An impenetrable safe is breached and a secret artifact is stolen. Containing information that could change the course of the world, its desperate owner sends Gideon Quinn, his head of security, and Gideon’s wife Rei, an art preservationist, to find it at any cost. What they discover is a clue to the lost throne of King Solomon, the real object of the theft. They are thrust out on an adventure that leads them halfway around the world. Following letters left by a Jesuit in 1681, they must weave through ancient sites along the Portuguese Spice Route, keeping ahead of a secret militant order that is determined to beat them to Solomon’s Throne.
Filled with fast paced action and having broad appeal, Solomon’s Throne is an ingenious treasure hunt adventure that sweeps the reader around the globe in a race against time.
“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.”
The Jesuit had heard it a thousand times before, so many times, in fact, that he had a hard time focusing on the penitant in the booth. It hadn’t been the normal day or time for confession, but he had seen the old man stagger into the chapel, and had assumed he was drunk. The city had built up around the old stone church, and the ale house across the way often spilled out it’s patrons onto the sacred grounds. The Jesuit didn’t mind. What better place to sleep it off than the safety of St. Anthony’s. The streets of Lisbon, especially so near the wharf, could be rough even when one had his faculties fully intact.
Watching the man as he went about his daily tasks of sweeping and checking the many candles, he saw with relief that he had collapsed with his back against the chancel wall, long legs sprawled out in front of him, chin to chest. His knobbled hand clutched the hilt of a long dagger, and his face - what could be seen around the wild spray of whiskers and wiry gray hair - was scarred.
Soldier, thought the Jesuit. He had seen many in his day, and heard many of their confessions. Many terrible things had been done in the name of God, and the men suffered long after their missions were complete.
Returning from the ash heap outside the rear door, the Jesuit saw that the man was gone. Surprised that he was able to get himself up, he put it out of his mind and continued trimming the tapers. In the silence a thud suddenly rang out. Looking around, he realized that he could see the man’s boots under the curtain of the confessional. He hurried over, and took his place behind the screen.
“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned,” came the gravely voice. “It has been thirty years since my last confession. I have killed many men. I have lied…” He broke off, coughing. “I’m sorry Father. I have lied to protect a secret, and I am now the last one to know it. But I made an oath that the knowledge would not be lost, and now time has run away with me.”
The Jesuit heard the man shift positions in the small booth, and then saw a leather pouch pushed under the dividing wall to his side of the confessional.
“Father, I am entrusting this to you. There are men who would kill you for it. They have chased me and… and caused me great hurt. But they have never beaten me! I have never told my secret, until now. Now, you must carry it. You must protect it. This letter… This letter would change the world. We can’t let that happen…We can’t…”
The man fell into a fit of coughing, and, peering through the screen between them, the Jesuit realized that blood was spewing from his mouth and cascading down his chin.
“My son! Let me help you!” The Jesuit made to open his curtain to go to the man’s aid, when the soldier inside him rose up.
“No! Father listen to me! I am dying. I make my final confession to you, and ask my God to forgive me. But you must listen! You must keep this letter from them, at all costs. And you must find the Throne of Solomon. I have led them away - oh Father, I have led them a merry chase!” The man laughed weakly. “But you must find it, and protect it. No one else knows… I am the last.” The man slumped back, and the urgency drained away as he began to fight for breath.
“I am the last. It is in Goa. They will find it if you don’t go… Father, you must go.”
Frantically the Jesuit tore back the curtains and knelt down next to the man. His skin was gray, and his lips were turning blue. Blood ran freely down his chin and onto his tattered green cloak, turning it black in a widening stain. The man gripped the Jesuit’s hand fiercely, and spat out one final word, “Run!”
The Jesuit performed last rites on the man, and then asked a novitiate to help him carry the body to their living quarters. The man had definitely been a soldier. His body had more scars than healthy skin, but he had been tall and strong. The cause of the blood became apparent as the novitiate stripped the body: he had a ragged stab wound in his chest. There was no smell of ale or wine about the man, and although his clothing was old and worn, it was of good quality. He had a leather purse full of silver cruzados. His dagger was of fine make and design, and he had an ornate silver eating knife in an inner pocket. In another pocket was a small leather-bound book, full of scribbled drawings and strange phrases.
“Father Eduardo…” The novitiate nervously interrupted the Jesuit’s perusal of the body.
“Yes, Paulo, I’m sorry. It’s not every day we have a man die in confession, now is it?”
“No Father. What would you like me to do now? Do we know who he was, or if he has any family in Lisbon?”
The Jesuit thought for a moment. “He said he was alone. That he was ‘the last.’ I think we shall bury him in the cemetery at Jeronimos Monastery, and add his remaining effects to our fund for the poor. He was a soldier… We shall give him a soldier’s burial.”
Astonished, Paulo nevertheless nodded his head in obedience. There were kings buried at the monastery. Vasco da Gama was buried there. Who was an unknown soldier compared to these men?
“Please wash the body carefully, and have Liza clean the poor man’s clothes. We will redress him in those, and bury him with his weapons. I will go to the monastery now to arrange the burial, but I will conduct the mass here.” Once again the novitiate nodded, and turned to his task.
Father Eduardo Borges Santos, the Jesuit, rushed back to the empty chapel and picked up the leather pouch the man had left on the floor of the confessional. Hiding it within his robes, he left the building.
Port of Lisbon
The Jesuit huddled behind the foremast of the Sao Miguel, avoiding both the wind and the strange men he seemed to see everywhere in Lisbon since the death of the mysterious soldier the year before. He was wrapped up in a rough wool cassock and cape, with the cape pulled closely around his head and ears. He had been told that the wind would die down by evening, which was several hours away. In exchange for being allowed on board a day early, he had been barred from the shared quarters he would occupy during the voyage. The captain had intimated that the crew would feel uncomfortable spending their last night at home in the company of a Jesuit, although was careful not to spell out the implied debauchery that would take place.
He had found a crate, which smelled strongly of chicken dung, and had stowed his belongings under it. He planned to sleep next to the crate, out of the cold as much as possible, rising with the dawn and the tide to see the ship leave his beloved city. He looked out over the tiled rooftop of the Seven Hills and tried to make sense out of the last few months. How was it possible that one man, a stranger, had so dismantled his life?
When the soldier died in his chapel, the Jesuit had felt that he was an important man, a warrior of the faith, who had led a hard but honorable life. He had done his best with the funeral mass and burial, although he had had to…embellish his knowledge of the man to get permission for his burial at the monastery. He had repented of his dishonesty, but he had never actually felt badly about it. He had always acted on those impulses about people, believing them to be special knowledge from God, and felt that, in most cases, his small embellishments to the strictest truth were justified.
After the burial, the Jesuit had taken leather pouch out of his small chest of personal belongings. It was the first time that he had looked at it since the grisly death, and his mind ran over the words of the intriguing man once again. Run, Father! Surely he was in the delusion of imminent death, suffering from his grievous wounds. Father Eduardo was a man of God… he didn’t need to run from anyone.
Carefully opening the ancient leather, which was smooth and soft from much use, the Jesuit pulled out a roll of parchment wrapped in a soft kerchief of fine weave. The scroll was vellum, of seemingly excellent quality. It was obviously very old, but the skin wasn’t cracked or broken, and the writing was still sharp and clear. The priest couldn’t read the text, but he recognized the language as Greek. He sat for awhile on his small bed, looking at the letter and pondering. Finally he wrapped it up in the soft cloth, and swung on his cloak.
“But can you translate it?” The Jesuit was sitting on a hard chair in the bright autumn sunshine, overlooking the Tagus River. His host was peering closely at the parchment, squinting and mumbling as he turned it to catch more of the sunlight.
“Patience, Eduardo, patience. Don’t they teach you that in your Society of Jesus?” Doctor Balsemao didn’t look up from the scroll. “Where did you say you got this? It is most remarkable!”
“The man who died during confession gave it to me. He said he was ‘the last’ and that he had vowed to pass it on so that the secret wouldn’t be lost. It’s probably nothing but the ramblings of a very sick man, Doutor. But he was very earnest, and it does seem that we should take a dying man’s declarations very seriously, does it not?”
