My court is abuzz with suppliers, artisans, architects, interior designers, engineers, carpenters, brick layers, and contractors, all of them eager to win a commission from me, which makes it challenging to do my work: consult with my spiritual advisors, discuss policy matters with foreign diplomats, and exchange niceties with the elders of our tribes. I thrive on the excitement of it all.
Workers are rubbing off excess cement, which they have poured earlier across the ground, so the geometrical mosaic design starts to appear from the dirt, in all its brilliance. Inlaid with colored glass from Tyre, trimmed on all four sides with glazed tiles from Shushan, and dotted on all four corners with shells from the delta of the Nile and pebbles from the river Tigris, this floor will create a new, vibrant ambience in my court.
A master craftsman bows deeply before me, to the point that his sketches are nearly dropping out of his portfolio.
“My lord,” he says, in a heavy Egyptian accent. “Let me decorate the walls of your palace, all of them, the same way I did in the burial chambers of the pyramids.”
“But,” say I, “this is not a tomb.”
“Too bad,” he mutters, under his breath. “Unfortunately, the living are more particular about art than the dead.”
“And,” say I, “they’re more particular about cost, too! So tell me, how much would you charge?”
He walks around the walls, measuring them by counting his paces, the better to calculate his price, which seems to annoy the worker, who is kneeling down there, a damp sponge in hand to buff the mosaic floor.
“Go away,” says the worker. “Don’t you dare step here, on my work!”
“It’s a floor,” says the master craftsman. “Isn’t it?”
He comes back, hopping over the buffed areas and landing with little bows in my direction. “My lord, this court I’ll do for free,” he assures me, “because of your great fame, and because I’m determined to give you my very best, so I may be worthy of your generosity, which is not only known but also highly praised in our parts.”
And in a lower voice he says, in an offhand manner, “Later, we’ll negotiate the exact price.”
“Show me your work,” I demand. “You do have some sketches from your previous projects, I presume?”
Opening his portfolio, he pleads, “Here, my lord, take a look!”
Meanwhile, a merchant comes, elbowing his way towards me through a crowd of suppliers. “What these walls need is something else entirely,” he says. “My finest imported rugs, which soften and even absorb the echoes in this place.”
“Stop nudging me away,” says the master craftsman, in a grumble.
Which the merchant seems not to hear. “Here, your majesty,” he says, in a Babylonian accent, “let me spread these rugs before you—”
“Step back, both of you,” the worker warns them. “The floor, it’s still wet! Don’t you have eyes? Can’t you use them?”
Rising from my throne, “Come now,” I tell the Egyptian and the Babylonian. “Let me take you to the dining hall, the reception hall, and the library. Give me your best bid. I want every space in my palace to be splashed with splendor!”
Spring it is, an awakening of all the senses, and I am indulging myself in the luxury of it all. The only place that is left as it was is my own chamber, where I keep things modest and devoid of pretense.
I like my bulky old desk, perhaps because of its grainy surface, which has been marred with a myriad of scars. Years ago, this is where my firstborn child, Amnon, carved a little face—perhaps of his half-sister, Tamar—into the wood. I remember scolding him for it, but now I cherish the touch. It brings back a memory, an old memory of how close they used to be as children.
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