Charlie watched and listened as the men of the tribe discussed the plan to raid the hidden town. They were seated around a low fire. A rudimentary sketch of the town was etched in the dirt in front of his father as they talked. He revered his dad partly because of the way all the other men in the tribe interacted with him. He could tell in the way they spoke and poised themselves when around him. Zack was always the center of attention and his word was law. He allowed questions and debate but his say was final and everyone went along whether they fully agreed or not.
The women of the tribe also treated him with respect, although the way they looked at him was different than the male members of the group, he never seemed to have to get anything for himself, there was always someone nearby to fetch whatever he needed. And he seemed to always need a lot of things at night when Charlie and his siblings weren’t allowed in his tent. Zackary was their leader from birth, as was his father before him. He told Charlie stories of how his own father and grandfather before him had been leading their families since the dissolution of the national government. Charlie knew that as first born, he too would have the burden of leadership upon his shoulders. His father had told him, “It is a great honor to lead our people, but with that honor comes great hardship.” Charlie had heard this speech countless times. Each repetition included a story meant to illustrate his father’s point. “The choices you’ll have to make for our safety and survival are sometimes difficult but always necessary.” Charlie had heard dozens of stories of when to stay and hunt a particular area and when to move on. Whether it was wise to raid another tribe or village and how to tell the difference.
Never had the stories have greater impact then in the past spring after an incursion on a small village further south.
The uncle he was named after, his favorite who the other men called Big Chuck, was stabbed in the abdomen by a villager’s sword during the raid. When the fight was over, and the man who had wounded him been beheaded, Zack carried his brother back to their camp, even though he knew there was nothing to be done to help him. The tribe’s doctors tried their best to ease his pain and fix his mutilated belly. Charlie heard his brave, strong uncle screaming in agony as they attempted to stitch him back together. He remembers hearing his own father’s tortured shouting, then his uncle abruptly going silent. His mind’s eye recalled seeing his father emerge from the tent soaked in blood, his right hand holding a dripping dagger, his left fist clenching the golden chain and cross Big Chuck always wore around his thick neck.
Charlie’s father, this rock of a man, the one everyone in their clan looked up to, was crying; weeping like those two brats they took from the village that day. Charlie wanted to kill them; they should pay the price for his father’s pain and the loss of his uncle. Covered in blood and tears, his father knelt before him, gently placed the glistening wet chain over Charlie’s head and let the cross rest on him. He immediately felt a strange cold wetness on his chest. His father threw his great arms around him and pulled him into a great bear hug. Charlie remembered feeling very small but very safe in the clutches of this great man’s massive grip. He felt his father’s tears dripping onto his back; he felt the warm blood soaking through his own shirt.
His father loosened his grip and leaned back, looked into Charlie’s face and said, “My son, you will now be known as Big Chuck. You will grow into a great leader and I pray you will never need to do what I have done. Your uncle…,” he paused, bowed his head, and wept; tears mixed with the blood and ran in streams down his face into the dirt below them. “He was mortally wounded and in great pain, our doctors are the best in the world. We’ve found them and made them our own. Even they with their great knowledge and the prayers to our savior, they could not help him. He was in great pain and it was my responsibility as the leader of our people to help him pass from this life. One day these choices will be yours to make my son; do not hesitate to choose what is best for our family, our tribe.”
Until now Charlie was not sure of what to make of what he had heard and seen, the screams, the blood and tears. He realized at that moment what his father had done, what as the ultimate authority whose responsibility it was to care for all the people in Charlie’s world had to do. He had cut his own brother’s throat to end his agony, his suffering. Zack could not allow his brother’s last story to end with his screaming in pain. Big Chuck’s legacy, now Charlie’s, had to be as his mortal life passing in battle, not screaming on a cot his life’s essence pouring onto the dirt after a lucky blow from a farmer protecting a sow. in this way, he was allowed to pass over into the next life as a warrior. Perhaps to return as Charlie’s own son one day, the next generation’s Big Chuck.
Three moon cycles after the night he was rechristened with blood, Charlie turned fifteen summers. With that milestone and his position as heir to his father, he was allowed to actively participate in the planning of the raid. His questions were listened to and answered as one of them. He had been present at many of these conferences in the past, as long as he could remember. This would be the first foray into another settlement since his uncle’s passing.
Although the debate was heated and sometimes seemed to Charlie that swords would be drawn, his father’s decision was that they needed a new doctor and this isolated town would have at least one. They would use a plan that had worked well in the past. A diversion inside the town would allow the main party to get in and out very quickly. They had learned that fortified settlements required finesse and surprise as opposed to an outright assault.
“I’ve decided,” his father stood and as he spoke all other talk and movement from the other men stopped. “We’ll send in a female squad to set up the diversion, they are always lightly guarded and we’ve had success with this ploy.” He looked down at Charlie, “my son’s time has come to prove himself, he will lead the team.” He drew his sword and placed it on Charlie’s shoulder, “long live Big Chuck’s legacy. May God be with you my son. ”
The other men, seated in a circle around the dying embers stood, drew their own swords, knelt towards Charlie and repeated as one, “Long live Big Chuck.”