Lloyd Alexander - Chronicles of Prydain 04 - Taran Wanderer

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Lloyd Alexander - Chronicles of Prydain 04 - Taran Wanderer

    Taran Wanderer

    The Chronicles of Prydain

     Book Four

    Lloyd Alexander

Copyright ? 1967

    ISBN No. 0-440-48483-9 Published by

    Bantam Doubleday

    Dell Books for Young ReadersApril, 1990

    Table of Contents Author’s Note

    Chapter 1: Who am I?

    Chapter 2: Cantrev Cadiffor

    Chapter 3: Goryon and Gast Chapter 4: A Matter of Cows Chapter 5: A Judgment Chapter 6: A Frog Chapter 7: Friends in Danger Chapter 8: The Walls of Thorns Chapter 9: The Hand of Morda Chapter 10: The Broken Spell Chapter 11: Dorath Chapter 12: The Wager Chapter 13: The Lost Lamb Chapter 14: The End of Summer Chapter 15: The Open Cage Chapter 16: Taran Wanderer Chapter 17: The Weir Chapter 18: The Free Commots Chapter 19: The Potter’s Wheel Chapter 20: The Spoilers Chapter 21: The Mirror

    Author’s Note

    THIS FOURTH CHRONICLE of Prydain begins as a gallant, high-hearted quest, which soon becomesmore intense and perhaps more essentially heroic than the preceding adventures. For here, Tarancomes to grips with a merciless opponent: the truth about himself. No longer as Taran AssistantPig-Keeper but as Taran Wanderer, he learns to reshape his life out of his own inner resources;for there must not only be an end to childhood but also a beginning of manhood. This is meantto be a serious tale—in the way that all humor is serious and all fantasy true—and if thereis no conventionally happy ending in fairy-tale terms, there is still a most hopeful ending inhuman terms.

    This does not imply any less humor or variety in the story. There is possibly more, as Taran’sjourney takes him from one end of Prydain to the other, from the Marshes of Morva to the FreeCommots. However, instead of a clash of battle hosts, the underlying conflict between good andevil is stated in individual encounters: King Smoit, boisterous with being alive; Morda,deathlike, scornful of all humanity; Dorath the amoral; Annlaw Clay-Shaper the creator;Craddoc, in whose desolate valley Taran suffers the anguish of shame. The Princess Eilonwy,alas, is present only in memory, though it is hoped readers will miss her as much as Tarandoes—and the author himself, for that matter.

    While certain inhabitants of Prydain were born of Welsh legend, in Taran Wanderer they have

    acquired characteristics more universal than specific. Morda’s life secret, for example, isfamiliar in many mythologies. Orddu, Orwen, and Orgoch have appeared in other guises (as mightwell be expected of them): the Three Norns, the Moirae, the Triple Goddess, and very likelysome other transformations they decline to admit. Prydain, of course, is part-memory and part-dream, the balance favoring the latter.

    The Companions have gained many more friends than I had ever hoped, who are willing to followthese tales both as self-contained chronicles and as part of a larger pattern; and to them Ipromise in time all questions will be answered and all secrets revealed. To some friends of theCompanions (especially Gypsy Reeves) I address a plea for clemency; to others, my sincerethanks for their hard but invaluable labor, insight, and encouragement when the straits seemedeven more dire to an author than to an Assistant Pig-Keeper; and to all, my warmest affection.

    — Lloyd Alexander

    Chapter 1

     Who am I?

    IT WAS FULL SPRINGTIME, with promise of the richest summer the farm had ever seen. The orchardwas white with fragrant blossoms; the newly planted fields lay light as green mist. Yet thesights and scents gave Taran little joy. To him, Caer Dallben was empty. Though he helped Collwith the weeding and cultivating, and tended the white pig, Hen Wen, with as much care as ever,he went about his tasks distractedly. One thought alone was in his mind.

    “Now, my boy,” Coll said good-naturedly, as they finished the morning’s milking, “I’veseen you restless as a wolf on a tether ever since you came back from the Isle of Mona. Pinefor the Princess Eilonwy if you must, but don’t upset the milk pail.” The stout old warriorclapped Taran on the shoulder. “Come, cheer up. I’ll teach you the high secrets of plantingturnips. Or raising cabbages. Or whatever you might want to know.”

