“We are taking the short cut,” Legolas announced, “through what was once known as the Pass of Cirith Ungol. It is over a hundred miles to the Black Gate from here. But we won’t be taking the stairs. A road has been made there. For the nonce, it is known merely as the Morgul Road. We will pass through what was once known as the Morgul Vale and see the city of Minas Ithil, as it is now known. You will see what wonders my father and I, and the rest of us, have wrought therein. It is not yet a populous city, but there is a home for soldiers there, as well as one for war orphans and widows and former slaves of Sauron. And of course, we tore down all those hideous gargoyles and statues on the bridge. Orcs have such wretched taste in décor.”
“I would be most happy to take the long way around,” Greenjade said.
“Trust me,” Elrohir told him, “you do not want to go by the Black Gate. Even though it is gone now, its shadow remains still.”
“And there is troll-smell,” Elladan said. “Likely it will be years before it all goes away.”
“I do not wish to go that way,” Gimli said. “Sooner I should meet a giant spider than visit that place again. And I will be ready for her, should she decide to show herself.”
“I believe Shelob died long ago,” Legolas said glancing back at Bergil, who was looking a trifle alarmed. “After her battle with Sam Gamgee, she retreated into her cave, and no sightings of her have been reported since. It seems likely she expired of her wounds.”
“Well! if any of her kin should be about, they will not get past this dwarf,” Gimli declared. “I and some of my comrades took out one of her kind near Mirkwood once long ago. It put up a fight you would scarcely believe, but we laid her low. We needed no Elves to help us…only to bury the thing. Ergggh, what a stink!”
They reached the Morgul Vale late in the afternoon. Radagast had been describing how it had looked, while Sméagol shuddered and trembled behind them in the wagon. The greenish corpse-light that had emanated from the tower, casting an eerie glow for miles about, making even the daytime seem as night. Not to mention the stench.
“Well,” he said, “I was not exactly expecting this much improvement. Look at that.”
They were coming upon a great valley all grown over with grass and wildflowers, in which cattle could be seen grazing, and far back there was a city very like Minas Tirith, only not so big. All white and walled, with a tower rising as a silver needle from atop. A fragrance of sweet grass arose on the cool, moist breeze.
“As it once was,” Radagast said very softly, turning to look at Greenjade and Sméagol, who was staring in wonder, and no longer trembling. “Miraculous. I suppose Faramir will be going to live there, although he seems content where he is.”
Greenjade felt as if he were missing a couple of limbs, at the moment. He could not work up much enthusiasm for the rehabilitated city. It would be a very long three months.
“Are you all right now, Sméagol?” Radagast asked. Sméagol nodded.
“Nasty orcses all gone now,” he said.
“Aye, all gone,” Radagast said. “There may be some lurking about in Mordor, however. But not so many.”
They stopped in the city, to visit some of the inhabitants, and recruit some as were able and willing to go to Mordor. Six men and two women volunteered to come. Four of the men were former soldiers, who had been injured enough not to be able to fight any more, but they said they were capable of planting and building. Two of the men and the two women were very young, about twenty or thereabouts, and had been orphaned in the War. Radagast invited the young women to ride with them. They said they would take turn and about, and let the men ride, being crippled as they were. The women and young men would go on foot.
There was an elderly woman there, named Ioreth, who was running the Soldiers’ Home; Radagast said she had once been head nurse in the House of Healing in Minas Tirith. She did not seem happy to be losing the soldiers, but they told her they would come and visit her, and they sounded as though they meant it.
“Lord Faramir offered to let her retire with a generous pension, but she was having none,” one of the soldiers said. “As a mother she is to us.”
They ended up staying overnight in the City, for it began to rain as they took their supper. After it grew dark, Radagast called the others outside to come and see a wondrous sight.
Greenjade and Sméagol stepped outdoors from the stable of the soldiers’ home where they were making their beds, came out onto the street where the Wizard stood, and looked. The city had a pale, silvery glow like moonlight against the night sky, despite the rain, which had slackened to a gentle mist. The mysterious beauty took Greenjade’s breath away as he felt the soft kiss of cool water on his upturned face.
