18 WHAT THE ROSE DID TO THE CYPRESS
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, in God's name, tell me the way.'
When the saint saw that the prince was not to be moved, he said : ' Learn and know, 0 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 feet, 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, ' 0 Friend of the traveller ! I, Thy servant, come