    Taran shook his head. “What I would know only Dallben can tell me.”

    “Take my counsel, then,” said Coll. “Trouble Dallben with none of your questions. Histhoughts are on deeper matter. Have patience and bide your time.”

    Taran rose to his feet. “I can bide my time no longer. It is in my heart to speak with himnow.”

    “Have a care,” warned Coll as Taran strode to the door of the shed. “His disposition rubs alittle thin!”

    Taran made his way through the cluster of low-roofed farm buildings. In the cottage, at thehearthside, a black-robed woman crouched and tended the cooking fire. She did not raise herhead or speak. It was Achren. Thwarted in her scheme to regain her ancient power, from theruined Castle of Llyr the once-haughty Queen had accepted the refuge Dallben offered; though,by her own choice, she who had long ago ruled Prydain toiled now at the tasks Eilonwy had donebefore departing for Mona, and at day’s end silently vanished to her pallet of straw in thegranary.

    Before Dallben’s chamber Taran paused uneasily, then rapped quickly on the door. Entering atthe enchanter’s command, he found Dallben bent over The Book of Three , which lay open on the

    cluttered table. Much as he longed for a glimpse at even one page of this secret volume, Tarankept his distance from it. Once, in boyhood, he had dared touch the ancient, leather-boundtome, and his fingers smarted again at the memory.

    “I never cease to wonder,” Dallben testily remarked, closing The Book of Three and glancing

    at Taran, “that the young, with all their pride of strength, should find their own concernssuch a weighty burden they must be shared with the old. Whereas, the old”—he waved a frail,bony hand. “But no matter, no matter. For the sake of my temper I hope your purpose ininterrupting me is an excellent one.

    “First, before you ask,” Dallben went on, “I assure you the Princess Eilonwy is well and nomore unhappy than any pretty young madcap obliged to turn a hand to sewing instead of sword-play. Second, you are as aware as I am that Kaw has not yet returned. By now, I daresay he hasborne my potion to Glew’s cavern, and the giant-by-accident who troubled you so much on Monawill shrink to the small stature he once had. But you also know your crow for a rascal and oneto linger wherever he finds sport. Finally, an Assistant Pig-Keeper should have tasks enough tobusy himself outdoors. What, then, brings you here?”

    “One thing only,” Taran said. “All that I have I owe to your kindness. You have given me ahome and a name, and let me live as a son in your household. Yet who am I, in truth? Who are myparents? You have taught me much, but kept this always from me.”

    “Since it has been always thus,” Dallben replied, “why should it trouble you now?”

    When Taran bowed his head and did not answer, the old enchanter smiled shrewdly at him. “Speakup, my boy. If you want truth, you should begin by giving it. Behind your question I think Isee the shadow of a certain golden-haired Princess. Is that not so?”

    Taran’s face flushed. “It is so,” he murmured. He raised his eyes to meet Dallben’s. “WhenEilonwy returns, it—it is in my heart to ask her to wed. But this I cannot do,” he burst out,“this I will not do until I learn who I am. An unknown foundling with a borrowed name cannotask for the hand of a Princess. What is my parentage? I cannot rest until I know. Am I lowlyborn or nobly?”

    “To my mind,” Dallben said softly, “the latter would please you better.”

    “It would be my hope,” Taran admitted, a little abashed. “But no matter. If there ishonor—yes, let me share it. If there is shame, let me face it.”

    “It takes as much strength of heart to share the one as to face the other,” Dallben repliedgently. He turned his careworn face to Taran. “But alas,” he said, “what you ask I may notanswer. Prince Gwydion knows no more than I,” he went on, sensing Taran’s thought. “Nor canthe High King Math help you.”

    “Then let me learn for myself,” Taran cried. “Give me leave to seek my own answer.”

    Dallben studied him carefully. The enchanter’s eyes fell on The Book of Three and he gazed

    long at it, as though his glance penetrated deep into the worn leather volume.

    “Once the apple is ripe,” he murmured to himself, “no man can turn it back to a greening.”His voice grew heavy with sorrow as he said to Taran, “Is this indeed your wish?”

