Salome: The Seventh Queen: 3 :The Forbidden Temple

Salome: The Seventh Queen: 3 : The Forbidden Temple

by Aline deWinter





One moonless night, Salome left Herod’s castle by a low back gate.  A narrow stair led down to a hidden lane of white paving stones that led into the precincts of an ancient shrine, known throughout the land as The Forbidden Temple. The head of Jokanaann had been wrapped in the scented linen of the priests, placed in a golden sleeve, and then laid upon a silver charger.  This she carried high above her head, for his divinity was so great that even the Princess of Judea was beneath him.

>

As Salome walked, her veil kept slipping, exposing her her shining golden hair and singular beauty to the lamplight. So to avoid discovery, she kept to the shadows, walking with her head bowed down so that all she could see were her small, slippered feet as they moved over the cobblestones, appearing, disappearing, and then reappearing under the hem of her gown.


The gate of the Forbidden Temple was behind a hedge of dove boughed myrtle, bordered by pots of night blooming jasmine, guarded by winged lions, and magically charged by the morning and evening stars. The fragrance of incense told her that the priestesses prayed into the night. Only when she reached the gate did she lower the silver charger, and gaze proudly at the Gatekeeper, to command entry.

>

He looked away with a knowing smile, for he had seen Salome dancing on the rooftop, spinning with her flashing veils. The news had traveled quickly regarding the demand of Herodias for the Prophet’s head in exchange for her daughter’s bending to the lascivious will of Herod.

<

Salome did not smile back. Rather, she glared at the eunuch as she slipped inside the gate, daring him to disclose, even to himself, that he knew what she carried on the silver platter. The eunuch closed the gate with downcast eyes, and the silently  withdrew.

<

Salome rushed down the broad Processional Way and under the shadowed portico, guarded by  golden lions. At last she arrived at the High Priestess’s sandalwood door. She grasped the bell-pull and waited as the ringing echoed within chamber after chamber into silence.  A grille set in the door slightly above her head was pushed aside and two dark eyes shone out.

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“What do you want?”

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“I am Salome, daughter of Herod, Princess of Judea…I seek an audience with She- Who-Resides-Within.”

<

The Doorkeeper paused.

<

“And how shall I know you are the Daughter of Herod?”

<

“By this ring,” Salome said and raised her jeweled hand so that the eyes could see the signet ring: gold set with carnelian incised with the sigil of a horned crown.

<

The eyes looked down, the grille closed. Salome’s heart pounded as she waited for the door to open. When it did, she walked into a wide hall that seemed composed of nothing but firelight and shadows, The mingled scents of attar of roses, violets and myrrh filled her with a subtle awareness of the beauty of her body. The eunuch stood aside to let her pass, bowing, the colorful satins of his clothes glistening in the torchlight.

<

“Thank you,” she nodded at him. ‘Point me the way to the chambers of She-Who-Resides-Within.”

<

The eunuch smiled, his white teeth shining through ghosts of black smoke and torchlight. He pointed to the right, across the tiled floor where a small fountain of leaping, alabaster fish blew streams of water into the air. Beyond the fountain, the door to the private chamber of She-Who-Resides-Within was a dull red stain behind an ornately grilled portal guarded by sphinxes.

<

Salome hurried to the door with the head of the Prophet held up before her. The bell pull was a silver ribbon. A mysterious brown hand emerged from the smokey shadows,  grasped it, and a woeful chiming of bells echoed within. The door as if a taken by a  perfumed wind, and. Salome entered. Someone was chanting. The voice echoed faintly as if it came from the bottom of a cistern. Salome moved toward the voice, half circling a large pool set into the tiled floor, and shining like a mirror. Flames danced in the smooth silvered surface water, reflected from the several candle branches that stood around its rim.

<

“Come closer, Salome, daughter of Herodias. Do not be afraid.”

<

A dark, velvet voice came from behind a perforated screen through which pin pricks of light shone like stars. Salome moved closer. Running down the edge of the screen was a slash of brightness. A shadow wavered there, suggesting the presence of She-Who-Resides-Within.

<

“I am here, Great Mother,” Salome whispered, bending her knee and holding the charger with the precious head high above her own.

<

Older  than space, and time, She-Who-Resides-Within was most powerful and reverend — more so than Salome, Daughter of Judea, more so even than Herodias, Queen of all the land, more so, by far, than Herod who secretly thought himself the Messiah.

