Telor has gathered my playmates and me in the classroom. He sits close to the fire and reads from a huge book.
“In a time before time,” he says, “long before the Conquest of the South, long before the houses united to form the Res Publica, a son was born to a noble and powerful house. The son, like most children, would rather play outdoors than sit at his studies.”
Telor looks up from the book and smiles at us. He ignores the few who are bold enough to giggle. “The boy’s father was wise and made sure the boy had ample time to play in the gardens and the forest.
“The only child in the house near the boy’s age was a scullery, the son of servants.”
Telor looks up again when Ceirois asks, “Was the boy a thrall?”
“Remember, this was before the Conquest, and we didn’t know about the thralls. No, the scullery was just like us.
“Because they were the same age and because they were children who didn’t know there was supposed to be separation between master and servant, they played together and became friends. One day, when the boys were five years old, the scullery found a rock in a stream. It was a crystal, with streaks of red and purple running through it. The boy coveted the rock and begged the scullery to give it to him.
“The scullery didn’t want to give away the rock, but offered to trade the boy for it. ‘What will you offer me?’ the scullery asked.
“‘When I reach my twelfth birthday and receive a dagger from my father, I will swear brotherhood with you,’ the boy replied. The scullery agreed and gave the rock to the boy.
“As they got older, the boy’s schooling and the scullery’s duties took more and more of their time, and they no longer played together. The rock lay forgotten in the bottom of a box of trinkets in the boy’s bedroom. The boy’s twelfth birthday came and went. He wore proudly the dagger his father had given him, but forgot his promise to the scullery.
“Two months passed before the scullery begged audience with the boy’s father. The seneschal brought the scullery, washed and dressed in his best clothes – although they were none too good – to the lord’s audience chamber where the man sat, surrounded by family and courtiers.
“‘My lord, I wish to leave your service and seek my fortune in the world,’ the scullery said. The father asked why the scullery wanted this. The scullery’s answers were vague and evasive. The father demanded more. The scullery did not want to embarrass the boy who had been his friend, and refused to answer.
“‘You must not be afraid,’ the father said. ‘Why do you wish to leave my service? I promise no harm will come to you.’
“‘A promise made long ago was not kept, and I was dishonored. How do I know your promise is true?’ the scullery asked, even though he feared for his life.
“‘Who made the promise?’ the father demanded.
“When the boy heard the scullery insult his father, he touched his dagger with anger in his heart. Instantly, a long-ago memory flooded his mind. ‘It was I, Father,’ he said. ‘I dishonored this boy. I made a promise to him when we were five years old. I promised him we would swear brotherhood on my twelfth birthday. I forgot my promise.’
“The boy turned to the scullery. ‘If you will agree, I will fulfill my promise.’
“‘It is not right to hold you to your promise,’ the scullery said. ‘It was made because of a pretty rock I found and which you wanted. Brotherhood is much too important to rest on a rock.’
“The boy turned to his father. ‘If brotherhood is not strong as a rock, it is too weak to endure. If you will allow, the rock will become the symbol of brotherhood with my childhood friend and a constant reminder that honor is not something that can be forgotten.’
“The boy’s father understood his son’s honor was more important than the separation between master and servant. He also saw the scullery’s courage and wisdom. The rock was cut and set in the pommels of the two daggers the boy and the scullery blooded and exchanged with their oaths. Honor was fulfilled. When the boy’s father died, the boy became Gens of the house. He named the scullery his chancellor. In the years that followed, the children of the boy and the children of the chancellor swore brotherhood and, if legend is true, their descendants continue to do so today.”
“Is it a true story?” Elfyn asks.
“Like many stories, it is based on legend. Since it was preserved for hundreds of millennia, it likely has some element of truth,” Telor replies. “The sun is out, and the wind has died. If there are no more questions, you are dismissed to play in the gardens.”
Red and purple, I think while joining my friends in a game of hide-and-find. The colors of House Caerwyn. I wonder…
It is cold and blustery again the next morning and I seek the warmth of the kitchen. I thank the thrall who serves me a bowl of porridge sweetened with honey.
Telor’s voice startles me. “I should have known I would find you here.” He sits at the wooden table beside me. “What did you learn from the story of the boys and the rock?”
I swallow a bite of porridge. “That honor is too important to be traded for a rock.”
Telor frowns until I add, “And a promise made, even for a rock, must be kept. It is one part of honor.”