If Orodes’s early return surprised Trella, nothing in her countenance showed it. She sat beside Eskkar in the workroom, facing Tooraj and Orodes across the table. Both men still carried the dust and grime of a long and hasty journey. They had come straight to the Compound, despite the fact that the supper hour would soon be upon the household. Already the sounds of a large gathering floated up from the floor below.

“Well, what did you find?” Eskkar’s voice sounded hard. He had little patience for those who failed to obey orders. “Why did you return so soon, Tooraj?”

“He came because I ordered him, Lord Eskkar,” Orodes answered, cutting in before the soldier could reply. “In half a day, I learned more than enough to return to Akkad. I’ve made a list of what I will require to begin mining, and I brought samples with me.” He reached down and hefted a good-sized sack onto his lap. “You’ll want to check these samples with my father, or perhaps another goldsmith you trust, but I’m sure of what they contain.”

“And that is…?” Lady Trella’s voice sounded gentle compared to her husband’s.

“Gold, of course. At first it will be mostly loose nuggets lying about, or just under the top layer of dirt. We’ll also find more pockets in the stream and nearby. We’ll need to pick the valley clean of the surface gold first, otherwise the workers will steal it all. Once we’ve emptied the stream and the stream’s pockets, we can get started digging into the earth for the real ores.”

“What else did you find, then?”

“Almost all of the noble metals are present. There’s plenty of copper and tin, as well as quantities of lead, antimony, iron and arsenic. But I think we’ll find the real strength of the mine is this.”

Orodes removed a jagged nugget from the sack and placed it on the table between them.

Eskkar reached out his hand, picked it up, and held it to the light. “That’s silver, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Lord. The rocks and ground at this place are full of native silver.”

“What kind of silver?”

The fact that the king of Akkad didn’t know what that meant startled Orodes, but Trella caught his eye, and he knew that she understood. He softened his words so as not to offend.

“Native silver is a rare form of the metal, Lord. This nugget is almost

… it’s very pure silver, with only a few impurities, which could easily be removed. But any silversmith could work with this nugget as it is. Most silver, as I’m sure you know, is obtained from smelting lead and copper ores. Silver is one of the residues left behind from the smelting process. But the ores I found at the site are heavy with silver. More silver than gold.”

Eskkar handed the nugget to Trella. “And you say there is a good quantity of silver at this place?”

Orodes glanced at Trella, who had spared only a brief look at the nugget. “My Lord, I believe that this site holds large quantities of copper, lead, tin, silver, and gold. And iron, of course, but that’s of no value to us. Someday we may learn how to make use of it, since it’s so common.”

Eskkar’s frown returned, and Orodes decided now wasn’t the time to speak about iron.

“But silver seems to be the most plentiful. The gold nuggets resting on the stream bed are of high quality as well.” Orodes reached into his pouch, extracted an irregular clump of gold, and set it on the table.

Eskkar examined the nugget. He’d learned much about gold in his wanderings, but it had taken the siege of Akkad and Trella’s guidance to explain the mystery of gold to him. Many villagers believed the golden metal to be the most valuable of all possessions. Its rich and warm color satisfied some deep-seated longing in men. They worshipped it in secret, clutching it close to their bodies before burying it deep in the earth.

“Tell me more about the gold, Orodes.” Eskkar handed the nugget to Trella.

“Yes, Lord. As you know, gold is the most valuable of all the metals taken from the earth. Unlike silver, bronze, copper, or any of the metals, only gold neither tarnishes nor rusts. It can be highly polished, and hammered into any shape, even beaten to the thinness of a leaf. Malleable. That’s a word that we… the goldsmiths call it. And because gold is so malleable, it can be easily divided, and so accommodate exchanges of lesser value. Also, gold can be carefully measured and its quantity determined. Merchants and traders, for all these and other reasons, seek gold. They hammer out their own coins, and use them to adjust their trades, since much value is concentrated in such a small area.”

“And in so doing, they have created a medium of exchange,” Trella added. “It is easier to carry a sack of gold than a herd of cattle.”

