11 Rapha Returns
The colossal figure stood at the banks of the canal encircling the walls of Babel. The wooden platforms that usually spanned the water course had been withdrawn at the first sight of his party on the horizon.
"At least the City Guard's security has improved somewhat from when last we visited," Rapha murmured, to his muscle bound son, a sneer in his voice.
They waited, watching a group of Gibbor'im across the canal bludgeon a harried squad of the City Guard into hurriedly replacing the wooden platforms.
"Father, this city has grown to immense proportions; Nimrod has done well for himself."
"Yes it would appear Nimrod has made certain improvements to the city's defenses. I've heard tell he has caused to be built a canal connecting the Ufratu and the Idigina Rivers." Eyes roving the towering walls, Rapha pointed. "Entemenaki is nearly finished, it looks as though he plates the temple atop in gold."
As the last platform was replaced, the plate armored Rapha, his bulky son, and a troop of fifty Rapha'im began their second march into the city. The Rapha'im, towering over their smaller cousins, marched past them without the slightest acknowledgement. Though the Gibbor'im dwarfed the native Shinarian City Guard, through commingling in the past with humans, they were shorter and were regarded as inferior in the hierarchy of the Nephil'im by the rest of the Tribes. As "mongrels" they were beneath notice by the mostly pure Rapha'im.
Rapha strode purposefully through the city, noting, "'Tis a curious mixture, this city, grandeur and squalor."
"On one hand dazzling wealth-" He pointed to a passing palanquin, gold embellished, and being born by six silk clad Nubians. "-and on the other, direst poverty." He gestured to supplicants groveling along the side of the road.
Og laughed, "All crowded together without a plan, inside the city walls. It is certainly a strange city Nimrod is building."
As they neared the Ufratu, which bisected the city of Babel, a great three story wall loomed.
Rapha suddenly stopped. "This was assuredly not here the last time!"
Turning, he addressed the leader of their Gibbor'im escort, "These walls are on both sides of the river?"
Bowing deeply, the Gibbor’im responded. "They do indeed bracket the river from Northgate to South complete, Honored Sir. All who wish access to the river must pay The King a foramen fee and maintain security on their gates at their own expense."
"Interesting." Rapha continued his march toward the ornamental brass gate in the wall...
They stood atop the stepped tower in the shade of a gold plated kiosk. The three giants resembled each other enough to be kin. Og, a massively muscled replica of his lanky father Rapha. Nimrod struck a blend of the two. Though heavily muscled he was not as thickset as Og, yet he was was as tall as the pair. He was clothed in the stolen armor of Adamah, a boiled leather cuirass sewn with ancient runes of power. He was acknowledged far and wide amongst the Nephil'im as their most fearsome and accomplished warrior.
"You can see the scar from here." Nimrod pointed to the north.
Rapha turned, nonchalantly peering into the distance. "I'd had reports of a crater several stories deep?"
"Yes, I've nearly filled it though, its depth is not now so obvious." Nimrod waved dismissively.
Og's head snapped around with disbelief. "Filled it? With what?"
Nimrod laughed, "The spoils from my canal projects of course."
Seating himself on the gold plated couch atop the tower, Rapha raised a goblet. "Your projects, though fascinating, are not the reason we are here. I am curious will you attend Kindatu's upcoming war counsel?"
Nimrod gestured for the waiting slaves to bring the platters of food to the gold plated table before the couch. "I had thought to send Mardon in my stead. It is time my son began to make a name for himself."
Rapha inclined his head to Mardon, who stood silently near by attending the group. "Surely Kindatu would have words with you, Nimrod, concerning your intentions for Babel and Ellesar."
"Contrary to popular belief, I had nothing to do with the fate of Kudur-Maybug. I touched not the brother of the Padishah. I merely filled a dangerous void on my border for stability’s sake. Yes, that young pup, Arioch was displaced. Yet it was obvious he was to young to accept the responsibility. Mardon is to inform the Padishah, I only hold the kingdom in escrow, for his new appointment."
"Yes well-" Rapha squinted skeptically at Nimrod. "-be sure your hands are clean in this affair. The Council has concerns that further complications may jeopardize their designs. Know you, there will be an investigation following his eastern campaign, if it hasn't begun already. I would caution you not to overlook the spider behind his throne. Her webs though diaphanous are far reaching and numerous."
