The Slave of the TruthInitially, Jardon’s parents thought he had been blessed. At the usual naming ceremonies following his birth, he received many of the standard gifts. Neighbors brought toys and food, clothing and blankets. The priests of four gods prayed for him to have courage and endurance and strength and skill.
And the witch known as Gertrude said that he would be ever truthful.
It is likely that even Gertrude thought that she was imparting a blessing. She had never been known to do harm to anyone, and usually was revered for her skill in herbs and medicine. She had, in fact, delivered Jardon safely through a difficult birth, and felt rather maternal toward him. She just wasn’t very good at thinking things through. Honesty was a virtue, and this boy should have all the virtues.
The trouble wasn't obvious at first. When Jardon was small, his parents rejoiced in having a truthful child, one who never lied about who had stolen the cream or broken a teacup. They boasted of his nobility and honor. The other children, who were often caught in misdoing by his words, might have been less enthusiastic, but for the most part they forgave him. They knew he couldn’t help it.
It was as he moved into adolescence that it began to be evident that the blessing might be a curse. Oh, there had been those moments in childhood when Jardon had announced before the whole village that Alvin the Miller had been spending nights in the barn with the neighbor’s servant-girl, or that Mistress Acolon’s pies were too sour to eat, but those were the indiscretions of a child.
But when he became a young man, Jardon began to have more trouble. People would ask him questions, and when pushed for a response, he had to answer with the truth. It wasn’t that they asked about difficult things—everyone in the village knew better than that. But they would ask the same teasing questions they asked other young people: what do you want to be when you grow up? Which of the girls might you want to marry?
Those were bad enough. To the question of what he wanted to be, Jardon always answered “a liar,” and people laughed. He didn’t laugh.
To questions about girls, he gave the truth of the moment. On one day, he thought he might like Alisoun. On another, Millie. When pressed about Katina one never-to-be-forgotten day, he answered that he’d like to bed her, as all the boys did, but wouldn’t marry a girl who would be comparing him to every young man in the village.
Unsurprisingly, by the time he was twenty Jardon found the village too hot to hold him, and had to move on. As long as he kept moving, he didn’t learn enough about anyone to be forced to give unwanted answers, though once or twice he sadly disappointed young flirts who wanted him to tell them they were beautiful. He also learned to keep silent, not to answer even the most pressing questions. That was hard, but not impossible. As he grew in wisdom, he came to understand that silence was always a truthful answer.
The magnitude of the curse struck him unexpectedly at age 25, when the ruler of the land heard of Jardon and took him into his service. Not that Jardon wanted to go. By that time he had grown to like the wandering life, and had seen enough of the world to know that rulers seldom made good employers. But he was taken before the lord in his fine hall by three burly men-at-arms.
“Would you not like to work for me as my official speaker of truth?”
“No,” Jardon answered honestly (as he must). The blessing of courage kept his eye steady and his voice calm, though he sometimes wondered if a bit of cowardice might have taught him to lie.
Lord Farnsworth laughed. “You do, indeed, have the curse of truth. No one would willingly answer so! But every ruler needs one person about him who will speak the truth without fear.”
“I am not fearless,” Jardon said. “It would not matter if I lacked courage entirely. I can only speak truth.”
“Whatever the cost?”
“Whatever the cost.”
Lord Farnsworth considered this. “Do you want the job?”
“No, Sire. But I do not think that I have a choice.”
The ruler laughed again, and Jardon considered that courage might be needed after all. Not to speak the truth, which he could not avoid, but to face what might follow. But why should he stay, a slave to the truth? He looked about, and took a tentative step away from the lord of the realm.
The three armed men stood between him and the exit. Jardon looked from them to the lord.
“You may not leave.”
“I see that.”
“I have too great a need of you to let you go.”
“I see that, too. Might I suggest, Sire, that you never ask me a question to which you do not wish to hear a truthful answer?”
“Yes, I can see that might be wise. Is there anything further you would like to say, Truthspeaker?” Lord Farnsworth liked titles better than names.
“A great deal.”
“And what would that be?” The ruler’s smile was thin now.
“I prefer not to say.”
“But you must, mustn’t you?” The smile was sly now.
“No.” For Jardon had long since learned he had gifts that helped compensate for the curse. “If I speak, I must speak truth. But I have the strength and courage to remain silent if I do not wish to speak the truth. This much I have learned since my youth. Never will you hear a lie from my lips. But if pushed beyond bearing, I have courage to remain silent. Even the Slave of the Truth has will.”
And even the lord of the realm could be deceived by truth and silence.
©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2015