A/N: This is my entry to the Maglor-in-History Challenge. It was difficult to write, but I was looking to provide readers with a new perspective, more than anything else.
Oh, and Easterlings here refer to Indians (from India… :P).
The Price of Peace
"I believe in the absolute oneness of God, and therefore, of humanity…"
I watch silently, standing off to one side. Men with their dhotis (1), women in their sarees(2) and children with their pierced ears and decorated hands. These are the faces I see, faces rapt with attention as they listen. They listen to the elderly voice that fills the air. It is soft, but the words it speaks are heard by all midst the deep silence.
It speaks wise words, and so I listen, though I have long deafened my ears against the sayings of Men, for they now seem wont to be foul. It is no different in this land, where the brown Easterlings overpopulate their homes while the white men, the Vellaikkararkkal (3) command and dominate; dominate and oppress; oppress and defile. For that is what they truly do by conquering, they defile these lands.
Men have ever sought to rule others, and my heart, scarred though it may be, has never understood this. Why conquest, when there can be peace? Yet it is folly for me to think that there may be peace in this world, for we live in Arda Marred, the world as corrupted by the evil that was Morgoth, where the grasses and waters are all but dead.
"Whereas a good deed should call forth approbation, and a wicked deed disapprobation, the doer of the deed, whether good or wicked, always deserves respect or pity as the case may be."
I learnt their languages swiftly, when I came to these shores many moons ago; but I need not that knowledge for the meaning of the words are nonetheless clear to my mind.
"Yet does not the magnitude of the wrong deed account for aught?"
I bite my tongue, having brashly spoken without second thought. My voice is now hoarse, broken by sorrow; roughed by the burden I am doomed to carry- nay, the burden I have doomed myself to carry for the rest of eternity.
The people stare at me now, for I have had the indecency to speak out. Their eyes bore through me, and I can hear their whispers. They wonder at my presence.
"What cheek he has, coming here, listening to our Mahatma(4)!"
"But he is different, somehow."
"His eyes are strange, yah."
I am different yes, but in more ways than that. I do not point out the pointed tips of my ears, or the somewhat lustrous shine of my hair. I ignore the stares of the Easterlings, and look to the centre of the gathering instead. The speaker's eyes meet mine, and they smile with the amusement that is hidden by his face, his wrinkled face that is as kind as summer.
It encourages me, in a way that makes me feel like a child once more…
But I want not the harsh slap of reality to reawaken my senses, so I begin to speak again, returning to the cynical thoughts of an unwitting stoic.
"There are insignificant misdeeds and heinous crimes. Tell me, does a- a murderer deserve the same mercy that is given unto a petty robber?"
"Man and his deed are two distinct things. Hate the sin and not the sinner is a precept which, though easy enough to understand, is rarely practiced, and that is why the poison of hatred spreads in the world."
He has not answered my question, and speaks now to the people; and they look back to him unwaveringly. But his eyes brush past me and the glimmer I see in them tells me that I will have my answer yet.
"It is to say that in this world, good man may partake in evil deeds. And we, being but Men ourselves, should follow the law of love; and allow sinners- repentant or otherwise- the humanity of mercy."
He speaks in English, and he speaks it well, though it is clearly accented with his Easterling style.
There stand only two of us upon this sandy square: the pacifist and I. My eyes squint against the midday sun, even as its rays bathe Him with their bright light. Using his wooden walking stick to steady himself, he sits on a heated rock, showing no outward signs of discomfort. He pats the space beside him, inviting me to join him.
I walk slowly there, and make to sit down on the sandy floor below him, but he does not allow it, and bids me to seat myself beside him.
"Does not the sin reflect the character of the sinner?" I ask, finally settling down.
"Oh yes, as all actions do. But I tell you again that no man, regardless of his actions, deserves the violence of condemnation. To forgive is not to forget. The merit lies in loving in spite of the vivid knowledge that the one that must be loved is not a friend."
"Yet in my eyes, there are some crimes that can never be forgiven."
"Ah, but this barrier that you see, this barrier that holds you to your sins, it is but an imprisonment set by your own mind. Before others may forgive you, you must forgive yourself."
To forgive is not to forget. Yet I cannot forgive, for I cannot forget. Years long and uncounted have come and gone since the beginning of my exile, but I do not forget the blood that stained my hands, once, twice, and thrice. I cannot forget, for when I look at my hands, they are bathed in crimson. I have bathed in the holy waters of this world, the Tiber, the Thames, the Yangtze, the Ganges (5), but none of them can cleanse the evidence of my sins.
"Why are you so harsh on yourself, my son?" He asks, and I almost laugh at the absurdity of it all, for who is he but a mere sapling to my aged tree? But aye, he is wiser than I.
