“The word friend in Galactic Standard is a peculiar thing. At a certain time in Old Earth history, it was used interchangeably both to describe a relationship such as mine and Holder’s, which has, and has always had, at least a romantic component, and later a sexual component, and also to describe a relationship of affection which contains neither of these other connotations.
“On Evohe, our word toyen, which means friend, contains all of these earliest meanings, as well as the notion of one whose life is willingly joined with that of another, such as those who have joined me and become my students and, to use another word, my disciples; my followers.
I do not recall that I ever called Holder ‘friend Holder’, even in our earliest days together. Perhaps it was the fact that from the very beginning I felt a pull towards him that I knew to be more than even the honorable word toyen could express. Perhaps it was that, in learning his language, I came to realize how debased and superficial a relationship the word ‘friend’ had come to signify in human society, and I never wanted to dishonor even the beginnings of our bond by limiting it in such a fashion.
Even before either of us felt comfortable to speak of one another as utra-toyen, or ‘more than friends’, I know that I did not want him to think I saw him as a mere acquaintance or even as one for whom my affections would never reach beyond a certain defined point, the way a hearth-fire is contained within a circle of stones and may not blaze beyond its borders.
And so I never called him friend, because I knew he would hear the word as a circle of stones, and even then, when I was scared we might both be burned by it, I did not wish our fire to be contained.
“I have explained all this to him, and he understands. And he agrees, that he likely would have misunderstood my meaning.
“When I began to gather a Circle around me, both on Evohe, and beyond, on Holdfast, I did make a conscious decision to address those in the Circle, those who would be my followers, as ‘friends’, not because they were mere acquaintances, as the devolved, debased form of the word in Galactic Standard would suggest, but to suggest the linking of lives that our Circle came to represent.
“It was not easy in those early days for those who followed me, and who chose to learn the ways of Shaping from me. It was even less so for those who accompanied me to Holdfast, and those, like Jason Treader and Brian Stelson, who came to join the Circle on that world, torn as it was by war and conflict.
“I called them ‘Friend’ because they had joined their lives with mine, not because we glimpsed each other in passing, exchanged pleasantries, and then moved on.
“We are fortunate, perhaps, on Evohe, that no connection of one life to another is seen as superficial or casual. The word toyen is intimate by its very meaning, while not necessarily having sexual intimacy as a component.
“I spent much of that early time with Holder hoping that he understood that my refusal to address him as ‘friend’ did not mean that he was not. Indeed, Holder is my essei-toyen; the friend of my spirit, as much as the friend of my body. He understands that now, but I first needed him to know that I would never close him off in a circle of stones; never bind him by a word that his people had broken by too much use.
“In the same way, I needed my students, my disciples, if you will, to know that my life was now linked to theirs; that I would no sooner allow them to come to harm than I would myself.
“I think they know that, now.
“Before I cross to the far shores of the Essei-Khai for the final time, to once again set foot in the place I have called the Archipelago, I hope to teach my world, Holder’s world and as many others as will allow me that the scattered lights of the Sea of Stars should be a single band of radiance in the darkness.
A chain of many hands joined, close, and distant.
A circle of friends.”