Lloyd Alexander - Chronicles of Prydain 05 - The High King

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Lloyd Alexander - Chronicles of Prydain 05 - The High King

    The High King

    The Chronicles of Prydain

     Book Four

    Lloyd Alexander

Copyright ? 1968

    ISBN No. 0-440-43574-9 Published by

    Bantam Doubleday

    Dell Books for Young ReadersApril, 1990

    Table of Contents Author’s Note

    Chapter 1: Homecomings

    Chapter 2: The Letter Sticks

    Chapter 3: The Prophecy Chapter 4: King Smoit’s Castle Chapter 5: The Watcher Chapter 6: A Clutch of Eggs Chapter 7: The King of Mona Chapter 8: The Messengers Chapter 9: The Banner Chapter 10: The Coming of Pryderi Chapter 11: The Fortress Chapter 12: The Red Fallows Chapter 13: Darkness Chapter 14: Daylight Chapter 15: The River of Ice Chapter 16: The Enchanter Chapter 17: The Snowstorm Chapter 18: Mount Dragon Chapter 19: The Death-Lord Chapter 20: The Gift Chapter 21: Farewells

    Author’s Note

    DESPITE THEIR SHORTCOMINGS, no books have given me greater joy in the writing than theChronicles of Prydain. I come sadly to the end of this journey, aware of the impossibility ofcommenting objectively on a work which has absorbed me so long and so personally.

    I must, however, warn readers of this fifth chronicle to expect the unexpected. Its structureis somewhat different, its range wider. If there is more external conflict, I have tried to addmore inner content; if the form follows that of the traditional hero-tale, the individuals, Ihope, are genuinely human And although it deals with a battle on an epic scale, where Taran,Princess Eilonwy, Fflewddur Fflam, even the oracular pig Hen Wen, are pressed to the limits oftheir strength, it is a battle whose aftermath is deeper in consequences than the struggleitself. The final choice, which even faithful Gurgi cannot avoid, is almost too hard to bear.Fortunately, it is never offered to us in the real world—not, at least, in such unmistakableterms. In another sense, we face this kind of choice again and again, because for us it isnever final. Whether the Assistant Pig-Keeper chose well, whether the ending is happy,heartbreaking, or both, readers must decide for themselves.

    Like the previous tales, this adventure can be read independently of the others. Nevertheless,certain long-standing questions are resolved here. Why was that sneering scoundrel, Magg,allowed to escape from the Castle of Llyr? Whatever became of the small-hearted giant, Glew?Can Achren really be trusted in Caer Dallben? And, of course, the secret of Taran’s parentage.Readers who have been asking me these questions will see why I could not, until now, answerthem fully without spoiling the surprises.

    As for Prydain itself, part Wales as it is, but more as it never was: at first, I thought it asmall land existing only in my imagination. Since then, for me it has become much larger. Whileit grew from Welsh legend, it has broadened into my attempt to make a land of fantasy relevantto a world of reality.

    The first friends of the Companions are as steadfast today as they were at the beginning; manyI thought were new have turned out to have been old friends all along. I owe all of themconsiderably more than they may suspect; and, as always, I offer these pages to them fondly,hoping they will find the result not too far below the promise. If time has tried theirpatience with me, it has only deepened my affection for them.

    — Lloyd Alexander

    Chapter 1


    UNDER A CHILL, GRAY SKY, two riders jogged across the turf. Taran, the taller horseman, set hisface against wind and leaned forward in the saddle, his eyes on the distant hills. At his belthung a sword, and from his shoulder a silver-bound battle horn. His companion Gurgi, shaggierthan the pony he rode, pulled his weathered cloak around him, rubbed his frost-nipped ears, andbegan groaning so wretchedly that Taran at last reined up the stallion.

    “No, no!” Gurgi cried. “Faithful Gurgi will keep on! He follows kindly master, oh yes, as hehas always done. Never mind his shakings and achings! Never mind the droopings of his poortender head!”