"Let go of the violence," he tells me. "Purify yourself of your sins."
I close my eyes, and the images come to me immediately, with the sheer force of an ill-gotten wind. Death in the Havens of Alqualonde, innocence lost as the Noldor doomed themselves to darkness everlasting forever. Once more we doomed ourselves with bloodshed in the forests of Doriath, and once more with the fire burning the white city of Sirion; and we think no more of innocence lost, but of loss of beauty, peace. Fire, blood, death, the stuff of my dreams, nay, nightmares… nightmares that shall never end.
"I do not know how," I whisper, for I cannot let go of this beast within me.
"Then I will teach you."
And he began to speak, of what were the clichés of modern human life: peace, non-violence, love… and hate.
"Hatred ever kills, love never dies; such is the vast difference between the two. What is obtained by love is retained for all time. What is obtained by hatred proves a burden in reality, for it increases hatred."
"It may be long before the law of love will be recognized in international affairs. The machineries of government stand between and hide the hearts of one people from those of another."
"Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of Man."
There is silence. I am quiet. It is a rare moment that I can think of naught to say, but truly, what words may defeat logic stated with such passion? I cannot say that I have ever been as tenacious about my own deeds.
"Why?" I whisper, finally finding my voice midst the emotions that now overwhelm me. "Why are you helping me? Who am I but those you fight against?"
"I do not 'fight'," he says with a slight smile. "And you are not one of the British, though you skin is somewhat white (I would say rather, that it is a sickly pale shade). Yet you have done great wrong, though you have not snatched freedom from another, as far as I can tell."
"No. But I have taken the lives of others," I say. There is hurt in my voice, for no matter how long I have kept this guilt within me, I cannot accept it.
" Brute nature may give way to the force of love. But despite your words, I do not believe you character is such a violent one. Come, follow me."
He stands up, and beckons for me to do so also. I scramble to my feet, and walk beside him as he makes towards the village. We move in silence; into the bustling town, and through it.
I have long since become used to the dirty looks given to me by the natives of the land, for I did think them well founded. After all, to them, I was but a cruel British man.
We come to a sudden stop by an uninhabited plot of land. A young girl sits on the ground, cross-legged, her hands clapping against her knees in a solid beat. She is a middle-class child, as they would say, the daughter of farmers and merchants. But she is singing, chanting, and listening to her, one would call her the child of a warrior, king.
I stand, entranced, haunted by this new form of song(6), which I had not heard till then. But I can see that this enchanting music is old, older than aught else I had heard in this culture-rich land, older than many I had heard even before I came thither.
She sings, she sings, of tales of old, and I listen, moved by sound, as I had not been for long. But her song comes to an end that is swift to my elven ears, and I am back in this Easterling village, my sorrows upon me once more.
The crowd that had gathered begins to toss coins into the rusty can that is by the girl's side, dispersing as they do so. When no more coins are poured in, she hurries to her feet, and runs off, carrying the can with her.
My companion turns to me with a slight nod. "Let us follow her."
We snake behind a hut, into a dilapidated district of slums. The air is foul, as raw sewage fills the narrow streets. People sleep on the ground, half-naked in rags, their thin skeletons poking through flabby skin. Their eyes were upon me, not condescendingly, as I was used to expecting from these Indians, but…despairingly. Deeps pits of sorrow, begging for an end, and looking at them I know now what suffering truly is.
I shut my own eyes against the senses around me, wanting only to be out of that wretched place. But they open again, of their own accord, to see the singing girl, her brown skin shining in the sun. She is distributing the contents of her can to the people around her, the poor, pitiful people. There is helplessness written on her young face, for she knows that these sorry souls need not money, but food, and shelter. Yet there is something else in her eyes, almost a fierce spirit, and I am reminded of my father's fire, as I have never been before.
"See how she uses her talent to help others, though she herself is not monetarily well endowed? You can learn something from her."
I shake my head. "If you mean me to help people by singing, I say that I cannot anymore, for my voice is broken."
"That is what you think," he tells me, and I am puzzled. "But soon, you will be able to sing once again." He is off, and I follow him unquestioningly.
We come to walk beside a flowing river. It is large, but the fluid that runs through it is murky, and waste floats upon it.
"These waters have been cruelly defiled," I say softly, sadly.
"Yet they were once pure."
Could such stink have once been clean? I doubt so, but I say naught.
We continue to walk, and the river is getting smaller and smaller. I cannot help but notice that the water, stream now that it is- is becoming clearer as we go.
We come across a textile vendor on our way, various colours and textures of clothes decorating his cart. My companion makes a request for a white shirt and dhoti, which the vendor wishes to give him for free.
