Sun Feb 12, 2017, 07:01 AM

Happy Sunday from the U.K.

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Reply Happy Sunday from the U.K. (Original post)
Cold Warrior Feb 2017 OP
Bubba Feb 2017 #1

Response to Cold Warrior (Original post)

Mon Feb 13, 2017, 05:07 AM

1. Tower Of Babel

Japhred approached Babylon from the south, his trained eye taking in architectural details. Almost all the buildings he passed on the outskirts of the city were one-story, single family dwellings. They were made of rocks, but some were better built than others. A few were slapdash affairs, the rocks meshing poorly with each other and held together more with prayer than mortar. Most, however, were carefully constructed. Babylonians customarily dug burial chambers for deceased family members beneath their homes, and he assumed that to be the case here. Some of them had outbuildings, no doubt housing animals and agricultural implements.

As he entered the city proper, the buildings grew closer together. Most of them were still one-story, but there were a lot of two and even three story houses, most likely home to nobility, military commanders or well-to-do merchants. He was bound for the royal palace, and surely that building in the center of the city, towering over the houses, was his goal. He stopped a hundred feet away to admire it.

The edifice stood fully six stories high, with the top tapering to a graceful, rounded dome. He suspected that inside he would find only two levels. The clerks and bureaucrats probably worked on the first floor, and the King and his advisors held council on the second floor. Their meeting chamber would have a high, vaulted ceiling, giving a visitor, and perhaps the council members themselves, an impression of grandeur.

Artwork ringed the building. Though the subject matter was different than he was used to, the raised, bas-relief style of the murals reminded Japhred of Egypt. He felt a twinge of homesickness, even having been gone only three days. One mural depicted a man, a king to judge by his headgear, accepting a scroll from an amorphous, flying being. He thought it must be Hammurabi receiving his famous “Code” from the gods.

A stairway to the upper chamber ran along the curve of the building. A sentry wearing full battle regalia stood at the bottom. He put his hand on his sword as Japhred approached. The latter stopped a safe distance away, careful not to make any threatening gestures. “I am Japhred,” he told the guard. “The King is expecting me.”

The man acknowledged his words with a grunt and climbed the stairs. He came down a minute later. “The king and his councilors await, Sir Japhred.” He stepped away from the bottom of the stairs with a courtly bow.

As Japhred had expected, the chamber was grandiose, with a high ceiling and more artwork on the walls. The room was sparsely furnished, holding only a long table with five chairs clustered toward one end of it. All five chairs were occupied; apparently they expected him to stand. Well, that would be all right for a while, but he intended to make sure the King’s advisors, if that’s who the five men at the table were, understood he was an Egyptian citizen and not about to be intimidated.

One man sat at the head of the table, with the other four arranged two on each side. The table had room for several more chairs. Japhred was unsure of proper protocol. Should he greet the King’s Councilors with a gesture or a word? Or should he remain silent until one of them spoke to him? He stopped at the foot of the table and decided to wait, at least for a few seconds.

“Welcome, Master Builder Japhred,” said the man at the head of the table. “I am Samsu-Iluna.”

The statement caught Japhred off guard. He had assumed the King Of Babylon would greet visitors from an ornate throne surrounded by slaves and guards, as did Pharaoh. This king sat in an ordinary chair and dressed in common robes, his only apparent trapping of power an amulet on his chest. Japhred recovered his manners enough to bow graciously, though not with servility. “It is a great honor, your majesty.”

Samsu-Iluna introduced the four men at his right and left. “Nicom, Serug, Arpachshad, and Diodorus.” Japhred listened attentively to the introductions, knowing that nothing makes a bad impression like forgetting a man’s name.

“We appreciate your coming with such haste from Cairo,” said Arpachshad, the oldest of the five men.

“Your message caught me at an opportune time,” explained Japhred. “I was constructing an atrium to amuse Pharaoh’s daughters. The work was nearly done, and my assistant can finish it.” After a couple seconds of silence, he went on, “I understand you wish to commission a project that requires my expertise.”

“A man after my own heart,” said Samsu-Iluna with a smile. “Straight to business.” He cleared his throat. “Yes indeed, we have in mind a structure to dwarf all other structures in the world, even the mighty pyramids of your country.”

The king paused and Serug, the bearded man to his right spoke up. “Your Majesty, perhaps we should offer Master Builder Japhred a chair. He should be sitting down when he hears our proposal.”

