Salome: The Seventh Queen: 13: Slither

Salome raced back to her serving maids.
>

The hyenas shrieked and the wheat began to ruffle as the invisible pack of wild dogs came after her. Aaliyah and Etana turned around frantically calling Salome’s name in all directions, their voices drowned out by the music and the cries and the barking of the hyenas.

>

Something cracked like the sound  of bones snapping. Salome was buffeted by gusts of strong wind that blew her cloak up over her face.

>

An eerie voice floated on the wind, a woman’s voice, calling.

>

“ Life, life, life, life…”

>

The hyenas laughed and the wind carried the sounds like a whirlwind around the Princess and her maids. Salome pulled her cloak out of her eyes and watched as the woman in the field turned and walked to the left, stopped, smiled at Salome and walked on again. She was followed by an inky black shadow that slithered over the wheat sheaves like a snake.

>

“ We must follow her,” said Salome. “Come! We are guided out of this place.”

>

“Mistress! I can’t touch the casque,“ cried Aaliyah. “It burns me and oh! He cries so!”

>

Salome went to where the casque was laid upon the ground, glowing golden as if the sun had fallen into the field of aurum. There were lilies too, Salome swore that there were lilies white as death standing among the wheat shafts, around the Prophet’s little house. Loud dark sobs echoed  mournfully inside of it. When Salome opened the lid the eyes of Prophet looked up at her, blazing with holy fire.

>

“Back! Daughter of Babylon! Come not near the chosen of the Lord. Thy mother hath filled the earth with the wine of her iniquities, and the cry of her sinning hath come up even to the ears of God.”

Salome froze. Had her prayer been fulfilled? The sight of the Prophet speaking through the gates of death was as if a very Angel had descended, a  Seraph from behind the very throne of God. Her eyes swimming with tears, Salome reached for her beloved Prophet’s head. “Oh how I love you, Jokanaan. For me you have come back to life! Oh, how powerful is love that it may conquer death! I know you have come for me, Jokanaan. I am very grateful you have come to me.”

>

“Back, daughter of Sodom! Touch me not. Profane not the temple of the Lord God. 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 . . . ”

>

“Singing! They are singing!” Aaliyah cried looking up from her cowering. “It is Chorus of the Angels of the Lord. The Prophet summons the powers of God most high. Can you hear the music of God, Princess Salome?”

>

“Mistress! The guide is gone far before us. If we do not follow we shall surely be lost,” Etana shouted pointing into the distance.

>

“Give me the casquet, Aaliyah. I will carry the head of Jokanaan,“ Salome said moving the trembling Aaliyah aside. “Now I have you my beloved Jonakanaan. You are with me now. Now. Oh how your eyes do shine—-they shine like pattens of bright silver fallen from the hand of the Queen of Syria into the well of the Holy Sanctuary. Thine eyes burn like torches in a tapestry of Tyre. They shine like the breath of dragons in the black caverns of Egypt. Speak to me again.”

>

“Mistress, we must not stay,” cried Etana. “Surely if we stay we shall be lost.”

>

“Yes, Princess Salome. Listen to Etana. It is unwise to stay. The path to the Fifth Gate is being shown and will not be shown much longer.”

>

Salome leaned in to kiss the lips of Jokanaan. He spat at her! She recoiled like a cat.

>

“Back! daughter of Babylon! By woman came evil into the world. Speak not to me. I will not listen to thee. I listen but to the voice of the Lord God.”

>

The golden casquet did burn Salome’s flesh as she closed the the Prophet’s rage inside, but she didn’t care. Rather she reveled in this small discomfort for the sake of her love. Even though she could not bear his cries, that screamed and pounded the sides of the casque so that she could hardly hold it, she embraced it as she would her lover, and endured.

>

“You shall come back to life” she murmured to herself. “You shall come back to life for me, Jokanaan, for I desire nothing on the earth more than you. There is nothing in the world more beautiful than you.”

>

The  woman moving through the field had left a ribbon of dark slime along the ground. Salome followed it, all the while in a light trance, dreaming of her beloved’s ivory brow. Suddenly a vision of the woman’s face appeared to Salome’s mind’s eye: skin pale and waxy as a calla lily, hair like a cloud of purple dye, and a mouth so red, it seemed to drip with blood.