    Taran smiled, seeing that Gurgi, despite his bold words, was eyeing a sheltering grove of ashtrees. “There is time to spare,” he answered. “I long to be home, but not at the cost ofthat poor tender head of yours. We camp here and go no farther until morning.”

    They tethered their mounts and built a small fire in a ring of stones. Gurgi curled up and wassnoring almost before he had finished swallowing his food. Though as weary as his companion,Taran set about mending the harness leathers. Suddlenly he stopped and jumped to his feet.Overhead, a winged shape plunged swiftly toward him.

    “Look!” Taran cried, as Gurgi, still heavy with sleep, sat up and blinked. “It’s Kaw!Dallben must have sent him to find us.”

    The crow beat his wings, clacked his beak, and began squawking loudly even before he landed onTaran’s outstretched wrist.

    “Eilonwy!” Kaw croaked at the top of his voice. “Eilonwy! Princess! Home!”

    Taran’s weariness fell from him like a cloak. Gurgi, wide awake and shouting joyfully,scurried to unloose the steeds. Taran leaped astride Melynlas, spun the gray stallion about,and galloped from the grove, with Kaw perched on his shoulder and Gurgi and the pony poundingat his heels.

    Day and night they rode, hardly halting for a mouthful of food or a moment of sleep, urging allspeed and strength from their mounts and from themselves, ever southward, down from themountain valley and across Great Avren until, on a bright morning, the fields of Caer Dallbenlay before them once again.

    FROM THE INSTANT Taran set foot across the threshold, such a commotion filled the cottage thathe scarcely knew which way to turn. Kaw had immediately begun jabbering and flapping his wings;Coll, whose great bald crown and broad face shone with delight, was clapping Taran on the back;while Gurgi shouted in glee and leaped up and down in a cloud of shedding hair. Even theancient enchanter Dallben, who seldom let anything disturb his meditations, hobbled out of hischamber to observe the welcomings. In the midst of it all, Taran could hardly glimpse Eilonwy,though he heard the voice of the Princess very clearly above the din.

    “Taran of Caer Dallben,” she cried, as he strove to draw near her, “I’ve been waiting tosee you for days! After all the time I’ve been away learning to be a young lady—as if Iweren’t one before I left—when I’m home at last, you’re not even here!”

    In another moment he was at her side. The slender Princess still wore at her throat thecrescent moon of silver, and on her finger the ring crafted by the Fair Folk. But now a band ofgold circled her brow, and the richness of her apparel made Taran suddenly aware of his travel-stained cloak and muddy boots.

    “And if you think living in a castle is pleasant,” Eilonwy went on, without a pause forbreath, “I can tell you it isn’t. It’s weary and dreary! They’ve made me sleep in beds withgoosefeather pillows enough to stifle you; I’m sure the geese needed them more than I did—thefeathers, that is, not the pillows. And servitors to bring you exactly what you don’t want toeat. And washing your hair whether it needs it or not. And sewing and weaving and curtsying and

    all such I don’t even want to think about. I’ve not drawn a sword for I don’t know howlong…”

    Eilonwy stopped abruptly and looked curiously at Taran. “That’s odd,” she said. “There’ssomething different about you. It’s not your hair, though it does look as if you’d cropped ityourself with your eyes shut. It’s—well, I can’t quite say. I mean, unless you told someonethey’d never guess you were an Assistant Pig-Keeper.”

    Taran laughed fondly at Eilonwy’s puzzled frown. “Alas, it’s been long since last I tendedHen Wen. Indeed, when we journeyed among the folk of the Free Commots, Gurgi and I toiled atnearly everything but pig-keeping. This cloak I wove at the loom of Dwyvach the Weaver-Woman;this sword—Hevydd the Smith taught me the forging of it. And this,” he said with a trace ofsadness; drawing an earthen bowl from his jacket, “such as it is, I made at the wheel ofAnnlaw Clay-Shaper.” He put the bowl in her hands. “If it pleases you, it is yours.”

