Burial rites of Empress Varkula
Note regarding publication
The original historical research document was disbursed in Autumn 378YE. Shortly before the Spring Equinox 382YE, a request was received from Lord Armand Remys of House Remys for access to the report, which had not been made public. Sadly, an attack by agents of the Whisper Gallery damaged the records kept by the Department of Historical Research, and the original researcher (Douglas Wyrdwatcher) was not available to recreate his work.
Researchers at the department did their best with his original notes and the remaining parts of the transcript, and made publicly available in an atmosphere of renewed interest in Empress Varkula following the Druj domination of Zenith - the first territory to be conquered during the reign of the Iron Empress. Some parts of the original research may be missing, but the researchers at the Department are confident the bulk is included here.
Whilst written records of Varkula's burial rites did not survive the purges of Emperor Nicovar, we discovered a rich seam of information in the oral histories of the Stewards of the Dead, who even now watch over her black basalt tomb in the Necropolis. Additional information about the contents of the tomb was provided by surviving members of the House of Quills, a small family of Freeborn scriveners and lawyers who were charged by the late Empress with the disposal of her effects.
Standard Burial Precautions for the Tombs of Empresses
The character of an Imperial tomb for such a distinguished personage is closely matched and customised to its occupant, such that there is not a single clear design. However, certain precautions are generally taken:
Stewards set or employ a constant guard at each Empress' tomb; whilst this is in part an honour guard, it is also a quite serious military emplacement, primarily to strongly discourage looting or other opportunistic interference.
White granite is inlaid with beggar's lye and dragonbone around the inner chamber, to help prevent direct magical interference from outside the tomb bypassing the guard, and to protect the tomb against general magical influence from any effect that might be laid upon the entire area.
White granite is also used to fortify the walls of the inner chamber, to ensure tunnelling into the tomb is sufficiently difficult to alert the guard to any attempt.
The chamber itself is thoroughly exorcised before introducing the body, and if appropriate is then consecrated to whichever virtue the inhabitant most keenly pursued, before the body is emplaced. Obviously the consecration will usually fade with time, although in some tombs the introduction of the body seems to have 'anchored' the effect, presumably coinciding with great virtue on behalf of its recent inhabitant.
There is usually at least one major antechamber, in which relics of the inhabitant's career are kept.
Depending on the nature of the inhabitant, any or all of the inner and outer chambers may be open for pilgrimage, although all are usually designed with strongly fortified entryways that can be sealed at need.
Additional Burial Precautions for Varkula's Tomb
While the tomb is clad in black basalt, much of the interior structure is very likely to be constructed of white granite; we do not have records of the senate motion which would have been passed to provide resources for the tomb's construction, but it seems very unlikely that anyone stinted in provisioning the operation.
The guard on Varkula's tomb is at least a dozen strong and all are anointed with their choice of defensive anointing before taking up their post; they stand shifts of six hours only to ensure that they are alert at all times.
Popular anointings for this purpose are the Strength of Pride for those who take pride in their steadfast vigil, the Worth of Wisdom for unit commanders to ensure they can make quick decisions, and the Seeds of Loyalty towards their unit commander; those particularly dedicated to other virtues may take the Path of Prosperity, the Preparations or Demands of Vigilance, and occasionally the Calling of Ambition or the Light of Courage.
Opinions differ on whether a consecration was laid on the inner chamber of Varkula's tomb. Some stewards are convinced that of course an Ambition consecration would have been used, with a few dissenting voices claiming that Pride, or Loyalty, or Vigilance would have been provided.
This researcher was most convinced, however, by the stewards who claim that no consecration was used, as there is a danger that resonating with the life of the interred will produce a ghost, an outcome which nobody, in this particular case, desired. In fact, it seems quite likely that the burial was done with the bare minimum of ceremony; enough to convince any watching spirit that the proper honours were being done, but not enough to encourage participation.
