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1604 — Kane is now fifty. He still has steely muscles, great endurance and remarkable strength. He’s still a superb swordsman. His appearance has hardly altered, except for grey strands in his lank black hair. There was always something timeless and ineluctable about Solomon Kane. At twenty-five, with his strange dark pallor and fanatical assurance, he seemed older, and now, having reached the half-century mark, he looks younger.
He travels eastward into Russia with members of the English merchant body, the Muscovy Company. He knows nothing about the land before him. He has vaguely heard of Russia’s barbarities, and of Tsar Ivan the Terrible, but Ivan has been dead twenty years. The present Tsar is Boris Godunov, who almost certainly had Ivan’s heir Dimitri killed at the age of ten before seizing power. His health is failing now. Godunov has encouraged the English to trade with Moscow; they are exempt from duties there. What will happen when he dies is difficult to guess.
Russia has just suffered a terrible famine which slew one-third of its population. Riots, revolt and cannibalism have marked its course.
In March the impostor Dimitri visits the Polish royal court and gains an audience with King Sigismund III. He converts to Catholicism to gain Jesuit and Polish support. Certain great Polish nobles give him 3500 soldiers from their armies, and he leads them onto Russian soil in June. Enemies of Boris Godunov join False Dimitri in his advance on Moscow. They win one battle and capture Chernigov.
1605 — Tsar Boris Godunov dies suddenly on the 13th of April. His son Fyodor becomes Tsar – briefly. The impostor Dimitri, who claims to be the lost heir of Ivan the Terrible, had been losing battles and support when Godunov died, but now his cause revives. Many Russian nobles and soldiers turn to his side. On June 1st Moscow nobles (boyars) make the newly-crowned Tsar Fyodor and his mother prisoners.
While this is happening, Kane finds that the magician whose bones he saw in the Black Forest was not the only evil magician Russia had to offer. Abbot Mikhail Stribog of the Golden Monastery on the outskirts of Moscow is another. He has powers that can make brave men tremble, and he hates alien influence such as that of the English merchants. But then he comes up against Kane and the staff of Solomon.
1605 — Dimitri the impostor (False Dimitri I – who is really Grigori Otrepiev, a “razstriga” or unfrocked monk) orders Fyodor and his mother murdered. This is done. Probably the boyars would have killed them even if Dimitri hadn’t given the word.
In Moscow, Dimitri is crowned Tsar on 21st July. He has confined the Tsarevna Xenia in the palace, raped her and made her his concubine. She is the only surviving member of the Godunov family now, and will probably die when Dimitri tires of her. Kane, a compulsive knight-errant, determines to rescue her, and the one way to effect that is to kill the impostor Tsar.
1606 — The impostor makes his worst mistake when he seeks an alliance with Poland-Lithuania and with the Pope. The devout Orthodox Russians suspect Dimitri will seek to make Russia a Catholic country like Poland. The treacherous boyar Shuiski, who had helped put False Dimitri on the throne, now conspires against him. False Dimitri marries a Polish noblewoman, Marina Mniszech, on the 6th of May. Seasoned fighting men, Kane among them, storm his apartments in the Kremlin on the 17th. The young villain meets them with pistols and a sabre. He wounds Kane, who seizes him and hurls him through a window into a courtyard. A conspirator with a musket fires, killing him. Xenia is saved and Vasili Shuiski becomes the new Tsar.
Kane travels south. He’s disillusioned with Polish, Lithuanian and Russian politics. He concludes that all these countries are as savage as Africa, with less excuse. A Russian merchant gives him passage down the Dneiper to the Crimean Khanate. The merchant has discovered that Kane is the same Suleiman Kahani who scarred the face of Kemal Bey in a sea-fight twenty-five years before. Kemal Bey is now Kemal Pasha, a great man in Egypt, and would be pleased to have Kane in his power. The merchant drugs Kane, who wakes in shackles.
1607 — Kane is taken to Egypt. In Alexandria he is brought face to face with Kemal Pasha. The scar-faced Turk has given much thought to Kane’s fate. Flaying, ganching and other Ottoman amusements all have their points, but he decides in the end to have Kane dismembered and his raw amputations cauterized with red-hot iron, for as long as he can survive the process. He allows Kane three days to think about what is coming.
An Arab he does not know comes to Kane’s dungeon on the first of those days. He tells Kane that he is Asad, a brother of Yussef the Hadji that Kane met twelve years before (“The Footfalls Within”). Asad doubted Yussef’s story aforetime, but now he believes it, having seen both Kane and the ancient staff he carries. Asad returns the staff to Kane and helps him escape on the dhow of a nephew who plies the Red and Arabian Seas. He’s now bound on a trading voyage down the east coast of Africa. The Portuguese claim that as their particular domain in these times, which does not impress the nephew. His people were trading in that region before any Portuguese knew it existed. “Shaitan devour them!” he says cheerfully.
Kane reflects that his fate by the inscrutable will of God seems joined to Africa. He feels considerable gratitude to Asad and his nephew. Strong-hearted as Kane is, he was not looking forward to the death Kemal intended for him.
1608 – The nephew’s ship is wrecked on the east coast of Madagascar. This is decades before the island becomes a pirate haven for freebooters. Kane crosses the island from east to west in a series of involvements with the Malagasy tribes’ wars. On the western coast they fall in with an Arab trader, and cross the Mozambique Channel in his vessel. The nephew and his surviving crewmen go home; Kane is set ashore by his own request near a Portuguese trading post.