“It is not ramblings, my friend. It will take me some time to write it out properly, but it appears to be quite an old letter of some kind. And I think… yes, I do think that it is signed ‘I, Paul’ and some other words that I believe mean ‘and Achalichus, who wrote this letter.’” Looking up, Balsemao saw the shocked look on the young priest’s face. “Now, Eduardo, let us not jump to conclusions. Greek is a troubling language, and I may be wrong. Or it may be an accounting of the shop of Paul the baker. Give me some time…” He bent over the parchment once again, a deep crease showing between his brows. “Yes, some time. Come back in two weeks, and I will let you know what I can decipher.”
The Jesuit sat for a few more moments, finishing the deep red wine that his father’s oldest friend had offered him. Sighing, he rose and bowed his goodbye. Doctor Balsemao never looked up.
Two weeks later, the Jesuit was sitting in the same chair. Cold had arrived, and a brisk wind was blowing across the river. He kept his hands tucked into the arms of the cloak, and the hood over his head. He would have preferred to sit inside by a warm fire, but Doctor Balsemao was agitated, and needed to pace.
“I did not begin this translation with any suppositions. I am sure you can see that one could slant one’s work towards a particular outcome, which of course we did not want. Whatever the letter says, it is best to know this clearly.” He swung his arms as he paced around the small area of grass, blowing on his hands and rubbing his ears, but not suggesting they continue inside. “I must confess to you, Eduardo, that I am most chagrined by this letter. If it is real, if it is nothing more or less than what it says, it is a letter that has the power to do much damage to the world as we know it…”
The Jesuit took in a sharp breath. “That is what he said. That is what the man who died said… He said it would change the world. I cannot see how a letter could do such a thing!’
The doctor sat down across the small table from the Jesuit. He looked at him for a long moment, then looked out over the gray river. He didn’t move for a very long time, but a sudden gust of wind stirred him. Without looking at the young man, he said, “The letter is from Paul of Tarsus. Our Saint Paul. It was written to the church in Jerusalem, dictated to his scribe Achalichus just before he was executed in Rome. Achalichus was to deliver the letter to Jerusalem himself. There is no indication, however, that this was accomplished. It is possible, of course, that the letter is a forgery… We can pray that the letter was a forgery.” He trailed off, staring out over the river once again. A few raindrops fell.
“Come, let us go in before the fire. I will tell you what your letter says, and I will give it back to you. I will try never to think of this letter again, and I will pray that you will have God’s wisdom on the matter.”
The two men went inside quickly, as the freshening rain began to slant towards them. The housekeeper had kept the fire high in the main room, and the Jesuit stood in front of it, hands as close to the flames as he could manage. Balsemao went to a heavily ornate chest in the corner and returned with the pouch and several sheaves of paper. He handed the papers to the Jesuit, and took a seat in front of the fire. He didn’t look at the priest as he read, just stared into the flames, lost in his own thoughts.
Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle by the will of God, to the church at Jerusalem: Grace and peace be to you from our Father, in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I always thank God for you all, for your faithfulness to our Lord in the land of His birth. We know that God has called and blessed the nation of Israel since the time of our father Abraham, and that He will honor your faithfulness in this time of affliction. I have longed to return to you, and to share with you all that God Almighty has done among the Gentiles. Alas I know from the Spirit of our Lord that my journey is almost at an end, and that I shall be united with my Father before the year is finished.
I am very pleased with the news that reached me through my son and friend Timothy, that you have elected Peter to be the bishop of the church in Jerusalem, and that James, the brother of our Lord, has become the bishop of Alexandria. While the Jews rejected Jesus, there are many of us following the Way, and we know that is it written, “The Delieverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob; and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” Israel will be saved, and it is right and fitting that she should be the center of our work to spread the gospel of good news to the world. Would that I could come!
We know that there are many upheavals going on throughout the world. We know that you are persecuted by the Jews for your faith in Jesus Christ, and by Gentiles for your faith in Abba Father. Through all things, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will be with you. As the church grows and spreads from Jerusalem throughout the entire world, may you continue to see His hand on our own people.
Timothy, my brother, greets you, as do Justus and Priscilla.
Achalichus, who wrote this letter, will deliver it to you with all haste, so that you may know that I have longed to come to you, and am keeping you before our heavenly Father at all times.
