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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Timeless Realms: Son of Ereubus by J.S. Chancellor

Son of Ereubus (Guardians of Legend, #1)Son of Ereubus by J.S. Chancellor

Through timeless realms and parallel realities, Ariana journeys to discover her true self. J.S. Chancellor has created realms out of old mythologies: Middengard, the land of mortals whose last city Palingard is slated to fall to the soul-devouring Laionai, of Eidolon. Once human, the Laionai evolved into a hive consciousness, gifted by the shape-shifting Dark Goddess, Ciara, with the ability to steal souls. The only salvation for the remaining mortals is belief in the myth of the lost land of Adoria, itself doomed to fall.

Readers come to fantasy seeking the Otherworld. The unfolding intricacies of strange realms are like the unraveling of a great mystery. Perhaps we all guard a legend deep inside our souls, a sanctuary that we keep safe from the corruption of the world. Chancellor builds on this fine resonance to keep us reading. She is particularly adept at conjuring up strange creatures like the ”not quite horse or dragon” Dragee, and the Laionai, like a cluster of ancient Chinese sages.

The story opens with Garren’s brutal execution of a rival warlord. He is utterly ruthless, seemingly without heart or conscience. At the same time an agile, gritty red-haired girl, Ariana, embarks on a mysterious journey, only to be attacked and wounded by Garren. Something about Ariana stirs feeling in Garren that he isn’t supposed to have and he spares her life. She is rescued by a powerful winged warrior who forces to accept an alternative reality. By doing so, Ariana discovers her true identity and the role she is destined to play.

Son of Ereubus is a fun read, fast paced and exciting. As the plot darkens, more secrets come to light. Ariana grows and Garren finds out he has a heart.

I would love to see deeper development of the Dark Goddess, Ciara and her worship. Chancellor gives us a tantalizing glimpse  that will hopefully by more fully exploited in the next two books of this epic trilogy.

This book made me think of Anne Bishops’ Dark Jewel series in its pacing and atmosphere. If you like those, and the genre of dark heroic fantasy in general, you would no doubt enjoy Son of Ereubus.

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On Taking Your Time

Jack Torrence--one sentence fiction

I don’t usually rant about writing, especially on the blog. I’m too grateful to be able to do it. But today,  I am inspired.
I love short stories. I have numerous collections of these gems of the literary world. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to curl up with a story that I can read in anywhere from fifteen minutes to two hours. If I really like a short story I can read it again without having to make a long-term commitment.  Some authors are at their best in the short form, giving you just enough brilliance to satisfy.

I struggle with the short form. Part of this is genre based. Gothic audiences love dense description, evocative atmospheres, descriptions of clothing and furnishings, the more opulent the imagery the better. We are the Baroque artists of fiction. The  last Romantics. I would be disappointed to pick up a Gothic Romance or Gothic Faery Tale and be denied entry into a seductive setting, rich, decadent, emotional, and loaded with mystery. One of the first expectations of a speculative writer its to create alternate realities. All of this imagery requires WORDS.

I have listened at open mics to writers who can  finish a story  in around 5 minutes.  I have noticed that they are by and large “literary” or “mainstream” stories that describe an emotional situation  that reaches a climax quickly and is resolved. No lush settings, no atmospheres, no passages of description that carry the reader away on the sheer power of their imaginative sensitivity to the outer world. They are inner monologues of sorts—-some of them very powerful and even great—-but NOT Gothic Fantasy, and NOT speculative fiction which what I am about. In fact, I am usually the only genre writer in the room.

Part of the problem is because of usual suspect—-the internet. Lots of people read online. I for one cannot read fiction online. Computers = work for me and aside from research, I want to get on and off fast. (You wouldn’t know it by my blog articles, but then I am writing and can’t keep it short.) If I find a story that I like, I cut and paste it and the print it out so I can read it on paper and really enjoy it. Flash fiction online, I skim and forget it. If its really powerful, I might not forget it, I might even print it out. But my tendency is to skim and not really READ, so much is lost in that process.  Some ezines stack these flashy pieces on top of each other in great numbers. More is better I guess. More skimming and skipping for me.

I used to be a poet. I’ve won prizes for my poems. But I am mainly a novelist. This is because I love to create a world an inhabit it for some time. In the same way, I love to inhabit the worlds of other authors that I like. I want to write short, but sometimes characters get in the way of that. They are like zip files. You open them and they keep opening and you hate to lose all that great material.

The normal length of a short story is anywhere up to 10,000 words. Some of my favorites are that long.  I don’t know why anyone is expected to produce abridged works to fit a 3500 word limit. Cutting can tighten and enhance, but after a certain point, it is sheer butchery. Writers don’t write because the King orders us to do it. We write because I want to, and the orders come from the Muse, who inspired us with visions that we are driven to bring to life. Why would anyone work so hard for so long for nothing unless they wanted to do it? So why should one be expected to butcher their work so someone raised on Sesame Street who has the attentions span of a flea can skim it over? Why not teach children how to read for pleasure again? I didn’t grow up and just pick up a book and start reading it. In fact I used to cut them with scissors. My dad TAUGHT me to love literature by giving me great books like he was bestowing a blessing.

