Salome: The Seventh Queen: 11: Endless Gold

Salome: The Seventh Queen: 11: The Golden Land

by Aline deWinter

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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.
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‘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.
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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.”
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“Oh, let us not pass through, Mistress!” cried Aaliyah grasping Salome’s slender ankles. “Surely we shall regret it.”
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“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.”
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“The dead shall always outnumber the living,” said Salome. “Now we shall bring death to its knees, for love is more powerful than death.”
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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.
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“My mother, Queen Herodias, knows it, and I learned it at her breast.”
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Etana stood quietly, expressionless. “We are beyond all gates now. Indeed we shall never return to Judea.”
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“Come. Where are my musicians? Come!” Salome cried. “Play something triumphant and brave as we enter this gate to Ishtar’s Realm!”
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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.
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“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…”
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“By whom?” shouted Aaliyah. “You have not even found the Goddess yet…”
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Salome turned to her serving maid, eyes blazing, her voice lashing as a whip.
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“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.”
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“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?”
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“What?” Salome turned and saw indeed, that she and her women were the only ones standing in the field. “Where are my musicians?”
<
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“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?
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Etana turned around and looked back where a row of wheat stalks had been flattened by their feet.
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“There is the way back,” she said. “Perhaps we too should retreat.”
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“No!” cried Salome. “I will continue!”
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“This is worse than the desert,” said Aaliyah. “For here we are alone.”

To be continued…

4 thoughts on “Salome: The Seventh Queen: 11: Endless Gold

  1. Sorry for the confusion Dawn.
    This is a work of fiction serialized in parts. Its a first draft that I intend to work on more at some point.
    You ave to scroll down to Part 1 and read it blog style if you want to get the story. It is also FICTION. Not strictly based on the Bible story.
    Thanks for giving it a try!
    🙂

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