Dedication – For Marnie, who introduced me to Celeborn and hence catapulted me into obsession, and for Erin's Daughter, who showed me how wonderfully prose can be played with. Happy Birthday to both of you!
Thanks to Nol, Lindorien and Tehta for comments, beta-ing, general hitting on the head, and some brilliant insights. Any mistakes are mine alone.
Some Sort Of Reality
I enjoy exploring places. It is a habit I acquired somewhat later in life; but my definition of 'later' would be different from anyone else's.
Dusk settles in the bowl of the sky, crimson streaks the white pillar of a nearby temple, the echoes of ringing bells commence. It is an oddly peaceful sound. Monotonous clanging sets in, steady and sure, alive with the hope of the devotee who will pray to one of India's million gods.
The people call it the Silver Street. My companions know why I chose it. They think it is slightly vain of me. I am allowed a little vanity.
They sit on either side of me, and are quiet. But then, they have only just arrived. Quick adaptation, even for the span of a single evening, is not a trait of our race.
Maglor, twining the end of an errant lock of hair, raises an eyebrow, but says nothing. He looks away, catches the eye of the hovering shop-owner, and signals for another cup of coffee. The short, stout man beams widely, and then shouts an order in native tongue to a young boy who makes rounds of the tables. The child, no more than a decade old, frowns, throws his ragged dishcloth over his shoulder with a mutinous glare, and sets off towards the kitchen.
I chuckle. We look like foreigners, and that is why they fall over themselves to please us.
The strains of a flute curl around us. Not loud, but they rise above the surrounding noise. Music has the odd ability to do that. Daeron is still composing; some of the other customers stop and listen. It is rare that they see a non-native play the instrument of one of their most beloved gods.
Krishna, they call him, and by many other names, and his flute always by his side. Krishna, of the famed leela, the divine game. The god who opened his mouth after chewing dirt, and allowed his mother to see the universe in his body. The incarnate god; the one who died.
Suffice to say, Daeron plays his flute well.
We meet every decade, a new place, and a new country. It is our way of seeing this world. When I first proposed it, Maglor found it highly amusing. 'Very well, Tyelpornë,' he drawled, 'If you want to see the world, we shall see it.'
'There is nothing wrong with this place,' Daeron interjected, his gaze not quite so distant then, his presence still with us, with our kind. Ah, he had loved Florence.
'But you must be educated, forest singer,' Maglor said. It probably crossed his mind that what he said could be an insult, but he preferred to be ambiguous. 'Come now, where first?'
The past does not matter. Not when we are all that is left: shards of a torn time, ripped asunder by forces beyond our control. It requires a certain maturity to remember, yet not thrive on memory alone.
Delhi is an interesting city. Not New Delhi, the capital of India, but Old Delhi. It is part of what they call the Walled City, a relict of Mughal rulers and the British empire. The stream of human bodies is continuous, alive with an ambition only overpopulation can afford. There is not a moment's silence – the loud shout of the toy seller, the hustle in every makeshift teas shop in the narrow roads, the curses that emanate from a group of men huddled around a television set, the high warmth with which the women greet each other, then retreat to gossip about their competitors. Nothing stops here. It is a constant cacophony of sound.
A nearby girl bats her eyelashes in frank invitation, her eyes lined with black kohl. Attractive enough, in a roughened, tribal manner, her gaze passes Daeron, flickers over me for a brief moment, and settles on Maglor. Almost unconsciously, her reddened lips curve in a pout. Maglor notices, and shakes his head slightly, his mouth upturned in the barest hint of a laugh. She shrugs, her dark-rimmed eyes lingering appreciatively over him once more, before she turns around.
The serving boy arrives with the coffee, a steel glass balanced precariously on a steel tray. His ill temper seems to have passed now, and he is quite cheerful.
'Coffee, sir,' he says to Maglor, his fractured accent probably limited to those two words.
Maglor smiles. The boy smiles back, his dark eyes crinkling slightly.