"No," I interject. I can see that my companion approves, albeit silently. I take out a coin from my pocket. Here, people are not careless with money. But before I came to this land, I wandered upon one in which wealth was taken for granted. A mere penny there would be worth a hot meal here.
I pay for the clothing, and we move along. I am tempted to ask about their purpose, but I keep silent.
Finally, we come to a brook, where it has been reduced to a trickle of the thunderous river that we first saw. But here it is pure, clean, fresh. Even the grass about the banks is a healthy green.
I am unintentionally rude. "What?"
"Go into the water, and cleanse yourself of your sins."
"Will I not defile it by doing so?"
"Just go in."
I slowly strip myself of these rags that I have worn so long, exposing the pale, bruised skin beneath. My right hand is visibly charred, as it has been for centuries long, for that is the hand that was burned by my father' Silmaril.
I step into the water, and despite the heat, it is icy cool against my skin. I fully immerse myself, and my cares and hurts are washed away by the gentle current. When I break out again above the surface, it is a new person that meets the light of Arien.
I look at my hands, and they are clean.
I cannot help but laugh, for it is strange to see my hands, bloodless… stainless… sinless.
I am released. An overwhelming joy fills my heart, and I can only lift myself in song, for it is broken no longer.
When I come finally out of the water, I realise the purpose of the new, simpler clothing that my companion had bought, and I don the garments.
But I realise now that my companion is with my no longer. I begin to panic- where has he gone? I search needlessly for him, but like I, he is a wanderer, and he has moved on to the next village. I wish to seek him out, to thank him, but my heart tells me that I will never speak with him again, and I am sorry for it.
"The white men are leaving! They are leaving!"
Months later, this is the cry that is echoed all over the land in the various tongues of the Easterlings. The Mahatma, for that is how the people call him, has succeeded in his efforts. The white men are leaving.
It is a dangerous thing, to be a white man in these parts now. Though my skin has darkened under the light of the sun, I conceal my face from others, but not my voice. Never my voice.
Ever did I search for the Mahatma, for despite the words of my heart, hope was ever restless within me, though swiftly dwindling.
But he is here now, in the city of New Delhi, and I along with hundreds of others have come to see him.
From my place in the thing, I can see that he has not changed. He is ever humble, his face kind, though it is more wrinkled and wearied that I remember. He is praying, quietly, to his gods, for so devoted is he to his religion.
I weave hurriedly through the crowd, and finally near him. I reach out to him, my hand outstretched towards him, crying, "Gandhi!"
But even as my voice cries, a loud gunshot fills the air, a terrible sound. Again, I hear it; again, it rings through my head. The Mahatma staggers to the ground, missing my hand, and hundreds of voices cry with me now.
"Gandhi! O Mahatma!"
But he is on his knees now, and his hands are stained with his own blood, which pours heedlessly from his body. That light in his eyes… it is dimming. I cannot believe it… but I know that my eyes do not lie.
I turn, so slowly that it is painful to bear, and I see the face of the murderer. It is hard, stoic. Unrepentant.
The life of a pacifist is cruelly taken from my eyes in this holy place(7), a memory that will live with me for eternity. It is taken cruelly from one of his own(8), they are said to share beliefs… religious beliefs. O wretched men, with your petty religions! I have seen over the years that only bloodshed has come from your beliefs, and aught else.
But there is naught I can do. I can only sob in despair as the light of the Mahatma's eyes is extinguished forever, and wallow numbly in the bitter irony that such violence should be the price of peace.
(1) Dhoti – Skirt-like sarong worn by Indian men.
(2) Saree – Indian dress thing.
(3) Vellaikkararkkal – 'White man' in Tamil, the language of the region that Maglor is in the first part of this story.
(4) The title gifted to Gandhi by the Indian people.
(5) New form of song – New to Maglor, that is. It is actually carnatic music, the oldest form in South India which derived numerous other forms.
(6) Rivers from certain parts of the world; the Tiber in Italy, the Thames in London, the Yangtze in China and the Ganges in India.
(7) Maglor is not in a temple, but rather a prayer hall.
(8) Gandhi (a Hindu) was killed by a Hindu extremist, Nathuram Godse. :'(
Italicised speech are direct quotes from Gandhi, as translated and taken from various sources.
Please forgive Maglor for his prejudices against religion; it does not in any way reflect my opinions of it.
I apologise for twisting the circumstances of Gandhi's death.
And why is Maglor in India? Well, I'd like to think that he sailed to India from Britain, just to explore new territory.
I would like to say that the title is original, but I'm beginning to suspect it is actually the name of a Chinese language WWII drama in Singapore. :P
Feedback is much appreciated! :)