THE SILENT PRINCESS 321
tell them whether they were still many days' journey from the princess, and whether he knew why the mountain was so much redder than other mountains.
' For three and a half more months you must still pursue your way,' answered he, ' and by that time you will find yourselves at the gate of the princess's palace. As for the colour of the mountain, that comes from the soft hue of her cheeks and mouth, which shines through the seven veils which cover her. But none have ever beheld her face, for she sits there, uttering no word, though one hears whispers of many having lost their lives for her sake.'
The prince, however, would listen no further ; and thanking the man for his kindness, he jumped up and, with the steward, set out to climb the mountain.
On and on and on they went, sleeping under the trees or in caves, and living upon berries and any fish they could catch in the rivers. But at length, when their clothes were nearly in rags and their legs so tired that they could hardly walk any further, they saw on the top of the next mountain a palace of yellow marble.
' There it is, at last,' cried the prince ; and fresh blood seemed to spring in his veins. But as he and his companion began to climb towards the top they paused in horror, for the ground was white with dead men's skulls. It was the prince who first recovered his voice, and he said to his friend, as carelessly as he could:
' These must be the skulls of the men who tried to make the princess speak and failed. Well, if we fail too, our bones will strew the ground likewise.'
' Oh ! turn back now, my prince, while there is yet time,' entreated his companion. ' Your father gave you into my charge ; but when we set out I did not know that certain death lay before us.'
' Take heart, 0 Lala, take heart!' answered the prince. ' A man can but die once. And, besides, the princess will have to speak some day, you know.' ol. y