Daeron seems content. Certainly, he is less restless than either Maglor or I. Perhaps it is because of constant social activity, a mingling with the world that we have not done. A figure of these times, Daeron, ever lost, slate blue eyes reflecting much more than just an azure sky, a retreat in the inner chambers of his heart where he plays his music, and he is happy. Maybe that is how he survives this, with his art and his flute and his women.
He has thought of something just now, I can tell: a brightening of the face and the softly animated tune he taps on the rickety table.
'You are in a reflective mood,' Maglor says to me, but his attention, however, resides with the music.
'It suits the evening,' I reply.
A surprised laugh escapes him, for he did not expect that answer. 'I sense you are not quite as comfortable as you look. It is all very well to be pragmatic.'
'On the other hand,' he murmurs - his voice still has that supremely regal lilt; every word that falls from his lips seems like a tenor clearing his throat. I wonder if he knows it. In all probability, he does - 'Perhaps you are wiser than I to have realized earlier that familiarity is not to be found anymore.'
Leave it to him to expand upon what was a relatively simple statement. Maglor remains a bard, but a poet more than a singer, and he has always sought to find deeper meaning in words that are not so deep. We have played this game before; I speak, he twists. It is an old habit. A philosophizing, perhaps, but Maglor is no philosopher. Poets often think they are.
A cry rents the air; mournful and surreal, this time it is from the mosque. It does not seem like a human voice, but it is. Almost at once, a huge gathering of people rise around us, and then head towards it; a flurry of covered heads and prayer books. There is no bustle anymore, a sudden hush falls, the precious minutes spent in the attempt to gain the blessing of an unseen light.
'There is an interesting quote…' Maglor says suddenly, and pauses to remember. When he does, his eyes brighten. '"Magnificently unprepared for the long littleness of life"…' He laughs. 'From Francis Conford's Rupert Brooke. I think it is very apt.'
Daeron brushes his hair out of his eyes – which he does often because he has cut it in the manner of humans. 'Why did you do it?' I asked him, in those early days when we first discovered each other again. He just smiled, and murmured, still occupied with dabbling on the canvas, 'It blends better with the overall picture.'True, perhaps. He left the world a long time ago, did Daeron, and I do not think he has ever fully returned. His song is of dark waters, twilit lands bathed in the luminance of stars, where bright eyes and brighter spirits dance unshod on the grass of the forest. He is immortal, but time has bypassed him, the ultimate betrayal he brought upon himself.
He acts mortal because she loved one. Maybe his pain is blunted in the women with whom he surrounds himself, all dark-haired and grey eyed, slender bodied women he sings to, in defiance, or a plea for pardon. Pardon, even now, after so many years.
'Celeborn?' His question is soft, almost hesitant. I never know when he is about to speak. The unpredictability of genius.
'Would you tell me what you think of this?'
If there is something that everyone can understand, or relate to, it is music. The Great Language, people say. One that cuts across waters and islands and continents; a bringer of universal harmony, a string that keeps this fragmented world together. It was not like that before. Music was unique, different, belonging only to the musician. Entire tribes could be told apart by the way a song was sung.
Daeron's tune has not forsaken the twilight. It remains, ever at the edge, melody lingering in the distance, dipping, rising, powerful at one moment, poignant in another. But it remains at the same starting point, coming back to the beginning. Even his end is not an end; it is no abrupt stop, or a gentle fading. It doesn't feel like an end.
Daeron lays the instrument down, and the serenity in his face shows that he no longer needs to be assured of the brilliance of the piece.
Maglor, quiet all this while, leans towards Daeron 'There is promise in it. But it is unrefined, a strange medley. To make it pure, you must find your own music, your own path that no one has traversed before. There is no good in playing the old again and again. I heard it in Beleriand, I have no wish to hear it now.'
Maglor surprises me with his straightforwardness; earlier he would have spoken in circles, and left us to connect the threads of the conversation. Perhaps it is something he has learnt. Articulate frankness, after all, is the difference between a good elf and a foolish one.