“It’s as if we were on the moon herself,” Radagast said. “This is the Elves’ doing, I will warrant.”
“Pretty, pretty,” Sméagol said, then sighed. “I misses Pretty Doggie.”
“So do I,” Radagast said. “However, in three months we shall see her again…and she will motivate us to work all the harder to make Mordor habitable.”
“I have been mortal for nearly a whole year,” Greenjade said. “And I would not go back to what I once was. This city is myself, I think.”
“I would not go back either,” Sméagol said. Greenjade looked at him for a moment, then smiled, and laid a hand on Sméagol’s shoulder in a brotherly gesture.
And all three looked up at the softly glimmering city in the mist.
Sméagol’s tenseness gradually disappeared as they departed Minas Ithil the next morning. The road was rocky as it led into what was now called the Morgai Pass. The mountains rose before, rocky and craggy with very little vegetation.
“Here is the place on which once stood the Tower of Cirith Ungol,” Legolas announced. “We razed it almost immediately after the War. Here the Ringbearer Frodo Baggins was taken prisoner until he was rescued by his servant Samwise Gamgee. I suppose you all know the story already?”
Greenjade nodded, shuddering. An air of dread still lingered about the place. Before them, he could see a vast plain, with some grass attempting growth, along with a few pitiful-looking trees. And in the distance, a great pointed black mountain pierced the misty coverings of lingering clouds.
Sméagol began shivering again. Greenjade once more laid a hand on his shoulder.
“Eru help us all,” Gimli said barely above a whisper.
“Welcome to Mordor,” Legolas said grimly, to one and all.
The outpost was called Fort Nurnen. Obviously, imagination was not a faculty highly prized in Mordor.
Some of the men called it Fort Nothing.
There were barracks erected of stone and mortar, and they did little to keep out the rain. The soldiers slept on the ground, on little more than blankets. There were a few trees about, not very big ones, oaks and beeches mostly, with many broken branches poking out. The twins joked about sleeping in them, saying they’d have to hang themselves by the backs of their shirts to do so.
They drilled all morning, practiced their shooting and sparring in the afternoons, and learned about military strategy after that. Then they might amuse themselves until their evening meal, which they mostly did by knife-throwing matches, playing cards or chess, or telling stories around a blazing fire over which they sometimes roasted rather wormy apples or chunks of meat. Once a week they went out to plant trees and vegetables and work on building, or making reparations to their barracks. Then they dug wells and ditches and irrigation streams to divert water from one of the rivers that ran into the Sea of Nurnen. The lake was huge and the water undrinkable, but the area about it was relatively fertile. There were some settlements near it, consisting of former slaves of Sauron mostly, along with some ex-soldiers who had volunteered to work with them. They were a wretched lot, these ex-slaves. Some had deformities that made Greenjade shudder, some were obviously mental defectives, and nearly all seemed to be of mixed races. The King had freed them all after the War and given them the Nurnen area for their own. Some of them had small farms, and others were craftsmen of sorts. Very few had families, and those who did, had them without benefit of wedlock. Some of those who were able joined the army, and Greenjade assisted in the training of them, along with those they had brought from Minas Ithil.
They repelled him at first. In order to dispel his revulsion, he tried to imagine what Meleth or Serilinn or Radagast would say. They would have pitied them, no doubt. And wished him to help them any way he could. Still, he was glad not to have his womenfolk about them. No telling what some of them might do, the vile things that might go through their poor diseased minds. It occurred to him that this part of the land, at least, was habitable for them. However, remembering Ithilien, he simply did not wish Meleth and Serilinn here, he had far rather they be in that place of almost other-worldly beauty and peace and fertility. Not here, anywhere but here, on the dark side of the moon....
