Mune and Mura looked at their newly received garments. The Masters had handed them out at the previous night’s dinner, using them to formally nominate who would be participating in today’s Challenge Tournament. The thirty-two students, who were notified of their selection two weeks earlier, represented each of the twenty groups. The Masters had decided amongst themselves which groups would have a second student compete, with their group being one of them.
Mune looked excitedly to Mura. “This will be something else. This is the first time we get to fight in the courtyards of the second level. The Shogun’s Army will be observing us, trying to find those students participating who will join their ranks at the completion of our seven years.”
Mura grimaced. “My father coming to observe the tournament is providing enough butterflies in my stomach, let alone the extra scrutiny the Army will be providing.”
Mune nudged his friend. “You were selected to participate, which shows that the Masters have seen the talent in you. You said yourself that they still think of you as a trouble-maker, so for them to still select you for the tournament is a good thing.”
The three others in their room looked at them enviously, focusing more on Mura than Mune. One of them spoke. “Just because you were selected means nothing. You still have to win through, and we all know you’ll fall at the first hurdle.”
Mura gave the three a cold glare. “I was selected because I worked harder than you to improve. Natural talent only gets you so far; you need the passion to raise your skill levels. Only then do you reach the upper tiers.”
They scoffed. Mune turned to look at them. “He is right. If you spent less time trying to make other’s lives a misery, you would have been selected too. You still have the chance to gain entry in the Challenge Tournaments of the next two years, so make good use of your time.”
The trio glared at him, then turned away to resume talking about their plans for the day. With the Masters spending the day observing the Tournament, those not selected to participate were given the day to do as they pleased. Most would use the opportunity to head out of the Castle, and into Himeji town for the rare pleasure of unfettered leisure time.
The two participants finished adorning themselves in their tournament garment, placed their swords through their silk belts, and moved out of the living quarters to the courtyard. The Masters would arrive soon, heralded by the gong being rung. Other participants had already arrived, each sitting quietly and building their mental focus for the coming fights.
The gong rang, and the Masters came to collect their charges. They moved into the southern corridor of the Castle Grounds’ first level, where there were people arriving from outside the Castle. Many of them would be the parents of other tournament participants, coming along to observe the honour of their children being selected to fight.
The two boys looked around to see if they could see their parents. Mune found his parents first, taking Mura with him to greet them. He gave his mother a brief hug, and grasped forearms with his father in formal welcome.
Mune’s father looked at his son proudly. “I am happy that you have been chosen to participate again. You came close to winning last year’s tournament, so this may be your year. I hope you have trained hard to improve.”
He nodded. “Indeed I have, Father. I am lucky to have a friend who is also talented, and we have helped each other push the limit of our abilities.” Mune nodded to his friend standing beside him. “Father, this is Mura. Mura, this is my father, Masa Tatsuno, and this is my mother, Akemi.”
Mura gave both parents a formal bow. “It is a pleasure to meet you both.”
The parents nodded in acknowledgment. Masa spoke to Mura. “We have heard much of you in Mune’s letters. Good luck to you in the tournament. Have your parents come to see you fight?”
“They have, sir. I am yet to see them though… here they come now.”
Mura waved to gain his parent’s attention. They saw, and came over to join him. As Mune had, he gave formal welcome and a hug to his father and mother respectively.
His father spoke first. “Mura, I am so proud of you. To have improved so much as reach this tournament is more than I hoped. I feared that being the constant target of other boys would hinder your growth.”
“Thank you, Father. It has provided me with the motivation and focus to keep improving. Those who do have fallen behind Mune and I. They will likely never make the Army.”
He gestured to Mune and his parents. “This is my friend, Mune. These are his parents, Masa and Akemi.”
Mura’s parents nodded to Mune, and greeted their counterparts. His father spoke. “We are pleased to meet you both. I am Masa Takasago, and this is my wife, Hikari.”
Another gong rang out, calling those either attending or participating in the tournament. The two families walked together as the crowd followed the Masters. At the end of the corridor leading further into the Castle grounds, they turned left and followed a path towards a set of stairs leading towards the second levels.
The Master turned to face the following crowd. “All participants in the Challenge Tournament, come forward and follow us to the preparation area. Everyone else, please follow the designated path to the courtyard where the tournament is to be held.”
The boys farewelled their parents, then ran towards the Masters. When they were satisfied that all the participants were there, they turned and began to lead their students to the assigned area to prepare for the day’s events.
– X –