May 24, 2016 09:59 am | firstname.lastname@example.org (Michelle Miller)
THE JUDGMENT by D.J. Niko
Excerpt (from Chapter Nine)
The stones of Nicaule's betrothal house closed in around her, suffocating her with the stench of wet earth and animal manure. It was the house of Solomon's mother, Bathsheba, vacant since her death the year prior and now appointed to the woman who would soon be the king's wife.
Nicaule had been there almost four weeks, waiting in isolation as Solomon readied the wedding canopy at his father's house. Though they were betrothed, they had not seen or spoken to each other since the king's retinue, with his prize in tow, returned to Israel. It suited her just fine. She did not care to parade herself around Jerusalem, the detestable city of Judahite kings, nor to have the Hebrews gawk at her and whisper over each other's shoulders, "There walks the foreigner King Solomon bought."
She looked down upon her bare arm and stroked it with her fingertips. Her skin was soft as a dove's feathers, dark as the red clay of her beloved Nile. She was so different from these people, who gulped wine and tore their meat like animals. Coarse swine. Living among them for the rest of her days felt like a punishment, even if they would call her queen.
Any time now he would come for her. Word had arrived the night before through Solomon's emissary, Azariah, a son of Zadok the priest, that the king was ready for the marriage ceremony. She was to bathe and perfume herself, dress in her finest white clothing, veil her head, and wait. She would know of his imminent approach when the horn sounded.
She drew a deep breath. How would she lie with this man for seven days knowing her beloved longed for her on the other side of the Sea of Reeds? The distance between her and Shoshenq seemed impossible to bridge. She had departed Egypt only weeks ago, but already her former life seemed like faded letters on a forgotten papyrus.
Would he remember his promise?
"My lady Nicaule." Irisi came into the bedchamber with a tray of jewels.
Nicaule offered a weak smile. Irisi's face was a boon in this godforsaken place.
Irisi approached and sat next to her on the bed. "Azariah says the king will come for you at sundown. The time nears." She gently cradled Nicaule's hands and glanced at her from head to foot. "You are like the sacred blue lotus from the pools of Nun, so sweet-smelling and lovely."
Nicaule sighed. "I go with heavy heart."
"You must be strong, my lady. This is your destiny. The gods have willed it, and you cannot but accept it."
Nicaule squeezed her hands. "You are wise, my dearest and most loyal friend. Your mere presence gives me solace."
The deep, solemn wail of the shofar sounded in the distance, alerting the entire city of the ceremony under way. A violent knock came from the other side of the door, then the voice of Azariah. "The bridegroom comes. Be ready."
Nicaule sprang from the bed and wrapped her arms around her chest. A wave of nausea overcame her. She jerked her head to and fro, looking for an escape, though she knew there was none.
Irisi rose. "Calm your nerves, my lady. You are about to be crowned queen. You will have the life so many women dream of." She chose from the tray of jewelry two gold cuffs with moonstone scarabs.
Nicaule held her arms out as Irisi fastened the cuffs. "I cannot do it, Irisi. I cannot lie with him."
Irisi looked deep into her eyes. "You must. It is your duty to Egypt. The way you conduct yourself will either magnify the glory of your fathers or diminish it."
A bitter smile crossed her lips. Irisi was right.
The rapid cadence of a hundred drums, accompanied by a carefree flute song, sounded as the wedding party approached Bathsheba's house. She imagined the man whose face she had gazed upon but twice, who spoke a different language and believed in a foreign god, who looked and smelled unlike her people, leading her by the hand to the royal marriage chamber. Anxiety stirred her belly with the fury of a maelstrom, and she bent over a pot, heaving.
The music grew closer. The singing voices of the attendants were now within earshot. She raised her hands to her ears to escape the vulgar sound. She wanted to cry, but no tears came.
Irisi's gentle hands lifted her to her feet, then wiped her mouth and forehead with linen gauze. Irisi said nothing—not a word of judgment or of encouragement—as she reapplied ochre paste to Nicaule's lips.
Another hard knock.
Irisi held up the veil, a diaphanous silk cloth embroidered with tiny flowers in red and white thread and edged in delicate golden fringe. She slipped it over Nicaule's head and let it hang to the floor.
Covered completely by the fine silken shroud, Nicaule felt safe. It was a curtain separating her from the activities unfolding around her, a barrier between her and him, a symbol of her detachment. In her country, only the dead would be swathed in such a manner.
The door creaked open, and Irisi stepped back into the shadows of the room. Nicaule stood alone, clenching her fists to control her trembling limbs.
Azariah stepped into the doorway. "Behold, the bridegroom has arrived. Go out and meet him."
Nicaule drew a long breath, her last as a single woman. With head high, she did as told.
As she stepped out into the autumn night, a cool breeze kissed her cheeks and delivered the scent of molten beeswax. The whole of Jerusalem had come out to witness the occasion, cramming the path between Bathsheba's house and King David's palace and spilling down the hillside. They held candle lanterns, their flickering lights like a thousand stars fallen from the sky, and chanted a happy tune whose words Nicaule could not comprehend. They craned their necks to get a glimpse at the object of Solomon's affection.
