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

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

by Aline deWinter

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End of Part I

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

That is in Part II

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

Art: Gustave Moreau

Some quotes from “Salome” by Oscar Wilde

Salome: The Seventh Queen: 11: Endless Gold

Salome: The Seventh Queen: 11: The Golden Land

by Aline deWinter

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On the other side of the lake the Fourth Gate towered over them. Carved of black obsidian over-laid with gold, it was, incised with symbols of life in death barely visible under silver dust and matted yellow vines. A tall, wraith cloaked in the black of burning embers, blocked the entrance with a shield of smoldering torches. Salome’s serving maids clung to her cloak, gazing up at the burning guardian, and then further up at the two gatehouse towers, high and pointed, one on each side of the door.
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‘Oh, Mistress, let us go back!” cried Aaliyah. “For over the door and bolt is spread the dust of the dead.”
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“Yes, we must,” Etana said. “For if we go further, we shall never come out again.”
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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.
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“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!”
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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.
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“Ah, why do you take the bracelets from my arms?” Salome cried, pulling back with a hiss.
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The voice of the wraith echoed around the stones of the portal like the voices of the many. “Thus are the rules of the Mistress of the Abyss. Now you may enter, my Princess.”
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“Oh, let us not pass through, Mistress!” cried Aaliyah grasping Salome’s slender ankles. “Surely we shall regret it.”
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“The dead shall rise up and eat the living so that the dead shall outnumber the living,” Etana whispered. “Thus it was said of old, and so it is.”
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“The dead shall always outnumber the living,” said Salome. “Now we shall bring death to its knees, for love is more powerful than death.”
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Aaliyah staggered up. Her doe eyes wide, she lost her balance briefly. “How can it be, Mistress?”
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“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.”
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“How do you know it, Princess?” Aaliyah asked.
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“My mother, Queen Herodias, knows it, and I learned it at her breast.”
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Etana stood quietly, expressionless. “We are beyond all gates now. Indeed we shall never return to Judea.”
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“Come. Where are my musicians? Come!” Salome cried. “Play something triumphant and brave as we enter this gate to Ishtar’s Realm!”
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The musicians began abruptly, playing a loud, shrieking, rhythmic dance that would drive a team of donkeys forward.
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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.
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“Oh, Mistress, we are lost!” Aaliyah cried. “Never shall we find our way out of this field.”
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“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.”
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Salome stopped and looked at the horizon, hoping to see a high tower indicating the next gate. Nothing met her eye. There were only a currents of  waving wheat sheaves and the luminous dark blue of the sky. Yet still, the gate must be there, ahead, not close, yet not too far away. Suddenly, she did know whether to trust or distrust the promise of She-Who-Resides-Within, but she  had to move forward. Retreat would admit a dishonorable lack of faith.
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“Lost. At last we are lost, Mistress. It was a curse, a game, that the Priestess has played upon you. She wished vengeance on the Tetrarch’s house for banishing her and her Gods,” said Aaliyah.
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“Silence!” Salome cried. “I know what I was promised…”
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“By whom?” shouted Aaliyah. “You have not even found the Goddess yet…”
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Salome turned to her serving maid, eyes blazing, her voice lashing as a whip.
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“Insolence! If you don’t believe, perhaps that is why we are lost here. Your constant lack of faith has led us astray so that we are tested by the Goddess.”
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“There was but one gate to enter, Princess,” said Etana. “We had no other choice. Now we are here in this featureless land. And how will you dance without music?”
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“What?” Salome turned and saw indeed, that she and her women were the only ones standing in the field. “Where are my musicians?”
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“They fled!” cried Aaliyah. “They were clever enough to turn back!”

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“Enough!” cried Salome. She was worried. How would she dance without music? Was she being thwarted in attaining her desire after all?
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Etana turned around and looked back where a row of wheat stalks had been flattened by their feet.
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“There is the way back,” she said. “Perhaps we too should retreat.”
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“No!” cried Salome. “I will continue!”
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“This is worse than the desert,” said Aaliyah. “For here we are alone.”

To be continued…