Eskkar nodded. Barter might still be the most common way to trade, but gold, silver, and even copper coins made life in the villages possible. “Tell us more about the mine, Orodes.”

Orodes explained what he’d found, and told of his idea that the earth had shifted in the distant past and pushed part of its depths to the surface. He spoke at length, describing the site and estimating its potential, and no one interrupted him with questions until he finished.

“I think you’ve done well, Orodes. Now what do you suggest?”

Trella’s face held the hint of a smile, and Orodes suddenly understood that she knew exactly what needed to be done.

“I believe that we should mine this site, and we should get started at once. I believe we will dig a vast amount of silver from the earth. To accomplish that, we’ll need miners, slaves or free men. There will be no trouble paying them. We’ll need carpenters to build the sluices, some laborers to build a dam across the stream. They can establish some farms in the nearby hills, away from the mine itself, so as to avoid illness. We can use the stream to flush the waste. Then there’s the fire pits that have to be dug and lined, sacks and carts to carry the ores, men to sort and grade the rocks, others to crush them down to manageable sizes. We’ll need plenty of wood for fires, but there’s more than enough near the river. It will have to be brought in, along with food for the workers. A lot of work will be needed in the beginning, to get the mine up and running. You might want to consider widening the trail between the mine and river, and setting up some docks to load ships. It will be easier to transport the ores by boat, I think. After that, we can use fewer workers.”

Orodes stopped, a little embarrassed at his long speech. But the rulers of Akkad still showed their interest.

“Many of those who work the fire pits and dig the ores will die,” Eskkar said. “So you’ll need a steady supply of slaves or prisoners for those jobs. As well as soldiers to guard them and the site, and herders to care for the horses and other animals. Then there will be carts to be built, to transport the ores to the river, where boats will bring it to Akkad. And after working all day, the men will want women and ale. You’re talking about establishing a whole village at one time.”

“Yes, Lord. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but all those things will be needed, I’m sure.”

“And what do you want for yourself, Orodes?” Trella asked.

“Lady Trella, I wish to be allowed to run the mine. I may be young, and you have little reason to trust me. But I know I can extract as much gold and silver as can be ripped from the ground. And I can do it faster and more efficiently than my father or the rest of my kin. If I am worthy, whatever you decide to pay me will be enough. No one in Akkad has ever doubted your fairness, Lord Eskkar… Lady Trella. But remember, this site is unique in all the land. After we harvest all the surface metals, we can dig down, go deeper into the earth, but the site is not limitless. The other surrounding hills, which I didn’t examine, probably hold little of value. After a few years, there may be nothing left to extract. The site is rich in metals, but I don’t know how much it will produce after four or five years.”

“I can see that Annok-sur and I will be busy for the next few weeks. We’ve never built a village before, and now we have to create one in a matter of days.” Trella turned to her husband. “But I think that if the mine can produce a steady stream of gold and silver for that many years, it will be long enough, Eskkar.”

“Yes, that should be more than enough to pay for the war.”

“War? What war?” Tooraj spoke for the first time, leaning forward.

Orodes, too, appeared surprised to hear the word.

“I think you had better tell them,” Trella said, rising. “They’ve both earned our trust. Orodes, my thanks to you. You will take charge of the mine, and your loyalty and skills will be well rewarded. Now, I think I should go attend to our guests downstairs.”

Both Tooraj and Orodes stood as she left the room.

Eskkar smiled at that. No one had ever ordered or even suggested that people rise when she entered or left their presence, but everyone did it. He’d done it himself.

“Tooraj, we believe that there will be another, even greater, war with the cities of Sumeria in the next few years. The gold and silver from Orodes’s mine are desperately needed to pay for the men and arms we must have to defend Akkad. Without that gold, or silver, as it may be… our city may not survive.”

Soldier and goldsmith stared, mouths open. Both thought the days of war had ended. Now they learned that the threat had returned.

“Tooraj, you will be in charge of all the soldiers and men at the site, and there will be clerks and others to assist you. But your main task will be to give Orodes whatever he needs to start the gold and silver flowing. He will be the master of the mine, and all those who work the ores.”

