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Tales of Erotic Death by Hitomi
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                                                                       "Cassandra"                       "The Final Hours of Beatrice Cenci"
Salome—Princess of Judea

The Heat is relentless.

Not a waft of breeze comes across the dark waves of the sea to relief the torment of summer heat upon my skin.  
They say she is a capricious slut, the Sea of Galilee, that is: varying between a bride-to-be in mock innocence
and a whore in dead-end alleys that could suck a man into the cavity between her legs.  Perhaps this is one of the
reasons why Herod chose it as site for his capital.  Tiberias, the jewel of Galilee and Perea under his rule, named
in honor of his patron, the Emperor Tiberius.  Hail Caesar!  

Herod.  How should I address him?  He disliked to be associated with his title “tetrarch”, a reminder that he is ruler
but not yet a full-fledge king.  It is absurd to call him uncle though he is a brother of Herod Boethus, the man who
be-seeded me. I would never consent on pains of death to call him father, though he did marry my mother
Herodias when I was merely nine.  They say that she was a great beauty, only that I outshine her, even compared
to the pinnacle of her youth and grace.  I never doubted their words.  Beauty has been our Hasmonean heritage
for generations. It comes not regarded as a divine gift but a birthright.  I know I am beautiful, more beautiful than
any woman who have set her feet on these marble tiles that paved the corridors of this royal compound, more
beautiful than any who ever will.

Beauty may be worshipped; royal lineage eagerly sought.
But who can see through the veil of mystery and see eye-to-eye the two mingling into one and become a curse?

My grandmother Mariamne, or should I call her great-grandmother as Herodias was also her grand-daughter?  
She was promoted to be her son’s bride when she married Herod Boethus, her uncle and begot me.  Mariamne
was so beautiful that my grand-father, another Herod, left a decree that she must be killed if he lost his head
before he went to Egypt at the summon of the Romans, fearing that such beauty would no longer be “his” should
she remarry.  He survived.  But poor Mariamne was executed after-all when he found out she betrayed her and
shared her bed with the man her husband trusted her execution upon. Whoop! And that head of the beautiful
princess, the last direct one of the Hosmonean line, departed from her tempting torso.  They said grand-father
mourned her greatly after that.  I believed them too.  Men always regret for beauty-lost; only they could not control
the rage from jealousy.

Herod, the husband of Mariamne that is, was a feared tyrant. He killed most of his offsprings, including
Aristobulus, father of Herodias, on charge of suspected treason.
After the death of Aristobulus, Berenice, his wife, my maternal grandmother, or great aunt, depending how you
count the family tree, married Theudion , brother of Herod ‘s first wife Doris, and thus uncle of Antipater and he
was killed too for treason.  Berenice was daughter of Salome, Herod’s sister who was instrumental to Mariamne’s
death, she being the chief informer of her alleged adultery.  Salome the informer was a rare beauty too.

I was named after her.

What a family!

Twelve years had passed since I was carried over as part of my mother’s dowry.  I did not mind then; one palace
was as good as another.  I grew up a princess, in beauty.  It was much later that I realized something else was
growing at the same pace in the palace: Herod’s lust.  A princess unwed at my age is rare.  Herod always made
the excuse that I deserved something better, greater.  I knew otherwise, and I knew Herodias knew that too.  
There were precedents of nuptial bonds between uncles and their daring nieces.

How oppressive the night heat!  How can I sleep?  The peacock fans held by my maids only made the heat more
insufferable.  I rose, through a silk robe over my semi-naked body and slid out of my chamber, alone, as I had
given orders that none was to follow me.  

The palace was huge, criss-crossed by a labyrinth of white marble corridors and exotic gardens.  Music could be
heard in the distance: harps, flutes, the jingle of little copper bells that were tied round the feet of dancing girls.  
He loved to see young women dance.  He had asked me dance for him.  He said my feet, like little doves, were so
lovely that he would give me whatever I wanted, even half of his kingdom.  I had refused him, time over time
again.  I knew the meaning of the dance.  If I dance for him, I would be his possession. I have no desire to share
his bed, with him between mother and daughter.

I am no angel of innocence.  I know what happens in beds, the palace is always full of shadowed corners with
giggling gossips.  And I love to be admired, adored, lusted over.  I knew that Syrian, captain of the guards, had
secretly sunk onto his knees and kissed my shadow when I walked past.  I pretended not to know.  I was pleased,
flattered, but unmoved.

There should be someone better…

I did not realize the distance I had covered.  It was a part of the palace I had never ventured.  My body shuddered
despite the heat.  There was something sinister, something that smelled death.  Yet I did not turn back, nor stop.  
Instead of fleeing, I felt drawn, step by step, towards the waiting predator.

“Rejoice not,. O land of Palestine, because the rod of him who smote thee is broken.”

Terrible sound.  Coarse, beastly!  

“For from the seed of the serpent shall come a basilisk, and that which is born of it shall devour the birds”

I walked towards the sound, as if in a trance.

I saw him now, through the grille beneath my feet, in the deep cellar that was his cell.  A pale moonlight was
shining upon him, half-naked but a rough goat-skin around his waist.  His hair was dark, long, caked with mud.  
Even from such depth, his smell was repugnant to the senses.  

“Who goes there?”  He felt my presence and looked up.  And I saw his eyes. They were like the black holes
burned by torches in a tapestry of Tyre, like the black caverns where dragons dwell and make their nests.  I
gulped and wanted to flee, but could not.

“Iokanaan?” I spoke his name weakly.  

I knew who he was.  My mother had cursed his very name day in, day out.  It was he who called her an abominable
whore.

“Who is this woman who is looking at me?  I will not have her look at me. 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.”

“I am Salome, daughter of Herodias, Prncess of Judea.”

“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 sinninghath come up even to the ears of God.”

“Why do you speak against my mother such?  What has she done to you? “ I felt my fury rising, a daughter’ s rage
for a mother insulted.

“Thy mother is an abomination! And so are you!  I can see through those dark eyes of yours, I can see through
your veil of pretending innocence.  You are of the same kind, from the same womb! “

“Hold your poisonous tongue!  I am Salome, princess of Judea!  I can have you killed with one word.”

He gave a dry chuckle.  “So you will, Salome, daughter of Herodias! Think you not that your mother would have
me slain if she got her wish, even when she had Herod’s ears?”  

“I do not believe you!”

More chuckles rose from that dismal cell. “Go! Run to that woman whom you call mother, and that man who took
your mother from his own brother and now lusts for you!”

“No, you lied!”

“You know well I tell the truth!” Then, he suddenly became silent for a while. “Girl, look at me. Look into my eyes.”

I should not do as he asked.  But I could not help myself.  I starred down and found him staring at me.

“Ah…So, you are the one He sent.  You are the Angel of Death whose wings I heard swept such a strange wind.”

“What are you talking about?”

“About freedom.  About being released.  I can feel it.  You are the one who will release me.”

I laughed.  “How can I?  I have no key.  And perhaps you are right.  He will not let you go even if I ask him.  He is
afraid of you.”

He shook his head.  “No, I do not mean that. These walls can only contain my flesh and blood.  It is my burden that
locks my soul in.  You can release me if you wish to.”

“How?” I asked, puzzled at my eagerness to help, to conspire.

“Tomorrow night, you will dance for the tetrarch.”

“No!  I will not!”

“You will and you know what to do.  He has promised you to give you anything you want.”

“He has promised me even half of his kingdom.  But he will not set you free!”

“I know.  But you will free me, free me of my burden, free me from my task so the one who came after me can
come forth.”

I could not understand his words.  I knelt down and wept

“Argh. Tears of a weeping angel.  So, you are not a daughter of Babylon after all.  But I must warn you.  Helping
me to free will cost you dearly.  You must choose.”

“Choose?”

He nodded. “Choose.  Between your call or your earthly desire.  Between life and death.  Between a royal bed or
a shallow grave.”

I shuddered.  “What do you mean?”

“Choose.  If you choose wisely, you and I will face the morning sun together the next time it rises.”

“And if I do not…”

He fell silent.  And then he shouted out.. “Then our roads will divide.  Our paths will never cross again. And I will
fear for you, on the path you choose to take.”


I turned and ran.  A heel of my pearled sandal snapped.  I stumbled and fell flat on the ground, dust soiling my
robe of satin.  I cared not.  My skin was flooded with sweat, cold sweat.  His voice continued to ring inside my
head. I told myself I hated him!  I wanted that voice stopped, silence, eliminated, forever!  

Yet, there is another me inside mocking.  Why the pretense?  You know your heart.  Choose!

My maids heard my fall and seeing my predicament, hurried out with a new dress of silver satin and replaced the
one that has been soiled and helped me back to my chamber.  Honeyed drinks were brought to smoothen my
throat.  Towels of softest wool wiped the sweat adhering my satin gown to my bare skin.  It was nice to be royal
birth, to be tended, to be powerful…

What about to be you?

I tossed and turned on the golden satin sheet. His words haunted me.  Choose!
Now I know what he meant.  Choose!

“Summon the head eunuch.” I gave my order.

The man came and bowed low.  He knew I could easily have Herod’ ears..

“Tell the tetrarch: I will dance for him tomorrow.”

“The tetrarch will be most pleased, princess.”

“On one condition!” I shouted as he was about to take his leave. “He has to promise me anything I ask of him,
save his own life.”

The man shifted his feet, not sure of what it might lead to.

“Go!  Or I will ask him to have your head on a platter!”

I could feel sweat gliding down the bald head of his.

After he was gone, I reclined in my bed and closed my eyes.  I had already decided what to ask for: the head of
Iokanaan.  I did not know why,  But perhaps I did.  Perhaps he did too.

And so on the following morning, I danced.

I had prepared myself well, bathed, perfumed, and enrobed with veils of seven colors.

I walked in the hall and all eyes were on me, even that proud sophist that pretended not caring.  I knew his lot.  He
thought that his aloofness would endear him to my hurt-pride.  He was handsome, incredibly handsome.  He was
one of those invited for the banquet, all foreigners, as the Jews said Tiberia was on cursed ground and refused to
take up residence here.  Herod invited foreigners to fill his new capital.  A council of six hundred with a committee
of ten ruled in his stead.  The sophist was one of the ten.  

The musicians waited for my signal.  

I placed my hands before my veiled face, fingers to fingers and bowed.  The dance was to begin.

The sound of flutes and harps and drums and cymbals wafted in the night air.  The flames from the torches
swayed to the wind I created by my steps, light as doves my feet swirled in the royal hall, capturing the eyeballs of
each man, woman, even eunuchs. I felt their lust, I felt his lust.

I bit my lower lip and made three quick turns.  At the final turn, I jerked a veil, the first one, white, off me and sent it
floating in the air.  White as a swam it glided: the loss of innocence.

I saw my mother, her eyes red like fire.  Jealousy.   She was no match for me, even in her youth and she knew
what it would mean, what it meant to lead to.  We are of the same root, incestuous, stopping at nothing to get what
we want.  I shook the green veil off me.  Green for jealousy.  Harodias understood I was teasing her.  Her eyes
spate fire.  I cared not.

The third veil departed from my body: lavender, color of grace and refinement.  I am a princess, was.  With the
lavender one gone, I am now no more than a dancing girl who wishes to please the tetrarch, at an unnamed price,
but a dancing girl all the same.  I will be his, or so he thought.

Turquoise.  Signifying my femininity.  They thought women are harmless.  I am no fighter, no Amazon.  The
heaviest thing I can wield is a veil, not a sword.  A dagger would weigh a ton in my hands.  But they forget
something.  There is a more deadly weapon and if a woman decides to use it, it can cut to the heart.  It is called a
will, a determination, an obsession to get what we desire, at all cost.

Yellow.  Madness!  Am I mad?  Is he mad?  Am I mad to love him?  It was just one sight, one awful sight at that
semi-naked body of his, strong, pure, untouchable.  And those eyes.  They had drilled into my soul.  We
exchanged words of war, but it was a tacit plead, an understanding between us.  I am doing what he wants me to
do, willingly.

Red.   Color of Love, passion, blood.  I am now almost done.  Only the black one that also served as my bodice
remained.  He was waiting, saliva dripping out of his mouth as he dreamed of his reward, without a thought to his
promised prize, a promise made under oath, a promise he could not retract.

Black.  Color of mystery, of death.  I abandoned and it reluctantly deserted me. I am naked, panting in my kneeling
position, my maidenhood exposed for all eyes, for his eyes.

Cheers!  Smiles!  Satisfaction.

Then I asked for my prize.

There was a hushed silence across the hall, except one, my mother’s.

“Ah, that is well said, my daughter.”

The tetrarch looked like a trapped mouse.

He begged me to waive.  He begged to be release of the promise.  He offered jade, rubies, emeralds as big as the
fist of any man present, peacocks with white feathers, even half of Judea.  

“I want the head of Iokanaan!”

His face was black, the most ominous cloud.  He knew the prophecy: that anyone who killed Iokanaan would suffer
the most horrible death.  He knew the political price too.  Killing a man is easy, making him a martyr could be
disastrous.

