This section is from the book "Stories From The Thousand And One Nights", by Edward William Lane and Stanley Lanepoole. Also available from Amazon: Stories From Thousand And One Nights: The Arabian Nights' Entertainments.
So Talib went forth on his way to Egypt. He proceeded with his companions, traversing the districts from Syria, until they entered Misr;* when the Governor of Egypt met him, and lodged him with him; and he treated him with the utmost honour during the period of his stay with him. Then he sent with him a guide who accompanied him to Upper Egypt until they came to the Emir Musa the son of Nuseyr; and when he knew of his approach, he went forth to him and met him, and rejoiced at his arrival; and Talib handed to him the letter. So he took it and read it and understood its meaning; and he put it upon his head saying, I hear and obey the command of the Prince of the Faithful. He determined to summon the great men; and they presented themselves; and he inquired of them respecting that which had been made known to him by the letter; whereupon they said, O Emir, if thou desire him who will guide thee to that place, have recourse to the sheykh 'Abd-Es-Samad the son of 'Abd-El-Kuddus El-Masmudi; for he is a knowing man, and hath travelled much, and he is acquainted with the deserts and wastes and the seas, and their inhabitants and their wonders, and the countries and their districts. Have recourse therefore to him, and he will direct thee to the object of thy desire. Accordingly he gave orders to bring him, and he came before him; and, lo, he was a very old man, whom the vicissitudes of years and times had rendered decrepit. The Emir Musa saluted him, and said to him, O sheykh 'Abd-Es-Samad, our lord the Prince of the Faithful, 'Abd-El-Melik the son of Marwan, hath commanded us thus and thus, and I possess little knowledge of that land, and it hath been told me that thou art acquainted with that country and the routes. Hast thou then a wish to accomplish the affair of the Prince of the Faithful?-The sheykh replied, Know, O Emir, that this route is difficult, far extending, with few tracks. The Emir said to him, How long a period doth it require? He answered, It is a journey of two years and some months going, and the like returning; and on the way are difficulties and horrors, and extraordinary and wonderful things. Moreover, thou art a warrior for the defence of the faith, and our country is near unto the enemy; so perhaps the Christians may come forth during our absence: it is expedient therefore that thou leave in thy province one to govern it.- He replied, Well. And he left his son Harun as his substitute in his province, exacted an oath of fidelity to him, and commanded the troops that they should not oppose him, but obey him in all that he should order them to do. And they heard his words, and obeyed him. His son Harun was of great courage, an illustrious hero, and a bold champion; and the sheykh 'Abd-Es-Samad pretended to him that the place in which were the things that the Prince of the Faithful desired was four months' journey distant, on the shore of the sea, and that throughout the whole route were halting-places adjacent one to another, and grass and springs. And he said, God will assuredly make this affair easy to us through the blessing attendant upon thee, O Viceroy of the Prince of the Faithful. Then the Emir Musa said, Knowest thou if any one of the Kings have trodden this land before us? He answered him, Yes, O Emir: this land belonged to the King of Alexandria, Darius the Greek.
* L El-Fustat, ° Old Cairo".
After this they departed, and they continued their journey until they arrived at a palace; whereupon the sheykh said, Advance with us to this palace, which presenteth a lesson to him who will be admonished. So the Emir Musa advanced thither, together with the sheykh 'Abd-Es-Samad and his chief companions, till they came to its entrance. And they found it open, and having lofty angles, and steps, among which were two wide steps of coloured marbles, the like of which hath not been seen: the ceilings and walls were decorated with gold and silver and minerals, and over the entrance was a slab, whereon was an inscription in ancient Greek; and the sheykh 'Abd-Es-Samad said, Shall I read it, O Emir? The Emir answered, Advance and read. May God bless thee! for nought hath happened to us during this journey but what hath been the result of the blessing attendant upon thee.-So he read it; and, lo, it was poetry; and it was this:
Here was a people whom, after their works, thou shalt see wept over for their lost dominion, And in this palace is«the last information respecting lords collected in the dust.
Death hath destroyed them and disunited them, and in the dust they have lost what they amassed; As though they had only put down their loads to rest a while: quickly have they departed!
And the Emir Musa wept until he became insensible, and he said, There is no deity but God, the Living, the Enduring without failure! He then entered the palace, and was confounded by its beauty and its construction; and he looked at the figures and images that it contained. And, lo, over the second door were inscribed some verses. So the Emir Musa said, Advance, O sheykh, and read. Accordingly he advanced and read; and the verses were these:
How many companies have alighted in the tabernacles since times of old, and taken their departure.
Consider thou then what the accidents of fortune have done with others when they have befallen them.
They have shared together what they collected, and they have left the pleasure thereof, and departed.
What enjoyments they had! and what food did they eat! and then in the dust they themselves were eaten 1
And again the Emir Musa wept violently: the world became yellow before his face; and he said, We have been created for a great object!
Then they attentively viewed the palace; and, lo, it was devoid of inhabitants, destitute of household and occupants: its courts were desolate, and its apartments were deserted; and in the midst of it was a chamber covered with a lofty dome, rising high into the air, around which were four hundred tombs. To these tombs the Emir Musa drew near, and, behold, among them was a tomb constructed of marble, whereupon were engraved these verses: