Subterranean Press Magazine: Winter 2011
Fiction: The Tomb of the Pontifex Dvorn by Robert Silverberg
In the days when Simmilgord was a wiry little boy growing up in the Vale of Gloyn he was fond of going out by himself into the broad savanna where the red gattaga-grass grew. Bare little stony hillocks rose up there like miniature mountains, eighty or ninety feet high. Clambering to the top of this one or that, he would shade his eyes against the golden-green sunlight and look far outward across that wide sea of thick copper-colored stalks. It amused him to pretend that from his lofty perch he could see the entire continent of Alhanroel from coast to coast, the great city of Alaisor in the distant west, the unthinkable height of Castle Mount rising like a colossal wall in the other direction, and, somewhere beyond that, the almost unknown eastern lands stretching on and on to the far shore of the Great Sea, marvel after marvel, miracle after miracle, and when he was up there he felt it would be no difficult thing to reach out and embrace the whole world in all its wonder.
Of course no one could actually see as far as that, or anything like it. Simply to think about such a distance made one’s head spin. Alhanroel was too big to grasp, a giant continent that one could spend an entire lifetime exploring without ever fully coming to terms with the immensity of it, and Alhanroel was just one of the three continents of which the vast world of Majipoor was comprised. Beyond its shores lay the other two continents of Zimroel and Suvrael, nearly as large, and on the far side of Zimroel began the almost mythical Great Sea that no one had ever been able to cross. Simmilgord knew all that. He was a good student; he had paid attention to his geography lessons and his history books. But still it was a glorious thing to go scrambling up to the summit of some jagged little rockpile and stare out beyond the endless mats of coppery-hued gattaga, beyond the grazing herds of stupid flat-faced klimbergeysts and the snuffling pig-like vongiforin that rooted about among them digging for tasty seeds, beyond the grove of spiky gray skipje-trees and the towering gambalangas that grazed on their tender topmost leaves, and imagine that he could take in all of Alhanroel in a single swiveling glance, the bustling seaports in the west and the lush tropical forests to the south and the great Mount with its Fifty Cities to the east, and the Castle at its summit from which the Coronal Lord Henghilain ruled the world in high majesty and splendor. He wanted to swallow it all at a single gulp, woodlands and jungles, deserts and plains, rivers and seas. Mine! Mine! This whole extraordinary world—mine! For Simmilgord there was a kind of wild soaring music in that thought: the vast symphony that was Majipoor.
Even at the age of ten Simmilgord understood that he was never going to see any of those places. The world was too huge, and he was too insignificant, nothing but a farmer’s son whose probable destiny it was to spend his life right here in Gloyn, growing lusavender and hingamort and never getting any farther from home than one of the market towns of west-central Alhanroel, Kessilroge, maybe, or Gannamunda, or at best Marakeeba, somewhere off to the east. What a dreary prospect! Then and there, clinging to the top of that barren little mass of granite, he vowed to transcend that vision of an empty future, to make something out of his life, to rise up out of the Vale of Gloyn and make a mark in the world that would cause others to take note of him. He would become an adventurer, a soldier of fortune, a world traveler, the confidante of dukes and princes, perhaps even a figure of some prominence at the Coronal’s court. Somehow—somehow—
That romantic dream stayed with him as he grew into adolescence, though he scaled back his ambitions somewhat. He came to understand that he was better fitted by temperament to be a scholar of some sort than any kind of swashbuckling hero; but even that was far better than staying here in Gloyn and, like his father and all who had come before him for the past twenty generations, live from harvest to harvest, consuming his life in the unending cycle of planting and growing and gathering and marketing.
In Upper School he found himself drawn to the study of history. That was how he would encompass the magnificence that was Majipoor, by taking all its long past within himself, mastering its annals and archives, delving into the accounts of the first settlers to come here from Old Earth, the initial wonderstruck discoveries of strange beasts and natural wonders, the early encounters with the aboriginal Shapeshifters, the founding of the cities, the creation of its governmental structure, the reigns of the first Pontifexes and Coronals, the gradual spreading out from Alhanroel to the outer continents, the conquest of mighty Castle Mount, and all the rest. The romance of the world’s long history set his soul ablaze. What fascinated him in particular was that someone, one man, the Pontifex Dvorn, had been able to make a unified and cohesive realm out of all this immensity.
What Dvorn had accomplished held a special fascination for him. It was Simmilgord’s great hope to plunge into all of that and make out of Majipoor’s unthinkable complexity a single coherent narrative, just as Dvorn, long ago, had made one world out of hundreds of independent city-states. He dreamed of earning admission to the Hall of Records within the enormous library Lord Stiamot had founded atop the Mount that coiled around the Castle’s heart from side to side like a giant serpent, or of prowling through the dusty documents stored in the nearly as capacious archive in the depths of the Labyrinth, and bringing forth out of all that chaotic data a chronicle of Majipoor’s history that would supersede anything that had ever been written.
Simmilgord was surprised to find his father encouraging him in this dream. He had not expected that. But there were other sons to work the farm, and Simmilgord had never shown much enthusiasm for the farm chores, anyway; plainly he was meant for other things. It seemed best for him to go to the famous University at Sisivondal and work to achieve his goal. And so he did. When he was sixteen he set out down the Great Western Highway, making the long eastward trek through Hunzimar and Gannamunda and Kessilroge and Skeil into the dusty plains of central Alhanroel, coming finally to Sisivondal, the tirelessly busy mercantile center where all the main shipping routes of Alhanroel crossed.
What a drab place it was! Miles and miles of faceless flat-roofed warehouses, of long monotonous boulevards decorated only with the sort of ugly black-leaved plants, squat and tough and spiky, that could withstand the long months of rainless days and hot winds under which the city suffered, the dreariest city imaginable on a world where most places took pride in the beauty and boldness of their architecture. Day and night caravans thundered down its grim streets, bringing or taking every sort of merchandise the huge planet produced. In the midst of the constant hubbub was the formidable wall surrounding the great University—Sisivondal’s one center of high culture, second only to the revered University of Arkilon in scholarly repute—erected by the proud and wealthy merchants of the city to mark their own worldly success. But even the University was a somber thing, one bleak red-brick pile after another, all of its buildings done in a style more appropriate to a prison than to a temple of learning. Simmilgord, who had seen nothing of the world but the pleasant pastoral groves of the Vale of Gloyn, but who knew from his books of such dazzling and amazingly beautiful far-off places as glorious Stee, the grandest of the Fifty Cities of Castle Mount, and glistening white Ni-moya, Zimroel’s big river-port, and spectacular Stoien of the crystal pavilions on the tropical southern coast, was stunned by the eye-aching awfulness of it all.
He knew, though, that the University of Sisivondal was his key to the greater world beyond. He found lodgings; he enrolled in the requisite courses; he made new friends. Once he was done with the basic curriculum he moved on to serious historical study, quickly seizing upon the earliest years of the imperial government as his special area of study. The titanic first Pontifex, Dvorn—what had he been like? How had he been able to impose his ideas of government on the unruly settlers? By what miracle had he devised a scheme of rule for this gigantic planet so efficient that it had endured, virtually without change, for more than twelve thousand years now?
Simmilgord looked forward to a time when the thesis on Dvorn that he planned to write, full of unanswered questions though it was likely to be, would win him admission to the archival centers of Majipoor’s two capitals, the Pontifical one in the Labyrinth and the grand sprawling one at the Castle of the Coronal, where he could delve into the ancient secrets of those early days. But for one reason and another that time never seemed to arrive. He took his degree, and wrote his thesis—painfully, pitifully short on hard information—and got his doctorate, and he was taken on as a lecturer at the University with the hope of a professorship somewhere in the future, and he published a few papers—somewhat speculative in nature—on the founding of the Pontificate, and won the admiration of a handful of other historians thereby.
But that was all. The romance, the fantasy, that he had thought his life as a scholar would provide never seemed to materialize. He had reached the age of twenty-five, an age when one’s life seems to be settling into its permanent pattern, and that pattern was not an inspiring one.
