Clock: An Automated Version of Cinderella

Clock

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Ashes to Ashes

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The clock gonged twelve times, and died. Faith, Hope, and Charity, those little dolls in their simple gowns that danced the mnemonic hours, wound down, and froze in postures of despair.

The glass slipper broke into bits. Ella’s foot bled in the midst of the shards. It wasn’t meant to end like this.

The stairs were long to hobble down.

The guests ran helter-skelter, screaming and moaning about the end of time. Laments poured out of the halls and down the stairs just as the black cortege drove up with its black-plumed horses. Out of it came the dowager in purple, and next, the coffin. Both were carried up the stairs by nine dusky dwarfs.

Ella  did not wait to see the clock being laid to rest in its sarcophagus. She was too busy fleeing a Prince with a foot fetish who was hot on her heels.

Ella had been wearing a shining gown of silver silk that shone like the moon. Now, she was naked. She took off the other shoe and held it over her virtue. A coach that was black and round as a pumpkin, drove up.

Was the coach available?  She stuck out her bare foot as if to trip the rat-gray horses. They stopped.

Inside was a man wearing a mask. With a flourish, he welcomed Ella in.

“Take off your mask,” she said. It wasn’t right that he should be covered when she wore only a shoe, and that in the wrong place, and hair that was unpinning and falling over her breasts.

“If I take off this mask it will ruin the story,” he said.

“Well then, give me your cloak. I too have need of covering up.”

“If I give you this cloak, which is also a mask, it will ruin the story,” he said.

The coach went up a drive lined with rose trees and yews.

“Where are we going?” Ella asked.

‘To my house.”

The house was a looming shadow with fire in all of its windows. Ella was sure the very rooms were crackling with it.

“I am sorry, but I must go home to my stepmother and my wicked step sisters.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course,” she said. “They are mine. Part of my story.”

He sighed towards the house and felt for her hand with long, cold fingers. Ella recoiled from his touch as if she was burned.

 

He let her out on the road. Ella went into the woods and along a path that led to the back garden of her house where the tree was. Under the tree was a hole in the earth.

“Little ermine, little ermine, give my box to me,” she said.

The little ermine came up in his drab summer coat, and gave her the box.

Inside were three gowns: a copper gown, a golden gown, and a ragged gown. She took out the ragged gown and put it on.

“Why do you put on the ragged gown?” asked the ermine.

“Because nothing has changed,” said Ella.

Ella’s stepmother and stepsisters climbed out of their carriage and floated up the drive. Skepticism, Despair, and Meanness were hale and hearty. They no longer had to hide. Their stiff skirts scraped the ground like blades. Copper, silver, and gold; verdigris, tarnish, and gilt.

Inside its coffin, the clock tolled.

In their metal gowns, they danced.

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Cinder Doll: A Gothic Retelling of Cinderella

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Cinder Doll

 

By

Alyne de Winter

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A strange Gentleman came to the village. He took over the decaying mansion on the hill and, in a few short months, restored it to its former glory. He spoke to no one, and those he did see came and went by only night. Once, it was said, he’d entertained the mysterious Count St. Germaine, inspiring rumors of arcane interests; that his library was filled with heretical books and cabinets with hidden springs, of potions, magic wands, scrying mirrors…. Blue orbs sometimes shone about the house, forks of lightening, tongues of flame. Local boys reported that they’d seen the statues in the garden step down from their plinths and walk.

One winter, the Gentleman died. His impoverished relatives flew up the tree-lined drive, their dark cloaks flapping in the cold breeze, to view the body. Golden-haired Helena was among them. At sixteen years old, she was still subjected to her mother’s moods, and her mad obsession with Uncle’s house, especially with his mysterious windfall of fortune.

“How did he do it, Helena? I’m sure he never earned it clerking,” she would say.

Unable to contain herself when Uncle died, Mummy was the first to arrive at his wake.

When Helena burst into tears at the sight of the coffin, Mummy escorted her into the library. There, Helena stood gazing out at the bare trees, at a pumpkin half-buried in the snow, the statue of a princess. She imagined a handsome gentleman riding up in a carriage. Naturally, he would fall in love with her on sight, and rescue her from her overbearing mother and that hovel they called home.

The clock gonged. There was an odd cricking sound as the figure of a girl wearing a cat’s skin came out of the clock, stopped, spun about, and went back inside. The clock was very tall and dark,  carved to look like some monstrous tree from the forest. Helena hoped to see more figures emerge, but the second-hand jerked around the clock’s monotonous face, locking its denizens inside for another hour.

There was a glass cabinet filled with dolls. Two were identical, with red bouffant hair and beauty spots on their faces, dressed in extraordinary wasp-waisted gowns with layers of skirts over panniers. Tiny hats floated like sailboats in the tortuous waves of their hair. Their faces were plain and pinched as if their pointy scarlet shoes were too tight. Oddly, they held knives in their hands. Bloody knives.

A loud gust of wind drew Helena’s attention to the windows. The clock chimed the half hour. Hinges  creaked. She turned around to see an object fly through the air into the fireplace.

A small, gray face looked up through the ashes. Helena bent down and lifted out another doll.  In size and shape it was smaller than the twins, and what remained of its singed-off hair was blonde. The porcelain face was coated with soot as were the arms, hands.  The doll’s dazzling, fur-trimmed ball gown was scorched and besmirched as were her little fur shoes.

I don’t imagine anyone wants it, she thought. I shall rescue it from the fire.

****

As the coach rocked them home, Mummy prattled on as if Helena wasn’t there.

“Oh, he was deep in it. Deep in it. Flasks, potions, coils, that dreadful oven shaped like a bull.  Such wickedness. Wickedness! Telescopes, star maps, pictures of demons. Books written in blood. But what was most alarming were the dolls. All under bell jars. All of their faces well-known. Powerful, wealthy people. People from the Court. Even His Majesty was among them.”

Helena was amazed when Mummy reached into her bag and took out a large bell jar. Indeed, an exact miniature of their handsome, young King was inside of it. The expression on his face was strained as if he were in some terrible distress.

