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."