Salome: The Seventh Queen: 11: Endless Gold

Salome: The Seventh Queen: 11: The Golden Land

by Aline deWinter

<

On the other side of the lake the Fourth Gate towered over them. Carved of black obsidian over-laid with gold, it was, incised with symbols of life in death barely visible under silver dust and matted yellow vines. A tall, wraith cloaked in the black of burning embers, blocked the entrance with a shield of smoldering torches. Salome’s serving maids clung to her cloak, gazing up at the burning guardian, and then further up at the two gatehouse towers, high and pointed, one on each side of the door.
<

‘Oh, Mistress, let us go back!” cried Aaliyah. “For over the door and bolt is spread the dust of the dead.”
<

“Yes, we must,” Etana said. “For if we go further, we shall never come out again.”
<

The place in which they stood was so far below the rim of the earth that, when Salome turned her head to look back along the way they had come,  she saw only a small circle of sky. Aaliyah and Etana followed her gaze and, clinging to each other, cried out for pity. They hung their heads and their arms drooped as if they were bowed to the earth under great burdens. Etana could barely hold the torch upright and the mirror lay face up upon the ground, flashing Salome’s golden eyes back to her, wild and hard. Aaliyah sat down and leaned upon the casque, the broken roses scattered at her feet.
>

“We must go on,” said Salome grinning at the maids helpless in their fear. “I am not afraid! Let us see the next garden we must cross. It may be very unusual, or perhaps beautiful. O Guardian! Open the gate so that I may enter!”
>

The gatekeeper’s cold eyes glinted, and a reptilian smile stretched across his face half hidden in the shadows of his cloak. His thin black hand reached for her jeweled bracelets and snatched them off.  Salome watched in dismay as the precious circlets vanished into his shadowy form.
>

“Ah, why do you take the bracelets from my arms?” Salome cried, pulling back with a hiss.
>

The voice of the wraith echoed around the stones of the portal like the voices of the many. “Thus are the rules of the Mistress of the Abyss. Now you may enter, my Princess.”
>

“Oh, let us not pass through, Mistress!” cried Aaliyah grasping Salome’s slender ankles. “Surely we shall regret it.”
>

“The dead shall rise up and eat the living so that the dead shall outnumber the living,” Etana whispered. “Thus it was said of old, and so it is.”
>

“The dead shall always outnumber the living,” said Salome. “Now we shall bring death to its knees, for love is more powerful than death.”
>

Aaliyah staggered up. Her doe eyes wide, she lost her balance briefly. “How can it be, Mistress?”
>

“She is the Goddess of life and death. She is the womb of all of nature. She it is who determines our span upon the earth. She who is the Origin of Life must be powerful in restoring life. That is what I was promised of her Priestess in the Forbidden Temple. Forbidden because Herod does not wish us to know these things.”
>

“How do you know it, Princess?” Aaliyah asked.
>

“My mother, Queen Herodias, knows it, and I learned it at her breast.”
>

Etana stood quietly, expressionless. “We are beyond all gates now. Indeed we shall never return to Judea.”
>

“Come. Where are my musicians? Come!” Salome cried. “Play something triumphant and brave as we enter this gate to Ishtar’s Realm!”
>

The musicians began abruptly, playing a loud, shrieking, rhythmic dance that would drive a team of donkeys forward.
>

The gate was opened and the smell of fire and ash poured forth. A golden light streamed through, as of the sun at midday. The Princess of Judea, and her little entourage, stepped out into a field of tall, waving wheat that spread like a golden ocean to the far horizon. But there was no solar orb shining the darkness of the Netherworld sky, but rather the wheat field itself shone brightly from within.