Samsu-Iluna nodded and called out something that sounded like “Gralm.” Immediately, a slave clad only in a loincloth appeared. At a word from the king, he produced a chair from behind a wall, and disappeared again.

When Japhred had seated himself, Samsu-Iluna dropped his bombshell. “Master Builder, we wish to commission you to design and build a tower to heaven.”

Japhred blinked several times. The five men were looking at him expectantly. Finally, he blurted out, “Do you know how far away heaven is?”

“No,” answered Arpachshad. “Do you?”

“I do not,” replied Japhred, “but it must be far away indeed, because when one stands on the highest mountain, the sun, moon, and stars appear not one cubit closer.”

“What better way to find out how far away it is than to build a tower?” asked Diodorus, the man to Serug’s right. “We’ll be able to measure the distance for ourselves.”

“Why do you want to build such a tower?” said Japhred. “What possible gain do you foresee?”

“A good question, Master Builder,” said Samsu-Iluna. “Even if knowledge is our only reward for pursuing knowledge, I would consider the time and effort worthwhile. However, we expect practical benefits as well. Sentries will be able to see for enormous distances in all directions. No invader will ever take Babylon by surprise.”

“Once we reach the clouds,” said Serug, “we shall see exactly how they produce rain, and perhaps learn to control it. Think of it, Master Builder: No more will crops wither and die in drought, causing famine and war. Every person on earth will benefit if we control the weather.”

Yes, the ability to cause or relieve drought will put the world at Babylon’s mercy, thought Japhred.

Nicom, the youngest man at the table, spoke for the first time. “Perhaps we shall meet the gods; converse with them on their own turf, learn from them, maybe even learn how to become like them.”

Samsu-Iluna chuckled. “Nicom speaks with the starry-eyed optimism of youth, but who knows - He may be right.”

Japhred sat back in his chair. “Why me?”

“Eh, isn’t that obvious?” answered the king. “You came through most of Babylon to get here. You saw that our people live in houses little better than mud huts. Our streets are narrow and laid out haphazardly.” He gestured to take in the room. “This palace represents our architectural pinnacle.”

Arpachshad took up the thread. “Babylon has given the world much, Master Builder. Through Hammurabi, we introduced a logical and comprehensive legal system. The Assyrians have adopted our code of ethics and laws almost in its entirety.”

“We invented a written alphabet and a base sixty numbering system,” put in Diororius. “They facilitate communication and commerce throughout the world.”

“Our achievements lie in the humanities,” said Samsu-Iluna. “We are lacking in the practical sciences and technology.” He drilled Japhred with sharp blue eyes. “You, Egyptian, are the most skilled architect in the world. If any man can build a tower to heaven, you can.”

Japhred closed his eyes, his mind whirling to get a grip on the opportunity offered him.

After a minute, Nicom said, “If it’s compensation you’re worried about, you needn’t be. We’ll pay a handsome salary and provide housing for your family.”

“Ah, thank you.” Japhred opened his eyes. “But that’s not what I was thinking about.” He leaned forward a bit in his chair, and looked at each of the five men in turn. “Your Majesty, Gentlemen, I wonder if you have given any thought to the … enormity of this project. I can hardly get a mental handle on it myself. It … Well, for example, do you have a location in mind for this tower?”

“North of this building is a large bailey,” said Samsu-Iluna. “The army currently uses it as a parade ground. We can move them to another field.”

“No, no, no.” Japhred shook his head emphatically. “Your Majesty, please forgive my brusqueness, but your tower must be attempted on a far grander scale if it is to have a realistic chance of reaching heaven. Why, the base will have to be on solid, level land of a parcel as big as Babylon itself.”

The five men began buzzing excitedly among themselves. They weren’t talking to Japhred, so he kept silent. Mostly, he couldn’t make out the conversation anyway, though he did catch Serug saying, “See, I told you!”

After a couple of minutes, the King raised his hand and the other four men immediately lapsed into silence. Samsu-Iluna asked, “Assuming we can find a suitable site, what other difficulties do you foresee, Master Builder?”

“Well, labor and materials come to mind.”

“We can supply sufficient manpower, I believe,” said Arpachshad. “Babylon is at peace with her neighbors, but we still conscript soldiers. We’ll put them to work on the tower.”

Samsu-Iluna nodded. “The work will keep them occupied and fit. And they’ll be proud to work on the most monumental structure the world has ever seen.”

