The Quest of Iranon

A short story by H.P.Lovecraft

     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. So the youth answered:

     "I am Iranon, and come from Aira, a far city that I recall only 
dimly but seek to find again. I am a singer of songs that i learned in 
the far city, and my calling is to make beauty with the things remembered 
of childhood. My wealth is in little memories and dreams, and in hopes 
that I sing in gardens when the moon is tender and the west wind stirs 
the lotus-buds."

     When the men of Teloth heard these things they whispered to one 
another; for though in the granite city there is no laughter or song, the 
stern men sometimes look to the Karthian hills in the spring and think of 
the lutes of distant Oonai whereof travellers have told. And thinking 
thus, they bade the stranger stay and sing in the square before the Tower 
of Mlin, though they liked not the colour of his tattered robe, nor the 
myrrh in his hair, nor his chaplet of vine-leaves, nor the youth in his 
golden voice. At evening Iranon sang, and while he sang an old man prayed 
and a blind man said he saw a nimbus over the singer's head. But most of 
the men of Teloth yawned, and some laughed and some went to sleep; for 
Iranon told nothing useful, singing only his memories, his dreams, and 
his hopes.

    "I remember the twilight, the moon, and soft songs, and the window 
where I was rocked to sleep. And through the window was the street where 
the golden lights came, and where the shadows danced on houses of marble. 
I remember the square of moonlight on the floor, that was not like any 
other light, and the visions that danced on the moonbeams when my mother 
sang to me. And too, I remember the sun of morning bright above the 
many-coloured hills in summer, and the sweetness of flowers borne on the 
south wind that made the trees sing.

     "Oh Aira, city of marble and beryl, how many are thy beauties! How i 
loved the warm and fragrant groves across the hyline Nithra, and the 
falls of the tiny Kra that flowed though the verdant valley! In those 
groves and in the vale the children wove wreathes 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.

     "And in the city were the palaces of veined and tinted marble, with 
golden domes and painted walls, and green gardens with cerulean pools and 
crystal fountains. Often I played in the gardens and waded in the pools, 
and lay and dreamed among the pale flowers under the trees. And sometimes 
at sunset i would climb the long hilly street to the citadel and the open 
place, and look down upon Aira, the magic city of marble and beryl, 
splendid in a robe of golden flame.

     "Long have I missed thee, Aira, for i was but young when we went 
into exile; but my father was thy King and I shall come again to thee, 
for it is so decreed of Fate. All through seven lands have I sought thee, 
and some day shall I reign over thy groves and gardens, thy streets and 
palaces, and sing to men who shall know whereof I sing, and laugh not nor 
turn away. For I am Iranon, who was a Prince in Aira."

     That night the men of Teloth lodged the stranger in a stable, and in 
the morning an archon came to him and told him to go to the shop of Athok 
the cobbler, and be apprenticed to him.

     "But I am Iranon, a singer of songs, " he said, "and have no heart 
for the cobbler's trade."

     "All in Teloth must toil," replied the archon, "for that is the 
law." Then said Iranon:

     "Wherefore do ye toil; is it not that ye may live and be happy? And 
if ye toil only that ye may toil more, when shall happiness find you? Ye 
toil to live, but is not life made of beauty and song? And if ye suffer 
no singers among you, where shall be the fruits of your toil? Toil 
without song is like a weary journey without an end. Were not death more 
pleasing?" But the archon was sullen and did not understand, and rebuked 
the stranger.

     "Thou art a strange youth, and I like not thy face or 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 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."

     So Iranon went out of the stable and walked over the narrow stone 
streets between the gloomy square house of granite, seeking something 
green, for all was of stone. On the faces of men were frowns, but by the 
stone embankment along the sluggish river Zuro sat a young boy with sad 
eyes gazing into the waters to spy green budding branches washed down 
from the hills by the freshets. And the boy said to him:

     "Art thou not indeed he of whom the archons tell, who seekest a far 
city in a fair land? I am Romnod, and borne of the blood of Teloth, but 
am not olf in the ways of the granite city, and yearn daily for the warm 
groves and the distant lands of beauty and song. Beyond the Karthian 
hills lieth Oonai, the city of lutes and dancing, which men whisper of 
and say is both lovely and terrible.Thither would I go were I old enough 
to find the way, and thither shouldst thou go and thou wouldst sing and 
have men listen to thee. Let us leave the city of Teloth and fare 
together among the hills of spring. Thou shalt shew me the ways of travel 
and I will attend thy songs at evening when the stars one by one bring 
dreams to the minds of dreamers. And peradventure it may be that Oonai 
the city of lutes and dancing is even the fair Aira thou seekest, for it 
is told that thou hast not known Aira since the old days, and a name 
often changeth. Let us go to Oonai, O Iranon of the golden head, where 
men shall know our longings and welcome us as brothers, nor even laugh or 
frown at what we say." And Iranon answered:

     "Be it so, small one; if any in this stone place yearn for beauty he 
must seek the mountains and beyond, and I would not leave thee to pine by 
the sluggish Zuro. But think not that delight and understanding dwell 
just across the Karthian hills, or in any spot thou canst find in a day's, 
or a year's, or a lustrum's journey. Behold, when I was small like thee I 
dwelt in the valley of Narthos by the frigid Xari, where none would 
listen to my dreams; and I told myself that when older i would go to 
Sinara on the southern slope, and sing to smiling dromedary-men in the 
marketplace. But when I went to Sinara i found the dromedary-men all 
drunken and ribald, and saw that their songs were not as mine, so I 
travelled in a barge down the Xari to onyx-walled Jaren. And the soldiers 
at Jaren laughed at me and drave me out, so that I wandered to many 
cities. I have seen Stethelos that is below the great cataract, and have 
gazed on the marsh where Sarnath once stood. I have been to thraa, 
Ilarnek, and Kadatheron on the winding river Ai, and have dwelt long in 
Olathoe in the land of Lomar. But though i have had listeners sometimes, 
they have ever been few. and I know that welcome shall wait me only in 
Aira, the city of marble and beryl where my father once ruled as King. So 
for Aira shall we seek, though it were well to visit distant and 
lute-blessed oonai across the Karthianhills, which may indeed be Aira, 
though i think not. Aira's beauty is past imagining, and none can tell of 
it without rapture, whilist of Oonai the camel-drivers whisper leeringly."

     At the sunset Iranon and small Romnod went forth from Teloth, and 
for long wandered amidst the green hills and cool forests. The way was 
rough and obscure, and never did they seem nearer to oonai the city of 
lutes and dancing; but in the dusk as the stars came out Iranon would 
sing of Aira and its beauties and Romnod would listen, so that they were 
both happy after a fashion. They ate plentifully of fruit and red 
berries, and marked not the passing of time, but many years must have 
slipped away. Small Romnod was now not so small, and spoke deeply instead 
of shrilly, though Iranon was always the same, and decked his golden hair 
with vines and fragrant resins found in the woods. So it came to pass 
that Romnod seemed older than Iranon, though he had been very small when 
Iranon had found him watching for green budding branches in Teloth beside 
the sluggish stone-banked Zuro. 

Then one night when the moon was full the travellers came to a mountain 
crest and looked down upon the myriad light of Oonai. Peasants had told 
them they were near, and Iranon knew that this was not his native city of 
Aira. The lights of Oonai were not like those of Aira; for they were 
harsh and glaring, while the lights of Aira shine as softly and magically 
as shone the moonlight on the floor by the window where Iranon's mother 
once rocked him to sleep with song. But Oonai was a city of lutes and 
dancing, so Iranon and Romnod went down the steep slope that they might 
find men to whom sings and dreams would bring pleasure. And when they 
were come into the town they found rose-wreathed revellers bound from 
house to house and leaning from windows and balconies, who listened to 
the songs of Iranon and tossed him flowers and applauded when he was 
done. Then for a moment did Iranon believe he had found those who thought 
and felt even as he, though the town was not a hundredth as fair as Aira.

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 radient men 
of Aira. But because the people had thrown him blossoms and acclaimed his 
sings Iranon stayed on, and with him Romnod, who liked the revelry of the 
town and wore in his dark hair roses and myrtle. Often at night Iranon 
sang to the revellers, but he was always as before, crowned only in the 
vine of the mountains and remembering the marble streets of Aira and the 
hyaline Nithra. In the frescoed halls of the Monarch did he sing, upon a 
crystal dais raised over a floor that was a mirror, and as he sang, he 
brought pictures to his hearers till the floor seemed to reflect old, 
beautiful, and half-remembered things instead of the wine-reddened 
feasters who pelted him with roses. And the King bade him put away his 
tattered purple, and clothed him in satin and cloth-of-gold, with rings 
of green jade and bracelets of tinted ivory, and lodged him in a gilded 
and tapestried chamber on a bed of sweet carven wood with canopies and 
coverlets of flower-embroidered silk. Thus dwelt Iranon in Oonai, the 
city of lutes and dancing.

     It is not known how long Iranon tarried in Oonai, but one day the 
King brought to the palace some wild whirling dancers from the Liranian 
desert, and dusky flute-players from Drinen in the East, and after that 
the revellers threw their roses not so much at Iranon as at the dancers 
and flute-players. And day by day that Romnod who had been a small boy in 
granite Teloth grew coarser and redder with wine, till he dreamed less 
and less, amd listened with less delight to the songs of Iranon. But 
though Iranon was sad he ceased not to sing, and at evening told again of 
his dreams of Aira, the city of marble and beryl. Then one night the 
reddened 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. And when Iranon had wept over the grave 
of Romnod and strewn it with green branches, such as Romnod used to love, 
he put aside his silks and gauds and went forgotten out of Oonai the city 
of lutes and dancing clad only in the ragged purple in which he had come, 
and garlanded with fresh vines from the mountains.

     Into the sunset wandered Iranon, seeking still for his native land 
and for men who would understand his songs and dreams. In all the cities 
of Cydathria and in the lands beyond the Bnazie desert gay-faced children 
laughed at his olden songs and tattered robe of purple; but Iranon stayed 
ever young, and wore wreathes upon his golden head whilst he sang of 
Aira, delight of the past and hope of the future.

     So came he one night to the squallid cot of an antique shepherd, 
bent and dirty, who kept flocks on a stony slope above a quicksand marsh. 
To this man Iranon spoke, as to so many others:

     "Canst thou tell me where I may find Aira, the city of marble and 
beryl, where flows the hyaline nithra and where the falls of the tiny Kra 
sing to the verdant valleys and hills forested with yath trees?" and the 
shepherd, hearing, looked long and strangely at Iranon, as if recalling 
something very far away in time, and noted each line of the stranger's 
face, and his golden hair, and his crown of vine-leaves. But he was old, 
and shook his head as he replied:

     "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 ranaway 
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, or those who could delight in strange songs, save in 
the dreams of mine old playmate Iranon who is gone."

     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 wiht 
whithered 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.