He began to think that he was going to spend the rest of his days in ghastly Sisivondal, delivering the same lectures year after year to ever-changing audiences of uninterested undergraduates and writing papers that recapitulated existing knowledge or invented shaky new theories about that which was unknown. That was not the vision he had had when he had climbed those little upjutting hillocks in the Vale of Gloyn and pretended he could take in the whole continent from Alaisor to the shores of the Great Sea in a single sweeping view.
And then the chairman of his department called him and said, “We would hate to lose you, Simmilgord, but I have a query here from the city of Kesmakuran—you know the place, surely? Just a piffling little agricultural town, but one of the oldest in Alhanroel. The alleged birthplace of the Pontifex Dvorn. Thought to be the site of his tomb as well, I think.”
“I know it well, yes,” said Simmilgord. “Two years ago and again last year I applied for a research grant to do some work there, but so far—”
“We have more than a research grant for you, I’m glad to say. The city fathers of Kesmakuran have decided to freshen up Dvorn’s burial site, and they’re looking for a curator. They’ve read your work on Dvorn and they think you’re just the man. Clean the place up a little, establish a small museum nearby, turn Kesmakuran into something of a destination for tourists. It’s an extremely old place, you know—older than Alaisor, older than Stoien, older than half the cities on Castle Mount, and they’re very proud of that. There’s enough in their budget to let you have an archaeologist to assist you, too, and I know that you and Lutiel Vengifrons are great friends, so we thought of recommending the two of you as a team—if you’re interested, that is—”
“Curator of the tomb of the Pontifex Dvorn!” Simmilgord said in wonder. “Am I interested? Am I?”
Lutiel Vengifrons said, “It’s a little bit of a career detour for us, don’t you think?” As usual, there was a bit of an adversarial edge in his tone. The friendship that held Simmilgord and Lutiel together was based on an attraction of opposites, Simmilgord a tall, thin, flimsily built man of mercurial temperament, Lutiel short and strong, wide-shouldered, barrel-chested, cautious and stolid by nature.
“A detour? No, I don’t think so,” Simmilgord replied. “It puts me right where I want to be. How can I claim to be an expert on the reign of Dvorn when I haven’t even visited the city where he was born and where he’s supposed to be buried? But I could never afford to make the trip, and that research grant always seemed to be dangling just out of reach—and now, to live right there, to have daily access to all the important sites of his life—”
“And to turn them into tourist attractions?”
“Are you saying you don’t want to go with me?” Simmilgord asked.
“No—no, I didn’t say that. Not exactly. But still—I can’t help wondering whether two earnest young scholars really ought to let themselves get involved with any such scheme. ‘Clean the place up a little,’ the chairman said. What does that mean? Deck it out with marble and onyx? Make it into some kind of gaudy amusement-park thing?”
“Maybe have a little modern plumbing put in, at most,” said Simmilgord. “And some decent lighting.—Look, Lutiel, it’s a brilliant opportunity. Maybe you worry too much about being an earnest young scholar, do you know what I mean? What an earnest young scholar like you needs to do is go to Kesmakuran and dig around a little and uncover a bunch of astounding artifacts that bring Dvorn out of the realm of culture-hero myths and turn him into a real person. And here’s your chance to do it. Why, right now we don’t even know that he ever existed, and—”
Lutiel Vengifrons gasped. “Can you seriously mean a thing like that, Simmilgord? He had to exist. Somebody had to be the first Pontifex.”
“Somebody, yes. But that’s all we can say. About the actual Dvorn we know practically nothing. He’s just a name. His life is an absolute mystery to us. For all we know, Furvain might have made him up out of whole cloth because he needed a vivid character to fill out that part of his poem. But now—well—”
Simmilgord paused, startled and baffled by what he had just heard himself saying.
Never before had he expressed doubts about the real existence of Dvorn. And in fact he felt none. That Aithin Furvain’s famous poem of four thousand years ago was the chief source of information about Dvorn, and that Furvain had not been any sort of scholar, but simply the wastrel son of Lord Sangamor, an idler, something of a fool, a poet, practically a myth himself, was irrelevant. Furvain must have had some concrete source to work from. There was no reason to take his cunningly constructed verses as a work of literal history, but no reason to discard them entirely as poetic fabrications, either. And there was no arguing away the fact that the Pontificate had been founded, after all, that some charismatic leader had put the whole thing into shape and persuaded the squabbling peoples of Majipoor to unite behind him, and if that leader had not been the Dvorn of Furvain’s poem he must have been someone very much like him, whose existence could very likely be proven by the proper sort of archaeological and historical research.
So in raising an argument that cast doubts on Dvorn’s literal existence, Simmilgord realized, he was simply taking an extreme position for the sake of overcoming Lutiel’s doubts about their taking the job. What he yearned for, above all else, was to get out of dusty, parched Sisivondal, away from the endless paper-shuffling and bureaucratic nonsense of university life, and plunge into some genuine historical research. And he very much wanted Lutiel to accompany him, because there definitely would be some excavating to do at the tomb site and he was no archaeologist, and Lutiel was. They would make a good team out there in Kesmakuran. But suggesting that in the present state of knowledge no one could even be sure that Dvorn had ever existed was to overstate the case. Of course Dvorn had existed. That much they could take for granted. It would be their job to discover what he really had been like and how he had achieved what he had achieved. And what an exciting task it would be! To dig deep into the world’s remote, almost mythical past—to make direct contact with the stuff of fantasy and romance—!
“I don’t think I’m phrasing this the right way,” he said finally. “What I mean is that most of what we think we know about Dvorn is derived from an epic poem of long ago, not from direct scientific research, and we’re being handed an invitation to do that research and establish our scholarly reputations by bringing him out of the realm of myth and poetry into some sort of objective reality. Forget the part about setting up a tourist attraction there. That’s just incidental. The chance to do important research is what matters. Come with me, Lutiel. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
In the end, of course, Lutiel agreed. Unlike Simmilgord, he had not a shred of romance in his soul. He was no climber of hills, no dreamer of wondrous dreams. What he was was a patient plodder, a stolid sifter of sand and pebbles, as archaeologists often tend to be. But even so he could see the merits of the offer. There had never been any scientific excavations carried out at Kesmakuran: just some occasional amateur digs in the course of the past thousand years or so, turning up a few fragmentary inscriptions that appeared to date from the time of the first Pontificate, and that was all—though it had been enough for the uncritical residents of the place to seize upon as proof of the claim that Dvorn had been born and died in their ancient but otherwise unremarkable town. But beyond question there was no event more important in the long history of human settlement on Majipoor than the inspired creation of a political system that had survived in nearly its original form these twelve thousand years. Kesmakuran was generally accepted as the traditional place of the great first Pontifex’s birth; it was reasonable at least to postulate that some evidence of Dvorn’s existence might be found there. And the city fathers of Kesmakuran were handing the two of them the key to the site.
“Well—” said Lutiel Vengifrons.
Kesmakuran turned out to be not much more than a village, with a population of perhaps a hundred thousand at most, but it was a pretty village, and after the brutal implacability of Sisivondal and the long, wearying journey across central Alhanroel into the western provinces it seemed almost idyllic. It lay in the heart of prosperous farming country—everything from Gannamunda and Hunzimar westward was farming country, thousands of miles of it, blessed by the beneficial westerly winds that carried the rains inland from the distant coast—and Simmilgord rejoiced in the sight of broad fertile plains and cultivated fields again, so different from the interminable brick drabness of Sisivondal’s innumerable warehouses and depots. He had never been this far west before, and, although Alaisor and the other coastal cities still lay many days’ journey beyond here, it seemed to his eager imagination that he need only climb the nearest hill to behold the bosom of the Inner Sea shimmering in the golden-green afternoon sunlight. The air was fresh and sweet and moist out here, with a bit of the tang of a wind from the ocean. In parched, nearly rainless Sisivondal every intake of breath had been a struggle and the hot, dry air had rasped against his throat.
Simmilgord and Lutien were given a cottage to share, one of a row of nearly identical square-roofed buildings fashioned from a pinkish-gold stone that was quarried in the mountains just south of town. Their host, Kesmakuran’s mayor, fluttered about them fussily as though he were welcoming some dukes or princes of Castle Mount, rather than a pair of uncertain young academics newly emerged from a sheltered scholastic existence.