Dearest Ada Greenjade,
I am sorry it took so long to write, but there has been so much to do here. I am getting used to it, but I very sorely miss you and Nana and the rest. Time will go oh so slowly until we all meet again. It was delightful to get to spend the first weekend with Nana in the cottage. But it went by sooo fast! We had a meat pie that Mistress Amdir made for us. It was delicious! Then the next day, several people came over bringing food. We had quite a feast! I am glad the villagers are so kind. Now Nana will have friends and will not be too lonely for me.
The day before he left, Radagast said I did not look happy. I said I did not expect to be happy at school.
He said, “Perhaps you should expect to be happy.”
I said, “How can I do that?” And he said, “People are generally what they expect to be. They usually get what they expect. It just seems to work like that.”
I said, “There is a girl there who does not seem to like me. She may turn the others against me.”
And he said, “Then do not expect her to. Perhaps she is jealous of you. Perhaps she is afraid you will take what she has from her.”
I said, “I do not want what she has. I do not even know what it is.”
He said, “Then learn her. Learn what she is really like. People are not always what we expect. And you might be what she does not expect. If you give her what she does not expect, then perhaps she will be other than what you expect. Do you understand what I am saying?”
I said, “I am not sure.”
He said, “For example. If she says something rude, what do you do? Say something rude back to her?”
I said, “Perhaps. Nana Meleth would say I should not, I think, but I would be much tempted to do so.”
He said, “Nana Meleth is right. I know she has the adult point of view, and that can be hard for a young person to understand. So, if you do not say something rude back to this lass, but answer back with kindness, you will be doing the unexpected. It will throw her off balance, she will be vulnerable and her steps will be uncertain. And when she is off her guard thus, that will be your chance to learn her.”
I said, “What does that mean, learn her?”
He said, “To find out why she behaves as she does. What makes her so unhappy. What could make her lovely or interesting. There may be a good deal of darkness to cut through. Do not expect results overnight. You’ll need patience, I am certain. From what source do you draw your strength?”
I said, “From those who love me, and my hope of being together with them someday in a beautiful place. And from the stories of those who saved the land for us. And from knowing that I am connected with them. And from the Powers that sent Nana Meleth back to me.”
He said, “You have that advantage then. Those are the wells from which you may draw patience, and kindness, and understanding and forgiveness. These attributes will save you as they have saved you, and will save others as you draw upon them and use them to your own advantage.”
I said, “I will try to remember.”
I learned something about all my roommates the first day. Did you know they are all orphans? Gilglin lost her father when she was very small, and her mother a few years later. Kaerwyn’s father was killed in the War by orcs when she was about 5 yrs. old, and her mother sickened and died 3 yrs. ago. She used to have a horse, she said. I think she misses the horse more than her mum. It had to be sold after her mother died. She cries every time she talks about it. I would like to buy it back for her, if it can be found, but she does not know where it is. I have written a letter to the King of Rohan asking if he could see if it could be found for her. I have a little money saved from when I used to help Mikala care for the children. It is not enough to buy a horse yet, but I told the King perhaps I could give him some more money later on. The horse is grey with white stockings and a white blaze on her face, and her name is Lightning. If anyone speaks of her, will you please tell me?
Illi was orphaned when she was a baby, but her grandmother raised her, so she is luckier than the others. She is quite sweet, and sometimes funny. I have still not told them of Gaergath and Duathris and the rest of it, and I do not think I ever will. I think it would frighten the others to know of it.
Gilglin is harder to know than the others. She is bossy and sharp, and sometimes I would hate her if I did not know of her past. Yet she is very smart and good to study with. She gets things done, and tells you how to find answers, without telling you the answers herself. Likely she will be a prefect next year. That is a position of leadership amongst the students. Perhaps I can be one too, someday, but I do not know if I should like to be. Illi says I would make a good one, however.
The other girls call our room The Orphanage, and some look down their noses at us because we have no parents. I consider that most unkind of them! I thought this was supposed to be a school for intelligent girls? I do not consider that sort of behavior to be very intelligent, however. Did we kill our parents, or something? No! So why should we be blamed for being orphans? Well, perhaps I helped to kill Duathris somewhat, but I did not mean to. I only wished to stop her from killing you, Ada. I would not have killed her even though she was so bad to me. I do not know why I should have loved her, but I did. Because she was my mother I guess. But then I do not love Gaergath, so perhaps he was not my father after all. I hope he was not. But if not, who was?
