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.

>

“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.

>

“Be quiet. I will have what was promised me.”

>

“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!”

>
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.

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

>

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.

>

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.”

>

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.

>

“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.”

>

“At last,” said Salome. “Lead me to Her.”

>

“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.”

>

“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.

>

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.

>

“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!

>
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!”

>

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.

>

“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.”

>

“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?”

>

“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.

>

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

>

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

>
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.

>

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

>

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.”

>

“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.

>

“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: 13: Slither

Salome raced back to her serving maids.
>

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.

>

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

>

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

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“ Life, life, life, life…”

>

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!”

>

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.

>

“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.”

>

“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 . . . ”

>

“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?”

>

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

>

“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.”

>

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

>

“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.”

>

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

>

“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.”

>

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.

>

“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.”

>

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.”

>

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.”

>

Aaliyah gazed at her feet and blushed for shame.

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Salome: the Seventh Queen: 10: The Mysterious Lake

Salome: the Seventh Queen: 10: The Mysterious Lake

by Aline deWinter

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“Oh, gatekeeper, open the gate! Open the gate so I may enter!” Salome cried.
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“Oh, no, Mistress!” cried Aaliyah. “Let us go back!”
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The Third gate opened, and the Gatekeeper, clad in robes of copper flame, reached forth and pulled off the Princess’s sparkling necklace.
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Salome cried out, for the necklace was fine and precious to her.
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“Oh Gatekeeper, why do you take my necklace?”
>?

“ Thus are the rules of the Mistress of the Abyss. Now you may enter.”
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Salome reeled. All the garden spun around her as she heard the voice of Aaliyah whisper, “…where they see no light…residing only in darkness…is it so?”
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“Shhh! Aaliyha! You tempt fate,” Etana whispered sharply.

>
Darkness reached out and pulled them through the gate like a hand, bringing them onto a thread of white road. It wound through deep twilight over a low hill and then down to an oasis with a lake that opened up like a dull, watching eye. And on that lake, black swans floated, their sooty reflections like shadows cast upon the smooth surface of the water.
<

The trees took notice of Salome and shivered, releasing flocks of black birds. Excited by the sight of so much water, for her desert home held nothing like this — not even the great gardens of the Herodium with all its wealth could supply such a wonder, Salome knelt down to plunge her hands into the lake.  It was as if she touched glass! The surface was solid, yet it was not ice, but rather a clear, hard, glass-like surface beneath which she saw large shapes moving slowly through the gloom.
<?

Salome turned to her serving maids who stood limp and apprehensive on the slope of the hill. The musicians watched her expectantly, waiting for her to direct them, as if they had lost all delight in playing on their own.
>?

“I shall dance upon this lake,” said the Princess, extending her delicate foot out to touch the water. “Yes, it will support me. I shall dance upon this lake,” she sighed.
>?

“Oh, no, Princess!” cried Aaliyah in alarm. “Surly you do not want to risk that! This is but an illusion. Surly you shall drown. No one can walk upon water, Princess, though she be the greatest dancer in the world.”
>?

“Yes, you must stop, Mistress Salome!  Perhaps we should turn back. Your wits are becoming confused,” cried Etana, “Stop!”
>?

“Do you doubt me?” said Salome. “I shall dance upon this lake. See how it bears me up so that I may walk over to those swans and dance among them. Music please! This will be a dance to defy the Gods of Death. Give me the head of Jokannaan. I want him to see how I dance upon the lake.”
>?

The music shrieked and wailed as if the whole of the world cried out in anguish while Salome took the glistening head from Aaliyah and turned with it toward the lake. She stepped upon it and it bore her up while , spinning, she gazed into the eyes of her beloved.
>?

“Dance with me Jokannaan. Dance with me on this lake of glass. See how our twin selves move below us; our reflected selves, our doubles are below us dancing in the mirror world of death, Jokannaan.  When the dance is over, you shall soon come back to life, and so shall I who have been as dead these many days.”
<?

Salome moved further onto the lake, sliding as she would across a shining floor. It was so smooth, her steps flew as if her heels bore wings. She watched her reflected shadow below, saw the vision of her self holding the severed head close to her heart, and in her delirium did not shrink away. Rather she grew ferocious in her dance so that the black swans scattered and dove at her before falling into a wide circle around her as if to hem her in.
>?

Slowly, as she danced, lost in the mirror world of her dark passion, Salome heard soft and distant voices rise up from under the lake, chanting in a slanting minor key.
>?

“Oh, they will drag me under; those voices overwhelm me like the sea, Jokannaan. Perhaps we shall fall into this mirror world forever, to dance with our feet upon the sky and our heads below the water….like these reflections here….unless I tear myself away and end this frenzy of love that holds me to you, for the blood that fell from you has entered into my heart, making us one, of one blood, cloven together like the sides of a healing wound. The sky grows deep and purple, Jokannaan, like the bruise that spread over my soul when I murdered you!”
>?