Now to Him who is able to do all things, may you find strength beyond your earthly bodies, and may His strength increase as yours decreases. To the only wise God, glory and honor forever. Amen!
The Jesuit stood very still, the temptation to throw the pages and the parchment into the fire very strong. He reread the letter, hands shaking. He looked at his friend, who was still staring into the flames.
Finally he spoke. “Peter was the bishop of the church. In Jerusalem.”
The doctor nodded. “Yes, according to this letter.”
“Not Rome. Jerusalem.”
“But…” He stopped. He was again tempted to throw the letter into the fire. He could pretend he’d never seen it, never read it, never… But no. He had seen it. Somehow, against all odds, this letter had survived for 1500 years. It had been hidden by the dead man, and those before him, to protect the Church of Rome… Well, that’s what he assumed. But someone else knew about it. Someone else wanted it. Someone had killed trying to get it. Or get it back?
“Eduardo.” The Jesuit realized that Doctor Balsemao was speaking to him. “Eduardo, I must ask you to go now. I do not want this in my house any longer. There is still a Court of Inquisition here; Antonio Vieira is in Rome trying to end the auto-da-fe’, but they still have power. I cannot risk my family, my lands… Please, you must take your letter and go!”
Fumbling with his cloak, draped over the chair to dry in front of the fire, the Jesuit stuffed the handwritten pages from the doctor into his undershirt, pulled the drawstring tight on the leather pouch, and ran outside, oblivious now to the wind and rain.
When Father Eduardo returned to his small room, he had tucked the pages away in his small chest and put all his energies into forgetting them. Unable to destroy them, and unable to forget them, he had stumbled through the next several weeks in a haze of duty and cold. Winter had come to Lisbon, and with it the poor and destitute seeking help. He kept busy visiting parishioners and helping with the small pox epidemic that cropped up over the Advent and Christmas seasons.
From time to time the letter would force its way into his thoughts, and he would just as forcibly push them back. He had no idea what to do with the information that Providence had put in his path, and was well aware of the dangers posed by the Inquisitors. The five year suspension ordered by Pope Innocent XI had led to a truce of sorts in the country, and very slim tendrils of trust had returned. But this… this was catastrophic. This letter produced by a complete stranger had the power to undermine the legitimacy of the entire Church. What would Rome do to stop such a thing from happening?
After the Christmas season had passed, the Jesuit noticed a stranger had begun attending mass. Lisbon had many travelers, traders and people from the Empire seeking a new life in the cosmopolitan city. But this man did not seem to be a trader. He did not have the hands or skin of a sailor. He did not appear to worship, but sat in the back of the chapel, hands folded in his lap, staring at Father Eduardo without appearing to blink.
The Jesuit spent the cold wet weeks of January and February in his small room, fire in the inadquate grate, working on a calligraphy copy of the New Testament for the Abbot at Jeronimo Monastery. He had trained in such work in his youth, and still enjoyed spending the cold winter months creating the beautiful books. His mind was consumed with the detail, and he forgot about the letter hidden away in his chest.
On the first fine day of the year, he took a chunk of bread and cheese, and set out to walk the wharf and enjoy the noonday sun. Seagulls fought over rotting fish carcasses, and stray dogs and cats lolled about in the warm sunshine. The strong smells of a working wharf washed over him as he strolled along, enjoying the massive nau in for the winter, and the smaller fishing boats tied up to unload their early morning catch. Finding a stone wall to perch on, he turned his face to the sun and closed his eyes, saying a silent prayer for his meal.
“Good afternoon, Father.”
The coarse voice startled him, and he turned towards it. Standing before him was the man from the chapel, the man who had been attending mass. He had been coming so long now that the priest had stopped wondering about him. And yet here he was, standing in front of him at the wharf, far from his chapel. His dark eyes were squinting against the bright sun, but he was standing very still and straight, hands clasped in front of him.
“Oh! Good afternoon. I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there.” He tried a smile, but he was feeling very uneasy.
“Father, I believe you knew a friend of mine. Sebastian de Gois?”
The priest thought a moment, “I’m sorry, no. Was he a member of our parish?”