****

Helena washed the ashes off the doll. As the gray crust melted away, a beautiful face appeared, shining and serene; a face of fine porcelain with set-in eyes of hyacinth blue glass. Luckily, the doll had not been badly burned. Only her dress and her hair. Both went into the fie. Helena put the doll’s cleaned petticoat back on, and the fur shoes with their heels and long, pointed toes. Then she set the doll on the dressing table against the mirror.

When she got into her hard bed that night, and pulled the thin blanket up to her chin, Helena could not sleep, but lay awake for hours gazing at the doll.

****

Helena sat in her rocking chair holding the doll, imagining what  kind of dress she should make for it. A plain muslin frock like her own, or something more grand? Her mother had ordered a bolt of  silk the color of blue hydrangeas. Soon, a bolt of lace arrived, and another of creamy white silk. For under-things.

“Helena,” Mummy said barging through the door. “I want a gown fine enough to wear to Court. I’m to have an audience with the His Majesty. “

Helena recalled the poor King in the bell jar and was worried for him.

“Uncle knew what he was about,” Mummy continued. “Mark my words, I shall do the same for us.”

Mummy was almost never home after that. Helena suspected she went to Uncle’s house.  She spent the day sewing her mother’s dress. By night, she used the same fabrics to make a magnificent gown for the doll. It was far lovelier than those of the two red-haired twins in the cabinet.  And the cloudy bouffant wig, made from a lock of Helena’s own hair, was exquisitely adorned with tiny blue flowers. She kept the fur shoes as a reminder of the doll’s rebirth from the ash pile.

“You are now Princess Hyacintha. You shall return to the palace in time for the Grande Ball,” Helena said.

****

The full moon was at the window. So bright it was, that Helena woke inside a dream of flying through a blossoming garden in a magical coach. The rays of the moon shone upon the doll that in turn fell into shadow as its reflection in the mirror began to glow. Chandeliers of silver and crystal sparkled in the depths of the mirror. Lights glimmered there, whirling to the barely audible strains of a waltz. The doll’s reflection suddenly stood up and floated inwards, towards the lights.


He was smiling at her through a haze of moonlight. The music swelled and lifted them off the ground as they waltzed gracefully down the room. The man who held her was strong and handsome, dressed in fine clothes, a man of means. A man of the Court.

“Where did you come from?” he whispered in her ear. “You are the loveliest lady I have ever seen.”

The clock was striking the hour. Long and long it went, gonging out the time. A skeletal figure wrapped in a black cloak emerged, swung its scythe, then turned, and went back inside the clock again. Panic gripped her. She tore away and ran down the stairs, across the lawn, and through the woods to a low house with a sagging roof, where one window burned in the darkness.

****

Helena slept through the cockerel’s alarm. Finally the silence woke her.

The doll was sitting on the dressing table against the mirror. Helena touched the doll’s reflection in the glass, and pulled her hand away as if it burned. Somewhere, a  clock was gonging. Had not Death appeared at the witching hour?  Had she not seen those red-haired twins dancing together and leaving bloody footsteps on the floor? Had she herself, been dancing?

Mummy wasn’t home. The blue dress was gone.

She must have gone to Court today, Helena thought.

She waited all day and into the night, finally falling asleep in her chair.

****

The full moon shone in and struck the doll with its rays, igniting again her reflection in the mirror. Helena stirred in time to see that reflection stand up and float towards the lights, and reflections of those lights, shining deep within the glass.

She saw them through a haze of candlelight, all assembled in the ball room. His Majesty smiled as if he’d been waiting for her. The orchestra struck up a waltz that seemed  especially composed for them. On and on it went,  faster and faster, dizzy  and wonderful. His eyes seemed to feast upon her face. Her heart grew hot.

The clock again. The incessant banging. Death coming out swinging. Oh, God, I must get away from here! As she ran down the stairs a red-haired twin stuck her foot out and tripped her.

****

Helena’s knee was bruised and sore. Mum was still not home. The doll sat on the dressing table. Helena cut a length of white silk and sewed a new gown for the doll. It was very becoming, especially with the veil that covered her from head to toe.

The full moon cast its last and brightest beams over the doll. She vanished into its light.

Helena floated into the mirror. A stiff wind blew her through the jeweled palace doors  into the ballroom that sparkled with crystal and firelight. His Highness held her close, whirled her round and round. She could not look at him for fear her eyes would betray her heart.

“Where do you flee at midnight? You must stay,” he whispered. “For I love you.”

The clock gonged again. It was still gonging when she felt two sharp hands grip her shoulders. Torn from her lover’s arms, she screamed. Someone threw her hard down the stairs. There was a terrible crash. The red haired twins looked down at her, with their hands on their hips, laughing. Death looked down from the clock. His Majesty’s brow darkened and the palace filled with shadows.

****

“What are you doing all crumpled on the hearth, you lazy girl?”

Mummy was home.

“I don’t know,” Helena said.

“What is that shoe on your foot? It looks like cat skin.”

Helena looked at her right foot and indeed, she was wearing one of the doll’s fur shoes. The long toe curled up like a tail. Where was the other one?

“And that dress. Why are you all got up like a bride? It’ll do you no good to dream, Helena. Slavery is our lot in life. I have failed to crack Uncle’s secret. He’s taken it to his grave, and there’s nothing more I can do.”

“What of His Majesty?” Helena asked.

“When I offered to release him from the bell jar in exchange for a few gold coins, he had me arrested. That is why I’ve been gone for so long. Lucky for me, I’ve always had a quick wit and presented His Majesty to himself as a gift.  He sent me home empty-handed as if allowing me to leave with my life was payment enough.” Mummy shook her head. “If only I’d known the secret, I would’ve made our fortune.”

Helena was pleased for the King.

“Well, get up and make us some dinner. I’ve had a long journey. Come on, get to work. And please, don’t put on airs.”

****

Mummy was unbearable after that. Helena was forced work harder as if everything was her fault.

“I shall go to the graveyard,” Mummy said. “And use necromancy to make him speak.”

Helena wished her mother would do just that and leave her alone. Soon Mummy was gone every night. Helena went out into the garden where the cat played and watched the moon.

****

The full moon was at the window shining into the mirror. Its brightness woke Helena from a dream of waltzing with the King. There was a knock on the door. At first. Helena thought it was a dream knock upon a dream door, but the knock came again and a shout in the wind, outside.

