i wrote this over the weekend, just tidied it up a bit now and feel ready to inflict it on my victims (you):

 

The Prince’s Tomb

 

 I have been working on the great prince’s tomb for a decade now, since I came to his attention and so merited this commission, this honour, this terrible labour. For it is not easy, to devise and construct any tomb, let alone his. There is really no science to it; there are no procedures, no models, nothing one can do by rote, as it were from a generic type. One works through the science merely in order to come to the point of unknowing, where tradition and scholarship end, where one pores over blueprints and demands and limitations, all night, every night, alone, until sometimes an answer comes before morning. Then one knows, yes, a small ancillary chamber here, with an arched ceiling, will provide the required echo and draft, the sense of extra (but half-hidden) space so necessary to his peace of mind, when living. For when he is dead, perhaps it will seem otherwise.

But then, it would be a false tomb if it did not also correspond to his self in eternity. It could be argued that no one would ever know, that if my tomb failed to suit the dead prince, he would hardly be in a position to punish me; that he could not even wag his finger in reproof. I might reply, that I would not wish to gamble so, even at seemingly good odds. That is not, however, why I spend thousands of hours ensuring my tombs will suit not only the living but the dead, even when the two may be quite different in their tastes and aversions. Building a tomb, it slowly becomes apparent that certain features jar with the inhabitant’s eventual character, that such and such a construction may please the living but is inadequate for eternity. And then one makes revisions. Hard, time-consuming, but necessary. The conscientious craftsman must give thought to the totality, to the patron’s truest nature; that nature is to be most fully realised in eternity, in death; if one can comprehend that eternal self, in all its imbalance and fury and dread, the living takes shape also, quite easily, as a particular and lesser form, as the specific, limiting occasion.

No other has achieved this, nor do I think it likely. This is why my tombs please: the patron, if he chooses to inspect my work, feels I have satisfied all mortal desire, somehow more profoundly than could any other. His present wishes are upheld and contained in eternal desire; by satisfying the latter I more than satisfy the former. And this is the case even where these two appear mutually alien or antagonistic. The point where the two are simultaneous, that is my art.

So there are these thousands of hours of careful thought and plotting, brooding on the patron, the space, the materials, the money. Then there are the difficulties of construction. The craftsmen come from their village for 8-day shifts, and being as they are specialists, their village carefully set apart in a grim, arid place, they value themselves too highly. They turn up drunk, or not at all. They quarrel and fight. They argue. They complain, constantly. Even as they work, no matter how absorbed, they complain. The work is too hard or too easy, the dimensions not to their liking, the ceiling threateningly high or low, the stone bad, the paint cheap, not up to their usual standards, the beer weak, the bread stale, and so on and so on until I must raise my voice and curse and threaten, and mention the prince, and even then they grumble.

Still, there is progress. By sheer will, by ingenuity and belligerence, i have accomplished much. If the great prince dies tonight he will have a private house for his slumber in eternity. But if he lives another two or three years, without dying of excess, or being murdered by his brothers or cousins or sons, or the angry husbands or fathers of his victims, or even by one of his victims, then he will enjoy a palace in death as in life.

For he insists. He will enjoy himself in death also. There will be gold, much gold, and jewels, and great art, and fine paints, and vast spaces, and of course little nooks and escape passages, and there will be grandeur and magnificence, as befits so great a prince. There will also be chambers for his dead wives and servants and horses. They will be arranged for his use, in adjoining rooms. I suggested one great central chamber, his sarcophagus in the very eye, the wives and servants and horses to hand about, but he said no, they must abide in separate rooms. One room for the great prince, though it must be vast.

I nodded as if this were normal, when in fact it is irregular and created new difficulties. But I saw the look behind his look, and incorporated his fear into the construction. And he was pleased. He is afraid that he will awaken in that other world, but on an equal footing with his wives and servants, perhaps even with his horses, though he would have least to fear from the horses. He will tolerate much from horses but less so from people; and he is not gentle. No, he would not want to awaken so.

I have created spaces both public and private. The former are accessible to his retainers. The latter are particular to the prince. So if all awake together and without distinction of puissance and rank, they can batter on his doors while he thanks all gods that his architect made it so. But could they do him harm? And what would happen, if they killed him, since he will already be dead? Is there another world, beyond that? Or only utter destruction?

There are some who would will this destruction upon him. He is not, perhaps, untypical of great princes, though he has pursued lust and cruelty and greed further than most. He is, in my understanding, unusual in his doubts. Princes usually assume they will remain princes forever. They expect a regal afterlife and if anything they suppose it will be a good deal easier than their merely mortal life, without fear of insurrection or illness or disastrous war. My patron is otherwise, though perhaps only i know this, and I am careful to conceal my knowledge. The tomb reflects, and guards against, his fear. The workmen sometimes grumblingly ask why I insist on such and such, and I say, the prince wills it. That is enough to silence opposition. They know that, specialists though they be, they are not safe from his justice, his means and devisings. No one is exempt.

