The city grew up around the source of the river. Her walls were tall and stately, her gates shining, wide and glorious. Within were spacious squares, lush gardens, warm dwellings; there were statues, and fountains, and libraries filled with the writings of the wise.
The city had stood for many years, a wonder in the world, and a destination of pilgrims.
Some saw the walls as the city’s chief glory: reaching for the heavens, both impregnable and beautiful. Rumour had it these walls were fashioned from pure gold, and certainly none could deny they shone with an ethereal brilliance, visible from many miles around.
Others could speak of nothing but the wonder of the city’s gates. Gleaming and expansive, they were open night and day, such was the great hospitality of the city, such her great heart to welcome all, to take the multitudes to her breast.
There came a time when a dispute broke out which – if it were possible – threatened the tranquillity of this wondrous habitation. The argument was between gatekeepers, on the one hand, and the watchmen, on the other.
The gatekeepers, ardent to spread their city’s fame and eager to extend her welcome to ever more travellers, had conceived of plans to widen the gates. Some had even drawn up plans to breach certain sections of the wall in order to erect new gates. “Open to every point of the compass” was their cry, such was their great passion for their city. Their hearts swelled at the thought of the shining eyes and open mouths of the pilgrims who would enter in their new widened gates, to breathe in the city’s sweet air and drink from her refreshing springs.
The watchmen, those eagle-eyed keepers of the walls’ towers and ramparts, knowing in their hearts that the city’s fame and glory depended ultimately upon the strength and purity of her walls, were uneasy at the ambitions of the gatekeepers. Widened gates too easily lead to compromised walls. And when the plans of the more impatient gatekeepers came to their ears, their alarm swelled to something akin to fury – and to fear. For these noble watchmen loved the city from the depths of their hearts, yet well they knew that a city without walls was in terrible peril. “Breach the wall, soon to fall” was their awful watchword.
Long were the debates in the guildhall and tempers were not always kept in the conflict. After much dissension, the matter had to be taken before the highest authority, and it was with confidence and the expectation of vindication – yet not without trembling in both camps – that the question was brought before the throne of the king.
There was silence as the gatekeepers and the watchmen awaited the verdict of their sovereign.
Thus he spoke:
“There shall be no breaches in my walls,” said the king (and great was the trembling of the gatekeepers as he spoke, and relief and pride coursed through the veins of the watchmen). Yet, without seeming so much as to pause for breath, the king continued, “There shall be no walls.” (Hope flared within the hearts of the gatekeepers, and swift came dismay on the faces of the watchmen.)
“No breaches,” sighed the watchmen, seeing in their hearts the vision of the city’s strength unsullied. “No walls,” breathed the gatekeepers, imagining all the nations streaming in. Yet a shadow was over both companies also, for the king had uttered both these dooms and contradicted neither.
There was a silence before the king spoke again.
“Long has it been told,” spoke he, “that the walls of my city are of gold. Yet hearken unto me as I tell you, yes even you O wise watchmen, even you O ardent gatekeepers: my walls are not of gold, but of flame; flame unbroken and unimpaired.”
And, even as he spoke, it seemed to them a wonder took place. For the walls of that resplendent city were suddenly become all fire in the eyes of their beholders. (Whether they were transformed at that moment or whether they were seen, at last, in their true nature no-one could say.)
And as the flames towered around the city, shining with beauty and brilliance, behold: from every direction, from north and south, and east and west, and north north west, and south south east, and from every degree of the compass, flowed a multitude.
Drawn like moths to the flame they came. And when they reached that fiery barrier, they did not stop, but plunged straight in, straight through, running, flying, dancing into the heart of that great city.
For behold: the walls of fire were all gate; and the gates of flame were all wall.