Helena got up and opened the door. Before her was a glittering entourage. Ladies and gentleman in jeweled robes were gathered on the doorstep.

A trumpet blared. The herald cried:

“His Majesty, King Orfeo, wishes for you to try this shoe.”

A page walked forward bearing a pillow and upon it was a tiny shoe made of fur.

His Majesty strode in through the door and looked Helena up and down as if he thought he recognized her but wasn’t sure.

“Miss, will you please try on this shoe?”

Helena dropped a curtsey, then shook her head. “It is a doll’s shoe, Your Highness. It will never fit on my big old foot.”

“Please,” said the King. “Try, for me.”

“Of course, Your Highness.”

Helena sat down. Astonishingly, the King fell on one knee before her. The shoe hung on her big toe for a second, then suddenly grew until it fit her foot exactly. Helena cried out in amazement. His Majesty rose joyfully and shouted.

“I have found my Queen!”

He kissed her foot then held out his hand for Helena to rise. “You do have the other one don’t you?”

“Indeed I do. Shall I fetch it?”

“If you please.”

When Helena put on the other shoe, her nightdress was instantly changed into a magnificent  green gown trimmed with bright jewels. A dark fur-lined mantle rested on her shoulders, held with a clasp the shape of a cat’s head.

One by one the courtiers filed into Helena’s bedroom and, at her suggestion, stepped into the mirror. Grasping her hand, the King led her in towards the lights that were reflected in the hundred mirrors of the palace, there to make her his bride.

****

Helena’s mother sat on a sarcophagus besmirched with the dust of Uncle’s tomb. Two strange ladies came along the lane, leaving a trail of bloody footprints behind. Identical twins they were, with red bouffant hair and peculiar, elaborate gowns.

“What are you seeking?” asked one.

“That you disturb the eternal rest of the Magus?” said the other.

Helena’s mother rose to her feet in eager bewilderment. “The secret of his fortune,” she said. “Has he sent you to tell me?”

“He has sent us to fetch you,” said one.

The gong of a clock echoed eerily through the mist.

“It is time,”  said the other. “To share a secret or two.”

“Give us your hand,” they said in one voice.

Helena’s mother gave one of her hands into each of their very cold ones.

They guided her through the door of Uncle’s tomb onto the tree-lined lane that led to the door of his mansion. There they left her to sit on the shelf of a glass cabinet.

In the dusty, old library a monstrous clock struck the last bell of midnight.

The End

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Dans Macabre Magazine: The Red Masque by Alyne de Winter

The Red Masque

by Alyne de Winter

The chateau stands empty. Moss covers its stones; ivy reclaims it. Without the attention of its Lord, the land begins to fail. The meager grape harvest is testament to barrenness.
Autumn blazed up like a flame, and then died.
Odile appears in a flash of sunlight, cloaked in scarlet. She watches the horizon. He must come. He must come. She circles the fields. The train of her cloak flows behind her like a stream of blood. At dawn she walks, and at twilight…

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To read the complete story press this link:  Danse Macabre Magazine and enter Deleria. Scroll down to The Red Masque and immerse yourself in a tale of true terror.

As you may have noticed I have not blogged for a while. This is because I write fiction and poetry and was publishing my first drafts on this blog. When I began to want to submit work to other magazines with an eye to furthering my writing career, there was a snag. Editors would want first rights and well they should. If my work, even in first draft form was published on the blog, would that count as proper publication? Make my work unacceptable to publishers? After studying this not uncommon dilemma—-I was not alone in this—-I decided it was best to save my fiction for other venues. I enjoy publishing old stories from the public domain so those will continue. I may have to get used to writing posts about the writing process which I currently hate doing. One must have platform in this technocracy today.

I wrote several short stories while I was away and submitted them over the summer. Today I am happy to say that I have had my first one accepted by the fabulous Danse Macabre Magazine. Here’s the link:

Danse Macabre Magazine: Deleria

Please go there right now! Not only will you enjoy the story I wrote, The Red Masque – based on Edgar Allen Poe’s Mask of the Red Death and very grimly set during the French Revolution —  You will love the many other stories and poems, the musical notations, the images that Mr Adam Henry Carriere uses to give his magazine a true feel of magic and Old Europe.


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The Roses of the Moon excerpt: The Curse

The Roses of the Moon: The Curse

by

Alyne deWinter

At this point in the novel Marcsa Virag has discovered her mother, Countess Orzsebet’s diabolical secret. The Countess is arrested and walled up in her bloody tower while her accomplice, the old woman Atia, curses Marcsa Virag from the stake. Marcsa Virag is stoned by the angry villagers and rescued by Sandor. That night she has this terrible dream…

XXVII

Wormwood
Absinthe
Old Woman
Crown for a King
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Protects against bewitchment
and the bite of sea serpents.
If burned in a graveyard
the spirits of the dead will rise and speak
according to the old grimoires.
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I tried to sleep, but my bed was as hard as a slab.  My head ached, and my joints burned.
Something was pressing down on my chest. I couldn’t move; could not catch my breath. When I managed to capture a small gulp of air, a sickening odor came with it that stuck to the inside of my nostrils. I wanted to scream but the sound just flew back into the hollow of my skull.

I saw, as in a mirror, the black, evil eyes of Atia gazing through dim tarnished light. They were large eyes, streaming with a sparkling darkness that sickened me. I was pulled deeper into those eyes, down to an inferno. Black smoke billowed up. A raven lifted its wings and flew out of the smoke and up into the sky, circling the pyre. Fire swept through Castle Szeppasszony, filling its three ring walls, burning everything down. The wall-without-a-door crumbled but the liliu tree stood untouched in the center, with its firebird rising from the flames.

“Go away, go away,” I said. “Go away!”

Black smoke seeped in under the door and under the wall, smelling of fire and sulfur and dung. The smoke poured in. My body stiffened. A large, black raven with the face of a woman was walking backwards along the circumference of a white chalk circle littered with bones. She was fumigating a pentacle with smoky blue incense while she muttered, in hundreds of weaving voices, incantatory curses upon Castle Szeppasszony.