I don’t remember who it was, but some successful author said: “Stories will be as long as they are meant to be. It takes as many words as it takes.” Something like that. But its true. Its like when I was in the theater. This director told us before rehearsal: “Take your time.” Which means “TAKE YOUR time.”

If we can’t create work we love, than why bother doing it at all? There are readers for long short stories. One only has to look through the newest anthologies, Best Fantasy, Best Horror, Best Science Fiction to find tales of all shapes and sizes . Even some novellas—-a form I am especially fond of.

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Review: Forests of the Night by Tanith Lee

Forests of the NightForests of the Night by Tanith Lee

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am currently reading this superb collection of short stories by my favorite, Tanith Lee for the second time. She is the Goddess of short fiction as far as I am concerned. And just like extras you get on DVD, Lee prefaces each story with how she was inspired to write it, giving us emerging writers a valuable peek into the mind of a master.

The first paragraph of the first story, Bloodmantle,encapsulates the evocative power of Tanith Lee’s writing:

“February, the wolf month, is also the color of wolves. And through the pale browns and whites of it, something so very red can be seen from a long way off.”

The next story, The Gorgon won the World Fantasy Award. J’adore the Fin de Siecle Elle est trois (La Morte).
Her twist on Snow White, Red as Blood, was my initiation into the magical Lee-world and, combined with Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, made me want to write fiction. The Hunting of Death: The Unicorn is also rich with poetry. All these stories are wonderful.

This book is rare and out of print. I was willing to pay handsomely for it—that should tell you how much I love Lee’s stories—for what my opinion is worth. If you have a chance to read it, don’t miss out.

View all my reviews

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The White Wolf of the Hartz Mountains by Frederick Marryat Pt. 2

The White Wolf of the Hartz Mountains, Part 2

by Frederick Marrayt

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“I have never heard people speak of them, that I can recollect,” replied Philip; “but I have read of them in some book, and of the strange things which have occurred there.”

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“It is indeed a wild region,” rejoined Krantz, “and many strange tales are told of it; but strange as they are, I have good reason for believing them to be true. I have told you, Philip, that I fully believe in your communion with the other world —that I credit the history of your father, and the lawfulness of your mission; for that we are surrounded, impelled, and worked upon by beings different in their nature from ourselves, I have had full evidence, as you will acknowledge, when I state what has occurred in my own family. Why such malevolent beings as I am about to speak of, should be permitted to interfere with us, and punish, I may say, comparatively unoffending mortals, is beyond my comprehension; but that they are so permitted is most certain.”

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“The great principle of all evil fulfills his work of evil; why, then, not the other minor spirits of the same class?” inquired Philip. “What matters it to us, whether we are tried by, and have to suffer from, the enmity of our fellow-mortals, or whether we are persecuted by beings more powerful and more malevolent than ourselves? We know that we have to work out our salvation, and that we shall be judged according to our strength; if then there be evil spirits who delight to oppress man, there surely must be good spirits, whose delight is to do him service. Whether, then, we have to struggle against our passions only, or whether we have to struggle not only against our passions, but also the dire influence of unseen enemies, we ever struggle with the same odds in our favour, as the good are stronger than the evil which we combat. In either case we are on the ‘vantage ground, whether, as in the first, we fight the good cause single-handed, or as in the second, although opposed, we have the host of Heaven ranged on our side. Thus are the scales of Divine justice evenly balanced, and man is still a free agent, as his own virtuous or vicious propensities must ever decide whether he shall gain or lose the victory.”

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“Most true,” replied Krantz, “and now to my history:—

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“My father was not born, or originally a resident, in the Hartz Mountains; he was the serf of an Hungarian nobleman, of great possessions, in Transylvania; but, although a serf, he was not by any means a poor or illiterate man. In fact, he was rich and his intelligence and respectability were such, that he had been raised by his lord to the stewardship; but, whoever may happen to be born a serf, a serf must he remain, even though he become a wealthy man: and such was the condition of my father. My father had been married for about five years; and by his marriage had three children —my eldest brother Caesar, myself (Hermann), and a sister named Marcella. You know, Philip, that Latin is still the language spoken in that country; and that will account for our high-sounding names.

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My mother was a very beautiful woman, unfortunately more beautiful than virtuous: she was seen and admired by the lord of the soil; my father was sent away upon some mission; and, during his absence, my mother, flattered by the attentions, and won by the assiduities, of this nobleman, yielded to his wishes. It so happened that my father returned very unexpectedly, and discovered the intrigue. The evidence of my mother’s shame was positive; he surprised her in the company of her seducer! Carried away by the impetuosity of his feelings, he watched the opportunity of a meeting taking place between them, and murdered both his wife and her seducer.

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Conscious that, as a serf, not even the provocation which he had received would be allowed as a justification of his conduct, he hastily collected together what money he could lay his hands upon, and, as we were then in the depth of winter, he put his horses to the sleigh, and taking his children with him, he set off in the middle of the night, and was far away before the tragical circumstance had transpired. Aware that he would be pursued, and that he had no chance of escape if he remained in any portion of his native country (in which the authorities could lay hold of him), he continued his flight without intermission until he had buried himself in the intricacies and seclusion of the Hartz Mountains. Of course, all that I have now told you I learned afterwards.