The man stared at the Jesuit. “At the end. He died in your chapel. In your arms, I believe.”
“That was his name? I didn’t know it. Well, now we can properly mark his grave. I’m sorry about your friend.”
At the mention of a grave, the man’s intensity increased. “He was buried? Where?”
“Yes, of course. Ah! I assume you thought he would have been put in a pauper’s grave, since we didn’t know who he was? Luckily he had some money with him, and he seemed to be a gentleman soldier from the little we spoke. I arranged for him to be buried at the Jeronimo Monastery…”
He trailed off as the man spun around and stalked up the street, away from the wharf. The Jesuit still felt very uneasy, and decided he would return to his cell and vouchsafe his belongings. Sebasian de Gois. What trouble have you wrought upon me, Mestre de Gois?
When he returned to his small room, he was relieved to see that it was undisturbed. Feeling foolish at his increasing anxiety, he gathered the leather pouch containing the vellum scroll, the translation given to him by Doctor Balsemao, and the small handwritten journal that he had found in the dead man’s pocket, and hurried with them into the chapel. Looking around, looking over his shoulder, he scuttled to and fro in the small building, trying to find a hiding place both large enough to contain all his secrets, and small enough to be inconspicuous.
Stopping in the middle of the sanctuary, he closed his eyes and breathed a silent prayer. Taking a deep breath, he opened his eyes, and looked around him, pushing aside his fear. There. The small side altar. He knew from having done services there that, behind that small altar, on the old stone floor, was a loose rock. He had never tried to move or repair it, but it would be a starting place. Hurrying over, he got down on his knees and pushed on rear edge of the rock. It wobbled just a bit. Unable to get his fingers any purchase, the Jesuit leapt up and rushed into the sacristy. There he grabbed the knife with which he trimmed the candle wicks.
Working quickly, he pried up the loose stone. There was only a very small concavity beneath the stone, probably the result of water in some bygone age. Using his fingers and the knife, the priest quickly dug out enough earth to fit the pouch securely inside. He placed the papers and the journal in the pouch, cinched it, folded the top edge over to discourage dust, and put it carefully in the hole. He replaced the rock, and used his cloak to sweep the dirt that he could not scoop up into the corners. The rest he dumped outside the back door, wiping his hands clean on his cossack. His skin was damp with perspiration despite the cooling winter day, and he leaned against the wall, trying to dismiss his frightening thoughts.
The next Sunday, the Jesuit noticed that the dark eyed man wasn’t in the congregation during mass. Feeling relieved, he performed the service with a much lighter heart. After greeting the parishioners and partaking of the Sunday mid-day meal with a local solicitor and his family, he returned to his room with no thoughts other than finishing his book. He opened the door and uttered one word. “Bosto.”
His room, with it’s few possessions and minimally adequate furniture, had been hit by a cyclone. A cyclone with knives. His only other cassock was shredded, the pieces of black wool scattered about the room. His small bed, with the hay stuffed mattress, was ripped down the center and emptied of all but a few scraggles of straw. His rough wool coverlet was in tatters. The wood bedstead, stool and work table were kindling. The ashes from the fire had been thrown out and onto the rest of the mess, and the water from the small clay pitcher poured on top, making a sodden, smelly mess. And his book for the monastery, his beautiful book, on which he’s spent countless hours… Each page had been torn into small pieces, and the tooled leather cover slashed and ruined.
The Jesuit stood, frozen. He was a priest, not a man of violence. He had been fortunate to escape the tentacles of the Inquisition, and had been brought up by quiet parents on a farm near Doctor Balsemao. He was not yet born when Portugal regained it’s independence from Spain, and he had early decided on a monastic life. He did not understand the anger expressed in the wholesale destruction of his room, nor the mind behind it. He just knew evil when he saw it, and he turned and ran.
Looking out over the harbor, lit up with the dawn, Eduardo clutched the leather pouch in his inner pocket. He didn’t know what it was about, but he knew that, unless he left Lisbon, the man with the dark eyes would find him, and would make him surrender what Sebastian de Gois had died protecting. He wasn’t sure why, but he wasn’t about to do that. He would protect the letter, yes, and the Church with it. But he would also find the treasure. The Throne of King Solomon.