    Taran’s heart quickened. “I ask nothing more.”

    Dallben nodded. “So it must be. Journey, then, wherever you choose. Learn what lies in yourpower to learn.”

    “You have all my thanks,” Taran cried joyfully, bowing deeply. “Let me start without delay.I am ready…”

    Before he could finish the door burst open and a shaggy figure sped across the chamber andflung itself at Taran’s feet. “No, no, no!” howled Gurgi at the top of his voice, rockingback and forth and waving his hairy arms. “Sharp-eared Gurgi hears all! Oh, yes, withlistenings behind the door!” His face wrinkled in misery and he shook his matted head soviolently he nearly sprawled flat on the floor. “Poor Gurgi will be lone and lorn withwhinings and pinings!” he moaned. “Oh, he must go with master, yes, yes!”

    Taran put a hand on Gurgi’s shoulder. “It would sadden me to leave you, old friend. But myroad, I fear, may be a long one.”

    “Faithful Gurgi will follow!” pleaded Gurgi. “He is strong, bold, and clever to keep kindlymaster from harmful hurtings!”

    Gurgi began snuffling loudly, whimpering and moaning more desperately than before; and Taran,who could not bring himself to deny the unhappy creature, looked questioningly at Dallben.

    A strange glance of pity crossed the enchanter’s face. “Gurgi’s staunchness and good sense Ido not doubt,” he said to Taran. “Though before your search is ended, the comfort of hiskindly heart may stand you in better stead. Yes,” he added slowly, “if Gurgi is willing, lethim journey with you.”

    Gurgi gave a joyous yelp, and Taran bowed gratefully to the enchanter.

    “So be it,” Dallben said. “Your road indeed will not be easy, but set out on it as youchoose. Though you may not find what you seek, you will surely return a little wiser—andperhaps even grown to manhood in your own right.”

    That night Taran lay restless. Dallben had agreed the two companions could depart in themorning, but for Taran the hours until sunrise weighed like the links of a heavy chain. A planhad formed in his mind, but he had said nothing of it to Dallben, Coll, or Gurgi; for he washalf fearful of what he had decided. While his heart ached at the thought of leaving CaerDallben, it ached the more with impatience to begin his journey; and it was as though hisyearning for Eilonwy, the love he had often hidden or even denied, now swelled like a flood,driving him before it.

    Long before dawn Taran rose and saddled the gray, silver-maned stallion, Melynlas. While Gurgi,blinking and yawning, readied his own mount, a short, stocky pony almost as shaggy as himself,Taran went alone to Hen Wen’s enclosure. As though she had already sensed Taran’s decision,the white pig squealed dolefully as he knelt and put an arm around her.

    “Farewell, Hen,” Taran said, scratching her bristly chin. “Remember me kindly. Coll willcare for you until I… Oh, Hen,” he murmured, “shall I come happily to the end of my quest?Can you tell me? Can you give me some sign of good hope?”

    In answer, however, the oracular pig only wheezed and grunted anxiously. Taran sighed and gaveHen Wen a last affectionate pat. Dallben had hobbled into the dooryard, and beside him Collraised a torch, for the morning still was dark. Like Dallben’s, the old warrior’s face in thewavering light was filled with fond concern. Taran embraced them, and to him it seemed his lovefor both had never been greater than at this leave-taking as they said their farewells.

    Gurgi sat hunched atop the pony. Slung from his shoulder was his leather wallet with itsinexhaustible supply of food. Bearing only his sword at his belt and the silver-bound battlehorn Eilonwy had given him, Taran swung astride the impatient Melynlas, constraining himselfnot to glance backward, knowing if he did, his parting would grieve him the more deeply.

    The two wayfarers rode steadily while the sun climbed higher above the rolling, tree-fringedhills. Taran had spoken little, and Gurgi trotted quietly behind him, delving now and againinto the leather wallet for a handful of food which he munched contentedly. When they halted towater their mounts at a stream, Gurgi clambered down and went to Taran’s side.

    “Kindly master,” he cried, “faithful Gurgi follows as he leads, oh, yes! Where does hejourney first with amblings and ramblings? To noble Lord Gwydion at Caer Dathyl? Gurgi longs tosee high golden towers and great halls for feastings.”

