★ The Land Of Darkness And The Gate Of Paradise Story :
After many days King Alexander came to the Mountains of Darkness. Acting on the advice of the wise men, he had provided himself with asses from the land of Libya, for they have the power of seeing in the dark, and also with a cord of great length. Mounted on the asses, he and his men plunged into the realms of darkness, unwinding the cord as they went, so that they might find their way back with it.
Around them was blackest darkness and a silence that inspired the men with awe. The asses, however, picked their way through the tall trees that grew so high and so thick that not the least ray of light could penetrate. How many days they traveled thus they knew not, for day and night were alike. The men slept when they were tired, ate when they were hungry and trusted to the asses and the cord.
At last when they emerged into the light they were almost blinded by the sun, and it was some time before they could see properly. Then, to their great astonishment, they found that there were no men in the land, only women, tall and finely proportioned, clothed in skins and armed with bows and arrows.
“Who are ye?” asked Alexander.
“We are the Amazons, women who are skilled in war and in the art of hunting,” they answered.
“Lead me to your queen,” commanded Alexander, “and bid her surrender, for I am Alexander, the Great, of Macedon, and conqueror of the world. I fight not by night, for I scorn to steal victories in the dark, and my men are armed with magic spears of gold and silver and are therefore invincible.”
The queen of the Amazons appeared before him, a beautiful woman, with long raven hair.
“Greeting to thee, mighty warrior,” she said. “Hast thou come to slay women?”
“Perchance it is you who will triumph over me,” replied Alexander.
The queen of the Amazons smiled.
“Then shall it be said of thee,” she replied, “that thou wert a valiant warrior who conquered the world, but was himself conquered by women. Is that to be your message to history?”
King Alexander was a man of learning and of wisdom, as well as a great soldier, but the words of the queen of the Amazons were such that he could not answer. He bowed low before the queen and with a gesture indicated that he had naught to say.
“Then it is to be peace,” said the queen. “At least, before thy return, let me prepare for thee a banquet.”
In a hut made of logs and decorated with skins, a rough wooden table was placed before Alexander and on it was laid a loaf of gold.
“Do ye eat bread of gold?” asked the king, much surprised.
“Nay,” replied the queen. “We are women of simple tastes, but thou art a mighty king. If thou didst but wish to eat ordinary bread in this land, why didst thou desire to conquer it? Is there no more bread in your own land that thou shouldst brave the dangers of the dark mountains to eat it here?”
Alexander bowed his head on his breast. Never before had he felt ashamed.
“I, Alexander of Macedon,” he said, “was a fool until I came to the land beyond the Mountains of Darkness and learned wisdom from women.”
With all haste he returned through the land of eternal night on his Libyan asses. But in the flight the cord was broken. He had to trust entirely to the asses, and many long and weary days and nights did he journey before he saw the light once more.
Alexander found himself in a new and beautiful land. There were no signs of human beings, nor of animals, and a river of the clearest water he had ever seen, flowed gently along. It was full of fish which the soldiers caught quite easily. But a strange thing happened when, after having cut up the fish ready for cooking, they took them to the river to clean them. All the fish came to life again; the pieces joined together and darted away in the water.
At first Alexander would not believe this, but after he had made an experiment himself, he said: “Let all who are wounded bathe in this river, for surely it will cure every ill. This must be the River of Life which flows from Paradise.”
He determined to follow the stream to its source and find the Garden of Eden. As he marched along, the valley through which the stream flowed, became narrower and narrower, until, at last, only one person could pass. Alexander continued his journey on foot with a few of his generals walking behind. Mountains, thickly covered with greenest verdure, towered up on either side, the silent river narrowed until it seemed a mere streak of silver flowing gently along, and there was a delicious odor in the air.
At length, where the mountains on either side met, Alexander’s path was barred by a great wall of rock. From a tiny fissure the River of Life trickled forth, and beside it was a door of gold, beautifully ornamented. Before this door Alexander paused. Then, drawing his sword, he struck the Gate of Paradise with the hilt.
There was no answer, and Alexander knocked a second time. Again there was no reply, and a third time Alexander knocked with some impatience.
Then the door slowly opened, and a figure in white stood in the entry. In its hand it held a skull, made of gold, with eyes of rubies.
“Who knocks so rudely at the Gate of Paradise?” asked the angel.
“I, Alexander, the Great, of Macedon, the conqueror of the world,” answered Alexander, proudly. “I demand admittance to Paradise.”
“Hast thou brought peace to the whole world that thou sayest thou art its conqueror?” demanded the angel.
Alexander made no answer.
“Only the righteous who bring peace to mankind may enter Paradise alive,” said the angel, gently.
Alexander hung his head abashed; then, in a voice broken with emotion, he begged that at least he should be given a memento of his visit.
The angel handed him the skull, saying: “Take this and ponder o’er its meaning.”
The angel vanished and the golden door closed.
The skull was so heavy that, with all his great strength, Alexander could scarcely carry it. When he placed it in a balance to ascertain its weight, he found that it was heavier than all his treasures. None of his wise men could explain this mystery and so Alexander sought out a Jew among his soldiers, one who had been a student with the rabbis.
Taking a handfull of earth the Jew placed it over the eyes and the skull was then as light as air.
“The meaning is plain,” said the Jew. “Not until the human eye is covered with earth–in the grave–is it satisfied. Not until after death can man hope to enter Paradise.”
Alexander was anxious to hasten away from that strange region, but many of his soldiers declared that they would settle down by the banks of the River of Life. Next morning, however, the river had vanished. Where all had been beautiful was now only a desolate plain, bounded by bare rocky mountains, reaching to the clouds.
With heavy hearts Alexander’s men began their march back.
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