IMANI - Faith
(While not an African Folktale, has always been one of my favorite stories and it demonstrates the principle very well.)
Damon and Pythias
There was once a king who was thought of as a tyrant. His people hated him. He really wasn't such a bad person, but he had very bad advisors and they did cruel things in his name. They made him believe that he couldn't trust the people. So since he never listened to the people, he never found out what his advisors were doing. Whether he was a bad person or not, he was a bad king.
In the town near the king's castle, there was a group of rebels. They decided that the only way to change things was to get rid of this king. They though that if they killed the king, his death would be a warning to the next king. So they held a meeting to see who would volunteer to assassinate the king.
Among these rebels was a young man named Pythias. He said that he would volunteer, but that he had to wait for two days, just until his sister was married. Their father was dead and he was the only one who could perform the ceremony so that she could be properly married. They told him that they couldn't wait for two days, because the king was going to be out of the castle that following day on a hunting trip and it would be the only chance to get to him. So finally, Pythias agreed to do it.
He was hiding in the forest the next morning with bow and arrow ready, but someone saw him and warned the king before he got a chance to shoot. Pythias was captured and brought before the king. The king's advisor suggested that they bring Pythias to the town center and execute him in front of everybody as an example of what would happen to rebels.
Pythias did not regret what he had done. And he accepted his fate, but he pleaded with the king to give him one day to take care of his family business and see his sister properly married.
The king laughed and said, "I will let you go if someone else is willing to take your place and die in your place if you fail to return."
Now Pythias had a best friend named Damon. Even though Damon was not a rebel, he was a true friend to Pythias. There was nothing they wouldn't do for each other. So Pythias called out to the crowd and asked for someone to find Damon.
When Damon was brought there, the king asked if he was willing to take Pythias' place on the gallows until he returned. Much to the amazement of the king, Damon agreed.
The king couldn't believe his ears. But since he had made a promise, he had to keep his word. Pythias was released and Damon was chained in his place.
Pythias rode as fast as he could, gathered his family together and performed the wedding ceremony. He took care of all his business and was heading back to the town center, when his horse fell and broke its leg. Pythias still had miles to go and he was on foot.
Meanwhile, the king, who never believed that Pythias would come back, was telling Damon what a fool he was.
"I have never seen anyone so foolish in all my life!" the king said, "He won't come back."
"You have never seen true friendship." Damon answered.
The king was sure that no man would voluntarily come back to his own execution. But Damon was equally sure that his friend would not leave him to die.
Pythias had until midday to return. If he was not back by then, Damon would be killed. Pythias was running until he could hardly breathe, but he didn't slow down. Finally, he saw a man riding by and begged him for a ride.
"Please!" he pleaded, "I must return to the town center or my best friend will be executed in my place."
Pythias quickly told the man his story and the answered, "It is quite a story you tell. I would never forgive myself if I didn't see it through to the end."
Pythias jumped onto the back of the man's horse and they raced to the town center just as the rope was being put around Damon's neck.
"Wait!" shouted Pythias, "I am here!" The king was shocked!
"I told you he would return." said Damon proudly.
"In all my life I have never seen such friendship," said the king, "And now that I have seen it, I could never destroy it. I will let Pythias go free on the condition that you accept me as a friend as well."
Damon and Pythias and the king became the best of friends. And with true friends at his side, the king began to see what bad advice he had been taking all those years. He sent away his former advisors and with the advice of Damon and Pythias, he became a just and fair king.
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