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My oldest recollections are knit to a rude, yet comfortable cottage, in which I lived with my father, brother, and sister. It was on the confines of one of those vast forests which cover the northern part of Germany; around it were a few acres of ground, which, during the summer months, my father cultivated, and which, though they yielded a doubtful harvest, were sufficient for our support. In the winter we remained much indoors, for, as my father followed the chase, we were left alone, and the wolves, during that season, incessantly prowled about. My father had purchased the cottage, and land about it, of one of the rude foresters, who gain their livelihood partly by hunting, and partly by burning charcoal, for the purpose of smelting the ore from the neighbouring mines; it was distant about two miles from any other habitation. I can call to mind the whole landscape now: the tall pines which rose up on the mountain above us, and the wide expanse of forest beneath, on the topmost boughs and heads of whose trees we looked down from our cottage, as the mountain below us rapidly descended into the distant valley. In summer-time the prospect was beautiful: but during the severe winter, a more desolate scene could not well be imagined.

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“I said that, in the winter, my father occupied himself with the chase; every day he left us, and often would he lock the door, that we might not leave the cottage. He had no one to assist him, or to take care of us —indeed, it was not easy to find a female servant who would live in such a solitude; but could he have found one, my father would nut have received her, for he had imbibed a horror of the sex, as the difference of his conduct towards us, his two boys, and my poor little sister, Marcella evidently proved. You may suppose we were sadly neglected; indeed, we suffered much, for my father, fearful that we might come to some harm, would not allow us fuel, when he left the cottage; and we were obliged, therefore, to creep under the heaps of bears’ skins, and there to keep ourselves as warm as we could until he returned in the evening, when a blazing fire was our delight. That my father chose this restless sort of life may appear strange, but the fact was, that he could not remain quiet; whether from the remorse for having committed murder, or from the misery consequent on his change of situation, or from both combined, he was never happy unless he was in a state of activity. Children, however, when left much to themselves, acquire a thoughtfulness not common to their age. So it was with us; and during the short cold days of winter, we would sit silent, longing for the happy hours when the snow would melt and the leaves would burst out, and the birds begin their songs, and when we should again be set at liberty.

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“Such was our peculiar and savage sort of life until my brother Caesar was nine, myself seven, and my sister five years old, when the circumstances occurred on which is based the extraordinary narrative which I am about to relate.

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To be continued…

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Le Chateau du Raray: La Belle et la Bete

Le Chateau du Raray: La Belle et la Bete

I have always loved Cocteau’s  version of Beauty and the Beast.I also love Simon Marsden’s photos. it was looking through his wonderful book Haunted France and found photos of the fabulous gate and the chateau where Cocteau shot his eerie and beautiful film. Chateau du Raray is a real place with that wonderful parapet of carved beasts that Belle and the Beast stand on during the film. The still image below shows the scale of the sculptures. I think they look more dramatic in the film that in reality. Scroll down and let me know what you think.

This bit of video had some shots of Chateau du Raray. For anyone who hasn’t seen this gem of a film its all on Youtibe in pieces. I suggest renting the DVD or better yet see it in the cinema if you have the chance. This one stays with you like a powerful dream.

I am reprinting this article from a dead blog of mine called My Mysterious Domain that was devoted to some of my favorite artistic inspirations and locations.

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La Belle et la Bete by Jean Cocteau

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The Unicorn Gate, or the Portal of Diana, leads to the magical mansion of  Le Chateau du Raray.  The French filmmaker, Jean Cocteau, used this  beautiful, atmospheric house, with its fine animal sculptures and curious parapet, for the palace of the Beast in his famous masterpiece.  For me, it is the quintessential Mysterious Domain.

A note on Beauty and the Beast by the psychologist Bruno Bettelheim: “Beauty and the Beast teaches that something must be loved before it is lovable… ” ” In the fairy tale is a magic mirror which reflects some aspect of our inner world…For those who immerse themselves in what the fairy tale has to communicate, it becomes a deep, quiet pool which at first seems to reflect our own image; but behind it we soon discover the turmoils of our soul — its depth, and ways to gain peace with ourselves, and with the world, which is the reward of our struggles.”

In my  Videos you will find two Utube clips from the film whose stills are depicted here. I hope these excerpts inspire you to rent or buy the DVD of one of the most wonderful films ever made: Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast

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View of  le Chateau du Raray by Sir Simon Marsden

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Interiors: the Domain of the mind

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I am sure this is a set, but it is  unforgettable.

Fire of the soul.

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The  parapet. This kind of love could only happen in a place like this.

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The fabulous parapet as it really is

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Le Chateau in Winter

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The Lady of le Chateau and her Beast

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Raphael

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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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

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

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

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“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.”

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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.

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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“So, you have come.”

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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

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

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“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: 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“What do you want?”

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

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The Doorkeeper paused.

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

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“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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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“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?”

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

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“What is your purpose?”

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

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

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“And why would you want that?”

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“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.”

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

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“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.”

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

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“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?”

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“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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