B rother Garcon takes a step to the side so that his shadow falls on Aster’s face. Was that an act of peace, Aster asks herself, shielding her from the glare — or intimidation?

She allows her eyes to dart up at him, but his face is impossible to read, small eyes hidden behind flabby skin. His face is a vast tract of pockmarked whiteness, like the cratered landscape of the moon.

Her heart beats with fear. This Christian priest wants to accompany them home.

She should dip her head and acquiesce. She should, perhaps, trot ahead and warn them all: Perhaps the stranger should be spirited into Sara’s home, that is, if he can move. Papa said that hopefully he will soon be able to take a few steps.

There is no reason that Brother Garcon will find out about Neemias.

Papa has always said that in times of danger, a substance leaks into the blood that enables you to think swiftly and shape each thought with sharpness.

But now it is like her mind is a blank, and each idea must be dredged from the depths.

Really, there is no reason why he should find out — or have received any hint — about the stranger in the hut. But the man’s unctuous smile hints, hints. There is something that you Jews are hiding, it says, and I will find out what it is.

Papa speaks smoothly. “It would be my greatest honor. I’m sure there are volumes in my study that might interest you.”

Brother Garcon rubs his hands together. “Or you could mark out the shortest route to Jerusalem, and then I can report to the Pope that if they ever decide to revive the Crusades, to march on Jerusalem and liberate it from the infidels who rule there, I know just the person to consult.”

Aster flinches. The man is trying to intimidate them. Everyone knows the stories of the Crusaders: women defiled, communities burned alive, even as the rabble lifted their wooden crucifixes and called in the name of their god.

Something inside her burns. She steps forward. “We are indeed honored by your suggestion, but I am afraid we must decline.”

In the Christian world, do women speak up to the priest? They go into the confessional chamber, of course, but would they greet him in the street? Would he know their names and their natures?

Papa stares in horror, she knows. She must not look at him, otherwise she will lose her nerve. She swallows, banishes the trembling from her voice. “My father is weak. The summer has not been kind to him. He must return to our home and rest.”

Brother Garcon stares: gray eyes, lodged in white wrinkles of skin. He holds his gaze. She locks her jaw in place, forces her eyes to up at him, and stay, stay, do not look down, do not, although her palms are clammy, she feels sweat trickle down her back, her hands shake.

For Papa, for Papa, she will not give in. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 581)