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- The Brown Fairy Book - 3/54 -
afraid.' So another girl went to the water and saw the same thing, and came back with the same story. The princess wished to see for herself; she rose and paced to the spot with the march of a prancing peacock. When she saw the image she said to her nurse: 'Find out who is reflected in the water, and where he lives.' Her words reached the prince's ear, he lifted up his head; she saw him and beheld beauty such as she had never seen before. She lost a hundred hearts to him, and signed to her nurse to bring him to her presence. The prince let himself be persuaded to go with the nurse, but when the princess questioned him as to who he was and how he had got into her garden, he behaved like a man out of his mind--sometimes smiling, sometimes crying, and saying: ' I am hungry,'Or words misplaced and random, civil mixed with the rude.
'What a pity!' said the princess, 'he is mad!' As she liked him she said: 'He is my madman; let no one hurt him.' She took him to her house and told him not to go away, for that she would provide for all his wants. The prince thought, 'It would be excellent if here, in her very house, I could get the answer to her riddle; but I must be silent, on pain of death.'
Now in the princess's household there was a girl called Dil-aram[FN#7]; she it was who had first seen the image of the prince. She came to love him very much, and she spent day and night thinking how she could make her affection known to him. One day she escaped from the princess's notice and went to the prince, and laid her head on his feet and said: ' Heaven has bestowed on you beauty and charm. Tell me your secret; who are you, and how did you come here? I love you very much, and if you would like to leave this place I will go with you. I have wealth equal to the treasure of the miserly Qarun.' But the prince only made answer like a man distraught, and told her nothing. He said to himself, ' God forbid that the veil should be taken in vain from my secret; that would indeed disgrace me.' So, with streaming eyes and burning breast, Dil-aram arose and went to her house and lamented and fretted.
Now whenever the princess commanded the prince's attendance, Dil-aram, of all the girls, paid him attention and waited on him best. The princess noticed this, and said: 'O Dil-aram! you must take my madman into your charge and give him whatever he wants.' This was the very thing Dil- aram had prayed for. A little later she took the prince into a private place and she made him take an oath of secrecy, and she herself took one and swore, ' By Heaven! I will not tell your secret. Tell me all about yourself so that I may help you to get what you want.' The prince now recognised in her words the perfume of true love, and he made compact with her. 'O lovely girl! I want to know what the rose did to the cypress. Your mistress cuts off men's heads because of this riddle; what is at the bottom of it, and why does she do it?' Then Dil-aram answered: ' If you will promise to marry me and to keep me always amongst those you favour, I will tell you all I know, and I will keep watch about the riddle.'
'O lovely girl,' rejoined he, 'if I accomplish my purpose, so that I need no longer strive for it, I will keep my compact with you. When I have this woman in my power and have avenged my brothers, I will make you my solace.'
'O wealth of my life and source of my joy!' responded Dil-aram, 'I do not know what the rose did to the cypress; but so much I know that the person who told Mihr-afruz about it is a negro whom she hides under her throne. He fled here from Waq of the Caucasus--it is there you must make inquiry; there is no other way of getting at the truth.'On hearing these words, the prince said to his heart, 'O my heart! your task will yet wear away much of your life.'
He fell into long and far thought, and Dil-aram looked at him and said: 'O my life and my soul! do not be sad. If you would like this woman killed, I will put poison into her cup so that she will never lift her head from her drugged sleep again.'
'O Dil-aram! such a vengeance is not manly. I shall not rest till I have gone to Waq of the Caucasus and have cleared up the matter.' Then they repeated the agreement about their marriage, and bade one another goodbye.
The prince now went back to the village, and told the old man that he was setting out on a long journey, and begged him not to be anxious, and to keep safe the goods which had been entrusted to him.
The prince had not the least knowledge of the way to Waq of the Caucasus, and was cast down by the sense of his helplessness. He was walking along by his horse's side when there appeared before him an old man of serene countenance, dressed in green and carrying a staff, who resembled Khizr.[FN#8] The prince thanked heaven, laid the hands of reverence on his breast and salaamed. The old man returned the greeting graciously, and asked: 'How fare you? Whither are you bound? You look like a traveller.'
'O revered saint! I am in this difficulty: I do not know the way to Waq of the Caucasus.' The old man of good counsel looked at the young prince and said: 'Turn back from this dangerous undertaking. Do not go; choose some other task! If you had a hundred lives you would not bring one out safe from this journey.' But his words had no effect on the prince's resolve. 'What object have you,' the old man asked, 'in thus consuming your life?'