    “I, too,” answered Taran. “But it would be labor lost. Dallben has told me Prince Gwydionand King Math know nothing of my parentage.”

    “Then to kingdom of Fflewddur Fflam? Yes, yes! Bold bard will welcome us with meetings andgreetings, with merry hummings and strummings!”

    Taran smiled at Gurgi’s eagerness, but shook his head. “No, my friend, not to Caer Dathyl,nor to Fflewddur’s realm.” He turned his eyes westward. “I have thought carefully of this,and believe there is only one place where I might find what I seek,” he said slowly. “TheMarshes of Morva.”

    No sooner had he spoken these words than he saw Gurgi’s face turn ashen. The creature’s jawdropped; he clapped his hands to his shaggy head, and began gasping and choking frightfully.

    “No, oh, no!” Gurgi howled. “Dangers lurk in evil Marshes! Bold but cautious Gurgi fears forhis poor tender head! He wants never to return there. Fearsome enchantresses would have turnedhim into a toad with hoppings and floppings! Oh, terrible Orddu! Terrible Orwen! And Orgoch,oh, Orgoch, worst of all!”

    “Yet I mean to face them again,” Taran said. “Orddu, Orwen, and Orgoch—she, or they, orwhatever they may really be—are as powerful as Dallben. Perhaps more powerful. Nothing ishidden from them; all secrets are open. They would know the truth. Could it not be,” he wenton, his voice quickening hopefully, “could it not be that my parents were of noble lineage?And for some secret reason left me with Dallben to foster?”

    “But kindly master is noble!” Gurgi cried. “Noble, generous, and good to humble Gurgi! Noneed to ask enchantresses!”

    “I speak of noble blood,” Taran replied, smiling at Gurgi’s, protests. “If Dallben cannottell me, then Orddu may. Whether she will, I do not know,” he added. “But I must try.

    “I won’t have you risk your poor tender head,” Taran continued. “You shall find a hidingplace at the edge of the Marshes and wait for me there.”

    “No, no,” Gurgi moaned. He blinked wretchedly and his voice fell so low that Taran couldscarcely hear his trembling whisper. “Faithful Gurgi follows, as he promised.”

    They set out again. For some days after fording Great Avren they bore quickly westward alongthe green slopes of the riverbank, leaving it reluctantly to wend north across a fallow plain.Gurgi’s face puckered anxiously, and Taran sensed the creature’s disquiet no less than hisown. The closer they drew to the Marshes the more he questioned the wisdom of his choice. Hisplan which had seemed so fitting in the safety of Caer Dallben now struck him as rash, afoolhardy venture. There were moments when, Taran admitted to himself, had Gurgi spun the ponyabout and bolted homeward, he would have gladly done likewise.

    Another day’s travel and the marshland stretched before them, bleak, ugly, untouched byspring. The sight and scent of the bogs and the dull, stagnant pools filled Taran withloathing. The rotting turf sucked greedily at the hooves of Melynlas. The pony snortedfearfully. Warning Gurgi to stay close behind him and stray neither to the right nor left,Taran cautiously guided the stallion through beds of reeds shoulder-high, keeping to the firmerground at the rim of the swamps.

    The narrow neck at the upper reaches of the Marshes could be crossed with least danger, and thepath indeed was burned into his memory. Here, when he and Eiionwy, Gurgi, and Fflewddur hadsought the Black Cauldron, the Huntsmen of Annuvin had attacked them, and Taran had lived themoment again and again in nightmares. Giving Melynlas rein, he beckoned to Gurgi and rode intothe Marshes. The stallion faltered a sickening instant, then found footing on the chain ofislands that lay beneath the brackish water. At the far side, without Taran’s urging, Melynlasbroke into a gallop, and the pony pelted after, as though fleeing for its life. Beyond thestunted trees at the end of a long gully, Taran halted. Orddu’s cottage lay straight ahead.

    Built against the side of a high mound, half-hidden by sod and branches, it seemed in evengreater disrepair than Taran had remembered. The thatched roof, like a huge bird’s nest,straggled down to block the narrow windows; a spider web of mold covered the walls, whichlooked ready to tumble at any moment. In the crooked doorway stood Orddu herself.

