Like his father, and his father before him, Xavier is destined for the King's Guardsmen. At eight years old, he picks up his first blade, a thin needle sword that could easily be mistaken for a piglet skewer.
"Always respect the sword and your opponent," his father says as he raises his real sword up to his chest with the tip pointing straight up to the sky and whips it sideways towards the ground. Xavier raises his sword to his chest and imitates his father's motions. His swing makes a swoosh sound, and Xavier smiles grandly at his own strength.
Frowning, his father waits with his sword in one hand and the other hand behind his back. Xavier's smile disappears, and he quickly resumes his position.
"This is not a game, son. Holding a sword, swinging it wildly does not give you power."
"Yes, sir," Xavier says with his head in a slight bow.
"Now, let us begin."
Once his first training session is done, and the workers bring out their lunch, Xavier sits with his father to feast on a bounty of fruits and bread and a plate of cooked meats. With his mouth stuffed with chunks of pineapple, he says, "Father, how old will I be when I enter the camp?"
"You will enter when you are ready," his father says before taking a bite of a piece of charred meat.
"How old will I be when I become a guardsman?"
His father leans back, swallows the piece of meat in his mouth and give his son a stiff, narrow-eyed look. "You will have to prove yourself to the King's Guardsmen that you are worthy of the task. Some men prove themselves as early as nineteen, some at twenty-two." He takes a sip of beer from his mug. "Some fellows quit after the first few months - too grueling a training for them. Others quit after a year or two. It depends on the man, whether he can take the training and live through it. But even then, they will have to decide if they want to spend the rest of their lives guarding the king. It is an oath, a promise we make to the king and our people, and if broken, the consequence is death."
Xavier nods and takes another chunk of pineapple. He wipes his sticky hands on his brown vest and stands to tighten his belt. Crumbs fall to the ground as he dusts them off his pants, and he unfolds his white sleeves to button them at the wrist. He straightens his clothes to match that of his father's, an outfit deserving of the respect of a guardsman. "I'm ready Father," he says, and then swallows the pineapple down.
Noticing his eagerness, his father faces Xavier and says, "Remember son, a guardsman's life isn't about swordplay and appearances. Life and death are at stake. You will kill people. Some will try to kill you. You are surrounded by death." He glances at his sons shaggy hair, his skinny arms and legs, and his lanky stance. "This isn't a life for everyone. It's a choice you make, every day, until the day you take that oath in front of the king. Do you understand?"
"I know, Father." Xavier picks up his thin sword with his weary hand and looks at the length of the metal. "I want to be a guardsman. I know I can do it."
After finishing his beer, he slams the mug onto the table and stands. "Well then."
Xavier studies the way his father stands tall with authority and pulls his sword from its black, leather sheath with confidence. The workers scatter and make room for the exercises that will commence, a circle of spectators forming around their makeshift arena. Xavier squares his shoulders and mimics his father's stance and stride. He swallows hard when his father says, "Let us begin."