The Princess passed through the garden silently, commanding Aaliyah to hold the casquet high. As she walked forward, her scarlet cloak clung to the wheat shafts, trailing along the top like a wake of blood. She moved in straight towards the horizon where waves of bright gold met the dimness of the sky. There were no marking stones to guide her, only currents of dazzling gold rippling away forever. Occasionally a dark bird flew up, startled, at the approach of Salome’s delicate feet.
<
“Oh, Mistress, we are lost!” Aaliyah cried. “Never shall we find our way out of this field.”
>

“Shhh!” Etana breathed sharply. “This light is unnatural. It rises up from below us, feeding the wheat with infernal fire. It is food that cannot be harvested, cannot be eaten, for its roots are fed by demons in the underworld without the celestial quickening of God.”
>

Salome stopped and looked at the horizon, hoping to see a high tower indicating the next gate. Nothing met her eye. There were only a currents of  waving wheat sheaves and the luminous dark blue of the sky. Yet still, the gate must be there, ahead, not close, yet not too far away. Suddenly, she did know whether to trust or distrust the promise of She-Who-Resides-Within, but she  had to move forward. Retreat would admit a dishonorable lack of faith.
>

“Lost. At last we are lost, Mistress. It was a curse, a game, that the Priestess has played upon you. She wished vengeance on the Tetrarch’s house for banishing her and her Gods,” said Aaliyah.
>
“Silence!” Salome cried. “I know what I was promised…”
>
“By whom?” shouted Aaliyah. “You have not even found the Goddess yet…”
>

Salome turned to her serving maid, eyes blazing, her voice lashing as a whip.
>

“Insolence! If you don’t believe, perhaps that is why we are lost here. Your constant lack of faith has led us astray so that we are tested by the Goddess.”
>

“There was but one gate to enter, Princess,” said Etana. “We had no other choice. Now we are here in this featureless land. And how will you dance without music?”
>

“What?” Salome turned and saw indeed, that she and her women were the only ones standing in the field. “Where are my musicians?”
<
>

“They fled!” cried Aaliyah. “They were clever enough to turn back!”

>

“Enough!” cried Salome. She was worried. How would she dance without music? Was she being thwarted in attaining her desire after all?
>

Etana turned around and looked back where a row of wheat stalks had been flattened by their feet.
>
“There is the way back,” she said. “Perhaps we too should retreat.”
>

“No!” cried Salome. “I will continue!”
>

“This is worse than the desert,” said Aaliyah. “For here we are alone.”

To be continued…

Salome: the Seventh Queen: 10: The Mysterious Lake

Salome: the Seventh Queen: 10: The Mysterious Lake

by Aline deWinter

>

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“Oh, gatekeeper, open the gate! Open the gate so I may enter!” Salome cried.
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“Oh, no, Mistress!” cried Aaliyah. “Let us go back!”
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The Third gate opened, and the Gatekeeper, clad in robes of copper flame, reached forth and pulled off the Princess’s sparkling necklace.
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Salome cried out, for the necklace was fine and precious to her.
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“Oh Gatekeeper, why do you take my necklace?”
>?

“ Thus are the rules of the Mistress of the Abyss. Now you may enter.”
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Salome reeled. All the garden spun around her as she heard the voice of Aaliyah whisper, “…where they see no light…residing only in darkness…is it so?”
<?

“Shhh! Aaliyha! You tempt fate,” Etana whispered sharply.

>
Darkness reached out and pulled them through the gate like a hand, bringing them onto a thread of white road. It wound through deep twilight over a low hill and then down to an oasis with a lake that opened up like a dull, watching eye. And on that lake, black swans floated, their sooty reflections like shadows cast upon the smooth surface of the water.
<

The trees took notice of Salome and shivered, releasing flocks of black birds. Excited by the sight of so much water, for her desert home held nothing like this — not even the great gardens of the Herodium with all its wealth could supply such a wonder, Salome knelt down to plunge her hands into the lake.  It was as if she touched glass! The surface was solid, yet it was not ice, but rather a clear, hard, glass-like surface beneath which she saw large shapes moving slowly through the gloom.
<?

Salome turned to her serving maids who stood limp and apprehensive on the slope of the hill. The musicians watched her expectantly, waiting for her to direct them, as if they had lost all delight in playing on their own.
>?