Kyvole Gannivad was the mayor’s name. He was a stubby, rotund man, bald except for two reddish fringes above his ears, stocky with the sort of solid stockiness that made you think that no matter how hard you pushed him you could not knock him over. He had trouble remembering their names, calling Simmilgord “Lutilel” a couple of times and once transforming Lutiel’s surname into “Simmifrons,” which seemed odd for a politician, but otherwise he was ingratiating and solicitous to the point of absurdity, telling them again and again what an honor it was for the town of Kesmakuran to be graced by renowned scholars of their high intellect and widely acclaimed accomplishments. “We are counting on you,” he said several times, “to put our city on the map. And we know that you will.”
“What does he mean by that?” Lutiel asked, when they were finally alone. “Are we supposed to do real research here, or does he think we’re going to act as a couple of paid publicists for them?”
Simmilgord shrugged. “It’s the sort of thing that mayors like to say, that’s all. He can’t help being a home-town booster. He thinks that if we set up a nice little four-room museum next door to the site of the tomb and find a few interesting old inscriptions to put in it, visitors will come from thousands of miles around to gawk.”
“And suppose that doesn’t happen.”
“Not our problem,” said Simmilgord. “You know what you and I came here to do. Pulling the tourists in is his job, not ours.”
“What if he tries to push us in directions that compromise the integrity of our work?”
“I don’t think he will. But if he tries, we can handle him. He’s nothing but a small-town mayor, remember, and not a particularly bright specimen of his species.—Come on, Lutiel. Let’s unpack and have a look at the famous tomb.”
But that turned out not to be so simple. They needed to go with the official custodian of the tomb, and it took more than an hour to locate him. Then came the trek to the tomb itself, which was at the southern edge of town, far across from their lodgings, at the foot of the range of mountains out of which the city’s building-blocks had been carved. It was late afternoon before they reached it. An ugly quarry scar formed a diagonal slash across the face of the mountain; below and to both sides of it grew a dense covering of blue-black underbrush, descending to ground level and extending almost to the outermost street of the city, and here, nearly hidden by the thick tangle of brush, was the entrance to Dvorn’s tomb, or at least what was said to be Dvorn’s tomb: a black hole stretching downward into the earth.
“I will go first,” said their guide, Prasilet Sungavon, the local antiquarian who was the custodian of the tomb. “It’s very dark down there. Even with our torches, we won’t have an easy time.”
“Lead on,” Simmilgord said impatiently, gesturing with his hand.
Prasilet Sungavon had annoyed them both from the very start. He was a stubby little Hjort, squat and puffy-faced and bulgy-eyed, a member of a race that apparently could not help seeming officious and self-important. About a third of the population of Kesmakuran were Hjorts, evidently. By profession Prasilet Sungavon was a dealer in pharmaceutical herbs, who long ago had taken up amateur archaeology as a weekend hobby. “I’ve been digging down here, man and boy, for forty years,” he told them proudly. “And I’ve found some real treasures, all right. Just about anything that anybody knows about Dvorn, they know because of the things I’ve found.” Which would irritate Lutiel Vengifrons considerably, because, as a professionally trained archaeologist, he surely would dislike the thought that this pill-peddler had spent decades rummaging around at random with his spade and his pick in this unique and easily damaged site. Simmilgord was bothered by him too, since it was unlikely that Prasilet Sungavon had the knowledge or the wit to derive any sort of solid historical conclusions from whatever he had managed to scrape loose in the depths of the tomb.
But, whether they liked it or not, the Hjort was the official municipal custodian of the tomb, the man with the keys to the gate, and they could do nothing without his cooperation. So they lit their torches and followed him down a stretch of uneven flagstone steps to a place where a metal grillwork barred their entry, and waited while Prasilet Sungavon elaborately unlocked a series of padlocks and swung the gate aside.
A dark, muddy, musty-smelling passage, low and narrow, with a cold breeze rising up out of it, lay before them. Through swerves and curves it led onward for some unknown distance into the heart of the mountain on a gradual sloping descent. Because of his height, Simmilgord had to crouch from the start. The floor of the passage was a thick, spongy layer of muddy soil; the sides and roof of it had been carved, none too expertly, from the rock of the mountain above them. The entranceway, the Hjort told them, had now and then been blocked by the backwash from heavy storms, and had had to be cleared at least five times in the last two thousand years, most recently a century ago. When they had gone about fifteen feet in, Prasilet Sungavon indicated a crude niche cut into the tunnel wall. “I found remarkable things in there,” he said, without explanation. “And there, and there,” pointing at two more niches further along. “You’ll see.”
The air in the tunnel was cold and dank. From somewhere deeper in came the sound of steadily dripping water, and occasionally the quick clatter of wings as some cave-dwelling creature, invisible in the dimness, passed swiftly by overhead. Other than that, and the hoarse, ragged breathing of the Hjort, all was silent in here. After about ten minutes the passage expanded abruptly into a high-roofed circular chamber, lined all about by a coarse and irregular wall of badly matched blocks of gray stone, that could very readily be regarded as a place of interment. And against the left side of it sat a rectangular lidless pink-marble box, three or four feet high and about seven feet long, that was plausibly a sarcophagus.
“This is it,” said the Hjort grandly. “The tomb of the Pontifex Dvorn!”
“May I?” Lutiel Vengifrons said, and, without waiting for a reply, stepped forward and peered into the box. After a moment Simmilgord, more diffidently, went up alongside him.
The sarcophagus, if that indeed was what it was, was empty. That was no surprise. They had not expected to find Dvorn lying here with his hands crossed on his chest and a benign smile on his Pontifical features. The stone box was roughly carved, with clearly visible chisel-marks all along its bare sides. There did not seem to be any inscriptions on it or any sort of ornamentation.
“A tomb, yes, very possibly,” said Lutiel Vengifrons after a while. He made the concession sound like a grudging one. “But just how, I wonder, were you able to identify this place specifically as the tomb of Dvorn?”
His tone was cool, skeptical, challenging. Unflustered, the Hjort replied, “We know that he was born in Kesmakuran, and that after his glorious century-long reign as Pontifex he died here. There is no doubt of that. It has always been understood locally that this is his tomb. That is the tradition. No one questions it. No other city in the world makes any such claim. Plainly this is an archaic site, going back to the earliest days of the settlement of Majipoor. The effort that must have been involved at that early time in digging such a long passageway indicates that this could only be the tomb of someone important. I ask you: Who else would that be, if not the first Pontifex?”
The logic did not seem entirely impeccable. Simmilgord, who had his own ideas about the unquestioning acceptance of local tradition as historical certainty, began to say something to that effect, but Lutiel nudged him ungently in the ribs before he could get out more than half a syllable. For the moment it was Lutiel who was conducting the interrogation. Prasilet Sungavon continued, still unperturbed, “Of course the body had disintegrated in the course of so long a span of time. But certain relics remained. I will show them to you when we come out of here.”
“What about the lid?” Lutiel Vengifrons said. “Surely nobody would bury such an important personage in a sarcophagus that had no lid.”
“There,” said the Hjort, aiming his torch into a dark corner of the tomb-chamber. Against the far wall lay what must once have been a long stone slab, now cracked into three pieces and some bits of rubble.
“Tomb-robbers?” Simmilgord asked, unable to keep silent any longer.
“I think not,” the Hjort said sharply. “We are not that sort of folk, here in Kesmakuran. Doubtless some visitors long ago lifted the lid to make certain that Dvorn’s body really did lie here, and as they carried it to one side they dropped it and it broke.”
“No doubt that is so,” said Simmilgord, working hard to keep the sarcasm from his voice.
He could feel himself slipping into a profound bleakness of spirit. This dark, muddy hole in the ground—this miserable crude stone coffin with its shattered lid—these unprovable conjectures of Prasilet Sungavon—how did any of this constitute any sort of substantive information about the life of the Pontifex Dvorn? He wondered how he and Lutiel could possibly fulfill even the slightest part of the scientific mission that had taken them halfway across the continent from Sisivondal. It all seemed hopeless. There was so little to work with, and what little there was undoubtedly contaminated by the passionate desire of the Kesmakuran folk to inflate its significance into something of major historical importance. Right here at the beginning of everything Simmilgord saw only disaster encroaching on him from all sides.
