They are unassuming at first glance. An underdog, ragtag band, hastily brought together by circumstances.
Looking at them, you would never know all the hardship life has handed out, because their faces don't give away their scars. They work and sweat and bleed and cry and FIGHT despite them.
There are the leaders, of course. Tallest, strongest, most skilled. The captains. The ones on whom rests the weight of responsibility.
These two bleed the most. They sweat the most. They take the most abuse from their opponents.
Nearly every time they face off against a foe, these two walk away limping or bruised, and often both. None of the other warriors can carry their burden for them. It's theirs because that is the way of things.
Looking at the faces of these two, only a few know their story, their journey, the internal fight they are always in.
Only a few know that these shoulders, so broad and strong, have been bent to the breaking point by sadness. Brokenness, the kind that must be gut-wrenchingly sobbed out, has been part of their journey. Loss and heartache that nothing but time can heal has shadowed their eyes. They haven't always been brave and strong and able to carry this weight of leadership. Some days they still don't think they are.
Then there is the second line of warriors. The ones who rally their leaders' spirits with their encouragement and support. The ones who aggressively, resoundingly, defend the hearts, minds, and bodies of their comrades. They may not be able to carry the mantle of leadership, but they will fight hard to make sure that mantle is as light as it can be. And when their captains falls, they scoop them up with the sheer force of their will and determination. And when their friends bleed, they make the enemy bleed in return. And when their comrades suffer, they suffer too, and they rise to fill in the gap that is left by their wounded fellows.
Anyone who watches the 9 who are led by the 2, knows better than to cause trouble. Because these 11...they are brothers. They have fought hard together. Over and over and over again, they've gutted out the battle. Not so they could win victory for themselves, but so that they didn't leave their teammates to fight alone.
They've pushed through physical injuries, illnesses, and hardships.
But looking at their faces, no one can see their internal wounds.
If you knew all that they've been through, you might see them differently.
Knowing that they have carried so much...its hardly any wonder that they've fought with all their might to keep each other from carrying any more alone.
Each one that steps into the fray has the same look on their face. You can almost hear it thundering from their heartbeat.
"These are my brothers. I will do my part. I will carry this with them. I won't let them fight alone. Come what may, I will defend, and assault, on behalf of those I love."
And they do love each other. Some have been together for much longer than this particular war. Some have only recently been brought into the circle of brotherhood. But they love each other well. THAT is why they fight so hard. Camaraderie compels them.
They are selfless, pushing past the limits of what they want to endure. Not for themselves. For the sake of the team.
They take the punishment of the battle, and they hand out punishment in kind.
And when the dust settles, and the adrenaline fades, and they've limped home to bandage wounds and wipe away sweat and tears and blood...
They haven't been victorious in all of their battles, at least not the battles we have seen. That isn't the story they have come to tell.
This story is about the wars inside them...and there, there has been so much victory.
The rejected have found acceptance.
The abandoned have found restoration.
The broken-hearted have begun to mend.
The insecure have learned confidence.
The rebellious are learning discipline.
The anxious are beginning to calm.
The fearful have become courageous.
The underdogs have become invaluable.
The warriors may not have won all the battles they fought.
But they never stopped fighting.
For each other. Their brothers.
And that right there is true victory. And when it's over, they smile at each other, and they raise their chins and meet each other's eyes. And they don't have to talk. We can all hear what they're saying.
"We will fight again. We might win. We might lose. But for each other, for the sake of our brothers...WE WILL FIGHT AGAIN."
Thank you, warriors. You have represented us well.
We are so proud of you all.