<

“Indeed,” the deep voice swelled as with a sound of many voices. “You have come to ask an audience with the Queen of Heaven have you not?”

<

“Yes,” Salome breathed, shaking with fright and the effort of holding the Prophet’s head above her own.

<

“What is your purpose?”

<

Suddenly overcome by  a torrent of emotion, Salome cried, “ I want the Prophet, Jokannaan, to be brought back to life!”

<

There was a silence so long that Salome thought surely her heart would stop. Was She-Who-Resides-Within laughing at her?

>

“And why would you want that?”

<

“I am so sorry. I didn’t mean for him to be killed. It was my mother’s doing. He was very beautiful, very wise, and, as you know, divine.”

<

There was a long considered silence before She-Who-Resides-Within spoke again. “ But what is his condition, being dead?”

<

“His head does not decay, Great Mother. His face is, in truth, more lovely to look upon than a flock of swans upon the lake at twilight, more pure than a thousand, thousand doves fluttering about the Goddess’s shoulders at dawn, more shining than the moon’s face reflected in the waters of the well. His skin is like ivory and his hair like a waterfall of black silk, his eyelids as green as the sea at twilight…his lips as red as a branch of coral…See for yourself, Great Mother.”

<

Salome handed the charger through the gap of the screen and the long, pale hands took it inside.

<

“I see,” the voice whispered and it sounded as if a wind came up and set all the bells of Paradise ringing.

“There is a Rite demanded of Our Lady of One-Thousand-Thousand Stars. Are you prepared to do Her honor to gain admittance to Her temple?”

<

“Only tell me what to do and I shall do it, Great Mother!”

<

“First, you must give yourself to the first man that asks you. Only then will you be prepared to descend to the Vale of Ishtar. The way to the Vale is steep and fiery and fraught with danger. You will descend seven terraces, and pass through seven gates.  At the very end,  She will be there, standing in a pillar of fire. Her beauty is impossible to look upon without losing your mind.  For your own protection, bring thou a silver hand mirror to see Her in, and speak to Her reflection. Never look at Her. Only Her image in the glass is safe for mortal eyes. Say only this: I wish to bring the Prophet, Jokannaan back to life. She will instruct you. Do not leave out a single thing She tells you to do. And you must grace Her with many gifts. Several for Her servants before you enter Her Holy Temple, and something many times more worthy, to lay at Her feet.”

<

Salome could not think, could not imagine what she had of such great worth. “Shall She want jewels, rolls of silk and purple satin, perfumes from Saardis, or gold encrusted veils and eye paint of crushed tourmaline from Tyre…”

<

“What is your greatest beauty, Princess Salome? Your most powerful gift?”

<

“Dancing,” Salome blurted out suddenly. “If it is worthy, I shall dance for Her.”

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The shadow seemed to smile, the torch light flickered, as if excited by Salome’s words.

<

“Yes…you shall dance down the seven terraces for the Queen of The Morning Star and the Evening Star…and bring with you what remains of the Prophet.”

<

“Thank you…Thank you Great Mother,” Salome cried, standing up, suddenly anxious to get away from the heavy presence of She-Who-Resides-Within. “I will do everything you say.”

<

She ran out of the Temple into the blue night. The scent of jasmine was strong on the air.

The coin fell, ker-chink, on the paving stones. The eyes behind the warrior’s gilded mask, burned.

In shame, Salome tightened the red veil around her shoulders and followed the soldier with bowed head. She was shocked at how quickly a change of attire had disguised her, made her common, creating the impression that she was willing to suffer a stranger to deflower her. She was not truly wiling, for her love belonged to Jokannaan. Fearing her reluctance would mar the sacrifice, she’d drunk wine and inhaled the odorof poppies, making dreamlike her long, lascivious walk down the Alley of the Prostitutes. It seemed they smelled her virginity as they would a rare bloom for, when she passed, the Prostitutes smiled and stroked the cats they held tight in their arms, kissing the air behind her, and laughing.

<

He took her against the wall under an archway that led to the well house. He did not remove his mask, but tried to kiss her through the metal cheek guards, scraping her face. His tongue was hot, his body against hers had broken out in sweat, his member pierced her so her eyes rolled back in her head and she swooned. She fell upon his shoulder while he carried her on his thigh, braying like a jackass. Suddenly, driven mad with a frenzy of hot, melting pleasure, she cried out, screaming for him to stop, oh please, stop!  He freed her and she fell, sobbing, to the pavement. She had never felt so lonely in her life.

To be continued….

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