Prasilet Sungavon, though, stood before them smiling an immense Hjortish smile, a foot wide from ear to ear. Obviously he was very pleased with himself and the cavern over which he presided.
With a brisk professionalism that belied his gloom Simmilgord said, “Well, now, is there anything else we should see?”
“Not here. At my house. Let us go.”
One room of Prasilet Sungavon’s house had been turned into a kind of Dvorn museum. Three cases contained artifacts that had been taken from the tomb, most of them by the Hjort himself, some by the anonymous predecessors of his who had poked around in the tomb in the course of the previous thousand years. “These,” he said resonantly, indicating several small yellowish objects, “are some of the Pontifex’s teeth. And this is a lock of his hair.”
“Still retaining some color after twelve thousand years,” said Lutiel. “Remarkable!”
“Yes. Verging on the miraculous, I would say.—These, I am told with good authority, are his knucklebones. Nothing else of the body remains. But how fortunate we are to have these few relics.”
“Which you say can be identified as those of the Pontifex Dvorn,” Simmilgord said. “May I ask, by what evidence?”
“The inscriptions from the tomb,” said the Hjort. “I will show you those tomorrow.”
“Why not now?”
“The hour grows late, my friend. Tomorrow.”
There was no mistaking the inflexibility in his tone. Tomorrow it would have to be. The Hjort had the upper hand, and it seemed that he meant to keep it that way.
It was a depressing evening. Neither man had much to say, and little of that was optimistic. What had been put forth to them as the tomb of Dvorn was nothing much more than a muddy unadorned underground chamber that could have been built for almost any purpose at any time in the past twelve thousand years, the putative teeth and hair and bones that Prasilet Sungavon had shown them were absurdities, and the Hjort’s proprietary attitude toward the site was certainly going to make any sort of real probing very difficult. There hadn’t even been any Hjorts on Majipoor in the early centuries of the Pontificate—it was Lord Melikand who had brought all the non-human races here, thousands of years later, an amply chronicled fact—and yet here was this one behaving as though he owned the place. That was likely to be an ongoing problem.
The inscriptions from the tomb, at least, provided one mildly hopeful sign when Prasilet Sungavon let them see them the next day. From a locked cabinet the Hjort drew five small plaques of yellow stone. He had found them, he said, hidden away in the niches leading up to the tomb-chamber. Their surfaces appeared to have been damaged by unskillful cleaning, but nevertheless it was possible to see that they bore lettering, worn and indistinct, in some kind of barely familiar angular script that at even such brief inspection as this Simmilgord believed could be accepted—with a stretch—as an early version of the writing still in use in modern times.
A shiver of excitement ran down his spine. If these things were genuine, they could be the world’s oldest surviving written artifacts. What an amazing notion that was! That romantic element in his soul that had blazed in him since his boyhood atop the hillocks of the Vale of Gloyn still lived in him: to hold these chipped and battered little slabs of stone aroused in him a feeling of being in contact with the whole vast sweep of the world’s history from the beginning. And for the first time since their arrival in Kesmakuran he began to think that their long journey across the continent might yet result in something useful. But he was no paleographer. He had never handled any documents remotely as old as these would have to be, if indeed they dated from the era of the early Pontificate, and what he saw here was altogether mysterious to him. No actual intelligible words leaped out to him from the worn surfaces of the slabs. At best he had a vague sense that the faint marks that they bore were words, that they said something meaningful in a language that was akin, in an ancestral way, to the one that the people of Majipoor still spoke. He looked across to Lutiel Vengifrons. “What do you think?”
“Extraordinary,” Lutiel said. “They could actually be quite old, you know.” The way he said it left no doubt that he too was greatly moved, even shaken, by the sight of the slabs. Simmilgord took note of that: Lutiel, steady and sober-minded and conservative, was not a man given to overstatement or bursts of wild enthusiasm. But then his innate sobriety of mind reasserted itself. “—If they’re authentic, that is.”
“How old, Lutiel?”
A shrug. “Lord Damiano’s time? Stiamot’s? No, older than that—Melikand, maybe.”
“Not as old as the era of Dvorn, then?”
“I can’t say, one way or the other, not just by one fast look. They’re hard to read. I’m not very much of an expert on the most archaic scripts. And the lighting in here isn’t good enough for this kind of work. I’d need to examine them under instruments—a close study of their surfaces—”
Prasilet Sungavon gathered up the slabs and said, “Let me tell you what they say. This one—” It was the largest of them. He pursed his immense lips and slowly traced a line across the surface of the slab with a thick ashen-gray forefinger. “ ‘I, Esurimand of Kesmakuran, acting at the behest of Barhold, anointed successor to the beloved Pontifex Dvorn—’ ” Looking up, he said, “That’s all can be read of this one. But on the next it says, ‘The blessings of the Divine upon our great leader, who in the hundredth year of his reign—’ Again, it’s not possible to make out anything after that. But the next one says, ‘For which we vow eternal gratitude—’ and this one, ‘May he enjoy eternal repose.’ The fifth tablet is completely unintelligible.”
Simmilgord and Lutiel Vengifrons exchanged glances. The look of skepticism in Lutiel’s eyes was unmistakable. Simmilgord silently indicated his agreement. It was all he could do to keep himself from laughing.
But he tried to preserve some semblance of scholarly detachment. They could not afford to seem to be mocking Prasilet Sungavon to his face. “Quite fascinating,” he said crisply. “Quite. And would you care to tell us how you were able to arrive at these translations?”
But he must not have been able to conceal the scorn in his voice very well, for the Hjort fixed his huge bulging eyes on him with a look that must surely be one of anger.
“Years of study,” said Prasilet Sungavon. “Unremitting toil. Comparing old texts with older ones, and even older ones yet, until I had mastered the writings of the ancients. And then—long nights of candlelight—straining my eyes, struggling to comprehend these faint little scratchings in the stone—”
“He’s making it all up, of course,” Lutiel said, hours later, when they had returned to their own quarters. “The slabs might be real, and the inscriptions, but he invented those texts himself.”
“I’m not so sure of that,” said Simmilgord. He had been through a long and troubling conversation with himself since they had left the Hjort’s place. “I doubted his translations as much as you did at first, when he started reeling off all that glib stuff about the beloved Pontifex Dvorn, and so forth. But you saw his library. He’s done some genuine work on those inscriptions. We ought to allow for the possibility that they do say something like what he claims they say.”
“But still—how pat it is, how neat, the reference to Barhold, the line about eternal repose—”
“Pat and neat if he’s building support for a hoax, yes. But if that truly is Dvorn’s tomb—”
Lutiel gave him an odd look. “You really want to believe that it is, don’t you?”
“Yes. No question that I do. Don’t you?”
“We are supposed to begin with the evidence, and work toward the hypothesis, Simmilgord. Not the other way around.”
“You would say something like that, wouldn’t you? You know that I’d never try to deny that a proper scholar ought to work from evidence to hypothesis. But there’s nothing wrong with starting from a hypothesis and testing it against the evidence.”
“The evidence of myth and tradition and, quite possibly, of fabricated artifacts?”
“We don’t know that they’re fabricated. I don’t like that Hjort any more than you do, but his findings may be legitimate all the same.—Look, Lutiel, I’m not saying that that is Dvorn’s tomb. I simply answered your question. Do I want to believe it’s Dvorn’s tomb? Yes. Yes, I do. I think it would be wonderful if we could prove that it’s the real thing. Whether it is or not is what we’re here to find out.”
It was as close as they had ever come to a real quarrel. But gradually the discussion grew less heated. They both saw that arguing with each other about the authenticity of the texts or the scholarly credentials of Prasilet Sungavon was pointless. They had come to Kesmakuran to conduct independent research and reach their own conclusions. Each of them had already let Prasilet Sungavon see that they had their doubts about the things he had shown them—they had, in fact, not been able to do a very good job of concealing their disdain for his methods and his results—and it was clear that the Hjort was annoyed by that. In his own eyes he was the leading authority on the tomb of the Pontifex Dvorn and they were merely a pair of snotty wet-behind-the-ears University boys, and indeed there was some truth to that. In the future they would have to take a less condescending approach to him, for Prasilet Sungavon held the keys to the tomb and without his cooperation they would accomplish nothing.
