Chasing Perfection

In a dark smokey hut, a man sat putting the final polish to a new sword. This was intended to be his greatest work, and would finally prove to his master that he had arrived.

He flecked small pieces of ash along the blade, and then rubbed them back off with a soft cloth. As he did, he noticed yet another small flaw. This had been going on for sixteen hours. The build of the sword had gone well at first. He had performed each step with perfect ease. Yet now that he was within moments of stopping, he kept finding small imperfections.

Yamamoto sighed. He was simply fatigued. This project had been so important, that he had hardly slept or eaten for days. Maybe he should take a break. Get a nap and some supper. Then return to finish the final polish. Just as he went to lay the sword down, he looked and saw another small error.
His reserve broke. Angrily he threw the sword down and stormed out of the building. Instead of going home though, he marched straight up the lane, out of the village, and continued directly to the temple on the hill. There, on his knees, he bowed his head in supplication. That is where the priests found him the next morning, collapsed from exhaustion and grief.

Without a word, they lifted him up, supported his legs, and in essence, carried him along to a small bed chamber. There they pushed his unresisting form into the low woven frame of the bed, and covered him with a blanket. Later one of the young students would come with broth. This was not the first time they had helped him recover from such a disappointment. This quest was killing the young man, and all they could do was try to rebuild his strength each chance he gave them.

You see, Hanweii Yamamoto was the most promising student of the country’s most famous master sword maker Tofiro Hondo. There was no one who did not know about the destiny that lay before him. Each person he met would begin with shock and pleasure at being in such notable company, and eventually they would find a polite way to ask if he had completed his final assignment yet.

At each inquiry, Yamamoto would hang his head, and shake it ever so slightly in shame. He had finished his early training in record time, but then stalled. It had been three years since his master had assigned him to make an acceptable blade for his final project. His student swords were considered better than most masters. Yet he had not achieved that final honor that was required in order for his teacher to release him. He had to build a flawless blade. His master had specifically said “Make it worthy of the Emperor, (may the sun never set on his shadow.)”

The trips to the temple had begun last year, but lately they were happening often. He would find his way there and fall apart. Sick and weak, his health was fading as he became more desparate and depressed.

Two days after his collapse, Yamamoto was feeling a little better. So he sent for a palenquin from town, and returned to his shop. As expected the sword was gone. It would be given to a minor noble, and most likely would be passed off as some local master’s work.

At least that was the understanding Yamamoto had. In this particular case however the blade was taken to the fencing yard of his daimyo (local lord) and tossed in to a barrel of damaged or flawed blades. These would be used to practice forms by the initiates training to become palace guards.
As it happened the blade did get used, but not by one of the rookie guards. Instead, it was picked up by a young man who was the most pitiful of all the hopefuls. His right leg was shorter than his left. He had a slight hump in his back. And he was ugly. He had been coming to the yard for a very long time asking to train, and some of the older soldiers had allowed him to stick around out of pity. They never expected him to become profficient enough to actually take a position in the employ of the master.
But they did enjoy allowing his to work beside of the bright young stars. It was often an insult to tell the new recruits that they were the ugliest initiates ever while they stood beside the tortured boy.

After a couple of weeks of working with the new sword though, the young man did seem finally to be making some progress. His gait was improving. His posture had gotten better. Even his apperance actually seemed to be less dreadful since each success at long last gave this long suffering man a reason to smile.

Three more weeks and he was walking normaly, spine erect, and if observed with no prior bias, many people would find him fair of countenance.

As his outward appearance and agility improved, the blademaster, Tenshi, took notice. He had been one of the ones to argue for letting the cripple train out of pity. So he knew how much the young man had changed in such a short time.
Sensing something out of the ordinary, Tenshi called the student aside for a privat discussion. Under questioning it was revealed that the man had felt himself stronger for about a month. And with further discussion, he realized that this change had begun about the same time as he picked a new practice blade out of the barrel.

Now, Tenshi had been around swords by many masters, and had been watching each of Yamamoto’s works go by, waiting for a sign. He immediately asked the young man to report to Master Hondo and to relate to him his experience with the blade.

The shocked young man gave his report as ordered, and Master Hondo listened attentively, never speaking until he had finished.
Then he spoke three times:

Describe your health issues before.

How long exactly have you had this blade?

And lastly, “May I hold the sword?”

With this last, the student passed over his katana. The old smith looked it over most carefully, and then spoke “You have experienced great fortune. This blade will serve you well. Return to your training, and I look forward to seeing you in our master’s service.”
After the young man had left, Master Hondo sent two messengers. The first went to Tenshi, and confirmed what he had suspected. The second went to Yamamoto, and ordered his presence before his teacher immediately.

Yamamoto walked slowly towards his master’s home. He knew what was going to happen. He would be dismissed. No one could blame his teacher either. With a heavy heart, and bowed head the apprentice smith approached the gate.

A servant opened the latch, and ushered him in the courtyard. Yamamoto observed the scene carefully. A table had been carefully set with sake and cups. Attendants stood around the outside of the garden. Everything about the scene spoke of intimacy and quiet discussion. His teacher sat waiting. Opposite side of the table was an empty seat and an upside down glass.