Let it burn, let it burn, let it burn…
Let the sun fall down upon it…
Fire, set the fire…let it fall.
Let the wicked castle sink below the earth,
Let the smoke of its destruction feed the Gods of Old.
Let the Black Mothers wail for the dead,
Let the blood flow into the Serpent River,
Going round and round forever,
Let the wall around the Tree be torn away .
Listen to the shriek of the firebird…

My heart drummed hard. I felt as if my life was draining out of me.

The raven lifted its wings into the smoky air and twisted in the wind as she rose.  Once out of the window, she became a black angel, with six flapping wings that flew up, cursing, into the sky.

I passed out and floated down a black river, senseless and alone. Then the night was pierced by two points of blue light. The knife flash of a smile. My mind reeled up a spiral stair, back into a bloody chamber where the stained glass window was on fire with a vision of the liliu tree dripping with flowers and blood. There she was in her royal bath, up to her neck in ichor, singing a joyful song as she splashed and rubbed her skin until it glowed. Liliu flowers blossomed in her gore-soaked her hair. Their petals bore the same translucent clarity as her skin. Orzsebet gazed into a gilded hand mirror, and smiled at the beauty that would never tire of itself.

She rose from the curling steam of the bath, watching her reflection in the mirrors on all sides. She smiled at the lovely image in the glass. Not even the finest artist could carve a figure as perfect as she. One dainty foot followed the other to the floor. She stood for a moment rubbing the blood into her skin until she was red all over, then she floated across the tiles, dragging her scarlet tresses behind her. As she glided down the stairs, her long hair followed, uncoiling from the tub like a streak of blood. The tower door was open. The rocks that had sealed the bottom door were gone. She was free to enter the cloister walk and come down the corridor to the side of my bed.

Her hair billowed out around her like a nimbus. She pressed down on my chest with her hands, her face close to my face, her teeth snapping.

“You cannot win…Though I die, you will never take Castle Szeppasszony.”

She commanded me, fixed my gaze to hers so that all I saw were her eyes. Then I remembered the roses on my balcony, and how the power to petrify them had drained her. She could not summon that power when it took everything she had to appear to me outside of her physical form. I closed my eyes tight, shutting down inside until I saw nothing but black. The floor fell away, and my bed was loosed upon an inner sea. I dove deeper within, summoning up the power to strike. My will suddenly freed me. I flailed my arms. My hand flew up and scratched that her face.

She lunged back with an earsplitting shriek! I covered my ears, shut my eyes, and screamed. When I opened my eyes, she was gone.

Something jumped off the bed and scampered away. I sat up, wide awake and nauseated. A thin shadow of white light at the window was too bright for me. My eyes felt like stones as I gazed at it, dawn or dusk, I knew not.

The Roses of the Moon, excerpt: Saint Lucy’s Day


The Roses of the Moon, excerpt: Saint Lucy’s Day

by Aline deWinter

In my Gothic fantasy, The Roses of the Moon, the thin veneer of Christianity cracks under the pressure of ancient rites of demonic magic practiced by the Countess of Castle Szeppasszony, Orzsebet. In this very early scene, nine year old Marcsa Virag goes with her nurse, Katalin, to the procession of Saint Lucy to pray that the evil secrets of her mother, Countess Orzsebet, be left hidden in the darkness for all of their sakes.

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We came out of the gloomy castle into sunshine and snow so bright that I had to pull my large, soft hood low to shade my eyes and keep them from weeping. Katalin pulled her hood up as well, though I knew it was to hide her face. Over the stately tolling of the bells the most beautiful singing swelled, reverberating around the mountains to the heavens above.

We hurried north along the icy lane to the Chapel of the Angels. It was all the way over on the other side of the River Kigyo at the base of the Mountain of the Moon. In ancient times the chapel had been carved out of the living rock. It was faced with a deep portico of stone spires that rose through the air before the cliff like ladders, encrusted over with mystic carvings. Souls of the blessed and damned, devils, angels, and saints floated, bending around the majestic figure of Christ at the Last Judgment. Gothic niches housing statues of angels climbed the sheer face of the cliff above the chapel to a ruin at the top. Lights sparkled at the feet of these angels lit by the monks who climbed a thousand stairs to reach them. A paved courtyard went around this majestic façade and out over a ledge to the edge of the river chasm. A wide bridge spanned the gap to  the gate in the northern curtain wall. It was quite splendid to see the horses flying over that broad viaduct during my father’s rituals of war, or the processions of monks coming across in the twilight carrying lighted candles as they wound through the castle on their way to the cathedral in the village.

On Saint Lucy’s Day, the gates on both sides of the river were open to the throng. When we arrived at the bridge, the procession was already making its way around the courtyard. Many of our courtiers stood along the inner walls wearing their best fur hats, long cloaks and jewels that sparkled in the mystic light of the lamps they carried in honor of Saint Lucy. We found a place in the back of the crowd, but I could not resist squeezing through the farthingales and cloaks to get a closer look.

Smoke of frankincense and myrrh poured out of golden censers that were swung by three priests in rich, glittering robes at the head of the stately pageant. Our sublime choir followed the priests. The deep voices of the older men thundered forth mixing with the soaring high tones of the boys’ voices in such celestial harmony that I shivered with emotion. The singers carried a white, flaring candles that cast damp halos around their faces. Frost streamed from their mouths, and their cheeks burned bright red. The dragging hems of their cassocks grew dark with wet snow. Painted icons of the saints and martyrs in golden frames bristling above them on long, golden stems came towards us like an advancing army. The censers swayed, the voices boomed and rose as if moved by the breath of God.

In their midst, altar boys rang musical hand bells to herald the arrival of Saint Lucy. Her holy relics were carried high above the crowd on the shoulders of six stout clerics. As they passed, I saw Saint Lucy sitting on a tall chair inside a litter of golden filigree. Struck by a ray of sunlight, her ivory face gleamed, her hair streamed like a river of gold, but the sockets of her eyes were the empty holes of a mask. The eyes that lay in her golden dish were pale blue sapphires.

I prayed to Saint Lucy to forgive me for seeing wrong things, and asked that all the bad luck I had caused be buried deep in the earth with my doll. I prayed that the magical link to my doll be broken, and that my moon baths have the power to wash all evil away.