Japhred noticed nobody mentioned slave labor, though he knew Babylon treated its slaves better than any other empire. Hammurabi had even enumerated slaves’ rights in his Code. Japhred put his right hand over his eyes and rubbed his forehead. At length he looked up and said earnestly, “Gentleman, I don’t believe I’m getting through to you. A tower to heaven will require a superhuman commitment on the part of yourselves and the citizens of Babylon. Men working on the tower will be unavailable for other duty, and they will generate no revenue. All public services, from police to record keeping to latrine digging, will suffer. Will your people willingly pony up taxes to support the project? Or will they regard it as a boondoggle, a white elephant that sucks in money and returns nothing?”

“Are you trying to talk yourself out of a lucrative commission, Master Builder?” demanded Nicom.

“Frankly, yes,” returned Japhred. “I would rather lose the commission than incur your wrath at some point down the road when you claim I didn’t warn you of the pitfalls.”

Diodorius opened his mouth, but shut it immediately when the King raised his hand. Samsu-Iluna looked at the table, then the ceiling, then back to the table. After several minutes of silence, he again turned his piercing blue eyes on Japhred. “I appreciate your honesty, Master Builder Japhred. We made no mistake in sending for you. You temper our giddiness and optimism with practicality.”

The King sat back. Two or three of the men began talking, but Samsu-Iluna raised his hand again and all fell silent. Finally, he sighed, and looked to his left. “Your thoughts, Arpachshad?”

“Master Builder Japhred mentioned a potential problem with materials,” said the King’s eldest councilor, turning to look at Japhred. “Perhaps you could elaborate?”

“I am aware that Babylon quarries vast quantities of rock, which you use to build your houses,” explained Japhred, “but rocks simply won’t do for the tower. We’ll need bricks. Regular shaped and sized bricks, made of mud and straw, like we use in Egypt. And, obviously, enormous numbers of them.”

Samsu-Iluna nodded. “Any other problems you foresee?”

“As a matter of fact, yes,” answered Japhred. “I haven’t even mentioned the greatest obstacle of all. Time.” He paused, noticing dawning comprehension on the faces of Samsu-Iluna and Serug. The others wore expressions of varying degrees of confusion. “Yes, time, Your Majesty. Under the best of circumstances, the tower will be a multi-generational affair. No one alive today will see the structure completed. Not their children nor their children’s children. Maybe you can whip up enthusiasm among the people, but will future leaders be able, or even desire, to maintain that enthusiasm?”

Serug spoke up. “A good point. However, I believe enthusiasm begets enthusiasm. And we can be sure of one thing: If we fail to begin building the tower, future generations will most certainly fail to continue it.”

The group lapsed into silence. After a moment, Nicom said, “Excuse me, Your Majesty, but I believe we need to ask one more vital question, else all our deliberation is moot.” He faced Japhred. “Master Builder, if - I say if - We can make preparations to your satisfaction, and promise not to hold you responsible for any nonsuccess, will you accept the commission?”

“Don’t answer yet,” interjected Samsu-Iluna quickly. “We all have a lot to think about, Master Builder. Please stay in Babylon a few days, as our guest of course. We’ll talk it over, and perhaps we’ll try to judge the mood of the people. Let’s meet again in a week.”

A young soldier showed Japhred to a vacant house east of the palace, near the bazaar. It was comfortable enough, but a hovel compared to his home in Cairo. If he did accept the job, he’d insist on building an Egyptian-style house for his family.

The next day he left the city to scout around for a potential building site. He had noticed the way he came, from the south, was mostly flat, so he headed there first. Sand wouldn’t do; he would only attempt the tower if he could find a big enough parcel of solid, level ground.

He found a stretch of rocky ground about twenty square stadia* near the Tigris River. Not quite level, but a battalion of men with picks could remedy that. Did the Tigris overflow its banks every year, as did the Nile? He’d have to find out; couldn’t build the tower on a floodplain.

Samsu-Iluna’s men did spread the word about the proposed tower. Whenever Japhred left his house, he heard little talk of anything else. Word spread that an Egyptian Master Builder had come to Babylon, and people constantly pestered him with questions. When would it start? How much would the workmen get paid? Didn’t he think it was blasphemous to the gods? He politely but firmly answered every question with, “Sorry, but it’s inappropriate for me to discuss that until your King makes a decision.”

After four days, a slave came to tell him the King and his advisors requested his presence. Samsu-Iluna got right to business. “We’ve scheduled a public forum for tonight, Master Builder. The citizens will ask questions. Answer them truthfully. The day after tomorrow, they will vote.”

