There is a story told about a man who once was watching his son sitting at home with his youthful and boisterous companions and when they had left, said to him, “My son, you are always with these same people, but I think they do not value you as a friend should. You can aim higher. Why not widen your circle, and look for real friends.”
“But Father, we are very dear to each other,” said the young man. “We are like family!”
“You may think so,” said the father. “But I have lived in this city all my life, and I can say with certainty that I have just a small number of friends – one whom I would call a quarter-friend, one who is a half-friend, and only one whom I could call a whole and complete friend.”
“Father, we share everything – we are like blood-brothers. I need no others,” the son insisted.
“Perhaps,” the father said. “Let us see if it is so.”
And he gave his son some money, with these instructions – that he should have a sheep killed, making sure to collect the blood, and have the meat made into dolmas. When he returned with the dolmas, he should also bring the blood.
Some time later, the son returned, bearing a large basket full of dolmas, and a skin containing the blood of the sheep.
“Good,” said the father. “Now go and find you companions, and invite them to a feast. They will not refuse, I am sure.”
When the son had gone again, the father wrapped up the dolmas in a white cloth such as one would use to shroud a body for burial, smeared the sheep’s blood on the doorposts of his house, and with blood still on his hands sat down to wait.
In a little while, the son returned with his companions, all eager to have a feast, but seeing the bloody doorposts, and the father sitting beside what looked like a dead body, they ran in fear, and went immediately to find the guard, thinking surely that a murder had been committed.
When the guard arrived, they instantly reached the same conclusion, and dragged the father before a judge. “There has been a murder,” they told him. “This man has certainly killed someone.”
“The penalty for murder is death,” said the judge. “We must take him to the execution ground.”
And straight away, the guards, accompanied by the judge, began to march the father to the place of execution. The son – horrified, astonished, and quite alone, for though he looked to them for help, his companions now pretended not to even know him – followed behind, unable to understand what was happening.
As the guards hustled the father through the crowd, however, one man stepped out and spoke to them. “I don’t know what you accuse this man of, but I will give a quarter of all I possess if you will set him free.”
The guards of course did not accept the offer, and only hurried the man more quickly through the crowd toward the execution ground. A little further, though, another man stepped forward, and said, “Whatever crime you accuse this man of, I will give you half of what I own if you will free him.”
This offer was also ignored, and the guards soon arrived with their charge at the execution ground. However, as they were preparing to end the father’s life, a third man stepped forward. “It does not matter what the accusation may be against this man,” he said. “I offer all my goods to pay his debt. And if a life is required, you may take mine instead. Only set him free.”
The guards were deeply surprised by such an offer, and the judge, hearing this, said to the father, “There is some mystery here. Why would these men offer – one a quarter, one half, and one all he has, including his own life, to free you?”
“Because of friendship,” said the father. “Your honour, I will gladly explain the mystery to you, but first, I pray, kindly send the guard to determine who has been killed.”
The guard was despatched, and shortly came back, confused, with the news that there was no body at all, but only a cloth full of dolmas. Then the judge freed the father, and the father explained that this had been arranged as a lesson to his son, to teach him something about the real meaning of friendship.
The judge, marvelling, awarded gold coins to the father for his wisdom, and said to the son, “Young man, your father is much wiser than you know. Learn from him. He is giving you a precious pearl. Learn before it is too late the true meaning of friendship.”