“The only difficulty, Solomon,” Makeda said, “is you think the speaker is truthful. I’ve read in your history of a general who received ambassadors pretending to be from a distant land. They wore run-down clothes and carried moldy provisions. I might believe tales of outlandish customs in far-off Ann Arbor from emissaries who are more road-weary than my caravan. Not less.”
Solomon nodded. “My love, my heart rejoices when your lips speak right things. Yet there are facts that argue against your intimations. This girl has been tested this afternoon. That she is in this room and that she is at my right hand means she has demonstrated good character and industry. These traits are rare among thieves.”
Nell started at this. She had thought something was afoot, but now she regarded the tasks she’d been given and saw the subtle signals exchanged between Miriam and Dinah in a different light.
“You’ll note the girl’s reaction. It shows both her ignorance of these tests and yet her perceptiveness of the intrigues about her. The former serves to confirm her master’s assessment, whereas the latter undermines her story only tangentially.”
Nell openly looked at Makeda now and saw her attitude, at least toward Solomon, soften. “You play this game better than you let on,” Makeda said.
Solomon bowed his head. “Your praise means a great deal to me, Queen Makeda, but our contest is not yet at an end. Is it your contention that these strangers,” Solomon gestured at Nestor, Sid, and Nell, “are lying?”
“Yes, King Solomon.”
He nodded, “I was initially inclined to think them thieves. I am unsure about many things, but seldom liars and thieves.” Solomon reached into his tunic, pulled out Jack’s notebook, and held it before him. “I could imagine them here to steal this, because they arrived within a day of your presenting it to me.” Nell heard the sound of Makeda’s guard unsheathing his sword. Solomon continued. “The girl is as fit as Benaiah’s daughter, Dinah, and like Dinah she carries herself like a warrior.” Nell eased her weight onto the tips of her feet. “She, even now, crouches to spring like a leopard. Perhaps to snatch the Eye of Ophir from my grasp.”
Maketa’s Nubian guard moved toward Nell as Benaiah drew his own sword. Makeda sprang forward as Nell leapt to her feet. She wheeled on the Nubian, drew her stunner, and cut him down. He convulsed and fell in a heap, his sword clattering to the floor.
Nell spun around and aimed at Benaiah, sword out, rushing forward and trying to pull Solomon behind him. All she would need do is stun them both, and grab the notebook to end this charade.
She heard a scuffle on her right. Nestor lay pinned beneath Dinah who straddled him in an unladylike fashion. To their right, Makeda had grabbed Sid by the collar and held a thin, jeweled dagger to his jugular.
That complicated things.
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