“I shall dance upon this lake,” said the Princess, extending her delicate foot out to touch the water. “Yes, it will support me. I shall dance upon this lake,” she sighed.
>?

“Oh, no, Princess!” cried Aaliyah in alarm. “Surly you do not want to risk that! This is but an illusion. Surly you shall drown. No one can walk upon water, Princess, though she be the greatest dancer in the world.”
>?

“Yes, you must stop, Mistress Salome!  Perhaps we should turn back. Your wits are becoming confused,” cried Etana, “Stop!”
>?

“Do you doubt me?” said Salome. “I shall dance upon this lake. See how it bears me up so that I may walk over to those swans and dance among them. Music please! This will be a dance to defy the Gods of Death. Give me the head of Jokannaan. I want him to see how I dance upon the lake.”
>?

The music shrieked and wailed as if the whole of the world cried out in anguish while Salome took the glistening head from Aaliyah and turned with it toward the lake. She stepped upon it and it bore her up while , spinning, she gazed into the eyes of her beloved.
>?

“Dance with me Jokannaan. Dance with me on this lake of glass. See how our twin selves move below us; our reflected selves, our doubles are below us dancing in the mirror world of death, Jokannaan.  When the dance is over, you shall soon come back to life, and so shall I who have been as dead these many days.”
<?

Salome moved further onto the lake, sliding as she would across a shining floor. It was so smooth, her steps flew as if her heels bore wings. She watched her reflected shadow below, saw the vision of her self holding the severed head close to her heart, and in her delirium did not shrink away. Rather she grew ferocious in her dance so that the black swans scattered and dove at her before falling into a wide circle around her as if to hem her in.
>?

Slowly, as she danced, lost in the mirror world of her dark passion, Salome heard soft and distant voices rise up from under the lake, chanting in a slanting minor key.
>?

“Oh, they will drag me under; those voices overwhelm me like the sea, Jokannaan. Perhaps we shall fall into this mirror world forever, to dance with our feet upon the sky and our heads below the water….like these reflections here….unless I tear myself away and end this frenzy of love that holds me to you, for the blood that fell from you has entered into my heart, making us one, of one blood, cloven together like the sides of a healing wound. The sky grows deep and purple, Jokannaan, like the bruise that spread over my soul when I murdered you!”
>?

As if overcome by the song that grew louder and deeper with each passing moment, the musicians dropped their instruments and stood as stones on the silent hill. Aaliyah and Etana fell helpless on the ground. Soon, the only sound accompanying the Princess in her dancing was a terrible, echoing cry.

<?

To be continued…
photo: Mysterious Lake by Sara.K

Painting: Salome by Bussiere

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Salome: The Seventh Queen: 9: Garden of Paradise

Salome: The Seventh Queen :9: Garden of Paradise

by Aline deWinter

A terrible scream rose up, and the earth shook with its reverberations.

<

Gazing into the Prophet’s wide eyes, Salome said to him:
“As I was the instrument of your death, now I shall  be she who brings you back to life, Jokannaan. What was take from you shall be returned to you one-hundred fold. This shall be because I, Salome, Princess of Judea, Will it to be so, This is the power of the great love I have for thee. And the mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death.”

<

Again she kissed the prophet’s lips and was about to place his radiant head back into the casquet in the hands of her maidservant,  Aaliyah, when she changed her mind.
<

Holding the head of her Beloved high, Salome  placed her tiny foot onto the first step that led down into the Abyss.  She felt giddy as she stood there, on that great height.  Terrace after terrace of flowering gardens, held  to the edges of crags by crumbling walls, dropped away into oblivion.
<

As the small procession went down the stairs, the music of the  flute, the pulsing of the drum, and the deep qanun moaning sent shivers down Salome’s spine. She gazed into the Prophet’s eyes.
<
“How I love you, Jokannaan! Now I shall dance before the Great Goddess who will give you back your back to life.”
<

Etana carried the sputtering torch and faced the mirror outwards, while Aaliyah stumbled behind her with the casket. They whispered between them while they looked at their Mistress from the tails of their eyes. Salome ignored them though she knew they thought her mad.
<