Samsu-Illuna attended the meeting, which was held in the bailey behind the palace. The King looked like a king now, dressed in regal robes of red and purple, with a modest but bejeweled crown. He sat in a plain chair, but it was elevated and set apart from the table where Japhred and the four Councilors sat. Citizens packed the bailey, with many more outside, straining to hear. Japhred thought every almost every able-bodied adult in Babylon must be there

* Twenty square stadia = Approximately six square miles.

Arpachshad called for silence, and briefly recapped the reason for the meeting, his voice surprisingly strong for one so advanced in years. “As all of you know, we have proposed building a tower to heaven. Master Builder Japhred graciously pulled himself away from his duties in Egypt to consult with us. We” - he indicated himself and the others at the table - “Will try to answer any questions.”

Everyone in the audience seemed to be talking at once. Arpachshad raised his arms and refused to continue until the crowd quieted. The questions were pretty much the same ones Japhred had heard in the market place. “How much will the work pay? (Standard soldier’s wages.) “Will you recruit workers from Assyria?” (Certainly, and everyplace else too.) “How far away is heaven?” (That’s what we intend to learn.) “Isn’t such a tower blasphemous to the gods?” (On the contrary; we intend it as a tribute to the gods.) Arpachshad referred technical questions, such as “How big should the bricks be?” to Japhred.

King Samsu-Illuna answered one question himself. “How can we pay for it, generation after generation?”

“That is obviously our chief concern,” said the King. “We believe the tower, even during construction, will attract worshippers from all the lands in the world. It will serve as a shrine of sorts, and we foresee massive pilgrimages from Assyria, Egypt and even more distant countries. Pilgrims need food, places to sleep, stables for their camels and horses, and other services. We expect our tower to stimulate Babylon’s economy, to, in effect, pay for itself.” That made sense to Japhred, but clearly not everyone in the crowd bought it.

The next day, people hounded Japhred worse than ever. One earnest young man at the marketplace asked, “Master Builder, can you really do it? Can you build a tower to heaven?”

Everyone within in earshot waited expectantly. Japhred sighed. Well, Samsu-Illuna had told him to tell the truth. “I don’t know.”

In the end, voters approved the tower, but only just. It passed by a shade over fifty-one percent.

* * * * *

Roseth wrapped his camel-fur poncho tighter around his shoulders, and sat down with his crew for a rest break. The men needed a lot of rest anymore, and everyone grumbled constantly about the cold. For some reason, fires refused to burn cleanly. No matter how dry the wood, the flames sputtered and spit, all but died. It seemed that fire needed something else, in addition to fuel and heat. Roseth didn’t know what that something was, but he suspected it was the same thing his men lacked. Why should experienced, able-bodied workers be winded and fatigued after only a couple of minutes’ labor?

Bartholomew, his best and fastest brick mason, came over to sit next to him. Even that brief exertion, walking forty feet or so, left the man gasping for a few seconds. Roseth knew what he had to say.

“Roseth,” began Bartholomew, “We can’t go on like this much longer. The men are miserable. They haven’t walked off the job yet, but only because they don’t have the energy.”

“There’s no place for them to walk to,” pointed out Roseth. And it was true. Certainly walking down the ramp that circled the outside of the tower was easier than walking up, but it still took several days to reach the bottom.

Of course, there was a quicker way down. Roseth shuddered as he remembered Zaphora, a girl who worked on the thirst brigade, bringing water, and occasionally wine, to the workmen. She was a bit sweet on Roseth, and he’d done nothing to discourage her attentions. Probably that’s why she wasn’t paying attention last week when she’d brought him a cup of water. She’d stepped in a patch of oil and slipped. Roseth had desperately tried to grab her arm as she fell, but, with cups and water flying in his face, he was a fraction of a second too late. He had stood in shock watching her. And listening. By the time she reached the clouds far below, her screams had faded to inaudibility.

"Roseth, it’s not you.” Bartholomew interrupted his reverie. “The men have nothing but respect for you. Your great-grandfather, Japhred, was the world’s greatest builder, and you do him proud. Your idea to build villages along the tower so the men could have their families close at hand was brilliant. But you can’t expect us to work in these conditions.”

Roseth sighed. He’d known for weeks that Batholomew was right. There was plenty of air around, yet people were always short of breath. The sun was shining, but the temperature was freezing. Maybe the time had come to admit that a tower to heaven was beyond man’s scope.

“No!” cried Roseth, startling Bartholomew. “For four generations, the men in my family have carried out the commission of Samsu-Illuna The Great. He charged my ancestor to build a tower to heaven. I shall not be the one to shame our family name.”