Eskkar fixed his gaze on Orodes. “Trella has placed her trust in you. I hope you will prove worthy. The future of Akkad may depend on what you drag out of the ground at your mine, Orodes.”

Later, after both Tooraj and Orodes left the chamber, sworn to secrecy, Eskkar remained seated, lost in thought, until Trella returned.

“What troubles you now, husband? Our guests are waiting below.” Her hand rested on his shoulder.

“With this discovery, this gold, we are committing ourselves to prepare for war. And this new kind of war will bring death to hundreds, even thousands of men.”

“There is no other way, Eskkar. Sumerian armies would march on Akkad in any case. Now at least we will have a chance to ready ourselves with both men and weapons. Without this new source of wealth, we would have no chance to survive. Akkad is fortunate to have you here, my husband. The gods sent you here to found this city. Now they’ve sent us a mine of gold and silver to pay for what we will need to preserve it.”

“We’ll need a name for this mine,” he said. “How about Nuzi? It’s the barbarian word for silver.”

“A good name. And we’ll need a good leader to establish the village. I was thinking that Lani and her husband would be perfect to place in charge of the… Nuzi.”

Eskkar had brought Lani down from the north two years ago. For over a year, Lani had fulfilled the role of mistress, helping Trella in many ways besides that of keeping Eskkar occupied. But then her yearning to have a child of her own had changed her heart, and she asked to be released from her promise. Now pregnant and married to Grannar, one of Nestor’s sons, she and her husband would be an ideal choice to administer a new village.

“I’m sure they would both be grateful to leave Akkad, at least for a while.”

Grannar’s first wife and three children had died two years ago from the pox that had swept over Nestor’s farmlands south of Akkad. Thankfully, the scourge hadn’t reached Akkad, and the danger had passed. Grannar had escaped unscathed, while his family died around him. Something about him had touched Lani’s heart, and in time, the feeling had been returned.

“Then that is decided.” Eskkar took a deep breath and let it out. “Since we overthrew Korthac, I have longed for peace, Trella — for you, for Sargon, for everyone in the city. But it seems that there must always be one more fight, one more battle, if we wish to survive.”

She rose and moved to his side, putting her arm around his shoulder. “I see no other path before us. If you do…”

He pulled her down onto his lap and sighed. “No, there is no other way. Only a fool puts down his sword while his enemies gather against him. Some day there may be an end to fighting, but it is not this day. Starting today, we prepare for war.”

T hat night, after Eskkar had gone to sleep, Trella and Annok-sur sat next to Sargon’s little bed in the workroom. The child slept peacefully, a far cry from the first six months of his life, when he clung to his existence, sometimes fighting to breathe. Sargon had arrived early, weak and fitful, living his first few moments of life with a battle raging round him. Trella thought him as brave as his father.

The Egyptian Korthac had captured the city and turned Trella into a slave once again, and she’d delivered her child in the afternoon of the famous battle. In his first night of existence, Eskkar and Korthac had fought in the same room where Trella and her new son were held prisoner. Little Sargon had nearly been crushed by the violent struggle between the two desperate men fighting to rule Akkad.

Annok-sur reached out and touched the child’s head. “He’s growing so fast. Soon he’ll be running everywhere.”

“Already I wish he were older. The city needs an heir, someone the people know and trust, one of their own.”

“You worry about Eskkar and the fighting?”

“Yes. I see it in his face. Despite what he said tonight, Eskkar has his doubts about facing so many of the enemy. So he will think he needs to lead his men. That means my husband is going to fight once again. He’ll put himself in danger in the forefront of the fighting.” She sighed. “Tomorrow it will all begin. He’ll meet with Gatus and the others, to go over more ideas about waging war.”

“It is what your husband does best, Trella. Even the Alur Meriki chieftain acknowledged his fighting skills.”

“I know. Still, he worries me. Eskkar thinks he’ll lose the respect of the commanders if he doesn’t lead the men in battle.”

“Not Bantor, I’m sure.”

“Your husband will be at risk as well.”

