"Oh, my God, I've died and gone to heaven," Lia gasped.
"Of course you have," Selene agreed, shoving Lia further into the shop. The clerk sniffed, then raised his eyes heavenward in disdain. Selene growled faintly at the man and then steered Lia toward a rack in the back, obviously having been there before.
Unable to take in all the weapons that surrounded her, Lia allowed Selene to prod her forward, protesting only when they passed a large bookcase filled with tomes so ancient they probably would have fallen apart if pulled out of the shelf. She stumbled over the uneven wood floor, finally stopping to stare, with her friend chuckling behind her, at the sword lying alone on the top of a glass case.
It was stunning. The blade gleamed in the dim light, a silvery shimmer of ancient steel. It was a katana, its curved blade pointing away from the glass, sitting resplendent above the case on a black wooden frame. Nearly six feet from hilt to tip of the blade, it had the distinctive crisscrossed silk-wrapped hilt that gave the oriental sword its distinctive look—and the price—far more than Lia could ever afford.
She wanted to touch it, but dared not. The sword would be as sharp as it had been when first made, besides being extremely old.
She wanted it desperately, but could only stare at it in awe and desire.
"Can I leave you to drool while I look at the books?" Selene asked.
Lia nodded absently.
"I thought so," Selene laughed and walked away, her footsteps loud on the wooden floor.
It was difficult to explain her obsession with swords. Lia needed them for her work, using them as models for the myriad collections of weapons she often painted, but it was more than that. It had become an abiding interest in a craft that few could master as well as they had centuries ago; a symbol of an age when chivalry and danger went hand in hand.
Lia reached out gingerly. Her fingers trembled over the silk-wrapped hilt of the sword, just a breath from stroking the fabric.
"Don't touch that!"
Lia drew her hand back and cursed her instinctive reaction. The clerk shoved past her, sliding behind the case to glare at her sharply. "It's ancient. You cannot touch it."
She lifted her chin irritably, fully aware of the age of the weapon, annoyed by the clerk's obvious disapproval and attitude. He had dismissed her and Selene, thinking they knew nothing of the weapons in his shop.
"It's a beautiful katana, a very old lineage," she began, staring hard at the nervous man. "The curved blade is due to the process of combining both hard and softer steel in the forging. One that is unique to the katana, a weapon the noble samurai used to protect those in their care."
The clerk sniffed. "Everyone knows that."
Lia bit back a retort. "The blade is clearly one of Masamune's, the famous Japanese blacksmith from the early fourteenth century. It is said that those who carried such a blade found serenity, but in truth, most of those who bore such weapons, made by men like Masamune and Muramasa, another blacksmith of distinction, led extremely violent lives." She sighed while glancing longingly at the blade. Lia heard footsteps behind her and the clerk stiffened and slid out of the case to disappear into the back of the shop.
"It is said there is a way to tell whether it was Masamune or Muramasa who wrought such a blade," a deep voice stated quietly.
Lia shivered at the sound of the man's voice, unwilling to turn to see him. A voice that mesmerizing belonged to a man who might have held such a sword, a warrior of such stature men would run in fear at the sight of him. She didn't want to be disappointed, dreaded the fact that at some point she would have to face him.
"Indeed," she agreed, rubbing her arms, irritated the goose bumps his voice had incited were not going away. "They say that should one put either blade in a stream, a leaf would be cleanly cut in two should it brush against the blade made by Muramasa, while the leaf would clearly avoid the blade wrought by Masamune."
The man behind her laughed so softly a new wave of goose bumps rose on her skin.
"Well done," he replied. "I am impressed. Few women take an interest in weaponry of such distinction." He walked into the edge of her vision.
She couldn't help but turn, staring at the sight of him. Lia blinked, knowing her mouth was probably hanging open, unable to pull her gaze from his hair. He could have been a samurai for the ebony strands hung nearly to his waist framing a narrow face with eyes so intense she instinctively stepped back, bumping into a barrel full of swords, which immediately tipped over with a horrendous crash.