"* * The spirit promised me that I should dwell with the crooked moon in her eternal beauty."
In that wonderful Age which our nurses call Once-upon-a-time, the Prince Rahula came into the Hall of Sages and demanded his birthright. The Wise Ones heard him in silence, and he seemed to be dismissed without an answer. On the following day he came again, with the same ill success; so the third time and up to the seventh demand, being always unnoticed and even, as he thought, unseen. On the eighth day a messenger returning to the Council of Sages, found Rahula seated upon a plinth at the entrance to the temple.
"What doest thou there, my Lord?" demanded the messenger.
"I have taken up my abode here, nor will I stir hence until the Wise Ones shall have heard me," answered Rahula.
"But is it meet that thou shouldst sit here so lowly, Prince that thou art?"
"It is meet that a man do all things to obtain his birthright. For him there is nothing else, and great or small, honey or poison, mine shall be mine."
The messenger bowed before him. "Thou art more than royal: thou art wise," he said. Then he hastened within, and when the Sages heard what he had seen they sent for Prince Rahula, who presently saluted them reverently and said: "I am come to claim mine own. I am the Prince Rahula and I am well known to you; seven times already have I claimed it."
"Yes, my Son," answered the Elder; "but it is customary to prove a man, that his determination may show him the true heir, so that no impostor shall receive the inheritance kept for him by the Sons of Wisdom. Only those who know their rights and wrest them from Fate by strong courage, are true Princes of the royal line. But there is still a sign and countersign to pass between us e're we bestow thy birthright upon thee. Dost thou know them?"
The young Prince smiled a smile that was rarely sweet, drew himself to his full height, and tossing back his mantle, displayed to the Sages a crimson heart, transfixed with a golden lance. The Sages rose and saluted the Emblem, and parting their robes, each showed such a heart beneath his own breast. Only in the centre of theirs was written the word Humanity, and the lances were of living light, and a musical throb that was in itself a perfume was the pulse of each heart.
"Thou knowest the sign indeed," said the Elder to Rahula. "Take now the countersign. Remember that the wise and perfect heart pulsates for man alone. Thou hast demanded thy birthright in the name of the pierced heart: take it, and go in Peace."
At his signal the messenger brought to Rahula a large and brilliant crystal. It was shaped like the crescent moon: one side of it was covered with hieroglyphs cut into the stone; the other sparkled from innumerable facets like a field of hoar frost at sunrise. Rahula looked at it seriously. "A strange gift for a warrior," he said. "What is its use, my Lords? What shall I do with it?"
The Elder answered: "It is the birthright deposited with us at thy coming into the world and we can give thee no other. Its use is for thee to discover. We are but the guardians, not the interpreters. I have spoken."
Vainly Rahula besought him, no other word was uttered; the Sages had resumed their silence and at last, lit by the rays of the shining moon, Rahula left the temple and re-entered life. Long he considered the jewel: of the characters he could make nothing. So he determined to hang the great crystal beneath the royal gateway, where all men might see it, and perchance its use might be discovered. This was done, and the life of the great city passed on beneath the mysterious crystal. Soon strange tales were told of it; at night its wonderful brilliance shattered the darkness with a thousand rays, which were never so softly penetrating as when they lit the weary to his home, or pointed out his task; which were never so blinding and sharp as when they shone into the face of sin and confessed it. These living rays seemed to single out certain men and passing before them, to light them to happiness and good fortune. It was found that such men had always sought after the light with single hearts, so that people began to desire to be well considered by the spirit of the gem, and to take its rays for guidance. Others still, looking for the solution of grave problems of labor and of want, found the answer in the hieroglyphs of the crystal moon, and translated them into many longing lives. Nor was this all. The gem reflected the heavens and their mysteries to those who looked down upon it from hard won heights, and cast also an illumination from those holy lands upon the wayfarers beneath who could not climb so far. It shed from its resplendent facets the life and warmth of the sun, and through the solemn marches of the nights it testified to the living Truth beyond the stars, and so renewed the religion of the people. All who appealed in faith to its hidden spirit were helped: the sick who struggled to touch it were made whole or given great patience and content. At the first touch of sunrise, at the last ray of sunset, seven musical notes rang from its flashing rim and turned to ineffable harmony the lives of all who heard them. Thus the light of a great peace fell over the city; friend and foe alike came from afar to share it and the reign of Rahula blessed even his enemies.
The Prince thought long over the strange power of the crystal as the happy people passed and repassed beneath it. He thought it too diffused; he determined to concentrate and heighten it, and summoning his servants, bade them take down the crystal from the gateway and bring it into one of the great halls of the palace. When this was done, and the soft shining no longer lit those stony ways, the people murmured, so that the Prince went out and himself spoke with them:
"I have been long learning the use of my birthright," he said, "The crystal is too rare a thing to hang thus exposed to the elements, to the enterprise of my rivals, the greed of envious men and to all the chances of fate. I have built an altar in the palace hall; the gem shall hang above it; incense shall rise; the gods will answer me from between the horns of my crystal moon, and send riches to me and to my kingdom. These I will myself dispense to you, and the jewel shall still bless you, but my foes shall be confounded."