'I have an important piece of business to do, and only this journey makes it possible. I must go; I pray you, ill God's name, tell me the way.'
When the saint saw that the prince was not to be moved, he said: ' Learn and know, O youth! that Waq of Qaf is in the Caucasus and is a dependency of it. In it there are jins, demons, and peris. You must go on along this road till it forks into three; take neither the right hand nor the left, but the middle path. Follow this for a day and a night. Then you will come to a column on which is a marble slab inscribed with Cufic characters. Do what is written there; beware of disobedience.' Then he gave his good wishes for the journey and his blessing, and the prince kissed his [Bet, said good-bye, and, with thanks to the Causer of Causes, took the road.
After a day and a night he saw the column rise in silent beauty to the heavens. Everything was as the wise old man had said it would be, and the prince, who was skilled in all tongues, read the following Cufic inscription: 'O travellers! be it known to you that this column has been set up with its tablet to give true directions about these roads. If a man would pass his life in ease and pleasantness, let him take the right-hand path. If he take the left, he will have some trouble, but he will reach his goal without much delay. Woe to him who chooses the middle path! if he had a thousand lives he would not save one; it is very hazardous; it leads to the Caucasus, and is an endless road. Beware of it!'
The prince read and bared his head and lifted his hands in supplication to Him who has no needs, and prayed, 'O Friend of the traveller! I, Thy servant, come to Thee for succour. My purpose lies in the land of Qaf and my road is full of peril. Lead me by it.' Then he took a handful of earth and cast it on his collar, and said: 'O earth! be thou my grave; and O vest! tee thou my winding-sheet!' Then he took the middle road and went along it, day after day, with many a silent prayer, till he saw trees rise from the weary waste of sand. They grew in a garden, and he went up to the gate and found it a slab of beautifully worked marble, and that near it there lay sleeping, with his head on a stone, a negro whose face was so black that it made darkness round him. His upper lip, arched like an eyebrow, curved upwards to his nostrils and his lower hung down like a camel's. Four millstones formed his shield, and on a box- tree close by hung his giant sword. His loin-cloth was fashioned of twelve skins of beasts, and was bound round his waist by a chain of which each link was as big as an elephant's thigh.
The prince approached and tied up his horse near the negro's head. Then he let fall the Bismillah from his lips, entered the garden and walked through it till he came to the private part, delighting in the great trees, the lovely verdure, and the flowery borders. In the inner garden there were very many deer. These signed to him with eye and foot to go back, for that this was enchanted ground; but he did not understand them, and thought their pretty gestures were a welcome. After a while he reached a palace which had a porch more splendid than Caesar's, and was built of gold and silver bricks. In its midst was a high seat, overlaid with fine carpets, and into it opened eight doors, each having opposite to it a marble basin.
Banishing care, Prince Almas walked on through the garden, when suddenly a window opened and a girl, who was lovely enough to make the moon writhe with jealousy, put out her head. She lost her heart to the good looks of the prince, and sent her nurse to fetch him so that she might learn where he came from and how he had got into her private garden where even lions and wolves did not venture. The nurse went, and was struck with amazement at the sun-like radiance of his face; she salaamed and said: 'O youth! welcome! the lady of the garden calls you; come!' He went with her and into a palace which was like a house in Paradise, and saw seated on the royal carpets of the throne a girl whose brilliance shamed the shining sun. He salaamed; she rose, took him by the hand and placed him near her. 'O young man! who are you? Where do you come from? How did you get into this garden?' He told her his story from beginning to end, and Lady Latifa[FN#9] replied: 'This is folly! It will make you a vagabond of the earth, and lead you to destruction. Come, cease such talk! No one can go to the Caucasus. Stay with me and be thankful, for here is a throne which you can share with me, and in my society you can enjoy my wealth. I will do whatever you wish; I will bring here King Qulmus and his daughter, and you can deal with them as you will.'
'O Lady Latifa,' he said, 'I have made a compact with heaven not to sit down off my feet till I have been to Waq of Qaf and have cleared up this matter, and have taken Mihr- afruz from her father, as brave men take, and have put her in prison. When I have done all this I will come back to you in state and with a great following, and I will marry you according to the law.' Lady Latifa argued and urged her wishes, but in vain; the prince was not to be moved. Then she called to the cupbearers for new wine, for she thought that when his head was hot with it he might consent to stay. The pure, clear wine was brought; she filled a cup and gave to him. He said: 'O most enchanting sweetheart! it is the rule for the host to drink first and then the guest.' So to make him lose his head, she drained the cup; then filled it again and gave him. He drank it off, and she took a lute from
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