The Galileans: A Novel of Mary Magdalene
story of courtship, conquest, and fertility.
    The drunken revelers were beating on the table as the dance rose to its inevitable high point. “The girdle! The girdle!” they shouted. On a crash of sound, the dancer’s hands flashed down across her hips and came away bearing the fragile girdle in her fingers. She posed for an instant, then tossed the golden bauble directly at Gaius Flaccus, who alone among the men seemed not to be sodden with wine.
    The handsome tribune was forced to dodge lest the golden shell strike him in the face. But he made no attempt to catch it, and it was Herod who scrambled on the floor and came up holding it triumphantly. “I have the girdle!” he bellowed happily. “The girl is mine for tonight.” Then Thetis turned and ran from the room.
    Mary jumped back from the door to escape being bowled over as the angry slave girl stormed in. “You were looking!” she cried, panting with anger and the effort of dancing, her eyes darting fire. “Did Gaius Flaccus try to catch the girdle?”
    Mary shook her head. “It would have hit him if he had not moved.”
    “You!” The dancer turned suddenly to face Mary, feet apart and hands upon her full hips. “He refused me because of you.” In her anger Mary thought the slave girl would strike her. “You with your clinging robes and your talk of being virgin.”
    “You are wrong!” Mary protested. “I came only to dance.”
    Before Thetis could continue her tirade, a crashing chord of music came from the triclinium. In it Mary recognized the tones of the great cithara played by Hadja as the introduction to her own dance. Now that the reality of entering the banquet hall was upon her, she felt herself grow faint with fear and excitement and swayed momentarily, unable to force herself to enter the other room. Were it not for the wine of mandragora Joseph had given her, she knew that one of the fainting spells would be upon her. And right now she would have welcomed anything that freed her from the necessity of going on. Then with a strong effort of will she forced herself to be calm and put her hand to the door.
    “A thousand sesterces! A thousand sesterces!” The words rode to her upon the rhythm of the great cithara, calming her fears and giving her strength.
    “I will do this for Demetrius,” she told herself. “I must, I must.” And proudly confident, she opened the door and stepped out on the marble floor of the banquet hall to face Pontius Pilate and his guests.
VIII
    As Mary dropped the palla, one of the Romans laughed. Remembering what Thetis had said, she stiffened and flushed with anger, but as the music took hold of her body, she tossed her head defiantly and launched herself into the dance.
    This was no dance of provocation to inflame the beast in men. With the subtle instinct of an artist, Mary had realized that she should not try to compete with the unsubtle posturing designed to stir up base emotions that formed the stock in trade of the professional dancing girls. Instead, her body was a vibrant poem in praise of the beauty of the Galilean country.
    Now she was the wind storming through the mountain defiles to roil the waters of the lake and send the fishermen scurrying for home, the roll of summer thunder, and the majestic flash of lightning heralding the storm. Again, she was the rain of Marheshvan, swelling the taut skins of the grapes and wetting the freshly-tilled soil in preparation for the falling seed from the hand of the sower, greening the grass and adding new life to the olive trees and the rich harvest of fruits and melons on the Plain of Gennesaret.
    Next the scene changed under the merry lilt of the pipes and the glad song of the strings, whose tones were better suited for such a mood than the stirring blasts of the trumpet. Her body in its silken draperies now began to tell the happiness of children playing on the rain-wet grass, reveling in its coolness after the shower, their feet almost taking wings with joy and

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