In 1699, Louis XIV of France sent an embassy to the most mysterious of oriental sovereigns, the Negus, or King, of Abyssinia (modern-day Ethiopia). Louis' hope was to lure that country into the political and religious orbit of France. Jean-Baptiste Poncet, young apothecary/physician to the pashas of Cairo, is the hero of this romantic epic embroidering upon the known details of that long-forgotten embassy. Selected by the French consul to lead the mission, Poncet travels through the deserts of Egypt and the mountains of Abyssinia to the court of the Negus, thence to Versailles and back again. Along the way he falls madly in love with the consul's daughter, treats the Negus for a mysterious skin ailment, and gains a disastrous audience with the king of France. Winner of France's Prix Goncourt for First Novel and the Prix Mediterranee.