>

The music died down to a thin wail as the woman, now slim as a snake, slithered through the Fifth Gate.
>

“Princess, who was that?” Etana asked. “She had something about her like Herod’s Queen.”

>

Salome turned to her Maidservant and raise an eyebrow. “It is not possible.”

>

Aaliyah sighed a low, echoing sigh. “I do not think we should follow any more. Perhaps it is a trap.”

>

“Again!” Salome said impatiently. “Always!” she gave Aaliyah a hard look. “Go back then, if you must.”

>

Aaliyah gazed at her feet and blushed for shame.

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Salome: The Seventh Queen: 12 : The Hyenas

Salome: The Seventh Queen: 12  : The Hyenas

by Aline deWinter

The wheat field glowed and bent in a slight breeze. They walked on for a while longer. Nothing changed.
>

“How long have we been here?” Aaliyah sighed falling to the ground in exhaustion.
>

“Give me the head of Jokannaan,” Salome whispered sharply to Aaliyah. “Give him to me now.”
>

“The head, indeed. A mere fraction of a man, Mistress. How can he be brought back to life?” Aaliyah fretted, pushing the casque over the ground toward Salome.
>

“What you do not see, what I do see, is Jokanaan’s  immortal soul.” said Salome holding the Prophet’s head in the golden field that spread around around him like a nimbus of golden light. “He comes to me in the night like a moonbeam walking over a field of lilies, like a shaft of silver; his flesh is cold, cold as ivory.  His body is like the lilies of the field after the mower hath mowed. The roses in the garden of the Queen of Arabia are not so white as his body when he comes thus unto me. His hair is as black as the long black nights when the moon hides her face, when the stars are afraid. The silence of the forest is not so black. His mouth is like a band of scarlet on a tower of ivory. It is like a pomegranate cut in twain with a knife of ivory. The pomegranate flowers that blossom in the gardens of Tyre, and are redder than roses are not so red. the beauty of his flesh shall be made more glorious by the terrible command of Ishtar, Queen of Heaven and Mother of All of Life.”
>

As she spoke, Salome looked at her maids, from one to the other, searching for some semblance of a soul in their frightened faces. She looked around at the endless wheat field, down at her scarlet cloak flowing over the stalks like a wake of blood, at her jeweled feet sparkling on the golden ground, and smiled.
>

Etana met her eyes. “I too love a man. In Judea. A soldier. And now I shall never see him again. My spirit goes to him in the night. I wonder if he senses me…”
>

“You? Love?” said Salome astonished. “But you are a slave, Etana. Surely you cannot compare the  profane lust of a slave to the divine passion of a Princess before whom the King of Kings has scattered jewels, to whom whole legions must bow? Your love can only as that of the ass to the mule, the ewe to the filthy goat with its keyhole eyes. What can you know of love, Etana?”
>

Etana closed her eyes and seemed to drift away.
>

Salome knelt down and caressed the casquet.
>

“Oh, Jokannaan.  Again you shall stand like a tower of ivory, shining white like the snows that lie on the mountains of Judea.  Your eyes gleam like dark emeralds, and your hair hang like clusters of black grapes. like the cluster of black grapes that hang from the vine trees of Edom in the land of he Edomites. Your lips shall be like redder than than the feet of him who cometh from the forest where he hath slain a lion , and seen gilded tigers. Its is like the bow of the King of the Persians that is painted with vermillion…There is nothing in the world so red as thy mouth…Suffer me to kiss they mouth.”
>

“You’re mad,” Aaliyah whispered so softly she thought the Princess did not hear her.
>

“What is that?”
>

The cry of a hyena echoed across the field.
“Oh,” Aaliyah whispered rising to her feet. “Now we are pursued by wild animals.”
>

The cry again. A chorus of cries  broke forth, as of a pack of hyenas hidden in the wheat. Wild, shrieking music, as of bagpipes and drums began to play, and human cries rang out as of a soul in torment.
>

“Are my music makers with us after all?” Salome cried glancing around, looking for her players in the field. “I knew they would not desert me!”
>

The serving maids glanced around as well. Aaliyah covered her ears with her hands.
“Oh, what is happening?” she cried.
>

