The Test by Tom Doolan

The Test

Hida Gotetsu looked down at the two figures moving away from the Kaiu Wall. One was dressed in drab brown and dark orange. This he knew to be Shiba Teku, would-be suitor to Gotetsu’s youngest daughter, sent by the Phoenix in the hopes of starting some ties between the two great clans.. The other wore a deep blue, sleeveless kimono, his forearms and shins wrapped in white, his head topped with a straw sampan favored by shugenja. This he knew to be his nephew, Kuni Yoshiro, a young man on his gempukku. Beside Gotetsu stood Hitami, his youngest daughter, as she, too, watched her would-be husband go to meet what she was certain would be his death.

In the short week since the arranged marriage had been announced with the arrival of Teku at the wall, Hitami had met him only twice. She was there when he had presented himself to her father, a grizzled veteran of the wall, as well as many campaigns. At first, she had been impressed with the young man’s poise and manner. The fact that he was rather handsome, in a plain sort of way had only intrigued her more. Yet as they spoke later during their second meeting, he seemed distant and detached, as if he had no emotions. He was obviously very disciplined, and that she could understand. But his manner suggested that he had no passion for anything. Growing up among the crab, especially the Hidas, she was used to men who had a passion for battle, if nothing else. But Teku seemed to take everything in stride, looking forward to nothing, yet fearing nothing. This had intrigued her even more, and now, as he moved out to perform his “test” for her father, she found herself worried for him, and praying to the Kami that he return safely.

“Father,” she said softly, without taking her eyes off of the retreating figure, “do you think this test is truly necessary?”

Gotetsu chuckled softly, having had this conversation before. He faced his daughter.

“The Twenty Goblin test was what made it possible for the Crab to find soldiers worthy of defending the empire.” He said. Looking around at the samurai standing guard on this section of the wall he motioned to one not far away. The man was almost as tall as Gotetsu, and though not as large, he did have a strength about him. “Take Juko here,” said Gotetsu, “once he was a peasant farmer on the verge of starving. But he took the Test and passed. Thirty goblins you brought back, eh Juko?”

“Hai, Gotetsu-sama.” Juko said, bowing low. “It was an honor.”

Gotetsu laughed and slapped the man on the back, staggering him slightly, which brought a round of chuckles from a few of the samurai nearby.

“And now he is Hida Juko, defender of the wall, and one of many I am proud to have in my command!” The surrounding samurai all raised their tetsubos in a round of cheering. Gotetsu nodded to Juko to go back to his post.

“Besides, how better than to test if my would-be son-in-law is man enough for my daughter?”

“Father, I am not Yamasaki.” She said with a mock scowl. “I am not a samurai. And my husband does not have to be able to best me in one on one combat.”

Gotetsu smiled broadly.

“I know you are not your sister. But think on this.” He lowered his voice a bit. “If this samurai from the Phoenix is to be wed to a Crab woman, do you not think he should earn her hand? Especially in the eyes of our clan? Remember, he may be skilled and intelligent, but what do we Crabs respect most?”

“Valor and insanity, it often seems.” She said with a smile. “But I see your point, father. It is better to prove his valor out there, than in here against some bully who thinks I should marry a Crab.” Gotetsu nodded.

“Besides,” he said with a hint of amusement, “it’s not like he’s out there alone.”

“Oh, yes.” She replied with unhidden sarcasm. “He is with that overbearing cousin of mine who only keeps his hands away from me because we are related.” Gotetsu laughed loud at this.

“Yes, there is much of me in that boy.” Gotetsu said. “But, this is also his gempukku. He must face an Oni. Having a samurai at his side will no doubt be of much help. So, you see? They both benefit.”

“Yes, father.”