The further down they went, the darker it grew. Owls hooted and the jackal cried.
<

They came to a jungle of blooming roses; trailing jasmine and flowering fruit trees sacred to the Goddess of Love. Flowers scented the air as sweet as honey. But there was a disturbing undertow of darkness that made each beautiful thing seem like a thin veil floating on the surface of corrupt and stagnant water. In sudden apprehension, Salome quickly placed the head of Jokannaan back into the jeweled casket and closed it with a silver key. Aaliyah’s arms dropped with the sudden weight of it and she moaned aloud.
<
“He must be kept from this,” she whispered. “For something unclean abideth here.”
<

The white portal of the Second Gate shone like alabaster through the dense leaves of the garden. There was a flash of scarlet. The Guardian waited behind the gate, barely visible, but pulsating with watchfulness.
<
Salome stood at the gate. It towered above her, higher than she could see.  Its walls were sculpted with obscure designs of serpents and roses and grails.  On the keystone, the face as lovely as Medusa looked down with terrible all-seeing eyes.
<
As Salome was about to command entry, two shining hands reached out through the gate  and tore the diamonds from her ears.
<
“Why did you take the pendents from my ears?” she cried in pain.
<

“Now you may enter, my Lady. Thus are the rules of the Mistress of the Abyss.”
<

Chastened, Salome bowed her head low and slithered into the portico. A hot mist  that filled the entrance to the Dark Kingdom wafted through the bars of the gate, touching Salome’s skin with tongues of fire. The Guardian dissolved until no more than a stain of red light remained, and the gate creaked open. Princess stepped over the threshold and beckoned her quaking entourage to follow.
<

They entered a wood of  flowers with waxy white blossoms and dark purple leaves growing under straight, slender trees with leaves of bright flame. On the high branches of the trees, demons perched, shifting, shadowy, human-shaped, and clothed with wings. They flew up into the dusky sky as Salome and her retinue passed, watching them with pale eyes, their wings now open, now closed along their backs.
<

“What are these that hover and stare?” Salome asked. When she received no answer she turned around and saw Aaliyah shaking so that she could barley hold the precious casque aloft.
<

“Oh, Princess… it is said that here, in the Forbidden Lands, that the inhabitants are clothed like birds, with wings for garments. I see that it is so,” whispered Aaliyah.
<

“And they eat clay for bread and drink muddied water for beer,” murmured Etana. “Like the dead.”
<

“It does not matter, for I have been promised. I shall prove that Love is stronger than death. Do not cower in fear,” said Salome flinching from the brush of a demon’s wings in her hair. “I am ashamed of you.”
<

The winged ones flew through the leaves, dropping sparks and cinders on the little troupe below. Etana must put out a fire in her hair, and Aaliyah must step gingerly between the embers that had fallen around her bare feet. Salome raised her arms to the flames, shouting that she would overcome death and live with her Beloved forever.
<

“Oh, Jokannaan, feel the power of this place! Here, I shall restore you to life, and you must love me then. My love is proved by my Courage. See how I dance in the flames, fearlessly for your sake.”
<

The trees rustled, the winged ones lept along the path, looking back towards Salome and laughing.  Etana and Aaliyah clung to each other, ducking the long grasp of the winged ones that reached for them and passed through them as though they were air. The girls cried out in pain for them to stop. The musicians slowed playing, and then lay down their instruments to chase the demons off.
<

“Where is my music?” Salome shouted. “You must make a loud noise, for we come to dance before the Queen of Joy and Laughter.”
<

“We are defending you, Princess,” the ney player shouted.
<

“No need, no need. I have been promised safe passage and so have you. Commence to play music as before.”
<

So they gave up their battle and played for Salvation with closed eyes, pushed along by the demons that dropped to the ground behind them. Suddenly the winged ones flew down on the path ahead. The largest one pointed at high wall of solid grey stone with an ornate gatehouse in the center. They had made it to the Third Gate.

Photo: Atomic Panda
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