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The Queen’s Journey
In the ancient country of Sheba, whose name means “Host of Heaven,” the Queen looked at her land and smiled. Sixty foot dams pierced the shimmering blue sky, giving the city hydraulic power in an age where most people were still dependant on their own muscles to get their work done. The most advanced irrigation techniques watered the beautiful gardens that perfumed the city. Her wealthy citizens were tall and commanding, with skin as black as agate, and robes flowing with gold and precious stones.
Three camels staggered up the Incense Road along the Red Sea, their backs laden with the prized spices of Sheba—frankincense and myrrh, saffron, cumin, aloes, and galbanum. Frankincense, the spice that represents life to both Jews and Muslims, is tapped from the resinous tears of the Boswellia tree. The most fragrant frankincense flows from trees that grow from solid rocks, for in their struggle to survive, they produce a sweeter resin. These sweet tears were offered to the gods, heaped on funeral pyres so the dead could experience joy in the next life, and ingested as an antidote for poison and a cure for everything from chest pains to paralysis.
But there was a problem. King Solomon of Israel was making new trade routes in the southern part of the Red Sea, which would quickly hurt her traders and make the overland route through her country less popular. Every time a trader passed through her country on its way to the Mediterranean Coast, he paid 688 denarii, or $13,760 per camel, to the inns, pubs, wells, and camel feed stores along the way. It was time to pay King Solomon a visit. Not to mention that she had heard Solomon was wise and handsome.
Lying on top of a gold palanquin curtained bed atop a white bejeweled camel, the Queen of Sheba embarked on her six month journey to Jerusalem. 797 camels, mules, and donkeys trailed behind her bearing 4.5 tons of gold, precious stones, furniture, and spices. Armed guards protected her from brigands, as well as four royal Numidian lions, fifty elephants, giraffes and hippopotami. The animals bore pots of frankincense, pink pearls from the sea of reeds, the endangered storax tree, black resin of rockrose, myrtle, oliban, and ambergris.
“What riddle, Gwandoya, would test the mind of the wisest of men?” the Queen asked, sticking her head out of the shimmering purple silk curtains of her palanquin.
“Oh Queen, I once heard a riddle that stymied the minds of all who heard it. Few would know the answer.”
“I would like to hear this hard riddle,” the Queen replied, a shooting star of excitement flashing through her mind. She loved a challenge.
Gwandoya smiled, his eyes twinkling.
“What is the ugliest thing in the world, and what is the most beautiful? What is the most certain, and what is the most uncertain?”
The Queen thought, her eyebrows drawn together in concentration. Catching her reflection in the mirror, she gasped. The humidity had totally frizzed out her hair.
“The ugliest thing is a bad hair day; the most beautiful, a good hair day. The most certain is knowing that a bad hair day is going to come; the most uncertain is knowing when.”
Gwandoya looked at the Queen, speechless.
The Queen grinned at him.
“Just kidding. The ugliest thing is the faithful turning unfaithful; the most beautiful is the repentant sinner. The most certain is death; the most uncertain, one’s share in the World to Come.”
Gwandoya looked at her admiringly, then heaved a sigh of relief. He had thought she was serious.
“And now I have a riddle for you, my wise Gwandoya,” the Queen said four hours later.
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
The Queen wanted to jump up and down she was so excited, but she knew she shouldn’t. She might break her carriers’ collarbones.
“But first let me tell you the time I fell down a well. I was dancing around my garden inhaling the scent of my frankincense tree when I—”
“Your Majesty…the riddle?”
“Oh yes, the riddle! What is the most powerful organ of the body?”
Gwandoya was silent for the next 13 minutes.
"Death and life are in the power of the bicep—uh, tongue," Gwandoya grinned. “Words have the power to crush the spirit, as well as raise it up to the light.”
“You are very wise, Gwandoya.”
And as they saw Solomon’s palace shimmering in the distance, the Queen knew her time had come.