The following is a Jewish story about two men who were inseparable friends from childhood. Though thier love bound them together, a series of unfortunate circumtances forced them to live in separate and hostile countries. One day, one of the men, a merchant, came to visit his friend. The king was informed that a stranger from an enemy country was walking the streets of his capital, and the man was arrested immediately. After a brief trial the king ordered the executioner to remove his head.
the merchant fell to his knees and begged the king to allow him to complete his business before he was killed. “Your majesty, all my money is invested with other merchants, and we have no written documents,” he pleaded. “If I die without clearing my financial affairs, my wife and children will be destitute. Permit me to gohome and set my business in oder and I will return.”
“Do you take me for a fool?” the king demanded. “Who has ever heard of a prisoner returning wothout force?”
“Your Majety,” the man replied, “I have a friend in your country who will be security for me.”
The King ordered the friend to his court and asked, “Will you be security for your companion? Understand that if he does not returned, you will die!”
“I count it an honor to offer my life as security for my closest friend,” the man said. The King wa astonished and allowed the merchant one month to finish his business. “If you do not return in 30 days, we will cut off the head of your companion.”
On the last day of the month, the king waited intil dusk for the merchant to return. Just before the sun was about to set, the king orderes the executioner to remove the head of the prisoner. As the man knelt before the great wooden block, there was a shout from those assembled, “The merchant is coming!”
As the man arrived, he saw that his friend was about to be slain. Quicly, he moved to the execution block and pushed his friend aside gently, “I am ready to assume my punishment,” he said, kneeling.
The other man was not easily convinced, “I am ready to die in your place,” he said firmly. The two men argued for several minutes, each declaring his intention to be the one who would be executed. Meanwhile, the king and his count watched the discussion with amazement.
Finally, the king ordered the sword to be removed, saying, “I have never witnessed such a devotion in all my life. Both of you are pardoned.”
Next the king called the two men before him. “Deep friendship is rare jewel,” he said simply. “I beg of you, allow me to join you as a third.”
From that day on, the two men became companions of the king.
-after Elie Wiesel