The next morning, we set out back along the road, turning left (north) when we reached its junction. Beside it ran the Ithilduin, stinking and black; rank weeds grew along it. Beregond led two-thirds of his force, accompanied by Legolas, Rhûk, Evit and two of the other Sagath, Tamperion (reluctantly parted from Rhylla), Tuor, Caic, Silma and myself. Rhylla had volunteered to stay behind, keeping an eye on Akesh to be sure he did not overexert himself in doing the exercises Silma had shown him. “Strengthen your arm slowly but surely, without overstraining it,” she had cautioned.
He sighed and nodded. I had expected him to want to come, but he did not seem eager to go. Rhûk told me in his slow Westron, “Bad place. Much bad!”
Approaching the ruins of a bridge, Silma and several of the other Gondorians sighed, groaned or shook their heads. Reining in, Silma said, “Behold Iant Ithil, once the fairest bridge outside the Elven realms! Gracefully did it arch, carved all about with Faerych, the Spirit-Horn horses, cousins of the Mearas, and the phases of the moon, until the minions of the Dark Lord cast it down into the river of the moon, now a polluted trickle of what it was! Imagine what it shall be, when it is restored and becomes the Ithilduin once more!”
Then she took Rimbor up, carefully balanced on the front of her saddle, to cross the Morgulduin, and on the other side, had us wait while she carefully inspected the horses, to be sure that the water had not harmed their hooves nor the skin of their legs. I am no lover of equine creatures, but it hurt my heart that the gracefully carved horns of each unicorn had been broken or shattered—and from the stains, deliberately besmirched. The moons had fared as ill at the hands of the Dark One’s minions.
We rode warily, and all had weapons close to hand, including Silma.
I have lived among (and under) mountains all my life; I could see that in former times, this vale had probably been a place of flowers and other plants. The walls of the surrounding mountains began to loom over us, stark and grim, as we wound ever upward, up to the great shelf under the pass of Cirith Ungol, the great stone shelf that Minas Ithil was set upon. I had heard that it was once a lovely place, with the Tower of the Rising Moon gracefully dominating the city built on either side of the silvery moon-water, its streets gladdened by the sound of many fountains.
I have seen Moria, long lost to us through the evil of the Balrog later slain by Gandalf; much as all Dweorg long for it, Gimli shuddered when he told me of the Fellowship's journey through it.
We wound among graves cut into the stone, for the people of Gondor, particularly the Elite, set great importance upon tombs. Near them, we could see the remains of a long-deserted shantytown, where some citizens had hung on for a time after being forced out of the city itself.
Silma had told me of the tall, graceful Tower of the Moon that used to dominate the first view of the city. Now it was broken off two-thirds of the way up, blackened and twisted. The gates were riven, gaping open, and the silence was intense—not so much as the chirp of a cricket or bird, buzz of a fly, or even the sough of the wind could be heard at that moment.
It was mostly constructed of the same beautiful white marble as Minas Anor, but many of the buildings had been disfigured, partially or completely thrown down. Not one had escaped being polluted and defiled by the grossest actions.
Malignant hatred hung over us like a miasmic cloud, all the worse for being invisible—escept for the feeling of malicious eyes watching, the sense of something lurking just out of the corners of one’s eyes All were pale, all heads turning.
Legolas spoke in a hushed whisper. “Horror hangs above us like a cresting wave.”
“I cannot go on, Captain!” One of the guards almost wailed. “Valar save me, I cannot!”
The horses were skittish, their eyes rimmed with white. Rimbor alternated whining and growling deep in his throat, even with Silma’s hand on his back as he lay across her mount’s withers.
Silma dismounted. Like all of us, tears streaked her white face. Without looking at any of us, she began walking forward. Wavering, almost reeling, she took step after step. Amazingly, Rimbor hesitated before leaping down, and went after her, nosing his head under the hand not on her sword-hilt.
I dismounted and followed her as well, and it was like wading through filth, as if the air was filled with acid to score my lungs; every breath came hard. Behind me, I could hear the Men weeping and vomiting, cursing and praying.
I stumbled after her. It seemed as if I could almost see...things move at the edge of my vision, and the certainty grew in my mind that if I remained in that place, I would go mad, that somehow the evil in it would take root in my mind and soul and take them from me.
“Silma!” I croaked. “Come back!”
She had drawn Orcsbane, and blue light flickered fitfully along is length. “There are few orcs here,” she panted. “The Ringwaiths are gone. This is no longer Sauron's property. We will rebuild! We will come back.” With Orcsbane's tip, she drew a crescent moon, a full moon, and a waning moon, intertwined, on the ground in front of her.
