==> Be the Young Dirk Strider
At thirteen, you've been a page for three years and you've already made a name for yourself. When you entered page training, you were already very knowledgable with a sword. Two years later, you were nearly a master. Your dad taught you everything you know. Your little brother's too young to wield a sword, but he'll start training as soon as he can pick one up. He'll be taught to be the best, just like you. Because you're Striders, and Striders are always the best.
Despite being so young, you're already better than the older pages. Knights were already whispering and debating over who would take you as their squire. There's already high hopes for you, and you won't disappoint them.
It's the beginning of a new training year. All the pages are gathered in the great hall for the yearly speech given by the head-knight. You're standing with the other third years. Behind you are the fourth years and in front of you are the second years. The brand new first years are in the front, small and timid and staring wide-eyed at everything around them. You were never like that, even as a first year. You were always calm and collected. Cool.
You stand with your hands clasped lightly behind your back. Your chin is held high, but your back is slouched as you lean heavily on one leg. Your golden-orange eyes are staring straight forward at a spot in the distance. You've heard this speech twice already. It rarely changes.
The pages around you look just as bored as you feel, though you know your expression is just one of indifference.
When the old man is done speaking, the king steps up to say some encouraging words. He's young and fairly new. The old king had died only recently. When you're dismissed, you could sigh with relief. Of course you don't. The other third years are talking around you, jostling each other playfully as you all shuffle out to the training fields. They all give you a wide berth. You have a few close friends, but most of your peers are too intimidated or nervous to speak to you or even get close. You suppose it's the blank look you level at anyone who tries.
A few first years are slipping quickly through the crowd, desperate to reach the training fields on time. You never rushed as a first year and you definitely don't now. Despite being the fastest around, you usually travel at a calm pace.
Because so few people dare to touch you, you're caught completely off guard when someone collides with your back.
The sudden force knocks you off balance and you stumble forward. You would have probably fallen on your face if it wasn't for the arms that wrap around your waist to hold you up.
"Whoops! Sorry, mate!" An unfamiliar voice says.
You stand up straight and his arms release you. You slowly turn to look over your shoulder. Your lips are pressed into a thin, disapproving line and you can feel the fire burning in your amber eyes.
Standing behind you is a short kid with unruly black hair that flips up in the front. His eyes are the deepest shade of emerald you've ever seen. He's smiling at you and you can see his front teeth are rather big and look awkward with his boyish features. He's wearing a page uniform and his tunic shows he's a first year.
Your eyes narrow. Everyone around you has stopped. They're staring at you and the boy with wide eyes and open mouths. No one dared run into you, let alone smile afterward.
But he's right there. Smiling. And he doesn't even flinch under the weight of your gaze.
"Hey, Jake! Hurry up!" Someone calls.
The boy looks past you and waves at someone you don't see and don't care to see. "Coming!" He pats you on the shoulder as he passes. "Again, sorry about that, mate. Won't happen again." And then he rushes off to join his friends.
You stare after him, both intrigued and infuriated at the boy's obvious lack of respect. You run a hand through your blonde hair. You're going to have to teach him a lesson or two.
The next few days pass much like they always have. You have morning training, afternoon classes, evening training, and do your homework at night. That first day, all your friends could talk about was the boy who had the nerve to run into you. When asked a question about it, you would always shrug like you couldn't care less. You shouldn't care. But every time you pass a group of first years, you look for that messy black hair and that buck-toothed smile.
You don't know why you care and it bothers you that you do.
Whenever you're in the dining hall, you catch sight of him across the room. He's small and skinny and his clothes hang off him like they have nothing to hold onto. His hair is always in a state of mess, like it can never be tamed. You can always see a good portion of his teeth. He talks loudly. You can always hear his voice no matter how far away you sit. He talks with his hands a lot, flailing around those pale, skinny arms. You think he has the loudest laugh you've ever heard. He's the type that normally annoys you. Yet you can't stop watching.
There must be something wrong with you. You've never noticed a first year, or anyone really, like this. Not even your friends. They got close to you though their own persistence and need to stay by your side. Whether it was to look cool or pick up tips or to cheat off your homework, you don't know. Somehow they enjoy your quiet company. You don't mind. It means you're not alone.
But even your friends tend to flinch at your glare. They shrink under the weight of your amber eyes and try to laugh it off, but it always sounds nervous. You know they sometimes find your frequent silence unnerving. They're always cautious of you, like they're afraid they might set you off. If you give them a look, they'll stop what they're doing. None of them have ever stood up to you. They're friendly enough, but they treat you differently.
