Iron Ringby Lloyd Alexander
When Tamar, the young king of Sundari, loses a dice game, he loses everythinghis kingdom, its riches, and even the right to call his life his own. His bondage is symbolized by the iron ring that appears mysteriously on his finger. To Tamar, born to the warrior caste, honor is everything. So he sets out on a journey to make good on his debtand even to… See more details below
When Tamar, the young king of Sundari, loses a dice game, he loses everythinghis kingdom, its riches, and even the right to call his life his own. His bondage is symbolized by the iron ring that appears mysteriously on his finger. To Tamar, born to the warrior caste, honor is everything. So he sets out on a journey to make good on his debtand even to give up his life if necessary. And that journey leads him into a world of magic, where animals can talk, the foolish are surprisingly wise, and danger awaits...
Set in a mythical India, this is the story of Tamar, King of Sundari, who, born to the warrior caste, must live by a strict code of honor. When mysterious King Jaya arrives at Tamar's palace in the middle of the night and challenges him to a high-stakes game of dice, Tamar loses everything. Bound by the iron ring that Jaya places on his finger, he becomes the other man's slave; in the morning Jaya has vanishedthough the ring remains. Since it would be dishonorable to ignore it, Tamar sets out for Jaya's distant kingdom expecting to lose his life at the end of his journeyand what a journey it is. Joined by an impudent monkey, a beautiful milkmaid, and an eagle who has seen better days, Tamar comes to question everything he was brought up to believe in, especially the rigid caste system. A page-turning thread of tension appears in the opening sentence, drawing readers into a high adventure involving fierce battles, magical talking animals, and enchanted forests. All are rendered believable on the strength of an exceptionally well- realized cast of characters who grapple with their flaws, grow, and change. Laugh-out-loud humor leavens the story to perfection.
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Chapter 2: The Iron Ring "King of Sundari" - Jaya half smiled - "I spoke of the vagaries of the dice. Here you see proof. The odds were in my favor, yet fortune stood at your side. You have won. "Yes." Tamar breathed again. He stared at the diamond. Jaya scooped up the dice and once more dropped them into the cup. "A small loss," he said, "but I shall try to regain it." "No need." Tamar pushed the diamond and chain across the board. His hands shook, as if he had just been pulled back from the edge of a cliff. "Enough. I have no desire to play again. A friendly game-friends do not keep each others possessions. Take back your wager. I shall find you some better distraction, if it pleases you." "It does not please me. You dishonor me by scorning what you rightfully won." "Call it a gift. Call it whatever you choose. I play no more." "That is not for you to say," Jaya returned. "By rule, it is I who declare the game over. No. I set the stakes again. Double what they were." Tamar's face tightened. What Jaya proposed would have put most of Sundari's treasure at risk. Tamar shook his head. "A king serves his people as well as himself, and answers to them for his actions. For me, it would be reckless stewardship." "Will you be reckless with your honor? You agreed to the rules of aksha, did you not? Obey them." "Lower the stakes, then, as you first offered to do." "At first, yes. You did not accept. I no longer offer." Jaya leaned over the table. "The game continues; we will play it out. A childish pastime? Also a question of dharma. We are both bound by dharma, King of Sundari. "I do not break dharma," Jaya went on. "But you, if you choose to break yours by refusing, so be it. End the game-and shame yourself. Tamar's blood rose. "Take up the dice." Jaya rattled the cup and casually spilled out its contents. "How interesting. Once more, the odds favor me. Once more, will fortune favor you?" The dice danced on the board as Tamar threw in turn. Jaya's smile was thin as a thread. "You have won again, King of Sundari. Now, to me. At triple the stakes." Without awaiting a reply, Jaya cast the dice. When Tamar played in turn, his head spun like the ivory cubes. He dimly grasped that his score was higher than his opponent's. "Truly, you are fortune's darling," Jaya said. "We play on. Triple what I have lost." How long even a maharajah might continue so rashly, Tamar could not guess. Winning the next turn yet again, Tamar gave up trying to calculate what he had gained. King though he was, he had never imagined such wealth within his reach. His thoughts raced over all the plans he had, until now, only dreamed: waterways from the outlying hills to the public squares, parks and gardens throughout the city, wide streets, shining new buildings, houses for even the poorest of his subjects. He seized the dice cup eagerly, threw-and won again. He was giddy, flushed with wild joy and soaked in cold sweat. The king of Mahapura yawned. "The game grows boring. One final throw for each of us. But, to play for meaningless trinkets - surely there are more exciting wagers. Something to add a touch of spice, a little stimulation." "Wager what you please," Tamar said impatiently. The game had caught him up and held him in its arms like a lover, whispering in his ear. "Honor binds you to accept it." As I do. Lay down the stakes. "Life against life." Tamar's head went back as if he had been struck. He was suddenly cold. "I do not understand." "Very simple." Jaya folded his arms and looked impassively at Tamar. "Win, my life is yours to do with as you please. Lose, your life is forfeit to me." "I cannot - " "Can. And must." With a lazy movement, Jaya scattered the dice over the board. He pursed his lips. "Fortune still favors you. My score is small, easily surpassed." Tamar's fingers had gone numb, scarcely able to hold the cup. The dice seemed to leap out by their own will. "King of Sundari," Jaya said, "you have lost." For long moments, Tamar did not speak. Then, in a voice he barely recognized as his own, he murmured, "This is folly. Madness." "No. It is honor," Jaya said. "And you, so proud of keeping it, learn what it truly is. Have you ever tested it? I think not." "I lost a wager. I still keep my honor." "Then obey dharma." Jaya rose, taller than he had first appeared. "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. " "I accept it." Jaya nodded. He gripped Tamar's wrist in one hand with such strength that Tamar clenched his teeth to keep from crying out; and, with the other, set a ring of black iron on his finger. "The emblem of your pledge," Jaya said. "Your life is my property." "So, King of Mahapura," Tamar flung back, "what will you do with it?" "How dare you question me?" Jaya answered in a voice of cold stones grinding against each other. "Do I explain myself to a dog if I choose to kill him?" He dropped Tamar's wrist and turned away. "I am not your dog!" Tamar lunged after him. Jaya was already through the doorway. Tamar would have followed, but a roar like breaking surf filled his ears. His legs gave way; he stumbled and fell to the floor. The ring felt as if it had been bound tight around his heart. "I am not your dog!" he shouted again. And again. Until he drowned in the echoes. Text copyright © Lloyd Alexander, 1997; Published by Puffin Books, a member of Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers
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