The groups sat at the long wooden tables of the dinner hall, sharing a basic meal of rice, vegetables and some fish. The local fishing village was barely an hour’s walk from the Castle, ensuring that only the freshest batches were received in the early morning. The recruits ate in silence, still shocked at the level of discipline that would be required of them in the forthcoming years. Their care-free years of chasing each other around their village’s main square, or climbing the tallest tree just outside the living areas, were now over.
The Masters sat at a long table elevated above their new charges, eating a similar meal and speaking in reserved tones to each other. They looked over the hall, using subtle gestures to discuss their initial impressions of the boys. They retained their unimpressed expressions, as would be expected until the boys showed their talents.
Mura stared at his meal sullenly, still feeling humiliated over his altercation outside. Most of the trouble he found himself in was not of his doing, since the boys of his village always made a point of taunting him mercilessly. Their knowing that the skinny Mura was the son of the most feared warrior in their village seemed to make their actions more enjoyable. His father always told him to stand up for himself, as a true man is always able to fight his own battles, and must learn to do so as soon as possible. It is easy for the strongest person to say such things, he thought miserably.
He felt the sudden kick in his left shin. Grimacing, he looked across the table to the offender. They had their face down to the table, but the glint in their eyes and the slight turn at the sides of their mouth indicated their enjoyment of providing further torment to the runt of the group.
Mura promised to himself that he would take the greatest advantage possible of the time spent here at the Castle. He would become the strongest fighter by any means possible. If he was not the best sword fighter, he would complement it with hand-to-hand combat. If that was not enough, he would find the small things one could do to turn the tide of a battle to their advantage. The Masters would know all of these, and he would ensure he learned everything he could.
A kick landed in his right shin. Struggling to retain his composure, Mura glared across the table again. A boy further to the right gave the initial attacker a knowing nudge, the pair of them quietly laughing at their secret escapades in full view of the Masters. All Mura could do was hope that the meal ended soon, as his reacting to their taunts would only further lower his already dubious standing.
The Masters rose from their meal as one. One called out across the hall.
“All of you! Stand now! Your meals finish when ours do! Time is precious, and you all must learn to make optimal use of it.”
The groups scrambled to their feet. Mura quickly darted out both his feet, landing reparation to his two attacker’s shins. He stood with the rest, while the pair standing across from him gave him angry glares. Giving them a smug grin, he followed the motioning of the Masters back into the courtyard for further instruction.
Once everyone had returned to their previous places outside, the Masters explained their plan for the next week. They would be inspecting the groups one by one, deciding along the way how they would assemble their group of trainees. While not essential, all other boys were advised to observe these inspections, in order to learn more about their classmates. Learning more about an adversary was essential for their future survival in combat.
Mura smiled to himself at their words. He would finally be rid of the bullies he had travelled to Himeji with, who despite their callous acts were promising fighters. He knew he was beneath them in ability at this point in time, but that would not be the case forever. He would surpass them, and he would ensure recompense for their treatment of him. He hoped that the Masters would find a way to group him with that boy Mune, and the most likely chance to achieve that was to take a large amount of interest in his group when the Masters were assessing them.
As the Masters droned on about the need for discipline and training, Mura looked at the students standing in front of him. He saw Mune’s back two rows in front, while all the others looked nondescript in their basic robes. Feeling a warmth in his back, Mura was sure the boy who had tripped him earlier was giving him an evil glare. I am in trouble for his actions getting him in trouble with the Masters, he thought to himself. That was always the way of that sort of person. They taunt you, and will then take revenge on you for their being punished for their actions.
The tone of the Masters voice changed, drawing him back to attention.
“You all have the next hour to find a place to bunk in the housing attached to the dining hall. There are five boys to each room. It is up to you if you reside in your groups, or you do not. Your current clothing will be handed in to us, as your clothing from now on is with your beds. When done, return here for the initial assessments to begin. Move!”
Mura made a straight line to his new friend.
“Mune. They said we do not have to bunk with those we arrived with. Can I share with you?”
Mune smiled. “Of course you can. We better be quick though, as the rooms closest to the dining hall will go first.”
The two moved quickly back into the dining hall. True to his words, many boys had moved straight for the rooms leading onto the hall, ensuring that they would get the best meals of all the other trainees. They found an empty room a row back from the dining area, and they moved in to pick their spots.
Mura surveyed the room. “While not the most ideally located room, there are worse.” Five mats lay on the ground, with small chests at their base. “I call the back corner.” He quickly moved to make the area his.
A trio of shadows came across the room’s entrance. To Mura’s dismay, it was the two boys who attacked him during the meal, as well as the one who had tripped him up. He was thankful that he had managed to bunk with his new friend, so he would not face their shenanigans alone.
– X –