They tried to do just that in their next meeting with the Hjort, letting him know how excited they were by all that they had seen so far, and how eager they were to build on the splendid work he had done. He seemed mollified by that. Simmilgord asked to be allowed to take the slabs back to their house for study, and, although Prasilet Sungavon refused, he did let them make copies to work with. He also was willing to give them access to his own extensive library of paleographic texts. Lutiel said that he wanted to have lighting installed in the tomb—at the expense of the University, naturally—and the Hjort unhesitatingly agreed. Nor did he seem to be troubled by Lutiel’s suggestion of extending the existing excavation deeper into the mountainside, which somehow no one had thought of doing since the cavern first had become known to the people of Kesmakuran.
The first surprise came when they began poring over the inscriptions on the tablets and comparing the characters with the examples of early Majipoori script in Prasilet Sungavon’s books. In twelve thousand years one would expect any sort of alphabet to undergo some metamorphosis, but careful inspection of the tablets under adequate lighting quickly revealed that they were decipherable after all, once one made allowances for the erosion of the surface that time and careless cleaning had inflicted, and, after they had learned to make those allowances, they could see that the Hjort’s readings were not very far from the mark. “See—here?” Lutiel said. “By the Divine, it does say ‘Dvorn’—I’m certain of it!”
Simmilgord felt the shiver of discovery again. “Yes. And this—isn’t it ‘Barhold’?”
“With the Pontifical sign next to both names!”
“I think so.”
“Where’s the part about ‘the hundredth year of his reign’?”
“I don’t see it.”
“Neither do I. But of course Dvorn didn’t reign a hundred years. That’s culture-hero stuff—myth, fable. Just because it’s in Furvain doesn’t mean it’s true. Nobody lives that long. The Hjort must have interpolated it to make the Kesmakurans happy. They want to believe that their great man was Pontifex for a century, just as it says in the Book of Changes, and so he found it on this slab for them.”
“It’s probably this line here,” Lutiel said, pointing with his pencil. “You can make out about one letter out of every six, at best, in this section. Prasilet Sungavon would have been able to translate it any way he liked.”
“But the rest of it—”
“Yes. It does all match up, more or less.—We have to be nicer to him, Simmilgord. We really do have the tomb of Dvorn here, I think. You know how skeptical I was at first. But it gets harder and harder to argue this stuff away.”
The installation of the lighting system began the next day. While that was going on, and Lutiel was purchasing the tools he would need for the dig, Simmilgord busied himself in the municipal archives, digging back through astonishingly ancient records. With the mayoral blessing of Kyvole Gannivad all doors were thrown open to him, and he roamed freely in a labyrinth of dusty shelves. The archive here was nothing like what he imagined was held in the Castle Mount library, or in the storage vaults of the Labyrinth, but it was impressive enough, particularly for so minor a town as Kesmakuran. And it appeared as though no one had looked at these things in decades, even centuries. For two days he wandered through an unfruitful host of relatively recent property deeds and tax records and city-council minutes, but then he found a staircase leading downward to a storeroom of far older documents, documents of almost unbelievable antiquity. Some of them went back six, seven, eight thousand years, to the days of Calintane and Guadeloom and the mighty Stiamot who reigned before them, and some were older than Stiamot even, bearing the seals of Coronals and Pontifexes whose names were mere shadows and whispers; and beneath these were what seemed to be transcriptions, themselves several thousand years old, of what appeared to be documents from the very earliest years of human settlement on Majipoor.
It was a wondrous thing to read these old texts. Simply to handle them was a thrill. Here—Simmilgord, still caught in the struggle between his skepticism and his eagerness to believe, could not help wondering whether it was a latter-day forgery—was a document that purported to be a copy of a decree issued by Dvorn when he was nothing more than the head of the provincial council of Kesmakuran. Here—how startling, if authentic!—was the text of Dvorn’s fiery message to his fellow leaders in west-central Alhanroel, calling on them to unite and form a stable national government. Here—there seemed to be a considerable gap in time—was an edict of Dvorn’s having to do with water rights along the Sefaranon River. So his regime had already extended its reach that far to the west! Whatever clerk had been responsible for making this copy of the primordial original document had drawn a replica of something very much like the Pontifical seal on it. Then there was a decree that bore not only Dvorn’s name but that of Lord Barhold, the first Coronal, which indicated that Dvorn had by then devised the system of dual rule, a senior monarch who shaped policy and a junior one who saw to its execution; and after that came one that indicated that Barhold had succeeded to the title of Pontifex and had appointed a Coronal of his own.
Simmilgord felt dazed by it all. A sensation as of a great swelling chord of music came soaring up from the core of his soul, music that he had heard before, the great song of Majipoor that had resounded in his heart now and again throughout all his days. Since his boyhood he had lived with the deeds of the Pontifex Dvorn alive in his mind, the dawn of his campaign to bring the scattered cities of Majipoor together into a single realm, the first gathering of support at Kesmakuran, the arduous march to Stangard Falls, the proclamation of a royal government, the founding of the Pontificate and the struggle to win worldwide acceptance. Certainly it was the great epic of the world’s history. But nearly all that Simmilgord knew of it came from Aithin Furvain’s poem. Until this moment he had feared that every detail of the story, so far as anyone could say with certainty, might merely be a work of imaginative recreation.
Now, though, here in his hands, was the evidence that Furvain had told the true story. It was impossible to resist the desire to accept these documents as authentic. As he scanned through them, running his fingers over them, caressing them almost in a loving way, the whole stupendous sweep of Majipoor’s history came pouring in on him like the invincible flow of a river in full spate. Simmilgord had not known any such sensations since his boyhood in the Vale of Gloyn, when he had felt the first stirrings of that hunger to comprehend this vast world that had eventually set him on the path he followed now. The documents had to be real. No one, not even for the sake of enhancing provincial pride, could have gone to the trouble of forging all this. Unimportant little Kesmakuran did indeed seem to be the place from which Dvorn’s unification movement had sprung; and, no matter how pompous Prasilet Sungavon’s manner might be, it was starting to be hard to reject the conclusion that the tomb of which he was the custodian was the actual burial-place of the first Pontifex.
Lutiel, meanwhile, had been making significant progress toward the same conclusion. He had recruited a crew of diggers from the local farms, three boys and two girls, and had given them a quick course in the technique of archaeological excavation, and—while Prasilet Sungavon stood by, watching somewhat uneasily—had begun to push the zone of exploration well beyond the tomb-chamber.
As Lutiel had begun to suspect almost from the first day, there was more to the underground structure than the entryway and the burial chamber. Some probing on the far side of that chamber revealed that its roughhewn wall was even more irregular than usual in certain places, and when he lifted away a little of the masonry in those places he discovered that behind the jumbled stones lay circular openings, probably plugged long ago by rockfalls. And behind those were four additional passageways leading off at sharp angles from the main entry tunnel. Succeeding days of excavation demonstrated that at one time the tomb-chamber had been at the center of a cluster of such tunnels, as though in ancient times solemn ceremonial processions had come to it from various directions.
Prasilet Sungavon, who made a point of being present at each day’s work as if he feared that Lutiel might damage the precious tomb in some way, displayed mixed feelings as these discoveries proceeded. Plainly he was displeased as his own inadequacies as an archaeologist were made manifest: that he had never thought of digging deeper in at the site himself could only be an embarrassment to him. But his yearning for antiquarian knowledge was genuine enough, however inadequate his scientific skills might be, and he showed real excitement as Lutiel pushed his various excavations farther and farther.
Especially when more tablets turned up in these outer passages: commemorative plaques that showed an evolution in Majipoori script that had to cover several thousand years, culminating in a perfectly legible one declaring that the prodigious Stiamot, conqueror of the aboriginal Metamorphs, had come here on pilgrimage after his succession to the Pontificate and had performed a ceremony of thanksgiving at the tomb of his revered predecessor Dvorn.
Here was proof absolute of the authenticity of the site. That night Mayor Kyvole Gannivad gave a celebratory feast, and the golden wine of Alaisor flowed so freely that both Simmilgord and Lutiel found it necessary to declare a holiday from their labors on the next day.
