Salome: The Seventh Queen: 7: The Wager
by Aline deWinter
She-Who-Rode-The-Dragon seemed to be in conflict with herself. “We do not
like this Jokannaan. He has set armies against us unjustly. Not only human armies, but also of angels.
Why should I allow you to pass?”
“The Great Mother prepared me to dance before Our Lady Ishtar,
Queen of Heaven and Earth, so that the Prophet may be brought back to
life…for the sake of my soul who had him killed wrongly.”
“But you did well. Why should I help you to revive our enemy?”
“Is not Herodias, Queen of Judea, your enemy, who put him to death?” Salome said. At that moment
she knew in her heart that her mother had never turned away
from the Goddess’s shrine, had always harbored in her soul a
treacherous worship for the Lustful One. This put a wrinkle in her plans, and she wondered about the Demoness with the faces of her mother on the dragon.
She-Who-Rode-the-Dragon, scintillating with red and deep purple light,
rose up in anger, gazing all the while at Salome. “If I let you pass,
what shall you give us in return? You will bestow a gift worthy of the favor you seek — or you
shall not pass.”
The maids whispered to each other, fretting that they had not known of this, but Salome hushed them.
“I have scarlet roses nurtured in the gardens of Byzantium, their fragrance inspires months of amorous nights. I give you crimson wine fermented from grapes grown in the slopes of Calabria. These I offer you, oh, Great Guardian of the Shrine of Ishtar, in hope that they will be pleasing. Will you accept these gifts?”
Salome snapped her fingers and her serving maids suddenly came to their
senses and brought forth a cluster of fifteen armfuls of roses and nine casks of
wine. They crossed a little bridge that suddenly appeared across the
stream. And on the other side, they spilled and scattered the roses
upon the ground and poured wine at the feet of the Demoness. She
towered above them, smiling, so that they would know, deep in their
bellies, that roses and wine were substitutes for human blood. The
maids scurried backwards, bowing, unable to take their eyes off of the
messenger of the Great Whore of Babylon. They resumed their places
behind their Princess who stood within a scintillating light, like a
star, overcome with a rush of strange, feverish excitement.
“Your serving girls know much, oh Princess of Judea. What will you give me in exchange for the Prophet’s life?”
Trembling, Salome’s mind was blank, for she had not thought that the Demoness would demand more than what she had already given.
“I bring the dance, oh, Queen-Whose-Mysteries-are-Great. Other than that and the
gifts of roses and red wine… I have only myself to give.” Salome said and
prostrated herself gracefully upon the ground.
The dragon reared up and the beautiful Demoness smiled, turning her
seven-headed mount around as smoothly as it if were a single-headed
beast. Her circuit complete, the dragon’s seven heads on their seven
long necks swung around all at once, and Salome screamed at the sudden
sight of fourteen eyes and seven leering jaws lunged over the stream
at her as if to gobble her up. Again, in a flash of dull white light, Salome beheld the face of Herodias.
“Go upon that hill,” the Demoness shouted, turning and pointing to the
hilltop that sloped up behind her. Some ruined towers stood at the top
behind an ancient gate that gleamed with the rays of the dying sun.
“That is the first gate. Enter therein. Find the way into the Garden of
Seven Terraces. You will know it by the fumes and the unearthly sounds
that issue from it. Sing praises to Our Lady of Eternal Life, and She
will open the way to you.”
Suddenly there was shimmer of blinding light and the sound as of many
doves singing and the sound as of many wings fluttering, and the music
of rushing waters. The earth trembled so that Salome, and her maids, and
musicians fell to their knees, and the head of the Prophet opened his
eyes and opened his mouth as if to cry out in protest against Salome’s wicked plan.
Salome placed the head of Jokannaan carefully back into the golden casquet and shut the lid as She-Who-Rode-the-Dragon vanished as if she had never been.