"One of the main reasons I named Sebu my Vizier was for his talent of exposing the contrivances of others.” Nimrod smiled knowingly to Rapha. "Kindatu's spook has found her sources in Babel, dried up."
"That is well and good." Rapha's expression turned earnest. "You would do well however, not to underestimate Katerehna, she has a way of unearthing items you would rather not brought to light."
"As it may be, I've other motivations that bring me to Babel." Rapha shrugged. "The Council has decided to enact the second phase of their programme."
Nimrod, pretending disinterest, plucked a cluster of grapes from a nearby bowl. "Oh, and what would that be?"
"We shall cut the head from the serpent that is Elam!"
Suddenly tense, his full attention fell on Rapha. "You strike at the Padishah himself?!"
A new king from the line of Shem, shall rise to new and greater heights... The voice of Ishbi-Erra flashed momentarily through his mind.
"In the next month, I am told, he will be in Samarkand finalizing his move on Bactria. Is the Council's arm so long as to reach him there?"
Smiling confidently, Rapha smashed his huge six fingered fist into his cupped other, emphasizing each point. "The Council's reach is broad indeed, our influence grows unabated. Now is the time to act. Kindatu will be distracted and away from the palace guard. He has yet to name an heir. His effete son is a buffoon and wastrel. Further Iskander is hardly the man to hold together what his uncle has built."
"Many an attempt on Kindatu's life has been made. All miserable failures, I might add." Nimrod stated, a worried look entering his eyes. "Should you fail, you leave me swinging in the breeze. What with all the rumors swirling about as to Kudur's fate. I would be Kindatu's first target!"
"The Council has been planning this for some time now. You and your Gibbor'im were merely part of the first step." Rapha smiled, a smug look upon his face. "We now control Ghomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Sodom. Babel and Ellesar being just the latest acquisitions. It has progressed flawlessly. Now is the time to move boldly forward!"
"I like this not." A frown creased Nimrod's face. "You leave a gaping hole to the north unaccounted for, and on my door step no less. Ninevah, Mari, and Harran must be dealt with to secure the entire crescent. Also Assyria though much diminished in power, must not be overlooked. Of this I am certain."
"So you refuse to aid the Council in this endeavor?!" Swelling incredulously, anger flashed across Og's face. His hand fell to his bronze, rune covered hilt.
Rapha shooting Og an irritated warning glance, placed his hand on Og's forearm.
It would not do to provoke the premier warrior of the Nephil'im. His skill alone, disregarding that cursed armor he wore, would be more than Og could overcome.
Straightening, Nimrod rounded on the father and son, "I refuse nothing! I merely recall to you the precarious position the Council placed me in. Though I am still amenable to their overreaching plan, I must also look to my own safety as well. I command the Kingdom of Shin'ar and will move to protect my own interests and security. To do otherwise would render me useless to the Council."
"Yes, yes, what you say has much merit." Rapha strove to placate the overwrought ruler. "Nevertheless the Council has expressed it's will! This must be acted upon! You have no wish for the Council to withdraw their support?"
"SUPPORT!" Nimrod's fiery retort caused all to flinch. "Don't make me laugh Rapha! Apart from our initial foray into Babel, the Council has been curiously absent in every aspect. While they kept their hands clean I have built a solid kingdom with the help of NO benefactor. My decisions, made without influence or aid have proved to be correct and have fortified my position. I now command an army of over seven hundred thousand and still it grows. You would do well to consider your next words carefully should you seek my advocacy and not my enmity."
Rapha again restraining his impetuous son, spoke calmly. "As you said before, you’re amenable to their plans. I take it then you are not opposed to aiding in their culmination?"
Nimrod thought for a moment. "Though I turn my attention north, to Ninevah, and Sebu will be otherwise occupied, I shall task Mardon to make your and the Council's needs a priority. Will this suit?"
Grudgingly, Rapha replied, "Though not what the Council expected, this should meet their needs. I think our business here is concluded. You will keep the Council informed of your progress in Assyria I presume?"
Nimrod ignored Rapha's last comment. "Mardon, you leave for Susa tonight."
Then he looked to Rapha. "Og will accompany him? He can appraise Mardon of the Council's needs?"
Rapha merely nodded his head with a self-satisfied smile...