There was an outcry at the door of the king's great hall, and suddenly a confusion arose. The guards ran thither swiftly, and the people were crowded together, pushing and thrusting as if to withhold some intruder. Out of the tumult came a strong voice shouting, "I will come in! I must see the false king!" But other voices cried, "Not so--you are mad--you shall not come in thus!"
Then the king said, "Let him come in as he will!"
So the confusion fell apart, and the hall was very still, and a man in battered armour stumbled through the silence and stood in front of the throne. He was breathing hard, for he was weary and angry and afraid, and the sobbing of his breath shook him from head to foot. But his anger was stronger than his weariness and his fear, so he lifted his eyes hardily and looked the king in the face.
It was like the face of a mountain, very calm and very high, but not unkind. When the man saw it clearly he knew that he was looking at the true king; but his anger was not quenched, and he stood stiff, with drawn brows, until the king said, "Speak!"
For answer the man drew from his breast a golden chain, at the end of which was a jewel set with a great blue stone. He looked at it for a moment with scorn, as one who had a grievance. Then he threw it down on the steps of the throne, and turned on his heel to go.
"Stay," said the king. "Whose is this jewel?"
"I thought it to be yours," said the man.
"Where did you get it?" asked the king.
"From an old servant of yours," answered the man. "He gave it to me when I was but a lad, and told me it came from the king--it was the blue stone of the Truth, perfect and priceless. Therefore I must keep it as the apple of mine eye, and bring it back to the king perfect and unbroken."
"And you have done this?" said the king.
"Yes and no," answered the man.
"Divide your answer," said the king. "First, the _yes_."
The man delayed a moment before he spoke. Then his words came slow and firm as if they were measured and weighed in his mind.
"All that man could do, O king, have I done to keep this jewel of the Truth. Against open foes and secret robbers I have defended it, with faithful watching and hard fighting. Through storm and peril, through darkness and sorrow, through the temptation of pleasure and the bewilderment of riches, I have never parted from it. Gold could not buy it; passion could not force it; nor man nor woman could wile or win it away. Glad or sorry, well or wounded, at home or in exile, I have given my life to keep the jewel. This is the meaning of the _yes_."
"It is right," said the king. "And now the _no_."
The man answered quickly and with heat.
"The _no_ also is right, O king! But not by my fault. The jewel is not untarnished, not perfect. It never was. There is a flaw in the stone. I saw it first when I entered the light of your palace-gate. Look, it is marred and imperfect, a thing of little value. It is not the crystal of Truth. I have been deceived. You have claimed my life for a fool's errand, a thing of naught; no jewel, but a bauble. Take it. It is yours."
The king looked not at the gold chain and the blue stone, but at the face of the man. He looked quietly and kindly and steadily into the eyes full of pain and wounded loyalty, until they fell before his look. Then he spoke gently.
"Will you give me my jewel?"
The man lifted his eyes in wonder.
"It is there," he cried, "at your feet!"
"I spoke not of that," said the king, "but of your life, yourself."
"My life," said the man faltering, "what is that? Is it not ended?"
"It is begun," said the king. "Your life--yourself, what of that?"
"I had not thought of that," said the man, "only of the jewel, not of myself, my life."
"Think of it now," said the king, "and think clearly. Have you not learned courage and hardiness? Have not your labours brought you strength; your perils, wisdom; your wounds, patience? Has not your task broken chains for you, and lifted you out of sloth and above fear? Do you say that the stone that has done this for you is false, a thing of naught?"
"Is this true?" said the man, trembling and sinking on his knee.
"It is true," answered the king, "as God lives, it is true. Come, stand at my right hand. My jewels that I seek are not dead, but alive. But the stone which led you here--look! has it a flaw?"
He stooped and lifted the jewel. The light of his face fell upon it. And in the blue depths of the sapphire the man saw a star.