Scars of Knowledge

WARNING: Violent themes.


Xanadu Weyr - Training Grounds
A wide, grassy expanse, nestled into the gentle bowl shape where something's taken a bite out of the mountain. It's high above the level of the beach, and there's a good eastern view of the lake and a long path leading down to that sandy shore. Granite cliffs surround it on the other sides.

While much of the grounds are left in their natural state, one area has been trampled and trodden by enough feet that the grass struggles to grow. A running track circles a set of equipment - straw dummies with wooden frames, obstacles of various sizes and shapes, and targets for flaming, archery, and whatever else.

There's a dragon-sized opening to the south that leads to the cavernous weyrling barracks, and a smaller tunnel to the northeast - large enough for dragons newly emerged from the sands, but quickly outgrown by hatchlings who are then forced to take the long way around - at least, until they learn to spread their wings and fly. Between them in both position and size, a jagged crack in the stone leads to a dim cave with the sound of water.

The brush of Stefyr's forearm swiped sweat from his brow before resuming the "hands up" position of vigilant defense. Basic drilling of the self-defense techniques he had asked to learn after Leirith's flight had started as small group things and eventually boiled down to a regular one-on-one practice with Jaynas, a candidate who was a pair of turns younger and a head shorter but with as much pressing interest etching every motion into muscle and sinew. Neither he nor Jaynas wanted to simply go through the motions as some of the others might. They wanted reaction as natural as breathing and that only comes from repetition ad nauseam. This meant getting up in pre-dawn to ensure a practice session each day.

Before Ila'den's education taught him otherwise, Stefyr would've said he could fight. And he could. In the least effective, least safe way that would fit under that broad heading. Now, as he exchanged punch-block combinations in predictable patterns that layered a new scar of knowledge on top of the ones these practices had already granted his arms, he was building up to something much better.

It wasn't that Stefyr wanted to fight, but R'hyn and Risali were proof (if any were needed after elven siblings and fifteen cousins) that violence, real and terrible, could find anyone. He simply wanted to be prepared. He'd seen what happened to people who "could fight" when they did fight. He was trying to focus on his form with these slow flurries, but his herdbeast brain had other ideas.

Unbidden, the heart wrenching images of Risali's and Rhyn's battered faces were replaced by another, bruised and battered to nearly beyond recognition. Stefyr had been only six when he had been hiding alone in the hayloft one late, lazy afternoon not long after he took on what his brother, Daro, liked to call, "Big boy chores." Stefyr had been understandably disappointed when these turned out be just more of the boring things the adults didn't think the young ones could mess up too badly and not anything exciting or of real responsibility. Except maybe milking the goats. That could get downright dangerous if one of the nannygoats was in a mood.

Hiding was the only natural choice when faced with such little boy doldrums. He hadn't meant to do more than hide for as long as it took for someone to find him and hustle him along to those neglected chores or worse, a punishment that would leave him sore enough to regret his choices that day. If he was very lucky, Daro would cover for him and no one would know and no one would find him. He hadn't meant to do anything but lie there and daydream about whatever came to mind. Dragons were a favorite. So was the best climbing tree on their land. The swimming hole that he wouldn't get to visit for another couple of months. Really, his mind could wander to just about anything and entertain him for the whole of his time in the hay.

Boyish reverie was interrupted by footfalls, heavy ones. Dread filled him, but not for the right reasons. Would it be a tongue lashing or something worse? The only people with treads that heavy were not people he wanted to be found by, Stefyr had reason to know. What he hadn't known was that those foot falls were being pursued. He found out quickly enough as more thumps joined the first, deadened by the dirt floor of the structure. The men probably came in with the thought of privacy in mind, with no one but beasts to bear witness.

"Look, I know I overreached," Teyran's familiar voice came clearly to the loft, though not overly loud in the high-ceilinged space. Teyran was the second oldest of the brood, older by 14 turns, and not someone Stefyr knew well. Where his oldest brother, Arofys was friendly if distant, Teyran was… not. He was aloof at best, cruel in his worst moments; he was someone to avoid in so much as it was possible on the family farm where everyone worked and lived in close quarters, all joined to the same fate.

