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.

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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.”

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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.
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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.
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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.
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“How I love you, Jokannaan! Now I shall dance before the Great Goddess who will give you back your back to life.”
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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.
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The further down they went, the darker it grew. Owls hooted and the jackal cried.
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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.
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“He must be kept from this,” she whispered. “For something unclean abideth here.”
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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.
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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.
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As Salome was about to command entry, two shining hands reached out through the gate  and tore the diamonds from her ears.
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“Why did you take the pendents from my ears?” she cried in pain.
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“Now you may enter, my Lady. Thus are the rules of the Mistress of the Abyss.”
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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.
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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.
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“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.
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“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.
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“And they eat clay for bread and drink muddied water for beer,” murmured Etana. “Like the dead.”
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“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.”
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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.
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“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.”
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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.
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“Where is my music?” Salome shouted. “You must make a loud noise, for we come to dance before the Queen of Joy and Laughter.”
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“We are defending you, Princess,” the ney player shouted.
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“No need, no need. I have been promised safe passage and so have you. Commence to play music as before.”
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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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2 thoughts on “Salome: The Seventh Queen: 9: Garden of Paradise

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