    Heart pounding, Taran swung from the saddle. Holding his head high, in a silence broken only bythe chattering of Gurgi’s teeth, he strode slowly across the dooryard. Orddu was watching himwith sharp, black eyes. If she was surprised, the enchantress gave no sign other than to bendforward a little and peer more closely at Taran. Her shapeless robe flapped about her knees;the jeweled clasps and pins glittered in her weedy tangle of disheveled hair as she nodded herhead rapidly and with evident satisfaction.

    “Yes, and so it is!” Orddu called out pleasantly. “The dear little fledgling andthe—whatever-you-call-it. But you’ve grown much taller, my duck. How troublesome it must beshould you ever want to climb down a rabbit hole. Come in, come in,” she hurried on,beckoning. “So pale you are, poor thing. You’ve not been ill?”

    Taran followed her not without uneasiness, while Gurgi, shuddering, clung to him. “Beware,beware,” the creature whimpered. “Warm welcomings give Gurgi frosty chillings.”

    The three enchantresses, so far as Taran could see, had been busy at household tasks. Orgoch,her black hood shrouding her features, sat on a rickety stool, trying without great success totease cockleburs from a lapful of wool shearings. Orwen, if indeed it was Orwen, was turning arather lopsided spinning wheel; the milky white beads dangling from her neck seemed in dangerof catching in the spokes. Orddu herself, he guessed, had been at the loom that stood amidpiles of ancient, rusted weapons in a corner of the cottage. The work on the frame had goneforward somewhat, but it was far from done; knotted, twisted threads straggled in alldirections, and what looked like some of Orgoch’s cockleburs were snagged in the warp andweft. Taran could make out nothing of the pattern, though it seemed to him, as if by some trickof his eyes, that vague shapes, human and animal, moved and shifted through the weaving.

    But he had no chance to study the curious tapestry. Orwen, leaving the wheel, hastened to him,clapping her hands delightedly.

    “The wandering chicken and the gurgi!” she cried. “And how is dear little Dallben? Does hestill have The Book of Three ? And his beard? How heavy it must be for him. The book, not thebeard,” she added. “Did he not come with you? More’s the pity. But no matter. It’s so

charming to have visitors.”

    “I don’t care for visitors,” muttered Orgoch, irritably tossing the wool to the ground.“They disagree with me.”

    “Of course they do, greedy thing!” Orwen replied sharply. “And a wonder it is that we haveany at all.”

    At this, Orgoch snorted and mumbled under her breath. Beneath her black hood Taran glimpsed ashadowy grimace.

    Orddu raised a hand. “Pay Orgoch no heed,” she said to Taran. “She’s out of sorts today,poor dear. It was Orwen’s turn to be Orgoch, and Orgoch was so looking forward to being Orwen.Now she’s disappointed, since Orwen at the last moment simply refused—not that I blame her,”Orddu whispered. “I don’t enjoy being Orgoch either. But we’ll make it up to her somehow.

    “And you,” Orddu went on, a smile wrinkling her lumpy face, “you are the boldest of boldgoslings. Few in Prydain have been willing to brave the Marshes of Morva; and of those few, notone has dared to return. Perhaps Orgoch disheartens them. You alone have done so, my chick.”

    “Oh, Orddu, he is a brave hero,” Orwen put in, looking at Taran with girlish admiration.

    “Don’t talk nonsense, Orwen,” Orddu replied. “There are heroes and heroes. I don’t denyhe’s acted bravely on occasion. He’s fought beside Lord Gwydion and been proud of himself asa chick wearing eagle’s feathers. But that’s only one kind of bravery. Has the darling robinever scratched for his own worms? That’s bravery of another sort. And between the two, dearOrwen, he might find the latter shows the greater courage.” The enchantress turned to Taran.“But speak up, my fledgling. Why do you seek us again?”

    “Don’t tell us,” interrupted Orwen. “Let us guess. Oh, but I do love games, though Orgochalways spoils them.” She giggled. “You shall give us a thousand and three guesses and I shallbe first to ask.”

    “Very well, Orwen, if it pleases you,” Orddu said indulgently. “But are a thousand and threeenough? A young lamb can want for so much.”