I am so glad you are my father now, Ada Greenjade. I think I would be dead soon, but for you. And if I were dead, where would I be? With Nana Meleth in the Halls, I suppose. That would have been a good thing. But then I would not know you, and I cannot imagine that. It is all right if you wish to show this letter to the others, Ada. I have not time to write to everyone. I wish I did. Please greet them all for me.
Oh, and the others know I am an Elf by now. Some of the girls, I could see them trying to look at my ears. They would circle around me pretending to be looking for something else, but I could see them looking at my hair and I knew they were trying to see my ears. So finally I lifted my hair and showed them. They jumped back as though a mouse had come out of my ears! It was funny, but rather embarrassing. Illi said it was rude of them. I must agree. Now they ask me questions about being an Elf. Like: can I do magic? Nay! Am I immortal? Aye! Can I see through walls? Can I fly? Did I ever live in a tree? Was I born in the First Age, or the Second? Did I ever see an orc? Do I have hairy feet? When they asked me that, I thought I would die laughing!
But let me tell you what happened. At night, they do not let us burn candles in our rooms. We all do not like the dark, but the Headmistress is afraid we may set something on fire. There are lights burning very low in the hallway, so that we can see if we need to get up in the night. But they do not burn as brightly as I am used to, and bring little comfort. So after I was in bed, I noticed something glowing at my breast, and saw it was the Queen’s ring! I took it from the chain and put it on my finger. It was a very soft light, but beautiful, like a tiny star on my finger. I laid my hand on my heart and thought of you and Nana and the others, and Elladan also, and said my prayer, and then I could sleep. Well, in the morning the girls were all looking at me so strangely. I asked them what was the matter. And Illi said, “Do you know, that you glow at night?”
I said, “Aye, Ada Greenjade told me.”
And Illi said, “Are you from the Moon?”
I said, “Nay.” The others just stared at me. I said, “It is an elvish thing.”
Illi said, “I am glad of it. It makes the night seem less fearful for me.”
Kaerwyn said, “For me also. I hate the darkness.”
Gilglin just looked at me. I could not tell what she was thinking. I could not tell if she disliked me still, or was afraid of me, or what. Her bed is next to mine. The others are across the room from us.
But later in the day, when I went into the room to get my books for study, she followed me in, and said, “May I talk to you?” I said yes. But I wished she had not followed me. I did not really wish to talk to her. Then I remembered what Radagast said about learning her. She did not sound angry.
I sat on my bed and she sat on hers, across from me, and folded her hands between her knees, and sat silent for a moment. And then she tol me after her parents were killed, she had to go live in an orphan’s home. It was a terrible place, and she was sometimes badly treated and not given enough to eat. She had an older brother but he ran away long ago, and she does not know where he has gone. She shivered while she talked. Her brother was bad to her too, sometimes. She does not miss him. But he was all she had.
I was very uncomfortable while she talked. I wanted to tell her of the bad things that had been done to me, also. But I could not. I wanted to run away. I wished she was not telling me these things.
I said, “Do you still live at the orphanage?”
She said, “No, I live here. In holiday times, Mistress Haldaraina lets me stay at her house. Kaerwyn too.” Then she said, “I did not mean to be bad to you. But you cannot understand. Even though you are an orphan too. You do not have to live in an orphanage. You lived in a palace, and all were good to you. You were beautiful and an Elf, and all loved you.”
Oh, I wanted to tell her! But I could not.
I only said, “I lived in a bad place once. But I do not wish to speak of it. Not now.”
She said, “You did?”
And I said, “Aye. But Ada Greenjade rescued me from it.”
She said, “Tell me about it.”
I said, “I do not want to. Not now. Maybe later.”