“This is not ordinary music!” cried Etana. “It is the singing of some sorceress over her vessel of abominations.”
>
The music was all around them. Salome sensed that the tormented cries were very close to her, rising out of the earth. She scanned the monotonous golden horizon like a lioness looking for prey. Where are they? She strode forwards, in the direction of the sound, attentive, her eyes dazzled by the brightness of the land against the sky.
>

High pitched laughter riffled through the wheat. Hyenas! Salome screamed. Surely her fate was not to be dragged down and torn by powerful jaws.
>
Suddenly the waves of wheat undulated with the tide of trotting, scrawny, humped, hackle-raised backs;  the  still air reverberated with wild screams as the Dogs of Chaos raced  in for the kill.  Salome spun around  fixed on the sight of  a tall woman standing in the field gazing at her from over the top of the sheaves!


>
Salome fell back with a groan. The woman’s face was stiff as a mask, her head was large and her face round, on her head was a serpentine crown of wheat withys. When she smiled, and then her tongue hung out and her large eyes blinked at Salome as if she knew her.  The woman suddenly rose higher to reveal large, copious breasts and a full round belly.

<

She began walking in Salome’s direction.

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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: 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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Salome: The Seventh Queen: 7: The Wager

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.


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Salome: the Seventh Queen: 6: She-Who-Rides-the-Dragon

Salome: the Seventh Queen: 6: She-Who-Rides-the-Dragon

by Aline deWinter

<

Just then there was a loud hissing sound followed by howling as of a hundred
jackals chasing a herd of antelope across the desert.

<
“What is that?” Salome cried as her serving girls clung to her.

<
“Who dares to enter the Sacred Garden of the Most High Goddess?”

<
A flock of dark birds flew up, blasted by the woman’s voice as on a
wave of volatile wind. An early moon suddenly rose above the rocks.
Nothing else moved, even the patch of scrub grass that Salome saw from
the window of her carriage was as still as the surrounding rocks.

<
Salome stood up and shouted,”It is I, Salome, Princess of Judea, daughter of Herod!”

<
“Come, Salome, Princess of Judea! Leave your shoes behind, and enter,” the voice commanded.

<
“Oh, Princess, must we go?” Aaliyah cried.

<
“Surly, if we enter there, we shall never come out again,” said Etana.

<

“Yes, we will,” said Salome, swallowing hard. “I was promised a boon.
Etana, take the mirror and pick up the torch. Have the driver light it,
for it will grow suddenly dark.  And, Aaliyah, carry the head of Jokannaan.”

<

Drawing the scarlet hood down from her head to reveal her radiant
crown, Salome stepped out of the carriage, followed by her maids. They
slipped off their delicate sandals, wincing at the heat and roughness
of the ground beneath their feet. The driver held the horses, looking
to the Princess for direction, as did the three musicians whose
instruments hung stiffly in their hands.

<
“Come, Salome, Princess of Judea. You are expected.”

<
The voice was like liquid amber, pouring through the gate and casting a red-gold light over the stones.

<
“Come Salome, Princess of Judea, and bring to me the head of Jokannaan.”

<
The voice was like silver with scales, and the light that washed over
the rock was deep violet as the old command of Herodias, and then of
Salome, echoed through the gate.

<
“Give me the head of Jokanaann,” she said to Aaliyah. “I must carry it in myself.”

<
“Yes, Princess,” said Aaliyah, looking treacherously relieved as she handed the casket to Salome.

<
Salome raised her eyebrow at Aaliyah as she took the beloved head. She opened the casket and set
the Prophet’s head so it was visible from above. Then the Princess of
Judea carried it high before her and walked between the two chimera,
entering the Gate of No Return. Her maids came behind, carrying the
mirror and the torch, and several sheaves of roses and caskets of wine
pulled in a little cart behind them. The musicians followed, playing a
strange, snaking melody of Protection From Enchantment. The duty of the
driver was to stay behind and guard the jittery horses.

<
Salome slowly swayed down a narrow cleft in the warm, pale rock that
curved like a snake for several yards before letting her out into a
clearing surrounded by the high, crumbling walls of the garden.

<
“So, you have come.”