Katalin was weeping. I went back to hold her hand, but just before I did, I saw my mother following the procession in a long blue cloak that dragged behind her in the mud and snow. Her ladies came after, watching their steps, carrying their Saint Lucy’s lanterns in one hand and daintily pinching their skirts up above their ankles with the other. My mother’s hooded head was bowed as if she was in deep prayer, fingering her beads like a nun.  But I was not sure she really was praying, for she walked in the shadow of the bier and the darkness clung to her like soot. When she passed I did not think she saw me, or if she did, she paid me no mind.

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The Roses of the Moon: A Tale of Gothic Fantasy by Alyne deWinter

I thought it would be fun to share some bits and pieces of my forthcoming novel, The Roses of the Moon and find out what people think. It has many faery tale elements woven int the narrative.

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The Roses of the Moon

Book One
Royal Hungary
1599
Winter

I
Dragon’s Blood
Blood

Increases potency and power

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“Marcsa Virag, get away from the door!”

The voice struck like a blast of cold wind, blowing me into the shadows below the torchlight. The toes of my pointed shoes caught in the swirling hem of my shirts, tripping me to the floor. I broke my fall with my hands and lay winded for a moment. As I struggled to catch my breath I glanced around for my doll. She was gone. I turned to look back the way I had come and, through a blur of tears, saw my doll’s small, dark shape lying in a wand of firelight between the wall and the door that was cracked open upon the private chambers of the Countess Orzsebet.

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There was a flicker of silence. I crept forward thinking that I might have time slip back and rescue my doll before anybody noticed, when suddenly the door opened wide, and in that shaft of light, the profile of a long-nosed mask appeared, surrounded by an elaborate circular neck ruff. A glimmer of bright fabric rained down from the mask to the floor and a single hand curled there around the handle of a long whip. The mask slowly turned to face me, its eyeholes stared in my direction, and the frill fanned out around it like the neck feathers of a great bird of prey. When the Countess saw me, she drew swiftly back into the room and out of sight, only to reappear and gaze at me again.

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Captured in the beams of the Countess’s eyes, I was unable to move, frozen like a mouse crouching in the witch grass waiting for the descending claws. Suddenly she was walking towards me with a smooth, gliding step that reminded me of the small serpents that slithered into my chamber in the night and hid beneath my bed to escape the winter cold. The eyes behind the holes of the mask bore down upon me, baleful and fiery blue.

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The corridor was colder and darker than ever now. The Countess Orzsebet, my mother, had sucked away all of the heat and light and taken it away into
her personal domain. My doll lay face down like a fragment of torn shadow. Her black hair was tangled. Her dress was draggled and ripped. With my
eyes still fixated upon my mother’s door, I leaned over slowly and picked her up. When I looked at her face I almost dropped her again. Someone had
burned out her eyes!

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“Marcsa Virag, you have not seen what you think you have seen. Mark me! You do not remember a thing.”

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Wheeling around, she threw my doll at my feet, floated back to her chamber and shut me out.

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The corridor was colder and darker than ever now. The Countess Orzsebet, my mother, had sucked away all of the heat and light and taken it away into her personal domain. My doll lay face down like a fragment of torn shadow. Her black hair was tangled. Her dress was draggled and ripped. With my eyes still fixated upon my mother’s door, I leaned over slowly and picked her up. When I looked at her face I almost dropped her again. Someone had burned out her eyes!

>

I held my poor doll to my heart and ran as fast as I could down the rest of the corridor, almost tripping down a flight of wide sloping steps. I sped across the wintry cobbled courtyard where the ice-cold waters in the unicorn fountain were frozen in the air like silver ribbons. I plunged into a shadowy, smoky maze of arches and out again into the dim winter light of the Castle Courtyard that stretched behind the Main Gate to the steps of the Reception Hall. My steps echoed as I raced across the flagstones, scattering a flock of pigeons that flew around me like a storm. Finally I arrived at the tall, heavy doors to my wing of the castle and the guard let me inside. I slowed my pace down the wide corridor to the grand staircase that swept up to the galleries. My legs were heavy as I climbed into the gloom. I had to sit down to catch my breath. One look at my doll told me, more than words, that my mother hated me. I pressed the tip of my tongue against my teeth to calm myself. Above the top step, the landing stretched spaciously to the foot of an enormous tapestry of a beautiful walled garden where ladies danced with hares around a tree in the moonlight.

>

I fixed my gaze on the rich colors of the tapestry and finished my climb up the stairs. One either side of that weaving were two stained glass windows that shone hot for a moment and then dimmed, telling me that the sun had just fallen below the rim of the Carpathian Mountains.

Salome: the Seventh Queen: 16:The Hall of Ishtar

Salome: the Seventh Queen: 16:The Hall of Ishtar

by Aline deWinter

On the crown of a hill, the Rose Palace of Ishtar shone like ivory behind a many towered gate of carnelian and gold. As Salome and her handmaidens  approached, the huge copper doors swung open to a chamber of fire and reflected fire on a floor of mirror-bright basalt.  Two invisible hands touched Salome’s shoulders. Her cloak was gone and she was naked. In the same moment, the Angel dissolved into the effulgent light that billowed about them, carrying the sent of roses, violets, and myrrh.

>

“Etana, hold up the mirror! Hold up the mirror before me and turn it towards the Goddess, for I have been instructed not to look directly at her,” said Salome, trembling with awe as she walked along the passageway that glowed golden with torchlight.

>

Etana leapt ahead of her mistress, holding her torch aloft and the mirror before her face.  Golden Salome looked straight ahead at the long strip of brightness that was the end of the corridor, where she knew that Queen Ishtar, the Lady of Victory, waited. She called for the head of Jokanaan to be carried openly before her so that the Prophet’s eyes should meet those of the Mother of Life.

>

And they entered a vast hall whose walls were carved over every inch with figures of divine gods and goddesses entwined among strange flowers and beasts. A wide lake of golden light shone upon the floor and in the midst where Salome saw the reflection of a golden throne in the midst of a pillar of scintillating flame. And on the throne was a woman of noble stature, and strange, narcotic beauty. Her skin was black over gold, as if she had been burned by the desert sun for a thousand years, her long hair was black entwined with gold, and a crown of gold and pearls and rubies was set upon her head. Her neck was a shining column of obsidian, her eyes were as green as if a far off land, the very Garden of Paradise, shone through them.  The Goddess lips were red, as if stung by the thorns of the roses that adorned her. When she smiled, the fire and the gold grew brighter than before. Her voice was as the wind blowing through the depths of the earth.