“Eru, hear me!” she sang. “Manwë, Elbereth, Aulë, Yavanna, all those who dwell in Valinor! Hear our plea, and help us find the way to make it rise again, clean and pure, unsullied and strong! Let life and joy return! Let the light of Your presence be reflected in those who will come to hear, come to learn, come to live. We are the people of the moon, we are your children, and this place belongs to You as much as to us. Eru, hear us!”
I was just in time to catch her as she fell.
I cannot speak of what we encountered there. I have tried many times, but I am always overwhelmed with rage and grief. I felt as if we were forcing our way against a tangible resistance of the most debased kind There was no sound, so I should have been very aware of my own breathing and heartbeat—but I was not. It was as if it was swallowing us up, as if it would gulp us down to the nethermost depths of despair and hopelessness. The Void must be as this was....
Rimbor was pressed against me, shivering—but that steadied me. I sank my hand, the one not grasping Orcsbane, into his thick fur, warm and soft under my fingers. His courage gave me heart, and I tried to gather my own, to beat back the terrible, growing conviction, that we could not escape this evil, that we could not withstand it.
But we could! I thought of the Ringbearer, and his faithful Samwise. I thought of Éowyn and Merry, valiant against the Lord of the Ringwaiths, of Pippin saving Faramir with Beregond's help, of the stand at Helm's Deep, of the many people picking up the pieces of their lives and homes in Minas Anor, and of the persistant courage of Rill and Wilmet and the others.
They tell me I sang, but I do not remember that. They tell me that I inscribed a symbol of our determination there, but I do not recall that either.
I know that the silent buzz had grown in my ears, that it seemed to beat inside my head, choking my breathing, choking my self, and then the icy darkness swelled around me, the wave of sheer awfulness fell, and all went black.
Consciousness came back slowly. I was being carried; Dalf's arms cradled me against him. I could feel the movement of his horse under us; I could hear the clop of hooves on the ground, and a birdcall, the steady beat of his heart, and my relief was so intense tears slipped from under my eyelids.
“Shhhh! It's all right,” he said gently. “We are out of that accursed place. Rest, Silma, rest.”
I slid away into the warm depths of sleep with a sigh.
I was at her side when she finally stirred and opened her eyes. For a long moment, she gazed at me, her expression empty, and fear gripped me. Had that place stolen her sanity?
“Dalf.” Her lips shaped my name.
“Aye, Silma.” I lifted her head slightly and held a cup of water to her lips. She sipped, and asked softly, “Where are we?”
“Back at the camp,” I told her.
“Am I sick?”
“You have been asleep for four days. Legolas said it was a kind of Elvish healing reverie, so I tried not to worry.”
“Do you remember what we found at Minas Morgul?”
Tears filled her eyes and brimmed over, and I wiped them away gently.
“Do you remember what you did?”
The minutest shake of her head.
“How is she?” asked Beregond, coming over. “Ah, you're awake, my lady!”
“Captain. What happened?” Her voice was stronger.
“You called upon the Creator and the Valar.” Awe filled his voice. “You inscribed a symbol on the ground, setting our claim to it in the earth, in the stone. Your invocation lessened the—the hold that foul atmosphere had laid upon us, so that we were able to get out without losing our sanity. I could see it ripple through the air and ground, and the ugliness abated, just slightly. Some of the men barely kept themselves from suicide or murder. All of us felt we would go insane from being there, yet could not move. I sent a pigeon to the King and my lord Faramir, telling them. It will take forever to get the city back, if we ever do.” He shuddered at the memory.
Too weak to sit up, she looked up at him from flat on her back. Her voice was clear, certain. “Oh, we shall, Captain. It will take a long time, but before the end of my life, I shall walk there freely and in joy.”
“That is good to know. I will tell the men.”
She sighed deeply, then smiled up at me. “Are you well, Dalf?”
“I am very well,” I assured her—and I was, now, merely weary.
We rested for two more days, but it was soon very apparent that she was growing impatient, and so were the Sagath, who had helped in tending those of us who had gone to Minas Morgul.
On the third day, we broke camp and began to ride south, then west to the Anduin; once we regained the road, we would turn north again, finally bound for Cormallen.
The Rech-i-Feateraich or Faerych, sing. feataroch (S. “Spirit-Horn Horses,” “Unicorns”) are a kind of Nimrochath (S. “Elven Horses”, descended from the Ararochath ("Horses of Valinor"). They are related to both the Mearas and the Elvish horses, except that they have a single long horn in the centre of their foreheads which appears when they fight. They are a symbol of guardianship and purity.