<

Birds flew up. The voice was high above, in the
rustling treetops, in the air, no — behind her — no, no — in the
wash of moonlight through the leaves, on a hill opposite a sparkling
stream. So startled that she almost dropped the Prophet’s head in a
faint, Salome was suddenly transfixed by the sight of the Speaker. Her
maidservants were bowed to the ground in terror at the sight, and the
music abruptly stopped as the musicians froze like the Obelisks before
the Temple of Isis.

<
Naked but for a mass of streaming, flame colored hair, her neck,
wrists, and ankles adorned with heavy gold and pearls and precious gems
as bright as fire, she rode on the back of a dragon whose seven,
horned, heads hissed and wove, and whose scales were purple, red and
golden. She smiled at Salome, then laughed, her eyes like green
quicksilver.  Then she raised her golden cup in salutation — the cup
that was said to be brimming with abominations. As if to show off, the
Demoness rode the dragon to and fro, made it rear up and hover above
the ground. Its many tails swished and lashed out across the stream,
towards Salome. All the seven heads, with their fourteen dangerous
eyes, gazed at the Princess as if they could read her very soul. For a brief instant,

Salome thought the dragon’s seven heads wore pale oval of face of dark browed Herodias.

<
“So you dare to bring the head of the Prophet, Jokannaan, into the Holy
precincts of the Great Goddess?’ the liquid voice said, spilling honey
into the air.

<
Salome stepped forward, holding the casket high. “Yes!” she shouted.

<
Lightning flashed from the eyes of the Demoness. “How do you dare?”
she demanded.

<
“My heart is made bold by the fire of love,” cried Salome. Tears started in her eyes for
memory of the Prophet’s poignant beauty, and for mercy of the terrible
Presence before her.

To be continued…

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Salome: The Seventh Queen: 5: Ishtar’s Gate

Salome: The Seventh Queen: 5: Ishtar’s Gate

by Aline deWinter

<

<

Salome was frightened, for the day had arrived when she must descend to the Underworld to dance before the Great Whore, Ishtar. Dancing, she must pass through the Seven Gates of Hell, and still dancing, enter the Stygian darkness of the Abyss where the Arch Demoness dwelled, exiled, but replete with all her powers.

>

Salome’s journey was so secret that, to accompany her dancing, only three musicians were sworn, selected for their natural reticence. Also two maidservants swore blood oaths that they would tell no one, not stone, nor tree, nor water, nor any living thing, that they too had followed Salome into the midnight house of the ancient Goddess. When the dance began, one girl was to carry the mirror and a torch, and the other, the head of Jokannaan. The driver who was to take her down the Road-Where-There-Is-No-Way-Back, through the Sphinx Guarded Gate, to the terraced gardens, wild with olive trees and myrtle trees, was given ten gold coins to seal his silence. Salome trembled, for it was forbidden for anyone, especially the Princess of Judea, to enter the Gardens of Ishtar, Queen of Abominations.

>

The day was bright, but as the sun slid towards his nadir, he wore a purple nimbus about him that tinted the air to a darkling splendor. In the spell cast by this light, Salome, painted her eyelids violet and dusted her skin with gold.

<

“I pray to you, Lady Ishtar, Queen of Heaven, that you shall accept these red rose petals that shall be scattered before me as I enter your Holy Temple. And this red wine that I shall spill as a libation, and I pray that this incense of myrrh, roses and ambergris shall fill you with rapture. Inspire me to dance, oh Queen of Heaven, the Dance that you require, with all my heart and soul.”

<
As Salome prayed, she pulled the sparkling necklace around her throat and clasped it behind, put on the pendent earrings that glowed like small suns, and donned her bright bracelets and anklets. A gleaming girdle of birthstones she laced around her hips, and around her shoulders she drew a flowing cloak of embroidered scarlet. At last she placed upon her golden hair, perfumed with attar of roses, the heavy Crown of Judea, golden and flowered and horned.

<
“How do I look, Aaliyah?” she asked the serving maid.

<
Aaliyah, smiled and looked down. “Even so beautiful as the sun at midnight.”

<
“And Etana, what do you think? Will the Queen of Heaven accept the gift of my dancing?”

<
“Of course. You are the supreme dancer in all the land, Princess Salome.”

