He was the reluctant heir to the throne of a desert kingdom.
She was a virgin queen living far away in the south.
A little bird told him of her beauty–he had to meet her.
A traveling merchant told her of his wisdom–she had to meet him.
Something greater than either of them conspired to bring them together. When they met, could there be any doubt they were meant for each other? But would duty to country prevail over their pledge to one another? Only time and love would tell.
Sound like the stuff of romance novels? Yes, this was a romance writ large because it was an affair of state and royalty. And these characters appear in no less than four holy books: the Ta Nakh, the Koran, the King James Bible and the Kebra Nagast (The Glory of Kings).
In Biblical times, he who could kill or overcome enemy tribes became king. With lots of children and careful planning, his heirs would succeed him. But not all countries had the same traditions. In some parts of the world, women ruled by might or by right to the throne. For the royals, marrying and having children was an affair of state. Right up until recent times, it was not uncommon for the royalty of different lands to marry for the mutual benefit of their countries. In our modern era, heads of state and heirs to thrones have been granted the freedom to marry whom they choose–within reason.
Millennia before Prince William and Kate Middleton’s time on the world stage, people have been royal watchers. Some watched to see if they were in favor and able to gain, others to see if they were out of favor and about to lose–their heads! Still others watched because it was simply the best show in town. So when the royalty of Israel met the royalty of Sheba, all eyes were upon them. Based on the appearance of these two royals in no less than four world religions, no one could resist watching the wise King Solomon and the beautiful Queen Makeda.
In researching my work-in-progress, Kiss of the Virgin Queen, I, too, have become a royal watcher–from a distance of over three thousand years. My historical voyeurism has taken me down a circuitous path across time and cultures to their mythic romance. Destinies entwined, some would say the Makeda/Solomon romance was beshert.
With construction on the first Temple well underway by the time King Solomon greeted the extravagantly generous Queen of Sheba,* he already had seven hundred (700) wives and three hundred (300) concubines. By marrying princesses of rival kingdoms, he had built an extraordinary alliance and ensured the safety of the trading routes. Curious about the man behind the legend, Queen Makeda traveled fifteen hundred (1500!) miles from Ethiopia to meet the wisest man on earth–and to ask him “hard questions.” When they met, the Queen was “left breathless by Solomon’s magnificence” (Coogan, Brettler, Newsom, & Perkins, 2001, pp. 508). The attraction was mutual–but there was nothing they could do about it. Or was there? The eyes of the world were upon them.
What do you think happened between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba?
Prologue: The Hunt
He leaned down on his front paws, relieved the kinks in his back, and shook out his thick coat. Beneath the cold air, a hint of spring tantalized his senses. Under the moist leaves, between the tree roots, alongside the chortling streams, the sleeping earth mother stretched her legs and wiggled her toes too. He gazed at the pearl white moon as she rose on the horizon, full and iridescent in the February sky. Only a few days left to enjoy this part of his life.
Time for a run. He began to trot, then broke into a long easy gait, loping around the perimeter of his territory, through trees and winter-bare brush. He picked his way across a snow-melt-swollen stream, past massive rock formations and darkened houses, enjoying the feel of his muscles as they kept pace with his pounding heart. This was what it felt like to be alive.
Too soon he reached the asphalt and the end of his fun. Panting, he turned away from the road and walked at a slow easy pace, back to the pack’s meeting place. Time to speak to the Old One about the future. Midnight runs no longer suppressed his primal feelings, the visceral urge he felt when the full moon rose.
Each month, the call to mate was stronger—irresistible as the pull of the moon on the oceans—and on him. The females in the pack were off limits, bonded forever to their soul mates. Besides, their scents didn’t arouse him. No, the one he wanted was far away, almost an unattainable being. The moment he saw her smoky-eyed image, he knew she was The One. Often when he was alone at night, he gave into his dark urges and fantasized about holding her and making her his own. But in the morning, he was still alone, his dream-mate a dust mote on a sunbeam. He shook his head to clear his thoughts and stepped into the apple orchard.
Half-hidden in shadows beneath the moonlight dappled trees, the Old One nodded his head, a knowing glint in his bright orange eyes. The younger male trotted over to him and bowed his head. Half a dozen adolescents tumbled over and around the Old One, bit his gray ears, and nipped his toes. When the smaller ones looked up and saw the younger male, they yipped, hobbled over to him, and threaded between his legs. The Old One’s mouth opened in a grin, and his tongue lolled.
The younger male fell to the ground, rolled on his back, and the six pups leaped on his belly. He chuffed and pawed at them, cuffing each one lightly. He enjoyed the role of honorary Uncle, but what he really wanted was his own pups to play with. After a few minutes, he gave a great sigh and flipped onto his belly. The little ones seemed to sense his change in mood and hobbled off to play with sticks.