Teyr had this hard voice that was Stefyr's cue to run, to hide, and his brother's voice had the edge of that now. Every instinct Stefyr had screamed to hide, and the little boy in the loft nestled himself deeper in hay. After half a breath, though, his need to know what might be coming his way overcame his self-preservation instincts. Ever so slowly, disturbing as few of the golden strands that hid him, he inched just far enough to peek and see.

Two big men held Teyran, one arm each. Teyran looked ready to fight, and Stefyr's back's back twinged, as if remembering the shape of Teyr's fist. "I'll have the marks in another seven. Two at most. I just need more time." His voice was hard, but reasonable. Maybe there wouldn't be a fight after all.

"Time you've had," the third man replied, too cooly. His voice wasn't hard, but it was sharp. "You put us off once before, young Teyr, and now you'll be learning not to do that again."

Teyran opened his mouth to say something, to use his tongue to deflect whatever lesson the big man had planned for him, just as Stefyr had seen him succeed in doing a thousand times under other circumstances. What came out of Teyran's mouth this time, though, was a spray of blood. The big man's fist made a nauseating crack when it left its first mark on Teyran's face, too surprised to be anything but blank before obvious agony. Stefyr hadn't heard anything that awful since his sister, Seyfae, had tumbled from the loft ladder and broken her arm.

He tried to scream. He tried to get himself to move, to clamber down the ladder lightning-quick, and go shouting for help. His ruckus could bring a veritable small army of uncles, brothers, cousins and even Mum with her frying pan down upon the barn. There were only three men. He thought he recognized them from some of the bigger gatherings of the local farm folk. Known or not, there were still only three. Their family could take them easily, could protect one of their own… if only Stefyr would sound the alarm.

He couldn't move. It felt like one of the farm's big herding canines had thumped down on his back, pinning him under its superior bulk. Only he was suddenly trembling with cold, his chest locked so tight that he couldn't suck in a real breath. Teyran fell to the floor in a fetal curl and— Oblivion descended, dragging his panic and fear down, down into insensibility.

The sting of a blow landing on Stefyr's (not 6 turn old Stefyr's) midriff as his block missed Jaynas' fist brought him back to the here and now. "Fyr, be here," the other boy called him to task with a tinge of mild annoyance, already familiar with the way his bigger sparring partner's attention tended to wander.

"Sorry," Stefyr apologized automatically, but even still he couldn't blink away the image of Teyran's ravaged face, so swollen that Mum feared he'd die before the first night was over. That image was overlaid, unbidden, by other faces: Risali's, then R'hyn's. His next punch's aim was off for the series they were working through and he clipped Jaynas' ribs.The other boy's hiss hadn't even been clipped off by teeth and lips when Stefyr was stepping forward, hand out, "Shells, I'm sorry. Are you okay?"

The younger boy rubbed what would probably be a mildly colorful bruise later in the day, feeling for something worse than a bruise but coming up with a shrug. "I'll be alright. Are you okay?"

Stefyr's face scrunched. Who wants to answer no to that question? Not Stefyr, but it wasn't the first time he'd had to anyway. His, "No, sorry," had only the smallest hesitation of pride to precede it. "I don't think I am. We should stop for today. Tomorrow?" It was, by now, a ritual question and one likely to continue being asked as the days of candidacy went by.

"Tomorrow," was all the agreement Stefyr needed before turning to go. A sharp whistle stopped him and Stefyr's head jerked, looking for someone who wasn't there. The other candidate's hand fell away from his lips and he cocked his head, "You up for practicing some of those grapples and lifts before you head in? Maybe you just need a break from the strikes and blocks."

Stefyr almost refused, almost retreated to the barracks to find his personal supply of numbweed to soothe his own accidental bruises, but after a moment he nodded assent instead.

If the day came when he needed to defend himself, to fight for someone he cared about, he would be ready. He'd make sure of it.

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