Not like that boy, who smiled at you like you were no different than anyone else. Despite being three years younger, he treated you as an equal and it intrigues you.
A week after the orientation ceremony, all pages begin working on sword play during morning training. For the first week, it had been solely about conditioning and preparing your bodies. Now each week you would train on a different skill or weapon. When that was done, a different schedule would take place. Even though all the pages are working on the same thing, they're all at different levels. The second, third, and fourth years split off into groups and then pairs to practice what they remember. The first years get an intro to the basics. How to hold a sword, how to balance it, how do basic swings.
After a few warm-up duels with several of your friends, all of which you win easily, one of the instructors pulls you aside. He asks if you'll help teach the first years, since you're already advanced and don't need the reminders the other pages do. You shrug and say yes. He leads you over to the group of ten year-olds that are trying to pick out wooden swords from the barrels nearby. They're organized by weight and you immediately notice the familiar patch of black hair at a barrel containing heavy swords.
You step up behind him and shove one hand in your pocket, the other still holding your wooden sword. His hands are on the handle of a particularly large sword as he tries to yank it free from the others. He's standing on his toes to do it. You feel the corner of your lip twitch in amusement.
He finally pulls it free with a triumphant "Ah ha!" But then he's lost his balance and stumbles backward, throwing off by the weight of the wooden sword. You drop your sword and flash-step up behind him, a skill your father taught you, and catch him with one arm around his waist. Your other hand goes to steady the blunt wooden blade in his hands. His back hits your chest, but this time you're prepared and you don't move an inch.
"Oompf!" The air rushes from his lungs and he tilts his head back to look up at you. Wayward strands of black hair are tickling your collarbone. His deep green eyes are clouded with confusion and then light with recognition. He smiles. "Why, hello there." He says cheerfully.
"I thought you said you wouldn't fall into me again." You say, holding onto an indifferent expression and a level voice.
"Oh dear, I suppose I did!" He laughs and you feel the corner of your lip twitch again. "Sorry about that, old chap! This thing is quite heavy." He says indicating the sword still clenched in his grip.
You let go of his waist and step around him, gently plucking the sword from his hands and easily holding it so it leans back on your shoulder. Your other hand sinks into your pocket. "That's because this sword is too big for a kid like you." You jerk your chin in the direction of the barrels containing lighter swords, where all the other first years are gathered. "You want those ones."
His brow furrows and he makes a face. He looks ridiculous with those big teeth of his. "Oh, phooey. I don't care much for swords anyway."
You step up to the barrel and shove the heavy sword back in with the others before turning back to him. Both your hands nestle in your pockets. "Not the sword's fault you can't pick it up." You say. You walk over to the lighter swords. Most of the first years have already picked out their swords. You slide past them and pick one up before returning to where you left the boy. "Try this one." You say, tossing the sword through the air at him.
He makes a small yelping sound and scrambles to catch it, but after some flailing, it hits the ground. "I don't think you're supposed to throw swords at others!" He chastises lightly, bending down to pick it up.
You shrug, picking up the sword you had dropped when you went to catch him. There's a definite smirk on your lips. You can feel it. That upturn quirk of your lips that means you're actually amused. When he sees it, his face lights up. He's grinning at you. You've never seen eyes so green.
"Jake!" The instructor calls, waving the boy over. The other first years are already lining up on an empty patch of grass. Several of them are giving you and Jake wide-eyed stares.
"Yessir!" Jake calls, taking a few hurried steps before stopping and turning back to you. "Thanks for the help, mate. What can I call you?"
"Dirk." You say. It felt strange giving out your name. Usually people already knew who you were. Introductions were rarely necessary. Only a formality.
The boy smiles like you just gave him a present. He steps back toward you, stopping right in front of you. He holds out a hand and you stare at it a moment. You know he means to shake your hand, but it seems so strange coming from a first year. You finally lift your own hand and take his. His hand is small in yours and his fingers are slender, but he has a firm and steady handshake. You return it.
"Nice to meet you, Dirk. My name is Jake." He says with so much enthusiasm that your smirk widens.
"So I heard." You say and he just continues to smile. You release his hand and your arm drops back down to your side. "Get to class, kid." You say, nodding toward the others.
He throws his head back and laughs. It's loud and high pitched with youth, but it somehow causes your smirk to form an actual smile. "Yessir!" He says perhaps a little too loudly. He gives you a mock salute and bounds back to his peers.
You watch him go. The image of his emerald eyes is burned into your mind and his laugh is stuck in your ears.
You have the nagging suspicion that you'll be seeing a lot more of Jake in the future.