<
Etana’s eyes glittered with her recollection  of Salome’s wild dance before King Herod, and she smiled with subtle admiration.

<
Salome looked at her reflection in the mirror of polished silver that made it seem as if another looked back at her from beneath a pool of red-tinged water. Salome imagines her self a poised and golden lioness, her head angled on her long neck as if she watched her prey passing far below.

<
“It is good,” she said to her maids, fluttering her eyelids. “I am ready.”

<
And so they went out to the courtyard and turned down the secret pathway where the driver waited with the prancing horses and the little carriage that shone like gold in the lowering sunlight. The driver opened the door for Salome, and helped her in. And once she was settled on her crimson chair, he handed her the casket of over-wrought gold that contained the head of Jokannaan.

<
To the music of ney, qanun, and bandir, Salome was jostled through bleak, dark hills and sun devoured waste, where vultures circled high above emitting their mournful cries. After what seemed an eternity, the little party arrived at an ancient gate set in a cleft between high rocks and guarded by two chimera, whose blunted features testified to the centuries of desert winds they had endured.

<
“Are we to go in there, Princess?” asked Aaliyah holding a delicate brown hand to her trembling lips.

<
Salome stared at the chimera with a fear she would not allow the others to see. She set her jaw and shrugged. “Yes, Aaliyah. I believe that is the gate to Ishtar’s Garden.”

<
Etana simply stared and turned the silver mirror so that it shone toward the gate.

<
The driver stopped the horses. Salome felt her little stair hit the ground, and the door of the carriage opened. The musicians stopped playing as if their music had been absorbed into the silence of the desert.

<
“I am not sure we should go forth, Princess,” the driver said. “I would not want you to be subject to such dangers as those that lurk in this place.”

<
“We will continue,” said Salome, though she trembled inside.

To be continued….

Salome: The Seventh Queen: 4: The Prophet’s Dream

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Salome: The Seventh Queen: 4: The Prophet’s Dream

by Aline deWinter

The Prophet’s head was on the chair. It lay tilted to one side, eyes closed, dreaming. A phosphorescent light shone about him so bright, that his features were obscured by it. Salome thought this an absolute sign of his divine power, that Jokanaann must be an immortal after all. Therefore, he must be able to hear her heartfelt entreaties and protestations of love. And how could he not share her desire, and come back to life to be with her forever?

Salome danced before the dreaming Prophet, whirling the seven veils upon the air like the wings of a bright moth. He did not respond, but lay still, his head tilted to one side. She kissed him then, cradling him in her arms, dancing until, exhausted, she too fell into a deep and mournful slumber.

Dancer: Rachel Brice

Salome: The Seventh Queen: 3 :The Forbidden Temple

Salome: The Seventh Queen: 3 : The Forbidden Temple

by Aline deWinter





One moonless night, Salome left Herod’s castle by a low back gate.  A narrow stair led down to a hidden lane of white paving stones that led into the precincts of an ancient shrine, known throughout the land as The Forbidden Temple. The head of Jokanaann had been wrapped in the scented linen of the priests, placed in a golden sleeve, and then laid upon a silver charger.  This she carried high above her head, for his divinity was so great that even the Princess of Judea was beneath him.

>

As Salome walked, her veil kept slipping, exposing her her shining golden hair and singular beauty to the lamplight. So to avoid discovery, she kept to the shadows, walking with her head bowed down so that all she could see were her small, slippered feet as they moved over the cobblestones, appearing, disappearing, and then reappearing under the hem of her gown.


The gate of the Forbidden Temple was behind a hedge of dove boughed myrtle, bordered by pots of night blooming jasmine, guarded by winged lions, and magically charged by the morning and evening stars. The fragrance of incense told her that the priestesses prayed into the night. Only when she reached the gate did she lower the silver charger, and gaze proudly at the Gatekeeper, to command entry.

>

He looked away with a knowing smile, for he had seen Salome dancing on the rooftop, spinning with her flashing veils. The news had traveled quickly regarding the demand of Herodias for the Prophet’s head in exchange for her daughter’s bending to the lascivious will of Herod.

<

Salome did not smile back. Rather, she glared at the eunuch as she slipped inside the gate, daring him to disclose, even to himself, that he knew what she carried on the silver platter. The eunuch closed the gate with downcast eyes, and the silently  withdrew.