That was the first surprise: the confirmation that this was, in fact, the veritable tomb of Dvorn. The second surprise, which came a few weeks later, was much less pleasant. They were both back at work, Simmilgord ploughing through a mountain of dusty documents, Lutiel meticulously extending his dig, when messengers came to each of them to say that the mayor wished to see them at his office immediately.
Simmilgord, arriving first, waited fifteen minutes in the office vestibule for Lutiel to get there, and ten fretful minutes more before Kyvole Gannivad appeared. The round little man came bouncing out, flushed with excitement, beckoning with both hands. “Come! Come! We have a visitor, a most important visitor!”
The huge figure of a Skandar waited within, practically filling the mayoral office: a ponderous bulky being, at least eight and a half feet tall, with four powerful arms and a thick shaggy pelt. Kyvole Gannivad said grandiloquently, “My friends, it is my great pleasure to introduce you to—”
But the Skandar needed no introduction. Simmilgord knew him instantly by the two bizarre stripes of orange fur that slanted diagonally like barbaric ornaments through his dense gray-blue facial pelt, and by the fiery intensity of his eyes. This could only be Hawid Zakayil, the forceful and autocratic Superintendent of Antiquities of Alhanroel, a man who was ex officio director of half the museums of the continent, who had positioned himself as the supreme authority on all questions having to do with the past of Majipoor, who spent his days in perpetual motion, moving from one major site to another, taking command of anything that might be going on there, personally announcing all major discoveries, putting his name to innumerable books and essays that—so it was widely thought—were primarily the work of other people. He was a force of nature, a living hurricane, dynamic and irresistible. He had come once to the University when Simmilgord was there, to address the senior convocation, and the event was nothing that Simmilgord could ever forget.
It was only to be expected, Simmilgord thought dolefully, that the ubiquitous and omnipotent Hawid Zakayil would turn up here sooner or later. Confirmation of the authenticity of the tomb of Dvorn? Discovery of a Stiamot inscription? And of documents, or at least copies of documents, that cast new light on pivotal moments in the career of the first Pontifex? How, in the light of all of that, could he have stayed away? And what would happen now to the two young scholars who had made these discoveries?
Simmilgord, looking quickly toward Lutiel, had no difficulty reading the message that his friend’s eyes conveyed.
We are lost, Lutiel was thinking. We are doomed.
Simmilgord felt very much the same way. But for the moment all was jubilation and good cheer, at least outwardly. The towering Skandar reached out, taking both of Simmilgord’s hands in his two left ones and Lutiel’s in the right pair, and told them in booming tones how proud he was of the things they had achieved. “I met you both, you know, in Sisivondal, your graduation week, and I knew even then that you were destined for great things. As I told you at the time. Surely you remember!”
Surely Simmilgord did not. He had seen Hawid Zakayil then, yes, but only at a distance, simply as a member of the audience during that lengthy and vociferous harangue. Not a single word had passed between them on that occasion or at any time since. But he was not about to contradict the great man about that, or, indeed, about anything else.
They spoke with him for a long while about the work they had been doing in Kesmakuran. Then, of course, there had to be an inspection of Simmilgord’s collection of archival material, and of the tablets that Lutiel had found in the newly opened tunnels, and then a tour of the tunnels themselves. At some point in the afternoon Prasilet Sungavon interpolated himself into the group, introduced himself effusively to Hawid Zakayil, and let the Skandar know, without saying so in quite those words, that Simmilgord and Lutiel would not have accomplished a thing here without his own thoughtful guidance. “You have done well,” the Superintendent of Antiquities told him, and the Hjort beamed a great Hjortish grin of self-satisfaction. Simmilgord and Lutiel maintained a diplomatic silence.
Hawid Zakayil was so big that the tour of the tunnels was something of a challenge, and at one ticklish moment it seemed as if he were going to become stuck in the tightest of the passageways. But he extricated himself with the skill of one who was accustomed to life on a world where nearly everything was constructed for the benefit of much smaller beings. He moved quickly from place to place within the site, sniffing at the sarcophagus, staring into the niches where the stone tablets had been found, pushing at the chamber walls as though testing their solidity. “Wonderful,” he said. “Marvelous. How thrilling it is to realize that we stand right at the birthplace of the history of Majipoor!”
Simmilgord thought he heard Lutiel snicker. This was no birthplace, for one thing: it was a tomb. And Simmilgord knew that Hawid Zakayil’s appropriation to himself of the entire past of Majipoor had always bothered Lutiel. He was just a Skandar, after all, Lutiel had often said: a latecomer to the planet, like the Hjorts and Ghayrogs and all the other non-human races. Lutiel believed that the history of Majipoor was the history of the human settlement of the planet. Simmilgord had often tried to dispute that point. Majipoor had been here for millions of years before the arrival of the first intruders from space, and probably would survive their extinction as well. “We are all latecomers here, if you look at things from the point of view of the Metamorphs,” he would say. “So what if the humans got here before the Skandars and the Hjorts? We all came from somewhere else. And all of us working together have made the place we call Majipoor what it is.” But there was no appeasing Lutiel on that issue, and Simmilgord, after a time, ceased to debate it with him.
The real area of concern was that to have the Superintendent of Antiquities come storming noisily into town put everything in doubt. What would happen next, Simmilgord wondered, to their project here? The best-case scenario was that Hawid Zakayil would simply prowl around here for a few days, make a few comments and suggestions, give the work his seal of approval, and go zooming off to his next place of inspection, leaving them in peace to continue the work already begun.
But that was too optimistic an outcome. Very quickly it became apparent that something much worse was going to unfold.
Two days after the meeting with Hawid Zakayil, Simmilgord was at work in the municipal archives when Lutiel came bursting in unexpectedly, looking wild-eyed and flushed. “The most amazing—you have to see—you can’t imagine—oh, come, Simmilgord, come with me, come! To the tomb! Hurry!”
Simmilgord had never seen his calm, sober-minded friend looking so flustered. There was no choice but to go with him at once, and off they went, pell-mell across town to the excavation site. With Lutiel in the lead, moving so quickly that Simmilgord could barely keep up with him, they scurried down the staircase, through the passage to the tomb-chamber, beyond it into the newly excavated tunnels, and then made a sudden left turn into a part of the dig that Simmilgord had never seen before. Lutiel flashed his torch about frenziedly from one wall to the other.
“We broke through into this about an hour ago. Look at it! Look at it!”
Both sides of the new tunnel were covered with murals—most of them faded with age, in some places barely visible, mere ghosts of what once had been painted there, but in other sections still relatively fresh and bright, the colors still apparent. At the far end, where the passage widened into a kind of apse, Simmilgord could see the giant image of a seated man in what must have been robes of great magnificence, occupying the entire wall from floor to ceiling, one hand raised in a gesture of benediction, the other resting on his knee, lying there casually but, even so, in a regal manner. Though the whole upper part of the figure’s face was gone, its smile remained, a smile of such warmth and godlike benevolence that this could only be meant as a representation of a great monarch, and what other monarch could it be than Dvorn?
To either side of that great throned figure were other paintings, a long series of them, badly damaged in their upper sections and the colors everywhere weakened by the inroads of time. But Simmilgord, staring in awe from one to the next, found it all too easy to suggest meanings for the scenes he saw: this must be the gathering at Kesmakuran where Dvorn had called upon the people of Alhanroel to unite behind his banner, and this his coronation as Pontifex at Stangard Falls on the river Glayge, at the foot of Castle Mount, and this one, where a lesser but still imposing figure was depicted beside him, surely showed Dvorn raising his colleague Barhold to the newly devised rank of Coronal Lord. And so on and on for twenty yards or more, though the paintings closest to the point where Lutiel had entered the gallery were reduced to the merest spectral outlines. Simmilgord, moving carefully from one to the next, beheld images of vertically mounted wheels, like the waterwheels that might power a mill, and long processions of blurred and almost undiscernible figures, perhaps celebrants in some forgotten holy rite, and a series of wreath-like decorations inscribed with lettering in the same antique script as on the tablets that Prasilet Sungavon had found.
“The oldest paintings in the world,” Lutiel said softly. “Scenes from the life of the Pontifex Dvorn.”
