The Final Test


When Peter brought the sheep off the hillside that evening, he saw the king’s messenger riding away from Pleasant Valley. To have a messenger come to their small town was unusual. Peter chased the sheep into the cote and raced indoors to see what had happened. His two older brothers were dressed in their best clothing, and their mother was hurrying back and forth between the fireplace and the table.

“What’s going on?” Peter asked. “I saw the king’s messenger ride away from—”

“It doesn’t concern you,” Dominic broke in rudely. “Wise old Trebor is retiring, and our king needs a new advisor.”

Richard shoved his empty plate aside. “The messenger announced that all young men between the ages of fourteen and thirty would be interviewed by Trebor. Dominic and I are going to the castle in hopes that one of us will be chosen.”

“You must go, too, Peter,” his mother urged, placing her hands on his shoulders and frowning when her two older sons grumbled about being nursemaids.

“But,” Peter said. “I’ll not be fourteen until tomorrow. And I’m surely not wise.”

“But you’ll be fourteen by the time you arrive at the castle,” his mother reminded him.

Two mornings later it looked to Peter as though every young man from the small country of Meritania stood shoulder to shoulder in the castle’s courtyard. A stillness fell over the group when old Trebor hobbled onto a balcony.

“Young sires, tomorrow I will choose someone who shall be trained to take my place,” he said, his voice cracking with age. He clasped the balcony railing for support. “Today I will speak with each of you personally. And tomorrow there will be a final test to help me decide my successor.”

Early the next morning Trebor appeared on the balcony. “After interviewing all you young men, I will dismiss all but three.”

Peter’s heart pounded when he heard his name announced as one of the contenders.

“The old man must be slipping!” Dominic fumed. “Imagine choosing an inexperienced stripling like you, Peter, over a smart fellow like me!”

Richard laughed. “Our mother pleaded with you to finish school, Dominic, and to get an education, but you dropped out,” he said, “and it shows.”

“I’ll admit you have more schooling than I have,” Dominic agreed as he scowled at his brother. “But old Trebor didn’t miss much during those interviews, and I’m sure he noticed how soft your hands are from lack of hard work.”

“He probably also noticed that you talk so much you never hear anyone but yourself!” Richard’s voice rose in anger.

Peter hid his calloused hands behind his back and moved away from his brothers while the argument continued. He wondered what Trebor’s final test would be.

At ten o’clock Peter and two other young men approached Trebor in the castle’s great hall. The old man leaned on a cane, and peered at them from watery eyes.

“You have an hour to complete this test,” he quavered. “Go into the city and bring to me whatever you consider most important for a wise man to have. You are not to speak to each other about this, and you must travel alone.” Trebor waved his gnarled hand toward the castle’s drawbridge and shuffled over to sit down on a bench.

Peter and the other contestants hurried off toward the city. And, within five minutes of the hour, all three of them had returned. Trebor motioned for them to lay what they’d brought on a table near where he sat. “What is in that large package?” he asked.

“A bolt of precious material, sire,” replied one of the young men and unwrapped his package. “Clothes make the man,” he declared with a look of satisfaction on his face. “And one is accepted anywhere if he is well dressed.”

Hardly glancing at the elegant fabric, Trebor pointed a finger at a small leather pouch. “What does that contain?” he asked.

The second young man bowed confidently and said, “Sire, it is filled with gold dust. Gold will buy anything—fame, fortune, friends, shelter. A wise man needs all these things.”

Trebor’s expression didn’t change by one wrinkle as he pointed to Peter’s package. “Your package looks as though it came from the meat seller’s stall in the market,” he commented.

Peter’s face reddened when the other two young men snickered. “Yes, sire. It is a tongue, but more than that it is a reminder.”

“Explain, please,” Trebor said and sat forward interestedly, cupping a hand behind his ear.

“A tongue can do much harm or much good,” Peter said. “Harsh, untrue, or thoughtless words can hurt. Soft words, intelligent words, considerate words should fall from a wise man’s tongue.”

“You’re right, Peter!” declared Trebor, and he reached across the table to clasp Peter’s hands. “And since you shall be our king’s new adviser, I pray you will never forget the wisdom of your words.”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dick Brown