Nikolaus hardly heard what Balthazar said about a riddle. He was thinking about coming all this way and spending so much time, money, and effort to learn that his most pressing question could not be answered. Yet, the circumstantial evidence was overwhelming. The chief astrologer did, in fact, die by violence, either accidently or intentionally. Nicandros did leave the villa with the Prophecy Box. No matter what the actual details were, Nikolaus’s father took advantage of the situation. His father’s actions caused a great tragedy but that ultimately led to Nikolaus being adopted into a close-knit family, being married to a woman he loved, having his own family, and being financially secure with a hopeful future. He had endured the loss of his family and four years of slavery but even that had taught him humility and to never take anything for granted.
Calypso patted his arm. “For your own sake, let go of the past.” “You’re right,” he whispered. “I don’t need to know anything else. There is nothing I can do to change it, anyway.”
Yet, even as he spoke, he knew his words were empty. He had no intention of letting go of the past if it led him to the Prophecy Box. The power it apparently offered could not be ignored. He would use the box for doing good, he told himself, but ambitious thoughts crept into his mind. Could he be more than just an inn keeper? Could he finish what his father could not? What if the box could do much more than even Daniel realized? What if Daniel was actually lying and knew the box had supernatural power? Nikolaus shook himself and tried to redirect his thoughts. He realized he had not heard what Daniel and Adan were saying.
“Did you write it down?” asked Adan.
“The riddle? No need.” Daniel tapped his temple. “I will never forget it. Balthazar said, ‘Look to the leg of the mouse and there you will find the box.’ That’s it.”
“What? That’s the whole riddle?” chirped Calais. “What does it mean?”
The others looked just as incredulous. “He must have been ill and feverish,” said Nikolaus. “Was he delirious?”
Daniel shook his head. “He told me this riddle weeks before he became ill.”
“Look to the leg of the mouse,” repeated Adan. “The mouse?” Daniel made a sheepish face. “Does that mean anything to you? Balthazar said only you could decipher the riddle. He literally meant, only you.”
“Only me,” Adan muttered. “Then it had to be something unique to me, to my life. Look to the leg of the mouse. Look to the leg of the mouse. What kind of mouse?”
Then realization came to him. He leaned his head back and laughed. The others stared at him with concern.
Adan ignored them. “Daniel, when you got back from Thebes, was there any new furniture?”
“Umm. New furniture. Not anything that could hold the box. Believe me, I’ve looked everywhere.”
“Don’t worry about that. Just tell me about anything new.”
Daniel rested his chin on his fist to think. “He bought a new table for the dining room with chairs rather than the reclining couches. He always disliked the Roman custom of lying on one’s side to eat. He also commissioned a new bed frame and a cabinet for our scrolls but it only has shelves and no doors. I even checked the grounds to see if he might have buried it. Nothing was disturbed.”
“I need to see the furniture,” said Adan as he stood up. They followed Daniel into the library. They entered the room but stopped when they saw the floor mosaic of the legendary monster. Daniel stepped around it and waved a hand at the cabinet. It was a few moments before Adan looked away from the griffin. Nikolaus knelt down and ran his hand over the head of the creature with its yellow eyes and curved, predatory beak.
Calypso took his arm. “It is just some fancy artwork on a floor. People walk on it.”
Nikolaus stood. “You’re right. It’s just a floor.”
Yet, as long as they were in the room, he kept looking down at the ferocious creature. Adan turned his attention to the cabinet, took one look, and shook his head. Daniel led them to the dining room. Adan scanned the table and, again, shook his head. They followed Daniel up the stairs to the bedroom Balthazar once used.
“I never come in here,” explained Daniel as Calypso ran a finger across the clothes chest and clicked her tongue at the dust. Daniel waved a hand at the elaborately carved bed frame.
“It is beautiful, isn’t it? Balthazar was quite proud of this bed.” Adan looked at the four legs of the bedframe. They were unusually large with ornate carving along the two sides that faced out.
“Yes, I imagine he was. And for good reason. Niko, did I ever tell you about my pet donkey?”
Nikolaus blinked at him as if he’d lost his mind. “Am I actually supposed to answer that?” Adan addressed the others. “This man in Rome had a donkey that suffered a terrible accident and mangled her lower leg. I nursed her back to health. After she healed from her surgery, I made her a wooden leg. I called my three-legged donkey Musculus, Little Mouse. Three of her legs were natural, of course, but one leg had a wooden support. ‘Look to the leg of the mouse.’ And one of those,” he pointed to the legs of the bedframe, “holds the Prophecy Box. Balthazar never had to worry about its safety. He slept on it every night.”
The others looked more closely at the legs but saw no indication of hiding anything. “What are you talking about, Adan?” asked Nikolaus doubtfully. “They’re just legs on a frame.”
“Having made a few bed frames when I was working for Serapio, I can promise you, this frame is unique. Help me get the mattress off and turn it on its side.”
The undersides of the four legs were exposed. Adan looked at each one until he pointed at a brass ring hidden in the bottom of a leg. There was also space within the leg between an outer wall and an inner core. He raised the ring from its hinged indentation and pulled. The core of the leg began to move. A box made of cypress wood with three stones on the lid came free from the, now hollow leg. A gap in the inner wall allowed for the stones. The others stared in amazement.
Adan set the box on a small table by the window. No one moved to touch it but could only stare in wonder at the ancient object.
“Amazing,” mumbled Daniel to himself. “Never in a thousand years would I have thought of that.” A struggle of temptation twisted in his heart. Finally, he relaxed and looked at Adan. “I wish I could keep this treasure all to myself, but my conscience won’t let me. Balthazar told me that you must take the box, Adan.”
Praise for Secret of the Ruby
“As in the first two A. E. Smith’s Gemstone Trilogy books, the author has done extensive research into the times and circumstances following the crucifixion of Jesus. All characters in this biblical fiction, whether heroes or villains, demonstrate strong traits. The protagonists show courage and wisdom as they seek to unravel mysteries and arrive at understanding. As in previous biblical novels by Smith, this author weaves tantalizing plots, which keep the reader engaged. If you enjoy biblical fiction, you will thoroughly enjoy this novel.”
“In this third book of the Gemstone Trilogy, the story of Centurion Adan Longinus culminates in a final quest to help his brother uncover the truth about a family tragedy that is tied to the fabled ‘Prophecy Box.’ As with the the earlier books in the trilogy, The Secret of the Ruby is incredibly well-researched. Author A. E. Smith draws on that knowledge to create a fascinating window into the ancient world. I especially enjoyed the seafaring lore and detail concerning the Antikythera Mechanism—an invention I had never heard of before this reading. Smith is as adept at exploring the mysteries of the human heart as civilizations of old, taking the reader on a journey that is both thought-provoking and entertaining. If you enjoy good biblical fiction, this may be your next great read—either as a conclusion to the trilogy or as a stand-alone novel.”
About the Author
A. E. Smith has a bachelor of science degree from Baylor University and a master’s degree from Northern Arizona University. She is also the author of Journey of the Pearl, Quest of the Sapphire, and a young reader’s fantasy tale, A Gift for Gracelyn.