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.

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“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.”

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

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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.”

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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.

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“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.

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

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“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!”

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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.

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

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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.

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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!”

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“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.”

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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.

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“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.”

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“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.

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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.

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“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.

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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!

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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.”

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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!”

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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.”

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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.

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

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“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.”

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“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?”

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“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.

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

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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

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“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.

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“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.”

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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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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.
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“How long have we been here?” Aaliyah sighed falling to the ground in exhaustion.
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“Give me the head of Jokannaan,” Salome whispered sharply to Aaliyah. “Give him to me now.”
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“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.
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“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.”
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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.
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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…”
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“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?”
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Etana closed her eyes and seemed to drift away.
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Salome knelt down and caressed the casquet.
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“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.”
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“You’re mad,” Aaliyah whispered so softly she thought the Princess did not hear her.
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“What is that?”
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The cry of a hyena echoed across the field.
“Oh,” Aaliyah whispered rising to her feet. “Now we are pursued by wild animals.”
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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.
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“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!”
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The serving maids glanced around as well. Aaliyah covered her ears with her hands.
“Oh, what is happening?” she cried.
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“This is not ordinary music!” cried Etana. “It is the singing of some sorceress over her vessel of abominations.”
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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.
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High pitched laughter riffled through the wheat. Hyenas! Salome screamed. Surely her fate was not to be dragged down and torn by powerful jaws.
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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!


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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.

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She began walking in Salome’s direction.

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

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

by Aline deWinter

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.”

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.”

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

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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.

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“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.”

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

To be continued….