“Perhaps the gods do not want us to visit them,” said Bartholomew. “There is no shame in failing to do the impossible.”

Yes, he would suffer shame, thought Rospeth, even if only in his own mind. Bartholomew was right about one thing, though: However willing to follow him the men might be, they simply could not work hard in this bitter cold and unbreathable air. “We are going to visit the gods whether they want us or not,” he said aloud. “I cannot order the men to put their health at risk. Any who wish may leave, as you said, Bartholomew, without shame. Of those who remain, I ask them to do what they can. If we have to place one brick and then rest for ten minutes, we’ll place one brick and then rest for ten minutes.”

In the end, not many workers took Rospeth up on his offer. Many of them had spent virtually all their lives on the tower, descending infrequently and only briefly. They found little in common with the ground-huggers, and felt ill at ease when not among their own. Some men, couriers, made their living ferrying supplies from Babylon up to the tower crews. Even these magnificently muscled specimens had recently experienced trouble pulling their loads as they neared the top of the tower.

Rospeth was pleased to keep a full crew. He didn’t want to say anything and raise his men’s hopes, but he secretly suspected their current difficulties were only temporary. After all, the closer they got to the sun, the warmer it would get. Wouldn’t it? And the thin air was no doubt a test set by the gods, that only the truly worthy could travel to their homes.

The next day, three couriers brought a fresh load of bricks. The carts were constructed with human harnesses, so the men could pull the heavy load up the ramp easier. They had to stop and rest several times in the last few hundred feet. Rospeth didn’t say anything; they were doing their best.

When the cart finally reached the work site, the couriers set blocks under the wheels so it wouldn’t roll backwards. Rospeth hollered at a couple of men nearby to start unloading it. They looked at him blankly. He gestured impatiently at the cart, and they seemed to finally understand.

He sought out Bartholomew to tell him the bricks had arrived. He found him in heated argument with Frolk, one of the bricklayers. Bartholomew yelled something that sounded like “ED#*TGF.”

Frolk said something back. His word sounded like “Mmmnnuu.”

Whatever the problem was, it wasn’t important enough to fight over. Rospeth stepped between the men and said, “Chill, guys. What’s going on?”

Frolk looked exasperated. “Hthurrmm!”

“ERNH)(@P,” retorted Bartholomew.

Rospeth looked from one to the other. “What’s wrong with you two?”

Bartholomew took a step toward Rospeth, obviously growing angry. “Y&)()*EDS?” he demanded. “KIRF$%+?”

“Hey, stop speaking gibberish,” ordered Rospeth. “Calm down and tell me what the problem is.”

Bartholomew stopped and stared at Rospeth and Frolk. With a dismissive wave of his hand, he turned and walked away. Rospeth started to ask Frolk what had happened when he heard a man yelling on the other side of the brick cart. “CCFYYTTR” said the voice loudly. Rospeth hurried over to find one of the couriers gesticulating wildly. He was red in the face, though whether from exertion or excitement Rospeth couldn’t tell.

He put a hand on the courier’s shoulder. “Calm down, friend.”

The man turned. The anger seemed to sag out of him, as he said, “DXry%P]]y?”

Pandemonium broke out all over the work place. No two people were speaking the same language. Tempers had flared, but now they calmed down as realization dawned. Rospeth wondered if the men’s families would be able to understand them. Maybe the speech of non-workers hadn’t been scrambled! Bartholomew’s hut was on the next lower level. He hurried down to see if he could talk to his wife. He found Bartholomew there, talking calmly to his wife and kids. They were speaking gibberish, but, fortunately, it was all the same gibberish.

Rospeth hadn’t been to the ground in several years. He hated to take the month away from work that the trip required, but there was nothing for it now. He’d have to find out if the ground-huggers speech had been scrambled, and find out what he’d have to do to keep on building the tower. In the back of his mind a tiny thought screamed to be heard: What if Bartholomew had been right? What if the gods - Or God - didn’t want men in their homes? What if the tower itself were blasphemy??

He pushed the thought firmly back into his subconscious and prepared for the trip downward.

Stadia - 607 feet or 185 meters

1 Square stadia = 368,449 sq feet

1 Sq mile = 27,667,600 sq feet.

Cubit = approx 18 inches.

A couple of things I learned after writing this story:

Royal palace was a sprawling one-story building. Temple of Marduk, next door, was multi-storied.

The area immediately surrounding the palace was carefully planned, with regular streets and canals.

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