Since returning from his warrior pilgrimage, Shiba Tetsujin-no Sodona has spent most of his time as an honor guard at one of the shrines near Shiro Shiba, watching over the nobles of the Shiba family that come to worship. For the most part, it has been a good life for him. He spends his hours on duty, has ready access to the dojo to practice, and is able to spend what free time is available to him reading in the library.
Winter is waning, and the spring rains are running off of the roof of the shrine, as a young messenger comes to deliver instructions from Tetsujin’s Karo, Shiba Masamune-no Sodona. Masamune seems almost bored as he informs Tetsujin that he has been appointed to provide escort to a pair of Crane Clan samurai, making a pilgrimage to the various shrines and holy places in Phoenix lands. Tetsujin is to see to their safety, and act as a guide. He is to leave immediately for the city of Nikesake, where the Crane are waiting for him.
Tetsujin gathers supplies for the road, and is granted a mount to ensure timely arrival. He departs with all do haste for what is anticipated to be a week long journey across the bulk of the Shiba territories to the southern trade hub.
A few days into the ride, as Tetsujin is riding west along a winding section of road through the low hills of the river plain between Shiro Shiba and Twin Souls Temple, he hears the unlikely sound of a baby crying, coming from around the corner. Tetsujin slows his mount and readies his spear before rounding the corner.
A peasant jumps up at the horses approach, brandishing a makeshift spear, made of a length of bamboo with a rough knife lashed to the end. The man has a baby lashed to his back, and cries out in a voice filled with fear and desperation, “Give me your money!”
After a brief verbal standoff, with Tetsujin refusing to even acknowledge the peasant’s ‘threats’, Tetsujin learns that the man is Eiji, a farmer from a nearby village, who has borrowed heavily from money lenders to pay for medicine for his sick wife. Now his wife has passed on, and he is left caring for a baby by himself, and the money lenders have sent collectors to get the 2 koku he owes them. Eiji has no money, and knows that they will take his daughter, so he has taken to the road with little real plan except to keep his baby away from the collectors. His feeble attempt at banditry is clearly an act of desperation, under the assumption he will get the money he needs – or more likely die a quick and clean death for both him and his daughter at the end of a sharp samurai blade.
To Eiji’s great surprise, instead of killing him, Tetsujin puts the peasant on his horse and asks Eiji to guide him to his village, a few hours away.
Upon sight of the village, Tetsujin re-mounts, and readies his spear, forcing Eiji to lead the way.
Tetsujin found that the ‘village’ was a small collection of huts in the hills south of the roadway. From the looks of things the little place had not seen a tax collector in years. At the sight of the approaching samurai the villagers ran for the safety of their homes gathering children as they sought refuge. Sodona Tetsujin was greeted in the middle of the collection of hovels by an elderly man prostrating himself on the ground. The village elder confirmed that there are men visiting the village and staying in his home. At the samurai’s command, a boy was sent to call for the ‘merchants’ and three rough looking heimin strode out and stood on the porch, anxiously fingering tonfa and home-made clubs.
At Tetsujin’s request, the heimin confirmed that they have loaned Eiji money, with his daughter as collateral. The peasant has had the loan out for two years now and is well past due with interest having almost doubled the loan. The merchants are here to collect as agreed. A disgusted Tetsujin agreed that if Eiji had so little value for the life of his daughter that he was willing to pledge her for medicine that had no guarantee of even saving his wife than Tetsujin would not save her for him now. He commanded Eiji to hand his daughter over to the collectors and turned his horse back toward the road leaving the peasant weeping and rolling in the dirt.