The young king Tamar was awakened in darkness by the sound of elephants in his courtyard. Their jeweled tusks and golden banners proclaimed them the property of a great maharajah. In short order, a dark figure strode into the palace and demanded an immediate audience.
Tamar sighed heavily.
As his tutor reminded him, the principles of Dharma--the code of honor, conscience, and the obligation to do what is royally virtuous, meant that he could not refuse an audience to another king, no matter the lateness of the hour. Indeed, in the long-ago world of ancient India recreated in Lloyd Alexander's The Iron Ring, a king's honor is his most important possession.
The mysterious visitor, King Jaya, ruled the distant land of Mahapura where, he grandly informed his host, all was much better than in Tamar's own kingdom of Sundari. Musicians, dancers, food, all were better in Mahapura, King Jaya purred. The only distraction he sought from Tamar was a simple game of aksha. Pure luck would determine the rolls of the dice.
In all hospitality, Tamar could not refuse, although the stakes Jaya proposed would have fed the court for a month. Die-roll after die-roll, Tamar won. Then the king of Mahapura yawned and made a final wager: "Life against life."
This time the dice seemed to jump from Tamar's fingers of their own accord.
"King of Sundari," Jaya said, "you have lost."
"Hear me; understand me well. I leave you now; I have other matters to deal with. But, from this moment, you are at my command. You will go to my palace in Mahapura and there make good on your debt. Vow to do so without fail. Tamar stood and looked squarely at Jaya. "You have my word as king and kshatriya."
Jaya placed an iron ring on Tamur's finger.
"The emblem of your pledge," Jaya said. "Your life is my property."
Tamar awoke surrounded by his counselors and attendants, all wearing night robes. His shouting had summoned them. No one remembered a visit from a king named Jaya, and all advised Tamar to forget his dream, which he might well have done were he not wearing an iron ring.
Despite his people's pleadings, Tamar rode out immediately to faraway Mahapura. In his travels, he is joined by fantastic creatures, wise counselors, and, yes, his true love. Lloyd Alexander’s story of The Iron Ring is woven from threads of ancient Indian literature, and its graceful story is told with much action and humor.