<

Salome rushed down the broad Processional Way and under the shadowed portico, guarded by  golden lions. At last she arrived at the High Priestess’s sandalwood door. She grasped the bell-pull and waited as the ringing echoed within chamber after chamber into silence.  A grille set in the door slightly above her head was pushed aside and two dark eyes shone out.

<

“What do you want?”

<

“I am Salome, daughter of Herod, Princess of Judea…I seek an audience with She- Who-Resides-Within.”

<

The Doorkeeper paused.

<

“And how shall I know you are the Daughter of Herod?”

<

“By this ring,” Salome said and raised her jeweled hand so that the eyes could see the signet ring: gold set with carnelian incised with the sigil of a horned crown.

<

The eyes looked down, the grille closed. Salome’s heart pounded as she waited for the door to open. When it did, she walked into a wide hall that seemed composed of nothing but firelight and shadows, The mingled scents of attar of roses, violets and myrrh filled her with a subtle awareness of the beauty of her body. The eunuch stood aside to let her pass, bowing, the colorful satins of his clothes glistening in the torchlight.

<

“Thank you,” she nodded at him. ‘Point me the way to the chambers of She-Who-Resides-Within.”

<

The eunuch smiled, his white teeth shining through ghosts of black smoke and torchlight. He pointed to the right, across the tiled floor where a small fountain of leaping, alabaster fish blew streams of water into the air. Beyond the fountain, the door to the private chamber of She-Who-Resides-Within was a dull red stain behind an ornately grilled portal guarded by sphinxes.

<

Salome hurried to the door with the head of the Prophet held up before her. The bell pull was a silver ribbon. A mysterious brown hand emerged from the smokey shadows,  grasped it, and a woeful chiming of bells echoed within. The door as if a taken by a  perfumed wind, and. Salome entered. Someone was chanting. The voice echoed faintly as if it came from the bottom of a cistern. Salome moved toward the voice, half circling a large pool set into the tiled floor, and shining like a mirror. Flames danced in the smooth silvered surface water, reflected from the several candle branches that stood around its rim.

<

“Come closer, Salome, daughter of Herodias. Do not be afraid.”

<

A dark, velvet voice came from behind a perforated screen through which pin pricks of light shone like stars. Salome moved closer. Running down the edge of the screen was a slash of brightness. A shadow wavered there, suggesting the presence of She-Who-Resides-Within.

<

“I am here, Great Mother,” Salome whispered, bending her knee and holding the charger with the precious head high above her own.

<

Older  than space, and time, She-Who-Resides-Within was most powerful and reverend — more so than Salome, Daughter of Judea, more so even than Herodias, Queen of all the land, more so, by far, than Herod who secretly thought himself the Messiah.

<

“Indeed,” the deep voice swelled as with a sound of many voices. “You have come to ask an audience with the Queen of Heaven have you not?”

<

“Yes,” Salome breathed, shaking with fright and the effort of holding the Prophet’s head above her own.

<

“What is your purpose?”

<

Suddenly overcome by  a torrent of emotion, Salome cried, “ I want the Prophet, Jokannaan, to be brought back to life!”

<

There was a silence so long that Salome thought surely her heart would stop. Was She-Who-Resides-Within laughing at her?

>

“And why would you want that?”

<

“I am so sorry. I didn’t mean for him to be killed. It was my mother’s doing. He was very beautiful, very wise, and, as you know, divine.”

<

There was a long considered silence before She-Who-Resides-Within spoke again. “ But what is his condition, being dead?”

<

“His head does not decay, Great Mother. His face is, in truth, more lovely to look upon than a flock of swans upon the lake at twilight, more pure than a thousand, thousand doves fluttering about the Goddess’s shoulders at dawn, more shining than the moon’s face reflected in the waters of the well. His skin is like ivory and his hair like a waterfall of black silk, his eyelids as green as the sea at twilight…his lips as red as a branch of coral…See for yourself, Great Mother.”

<

Salome handed the charger through the gap of the screen and the long, pale hands took it inside.

<

“I see,” the voice whispered and it sounded as if a wind came up and set all the bells of Paradise ringing.