We went back to the study, but I could not concentrate. I was thinking of the things she told me, and wondering why she did. She kept looking at me, and I wished she would not.
Then that night, she awoke screaming. I was terrified at the first, and so were the others. But I went to her, and sat on her bed, and took her hand, and placed it over my ring. She calmed down after that, and even smiled a little. She did not tell us of her dream.
But I still cannot tell her yet. I think I shall invite her and Kaerwyn to be our guests in the cottage this weekend, however. I hope Nana Meleth will not object. ….
I keep Cinnamon sitting on the chair beside my bed in the day-time. I would set her on the bed, but the Headmistress does not like for us to put things on our beds. Gilglin sniffed at her at the first, but she does not say anything. Illi thinks she is lovely. I must agree!
It’s been three days since I last wrote. So I hope you will forgive me if this letter is very long.
I think I like Gilglin best after all. She is quite interesting. Other girls don’t like her so much. I wish Kaerwyn and Illi would stand up for her more. I suppose they are afraid of the other girls. I understand this, but I am not afraid of them, so why should they be? There is a girl down the hall named Theliel, who told me that Gilglin nearly killed her last year. I asked Gilglin if it were true and she said Theliel kept taunting her and saying mean things about her parents, and finally Gilglin lost her temper and jumped right on her! Theliel’s nose was bleeding and her left eye was black by the time the adults came and stopped the fight. I cannot blame Gilglin for attacking her. I do not know what I would have done. Perhaps just as she did. I do not like to think I could nearly kill someone, however.
Theliel goes about saying horrid things about Gilglin behind her back now, for she is afraid of her since that fight. She says Gilglin is ugly. I don’t think so. I think her very nice to look at when she is not scowling. And I do not think Theliel is so good looking herself!
One day she told me Gilglin told her I was a fairy princess who was used to having everything my own way. I was upset, and I ran to Gilglin and asked her if it was true. She said nay, and Theliel is naught but a liar and a coward. So one day I said to her, “I am writing a letter to the King about the Academy. What should I say of you?” She has been avoiding me ever since!
Gilglin asked me what was wrong with me, one day after that. I did not know anything was wrong. I was just in a sad mood, thinking of what Theliel had said. I was thinking of Duathris also, and could not stop.
And then suddenly, I told her all. I told her of my life in Duathris's castle, and of Nana Meleth, and of Gaergath, all of it. She was looking at me so strangely and I thought she was going to accuse me of making up stories. Then I burst into tears. I could not stop. I wanted to stop, for I was afraid the others would come in, and I did not wish to tell them. I would have to make up a story. Then Gilglin put her arms about me and held me tightly and after a while I stopped crying and leaned against her. I hope Nana Meleth will not object to Gilglin coming to stay with us for the weekend. I have not told her about the fight. Do you think I should?
I cannot wait to see you again, and to have the Wedding. Are you not excited? I am!
With so much love,
Your very own Serilinn
Elladan had received a letter from Serilinn also. Greenjade watched him read it, wishing he might ask to see it. The Elf smiled as he read, and he seemed to glow softly, himself. Elrohir watched his brother with wistful envy. Then Elladan noticed, and held the letter to him. Elrohir took it and glanced over it, then handed it back without a word. Then Elladan saw Greenjade watching him and trying not to be too obvious about it.
“You would like to see this, I am sure, Ada?” Elladan said a bit teasingly.
“Aye, that I would,” Greenjade said. No point in pretending otherwise. Elladan handed it to him. Greenjade took it and began to read. It consisted of two pages. Serilinn mostly described her classes, and related some amusing anecdotes about her life at the school. Greenjade found himself smiling also, then he returned the letter to Elladan, thanking him for letting him read.
Elladan always offered thereafter to let Greenjade read her letters to him, but Greenjade declined, albeit with difficulty.
“She wrote them for you,” he said, “as she wrote mine for me. We will trust each other now. Although in very truth, it still seems wondrous strange to me, to think of having a son-in-law almost three thousand years older than myself.”