Gateway to the Classics: Eastern Stories and Legends by Marie L. Shedlock
Eastern Stories and Legends by  Marie L. Shedlock

The Horse That Held Out to the End

A ND it came to pass that the Buddha (to be) came to life in the shape of a Horse—a thoroughbred small horse, and he was made the King's Destrier, surrounded by pomp and state. He was fed on exquisite three-year-old rice which was always served up to him in a golden dish worth a hundred thousand pieces of money, and the ground of his stall was perfumed with the four odors. Round his stall were hung crimson curtains, while overhead was a canopy studded with stars of gold. On the wall were festooned wreaths and garlands of fragrant flowers, and a lamp fed with scented oil was always burning there.

Now all the kings round coveted the kingdom of Benares. Once seven kings passed Benares and sent a missive to the King, saying: "Either yield up your kingdom to us or give battle."

Assembling his ministers, the King of Benares laid the matter before them and asked what he was to do. Said they: "You ought not to go out to battle in person, Sire, in the first instance. Despatch such and such a Knight out first to fight him, and, later on, if he fall, we will decide what to do."

Then the King sent for that Knight and said to him: "Can you fight the seven kings, my dear Knight?" Said he: "Give me but your noble Destrier, and then I could fight not only seven kings but all the kings in India." "My dear Knight, take my Destrier or any horse you please, and do battle." "Very good, my Sovereign Lord," said the Knight, and with a bow he passed down from the upper chambers of the palace.

Then he had the noble Destrier led out and sheathed in mail, arming himself too and girding on his sword.

Mounted on his noble steed he passed out of the City Gate, and with a lightning charge broke down the first camp, taking one king alone, and bringing him back a prisoner to the soldiers' custody.

. . . And this went on until six kings had been made prisoner. Then the noble Horse received a wound which streamed with blood and caused him much pain. Perceiving that the Horse was wounded, the Knight made it lie down at the King's gate, loosened its mail, and set about arming another horse.

But the Horse perceiving this, said: "The other horse will not  be able to break down the seventh camp and capture the seventh king: he will lose all that I have accomplished. The peerless Knight will be slain, and the King will fall into the hands of the foe. I alone and no other horse can break down the seventh camp and capture the seventh king."

So he called to the Knight and repeated these words, and added: "I will not throw away what I have already done. Only have me set upon my feet, and clad again in my armor, and I will accomplish my work."

The Knight had the Horse set upon his feet, bound up his wound, and armed him again in proof. Mounted on the Destrier, he broke down the seventh camp, and brought back alive the seventh king.

They led the Horse to the King's gate, and the King came up to look at him.

Then said the Great Being: "Great King, slay not these seven kings: bind them by an oath, and let them go. Let the Knight enjoy the honor due to us both. As for you, exercise charity, keep the Ornaments, and rule your kingdom in righteousness and justice." When the Horse had thus exhorted the King, they took off his mail, but as they were taking it off piecemeal, he passed away.

The King had the body buried with due respect, bestowed great honors on the Knight, and sent the kings to their homes, after exacting from each an oath never to war upon him any more. And he ruled his kingdom in righteousness and justice, passing away when his life closed, to fare thereafter according to his deserts.

The story was told by the Master about a brother who gave up persevering.

"Brethren, in bygone days the wise and good persevered even in hostile surroundings, and even when they were wounded they did not give in. Whereas you who have devoted yourself to so saving a doctrine, how comes it that you give up persevering?"

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