At the top of a narrow passageway through the swarm of gawking Israelites stood the bridegroom and two white horses with garlands of white lilies hanging around their necks. He stepped onto the stoop of his mother's house and gazed at his bride. He was dressed in a long white tunic over which was wrapped a white linen coat with wide sleeves, cinched at the waist with a belt of silver. A crown with twelve golden fingers reaching toward the heavens encircled the soft black curls that tumbled to his shoulders.
He signaled to one of his attendants, who promptly delivered the bride's gift on a cedar tray inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Solomon took up the golden crown, a smaller and more delicate version of his own, and placed it on her veiled head. He said something in Hebrew that she loosely understood to mean Welcome to my house.
Emboldened by her gossamer shield, she met his gaze. Orbs the color of post-flood Nile silt regarded her with the voracity of a raptor. The intensity of his gaze held her captive, and she forced herself to look away lest she be mesmerized. She shuddered.
He walked down the steps, and she followed him. He stopped in front of the horses and stroked the neck of one. He turned to his bride and lifted her from the waist, as effortlessly as if she were a feather, onto the horse's bare back. He mounted the other horse and led the way through the crowd of witnesses.
Nicaule's eyes darted from face to face. Glowing like molten copper in the lantern light, they seemed like wraiths from the underworld haunting her steps, mocking her. Their gazes were like whips, their toothless smiles like spurs, goading her to the embrace of their king so she could become one of them, insipid and vulgar and stinking of too much wine.
The palace of King David stood at the end of the ascending path, its two wings like open arms. Torches surrounded a tented canopy at the entrance, sealing her fate by fire. The rhythmic clop of the horses' hooves on the cobbled stones, the sound of her fleeting freedom, grew slower until it stopped altogether. She issued a trembling sigh only she could hear.
Solomon dismounted and walked to Nicaule, offering his hand. Together they walked to the wedding canopy and stood before the cheering crowd. Trumpets sounded, then drums and flutes. She felt like an impostor, posing as the happy bride when in reality there was nothing about that moment she wanted to own. She wanted to flee into the cold arms of the night, to be swallowed by its dark womb.
About the book
Publication Date: May 10, 2016
Publisher: Medallion Press
Publication Length: 416 pages
Upon the death of his father, Solomon has been appointed king of the united monarchy of Israel and Judah and charged with building the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. He travels to Egypt to negotiate with Pharaoh Psusennes II for gold for the temple and to improve relations between the two nations. There he falls in love with the pharaoh's beautiful daughter, Nicaule, and the two kings agree to an arranged marriageh. Against her will, for she loves another, Nicaule follows her new husband to Israel.
Forty years later, Solomon's empire is on the verge of collapse. Power has made him arrogant, permissive, and blind to the scheming of his wife and one of his lieutenants to topple the united monarchy. As the king's faith falters and his people's morals collapse, enemies gather at the gates of Israel. A visit from a mysterious queen restores Solomon's perspective in time to save his soul—but it is too late to preserve his kingdom.
Someone who once was loyal to King Solomon has come back to claim the crown of Israel—and tear Solomon's empire asunder.
About the author
D.J. Niko is the pseudonym for Daphne Nikolopoulos, an award-winning journalist, author, editor, and lecturer who has spent her entire adult life traveling the world.
As a former travel writer and zealous adventurer, she has visited remote spots on six continents, many of which have inspired her archaeological thriller series, The Sarah Weston Chronicles. She was born and raised in Athens, Greece, and now resides in Florida with her family.
"Like a sandstorm roaring out of the Judean Desert, The Riddle of Solomon rips readers out of the familiar world, dropping them breathless in a place where ancient kings still keep their secrets. D. J. Niko's storytelling carries the grit of desert dust and the seductive scent of incense on every page as Sarah Weston races with a madman to save the treasures that King Solomon left behind." - Mary Anna Evans, award-winning author of Artifacts and Wounded Earth
"Take a dash of Dan Brown, a sprinkle of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and a whole lot of originality, and you've got the recipe for D.J. Niko's latest novel, the second in the spellbinding Sarah Weston saga. For readers who like their adventures steeped in research, authenticity, and nonstop intrigue, The Riddle of Solomon is highly recommended!" - Ronald Malfi, author of Floating Staircase and Cradle Lake
"Action, adventure, romance and historical mystery—who could ask for more? The Oracle is a great read." —James O. Born, award-winning author of Scent of Murder
"Although each book in the Weston series can be read as a stand-alone, there is clearly a story arc involving the series' two lead characters, one that enriches each book and makes the series more than just a collection of independent thrillers." —David Pitt, Booklist
"This wonderful action-adventure story has all the elements of Indiana Jones, Tomb Raider and a little James Bond thrown in for good measure. This is exactly the kind of story I love, and I found it very hard to put down. The story moves between the fall of Delphi and a modern-day archeology thriller. Well researched, well written, with strong and believable characters." — LibraryThing