Have you read the first few chapters of Silent Moon yet?
Here it is, and get ready for a blast!
He knew the man was dead. He felt the sword bite, though it might take a moment before it would register on him and the slain man would fall. The incessant din of mortar and bombardment deafened his ears to the surreal burlesque of screaming men as Tadayama Michizawa looked away from the man he had just killed and walked in a daze toward the perimeter where more U.S. Marines continued to charge bunkers built in anticipation of just such an action. He wiped the marine’s blood from the blade and sheathed the weapon. Anyone knowing of the resheathing technique would have recognized the motion as masterly. Fastening the retaining clip in the only way a tachi could be carried, with the cutting edge down to keep it from falling out of its scabbard, he reached for a Browning Automatic lying on the ground in front of him and checked to see if there was any ammunition left in the clip.
The din continued to be deafening as he watched flame-throwers incinerating the area around him, the screams of men creating more surreal visions adding, yet, more and more to the dream-like scenario. Tadayama Michizawa randomly pointed the gun and fired off three rounds, killing two of the enemy and wounding another. Time and space had ceased to exist for him, with the activity appearing as slow motion in his mind even though the rapidity of the combat was faster than a jumping rooster trying to escape an ax man’s blade. The stench and putrefaction of battle had completely violated his senses as well as his bowels, but nothing interfered with his consciousness about the situation. He moved from one scene of battle to another without thinking: not of the lineage of his Samurai family, not about his wife, not about honoring his parents—nothing. He acted in accordance with only what he knew as commitment to the act of attacking and winning in any confrontation. In this manner Captain Tadayama Michizawa of Izo Prefecture died at the Battle for Shuri Castle on Okinawa, never feeling the shell that blew him into unrecognizable bits.
In the eerie silence and aftermath of the battle, Lance Corporal John Claremont walked around the area of engagement, trying to keep his mind off the piles of dead bodies from both armies that lined a benjo ditch. His pencil ran furiously filling his little notebook with scribbles about the battle. His buddies always chided him about taking notes, asking him if he was going to publish his memoirs of the Battle of Okinawa when he got home, if he got home, and in one piece at that.
“Hey, Dickbrain!” one of them shouted, “are you gonna just walk around looking at this shit, or are you gonna look for souvenirs?”
The men surrounding the heckler laughed and muttered obscenities about the gooks they had just wiped out while others just sat there in morbid silence while yet others quietly wept. Straight-faced and emotionally numb, John Claremont started to reply as his eye caught a long curved object appearing out from under two mangled bodies covered with the detritus of battle. He felt like throwing up, but having become inured to the tragedy of war, his desire resulted in only a slight dry heave. He reached for the object and changed his mind, instead, taking dog tags from a dead marine and placing them in clear sight by driving them into the space between the corpse’s two front teeth. The bodies were left to the charge of the body bag squad as the mortuary people were called. The standing order was that all personal effects of the dead were to be collected so they could be returned to the families.
With disgust, he looked at the object that he knew was a sword. Picking it up, his first thought was to break it in half, but, for some unexplainable reason, he didn’t. Holding it in his hands, he felt an odd sensation, almost as if it was vibrating. Cautiously, he opened the snap that held the blade in the scabbard. Even more cautiously, he began to slide the weapon out of the scabbard and was astonished by the blade’s incredible gleam. Pulling it out further, he saw the remainder and color of blood, with bits of flesh and gristle still adhered to the cutting edge. Now he did puke. Sons of bitches, he thought, still think they’re in the fucking middle ages. He lifted the sword above his head and was about to snap it over his knee when the same heckler approached and told him that he could probably get something for it when it was sent home if he turned it over to Ordnance when they got back to camp. Shrugging, he put the sword through his webbed utility belt and walked away.
The sword lay tagged with his service number in a pile with countless others: some sheathed, some not, some whole, some broken, some gleaming, some already beginning to rust, and all of them sharper than razors. Just touching them had already seriously cut too many people, and so it was decided to lift them en masse with a forklift, dumping them into a truck for cartage to the supply depot, where they would be properly counted and then disposed. Most of the swords that had been unsheathed and not broken, now were.
Everyday more and more weapons were added to the pile until the sword that John Claremont found was buried and could not be seen under the mass of tagged blades and scabbards being separated into four groups: sheathed, unsheathed, sheathes alone, and broken. And so it lay there, Tadayama Michizawa’s blade, along with all the others, waiting for the order to remove the handles and scabbards before putting all of the metal parts into a smelter unless they were tagged by marines to be sent home as souvenirs.
However, not everyone saw the piles of steel and leather scabbards as simply piles of steel and leather. Lance Corporal John Claremont recognized certain parts lying around as not just copper and brass, but of precious metals. Noticing this, he kept it to himself and immediately began gathering up the metal spacers that fit between the blade and the handle. These, he later learned, were called habaki, the wedge-like collar that held the blade in the scabbard, and the seppa, metal washers that kept the handle tightly in place to keep the blade from shaking loose. He tried to take the handles off some of them to make things easier, but there was a wooden peg holding the handle to the blade. Curious, he thought. Why would they hold something together with only a little piece of wood? He took his mess kit fork, and, using a tine, began to push the pegs out, amassing quite a nice bundle of silver and gold fittings. With his K-bar combat knife, he slit the silk bindings off the handles and removed the adornments. Many of these parts were also of quality metal, some gold, some platinum.
