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!

>
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.

>

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

>

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

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

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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.”

>

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.”
>

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.”
>

“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.”
>
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: 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.

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“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?”

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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.

<

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.”

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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.

<

“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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