“So, you have arrived, Salome, Princess of Judea. You dare to bring Me the head of the Prophet, Jokanaan—-My sworn enemy—-to ask that I bring him back to life.”

>

Salome fell upon her knees, then prostrated herself before the majesty of Ishtar. For the first time in her life, the Princess felt small, as if she did not matter, all of her beauty, her wealth and family was as smoke from one of the mighty Queen’s  torches. Salome gazed at the grandeur enthroned before her reflected in the golden lake where the top of the Goddess’s crown came towards her shimmering like a snake. “Yes, my Lady Ishtar…”

>

The voice blew hot and the smell of roses and honey filled the room on the breath of the Goddess. “You dare to ask Me to bring My enemy back to life. Look at Me, Princess! Why do you follow the example of your servants who lie with their faces on the floor?”

>

Salome reeled, and kept her eyes riveted to the reflection on the lake.  “I mean no disrespect, Majesty. But you are too beautiful to look upon and I fear I might be turned to flame were I to do it.”

>

She was suddenly jarred by the sound of something clattering to the floor, and saw Etana’s torch thrown free and burning in the golden lake. As Salome reached for her maid, her gaze fell upon the mirror that now lay upon the ground like a pool of shining silver. Salome turned away to save herself from the sight of the Glorious Ishtar. Images of the Goddess’s unforgettable splendor swirled through her mind. Salome saw the open casque laying at her side where Aaliyah had dropped it, and met the blazing eyes of Jokannaan.

>

The Prophet’s eyes were dark and staring with a terrible judgment. Yet Salome trembled with a fever that swept through her, igniting her desire like a terrible sickness. How she longed for Jokanaan!

>

“Oh, Holy Queen of All that Lives, I have come such a long way to ask a boon of thee!” She cried never taking her eyes from those of Jokanaan.

>

“Your desire is consuming you body and soul. Even I can feel it. What a little fool you are. What will you exchange for the life of this — Prophet?”  The Goddess spat the name as if it were venomous to her, and the heat of her breath spilled over the face of Jokanaan.

>

Suddenly the Prophet’s head shook, rattling the casquet.  He blinked his eyes as if waking and his gaze fell upon the Forbidden Queen.  A high pitched shriek rose into the air, as streaming with light, glowing like a silver sun, the head of Jokannaan lifted itself into the air.

“What is this abomination that doth stand before me, the prophet of the Lord  who should be in Heaven? The curses of the God most High be upon you Queen of iniquities! Begone!”

>

The lions of the Goddess roared like ovens of fire. Ishtar laughed. And yet again, she laughed. “The prophet finds himself in the wrong place.”

>

“Back! Queen of Babylon! Mock not the chosen of the Lord. Thou hast filled the earth with iniquities, and the cry of thine evil hath come up even to the ears of God!”

>

Salome fell back with a sharp cry as the Prophet’s blood dripped into the pool, spattering it bright red.

>

“Ah, Prophet, have you come back to life so soon?” the Goddess, Ishtar, Lady of Life, said. “What think you of this child, this Princess of Judea?”

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“Queen of Abominations! Leave me be!” shrieked the Prophet. His eyes started out of his head as he rose higher still.

>

Salome reached up to him. “Jokanaan! Jokanaan! Tell her that you love me, Jokanaan!”


>
“Who is this woman who is looking at me? I will not have her look at me. Wherefore doth she look at me, with her golden eyes, under her gilded eyelids? I know not who she is. I do not desire to know who she is. Bid her begone, It is not to her that I would speak.”

>

Ishtar laughed like the peeling of golden bells. Her eyes flashed at Salome, searing her heart. The Princess’s eyes filled with sudden tears. Her mind whirled and went blank.

>

“Whore! Whore! Get thee behind me daughter of Sodom!” the Prophet said.

>

Slowly, Salome stood up and gazed at the radiant face of Jokanaan. She swooned with longing, and  reached out for him as if to embrace his body.  It was but air.

>

“Please, Jokanaan. Live again! For me… Surely I cannot feel this — ardor — alone?” Then she cried, “Oh, Goddess, at each Gate an article of my attire I gave, even my crown, so that, when I am before you, nothing of what I am shall either be displayed, or concealed. My girdle of birthstones that are the counter of my very life, I gave. I am at your mercy, yet surely here is a great sign that the Prophet may still live… I ask for his release from death, that he be made whole again. Command me, and I shall dance before you the Dance of the Seven Veils.”

>

The Goddess Ishtar’s emerald eyes flashed at Salome so brightly that the startled Princess looked at her. Inwardly, she shuddered and hid her face in her hands.


>

“Do you really think the Prophet desires you, foolish Princess?” The Goddess’s voice sizzled in the air as she whispered it. “Ask me for something else. Ask me for anything else and I will give it thee.”

>

Salome closed her eyes, and reached languorously out to embrace Jokanaan, for she saw him so clearly in her mind — tall, supple as reed, and pure as purest ivory.

>

There was a terrible, anguished cry. “Ah! The wanton one! The harlot! Ah! the daughter of Babylon with her golden eyes and her gilded eyelids! Thus saith the Lord God, Let there come up against her a multitude of men. Let the people take stones and stone her . . .Touch me not. Profane not the temple of the Lord God.”

>

Salome’s eyes flew open. “ Jokanaan! You shall live! Are you not happy?”

>

The Great Ishtar’s voice rang out,” Ask for something else and I will give it thee, Princess of Judea. You mother, Herodias is a devotee of mine. I would gladly prepare a marriage for you. Perhaps a Prince of Syria with hair in coils like grapes, and skin of bronze. Lands and castles I would give you, gardens with a thousand flowers of every hue  and fragrance. Ask for something else, even for immortality if that is what you wish. But do not ask to restore this Prophet who blasphemes Me in the name of his God.”

>

A storm of white light enveloped the lustful Princess. Dazzling white birds swirled around the head of Jokanaan. In the midst the Prophet, now high above her, glared down.  Rage twisted his face, his hair stood on end. His scream was so high and piercing that Salome covered her ears and fell back to the floor, bruising her knees on the flagstones. The Maids cried out, and then murmured something about there not being veils any more.