“Yes.” It was just a husky whisper: Simmilgord was barely able to get the syllable out. “Yes. Yes. Yes!” To his astonishment he found himself fighting back tears. “A marvelous discovery, Lutiel.” And indeed it was. Even in that moment of jubilation, though, he felt a sudden sense of dread. This find was too marvelous. They were never going to get rid of Hawid Zakayil, now.
He could not bring himself to voice the fears that came rushing in upon him. But Lutiel did.
“And now to show it to the Skandar,” he said. “Who will steal it from us.”
“We will seal this chamber at once,” Hawid Zakayil announced briskly, when he had completed his inspection of the new gallery two hours later. “This is the most amazing discovery in my entire career, and we must take no risks with it, none whatsoever. Exposure to the outside atmosphere could very well destroy these paintings in a matter of days. Therefore no one is to enter without permission from me, and I mean no one, until we complete our plan for preservation of the murals.”
It was not hard for Simmilgord to imagine the things that were going through Lutiel Vengifrons’ mind, but he could not bear to look at his friend’s face just now. The swiftness with which the Superintendent of Antiquities had taken possession of the find was breathtaking. The most amazing discovery in his entire career, yes! And no one to enter the site, not even Lutiel, without permission from him. It was his site, now. His discovery. His amazing discovery.
Quite predictably the Superintendent of Antiquities made it clear that he intended to stay right here in Kesmakuran and take personal charge of the work. And over the next few days, without actually saying so explicitly, he let it be known to Mayor Kyvole Gannivad, to the Hjort Prasilet Sungavon, and, lastly, to Simmilgord and Lutiel themselves, that this site was too important to be left in the hands of amateurs or novices. And—quite explicitly, this time—he revealed that he had some truly marvelous ideas for capitalizing on the tomb’s tremendous historical significance.
“This is humiliating, Simmilgord,” Lutiel said, when at last they were alone that evening. “I’m going to resign, and so should you.”
“Can’t you see? He’s putting the whole thing in his pocket and reducing us to flunkeys. I’ll have to beg to be allowed to go into the tomb. He’ll bring his own people in to do the preservation work, and they’ll want to continue the dig without me. Whatever you find in the archives will have to be turned over to him, and he’ll claim credit for having found it. We’ll be lucky even to have our names on the paper when he publishes the find.”
Simmilgord shook his head. “You’re taking this much too seriously. He’s behaving exactly as he always behaves when somebody finds an exciting new site, yes, but in a few weeks he’ll lose interest and move on. Something big will turn up on the far side of Castle Mount or maybe even down in Suvrael and off he’ll go to muscle in on it. Or there’ll be a new museum to dedicate at the back end of Zimroel and he’ll head over there for six or seven months. He’ll keep his finger in our work here, sure. But he can’t be everywhere at once, and sooner or later you’ll be back in charge of the dig.”
“This is very naive of you.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Then you’re actually going to remain here, Simmilgord?”
“Yes. Absolutely. And so should you.”
“And be pushed aside—cheated, abused—”
“I tell you it won’t be like that. Please, Lutiel. Please.”
It took some work, but finally, glumly, Lutiel agreed to stay on for a while. The clinching argument was that for him to resign in high dudgeon now would destroy his career: Hawid Zakayil would understand instantly why he was leaving, no matter what pretext he gave, and would take mortal offense, and no young archaeologist who offended the Superintendent of Antiquities was ever going to do archaeological work on Majipoor again. He might just as well start taking a course in accounting or bookkeeping.
So Lutiel remained in Kesmakuran; and Hawid Zakayil went through the pretense, at least, of sharing responsibility for the project with the two of them. He informed Simmilgord that he was arranging financing so that every document found so far could be copied for the benefit of the archives at the Castle and the Labyrinth, a task that would keep Simmilgord busy for a good many weeks to come. And even though the site remained closed, with no further excavation until further notice, Lutiel himself would be admitted for several hours a day to sort through his discoveries in the outer tunnels and to supervise the work of the technicians who would be dealing with the task of preserving the murals against further decay.
Simmilgord wondered just what the Skandar would be doing during this time. Hawid Zakayil seemed to have allocated no specific aspect of the enterprise to himself, but he was too big and rambunctious and restless a presence to be content for long to sit about quietly in a sleepy place like Kesmakuran while such lesser men as Simmilgord and Lutiel went about their work.
The answer came soon enough. One morning Simmilgord and Lutiel received word that they were summoned to a meeting, and a couple of municipal officials escorted them to a place southeast of town, halfway around the base of the mountains from the site of the tomb. Over here the pinkish-gold stone of the main mountain range was sundered by a huge and formidable mass of black basalt, virtually a mountain unto itself, that must have been thrust up into it by some volcanic eruption long ago. Hawid Zakayil was waiting there for them with Mayor Kyvole Gannivad and Prasilet Sungavon when they arrived.
The Skandar pointed at once to the face of the basalt mass.
“Here is where we will put the monument. What do you think, gentlemen? Is this not a properly dramatic site for it?”
“The monument?” Simmilgord said blankly, feeling as though he had come in very late on something that he really should have known about before this.
“The monument to Dvorn!” the mayor cried. “What else do you think we’re talking about? Haven’t you seen the sketches?”
“Well, to be completely truthful—”
“We’ll dig the entrance to the cavern here—” Kyvole Gannivad swept his stubby arms about with a vigorous sweep to indicate a zone perhaps thirty feet high and forty feet wide—”and there’ll be a vestibule that will continue onward and downward for—oh, what did we say, Hawid Zakayil, a hundred feet? Two hundred?”
“Something like that,” the Skandar said indifferently.
Simmilgord did not understand. A monument? What monument? He had seen no sketches. This was the first he had heard of any of this. “You mean, a kind of historical site, to bring visitors to town? Aside from the tomb itself, I mean.”
“The tomb itself is too fragile to be a proper place of pilgrimage,” Prasilet Sungavon said. The Hjort spoke the way he might if he were explaining something to a six-year-old. “That’s why the Superintendent closed it so quickly, once the murals were discovered. But we need to build something here as a focus of attention on the greatness of the Pontifex Dvorn and on Kesmakuran’s importance in his career. As you say, a kind of historical site that will bring visitors here.”
“Exhibits commemorating the life and achievements of Dvorn,” said Hawid Zakayil. “Plaques that tell his story—no mythmaking, everything placed in accurate historical context.” The Skandar favored Simmilgord with a gaze of such force that he feared he might be burned to a crisp in its glare. “You will be in charge of this part of it, Simmilgord. We will count on you to provide us with all the data, essentially a biography of the Pontifex that can be recreated in graphic form, and to design the exhibits: all the wonder and magic that was the life of Dvorn, set out here in its full glory. I am well aware that this is your special field of expertise. You are precisely the person for the task.”
Simmilgord nodded. What could he say? He was overwhelmed by the power of the Skandar’s formidable nature. And what Hawid Zakayil was proposing was so astonishing that in a moment everything was transformed for him. Dvorn had been Simmilgord’s special obsession since his undergraduate days. There was no way he could refuse this assignment. Already he saw the monument taking shape in his imagination, to expand, to flower and grow—the murals, the statuary, the displays of documents and artifacts—the Museum of Dvorn! The shrine of Dvorn! You will be in charge, Simmilgord. Hawid Zakayil was handing him the project of his dreams. Once more he heard that magical soaring music that he had heard atop those little hills in the Vale of Gloyn and again in the archives of Kesmakuran, the grand swelling sounds of the symphony of Majipoor. To build a commemorative shrine in honor of the first Pontifex—not just a shrine, though, nor even just a museum, but a research center, a place of study, over which he himself would preside—
“Of course, sir,” he said hoarsely. “What a superb idea!”
He might as well have been talking to himself. Simmilgord realized that the Skandar had already moved on, turning his attention to Lutiel: “And we will want a replica of the tomb chamber, everything in one-to-one correlation, though somewhat restored, of course, for the benefit of the laymen who will want to see it as it was in Dvorn’s time. Those wonderful murals, reproduced exactly, with the colors enhanced and the missing portions carefully reconstructed—who better to supervise the work than you, Lutiel? Who, indeed?”
Hawid Zakayil paused, plainly waiting for Lutiel to reply. But no reply was forthcoming, and after a long moment of silence the Skandar simply looked away, his frenetic spirit already moving along to the next consideration, the hotel facilities that the town would need to provide here, and some highway expansion, and similar matters of municipal concern.