    “Your concern is with things as they are,” Taran said, forcing himself to look theenchantress in the eyes, “and with things as they must be. I believe you know my quest fromits beginning to its end, and that I seek to learn my parentage.”

    “Parentage?” said Orddu. “Nothing easier. Choose any parents you please. Since none of youhas ever known each other, what difference can it possibly make—to them or to you? Believewhat you like. You’ll be surprised how comforting it is.”

    “I ask no comfort,” Taran replied, “but the truth, be it harsh or happy.”

    “Ah, my sweet robin,” said- Orddu, “for the finding of that, nothing is harder. There arethose who have spent lifetimes at it, and many in worse plight than yours.

    “There was a frog, some time ago,” Orddu went on cheerfully. “I remember him well, poordear; never sure whether he was a land creature, who liked swimming under water, or a watercreature, who liked sunning himself on logs. We turned him into a stork with a keen appetitefor frogs, and from then on he had no doubts as to who he was—nor did the other frogs, for thematter of that. We would gladly do the same for you.”

    “For both of you,” said Orgoch.

    “No!” yelled Gurgi, ducking behind Taran. “Oh, kindly master, Gurgi warned of fearsomechangings and arrangings!”

    “Don’t forget the serpent,” Orwen told Orddu, “all fretted and perplexed because he didn’tknow if he was green with brown spots or brown with green ones. We made him an invisibleserpent,” she added, “with brown and green spots, so he could be clearly seen and not troddenon. He was so grateful and much easier in his mind after that.”

    “And I recall,” croaked Orgoch, huskily clearing her throat, “there was a…”

    “Do be still, Orgoch,” Orwen interrupted. “Your tales always have such—such untidyendings.”

    “You see, my pullet,” Orddu said, “we can help you in many ways, all quicker and simplerthan any you might think of. What would you rather be? If you want my opinion, I suggest ahedgehog; it’s a safer life than most. But don’t let me sway your choice; it’s entirely upto you.”

    “On the contrary, let’s surprise them,” cried Orwen in happy excitement. “We’ll decideamong ourselves and spare them the tedious business of making up their minds. They’ll be allthe more pleased. How charming it will be to see the look on their little faces—or beaks orwhatever it is they finally have.”

    “No fowls,” grumbled Orgoch. “No fowls, in any case. Can’t abide them. Feathers make mecough.”

    Gurgi’s fright had so mounted he could only babble wordlessly. Taran felt his own blood runcold. Orddu had taken a step forward and Taran defensively reached for his sword.

    “Now, now, my chicken,” Orddu cheerily remarked, “don’t lose your temper, or you may loseconsiderably more. You know your blade is useless here, and waving swords is no way to setanyone in a proper frame of mind. It was you who chose to put yourselves in our hands.”

    “Hands?” growled Orgoch. From the depths of the hood her eyes flashed redly and her mouthbegan twitching.

    Taran stood firm. “Orddu,” he said, keeping his voice as steady as he could, “will you tellme what I ask? If not, we will go our way.”

    “We were only trying to make things easier for you,” said Orwen, pouting and fingering herbeads. “You needn’t take offense.”

    “Of course we shall tell you, my brave tadpole,” Orddu said. “You shall know all you seek toknow, directly we’ve settled another matter: the price to be paid. Since what you ask is ofsuch importance—to yourself, at least—the cost may be rather high. But I’m sure you thoughtof that before you came.”

    “When we sought the Black Cauldron,” Taran began, “you took Adaon’s enchanted brooch infee, the one thing I treasured most. Since then I have found nothing I have prized more.”

    “But, my chicken,” said Orddu, “we struck that bargain long ago; it is over and done. Areyou saying you brought nothing with you? Why, count yourself lucky to become a hedgehog, sinceyou can afford little else.”

    “Last time,” Orgoch hoarsely whispered in Orddu’s ear, “you would have taken one of theyoung lamb’s summer days, and a tasty morsel it would have been.”

    “You are always thinking of your own pleasures, Orgoch,” replied Orddu. “You might at leasttry to think of what we all would like.”