>

“I say to you again, do not ask me this boon, oh, Princess of Judea.” The rose breath caused the fire to flare up as its liquor soaked the air.

>

“Most High Goddess, I have come too far to turn from my course now,” Salome said. Suddenly her eyes rolled up in her head, her body undulated with feverish longing. “I must possess the love of Jokanaan.”

>
There fire crackled, and the scent of roses wafted heavy on the roaring air.  Salome glanced into the mirror where it lay upon the floor and saw several golden lions circling her, their sinuous bodies gleaming in the silver, one after the other, as they passed. The mirror flashed  in the storm of light, reflecting  the head of Jokannaan  like a strange flower on a stem of blood.

>

The Goddess’s voice hissed above the flames. “You have danced enough, Princess of Judea. You have danced well, though the evil that lives upon your soul has twisted the Rite of the Seven Veils into a mockery.”

>

Salome started up and gazed at the Goddess vexed with sore confusion. “A mockery?”

>

“You shall not dance before Me, the Queen of Heaven who has been buried in the abyss by such as this Prophet, Salome, Princess of Judea. Rather, since it is not Our will that this Prophet shall be resurrected, and I wish at this moment to reduce him to ash, you will be made to pass an ordeal. You will take seven journeys to seven far off lands and dance before seven Kings and seven Queens. Only when you have completed this task, shall the Prophet be brought back to life, only then will you be joined to him in the riot of love you seek, for…” the Goddess smiled secretly and leaned towards Salome. She whispered, “I do believe I see the seeds of great and passionate love buried deep within his soul… for you…Princess…who-will-not-be-denied. Seven journeys to seven lands, Salome, and in the seventh you shall have your wish. Now go! And do not look back, not even for a second.”

End of Part I

Part II of Salome: The Seventh Queen describes Salome journey to dance before the Seven Kings and Queens of seven lands and how she gets lost along the way. Herodias has become Queen of the Witches north of the Mediterranean Sea. What happens to Salome when the she clashes with her mother in the lands of the north?

That is in Part II

I am taking a break for now and may finish this story on the blog or will publish it as a book. I haven’t decided yet…

Art: Gustave Moreau

Some quotes from “Salome” by Oscar Wilde

Salome: The Seventh Queen:15:The Green Angel

Salome: The Seventh Queen:15:The Green Angel

by Aline deWinter


The song of the ney, high and wild, floated above the whispers of many serpents deep as the stones below the earth. The Princess was a lighted torch, a flame undulating  to sounds voluptuous, and strange. The music grew louder and faster. She fluttered in the wind, flew and spun about, insensible to the thorns that cut her bare feet. In the desolate garden she was a blood red moon.  Salome fell to the ground and writhed over the broken soil like a snake, rolling over and over, crying out for the living flesh of Jokannaan.

>

“Ahhh, Jokanaan! I am amorous of thy body, Jokanaan! Thy body was white, like the lilies of a field that the mower hath never mowed. Thy body was as white as the snows that lie on the mountains of Judæa, and come down into the valleys. Ah Jokanaan, I must possess thy body.”

>

“Mistress! Mistress!” Etana’s voice cut through the heavy water of the music. “The Sixth Gate is nigh.”

>

Salome rose up on one elbow. “Soon we shall cross the forbidden garden of the Great Goddess —She who shall bring my beloved back to life.”

>

The Sixth Gate was covered with dust and the desert winds blew against it. Salome stood before the high pillars crowned with sphinxes and challenged them to riddle her. The sphinxes only stared, though their eyes glittered.

>

“It is almost time. Are you not rapturous, Jokannaan? The Queen of Heaven shall restore your body and you shall let me touch you, for there is nothing in the world that will deny she who wakes the dead.” Salome’s voice soared over the top of the gate. It was so tall, and so worn with time, her voice merely fell like dust.

>

“Is this the Sixth Gate, oh, Princess?” Alliyah asked breathlessly.

>

“Yes,” Salome said. “Now we enter the Sixth Garden and approach the final Gate to the Kingdom of Ishtar, She Who Rules Over Life and Death.”

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The whistling desert wind carried the smell of amber and fire as if all the cedars of Lebanon were burning.

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“Open the gate!” shouted Salome.

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The sphinxes looked at the sky where the nightjar whirled and lights fluttered in the trees like moths.

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“Why does the gate not open?” Salome shouted.

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“ Perhaps it will never open. Oh lets us return home, mistress Salome,” Aaliyah said.

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“Be quiet. I will have what was promised me.”

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“Why does the Gate not open? I command this Gate to open. Open, I say. I Salome, Princess of Judea command that you open this Gate!”

>
At that moment a gust of dry wind blew the last of Salome’s veils away and floated them into the air like streaks of fire. Her cloak swirled around her as a chorus of muffled voices vibrated the Gate.

<
“Gatekeeper!” Salome cried. “Open the gate! Open the gate so that I may enter!”

>

Still, the Gate did not open, for it was sealed shut by time and stone and desert winds so that it was no more than an indentation in the rock. Then before her eyes, the wall grew transparent, and the austere figure of an Angel robed in emerald green shone through. The angel looked at Salome without speaking or any sign of greeting.

>

The Princess flew into a rage that even she did not understand.  She shouted at the Angel. “If you do not open the gate, I will smash the door!”

>

“Do not be so violent, Princess,” said Etana.

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“Yes, Princess, be not angry and disordered in your mind,” Aaliyah said.

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Salome drew herself up and raised her fist high. “Open this Gate. I will go in. Allow me to enter or I will smash the gate and topple the pillars.”

>

The door continued to dissolve. The Angel gazed at her through a serene golden light around his face. When he spoke, his voice was  deep with the sound of many voices.

>

“There is no need. I have come to announce your arrival to the Most High Queen. Behold, beyond that stretch of sand, on that high hill, is the Gatehouse to the Rose Palace of Queen Ishtar. You will know by the many votaries set afire along the way to the threshold.”

>

“At last,” said Salome. “Lead me to Her.”

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“First, you must surrender that that girdle of birthstones from your hips, for all women are subject to the Great Goddess, Mistress of Life, Opener of the Womb.”

