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: 13: Slither

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

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

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

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“ Life, life, life, life…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The music died down to a thin wail as the woman, now slim as a snake, slithered through the Fifth Gate.
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“Princess, who was that?” Etana asked. “She had something about her like Herod’s Queen.”

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

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

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

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Aaliyah gazed at her feet and blushed for shame.

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Salome: The Seventh Queen: 12 : The Hyenas

Salome: The Seventh Queen: 12  : The Hyenas

by Aline deWinter

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