    “There was a golden-haired girl with him then,” Orwen put in, “a pretty little creature. Hesurely has lovely memories of her. Could we not take them?” She went on eagerly. “Howdelightful it would be to spread them out and look at them during long winter evenings. Alas,he would have none for himself, but I think it would be an excellent bargain.”

    Taran caught his breath. “Even you would not be so pitiless.”

    “Would we not?” answered Orddu, smiling. “Pity, dear gosling—as you know it, atleast—simply doesn’t enter into the question as far as we’re concerned. However,” she wenton, turning to Orwen, “that won’t answer either. We already have quite enough memories.”

    “Hear me then,” cried Taran, drawing himself to his full height. He clenched his hands tokeep them from trembling. “It is true I own little to treasure, not even my name. Is therenothing you will have of me? This I offer you,” he went on quickly in a low voice. He felt hisbrow dampen. Though he had taken this decision at Caer Dallben and weighed it carefully, withthe moment upon him, he nearly, faltered and longed to turn from it.

    “Whatever thing of value I may find in all my life to come,” Taran said, “the greatesttreasure that may come into my hands—I pledge it to you now. It shall be yours, and you shallclaim it when you please.”

    Orddu did not answer, only looked at him curiously. The other enchantresses were silent. EvenGurgi had ceased his whimpering. The shapes on the loom seemed to writhe before Taran’s eyesas he waited for Orddu to speak.

    The enchantress smiled. “Does your quest mean so much that you will spend what you have notyet gained?”

    “Or may never gain,” croaked Orgoch.

    “No more can I offer,” Taran cried. “You cannot refuse me.”

    “The kind of bargain you propose,” said Orddu in a pleasant but matter-of-fact tone, “is achancy thing at best, and really satisfies no one. Nothing is all that certain, and very oftenwe’ve found the poor sparrow who makes such a pledge never lives long enough to fulfill it.When he does, there is always the risk of his turning—well, shall we say—a little stubborn?It usually ends with unhappy feelings all around. Once, we might have accepted. But sadexperience made us put a stop to it altogether. No, my fledgling, it won’t do. We’re sorry;that is, sorry as much as we can feel sorrow for anything.”

    Taran’s voice caught in his throat. For an instant the features of the enchantress shifted; hecould not be sure whether it was Orddu, Orwen, or Orgoch whom he faced. It was as though therehad risen in front of him a wall of ice which force could not breach nor pleading melt. Despairchoked him. He bowed his head and turned away.

    “But my dear gosling,” Orddu called cheerily, “that’s not to say there aren’t others toanswer your question.”

    “Of course there are,” added Orwen, “and the finding takes no more than the looking.”

    “Who, then?” Taran asked urgently, seizing on this new hope.

    “I recall a brown-and-orange ousel that comes once a year to sharpen his beak on MountKilgwyry,” said Orwen. “He knows all that has ever happened. If you’re patient you mightwait and ask him.”

    “Oh, Orwen,” Orddu interrupted with some impatience, “sometimes I do believe you dwell toomuch in the past. Mount Kilgwyry has been worn down long ago with his pecking and the littledarling has flown elsewhere.

    “You’re so right, dear Orddu,” replied Orwen. “It had slipped my mind for a moment. Butwhat of the salmon of Lake Llew? I’ve never met a wiser fish.”

    “Gone,” muttered Orgoch, sucking a tooth. “Long gone.”

    “In any case, ousels and fishes are flighty and slippery,” Orddu said. “Something morereliable would serve better. You might, for example, try the Mirror of Llunet.”

    “The Mirror of Llunet?” Taran repeated. “I have never heard it spoken of. What is it?Where…”

    “Best yet,” Orgoch broke in, “he could stay with us. And the gurgi, too.”

    “Do try to control yourself, dear Orgoch, when I’m explaining something,” Orddu remarked,then turned back to Taran. “Yes, perhaps if you looked into it, the Mirror of Llunet wouldshow you something of interest.”

    “But where,” Taran began again.

    “Too far,” grumbled Orgoch. “Stay, by all means.”

    “In the Llawgadarn Mountains,” replied Orddu, taking him by the arm, “if it hasn’t beenmoved. But come along, my gosling. Orgoch is growing restless. I know she’d enjoy having youhere, and with two disappointments in the same day I shouldn’t want to account for herbehavior.”

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