The house was set for mourning, and the relatives set to wait.
The son answered the door, and nearly closed it in his face, but stiffened his lip and stifled his pride, and opened the gateway wide.
He was a big man, and stooped to brush the mistletoe, and nodded to the vicar, as one tradesman to another.
“There is no absolution in what you do,” and in the rector’s voice was holy iron.
“By his wounds Thomas knew him, father.” and the priest could not hold those eyes.
He passed into the gravewatch room, the old man on the bed, and he still knew the world. There were old battles in his one good eye, and lost love; a wife waiting in the sacred earth, but no sons or daughters who would bleed for him.
“I called for the scarbearer.”
“I have come.”
Flour and salt were brought before him, and he laid the blade on a strap with even strokes. The old man waited less patiently for him than he would for death.
“Who was your first?”
“My mother’s father,” the scarbearer fingered the pink line that crossed his face “I was his favorite, the most beautiful of his grandchildren, the only one to take his name. He had no sons, and I was happy to do it.”
“It is good.” The old man had eyes only for the blade. “I am glad for him.”
He laid the blade in the dying man’s lap, and the codger straightened and pressed a familiar hand to the hilt while the scarbearer sat next to him on the bed.
The old hand did not quaver much as he rested the edge against the scarbearer’s cheek, eyes locked. The cut was quick, if a little ragged, and caught the corner of his left ear.
The wizened hand laid the blade down on his thigh, not eager to let go.
“You will remember?” the dying soul croaked, as the blood flowed.
“I will always remember the man who gave me this,” said the scarbearer “On every cold morn when the old wound aches, in every silvered glass or still pool, and every time I tell the tale I will tell your name.”
“It is good,” the old man said, and laid the leather wallet down “to be remembered.” and closed his eyes.
The wound was packed and bound with flour and salt, to heal but not diminish much with the years, and the blade wiped on the bedclothes. None of the old man sons met his eyes, nor the vicar, but one granddaughter smiled and let her tears fall freely, hugging a kitchen knife to her breast.