But there is hurt in my kinsman's eyes, and I wish that Eru had made Daeron less sensitive to criticism. He has survived, but not by instinct, not by self-preservation, but by pure, blind luck. He is more Silvan than Sindar now. The worth of lost identity is something to be wondered at.
Daeron's brush strokes are never bold. I have seen some of his canvases; he would show me more if I asked. They are very fine and delicate, line and colour blending as if there were no distinction, one merging into another into another, the new drawing inspiration from the old. Like the artist himself, I suppose. He would never leave any part of himself untouched. Daeron is an intensely personal creator. Maglor would never allow himself to touch anything he created on his own; the Noldolantë is perhaps misunderstood as a lament - and the art must be different from the artist. A small difference between two elves, but an important one.
But again, Daeron surprises me. 'You ignored many things in Beleriand, as well.' he says calmly, 'Perhaps it would have done you good to hear more music than your own. A closed mind cannot create.'
A dark eyebrow arches, and Maglor murmurs, 'And what of inspiration, forest singer? Can lone inspiration sustain creation?'
'As long as there is inspiration, it does not matter if there is one source, or two, or hundred, or a thousand.'
'Create more than tunes for dancing maidens, and I will believe that.'
Daeron pales. 'Create more than bitter elegies to the fallen dead, and I will believe you.'
'Enough,' I say in a low voice, 'Artistic reputation need not be a cause for slander now. You might still be vain, both of you, but you are certainly old enough.'
'Reputation is quite useless, Tyelpornë,' Maglor smiles suddenly. 'Even talking about it is a waste of words.'
'And you were never one to waste words?'
He smiles again, but this smile is not the same. It is touched by a dab of bitter wistfulness that is uncommon for him 'No. Not at all. I wasted far too many words. But I never wasted a song.'
'You don't sing anymore, Maglor.'
'I will sing again, when there is a new song. But while the old remains, the new can have no value.' His eyes are lidded. 'When the lament ceases, I will sing. It will be unparalleled.'
Maglor the singer. Maglor the poet. Maglor the performer. I have never known anyone who craved attention like him - who craved attention, got it, yet behaved as if it was not important. He laughs at the adulation. He says they loved his voice, but not him.
People said he had lost his soul, had gone insane, ever singing by the shores of an unheeding sea. They said that Maglor had lost everything but his voice. Just like they said for Daeron. But neither is insane, or racked by seething internal anguish. Neither do they sit huddled in a lone corner and shed tears for what they have done. People, after all, talk too much, and understand too little.
Maglor does not captivate with his presence, or his magnetism. He does not have enough with which to captivate. Neither does Daeron. Neither do I. Ah, at last there is something common. I am learning quite a bit today.
Daeron frowns at this latest proclamation from Maglor; Daeron was never the prima donna. One thing the Noldor have had in common, for all the millennia that I have known them, is a slightly inflated estimate of self-worth.
Not that Maglor does not deserve his share of pride. I have heard him sing. He was singing when I found him. It was like watching fire dance on water.
Daeron returns to his flute, and agile, nimble fingers skim over the carved wood. His is a wordless orchestra, and there is note upon note, gentle now, ecstatic another time, a homage to music that is somehow always understood.
Although I doubt Daeron would see it that way. To him, it is just music. It always was.
This is a violent city. It has seen a thousand years of foreign rule, both magnificent and gruesome, where princes would not think twice about poisoning their father kings or throwing them into the nearest gutter, where war elephants were paraded almost daily, just for show of might. An ostentatious city, where appearance is everything, and shrewdness even more so.
But there are still echoes of the battlefield that it once was, swamped with blood as they all are, and there is no more than rising dust in the orange-tinted dawn. It has been forgotten now, engulfed in the smother of modernity. Mortals are so careless.
