The Quest for the Crown of Thorns
by Cynthia Ripley Miller
Publication Date: June 12, 2017
Knox Robinson Publishing
eBook & Paperback; 308 Pages
Series: The Long – Hair Saga, Book 2
Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery
AD 454. Three years after the Roman victory over Attila the Hun at Catalaunum, Arria Felix and Garic the Frank are married and enjoying life on Garic’s farm in northern Gaul (France). Their happy life is interrupted, when a cryptic message arrives from Rome, calling Arria home to her father, the esteemed Senator Felix. At Arria’s insistence, but against Garic’s better judgment, they leave at once.
Upon their arrival at Villa Solis, they are confronted with a brutal murder and the dangerous mission that awaits them. The fate of a profound and sacred object–Christ’s Crown of Thorns–rests in their hands. They must carry the holy relic to the safety of Constantinople, away from a corrupt emperor and old enemies determined to steal it for their own gain.
But an even greater force arises to derail their quest–a secret cult willing to commit any atrocity to capture the Crown of Thorns. And all the while, the gruesome murder and the conspiracy behind it haunt Arria’s thoughts.
Arria and Garic’s marital bonds are tested but forged as they partner together to fulfill one of history’s most challenging missions, The Quest for the Crown of Thorns.
“What does it serve a man . . .?”
September 24, AD 454
The evening light fled past the shadows and found its way to the underworld. Gaudentius dropped to a knee and touched the cold sarcophagus. Behind him, he heard the soft tread of his mother’s feet on the tiles of the chapel and her slight sigh.
“Come away, my son,” she said. “Keeping vigil over your father’s tomb will not bring him back to our world. Let us return to the house. I have something to show you.”
Gaudentius and his mother boarded the carriage at the edge of the cemetery. He rode beside her in silence. He respected her quiet way, but his pulse raced. What would she reveal to him? After a few miles, the vehicle lumbered to a stop. Two torches burned in the early, grey evening and flanked the entrance of their villa. A servant opened the coach door. “Lady Pelagia. Master,” he greeted and bowed toward them. Gaudentius watched his mother’s lithe form as she crossed the threshold. Her ebony curls, streaked with grey and gathered up in gold ribbon, glowed in the torchlight. He too had inherited her family’s jet black hair and hazel eyes over his father’s light brown coloring. A trait his mother noted with pride to her friends.
Once inside the house, Gaudentius followed his mother into the library. The room’s tall brazier flamed near his father’s napping couch. A lamp glowed on the desk. His mother unfastened her cloak and taking his, she dropped them on a chair. She locked the door, then hurried to his father’s armoire. Made from a rich maple and inlaid with square panels of fine African citrus, the cabinet swallowed the room. She swung the doors open, knelt beside the bottom shelf and removed some scrolls. With a swift hand, she slid her palm across the wood toward the far left corner. Her fingers pressed lightly and a small, hinged door popped up. She reached into the recess and pulled out a glass tube, rose to her feet and walked to the lamp.
Gaudentius followed and observed in awe as she placed the glass cylinder on the desk. A gnarled stem of rotted wood rested inside the case. He picked up the vial and gazed at it. Before his mother could protest, he opened and plucked the artifact from its container. “So black and its prick still sharp! Where is this twisted stem with its thorns from?” Gaudentius questioned.
She lightly touched his tunic’s sleeve. “My son leave it, lest you destroy what I believe to be a holy relic—taken from the thorny Crown of Christus. Return the stem to its vial and replace the cork. Gaze at its beauty and magnificence under the protection of the glass.”
Gaudentius obeyed, then placed the vial on the desk. Even more intrigued, he asked, “How did father acquire this?”
“How did your father accomplish anything? His wit, his friends, and money. Aetius was a great man and general.”
“Is, Mother. He lives in my heart.”
“In mine as well, but now is not the time for sentiment. You’re a man now and must lead. Emperor Valentinian and his wretched advisor, Petronius Maximus, have left Ravenna and returned to Rome. I’m sure Maximus has heard of your father’s most treasured possessions. His greed is limitless and his envy extreme. He covets all that those greater than he possess. Your father suspected treachery from him and that foul eunuch, Heraclius. The emperor should be careful of whom he trusts.”
“Can you be so sure Maximus instigated father’s death? The emperor and his chamberlain Heraclius are his killers.”
“I would wager my life on Maximus’ involvement.”
“Then, what shall we do?”
“There is only one man that I trust other than your father—Senator Felix. He will help us. This sacred Stem of Thorns must find its way to the Patriarch Anatolius in Constantinople. There it can be validated and exalted as the remnant of our Lord’s earthly and painful crown. Your father believed in its authenticity, as do I.”
“Why have you kept it, Mother? Why wasn’t it given to Pope Leo in Rome?”
“Your father had a weakness for beautiful things, especially those he considered sacred. Among his many artifacts and priceless scrolls, he believed this small sprig once tormented the head of Christus. It was more than a relic for him, it was a miracle that he felt graced his life. He trusted no one else to keep it safe, not even the pope, in case the emperor demanded they be given to him.”
“How can Senator Felix help?”
“The Thorns cannot stay in Rome and must never fall into Valentinian’s hands. He murdered your father. Besides, the Vandals threaten war and Valentinian is slowly losing his grip on the empire. He might sell the relic for his own gain.” Pelagia sighed and took his hand. Her deep brown eyes shone. “My faith urges that the Thorns find a refuge where they can be safely viewed and venerated. I believe Emperor Marcian and the patriarch would honor and protect them. Felix knows Marcian well. Remember, his daughter, Arria was married to Marcian’s son, Lucius Valerius, killed in battle in Germania.”
“This may work,” Gaudentius said, letting go of his mother’s hand and placing the vial in his palm. “Transporting this treasure to Constantinople will prove difficult. But once arrived, Marcian and the patriarch will enshrine and protect the holy relic. What our Lord possessed in pain will now bring the people joy.”
His mother caressed his cheek. “Gaudentius, my heart breaks that your father will not know you past your seventeenth year. He would be proud of your generosity. Come, let us leave for Tuscia. I’ve sent word to Felix that our visit is more than merely friendly.”
“Ripley Miller astutely brings to life a Rome teetering precariously on the brink of collapse …the combination of political and romantic drama–spiritual as well–is rousing. The reader should be glad to have read this volume and eager for a third. Intelligent and artfully crafted historical fiction…” -Kirkus Reviews
“From cover to cover a gripping read – in all senses of the word! Grips your interest and imagination, your held breath and your pounding heart! A thumping good novel!” -Helen Hollick USA Today bestselling author of the Sea Witch Voyages
“Forbidden love, a turbulent time period, and world-changing events combine to produce a real page-turner.” -India Edghill, author of Queenmaker, Wisdom’s Daughter, and Delilah.
“A passionate and intriguing take on the often overlooked clash of three brutal and powerful empires: the Romans, Franks, and Huns. A Compelling read!” -Stephanie Thornton, author of The Secret History and The Tiger Queens
“Readers will be absorbed by a setting of barbarian Gaul and the constancy of Arria’s and Garic’s destined love amid the strife of a dying Roman Empire.” -Albert Noyer, author of The Getorius and Arcadia Mysteries
“The Quest for the Crown of Thorns, is an elegant masterpiece of historical fiction. This book totally ensnared me in its clasps, and it did not release me until I had read it all. The attention to detail was exquisite The characterisation was sublime, and the romance was breathtakingly beautiful. I adored the world that Miller has created, as well as the characters in it. This is a sit-down and finish book and is one I would Highly Recommend.” -Mary Anne Yarde author of the Du Lac Chronicles
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