As if overcome by the song that grew louder and deeper with each passing moment, the musicians dropped their instruments and stood as stones on the silent hill. Aaliyah and Etana fell helpless on the ground. Soon, the only sound accompanying the Princess in her dancing was a terrible, echoing cry.

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To be continued…
photo: Mysterious Lake by Sara.K

Painting: Salome by Bussiere

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Salome: The Seventh Queen: 9: Garden of Paradise

Salome: The Seventh Queen :9: Garden of Paradise

by Aline deWinter

A terrible scream rose up, and the earth shook with its reverberations.

<

Gazing into the Prophet’s wide eyes, Salome said to him:
“As I was the instrument of your death, now I shall  be she who brings you back to life, Jokannaan. What was take from you shall be returned to you one-hundred fold. This shall be because I, Salome, Princess of Judea, Will it to be so, This is the power of the great love I have for thee. And the mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death.”

<

Again she kissed the prophet’s lips and was about to place his radiant head back into the casquet in the hands of her maidservant,  Aaliyah, when she changed her mind.
<

Holding the head of her Beloved high, Salome  placed her tiny foot onto the first step that led down into the Abyss.  She felt giddy as she stood there, on that great height.  Terrace after terrace of flowering gardens, held  to the edges of crags by crumbling walls, dropped away into oblivion.
<

As the small procession went down the stairs, the music of the  flute, the pulsing of the drum, and the deep qanun moaning sent shivers down Salome’s spine. She gazed into the Prophet’s eyes.
<
“How I love you, Jokannaan! Now I shall dance before the Great Goddess who will give you back your back to life.”
<

Etana carried the sputtering torch and faced the mirror outwards, while Aaliyah stumbled behind her with the casket. They whispered between them while they looked at their Mistress from the tails of their eyes. Salome ignored them though she knew they thought her mad.
<

The further down they went, the darker it grew. Owls hooted and the jackal cried.
<

They came to a jungle of blooming roses; trailing jasmine and flowering fruit trees sacred to the Goddess of Love. Flowers scented the air as sweet as honey. But there was a disturbing undertow of darkness that made each beautiful thing seem like a thin veil floating on the surface of corrupt and stagnant water. In sudden apprehension, Salome quickly placed the head of Jokannaan back into the jeweled casket and closed it with a silver key. Aaliyah’s arms dropped with the sudden weight of it and she moaned aloud.
<
“He must be kept from this,” she whispered. “For something unclean abideth here.”
<

The white portal of the Second Gate shone like alabaster through the dense leaves of the garden. There was a flash of scarlet. The Guardian waited behind the gate, barely visible, but pulsating with watchfulness.
<
Salome stood at the gate. It towered above her, higher than she could see.  Its walls were sculpted with obscure designs of serpents and roses and grails.  On the keystone, the face as lovely as Medusa looked down with terrible all-seeing eyes.
<
As Salome was about to command entry, two shining hands reached out through the gate  and tore the diamonds from her ears.
<
“Why did you take the pendents from my ears?” she cried in pain.
<

“Now you may enter, my Lady. Thus are the rules of the Mistress of the Abyss.”
<

Chastened, Salome bowed her head low and slithered into the portico. A hot mist  that filled the entrance to the Dark Kingdom wafted through the bars of the gate, touching Salome’s skin with tongues of fire. The Guardian dissolved until no more than a stain of red light remained, and the gate creaked open. Princess stepped over the threshold and beckoned her quaking entourage to follow.
<

They entered a wood of  flowers with waxy white blossoms and dark purple leaves growing under straight, slender trees with leaves of bright flame. On the high branches of the trees, demons perched, shifting, shadowy, human-shaped, and clothed with wings. They flew up into the dusky sky as Salome and her retinue passed, watching them with pale eyes, their wings now open, now closed along their backs.
<

“What are these that hover and stare?” Salome asked. When she received no answer she turned around and saw Aaliyah shaking so that she could barley hold the precious casque aloft.
<

“Oh, Princess… it is said that here, in the Forbidden Lands, that the inhabitants are clothed like birds, with wings for garments. I see that it is so,” whispered Aaliyah.
<

“And they eat clay for bread and drink muddied water for beer,” murmured Etana. “Like the dead.”
<

“It does not matter, for I have been promised. I shall prove that Love is stronger than death. Do not cower in fear,” said Salome flinching from the brush of a demon’s wings in her hair. “I am ashamed of you.”
<

The winged ones flew through the leaves, dropping sparks and cinders on the little troupe below. Etana must put out a fire in her hair, and Aaliyah must step gingerly between the embers that had fallen around her bare feet. Salome raised her arms to the flames, shouting that she would overcome death and live with her Beloved forever.
<

“Oh, Jokannaan, feel the power of this place! Here, I shall restore you to life, and you must love me then. My love is proved by my Courage. See how I dance in the flames, fearlessly for your sake.”
<

The trees rustled, the winged ones lept along the path, looking back towards Salome and laughing.  Etana and Aaliyah clung to each other, ducking the long grasp of the winged ones that reached for them and passed through them as though they were air. The girls cried out in pain for them to stop. The musicians slowed playing, and then lay down their instruments to chase the demons off.
<

“Where is my music?” Salome shouted. “You must make a loud noise, for we come to dance before the Queen of Joy and Laughter.”
<

“We are defending you, Princess,” the ney player shouted.
<

“No need, no need. I have been promised safe passage and so have you. Commence to play music as before.”
<

So they gave up their battle and played for Salvation with closed eyes, pushed along by the demons that dropped to the ground behind them. Suddenly the winged ones flew down on the path ahead. The largest one pointed at high wall of solid grey stone with an ornate gatehouse in the center. They had made it to the Third Gate.

