The Children's Division was up, the Minors, and as Glenn and his opponent stepped into the sparring arena, he looked around for familiar faces. The metal stung like burning ice against his fingertips as he wrapped his hands around the handle of the sword, only his fingers exposed as a result of the fingerless gloves he wore. He was suited in heavy armor and his helmet clunked down on his head half-hazardly, his growing body still not fully grown to fill the shoes of a real soldier.
Today was his field exam to measure his merit as a knight in training. The under divisions all faced this challenge once they turned fourteen, and Glenn had already turned fourteen in February.
His arrestingly green eyes burned beautiful holes through his helmet, and he crouched into position, waiting for the bell toll to signify the start of their match. A mediator stood to the side to oversee their battle, taking notes on whose technique was superior and whose skill was more trained.
Dario, Riddel, and Karsh sat off to the sides. The arena was small and only a handful of people were allowed inside to better discourage the barbaric sentiment at the heart of sparring and better foster support and encouragement for the trainees who strived hard to become the best soldiers they could be. This test was not meant as sport but as a gauge for the minors to measure their worth and improve where their abilities lacked. Still, Riddel, herself, did not like it so much, but she came in support of Glenn.
The signal came and the two boys were set loose on each other, each of them their first time fighting for winner's spoils as opposed to training.
Glenn had known his opponent in the Dragoons as a strong, merciless young boy, orphaned and with little remorse for his colleagues. There was no sense of comradeship when it came to this boy, and he did not like the look of death that stirred in his eyes. For Glenn, this would be a way of life, and in life he was meant to help those who served alongside him, but for some enlisted, it was a competition of the strongest and most cunning.
Glenn dodged the steel of his sword and swiftly moved to the left. He was growing in more ways than one, and as his body developed and his muscles burgeoned, so did the extent of the intellect of his mind. He was smarter than a lot of the boys in his division, and he used it to his advantage in battle. The main objective in this arena was to pierce through the opponent's defense once, which would render a sufficient defeat. It was, in a way, an excellent source of self-defense and prevention, and no blood was allowed to be drawn during these sparrings.
Glenn's opponent, however, was coming at him strong, swinging with a might of a man whose intention is to inflict severe injury. Although this alarmed Glenn, he tried gallantly to rise to the occasion and evade his blows as best as he could.
This sport continued on in this manner for some time, with Glenn lunging fiercely and his enemy fighting with a determined, even admirable, brutality, but things did not culminate until Glenn's helmet was struck clear off his head. The crowd had gasped at such an illegal move, and Glenn stood immobile for a moment, his fingers gingerly touching his neck where brilliant, beautiful blood stained his fingertips. He looked to his opponent, shocked as he was appalled at his blatant disregard for rules, but he heard no horn blown to indicate the match was over. No one had seen the blood, but the mediators were clearly alert to the possible hindrance this enemy was.
"Come on, Glenn, cut at his ankles," Karsh remarked, angry with the way things were unfolding.
"That would be cheating," Dario responded, never taking his eyes from the match.
"There's no such thing as cheating in a real battle, Dario. You do what you have to to stay alive." Even though Dario knew this was true, he liked that the Manor instilled civility and morality into the young hearts and impressionable minds of its trainee soldiers. Without a moral compass, he feared they would only be contributing to men with arms, egos too big for their hearts with power unimaginable; they would be no better than merciless killing machines, and he liked to think Dragoons were held to a higher code of ethics than that.
Swords continued to dance a dance of primal violence, clashing together in a foreboding haze of ferocious might. Glenn's long, thin legs fought hard to hold him up, the calves developing as they thickened and grew less scrawny, his arms bulging with the stirrings of generational strength and power. His long, lean torso looked vaguely the portrait of an older, more experienced Dragoon under the bulk of his armor, and his eyes blazed with a mature intensity that could not be faked or learned, but earned through experience. Dario could see in his little brother the flourishing of a true knight, a soldier whose need to fight is only as strong as his need to stay alive. He could see he did not harbor the same vindictive ruthlessness that this other boy did, and he was glad for it.
Suddenly, and very unexpectedly, Glenn's enemy swung his sword down with smooth agility and sliced a deep gash across his left cheek, drawing blood and eliciting a stinging pain from the blindsided Glenn. The mediator had blown the horn on the match as the number one rule had been violated. Glenn stared at his enemy surprised, but he could see in his eyes that he was not sorry, he would grow to be a wrathful soldier whose only purpose is oppression through power. He shuddered at what weapons could do to some people, even boys as young as himself.
As he went to turn and leave, he felt a very sudden blow to his chest, the wind being knocked from his lungs as the familiar stinging pain returned to him. With only seconds to grasp what had happened, Glenn realized the boy sliced another line across his face, and he watched helplessly as his blood stained the earth's gravel. There was a fire in the other boy's eyes that was guttural and mean; the stare of a future soldier without a soul.
Riddel had stood up suddenly, incredulous at what was happening.
"This is unfair. Someone should put an end to this, that boy needs to be detained." Dario had put a hand on Riddel's and pulled her back down.