'Still reminiscing?' Maglor drawls. With a quick movement, he produces a silver case, and draws out a cigarette with all the fluency of a monarch flaunting his insignia. A flick of the wrist, and the tip glows. A few moments silence as he breathes in the acid fumes.
'Ah,' Maglor leans forward. 'The scars of that are deeper. It is an invigorating exercise.'
'Do you enjoy it?' I ask quizzically.
'As much as one enjoys a particularly difficult game of chess,' Maglor's mouth curves into a strange smile. A sudden breeze blows, and whips my hair forward. 'With oneself as an opponent. It is quite difficult to digest a loss against yourself, Tyelpornë.'
'Perhaps I do not fight myself as viciously.'
'Perhaps you do not fight enough.' Maglor's eyes flicker to Daeron's. I need no special vision to see what he means. 'There is a great deal to be found in conflict. All great epics elucidate that. But at the end, in the very end, when all battles have been fought, and the war is about to be decided, there is only one opponent worthy enough of the struggle. The self.' He shrugs, like a pained soothsayer forced to proclaim doom. 'Most people, however, are too foolish to realize that.'
Maglor behaves like a weary hero of one of these epic movies that are made these days – they amuse me very much - seemingly ready to accept blame, fight without thought of consequence, sing one moment, dance the next, shout, weep, love, and finally, be killed.
We have been more talkative before, in less noisy places. In contrast, tonight is relatively quiet meeting. The sounds around us have only grown, for it is night now, and the shops are lit with impossibly bright strands of bulbs in all colours, popular film music blares, the drum-player is out and about. It is jarring; I am not accustomed to it.
'Not that you were much of a talker before, Tyelpornë, but silence does not suit you.' Maglor leans back, and his eyes close, his voice unaffected by the rising smoke of the cigarette. He is the very picture of relaxation.
'On the contrary, Maglor, talking was never one of my talents.'
'You mean,' he says, almost cheerfully, 'Talking without insulting the other person within the space of mere minutes was never your forte.'
'It is difficult to resurrect a conversation from the ruins,' I say, absentmindedly tracing a pattern on the thin film of grime that covers the table. There is, after all, some truth in what he says. 'I may do that if I have something to add to it, or if you have something to add to it. But needless words? I fail to see what they can achieve.'
'That is your problem,' Maglor replies, I think I detect a faint exasperation in his voice. Or maybe not. He isn't bothered enough to be exasperated. 'Something always does not need to be achieved. Sometimes, things happen. And, more often than not, you will be a greater fool for thinking that they happened for a reason.'
'Ah, I see. And you certainly have never searched for reason.'
Maglor inhales deeply, and then exhales. In the haze in front of me, I can only see the grey glitter of his eyes. 'You remain naïve.'
'No,' I reply, 'I remain realistic.'
'Our definitions are somewhat different, Maglor.'
'Really?' He flicks the burnt ash to the side with barely a movement of the wrist. 'You are so…good.' He reaches out and tilts my chin up. His gaze flickers to Daeron. 'Both of you. It is quite remarkable, actually.'
'There is no pride in flouting rules, Maglor.' Daeron interrupts coldly. I had not realized he was listening. 'Your logic may be to work around them, but that is a coward's escape.'
'Coward?' Maglor murmurs. His hand traces the rim of the empty coffee cup. 'Well, well…interesting phrase you use, forest singer.'
'There is no need to persist with the name!' Daeron's voice rises, and his eyes burn with small tolerance. A few people look at us.
'But it is your title, is it not?' Maglor says, quietly. He appears to disregard any of Daeron's annoyance.
I look at Daeron, and he returns my gaze. There is nothing I can say, but I still attempt to comfort. Let him not think the past has completely forsaken him. I have my reality, but let his stall a while.
Daeron understands. Running a hand over his face, he replies in a tired, weary voice, a lark that has sung too much and too long, yet persists with it. 'Yes, it is. It is my title.'