Then the idea hit him that instead of taking apart the swords that were still intact, he would keep what looked to be the best and shiniest and send them home as souvenirs. When he asked, the supply sergeant had no problem with him doing that, figuring it would make his own job easier. While John Claremont went through the pile picking out what he thought were the best of the lot, the OIC posted a notice saying that anyone could take some swords if they wanted them, but they had to be in the mail before the end of the week, and no one could take more than twelve.
And that is how sword #6397 along with eleven others and a nice pile of precious metal found its way to Meridian, Idaho, where it would lay in an attic for almost seventy years, intact, because it was the shiniest of the lot and, in time, might fetch a few dollars.
Prostrated on the ground in front of his shrine, the old man offered the gods his nusa, a string of paper pendants symbolic of his earnest desire to construct a blade of excellence. Though he was in his late sixties and a recognized master swordsmith, Fujisama Atabe still felt obliged to offer his soul to the gods, in the fervent hope that they would bless his hands and mind. He prayed with humility and earnestness, and, finally, after long meditation, he was ready to begin.
His mind was occupied with crafting a blade filled with every conceivable aspect of perfection and auspiciousness. In a flash of personal awakening, Fujisama Atabe knew this coming blade would be treasured as sacred and meritorious. In his heart, he knew the work would be governed by the ideals of loyalty and self-sacrifice to his craft, reverence to the gods, and benevolence of the sword’s virtue. It would also be a splendid fighting weapon for the warrior who had commissioned it.
It had to be practical and functional, well balanced and sharp. Sharp! It had to be flexible so it would not break in battle and rigid so it could keep its profound sharpness. If it met all of his incredibly demanding requirements, he would chisel his signature into the tang. This, too, had to be an example of perfection, but only if it passed the cutting tests to the ultimate degree. Only then! It would have to be a sanpogiri, a blade capable of cutting through three men in accordance with the instructions of the samurai who had ordered it. To cut through one man would make it ordinary. Two men would mean that exceptional craftsmanship went into its creation. But, a three man blade? Heaven could only grant that, and if it passed the final cutting tests, the emperor would have to know about it, and the reward would be recognition of Atabe’s skill and devotion to the gods more than it would mean an increase in the prices he could charge.
As night began to fall, he began to stoke his forge, careful not to get the charcoal too hot but at the same time creating a heat of about 1200 degrees. The perfect combination of carbon infused into the iron that would form the blade was something he had learned at the side of his father and grandfather so many years before. His intuition had taught him to recognize the proper heat by looking at the color of the coals, which in turn would translate into the steel as a form of poetry. “The blade must be heated until it is the color of the moon in August or February. And you will know the proper temperature of the water when it is time to quench it.” Ah, to know these things, he thought, and that the blade would know them as well.
He turned to his apprentice and nodded at him to maintain the coals while Atabe prepared the ore for smelting, a soft low-carbon inner core, and one of high-carbon for the cutting edge. There was never a need for words once the smithing had begun. Complete concentration was necessary. At the temperature they were working, a cinder could easily burn through a hand from one side to the other, crippling the smith and ending his career. The apprentice fondled the charcoal, keeping it at a proper temperature, waiting for the night to blacken, when the only light would be from the color of the charcoal that illuminated the shop.
Fujisama Atabe slowly shaped the blocks of ore into flat sheets no more than a quarter of an inch thick. He then doused them in water before breaking them up into the smaller wafers that would be chosen for the outer jacket of the blade. Adding block after block, he finally arrived at the proper conditions needed before the forging could begin. He hammered and folded the material without stop until the steel was viscous and so smooth that any additional folding would not produce any creases or bends.
Sweat poured from the old man’s brow as he continued to shape the blade, applying the exact amount of tension to form the kissaki, tip point; the nakago, tang, and the ha, the cutting edge. Some hours later, the blank was formed. Now would begin the grinding and filing. As the master sat on his stool resting and praying, his apprentice kept watch over the forge, slightly stoking it to keep the heat at the proper temperature for the next phase. Atabe rocked back and forth on his stool in a state of deep meditation. He would stay in that frame of mind until the blade was finished and ready for the polisher. Now began the challenging part, creating the dividing line between the cutting edge, the ha, and the body of the blade called the hamon, the distinctive part of the blade with which the master’s work became identifiable.
He prepared a mixture of clay, charcoal powder and sandstone, adding water to keep it thin. Then, another batch, a bit thicker for the upper part of the blade that would prevent it from cooling too rapidly when it was quenched in the bath. This would define the hamon. When he was done, he put the blade to the side to cool while he prayed for a divine hand from Heaven to help him form the perfectly hardened surface of the cutting edge. Stoking the forge with one hand and shifting the position of the blade with his other, he worked as a man possessed to get it to a point beyond his own comprehension. The result brought tears to his eyes.
The apprentice looked with stunned disbelief at the pattern. The blade’s curvature was perfect from the back to the point. The master’s work was done, and the decorative grooves of the horimono could be burnished and prepared for the rough polishing that would take two days to finish. The blade would then be sent for polishing, and then to the suimonogiri, blade tester, by the otameshi, body cutter, whose specialty was dismembering prisoners.
When the sword came back, it was gorgeous. The apprentice was astounded at an exquisiteness that could not be described. As the old man chiseled his name into the tang, he called it “Silent Moon.” On a night with a full moon in August, Fujisama Atabe sat looking at his work, and, thanking all of the gods for his most splendid masterpiece, died.
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