The boy’s movements were quick, catlike in their silence. Using the halfmoon’s light to make his way across the rocks, he was careful to stay in the shadows. He paused for a moment, listening, but satisfied he was alone, continued to the far outskirts of the village where the dead lay.
Had his mother known he was out, she would have assumed he was going to visit the burial mound where his grandfather’s body waited for the Messiah’s coming. But the boy passed the mound without slowing down, not even thinking of adding the stone in his pocket to the pile.
When he reached his destination, he stopped abruptly, startled by how bright the grave’s marker looked in the moonlight. He’d noticed the marker earlier that day during his grandfather’s burial service. Graves in his village were usually mounds of stone, like his grandfather’s, or a carved tomb for the high officials and priests. This grave was different, with no pile of memory stones to tell how much the man was mourned. The only marker for the grave was a stick of wood placed straight down in the ground. Another stick was tied straight across the first in the middle. When Samaan had pointed the marker out to his father, he’d been scolded and told that the man, a heretic, had gotten the only remembrance he deserved. He was never to speak of it again.
Despite his father’s admonitions, Samaan couldn’t put the strange grave marker out of his mind. For some reason he couldn’t quite understand, he’d waited until his parents were asleep and then he crept out into the night with a memory stone in his pocket. He’d heard his grandfather say many times that no one should be forgotten in death.
But now, looking at the simple pieces of wood in front of him, he felt silly. “The man was a heretic,” he reminded himself. “Maybe what he did really was so bad he shouldn’t be remembered.” Yet something made him sure that was not the case.
He stepped nearer to the marker, being careful not to walk directly on the disturbed dirt. This close, he could see that there were markings on the sticks – some written in what he recognized from temple as ink, some carved directly into the wood. All were of the same shape, two curved lines crossed together at the end: <><.
What could that mark mean? He stared at the lines intently, trying to make sense of them. “I’ll write them down,” he said. “The priest will know what they are.” Taking the stone from his pocket, he picked up a small, sharp rock from the dirt and painstakingly copied the mark. All the while, his father’s words “heretic; never speak of it again” echoed in his mind. The priest, he realized with a certainty, would never tell him what the mark meant.
“What are you doing here boy?” A gruff voice from the shadows made him jump. “Visiting a heretic’s grave can be trouble. Your parents know you’re here?”
Samaan backed away from the grave as fast as he could, tripping in his haste. From the ground, the man looked tall and dark, his features menacing. But as he moved toward the boy, Samaan could see that his eyes were kind. Giving him a long look, the man stepped past him toward the grave marker. As the boy watched, the man knelt before the wood, pulled a knife from his garment, and began carving the mark with two lines.
Samaan gathered his courage and asked: “Aren’t you afraid of trouble?”
“Being afraid itself is trouble enough.” the man said, carving deeper and deeper into the wood. Satisfied with his work, he met the boy’s eyes, his expression calm. “No,” he told him, “I’m not afraid of trouble. This cross and the mark are bigger than all the trouble in the world.”
“You know what it means?” Samaan’s fear disappeared as the man began to explain the story of a man who died on a cross and rose again, a man the heretic was stoned for believing in.
“This mark,” the boy was told, “is the mark of those who follow that man, who know him as the Messiah, the Savior, God.”
As the sun began to rise, the boy stood alone. Kneeling before the wooden cross, he placed the memorial stone with its mark, his mark, on his new brother’s grave.
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