Enmerkar looked steadily at the stranger.
“What did the King say he wanted?”
“He says he wants to discuss a plan for a new building, something very big. Perhaps the biggest he has ever planned,” the messenger replied.
The man’s clothes were covered in dust. He had obviously been riding a long time. In this heat as well.
“You must be tired and thirsty,” said Enmerkar. “May I offer you some refreshment?”
The messenger nodded and bowed slightly.
“Mariam,” called Enmerkar.
His sister arrived. Her eyes met his, she smiled briefly, bowed to the messenger and then lowered her eyes. Even with her head covered and even though her diamond-like eyes were no longer showing, she was more beautiful than any woman Enmerkar had ever met. No, he didn’t have any improper thoughts about her. She was his sister and you just did not think that way about your sister. But it did make it difficult for him to take a wife himself. His sister was setting a high standard. Besides, he had to look after her until he had found a husband for her and she was married. That was proving difficult.
Enmerkar smiled to himself, though, as he watched the man’s eyes grew round. His sister always had this effect. No man between here and Babylon was able to resist her. Despite his tiredness, this man, Enmerkar could see, was aroused.
“Fetch some wine, some olives and some of our best cheese,” commanded Enmerkar. “And wear a full veil when you return,” he whispered.
“She is betrothed?” asked the stranger after Mariam had left them.
Enmerkar sighed. “No, she is far too fussy. Much too grand to elect a mere messenger from the king.”
The man blushed.
Enmerkar regretted what he had said straight away. He was not superior to this man. Yes, he was a master builder, like their father had been. They were a well-respected family and were quite wealthy now but they were after all just workers, servants almost. Someone from the king’s court would actually be a very good match indeed for Mariam.
“Do you have any idea what he actually wants?” asked Enmerkar as he watched the man eat and drink.
“No, just that it is a big project,” replied the man. “A little crazy perhaps.”
“And there is no other builder who can do it?” asked Enmerkar.
The man shook his head. “He asked for you.”
Enmerkar sighed. “Well, I guess we should set off at sunrise tomorrow. But I warn you, I shall have to bring my sister.”
King Nimrod slowly paced up and down as he talked. He waved his long arms every time he spoke.
“It will have to be the grandest building ever made. It must be glorious. It must speak to God!” He turned to look at Enmerkar. “You will have your chance, my friend,” he said, “to show off your fine building skills. To use your little baked bricks. It will be your moment of glory.”
Enmerkar shuddered inside. The type of building project Nimrod seemed to be talking about would take years. He only had a few skilled men who knew how to make the bricks and how to slime them together. Even training up others would take months. And he daren’t use unskilled workers.
And Nimrod was being so vague about exactly what he did want.
“Is there really no other builder you can use?” asked Enmerkar. But he already knew the answer. He was, after all, the master builder.
Nimrod stopped pacing. “I will even accept your sister as a wife for my youngest son,” he said. “Without a dowry.” Then he laughed. “Though with what I propose to pay you for this project you could give a handsome dowry for a dozen sisters.”
That would be something, Enmerkar supposed. Get Mariam off his hands. Surely she would not object to marrying a prince? Even if it was not one of the heirs to the royal title. In fact, Nimrod’s youngest son, Joshua was far pleasanter than the twins, Hunor and Magor. He’d even seen Mariam talking to him and laughing – without her face veil, the hussy – so perhaps already something was there. Perhaps this young man could make her happy.
He would have to accept this challenge. The building was going to be difficult. At least his sister would be settled and maybe he too would have time to seek out a wife. Maybe a fine one, here at the court. And with the sum Nimrod was prepared to pay, he would never have to think about money again.
“Very well,” he said. “But only if I have full control over the design, the choice of materials, the choice of workers and the pace at which the work is completed.”
“Indeed, my friend,” replied Nimrod and embraced Enmerkar.
The king was a tall, muscular man and immensely strong. Enmerkar could barely breathe as Nimrod squeezed him.
“Now let us send for our young relatives and let them know the good news,” said the king, finally letting Enmerkar go.
It was even hotter here at the palace than at home. Enmerkar was finding it difficult to think straight. He dreaded baking the bricks for such a project. Would it be easier to have them made at home and transported here? It would be cooler there. A little at least.
Home. Ah! This would be his home now. For years. Yes, years, not months.
There was one consolation. Mariam had accepted Joshua as a husband with only a little protest. “Oh, but why not Magor or Hunor? Think, brother, your sister as a queen!” In the end, though, she’d settled for Joshua. And he’d been right; they were falling in love. He’d even caught them lying together and had had to play the angry brother – though not too much so, because he was dealing with the king’s son. Secretly, though, he was pleased. So, a wedding had to be planned too. The sooner the better perhaps, if that couple were to carry on being so promiscuous. A prince’s bride should not be with child when she marries. Planning a wedding anyway was a welcome distraction from planning this impossible tower. And there was something further that was also occupying his mind: the friendship he was enjoying with Naomi, the king’s niece. Could it be… would she be the one? She didn’t excite him, hardly aroused him even, but she was certainly pretty enough. Good company, in fact. He presumed love would grow …
But now he must get back to the tower. If he made it 5433 cubits, if he made it taper… then surely the bricks at the bottom wouldn’t collapse. He wanted it to be a sort of Ziggurat, Nimrod had said, but much bigger than normal. Just how many bricks would that need? How much clay would he have to find and how many men would he need to fetch the clay, shape the bricks and then put them together? He had some calculations to do now. He must not be distracted by the thoughts of weddings and of women.
Soon he was absorbed again in his mathematics. The base was going to have to be huge so that the tower could taper and still be useful at the top. No one had been able to tell him - not even the sages Nimrod had asked in for advice – just how high he would have to make the tower so that it would touch the sky. But if Nimrod really wanted a true Ziggurat… well the spiral pathway up the tower would be so wide that he would be able to place small lodgings at the sides… maybe even small fields for the animals. And of course, people walking to the top or travelling by ass would need places to rest and take some refreshment. It wouldn’t just be a tower. It would be a whole city.
The noise of someone clearing their throat broke his concentration.
“And so how is it going, my fine friend?” asked Baltuus.
Enmerkar recognized the man he had dined with the night before. He was one of the sages who knew a lot about mathematics
Enmerkar sighed. “It is going to take a lot of clay, a lot of fire to bake the bricks and a lot of men. And no end of time.” He looked down at the notes he had made. “Seventeen years. And only then if I can find enough good men to train and if their training works.”
Baltuus shook his head. “Why must he build the tower so high? What does he hope to gain by it?”
“He wants to show what man can achieve,” replied Enmerkar.
“But why not just build a fine city?” asked Baltuus. “Won’t that do just as well, be more useful, and in fact much easier to build?”
“He wants to stretch it to Heaven, so that even Yahweh will have to admire how great man is,” replied Enmerkar.
Baltuus shook his head, as he examined Enmerkar’s calculations. “That will never work, my friend.”
“The bricks won’t hold, you mean?” asked Enmerkar.
“No, no, no, not that,” replied Baltuus. “Your calculations are correct. I’m talking about trying to impress Yahweh. Look around you. Look at the mountains and the seas. And the trees and the beasts. Now that is an impressive creation. Your tower is nothing in comparison.
“Now if you said that you were building the tower so that you could talk more easily with Yahweh, that might be a different matter,” said Baltuus.
“It would make him angry,” answered Enmerkar. He could just picture Nimrod’s answer to that.
Baltuus nodded his head and tapped Enmerkar’s shoulder. “Take care, my friend,” he said. “You are right. This tower will cause anger.”
Despite the heat, Enmerkar shivered.