Instead of being comforted by the site, Yamamoto allowed his worst fears to run wild. “He intends to tell me softly that I must go.” worried the younger man. “He thinks I won’t make a scene with the servants in attendance.”

Against these dark thoughts, it was a complete shock when the old man said “Sit, my son. We are celebrating a great moment.”

Confused by his own panic, Yamamoto sat and bowed his head, and said “I am sorry master for failing for so long to achieve the goal you set me.”

“But you have finally succeeded. Or did you not know? Your last sword is exactly what I had hoped for,” the master smith replied.

“But master,” Yamamoto protested, “I had to toss it aside. It was flawed! No way would it be worthy for the Emporer. (May he be always surrounded by cool breezes and soft melodies.)”

The old man waited for a moment, and asked “Have I ever spoke to you of my own master?”

“No sir,” came the reply “but I know he was considered the best craftsman in history. Excluding yourself of course sir!” He added belatedly and bowed his head.

“He was better than me, son. He had an ability. You see, when he would fashion a blade, it lived. Not as our country samurai believe that the blade houses a soul. No, his katana actually had special properties. They would make a man faster, stronger, even smarter than he had been.”

The old man paused to see if his words were being received. Then he continued “Only one person in a thousand in our land is found to be able to do anything of this type. And most who are born with the gift, are not smiths. There was a farmer in Edo that could plant any seed, and within two weeks it would be ready to harvest. A musician I personally knew could play for someone, and they would SEE the images the song had been written about.”

“Surely master,” began the younger man, “This is the stuff of legend. Is it not so?”

“No Yamamoto. I tell you truthfully, my master had the gift. His blades LIVED. And so do yours. I have been pushing you for so long. Because I hoped it would be so. You are from the same village as my teacher. And everyone who has been gifted has been from that same area. I felt that if I kept making you reach for perfection, then one day, you would achieve something better.”

Master Hondo finished, “Go to Tenshi, and have him tell you of your last offering, and the change it has made in the young man who owns it. I have taken the liberty of naming the blade, “Redemption”. You will understand when you see how it has redeemed its owner. But first, take sake with me. You are no longer my student. You are my equal, and more. You will surpass me. Your success will bring honor to you, and to me for having helped you find yourself.”

After this meeing, things did go as the old master had predicted. Yamamoto was able to focus on a particular trait while making his swords, and they would impart a related ability to their owner.
His early offerings were all martial in orientation. For Tenshi, he made “Clarity”, the blade that would allow a man to teach his skills to anyone. Within two years the entire core of the Daimyo’s guard were able to defeat any other samuari in individual battle. Tenshi was given credit, but he and Yamamoto knew that the secret to his amazing ability to teach was the beautiful katana by his side.

General Takagawa was second in position only to the Emporer (may the world always feel his breath). He had always been known for his creative strategies in battle. But after receiving “Vision”, it seemed no one could stand before his army’s advances. He would make countermoves almost before the opposition decided their own plan.

Blade after blade Yamamoto poured his desires into them, and they known as the greatest swords in the land. But then the worst possible thing happened. Personal tragedy struck. Yamamoto came home from the forge, and found his wife gone. She had no idea of the man’s great ability. All she knew was that he was cross at home, arrogant to speak with, and simply mean to her. And she had fallen in love with someone else, a young beautiful guard from the keep. The two had fled to China to begin a new life.

Rather than allow this event to bring him shame, Yamamoto pretended that his wife had taken ill, and told no one. He sent spys to track her down, and then an assassin to end her life and her lover’s. Once it was done, Yamamoto started drinking heavily at night in his empty home
His next blade was “Rage”, though he didn’t call it that. And ironically, people loved it. They thought it empowered a man to face an opposing army fearlessly. It was only after owning it for a couple of years that the full effects of this cursed blade would become clear.

After “Rage”, Yamamoto created “Revenge”. Again, the owner felt he was enjoying great benefit of bravery and clarity of thought. Instead he would feel slighted at any small offense, and would take horrific action on those he blamed.

He also made a sword that was supposed to be for himself. It would help him focus on his career and calling. But in his twisted mental state, “Ambition” became a dark force that would drive the owner to seek power at any price. Fortunately for Master Yamamoto, he never weilded this terrible blade. He had just finished it when he was summoned to a meeting with his old teacher. Unnoticed, one of the assistants picked up the dark “Ambition”, and instantly felt the need to keep it for himself.

This meeting was no coincidence. Master Hondo heard of the change in his old pupil, and feared the impact it would have on his work. He guessed there was something wrong with Yamamoto, and confronted him. The meeting did not go well, but it did make an impact on the sad smith. So much so that he swore never to make another blade. At the young age of 45, Yamamoto set aside his life’s work, and joined the very monestary that had cared for him so many years before. Unfortunately, his creations had taken such holds on their owners, that the men who possessed them (or were possesssed by them) refused to give them up, or to believe that they were dangerous at all.

Over time, Yamamoto’s work has faded to legend. Many of his original blades have been destroyed, some intentionally, some not. Of the known works, three are left. Each has a specific tale. But that will wait for another time.


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