He locked gazes with the Old One. When will I have my own mate? It’s not enough for me to watch the little ones play.
The Old One winked and nodded. My job is to preserve the pack, to keep our people alive. I have chosen your mate. You know who she is. You have my oath.
The younger male shook his head. You didn’t answer my question. When? When do I get my mate and become Pack Leader?
The Old One leaped to his feet, glared at the younger one, and growled a deep throaty roar that belied his age. You dare to question me? Me? The one who saved you? Is that how you show your gratitude?
The younger male put his ears down and lowered his head, his nose touching the ground. Forgive me. I’m—I’m so lonely. My heart aches for a loving mate and my own pups. Every moon the urge gets stronger, the hunger greater.
The Old One came closer, grabbed the back of the younger male’s neck with his teeth. The large signet ring on his iron necklace clanked as he gave the upstart a small shake. The time is coming near. I promise. You will—
The unmistakable crack of a rifle sounded in the distance.
The Old One’s mate barked out orders to the other females. Grab the pups. Get them home. Hurry, hurry.
The younger male found a straggler hobbling along as fast as his legs permitted. He lifted him by the scruff of the neck. C’mon, little one. I’ve got you. You’re safe now.
A second shot rang out closer by.
The little one whimpered and shuddered in his grip. Please don’t let the hunters kill me, Uncle Zack. Please?
“I told you to hold your fire!” Special Agent Eliana Solomon stood by the abandoned mine and drummed her fingers on the butt of her Sig Sauer.
“Sorry, Sir—Ma’am…I thought I saw a wolf in my night scope.” The newbie looked downward as she glared at him.
“This isn’t a hunting trip with your buddies. It’s an active operation and I’m in command. One more shot and I’m taking your rifle away from you. Got it?”
He gulped, clutched his weapon, and nodded. “Yes, Ma’am.”
She had asked for experienced soldiers; instead they sent a bunch of green boys. She understood the Middle East took precedence, but didn’t the Army get the concept of domestic terrorists?
The mission of Project Aladdin was to find jinn, the portals where they came through from a parallel dimension and to shut the gateways down. Contrary to popular TV images of a pretty girl in a bottle, the jinn, or genies, were not nice. Powerful shape shifters, they hated humans and wanted to take over the world. If a terrorist ever found a way to conjure and command even one jinni, the world would never know what hit it.
Despite her obsession and round the clock investigations, she’d been unable to make any progress. With her evaluation coming at the end of the month, she had to find something. Otherwise, she’d be exiled to a desk and spend the rest of her professional life analyzing emails. She shuddered at the thought of death by tedium and twisted the heavy signet ring on her left hand.
Strange energy signatures had been seen on satellite images of this area and identified as the type associated with jinn. The abandoned mine was the logical place for a portal—but so far the scout they’d lowered down into the shaft hadn’t reported anything. She glanced at her watch. He’d been silent for twenty minutes. He was supposed to be reporting in on the quarter hour.
Mouth dry, she keyed her radio. “What’s going on down there?”
“Hello. Can you read me?”
A long burst of static was followed by garbled voices. A man screamed.
She wheeled on the pale-faced young corporal holding a rope. “Get him out of there!”
He leaned back and grunted, red-faced with exertion. “Something’s wrong, Ma’am!”
She raced behind him, screaming at the stricken-looking young men huddling together. “Get over here. Help us get him out.”
Three of them put their backs into the effort, finally bringing the scout up into view. Limp-limbed, the young man’s head lolled back, his camouflage uniform covered in blood. They hauled him onto the ground and rolled him over.
A soldier held a flashlight as Eliana pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his face off. Something was on his forehead. She dabbed at it and stopped. The words burned into the man’s forehead told her all she needed to know. She stood on shaky legs.
Bug eyed, the corporal turned to her. “What is it? What’s it mean?”
She chose her words with care. “It’s Hebrew. It says: GET OUT.”
She flexed her fist and rubbed the heavy signet ring inscribed with pentacles and letters from an ancient language. She was going to need help from a source that some people said didn’t even exist.
PS: If you are interested in reading more the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, here are some books for you.
Budge, W. (Translator). (2007). The Kebra Nagast (The Glory of Kings). Lexington, KY: Silk Pagoda.
Clapp, N. (2001). Sheba: Through the Desert in Search of the Legendary Queen. New York, NY: First Mariner Books.
Coogan, M.D., Brettler, M.Z., Newsom, C.A., & Perkins, P. (Eds.). (2001). Kings 10:1-13 in The New Oxford Annotated Bible. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, p. 508-509.
Fraser, A. (2004). The Warrior Queens. New York, NY: Anchor Books.
Razwy, S.A.A. (Ed.) & Ali, A. Y. (Translator). (2009). The Qur’an Translation. Elmhurst, NY: Tahrike Tarsile.