322 THE SILENT PRINCESS
So they went on again, past skulls and dead men's bones in all degrees of whiteness. And by-and-by they reached another village, where they determined to rest for a little while, so that their wits might be fresh and bright for the task that lay before them. But this time, though the people were kind and friendly, their faces were gloomy, and every now and then woeful cries would rend the air.
'Oh! my brother, have I lost you?' 'Oh! my son, shall I see you no more ?' And then, as the prince and his companion asked the meaning of these laments— which, indeed, was plain enough—the answer was given :
' Ah, you also have come hither to die ! This town belongs to the father of the princess, and when any rash man seeks to move the princess to speech he must first obtain leave of the sultan. If that is granted him he is then led into the presence of the princess. What happens afterwards, perhaps the sight of these bones may help you to guess.'
The young man bowed his head in token of thanks, and stood thoughtful for a short time. Then, turning to the Lala, he said :
' Well, our destiny will soon be decided ! Meanwhile we will find out all we can, and do nothing rashly.'
For two or three days they wandered about the bazaars, keeping their eyes and ears open, when, one morning, they met a man carrying a nightingale in a cage. The bird was singing so joyously that the prince stopped to listen, and at once offered to buy him from his owner.
' Oh, why cumber yourself with such a useless thing,' cried the Lala in disgust; ' have you not enough to occupy your hands and mind, without taking an extra burden ? ' But the prince, who liked having his own way, paid no heed to him, and paying the high price asked by the man, he carried the bird back to the inn, and hung him up in his chamber. That evening, as he was sitting alone, trying to think of something that would make the princess talk,