbook sitting on the seat next to him.
Ezra picked it up and turned the matchbook over in his hands. It read, “Hotel DeLuxe.” He gave a mental shrug and put it in his pocket, looking out the window and watching the buildings slide by, increasing in height until he reached the Ancient Artifacts Museum.
A bright red banner hung from the entryway advertising the new Ancient Japanese Sword Exhibit. Intrigued, Ezra stepped through the doorway and flashed his lifetime membership badge, which he had acquired only recently, after a whole summer of mowing lawns, and made small talk with the security guards and staff he knew on his way to the display.
When he arrived at the exhibit he saw a dozen ornate Katanas and three full sets of feudal Japanese armor complete with several life size wax samurai and horses. The swords were arranged in a way that drew the eye toward one particular sword in the center of the display. In the bottom corner of the case was a glass of water that was half full, sparking Ezra's interest. He also wondered what was special about the sword in the center as it was the only one missing a descriptive caption. His fingers tapped quickly across his jeans while he tried to make sense of it.
“If I were you,” a voice from behind Ezra said, causing him to jump, “I wouldn't be interested in that sword.”
Ezra turned and saw a young Japanese man, slightly taller than himself and dressed in a brown leather jacket. He guessed the man was in his late twenties and the lines on his forehead and around his mouth suggested he wore a constant smile. The man's deep brown eyes were warm and comforting, contrary to his earlier warning.
“And why is that?” Ezra asked.
“That's the most coveted sword in the world,” he said, gesturing to the sword without a sign. “And its owner will never be safe from thieves and scoundrels,” he said pleasantly, then continued, “I'm Kenji.”
The man extended his hand and Ezra took it without hesitation.
“Ezra,” he replied. “So, what makes that particular sword so valuable?”
The man smiled and a small twinkle formed in his eye. Something about his face didn't seem right without a smile spread across it. Ezra wondered if Kenji was ever not smiling.
“Until about a year ago, its existence was only a legend. Come here, I'll show you.”
The man led Ezra to another display across the room, which showed the process of sword making. He explained that the sword's creator used techniques he ought not to have known when it was forged because those same techniques weren't invented until over a century later.
“Although he did not sign this blade with his seal, many believe that this is the work of the great Masamune.”
Ezra nodded slowly as though he understood, but his curiosity finally got the better of him and he asked who Masamune was. The Japanese man told him the story of Masamune, watching the expression on Ezra's face as it turned from vague interest to a frantic thirst for more knowledge. The man's story was interrupted when the Museum's Curator, Franklin Roy, appeared from a side door and put his hand on Kenji's shoulder.
The curator was a short, middle-aged balding man who sometimes spoke in a false British accent to make him sound more pretentious. On more than a few occasions Ezra had made fun of Mr. Roy's dismal accent. Mr. Roy retorted that the museum's guests preferred a curator that seemed of a higher class, perhaps even pompous. Ezra once replied that he was doing an excellent job at being pompous.