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.
Though it would have offered her comfort, she refused the blanket that had been placed in the tent for her use. She recognized the coarse weave of the wool, striped in faded blue and violet and fringed on the ends, as the work of her people. She wondered which house Shoshenq’s men had pillaged and from whose bed they had plucked it. She imagined the inhabitants, ordinary folk judging by the quality of their textiles, being driven from their house, if they survived at all, scattering from their towns like ants, frightened and stripped of everything. She viewed the stolen blanket as a symbol of their suffering and left it be, for accepting it would feel like a betrayal.
She was grateful for this: her bindings had been cut. She pushed the long trumpet sleeve of her gown back and regarded the bloodied skin of her wrists, scraped raw by the jute. It stung no more than the humiliation of being taken prisoner.
The tent of her captivity was barely big enough for four people to stand upright, shoulder to shoulder. It was made of woven goat hair strips that had been stitched together to make a broad cloth and secured to the ground with wooden pegs. A branch of olive wood held up the ceiling. A meager flame burning in a clay saucer lamp flickered against the tent walls, casting long shadows in the semidark.
Basemath heard a man clear his throat outside her tent and realized she was being guarded. Her face tightened. This was a foil to her plan to exit the tent in the thick of night and search for her daughter. Even if it cost her life, she was determined to save Ana’s. The thought of her precious child in that heathen’s hands ignited a fury she did not recognize in herself. Anger and violence were not her way. But if it came to that, she would disembowel the Egyptian before seeing him strip the girl of her purity.
She inhaled deeply to let the rage simmer down. She needed her wits about her. She stood and walked to the flap covering the tent door. She peered through a slit and gazed at the sky. The full moon hung low above the horizon; she was facing east. She parted the fabric ever so slightly, hoping her movements would go undetected.
It was a fool’s hope. The guard noticed right away and pointed his spear at her, barking something in a dialect she did not recognize. He was a tall man of great girth, whose eyes shone with a murderous glint.
She did not retreat. “My thirst is great. I want a cup of water.”
He jabbed the air with his spear, urging her back inside.
She stood her ground, staring into his eyes, two obsidian marbles that seemed devoid of intelligence. “Bring me water.”
The tip of his spear touched her ribs. He spat out more words. When again she did not move, he twisted the spear.
She heard the linen of her gown rip and felt a sting. She glanced down and saw blood seeping slowly from the flesh wound. “You are godless,” she hissed in Hebrew.
“He is merely carrying out orders.” A male voice came from the shadows.
Basemath was surprised to hear Hebrew spoken in the enemy camp. She watched the guard’s reaction to the invisible intruder. He didn’t flinch.
“Who are you?” she asked, uneasy. “Show your face.”
He stepped into view. In the blackness of night, she could make out the lines of his halug, the long tunic that identified him as an Israelite. The decorations on the garment—a metal belt cinching the waist and embroidered trim along the sleeves, hem, and neckline—betrayed his status. She could barely see his face.
“Hello, Princess.” He edged forward. “It has been long years since we last met.”
Basemath froze when she realized who stood before her. There had been rumblings about the traitor’s return to Israel after he had been driven out of the country for masterminding a rebellion against her father. She attempted to speak, but the words were trapped in the cage of shock.
“Aren’t you going to greet your future king?