“There is a Rite demanded of Our Lady of One-Thousand-Thousand Stars. Are you prepared to do Her honor to gain admittance to Her temple?”

<

“Only tell me what to do and I shall do it, Great Mother!”

<

“First, you must give yourself to the first man that asks you. Only then will you be prepared to descend to the Vale of Ishtar. The way to the Vale is steep and fiery and fraught with danger. You will descend seven terraces, and pass through seven gates.  At the very end,  She will be there, standing in a pillar of fire. Her beauty is impossible to look upon without losing your mind.  For your own protection, bring thou a silver hand mirror to see Her in, and speak to Her reflection. Never look at Her. Only Her image in the glass is safe for mortal eyes. Say only this: I wish to bring the Prophet, Jokannaan back to life. She will instruct you. Do not leave out a single thing She tells you to do. And you must grace Her with many gifts. Several for Her servants before you enter Her Holy Temple, and something many times more worthy, to lay at Her feet.”

<

Salome could not think, could not imagine what she had of such great worth. “Shall She want jewels, rolls of silk and purple satin, perfumes from Saardis, or gold encrusted veils and eye paint of crushed tourmaline from Tyre…”

<

“What is your greatest beauty, Princess Salome? Your most powerful gift?”

<

“Dancing,” Salome blurted out suddenly. “If it is worthy, I shall dance for Her.”

<

The shadow seemed to smile, the torch light flickered, as if excited by Salome’s words.

<

“Yes…you shall dance down the seven terraces for the Queen of The Morning Star and the Evening Star…and bring with you what remains of the Prophet.”

<

“Thank you…Thank you Great Mother,” Salome cried, standing up, suddenly anxious to get away from the heavy presence of She-Who-Resides-Within. “I will do everything you say.”

<

She ran out of the Temple into the blue night. The scent of jasmine was strong on the air.

The coin fell, ker-chink, on the paving stones. The eyes behind the warrior’s gilded mask, burned.

In shame, Salome tightened the red veil around her shoulders and followed the soldier with bowed head. She was shocked at how quickly a change of attire had disguised her, made her common, creating the impression that she was willing to suffer a stranger to deflower her. She was not truly wiling, for her love belonged to Jokannaan. Fearing her reluctance would mar the sacrifice, she’d drunk wine and inhaled the odorof poppies, making dreamlike her long, lascivious walk down the Alley of the Prostitutes. It seemed they smelled her virginity as they would a rare bloom for, when she passed, the Prostitutes smiled and stroked the cats they held tight in their arms, kissing the air behind her, and laughing.

<

He took her against the wall under an archway that led to the well house. He did not remove his mask, but tried to kiss her through the metal cheek guards, scraping her face. His tongue was hot, his body against hers had broken out in sweat, his member pierced her so her eyes rolled back in her head and she swooned. She fell upon his shoulder while he carried her on his thigh, braying like a jackass. Suddenly, driven mad with a frenzy of hot, melting pleasure, she cried out, screaming for him to stop, oh please, stop!  He freed her and she fell, sobbing, to the pavement. She had never felt so lonely in her life.

To be continued….

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Salome: The Seventh Queen :2: Herod’s Temple

Salome: The Seventh Queen:2: Herod’s Temple

by Aline deWinter


Herod built the temple on the highest hill of Judea with an altar of gold and chalcedony in which to house the casket that contained the Prophet’s head. This casket was made of solid gold in the shape of the Holy City. Its dome was bedizened with gems, it’s pillars were carved of ivory, and its spires cast of silver. The windows were set with lapis lazuli, its doors were of onyx hinged and bolted with ivory, and its streets spattered with rubies.

>

But the skull within, whose turquoise eyes peered through the lattices of black coral, that was perfumed with cedar, myrrh, sandalwood and attar of roses, and then wrapped in pearl encrusted cloth of silver, was not the head of the Prophet, Jokanaann, for Salome was not willing to part with it. Rather a slave who displeased her was chosen to have his head severed from his body and embalmed and carried with great honors and processions into the Temple.

<
When this holy reliquary was placed upon the altar, the Tetrarch, Herod, made a great speech announcing that devotions offered to the Prophet were bound to insure the eternal protection and fertility of the realm. That being so honored, the Prophet would release the kingdom from his curse.