The Quest of Iranon
Into the granite city of Teloth wandered the youth, vine-crowned, his yellow hair glistening with myrrh and his purple robe torn with briers of the mountain Sidrak that lies across the antique bridge of stone. The men of Teloth are dark and stern, and dwell in square houses, and with frowns they asked the stranger whence he had come and what were his name and fortune.
Yup, Lovecraft’s writing fantasy again. This time our hero is the titular Iranon, a wandering minstrel who has come to a city where fun is frowned upon. It’s not quite banned, though, so he’s allowed to sing his songs in the town square.
At least, that’s how the narrative sells. Looking at what Iranon actually sings:
“O Aira, city of marble and beryl, how many are thy beauties! How loved I the warm and fragrant groves across the hyaline Nithra, and the falls of the tiny Kra that flowed through the verdant valley! In those groves and in that vale the children wove wreaths for one another, and at dusk I dreamed strange dreams under the yath-trees on the mountain as I saw below me the lights of the city, and the curving Nithra reflecting a ribbon of stars.[“]
Maybe the Telothians just dislike him for constantly singing about how his city is so much better than theirs.
In fairness to Iranon, he is an exiled prince of Aira, so he’s not just singing about how great his city is for pride’s sake, but also because he misses the place terribly and cannot return. The next morning, however, it turns out fun is soft banned in Teloth, when a city archon comes to tell Iranon that he must do boring, shitty work in order to live here:
“Thou art a strange youth, and I like not thy face nor thy voice. The words thou speakest are blasphemy, for the gods of Teloth have said that toil is good. Our gods have promised us a haven of light beyond death, where there shall be rest without end, and crystal coldness amidst which none shall vex his mind with thought or his eyes with beauty. Go thou then to Athok the cobbler or be gone out of the city by sunset. All here must serve, and song is folly.”
At least there’s guaranteed jobs.
Teloth kinda sucks, though, so when a Telothian youth named Romnod asks Iranon to go to a nearby city of artists and songs called Oonai, Iranon agrees. As far as I can tell, Iranon never even made it to his apprenticeship before leaving. Romnod even says that Oonai might be Aira, since names can change and Iranon’s been gone for a long time, but Iranon warns Romnod that he’s journeyed very, very far to find Aira, and early in his journeys he often thought that this or that city would welcome him and he could make his home there, but only Aira was ever truly his home, despite the many seemingly promising cities he visited on the way. The itinerary gets a Sarnath reference.
The weird thing is, if Iranon isn’t actually from Aira, how is he its prince? I’m starting to get suspicious of this story.
From the way Romnod talked about it, Oonai seemed like it was maybe a couple of weeks away, but it takes the two years to get there, and Romnod has grown into a man by the time they arrive, while Iranon remains unchanged. Also, Oonai turns out to be less of a dream paradise and more like Las Vegas.
When dawn came Iranon looked about with dismay, for the domes of Oonai were not golden in the sun, but grey and dismal. And the men of Oonai were pale with revelling and dull with wine, and unlike the radiant men of Aira. But because the people had thrown him blossoms and acclaimed his songs Iranon stayed on, and with him Romnod, who liked the revelry of the town and wore in his dark hair roses and myrtle.
So, y’know, everyone parties all the time and there’s tons of glitz and glamour and the whole town is dedicated to having a good time, but also the mafia is secretly behind it all and there’s probably some metaphorical or literal blood sacrifices going into propping up the whole glittering edifice. Also, Romnod ODs. No, really:
Then one night the red and fattened Romnod snorted heavily amidst the poppied silks of his banquet-couch and died writhing, whilst Iranon, pale and slender, sang to himself in a far corner.
I’m reminded of that Breaking Bad scene where Walter White tells Jessie that he could’ve saved his girlfriend from her OD, but he didn’t, because she was a methhead and he wanted her gone.
Iranon then leaves Vegas to continue searching for Aira. Eventually, he finds an old shepherd, who reveals without knowing it that he knew Iranon when they were children:
“O stranger, I have indeed heard the name of Aira, and the other names thou hast spoken, but they come to me from afar down the waste of long years. I heard them in my youth from the lips of a playmate, a beggar’s boy given to strange dreams, who would weave long tales about the moon and the flowers and the west wind. We used to laugh at him, for we knew him from his birth though he thought himself a King’s son. He was comely, even as thou, but full of folly and strangeness; and he ran away when small to find those who would listen gladly to his songs and dreams. How often hath he sung to me of lands that never were, and things that never can be! Of Aira did he speak much; of Aira and the river Nithra, and the falls of the tiny Kra. There would he ever say he once dwelt as a Prince, though here we knew him from his birth. Nor was there ever a marble city of Aira, nor those who could delight in strange songs, save in the dreams of mine old playmate Iranon who is gone.”
So indeed, Iranon has fabricated Aira. But also he’s immortal. Except, not?
And in the twilight, as the stars came out one by one and the moon cast on the marsh a radiance like that which a child sees quivering on the floor as he is rocked to sleep at evening, there walked into the lethal quicksands a very old man in tattered purple, crowned with withered vine-leaves and gazing ahead as if upon the golden domes of a fair city where dreams are understood. That night something of youth and beauty died in the elder world.
Iranon, for context, is always described as wearing tattered purple. So either he was only young in his own mind, and when his delusions of Aira are shattered here, he realizes how old he is, and commits suicide, or alternatively, this being the dream world of Telnoth and Oonai and Sarnath, Iranon may have actually been young until this moment, when he realized there was no Aira, and all the aging he didn’t do caught up with him all at once.