The stewards were in agreement on the physical construction of the tomb, and all were certain that no-one has successfully gained entry since it was originally sealed. The inner chamber is apparently very small for such a construction, and contains only the body, laid on a slab of white granite inlaid with dragonbone and beggar's lye to draw away any energies that might form.
The inner chamber walls are constructed of ordinary volcanic rock, as the second chamber surrounds the inner chamber entirely on three sides. This is not a standard antechamber, but a second layer of defence; the second chamber's walls are sturdily constructed of white granite to the specifications of a heavy fortification's outer walls. There is but one thing which penetrates these walls - a silken rope which is fed through a very tight channel all the way to the exterior, where it is pulled ceremonially at the changing of the watch.
According to the stewards, this rope is connected to a series of low, dolorous bells in the inner chamber, designed to be intolerable to any spirit attempting to claw its way through the white granite walls.
As an additional precaution within the second chamber there are apparently veins of mithril laid around and under the first chamber to surround it with a filigree net enchanted with Hold Back Frozen Hunger and bound with ilium for permanency. While the ritual in Imperial lore cannot be bound with ilium due to its short duration, apparently there was once a more potent variation of this ritual which lasted significantly longer and could be made permanent. Called The Restful Sleep, it was a closely guarded secret of the Stewards of the Dead; the sole ritual text containing it was the Litharge but sadly was destroyed during Nicovar's madness.
The third chamber is in fact rather conventional in design, being an antechamber containing those relics of Varkula that her will required be interred with her. According to the House of Quills, they included the suit of Winterborn Warmail which was taken from her body after her death and the first Caress of Arhallogen commissioned by the Imperial Conclave after the weapon was no longer interdicted.
It is deliberately not directly centred around the inner chambers in order to make their location indistinct; there is some white granite in its construction, but it is primarily a sacrificial outer layer. It is, however, inlaid with many free-swinging bells and similar chimes, designed to make a loud noise of alarm should its structural integrity be compromised in any fashion.
There are, supposedly, the three great iron doors of legend leading into the tomb, but the stewards are certain that the inner two are extremely well-sealed - many are convinced that they are welded shut or, in the case of the second door, actually covered over with a layer of white granite.
The exterior itself, along with the famous inscription "Asleep at last", is mostly decorative; the stewards were quick to reassure me that the visible elements had nothing to do with the inner defences save that one silken rope, itself hidden in an alcove and with several dummy copies scattered around the exterior.
Reports of disturbances at the Tomb
Whilst I encountered many such reports on the way to the Tomb, amongst those who actually interact with the object on a day-to-day basis, most are dismissed as exaggerations, jokes played on new members of the guard, or else misguided attempts to teach lessons which unfortunately reflect badly on the steadfast watch of the tomb's Stewards.
They suggested to me that the particular disturbances most often recorded - those on the occasions of Holberg and Skarsind's loss to the Empire - were more likely to be rumours started by the particularly zealous pursuit of their duties which led them to ring the interior bells constantly during that time; naturally this would have spread as 'loud noises coming from the tomb', as the intention was to produce some loud noises inside the tomb from its defensive measures, to ensure no difficulties were experienced.
Whilst I could find few people willing to deviate from that line amongst the guardians who actually guard the tomb - there are many pilgrims who have visited the tomb who have their own tales. Some speak of a great booming noise that was heard the day Holberg fell and another when Skarsind was conquered. Others report screeches, scratching noises and a low whispering voice that caused them great concern or alarm. But it's not really clear if these reports are caused by the restless spirit of Empress Varkula or are just an inevitable consequence of the heightened sense of nervousness and awe that anyone approaching the tomb tends to experience, particularly those who are under a powerful anointing, as many pilgrims are.
There was some excitement during the recent fall of Reikos; whilst it is not one of the four territories which Varkula added to the Empire, she did fight a significant campaign there. However, a close inspection of the outer door of the Tomb, reveals nothing. If it has been interfered with or replaced it must have been done with exceptional skill to recreate the patina of many years spent closed and sealed upon it.