"Life's battles are unfair, Riddel, sometimes we must weather these storms. This will serve a good lesson and painful reminder to Glenn, he must do what his instincts are telling him." Riddel looked to Dario, quieted by his poetic verse, and watched his profile. He looked on worriedly, sick even, but the faith and trust he instilled in a boy so young was remarkable and admirable. Dario had known moments like this would sometimes plague Glenn, and to be a better soldier meant he, unfortunately, needed to think quick on his feet when it was most vital. Dario was confident Glenn would make him proud, and he had one foot ready to sprint should anything too serious pursue.
At the boy's third swing, Glenn had finally realized he must defend himself if he wished to escape relatively unscathed, and he held his sword up before him quickly, pushing the boy back with as much might he could muster. From the distance, he could faintly here the panicked stirring of the mediators that rushed to put an end to this, but until they could come, Glenn knew he had to fight.
Their swords clashed several moments longer, before Glenn had found it within himself to kick the boy's chest armor in and slay him to the ground. The boy cowered beneath Glenn's sword, holding his shield up in defense before he felt it propelled away from him. Glenn had all but shattered it out of his hands, and Dario's brows knitted as he stared on, hoping Glenn would not succumb to his weaker senses as a soldier.
Glenn pointed the tip of his sword at the boy's face, the blade shining as it caught and refracted the light. Their eyes met and for a moment, it seemed Glenn would extract his revenge all over the boy's pretty, unblemished face. Glenn had stopped though, and withdrew his sword at the sound of the mediators. He had time to leave his mark and sear a reminder into this boy's head, but instead, he crouched on his haunches and spoke low enough for only the boy to hear.
"Our swords are meant to defend those who are wounded, Matthias, not wound the ones that need defending. It would serve you well to remember that, for you never know what moment of need you may stumble upon in your future." Glenn had surprised himself with the poetic prose that was more characteristic of his older brother, but he could almost feel his heart throb with the accomplishment he knew Dario would bestow upon him. His cheek pulsed something awful, but through the pain and the blood that ran warm trickles down his face, he sheathed his sword and turned away, smiling at the real victory of the day.
The crowd had erupted in relieved applause for the young master who could have slain his opponent with a wicked wound, and Glenn hoped he had served as a reminder to the younger kids that violence was not always necessary, even in the arena. His heart felt full as he returned to the training quarters; he knew Dario would be proud.
In the infirmary, Glenn sat on a bed, the doctor having just finished stitching the last of his wounds. His cheek would be permanently marred with a garish X-shaped scar. He touched it gingerly before retracting his hand into himself, alarmed by the still stinging pain.
"It will be some time before it heals," the medic commented. Dario rubbed his back comfortingly and Karsh smiled down at him sympathetically.
"Hey, I'm really proud of you," Dario commented, smiling affectionately down at his brother. Glenn smiled but there was hesitation lingering in his eyes. "I know you may not think so now, Glenn, but every soldier's scar tells a story, and the story behind this one is very noble indeed. You should be proud, not ashamed. Wear your scars like a badge of honor, Glenn."
Karsh nudged Glenn in his side with an elbow.
"Besides," he started, "chicks dig scars." Glenn flushed and Dario rolled his eyes, pushing his best friend to the side. Riddel, who had been staring on quietly, smiled at Glenn and leaned her hands onto her lap as she bent forward.
"Do you want to know what I think?" she asked Glenn, whose aversion to his scar was still apparent. "I think it's very attractive," she concluded, pinching his nose as his cheeks flared up in a familiar red.
"Told ya," Karsh remarked smugly.
"I'm sure all the girls will ask about what happened," Riddel continued, smiling and laughing to help ease his self-consciousness. Glenn laughed softly, looking down at his lap fondly as he sat at a loss for words. It didn't matter what other girls thought, he thought to himself, but he smiled nonetheless and tried hard not to focus on his new scar. Riddel and his brother had only kind words for him, even if they were only to make him feel better, and so he tried to make peace with the new permanent feature to his face.
Glenn could feel Dario rub his back affectionately and moments after that, it was time to leave the infirmary. As the four of them walked out, Glenn had brushed shoulders with Riddel. He looked up at her before realizing he had to look down at her; he still hadn't got used to being taller than her.
"What is it?" she asked sweetly. He smiled, and Riddel thought for a moment he looked so much older in this light, like a boyish version of Dario. His fine blonde hair fell into his eyes as he smiled.
"You really think… it looks ok?" Riddel's smile widened and she ran a comforting hand through his hair, brushing it back to expose his entire face so his blemish could not hide in the shadows.
"I really think it's beautiful, because it is a part of you, but don't go running around getting anymore, ok? You don't need that many badges of honor." Glenn laughed at Riddel mocking Dario's words from before, his voice catching in baritone again.
"Thanks, Riddel." She smiled and took his arm, walking behind Dario and Karsh, happy she could ease his mind just a little bit.
This day would mark the transition from child to young teenager for Glenn, and he was happy he could remember it as a moment of both loss and gain; the moment he lost a battle to gain an ever reverberating consciousness that would not soon leave him. He smiled the last of his child's smile as he walked away, happy with his victory through defeat.