1609 — Kane makes his way to the African state of Mwenu Mutapa, home of the ruins of the Great Zimbabwe, its former seat of power. The Portuguese called the state “Monomotapa”. Gatsi Rusere was the realm’s ruler between 1589 and 1623.
To his horror Kane finds cannibalism practiced in this realm, by certain privileged people such as the ruler’s bodyguard, anyhow. When they are hungry they cry, “Meat! Meat!” and the king indicates at random any subject he pleases, for his guards to butcher on the spot. Kane impulsively rescues one such intended victim, a young man, shooting two of the guards with his pistols. He and the young man have to flee quickly.
Gatsi Rusere’s realm is a source of ivory and slaves to Portuguese traders. They believed at first that this was the region of Ophir, source of King Solomon’s gold. Seeing how hard the Bantu miners have to work for a few ounces of gold has caused them to abandon that idea.
Kane’s new companion proves quick-witted but something of a rascal. He was enslaved as punishment for theft. His master nicknamed him “Moshi”, which is the Swahili word for “Smoke”, because he vanished like smoke when there was work in the offing. By profession he’s a wood-carver, and among the Africans Kane has known before, in the west, that group is notoriously irresponsible.
1610 — Kane, with his young interpreter and guide, comes to what we call Lake Malawi or Nyasa. The rainforest on its shores is extensive, with a wealth of lush green trees, many fifty metres tall. (In Kane’s day.) The fauna includes samango monkeys, baboons, leopards, black mambas, porcupines, antelope and hyenas. Beautiful orchids abound. Now begins the adventure REH titled “The Children of Asshur”, which exists only as a fragment. It suggests that they arrive in the rainy season, which ends in March, so the attack and massacre by the Assyrians against Kane’s hosts must have been perpetrated early in the year. (Between July and August is the dry and relatively cool season.)
Moshi is not at Kane’s side when the attack comes; he’s chasing a comely local girl. Both are captured by the Assyrians and marched away. Kane follows. The raiders took his weapons and the staff. He intends to regain them, and punish the massacre.
How did an Assyrian city come to be built in far southern Africa? Kane gathers that they had fled from the conquering Persians, but that is not the complete story. He recalls from the Bible that Judah and Egypt had formed an alliance against the Assyrian Empire, which Isaiah had prophesied would bring disaster on both, but Sennacherib’s army was destroyed by the Angel of Death. Perhaps an Assyrian governor or general in Egypt took the opportunity to rebel and seize Egypt for himself. Then he was forced to flee with his adherents, when King Esarhaddon came against the Delta with his armies.
The Persians sacked and razed Nineveh the Bloody City in 612. Other Assyrians, led by a magician, came south in a great trek after Nineveh’s destruction. The magician found the earlier group of expatriates and led them deeper into Africa, searching for a mighty demon imprisoned in a crypt bearing an enchanted seal. Christian and Islamic legends alike ascribe the bonds and confinement of demons to King Solomon. Kane has encountered one such confined demon before, and destroyed it (“The Footfalls Within”). In this African city of Ninn, founded by traitors and evil magicians from Assyria more than two thousand years before Kane’s time, he encounters the greatest of all the malevolent “djinn” – Kingu.
Kingu in Babylonian legend is the leader of the chaos queen Tiamat’s forces. Now deprived of the tablets of fate he once wore on his breast, he is confined to the locale of this African plateau. Kingu’s shape is that of an immense man-headed winged bull. With a stamp of one hoof he can shatter a high mansion. He demands mass human sacrifices from the people of Ninn, and his overwhelming desire is to escape and possess the tablets of fate again. He would then be unstoppable. Kane sees at once that the true God has brought him here to destroy the creature – and he knows from experience that the staff of King Solomon can do this. It is the last great task he has been set.
Briefly, he fulfills it. His young servant Moshi and the girl he desires are saved from death, and the demon Kingu is destroyed. Kane, clinging to Kingu’s vast head, pierces both the demon’s eyes with the pointed staff. When Kingu crashes to his knees in agony and bends his bleeding head to the ground, Kane rolls clear, though several ribs and one leg are broken. Kingu stamps the city of his worshippers flat in his frenzy of pain, then flies blindly into the air, but being still confined to the locality of Ninn by the sceptre’s power, he cannot fly far. He strikes the mountain behind the city with awful force, bringing a great landslide down upon himself. As Kingu is overwhelmed, Kane roars an invocation against the monster from his tortured chest, holding the staff high. The winged man-bull perishes.
1611 — Tended by Moshi and his bride Rwenu, Kane recovers from his injuries. It takes him nearly a year. He’s no longer a young man.
1613 — Kane makes his way to England after this last gigantic task. The journey takes two years. He lands in Bristol and again passes by way of Torkertown on his way to Salcombe. There he witnesses the fate of John Redly, who had betrayed a black magician to the authorities (“The Right Hand of Doom”). Redly sneers that the magician’s power could not save him from “the “KING’S” soldiers.” England had no king since Edward VI, who died before Kane was born, so the “king” must be James I, who believed strongly in the power of witches and warlocks and advocated hunting them down. He was ruling in 1613.
The poem “Solomon Kane’s Homecoming” has Kane asking what has become of Bess, and being informed that she has slept in the “churchyard by the sea” for seven years. Thus she must have died in 1606 at the age of fifty-one. Even though Solomon himself is now fifty-nine and expresses a wish to settle in Devon, “forever in my place” the wild winds of the sea and his demon of wanderlust call him forth again.
“And no man knew his road.”
Art credits: Solomon Kane by Jeffrey Jones and Gary Gianni
Read Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four