Photo: Atomic Panda
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Salome: The Seventh Queen: 7: The Wager

Salome: The Seventh Queen: 7: The Wager

by Aline deWinter

She-Who-Rode-The-Dragon seemed to be in conflict with herself. “We do not
like this Jokannaan. He has set armies against us unjustly. Not only human armies, but also of angels.
Why should I allow you to pass?”

>

“The Great Mother prepared me to dance before Our Lady Ishtar,
Queen of Heaven and Earth, so that the Prophet may be brought back to
life…for the sake of my soul who had him killed wrongly.”

<
“But you did well. Why should I help you to revive our enemy?”

<
“Is not Herodias, Queen of Judea, your enemy, who put him to death?” Salome said. At that moment
she knew in her heart that her mother had never turned away
from the Goddess’s shrine, had always harbored in her soul a
treacherous worship for the Lustful One. This put a wrinkle in her plans, and she wondered about the Demoness with the faces of her mother on the dragon.

<
She-Who-Rode-the-Dragon, scintillating with red and deep purple light,
rose up in anger, gazing all the while at Salome. “If I let you pass,
what shall you give us in return? You will bestow a gift worthy of the favor you seek — or you
shall not pass.”

<
The maids whispered to each other, fretting that they had not known of this, but Salome hushed them.

<
“I have scarlet roses nurtured in the gardens of Byzantium, their fragrance inspires months of amorous nights.  I give you crimson wine fermented from grapes grown in the slopes of Calabria. These I offer you, oh, Great Guardian of the Shrine of Ishtar, in hope that they will be pleasing. Will you accept these gifts?”

<
Salome snapped her fingers and her serving maids suddenly came to their
senses and brought forth a cluster of fifteen armfuls of roses and nine casks of
wine. They crossed a little bridge that suddenly appeared across the
stream. And on the other side, they spilled and scattered the roses
upon the ground and poured wine at the feet of the Demoness. She
towered above them, smiling, so that they would know, deep in their
bellies, that roses and wine were substitutes for human blood. The
maids scurried backwards, bowing, unable to take their eyes off of the
messenger of the Great Whore of Babylon. They resumed their places
behind their Princess who stood within a scintillating light, like a
star, overcome with a rush of strange, feverish excitement.

<
“Your serving girls know much, oh Princess of Judea. What will you give me in exchange for the Prophet’s life?”

<
Trembling, Salome’s mind was blank, for she had not thought that the Demoness would demand more than what she had already given.

<
“I bring the dance, oh, Queen-Whose-Mysteries-are-Great. Other than that and the
gifts of roses and red wine… I have only myself to give.” Salome said and
prostrated herself gracefully upon the ground.

<
The dragon reared up and the beautiful Demoness smiled, turning her
seven-headed mount around as smoothly as it if were a single-headed
beast. Her circuit complete, the dragon’s seven heads on their seven
long necks swung around all at once, and Salome screamed at the sudden
sight of fourteen eyes and seven leering jaws lunged over the stream
at her as if to gobble her up. Again, in a flash of dull white light, Salome beheld the face of Herodias.

<
“Go upon that hill,” the Demoness shouted, turning and pointing to the
hilltop that sloped up behind her. Some ruined towers stood at the top
behind an ancient gate that gleamed with the rays of the dying sun.
“That is the first gate. Enter therein. Find the way into the Garden of
Seven Terraces. You will know it by the fumes and the unearthly sounds
that issue from it. Sing praises to Our Lady of Eternal Life, and She
will open the way to you.”

<
Suddenly there was shimmer of blinding light and the sound as of many
doves singing and the sound as of many wings fluttering, and the music
of rushing waters. The earth trembled so that Salome, and her maids, and
musicians fell to their knees, and the head of the Prophet opened his
eyes and opened his mouth as if to cry out in protest against Salome’s wicked plan.

<
Salome placed the head of Jokannaan carefully back into the golden casquet and shut the lid as She-Who-Rode-the-Dragon vanished as if she had never been.


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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

<

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

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

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

<
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.

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

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

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

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

<

“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.”

<

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.

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

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

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

<
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.

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

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

<
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.

<
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.

<
“So, you have come.”

<

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.

<
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.

<
“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.

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

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

<
“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.

>

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.

<

“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?”

<

“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.”

<

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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