He has toured the tomb. He is pleased. He sees that I have divined his deeper fears. After death he will have no concerns. His wives and servants cannot rise up against him. There will be no vengeance. If all is well, and his regal power carries over into death, he can go out from his private chambers, and command these retainers, with his customary assurance. If not, he can remain in state, in his considerable privacy, in the inner tomb of my making and his desiring.

It is important that he not know that I know. He is pleased but, I think, is not entirely sure why he is pleased, and he certainly cannot know just how deliberate and calculating I am, that I have considered his nature, his fear, and made a monument against that fear. Naturally, he thinks himself quite fearless, and if queried would probably admit to nothing more than a certain unease at the thought of sharing his inner sanctum with wives and servants.

There will always be earthly justice and the machines and techniques of pain. I recognise the expertise involved, that just as there are master architects and expert painters and stonesmiths, so there are experts in suffering. The prince takes an amateur interest in the matter, confesses himself fascinated by justice.

Perhaps the prince’s fear is that the gods’ justice is not as ours, that earthly justice will not hold good in the world beyond. If so, he is right to doubt. Accordingly, I have made his tomb a giantly complex protection against whatever dangers may attend, when rank is no more. As I say, this is not apparent to all. To even the craftsmen, it is just another princely tomb, albeit of peculiar design. To him, it is restful.

A good tomb will have two natures, the apparent and the deep. The apparent nature is for the uninitiated, for would-be tomb robbers and labourers. The deep nature is for the inhabitant. The separation is important, for just as one likes one’s secrets in life, so in death. The prince has many secrets though they are mostly, I think, unimportant – concealed vices and horrors.

My tombs are exceptional because they contain not two but three layers. The third gives a sense of greater depth, of unusual solidity. The first layer is fairly simple, it is that which everyone would expect (a tomb for a great prince). The second layer is known only to the inhabitant and myself (to protect the great prince from his retainers). The third is known only to myself. Just as the second must be a mystery, to have full power, so with the third.

All three levels must hold good at once. There is no detail – no twist in the corridor, no sudden drop, no height or enclosure, which is not true to all three. If there is a magnificent gold working on such and such a wall, it is because a great prince requires opulent decoration; and it contains secret magics to separate the prince from his retainers, lest they rebel; and – it fulfils the third and deepest purpose – it separates the prince from his retainers.

The third purpose mirrors the second. Once placed in his private chamber, the dead prince cannot leave. The tomb is in fact his eternal prison. The slaughtered retainers will awake and find themselves unlorded, their prince apparently forgot or mislaid in the passage from death to life. Most will, I suppose, immediately depart. Some may seek their master; but he will be securely bound in his regal isolation, undetectable. Even if they knew his location they could never break through the dividing wall. It is fashioned of sorceries and stone and very careful thought. He will remain. He will have his private eternity to himself; and none can intrude, and nor can he escape. Pacing that total world, exploring his many chambers and corridors and stairs, his niches and oddities, he will fully inhabit my creation; he will have as long as he needs, to survey what he is (for my tomb is the prince, his deepest nature). If he ever departs it will only be upon his dissolution, if he finally disintegrates – which may come to pass, eventually – when he is not who he is.

It may seem perverse that the prince should be so pleased by his tomb. But, one may argue, he is deceived, he mistakes a prison for a sanctuary, you have fooled him. And to some extent this is true; he would be extremely displeased. But the third purpose is not my desire only. It is so pleasing to the prince because it is his wish also, because some dark kernel craves a very long solitude. If this were not so, people would not call him the great prince.

The nature of this solitude – now that is unknown to me. There is solitude and solitude. I would not presume to guess at the purpose of his longing, whether it is of fear or hope, if it is for some end or for itself. In any case, I have built a vessel for solitude. He often comes to walk about, much pleased. It is, he tells me, a great comfort to know he has such a home. It seems even more opulent than his earthly palace, more perfectly crafted to his character and greatness. But that, he reflects, nodding up at the golden ceiling, is as it should be – no earthly palace could suit so well, for every man longs only for a perfect tomb, to be fixed in eternity, to be whole and perfect, forever. Isn’t it so? I nod, and am pleased that he is pleased, or it would be more accurate to say, I am relieved; no one would presume to feel pleased in his company: that would border on insolence and so merit the machines of justice, the racks and screws, the irons, fires, waters, all darknesses and terrors of his pleasure; his strange experts, and their crazed dogs, the rats, wasps, hooks, acids, tearings and rapings and manglings, all his great and necessary arts. But certainly, I am relieved. I follow at his shoulder, attentive, deferential, but secretly and intensely considering every aspect of his stance, his walk, his manner, to further inform my work. And he continues to pace about, smiling and nodding, satisfied with my work, already almost at home.

 

(13 August 2011)

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