Chariot to Heaven


Jaromir Malek

© Jaromir Malek 2011

Chapter 8:

Artists at work

Haremhab's tomb was one of the largest ever known. Ipi was so fascinated by it that every time his father came home for the weekend break he wanted to know what was new, what had happened on the building site and what was planned next. Sometimes the ten days of the week seemed like eternity. As the foreman jokingly used to say, his son would soon be able to direct the "western gang" as well as he did!

First, the work began on a deep shaft leading to an underground burial chamber. There, far under the rocky surface of the desert, Haremhab's mummified body was going to rest in several wooden coffins and a stone sarcophagus. But then the workmen turned their attention to a large chapel above ground where priests would look after the needs of Haremhab's soul by placing offerings of food and drink on an altar and by performing ceremonies. The façade of the chapel would have a large gateway, and the plan included several courts and rooms for statues and a small brick-built pyramid at the back.

The walls of most of the rooms were going to be decorated with scenes carved in stone. Nakht's gang of craftsmen was busy working on the decoration of the room at the western end of the chapel, where General Haremhab's fame as a military commander would be shown by scenes with rows of captives brought from Kush, the gold-bearing land in the south, and also from the land of Khor in the north.

Meryt knew all this from Ipi. She had once seen foreign captives paraded through the streets of Mennufer and she had not liked it at all. In fact, she had hated the sight of bewildered men dressed in torn clothes and with their arms painfully twisted in crude wooden manacles being led towards the royal palace by Egyptian soldiers armed with large wooden cudgels. The soldiers made cruel jokes about the captives' beards and strange hairdos. And the miserable hungry-looking women and children presented an even sorrier sight. The scenes carved on the walls of Haremhab's chapel were so realistically carved and so full of life that it all came back to Meryt's mind. "I wonder", she thought, "would I like to have so much suffering and unhappiness recorded in my tomb?" But then she dismissed the thought. After all, she was not going to need a tomb for a very long time, so why worry now.

Both children were fascinated by the meticulous activities of the workmen preparing the chapel's decoration. The walls were built of large blocks of stone which had to be smoothed and, where necessary, repaired with plaster. Paraemhab with his string dipped in red paint divided each wall into a number of rows, almost boxes, which were going to contain the scenes. Then Panehesy sketched out all the people, animals and other things, and also hieroglyphic inscriptions describing them, in red paint. He and the foreman spent a lot of time discussing various details and correcting them in black.

When all was agreed, it was Ptahemhat's turn. With a copper chisel and a wooden mallet he began to chip out the lines of various representations in stone. Under his chisel the drawings in red and black were turned into quite deep, but delicate, carvings and the little pictures in hieroglyphic signs seemed to come to life. Ptahemhat had his own ideas about some of the representations and although he mostly followed Panehesy's painted lines, from time to time he summoned the artist and the foreman and made suggestions about how some of the details should be changed. But Panehesy especially did not like his skills queried and their discussion was so animated that from time to time it looked as though without Ipi's father's presence they would have come to blows. In the end they always laughed and after a great deal of patting of each other's backs and murmuring apologetic words they continued in their work.

Parts of the walls were already fully carved and now awaited painters who were going to decorate all the figures in bright colours of red, blue, green, white, black and yellow. But that would be the last stage of the work and had to wait until all the other things had been completed first.

On that particular day when Ipi and Meryt had seen the stranger in blue make an attempt on the life of the king and been chased by him across the desert, time passed very quickly after they had reached the safety of the tomb. The working day was now nearing its end and the huge red disc of the sun was beginning to sink faster and faster over the western horizon. The low sandy hills of the western desert were turning pitch-black. After a hectic day, the world was calming down. An eerie howling of jackals was heard from time to time. This was the last day of the week and the workmen were looking forward to a day of deserved rest with their families in Mennufer.

Both children were by now so exhausted that when Panehesy suggested that they should ride on his donkey on the way back to Mennufer they did not object, and when they reached the outskirts of the city and their homes it was already dark. To Ipi's mother's astonishment, her son did not have to be sent to bed, but retired to the flat terrace on the roof of the house without asking. "I think you will have to take him with you more often", she said to her husband. And when a little later she went to check, Ipi was fast asleep

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