Salome: The Seventh Queen: Part One: Delerium

Oscar Wilde’s infamous play, Salome, French painter, Gustave Moreau’s opulent art, Aubrey Beardsley’s perverse line drawings, Richard Strauss’s opera, Alla Nazimova’s silent classic, a love of the macabre, and a lifelong fascination with this ancient tale of teenage obsession, mixed together in a subconscious mind already steeped in the fall of Roman Catholicism to inspire this story. It was started in the Spring of 2008, and since then, the first half has been serialized on my Winterspells blog. That project was abandoned when I realized it had to be moved to a more appropriate venue. Not quite a Faery Tale, though very like one, Salome: The Seventh Queen is definitely Gothic.

This time, I will make it to the very surprising end. I hope you like twist endings, and especially enjoy, as I do, a few flights of thoroughly decadent purple prose.

It begins with the question: What if Herod had allowed Salome to live, and she decided her love was powerful enough to bring Jokanaan back to life?

Salome: Well I know that thou wouldst have loved me, and the mystery of Love is greater than the mystery of Death.

Oscar Wilde

Salome: The Seventh Queen: Part One: Delerium

by Aline deWinter

Only seeds of darkness could have borne such a hybrid daughter with her golden skin and golden hair and golden eyes, her brows and lashes dusky as the sun at midnight, and her lips like a slash of blood. So like her mother, Herodias, the Black Narcissus, with skin of serpent belly white, and coils of hair so black it shone purple in the lamplight, whose eyes were like the abyss where hungry demons dwell. More like her father, Herod, whom her uncle, also called Herod, the Tetrarch of Judea, had murdered to steal Herodias to his wife. Somewhat, yet, like her father, Herod, who so loved gold and jewels that his crown and breastplate had melted into his body, burnishing his cinnamon skin to bronze and gilding his eyes and plating his black hair with veins of gold. Both mother and uncle had lips of carmine that constantly spilled over with the blood they had supped from their enemies.

<
Despite her parents influence, Salome, being young, was as sweet and fresh as a bright waterfall in the desert, and as frightened as a gazelle surrounded by hyenas. When Herod had begged her to dance, and her mother, Herodias, had insinuated that, having roused the Tetrarch to boiling lust she should ask for the Prophet’s head in return for her dancing, Salome gave in. But the beauty of the Prophet disturbed her deeply, inciting within her strange feelings and longings that  wracked her supple, virgin body with exquisite tortures, so that she danced as one possessed by something far older than his God.

<
Herod was entranced. His ardor spilled over in frenzied applause.

<
Bowing deeply before her Uncle’s baffling leer, Salome demanded her Mother’s boon: the death of the Prophet, Jokannaan.

<
The bribery and pleading of lustful Herod, frightened of his sins, could not dissuade her. The swirling vortexes of Herodias’s eyes  could bear no resistance in their hunger for revenge. Lust and Pride clashing in her soul like rocks against a battering sea, unable to command her own desires, Salome demanded the head of Jokannaan. Axe held high, the executioner went down into the well where Jokannaan lay prisoned. Suddenly screams rose into the air with a fountain of blood.

<
Sobbing, Salome carried the severed head, its eyes closed as if in deep contemplation, on a silver charger to lay it at feet of her mother. She cried, not only because the object of her first love, so beautiful, so pure, had been torn from her so suddenly, but because his head was shining, and there was a subtle silvery vibration as of far away bells ringing, and the voices of angels singing.

<
“You have done well, my daughter.” Herodias leaned towards her, breathing out the smell of tuberose as she sighed with satisfaction. “You shall have whatever you want of me. Only ask, and I will give it to you.”

<
Her father, Herod stood up and glared down at his two women with a face crossed by lightning and blood colored clouds.

<
“She shall have nothing,” he said. “She is lucky I do not have her thrown into the pit, and order her head brought to me on a charger. Or perhaps…I shall send poison to her room so that, after she dies, her body may still be pleasing to me…”

<
Salome started to her feet and looked at her mother with pleading eyes. “But it was she who ordered me to do it!” she cried. She held the charger up before her mother until, trembling, she could hold it no more, and laid it down gently. She covered her face with her jeweled hands. “Oh, Jokannaan…what have I done to you?”

<
“Enough!” Herodias cried. “You have done well, exceedingly well, my daughter. Let us leave here. I will have a servant girl taste your food for you. You will not suffer poison even if every serving girl in the kingdom has to die.”

<
Salome said nothing. She just gazed at the Prophet’s head and her heart ached with sorrow and sudden love.

<
Herodias leaned down and whispered in Salome’s ear. “Tell me what you want, my daughter. Tell it to me and I shall grant it you.”

<
“I want Jokannaan to be brought back to life.”

<
Herodias leaned back in her throne with disgust. “Impossible,” she snapped.

<
“Impossible!” thundered Herod from on high.

<
“Ask for something else,” Herodias said.

<
Salome looked up at her mother and then at her father, who was not really her father and so looked at her as at any woman he might bed.

<

“I wish to keep this head. To have him embalmed with the spices of Egypt and encased in a casket of gold. I wish to keep the head of Jokannaan as a sacred relic,” Salome said, avoiding Herod’s hungry stare.

<
Herodias leaned closer and breathed over Salome’s face with her tuberose breath. “I am not as pleased as once I was, but you shall have this boon. Just keep it out of my sight. I will not have it in my house.”

<
Herod smiled a slow rattling smile at Salome. “You have chosen well, Salome. I shall build a temple on the highest hill of Judea to house it in, and you shall have priestesses to tend it, and a fire burning always before it. Perhaps it shall undo the evil that your mother’s wrath has brought upon us.”

<
Salome stood up with bowed head, for she could not remove her eyes from the Prophet’s dreaming face, nor keep her lips from blooming scarlet.
“Thank you Tetrarch.”

<

Standing Salome caught her mother’s eye briefly, and looked away. The tuberose tinted air went around her like a noose, knotted with the Queen’s displeasure.

To be continued…

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