“Don’t speak of such things, Trella. Eskkar would not be the same if he didn’t command men in battle. Unlike your Eskkar, Bantor knows only fighting It’s the trade he’s followed since he left the farm, little older than a boy.”

“Then we must do everything in our power to make sure our men succeed and survive. The first thing we’ll need are spies in Sumer and the other cities.”

“They can be found,” Annok-sur said, “especially now that the Sumerians have ravaged the southern lands. Many from those lands burn with hatred for what the Sumerians did. But just as important, we’ll need a way to collect and send the information back to Akkad. That will be more difficult.”

“Yavtar will help with that.”

“We should tell him to buy or build two or three fast boats to use only for carrying information.”

“Yes, but I want to do something else,” Trella said. “What we really need is to get spies close to the ruling houses, perhaps even inside them. If we could do that, we’ll gather more facts and fewer rumors. If we’re going to have people risk their lives getting us information, it should be as reliable as possible.”

“That will be difficult. The wealthy merchants trust only their own servants and kin. We’ll have to bribe our way into those places. That will put the spies in great danger. Gold always attracts too much attention.”

“I might have a different way,” Trella said. “And I think a spy should be able to do more than just collect information. He should be able to kill the decision makers and other key leaders, if the opportunity presents itself. No leader has enough competent men surrounding them. Look how often Eskkar talks with the men, watching them train, trying to find good men to be leaders of ten or twenty.”

“An assassin would be useful,” Annok-sur said. “Even one killing stroke at the right time could tip the scales of battle.”

“Which means the Sumerians will think of the same thing. We will have to increase our own guard, to protect Eskkar. He’s still the most vulnerable target.”

“And you. Even this Eridu will have enough gold left to dispatch a murderer or two, to seek his revenge. Perhaps Eskkar shouldn’t have cut off his hand after all.”

“No, it was the right thing to do,” Trella said. “Eskkar understands the use of force and terror. Eridu will carry that fear with him for the rest of his life. It will cloud his thoughts. Everyone he meets with will know that hatred colors Eridu’s words. But we must double our efforts to protect Eskkar. I want more eyes following his movements. I want the women to report any stranger who shows the slightest interest in Eskkar or Sargon or myself. Or the city. Gather as many as you need to do this.”

“And this other thing you spoke of, getting someone into the ruling houses?”

Trella smiled. “I think it’s time for you to send for Tammuz and Enhedu. I think they will be the perfect choice to send to Sumeria, if they’re willing. But first we’ll need to train them in secret. And for that I think we’ll need a farmhouse somewhere north of here, away from the city’s eyes. I’m sure Rebba can provide one near the river.”

“And what kind of training are you planning for them?”

Trella told her.

“I’ll send for them in the morning,” Annok-sur said with a smile. “And what about Orodes? Are you still certain he’s the man you want?”

Trella sighed. “I hope so. He has the quickest wits of any metalworker in Akkad. Even his father had to admit that his son knew his craft. It’s just unfortunate that Orodes was born the third son, instead of the first. But then we wouldn’t be able to make use of him.”

“And if he can’t stay sober? Once a man falls into drink, he finds it hard to abstain.”

“There won’t be anything to drink where he’s going. That will give him time to change his habits. But if he’s not the right person, we’ll have to find someone else to work the mine.”

“I suppose living in the hill country will do Orodes good.” Annok-sur laughed. “Tooraj will keep him sober.”

“If Orodes can’t stay away from the taverns, then he’s of no use to us,” Trella said. “In that case, tell Bantor to make sure Tooraj gets rid of him. We want to keep the mine secret for as long as we can, until it’s well established and producing gold. And we don’t want anyone with knowledge of the site and its contents to be able to sell what he knows.”

“That we can always do, Lady Trella.” Her husband would kill Orodes or anyone else for that matter, if the request came from Trella.

“Then we might as well go to bed. I think our husbands will be up early tomorrow, talking war.”

“Let’s hope that if war does come, it will be a short one.”

“Annok-sur, I think that is the only kind of war Akkad can win. If the strife with Sumeria drags on for years and years, our city will die.”