The glory and wonder of it all remained with Simmilgord after they had returned to their lodgings. Already he could see the long lines of visitors shuffling reverently past the great replica of the mural of the smiling Dvorn enthroned, pausing to study the historical plaques on the walls, the murmured discussions amongst them of the visionary brilliance of the first Pontifex, even the multitudes of eager readers for the book on Dvorn that he intended to write.
Then he noticed the furious, glowering expression on Lutiel’s face.
Lutiel was fuming. He was pacing angrily about. And finally his anger broke into words.
“How absolutely awful! A phony ruin—replicas of the murals, very nicely prettied up for the tourists—!”
It was like being hit with a bucket of cold water.
With some difficulty Simmilgord brought himself down from the lofty fantasies that had engaged his mind. “What’s so terrible about that, Lutiel? You can’t expect to let them have access to the originals!”
Lutiel turned on him. “Why do they have to see them at all? What do we need this silly cave for? This shiny fraudulent showplace, this phony historical site? And why should we be involved? I told you right at the start, before we even came here, I wasn’t going to hire on as a paid publicist for the town of Kesmakuran.”
“You know yourself that most people have no serious interest in what that Skandar wants to put in his museum. They might come and look for five minutes, and move onward, and buy a souvenir or two, maybe a little statuette of Dvorn to put on the mantel, and then start wondering about where to have lunch—”
Simmilgord began to feel his own anger rising. It was true, no denying it, that from the very beginning, from the time the head of the department back at the University had broached the Kesmakuran journey, Lutiel had opposed their getting involved. A “career detour,” he had called it then, something irrelevant to the work of two serious young scholars. Yes, Simmilgord had argued him out of that, and had managed to overcome Lutiel’s later doubts about the legitimacy of the project on a dozen occasions, and eventually Lutiel had made the discovery of a lifetime, that gallery of murals that any archaeologist would give his right arm to have found, or maybe both arms, and even so he went on grumbling and fretting about the issues of integrity that seemed to trouble him so much. Evidently he had never reconciled himself to the project in the first place. And never would.
As calmly as he could Simmilgord said, “You’re being absurd, Lutiel. Are you telling me that we do all our work purely for ourselves, that we’re like priests of some arcane cult who go through rites and rituals that have no relevance whatever to the real world and the lives of real people in it?”
Lutiel laughed harshly. “And you, Simmilgord? What are you telling me? Not a shred of integrity in you, is that it? Ready to sell yourself to the first bidder who comes along?”
Simmilgord gasped. Perhaps, he thought, Lutiel was some sort of monk at heart, too pure for this world. But this was going too far.
“When did I ever say—”
“I saw the way you lit up when the Skandar told you you were just the man for the job of putting together the historical side of the new monument.”
“Of course I did. Why shouldn’t I? It’s a tremendous opportunity to put the story of Dvorn across to thousands, even millions, of people. And you—when he told you essentially the same thing as he put you in charge of supervising the reconstruction of the murals, the creation of replicas that look better than the originals—what did you feel?”
“What I felt was disgust,” Lutiel said. “Indignation. I kept my mouth shut, because I couldn’t bring myself to stand up to Hawid Zakayil to his face, any more than anyone else can. I told you I’m no publicist, Simmilgord, and certainly I’m not a showman either. Or some sort of theatrical impresario. What I am is a scientist. And so are you, whether you want to believe it or not. You’re an historian. History is a science, or should be, anyway. And scientists have no business getting involved in anything as sordid as this.”
Simmilgord’s head was beginning to ache. He wanted to slide away from this discussion somehow. He was ashamed to face Lutiel.
That stinging charge of hypocrisy—of whoring, even—hurt him deeply. Lutiel was his closest friend. For Lutiel to see him as a hypocrite and a whore was painful. But there was a certain truth in it. A flamboyant character like Hawid Zakayil, who was both a scientist and a manufacturer of public entertainments, and probably somewhat more of the one than of the other, would dismiss such an accusation without a thought. Simmilgord, though, was shaken by it. One part of him thought Lutiel might just be right, that they had no business getting involved in something as far from genuine scholarship as this “monument” promised to be. But another part—the part that remembered the boy who had climbed those mountains and tried to cast his gaze from sea to sea—was wholly caught up in its spell.
They managed after a while to disengage themselves from the quarrel yet again. Simmilgord slept badly that night, profoundly disturbed by all that had been said. In the morning he went early to the archives, with Lutiel still asleep, and spent the day digging feverishly through a section of old municipal documents he had never examined before. There proved to be nothing of the slightest interest in them, but the work itself was soothing, the mechanical selecting of documents and setting them up in the reader and scanning. Dull work, even pointless work, but it was comforting to be focusing his full attention on it.
The ugly words kept coming back nonetheless. Hypocrite. Whore.
But on the way back from the archives building to his house Simmilgord’s thoughts turned back to yesterday’s meeting with Hawid Zakayil, toward the monument that he proposed to build in that cavern in the mountain of black basalt. Almost against his will, ideas for its design kept bursting into his mind, until he was dizzy and trembling with excitement. It all came together in the most wondrous way. He could see the layout of the vestibule, the arrangement of the inner rooms, the route that led to the replica of the tomb-chamber, which would be the climax of the experience for the visitor—
He had to smile. Maybe Lutiel was right: maybe he had failed to understand his true vocation all along, that he was not really a scholar at all, that he had actually been destined, even as a small boy atop those rocky hillocks, to be a kind of showman, someone who converts history into the stuff of romance. Perhaps, he told himself, it was quite permissible for him to rise up out of the dusty archives of the world and devote his life to bringing the story of the founding of the Pontificate to a world yearning to know more about it. And he had a bleak vision of Lutiel’s future, seeing him endlessly digging and sifting through sandy wastelands, getting nowhere, the great achievement of his life already behind him and the primary credit for it taken from him by someone else. Simmilgord did not want any such fate as that for himself, a lifetime of puttering with ancient documents in cloistered halls and writing papers that no one but his few colleagues would ever read. He could see a new role, a better role, for himself: the man who rediscovered Dvorn, who turned his name into a household word.
When he reached the house he shared with Lutiel he found a note pinned to his pillow:
Have handed in my resignation. Setting out for Sisivondal this afternoon. When he publishes my excavation, make sure that my name is on the paper somewhere.
Best of luck, old friend. You’ll need it.
Hawid Zakayil said, “And are you going to resign also?” The Superintendent of Antiquities spoke in what was for him a surprisingly mild, non-confrontational tone. He sounded merely curious, not in any way angry or menacing.
“No,” Simmilgord replied at once, before anything to the contrary could escape his lips. “Of course not. This is strictly Lutiel’s decision. I don’t happen to share his philosophical outlook.”
“His philosophical outlook on what?” asked the Skandar, in not quite so mild a way.
Evasively Simmilgord said, “Ends. Means. Ultimate purposes. Lutiel takes everything very seriously, you know. Sometimes too seriously.” And then he went on, quickly, to keep Hawid Zakayil from continuing this line of inquiry, “Sir, I’ve had some interesting thoughts since yesterday about how we might handle certain features of the monument. If I might share them with you—”
“Go ahead,” said the Skandar gruffly.
“Those wheel-like structures shown in the murals, with a line of what look like celebrants approaching them: they must surely have had some sort of ritual purpose in the days when Dvorn’s tomb was an active center of worship. Perhaps we could recreate that ritual in the monument—every hour, let’s say, stage a kind of reenactment of what we think it might have been like—”
“Good! Very good!”
“Or even hire people to keep the wheels in constant motion—revolving steadily, powered by some sort of primitive arrangement of pedals—to symbolize the eternal cycle of history, the ongoing continuity of the world through all its millions of years—”
Hawid Zakayil smiled a shrewd Skandar smile.
“I like it, Simmilgord. I like it very much.”
And so it came to pass that Simmilgord of Gloyn became the first administrator of the Tomb of Dvorn, as the monument in the black basalt mountain came to be called after a while, and looked after it in the blossoming of its first growth until it became known as the most sacred site of western Alhanroel, where every Coronal would make a point of stopping to pay homage when he made one of his long processional journeys across the world.