Darkness filled the corners of the dungeon under the castle. All about on the hard floor lay men who had been arrested by the ruler’s soldiers. Most of them had been condemned to death. A hopeless silence filled the room so that the low words of the young man outside the barred door sounded loud and angry.
“What did you do, my good friend, Pythias?” the young man demanded. “What did you do that so displeased the king?”
The prisoner at the door signed. His hand reached through the narrow bars and touched his friend’s arm. Since early childhood these two had always been together. Now Pythias knew that he was going to leave his friend forever and his heart ached at the thought of this separation. “I did nothing, Damon,” he insisted. “but the king has claimed that I am a rebel. There is nothing that can be done about it.”
“Then what can I do for you?” Damon asked.
“Shall I go to your home and comfort your parents?”
Neither of the young men had heard the great outer door open. They did not see the ruler as he came near to them.
“I would like to see them myself once more.” Pythias’ voice was hopeless. “I would come back here and pay with my life if I could only say farewell to them.”
A loud laugh startled the two young men. Damon whirled around and found himself face to face with his king. Quickly he bowed and waited for the ruler to speak. Again, the king laughed as he looked at the prisoner.
“So you would come back to die if I would let you go to your distant home?” he mocked Pythias and all the prisoners.
“I would come back,” Pythias stated simply. “I promise.”
“How do I know that you would keep your promise?” the kings eyes narrowed as he watched the man. “You are trying to cheat me. You cannot go.”
“Then let me stay in prison in his place,” Damon looked straight at the king as he made his request. “He has never broken a promise, but if he does not return, I will die for him on the day that is set for his execution.”
The king was amused. This strange request would make a delightful story to tell his friends. A young man who offered to die for his friend! This was the best jest of the year and he and his courtiers would watch it with interest.
Soon the prison door closed behind Damon, the Pythias was on his way home. The days passed and the day of execution came nearer and nearer. Day by day the king came to the prison to taunt the foolish man. Again and again his cruel laughter rang out.
“If Pythias does not come back, it will not be his fault,” Damon stated calmly. “Something will have happened to him.”
At last the day for his execution arrived and Pythias had not returned. The king and his courtiers jeered at Damon as he was led from the cell.
“The man who dies for his friend, a false friend,” They called out. “We told you that he would not return.”
“He will come if he can,” Damon said to himself as he walked straight and tall in the line of condemned men. “He will come if …”
“Here he comes!” A soldier ran shouting to the king.
Damon smiled as he saw his friend. Pythias was hardly able to breathe. Storms and misfortunes had beset him all the way back. He had feared that Damon would die before he could arrive. His face beamed with happiness when he found his friend alive. Quickly he fell into line of the prisoners and pushed Damon aside.
“I came,” he panted.
“I knew that you would!”
The king could hardly believe his eyes and ears. Never had he known that there could be such friendship. His heart softened before such a great love.
“Go!” he said to the two young men. “Go back to your homes.”
Then he turned to his stunned courtiers and added, “I would give all my wealth to have such a friend!”