Maglor's gaze is strangely sympathetic. It is strange because it does not suit him. Sympathy is not what I expected. 'You realize it, don't you?' Maglor presses, his voice curiously earnest. 'It is not what we knew once, and so it is not ours now.'
'It was never yours.' My voice is supposed to be neutral, I cannot keep the harshness out of it.
'But that is your mistake. It was never yours either.'
'Perhaps you mistake lies in this division.' I reply, '"Yours", you say, and "mine". There is no more. Time has ensured it. We may be Sindar and Noldor, but in the face of this…this abject isolation... " There is an evenness to my tone that echoes in my heart, a sudden, unexpected realization. "There is nothing left, Maglor. Nothing. No poem, no lament, no chorus. Neither can anything be made out of what once was, as you said yourself. Foolish mortals, you say? They are more intelligent than we, for they realize that forgetfulness is not always a curse. You would be a greater fool if you do not realize that."
There is a pause. A deafening, reverberating, conscious pause.
'I see,' Maglor speaks, addressing a point beyond my head. 'That you still preserve your…talent… for clarifying a point. Fools we are, and we shall remain just that.' He rolls his hand, and the ash from the cigarette drifts to the ground. 'Still, it is comforting to know that we are fools together.' His grey eyes flicker to mine, and then look away; he never meets my gaze fully. Perhaps he sees Sirion swaying among blood-streaked willows. He detests me for it.
'Where to now, my lord?' he says, his face shrouded by the acrid haze of the cigarette smoke. It is a change of subject. I am glad.
'"Perhaps one day this too will be pleasant to remember,"' Daeron says suddenly, and it is so completely out of context that both Maglor and I turn to stare at him. He smiles. 'From the Aenid.'
A slight pause. Maglor arches an eyebrow. 'Well, well, well. I thought I was the poet.'
Daeron is nonplussed, and his eyes glimmer with vague mirth. He has probably forgotten the earlier argument. 'And I thought I was the singer.'
One by one, the night envelops them. They become retreating shadows; faint…fainter…and they are gone. I do not pay attention. I do not know who leaves first. I don't really care; it is enough that they came.
The moon shines through the mist of pollution, a sickly yellow. It is the hour in which people ponder the day, how they have spent it, how they have utilized it, and so on. I have no wish to do so.
The world refuses to die around me, its sounds and smells and spirit echoing
I will not fade, because I will not offer myself to the altar of this immortal doom. I will see the world change; I will change along with it, neither lamenting the past nor yearning for the future, and I will have it my way because I have always had it so. If there is a sunlit shore that yet awaits me, it will have to wait a little longer. I have nothing to redeem myself for, and no lost song for which I must search the winds.
I dream sometimes, and then I remember. I remember sometimes, and then I yearn. I yearn sometimes, and then it passes.
And sometimes…sometimes there is sentimentality.
We are all sentimental. Especially when it suits us. It is the reason we bear each other's company again and again, because after a while, anything, anything that lingers of the past is not an unwelcome mist. A kind of emotional promiscuity, perhaps. Once in a while.
How much time passes before I rise to leave, I do not know.
I pay. I always pay. It is a gesture of accustomed civility.
Notes – The place they are sitting in does indeed exist. It is situated in the older part of Delhi, and in Hindi is called Chandi Chowk, translating into 'Silver Street' in English.
There is no known documentation in canon of Celeborn, Daeron, or Maglor dying, or sailing for the west. Of Celeborn, it is said that 'the day was not known when Celeborn sought the Grey Havens'. The last heard of Maglor is that he sings on the seashore after casting the Silmaril into the sea. Daeron flees Doriath after Luthien's first death, into the East, and is never heard from again.
Celeborn and Daeron are technically kinsmen, both being part of Doriath and its court. Canonically, Daeron and Maglor could have met once – at the Mereth Aderthad, which was a feast held by Fingolfin (source : The Silmarillion). There is premise for Celeborn meeting Maglor as well, and it would be when Maedhros and Maglor attack Sirion in the First Age (source: The Silmarillion).