The next day after school, the children dashed inside and, after cramming food into their mouths, disappeared to get their homework finished. Their mother was delighted that they’d been given enough motivation that they were completing their assignments without having to be told. She secretly hoped their new habit would last. Finally, when it was time, they all filed into the living room for the next installment of the story. The boys were whispering together while young Maddie pouted. After their grandfather was settled in his favorite chair, the boys handed over a drawing they’d worked together to complete. It was their own rendition of the brotherhood’s coat of arms. They had excluded their little sister, primarily because her skills were not as refined as theirs but also because, as they reminded her, it was a “brotherhood” not a sisterhood. Balancing on the fine line that only a grandparent can successfully navigate, their grandfather both praised their artwork yet gently reprimanded them for excluding their sister.
“Above all,” he reminded them, “the brotherhood was about honor and defeating evil. They fought to ensure freedom and embrace all that represents unity, dignity and grace. Oppression of any kind is against their creed.”
The boys stared at floor; guilt had furrowed lines in their foreheads and tugged the corners of their mouths down. Their muttered apologies were met with a genuine smile. Maddie held no grudges. She hoped Grandpa’s words would encourage the boys to include her more often and that made her happy. She even praised her brothers’ drawings and they agreed she would be allowed to hang it in her room. The old man‘s wife smiled, appreciating her husband’s subtle correction to the boys behavior. He had softened some over the years but he still managed to get his point across. As he returned to the story, his audience settled in.
‘Now, let’s see…” He muttered. “The remaining men made their oaths and joined their brother in arms for eternity. He was so caught up in the grandeur, even the young village boy rushed forward to join with the others. Many of the soldiers tried to talk him out of it but by the evening, he had officially joined their ranks. He had whimpered just a little when the sharp blade pierced his skin but the boy refrained from repeating the blubbering he had demonstrated earlier to the captains. He watched with wide-eyed fascination as his wound sealed, as if an invisible hand had cauterized the wound. Within minutes, it had raised into the peculiar shaped scar the others bore.”
“Did the scar hurt them?” The children asked.
The old man paused, giving careful consideration to their question. Subconsciously, his finger pressed the palm of his right hand and massaged tiny circles there.
“Well, it didn’t exactly hurt.” He answered. “It’s just something they were aware of after it healed. More like an itch than pain.”
He moved on, telling the children about a particularly gruesome battle between the brotherhood and a band of cruel slavers who kidnapped young children from their beds and sold them to foreign lands. The battle was bloody and sword fighting dramatic. The children cheered as the wretched slavers were slayed and the brotherhood proceeded to track down every single kidnapped slave. By the time the very last slave was returned to his or her family, it was bedtime. Erica tucked her young ones into bed then went in search of her father. She found him relaxing in his recliner, paging through a catalogue.
“I was going to make myself a cup of cocoa…do you want one too?”
He smiled and nodded. When she returned she was carrying two mugs. She set hers down on a coaster and handed the other to her dad. He reached out his hand to take the mug but before he could grasp the handle, she clasped his hand and turned it over. She stared at his palm and, for the first time, she looked closely at the small scar. It was dark and formed a curious question mark shape, minus the dot. She said nothing as she continued to examine the strange mark, silently assuring herself it was merely a story he’d made up. A master storyteller would have no trouble concocting a fanciful story around a unique scar, her inner voice insisted. Yet a small part of her felt fearful that there could be some truth to the tale.