He warned. “ Once my promise was fulfilled, another head might roll!”

“I want the head of Iokanaan.”

And it was done.  

He gave the order.  It was done.  I did not see it.  But I could feel the moment when the axe fell, the instant his
head, with those eyes that were dark as dragon’s lair, dropped from the white body and rolled.  I closed my eyes
and staggered and then sat down on the carpet.  Waited.

The head was brought in on a silver charger.  I took it up and kissed it.  

I saw the sophist making that cold laugh.  I knew what he was thinking. I brought the head towards me and kissed
its lips again.

“We will face the rising sun at dawn together,” I whispered. They always impaled the heads of the executed on the
rampart, facing east.  I hugged his head in my bosom and combed his cake of hair with my slender fingers.

Harod was furious and stood up.  

I am finished. I have no more use of his head.  It is just a head.  He is no longer there.

I put the head on the floor and gave it a roll towards the sophist.

He recoiled but still managed to keep his calm. “I would rather it be the head of someone more beautiful.” He said.

“And so be it!”  The tetrarch roared. “Kill that woman!”

I managed to laugh even when tears rolled down my cheeks.  I could see the executioner walking up, with that
fearsomely huge axe.  A second silver charger was ready.  On it my head would be put before the sophist.  I
wondered what he would say.  It did not matter.
I had got what I wanted, a dance that would be remembered all time, a kiss that would be made immortal, a life of
my own choice.  At least I do not have to call a man who is my uncle and step-father: husband!

I let my arms fall to my sides, slightly away from my body, fingers pointing slightly outward as if the tips of wings.  
Then, I bowed and exposed my neck to make it easier for them, and prepared to fly.

Like a dove.

(End)

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Story Copyright Hitomi Satomi. Please do not reproduce in any form without the author's permission.
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Comment from: Nastassja
Date: October 21, 2011

Hitomi I am so very impressed by this! I know this story mostly through the Oscar
Wilde play (which I love), but you go into so much more depth, exploring Salome's
mind and emotions. Your use of the colors as she dances the famous dance of the
seven veils is clever, as the colors catch her stormy feelings and crystallize them,
and the conversation between Salome and the Baptist was quite riveting. You know, I
never really realized how many stories and historical accounts have moments in
them to tie in with the sensual death theme of this website. You do so well with them,
giving them a kind of spirituality along with the sexual moments. Another amazing
story. Thank you.
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Comment from: Satomi Hitomi
Date: October 22, 2011
To: Nastassja

I was a bit worried when, after this story having been posted for several days, there
was no response from you and I thought you might not like it.

I have read and watched Wilde's play, in several versions and Salome has always
been one of my most beloved figures in legend/history.  The strength came from her
choice between life and death, submission or defiance and she had chosen wildly.

I am not much of a believer (at least not in the traditional Christian sense) though I
respect all religious beliefs. (Hate organized religions of any form).  So, to me, Salome
is never a sinner and though never wielding a weapon in her hand, she is as much a
fighter as any warrior.

Thanks for reading and commenting.

I hope the next story (most probably about a lady in 15-16th century) will also capture
your interest.

Hitomi
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Comment from: Nastassja
Date: October 22, 2011

You know why it took so long for me to comment, Hitomi? I'm almost a little
embarrassed to tell you. Well, I'm an enthusiastic (make that fanatic) reader, and to
be honest, writers are like celebrities to me. In a way it feels as if they exist on a
higher plane to me. When I discover a writer I truly love, a part of me gets excited at
the thought of "interacting" with them in a forum like this, and another part of me
gets a bit  intimidated. Not by anything you've said or done! But your writing is so
beautiful, so lyrical and powerful, that I felt my comment might be kind of inadequate.
Isn't that silly? I love your story, it feels meaningful for me, and I wanted to offer
meaningful feelings and thoughts in response. After several starts and stops at a
comment, I kind of froze. Even in this world  of Facebook and Twitter and all the rest,
I still feel like a provincial person in a world (literature) that I admire so very much.
But I will try and relax. You are so welcoming and validating, Hitomi, I'm very grateful.

Back to the story, I'm not religious either (I do respect religions too, but I have to say
personally I'm an atheist. I have a lot of empathy for people who embrace some form
of passionate spirituality, but the institutions of religion are responsible for so much
hate, hypocrisy and oppression that they just make me angry), so I saw Salome in
much the same light as you wrote about her; I saw her reactions to the Baptist as
ones that came from a place of her mind and emotions, rather than faith. The
intensity of those thoughts and emotions is mesmerizing, really.