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“My birthstones are my life. I give to you my life so that the dead might live again.”

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Salome removed her girdle of birthstones and gave it to the Angel. And now naked but for her scarlet cloak, she went through the Sixth Gate.

>

The Angel led them forth across the wind swept sands that rose and fell like the waves of the sea. There was a star sitting on the horizon shedding its rays between pale earth and indigo sky, bright as a cluster of diamonds. The Angel kept turning to gaze at the casque that held the prophet’s head, and Salome shuddered with the sudden apprehension of how alike the Angel was to Jokannaan. The casque blazed forth so brightly that Aaliyah complained her hands were burning.

>

“Surely an Angel of God can come back to life,” Salome said softly. “One such Angel, as Jokannaan is, must be immortal after all.”

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Salome: The Seventh Queen:14: Rapture

Salome: The Seventh Queen:14: Rapture

by Aline deWinter

The Fifth Gate loomed high. It was built of gray stones dusted with white, lacy imprints of snowflakes under brown threadbare leaves. A gate like an intricate veil stretched between two pillars upon which two angels stood with wide open wings, whose mouths and hands moved as in exhortation of the small bewildered party below. Behind the gate was a cloud of sparkling whiteness, swirling, full of wind, and cold.

>
The Princess, Salome, gazed at the whiteness and shivered. She indeed wondered at the purple-haired being that had gone through ahead of her, bemused…and where had it gone? She hugged the hot, golden casquet now reveling in its warmth against her skin. How wonderful, gold upon gold, was the treasured casquet; how much more wonderful the living head of Jokanaan!

>
Salome gazed at the freezing whirlwind behind the gate, serene in the certain knowledge that her wishes would be granted and that her life, thenceforth, would be one of endless love with the Prophet. She held the casquet close and saw him standing before her, his body like a shining column of ivory set upon feet of silver, yet now he was silent,  his eyes closed and his head turned away from the golden Princess, Salome.

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“Thy voice was a censer that scattered strange perfumes, and when I looked on thee I heard a strange music. Ah! wherefore didst thou not look at me, Iokanaan? With the cloak of thine hands, and with the cloak of thy blasphemies thou didst hide thy face. Thou didst put upon thine eyes the covering of him who would see his God. Well, thou hast seen thy God, Iokanaan, but me, me, thou didst never see. If thou hadst seen me thou hadst loved me. I saw thee, and I loved thee. Oh, how I loved thee! I love thee yet, Iokanaan. I love only thee.”

>

Behind the gate, the cloud of snow solidified into the shape of a tall figure in a white robe. The face that formed in the depths of the white cowl was beautiful, its eyes piercing and as blue as water under a layer of ice. His robes sparkled about him like the skin of a white swan, soft and dusted with snow. He smelled of spicy things, aromatic as the cedars of Lebanon.

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“Open the gate and let me in!” Salome shouted, holding the casquet high and lunging forward with passionate fury.  “I am the Princess of Judea. If you do not let me in, I shall smash the gate!”

>

Darkness fell and there was a scraping sound as of wind sweeping branches over the ground. Overcome with the relentless, seething desire within her, Salome stepped forward and cried out, “Let me in, oh Gatekeeper. I would have an audience with the Great Goddess, Ishtar, Queen of All That Lives.”

>

The white wind blew across the entrance on the other side of the gate, obscuring the Gatekeeper. His eyes burned through the crystalline cloud in echoing silence.

>

“Oh, Gatekeeper, open the gate! Open the gate so that I may enter!” Salome cried again.

>

“Let her pass!” The voice was not that of the gatekeeper, but came as if from the trees, or from the cloud. It was a feminine voice, deep, throaty, and insinuating. “Only take the girdle of birthstones from her waist. They belong to me.”

>

“What? Not that! Surly my birth stones are the very pattern and design of my life!” The Princess cried, clutching with one hand the string of heavy jewels at her hips.”Why must you take the girdle of birthstones from my hips?”

>

“Thus are the rules of the Mistress of the Abyss,” the disembodied voice whispered. In an instant, the girdle was torn from Salome’s hips and floated through the air to combust in sudden fire. The air was tinged with the scent of tuberose.

>

“Ah!” she cried. “She who gives birth has all power over life.”

>

“A life for a life,” said Etana hiding her face behind her hand.

>
Aaliyah  bent low as if frightened out of her senses. The Gatekeeper slid back from the portal with a sound like wet, dragging draperies, leaving the entrance empty of all but a dim, crimson glow like sunlight setting behind the winter trees on the mountain of Jerusalem.

>

Again, there came flash of purple and the smell of tuberose, brief and unsettling.

>

The gate swung open and Salome stepped onto a path that meandered through a garden  gone to seed and ruin. Nothing grew out of the pallid soil but sticks and tangled thorns and branches. The ground was dusted with frost that blew about in little eddies, cold against her skin.  Hyenas laughed in the dark and scuttled about, while wide-winged birds floated down from jagged ruined walls and stunted, withered trees. Graves leaned back as if they been blown against by ages of wind, or been turned to stone by fear. The Maids cried with unbearable melancholy, wrapping their arms around themselves for warmth and complaining that they could no longer carry the mirror or the torch, though Aaliyah regretted giving up the warm golden casque of Jokannaan. Salome looked around in a vague hope that her  musicians had followed at a distance,  but there was nothing but an empty white lane disappearing between two rows of gnarled, black, leafless trees.

>

“There shall be no music, Princess!” cried Etana. “For the musicians have fled.”

>

“Ayiii!” cried Aaliyah. “For the quran player was my friend.”

>

“No mind. No Mind,” Salome said as she moved forward in a fever of obsession and desire. Stumbling over the ground, she ignored the the thorns that tore at her feet, for the fire that consumed her girdle of birthstones penetrated her brain, and burned there,  moving down to her throat and into her heart, erasing all pain and even her presence of mind. Now it settled in her root, and burned there hotter still.

>

“This place is cold but I am hot! Hotter than the sun itself,” she cried. “Hotter than love, hotter than desire. Oh, Jokannaan, how close we are to days of ecstasy that will last forever! For I am sure to have found the key to immortality.”

>

Unable to bear the absence of her beloved any longer, the Princess opened the casquet and lifted out the shining head of the Jokanaan.

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