All were silent a moment. Afterwards a woman in the crowd fell to weeping and cried out: "Do not this thing, my Lord! Hide not the light of thy birthright from us. We love the gem, and that love is more to us than any riches."
"You shall still love it," replied Rahula "more, you shall worship it, for this crystal is the abode of a mighty spirit; it is the signet of the Gods."
"To worship is not always to love," sobbed the woman, and the crowd complained loudly. But Rahula replied again: "The gem will make my reign renowned. It shall not be profaned by the dust and steam of the byways, by the fevered touch of the sick and the desecration of unhallowed eyes. In the shelter of a sacred place it shall shine for the good alone, and those who do homage to me and who are taught of my priests, these the crystal shall bless, and not my enemies; yea, it shall still bless all untrue people. I have said." Rahula disappeared and the crowd went away muttering.
A great change came over the city. Little by little, the old turmoil came back, the old discord and wrangling went on beneath the gateways. The memory of that soft shining died out of the fevered hearts, and soon only the aged and the little children remembered to mourn for the lost gem. But within the temple incense rolled, priests knelt consulting the oracles, wise men interpreted the hieroglyphs seeking riches and fame for Rahula, while over all the white moon hung pale and shuddering in the perfumed breeze. A change came over it like the change in the city. The smoke of worship obscured the rays, then obstructed them; then they ceased shining altogether and the face of the moon was veiled in mist. The temple music drowned the bell notes, and though it was stopped when this was discovered, those notes sounded no more, for the sunrise and sunset glow no longer flooded the crystal rim. The hieroglyphs told wonderful tales of fame and pomp and war, but all turned out illy, and Rahula found that his priests had read them backward, that only the people knew their language by instinct, as the language of their infancy. The glory and beauty of the great gem were gone: none but the priests would do it homage, and it hung, a dulled and impotent thing in the chill silence above the altar. Rahula felt a certain awe, a sense of coming disaster. He bade his servants take down the crystal, set cunning artificers to brighten and restore it, and then, ordering a great festival to be held, he had the stone replaced above the gateway, and waited for the joy and praises of the people.
Instead he heard jeers, flouting and anger. "Does he weary of his pleasure, that he flings it forth to us again?" cried some. Others said: "The stone has brought him ill fortune, and he would cast it over the city instead." Some pointed at it as an old superstition; some prostrated themselves in loud worship, but these were men of evil conscience who sought to propitiate the Prince for their own ends. Some indeed there were who tried to read words of comfort or peace in the gem, but the artificers of the Prince had altered the signs unknowingly and all the real meaning was defaced. While Rahula saw this, first with anger, then with deadly pain and grief, a black storm slowly rolled up, gathered, burst, and in an hundred lightnings the stone was shattered, its splintered fragments hurled down the tempest and lost. The people fled the city in terror, crying that the gods had punished them for reverencing a birthright other than their own, as was forbidden to man. When the storm was over, one pallid star looked out of the clouds upon a deserted palace, and a lonely Prince brooding over his lost birthright, questioning the mystery of that destruction.
Long he searched his heart in the solitude but it gave no answer that he understood; he too had forgotten a language. He rose with sudden recollection; he would go to the hall of Sages. Even as he thought this the Elder stood before him. The Prince shot a glance of hope into that calm face, a glance that changed to one of dismay as the Sage said gravely: "What hast thou done with thy birthright?"
"I? Nothing;" stammered Rahula. Mocking echoes multiplied the word. "Nothing! Nothing!" came back to him from all his empty halls like an accusation. He turned quickly upon the Elder:
"Answer me this," he said. "What is this gem, whose power and value are so great, and yet so small? What is it that is both everything and nothing?"
"It is Life. Life which bestowed upon the world is of priceless worth to thee and to all, and which for selfish ends is but an empty thing; Life which thou shalt lose if thou keepest it for thyself. Used as a means, Life is glorious in power and opportunity, fruitful in blessing. Used as an end, a thing sought and worshipped in itself, it is the scorn of mortals and the sport of gods. This was thy only birthright, and thou hast lost it."
"But I will find it again; I will seek the world for the fragments," spoke Rahula. "They shall once more mirror heaven and once more shine upon the people." He went forth to search strongly, a weary search of centuries, for wherever mankind may dwell, there still wanders Rahula, seeking those broken fragments, seeking to restore their scattered meaning. Happy he, who having received Life whole from the gods, gives it back to them in unbroken integrity through the lives of all the people.
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