I can't wait for your next story about the 15th-16th Century woman. I'm trying to
guess who it might be.

yours,
Nastassja
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Comment from: Satomi Hitomi
Date: October 22, 2011

Writers, far from being divinity, are a scary group who lurk behind curtains praying
that their work be picked up and read, and given comments to (hopefully good ones,
but even bad ones are better than dead silence).  Of course, we should have
confidence in our work, but the final verdict is always by the readers (sometimes, we
delude ourselves saying our work are only for future readers. LOL).

There is one group of writers who hold themselves aloof and give themselves "air"
though, the mediocre type who are so unsure of themselves that they pretend to be
bigger than they actually are.  For the others, both the learning type and the
accomplished ones, they are more easy going because both know their power and
their limitations.

I am grateful for Chris to set up this site and the forum too so that I can have close
interactive dialogue with those who read my stories (though the number is limited
now) and I am grateful for your showing constant interest in my work.

Please feel free to give any comment.  If I do not agree, I will let you know and we can
discuss.  

It's up to Chris when to put up the next one.  I have handed the story to him
indirectly.  But please be patient as Chris is very occupied too and we must not tax so
much his time.

Hope you will enjoy the following story.  

Hitomi
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Comment from: Satomi Hitomi
October 22, 2011

Did I use the word "scary'?

Silly me!  I mean "timid".  See, writers are not infalliable, even with words.  And
sometimes, we are plain stupid.

By the way, if you are an earnest reader, why not give a try to write?  A short story to
begin with. Who knows, your potential may be lying there to be discovered.
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Comment from: Othello
Date: October 22, 2011

Hitomi, I think you are so right...among the vast spectrum of writers, there seem to be
countless ways that they process their "place" in the landscape of literature. I've
encountered authors so arrogant that they seemed to think themselves old Greek
Gods, and on the other end, some so humble that it seemed incredible to think that
they could ever marshal the focus of ego and creativity that is so much a part of
making a written work.

I love your work, Hitomi, as you know. And I also love your approach to writing, which
is filled with respect for the medium, pride in your creativity, and an openness to
growing as both a writer and as a person. Discovering you and your work was a
special event for me, both as a fellow author and as simply an appreciative reader.

Nastassja, your comments to me have always been filled with insight, and you are
deeply appreciated. I'm sure Hitomi feels the same.

This story, Salome, has always been one of my favorites of yours, Hitomi. You
describe its essence beautifully above:

Salome has always been one of my most beloved figures in legend/history.  The
strength came from her choice between life and death, submission or defiance and
she had chosen wildly.

That concept of the "wild choice", has always held so much fascination and allure for
me. People are beings of great passion and infinite potential for joy and personal
fulfillment in their lives, and yet so often find themselves closed into a world of "quiet
desperation", as their dreams and passions dull and fade from pressures and pain in
living. The moment of epiphany, which I find so often at the heart of your tales,
Hitomi, is one where you stand at the crossroads of a choice that may hurl the
structure of your life into ruins, and yet exalt your spirit, excite your body...those are
the moments of life at its vivid peak...truly moments worth dying for. Your Salome
captures that truth with an aching brilliance.
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Comment from: Hitomi
Date: October 23, 2011
To: Othello

Thanks.

But you know me.  I write rubbish too.  Every writer does, from time to time.  We all
run into troughs now and then and sometimes writing rubbish is a way of cleansing
our thoughts.  The better ones only do it less frequently.

I am glad Beatrice is finally up.  She, too,has always been special with me.  The world
was then a cruel place, a man's world even more so.  It still is.
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Comment from: Othello
Date: October 23, 2011

I like your approach toward looking at those of our less-than-classic works, Hitomi.
They do indeed cleanse our thoughts, and help us grow as writers, as we learn what
works and what doesn't within our distinctive "writer's voice". (I know I look at some
of the things I wrote in the '70's and '80's and cringe...but I learned something from
each and every one of them.

I'm so glad that Beatrice is up as well, and I'll comment on it on the next page; you
know it is one of my favorites.

And yes, the cruelty in the world changes faces with the passing of time, but sadly
goes on and on. I've always felt that by illuminating some of that with our writing, we
help at least some people to grow beyond cruelty in their lives. That is part of the
responsibility, and the nobility, of the written word.
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