A set of gates stood directly opposite the ones that the groups had used to enter the courtyard. They started to creak, and slowly began to swing open. A wave of anxiousness spread across the assembled groups, not knowing what to expect when they opened.
Once the gates opened, it was revealed that a group of twenty warriors stood behind them. Their importance was easily seen; their clothing and helmets were made of such fine materials that it dazzled the groups. These had to be the Masters; only such highly distinguished fighters could wear such things. Murmurs spread around the groups, AS the excitement of the occasion beginning to truly take hold.
The Masters stepped into the courtyard, and spread out until they stood shoulder to shoulder with each other. Their eyes emotionlessly surveyed the scene before them; many groups of boys hoping to become great fighters. The boys were all as green as the first tree leaves of spring, but it was the sworn duty of the Masters to ensure that this was not the case by the end of the next seven years.
The twenty Masters stepped to the side, clearing the space for another person in their middle of their ranks. The groups saw another figure standing behind them. The mysterious figure walked through the space, and stood in the front of the Masters. The groups all looked on in wonderment. The clothing and armour of this person surpassed that of the Masters, and the two large blades that ran across his back promised an unequalled fight for whoever stood against him.
An excited buzz ran through the groups. “It’s the Master of Masters. It’s the Shogun himself!”
The leader of the warriors looked over the groups. If the gaze of the Masters were icy, the Shogun’s appeared able to delay the onset of spring. Small huffs of subdued laughter came from him, alongside a sneer. He turned to the Masters, and said something that the groups could not hear. His subordinates all gave small bursts of laughter. He turned back to the groups.
He turned and walked back the way he had come. The Masters fell in step after him, walking in pairs. The groups moved quickly to follow the warriors through the gate.
As they stepped through the gate, the groups were shocked to see that the large courtyard they had been occupying was but a small back island within the Castle. Wide open spaces, accompanied by long rows of housing, spread along its first level. Large walls elevated the second level, with its layout not visible from the viewpoint of the groups. Despite this, the third and fourth levels were visible. The third level showed only housing, while the fourth level held the true Himeji Castle. The main section of the castle had five storeys, with a smaller three-storey wing to its right-hand side.
The warriors crossed a bridge, moving from the island entrance to the true first level of the Castle yards. The groups followed, moving straight ahead from the bridge. After walking for a time, they turned left and stepped into a vast network of single-storey housing. A more subdued courtyard stood at the front of the buildings. The Shogun and the Masters resumed their order as first seen in the first courtyard.
The groups stood in a disorganised fashion, drawing grimaces from the Masters. The Shogun shook his head at such lack of discipline. His bass voice boomed across the groups.
“All of you! Stand in orderly rows! Ten to a row!”
The startled groups scrambled to obey him. After a handful of minutes, twenty rows stood in front of the Shogun. He looked barely more impressed than beforehand.
“This will be the last time I see many of you. The Masters will be handling your training from this time forward. You will be assigned in groups of ten to a single Master, which will be decided upon after an initiation session to gauge your abilities. Heed well their words and their training, as the Emperor will not suffer a lazy team of warriors to protect himself and his lands.”
With those words, the Shogun turned on his heel and walked through a set of gates behind him. He disappeared into the inner section of the Castle grounds, to never be seen again by many of the young men.
The Masters moved out of their line, and began to walk around the groups. They walked between the lines, casting critical gazes upon the newest recruits. One walked past Mune, who was standing near the middle of the whole group. The Master barely gave him a passing glance. There was a sudden burst of laughter two rows behind him. All recruits turned to see what had caused it. Mune saw that Mura was on his hands and knees, with sand on his face, while most of those around him laughed at his predicament.
Mura stood up, and turned to the boy standing behind him. The boy stood at attention, trying to hold in his laughter. The humiliated Mura punched him in the stomach, doubling him over. The person stood up, and moved in to retaliate against Mura. A pair of Masters moved quickly to the scuffle, grabbing hold of the two boys to prevent them from further fighting.
The two were pulled out of the rows by the Masters, and dragged by the scruff of their necks to the front of the others. The Master holding Mura spoke out.
“Such displays of immaturity are unacceptable! You are all here to have such infantile actions wiped from your minds. Your actions at all times reflect upon us as your teachers, and any dishonour you bring upon us will be punished severely.”
He turned Mura, making the red-faced boy look directly at him. “You are lucky this is early in the first day of your lives here, so you will be spared repercussions. Just remember that this is the only time it will be so. The next time you engage in such disgraceful conduct, punishment will be severe.”
The Master pushed Mura away from him, and looked to the other boy. “The pair of you. Back in line!”
The two scrambled back to their places. The Masters pointed behind the groups.
“It is time for lunch. Everyone move in and find a place to sit. It will be prepared shortly.”
– X –