    “It’s lovely,” answered Eilonwy. “Yes, I shall treasure it. But that’s what I mean, too.I’m not saying you aren’t a good Assistant Pig-Keeper, because I’m sure you’re the best inPrydain, but there’s something more—”

    “You speak truth, Princess,” put in Coll. “He left us a pig-keeper and comes back looking asif he could do all he set his hand to, whatever.”

    Taran shook his head. “I learned I was neither swordsmith nor weaver. Nor, alas, a shaper ofclay. Gurgi and I were already homeward bound when Kaw found us, and here shall we stay.”

    “I’m glad of that,” replied Eilonwy. “All anyone knew about you was that you were wanderingevery which where. Dallben told me you were seeking your parents. Then you met someone youthought was your father but wasn’t. Or was it the other way round? I didn’t altogetherunderstand it.”

    “There is little to understand,” Taran said. “What I sought, I found. Though it was not whatI had hoped.”

    “No, it was not,” murmured Dallben, who had been watching Taran closely. “You found morethan you sought, and gained perhaps more than you know.”

    “I still don’t see why you wanted to leave Caer Dallben,” Eilonwy began.

    Taran had no chance to reply, for now his hand was seized and shaken vigorously.

    “Hullo, hullo!” cried a young man with pale blue eyes and straw-colored hair. His handsomelyembroidered cloak looked as though it had been water-soaked, then wrong out to dry. Hisbootlacings, broken in several places, had been retied in large, straggling knots.

    “Prince Rhun!” Taran had almost failed to recognize him. Rhun had grown taller and leaner,though his grin was as broad as it had ever been.

    “King Rhun, actually,” the young man answered, “since my father died last summer. That’sone of the reasons why Princess Eilonwy is here now. My mother wanted to keep her with us onMona to finish her education. And you know my mother! She’d never have left off with it, eventhough Dallben had sent word Eilonwy was to come home. And so,” he proudly added, “I finallyput my foot down. I ordered a ship fitted out, and off we sailed from Mona Haven. Amazing whata king can do when he sets his mind to it!

    “We’ve brought someone else along, too,” Rhun continued, gesturing toward the fireside whereTaran for the first time noticed a pudgy little man sitting with a cook-pot between his knees.The stranger licked his fingers and wrinkled a flabby nose at Taran. He made no attempt torise, but only nodded curtly while the scraggly fringe of hair around his bulbous head stirredlike weeds under water.

    Taran stared, not believing what he saw. The little man drew himself up and sniffed with amixture of haughtiness arid wounded feelings.

    “One should have no trouble remembering a giant,” he said testily.

    “Remember you?” replied Taran. “How could I not! The cavern on Mona! Last time I saw you,though, you were—bigger, to say the least. But it is you, nevertheless. It is, indeed! Glew!”

    “When I was a giant,” Glew said, “few would have forgotten me so quickly. Unfortunate thatthings worked out as they did. Now, in the cavern—”

    “You’ve started him off again,” Eilonwy whispered to Taran. “He’ll go on like that untilyou’re fairly wilted, about the glorious days when he used to be a giant. He’ll only stoptalking to eat, and only stop eating to talk. I can understand his eating, since he lived onnothing but mushrooms for so long. But he must have been wretched as a giant, and you’d thinkhe’d want to forget it.”

    “I knew Dallben sent Kaw with a potion to shrink Glew back to size,” Taran answered. “Ofwhat happened to him since then, I’ve had no word.”

    That’s what happened to him,” said Eilonwy. “As soon as he got free of the cavern, hemade his way to Rhun’s castle. No one had the heart to turn him away, though he bored us allto tears with those endless, pointless tales of his. We took him with us when we sailed,thinking he’d be grateful to Dallben and want to thank him properly. Not a bit of it! Wealmost had to twist his ears to get him aboard. Now that he’s here, I wish we’d left himwhere he was.”

    “But three of our companions are missing,” Taran said, glancing around the cottage. “Goodold Doli, and Fflewddur Fflam. And I had hoped Prince Gwydion might have come to welcomeEilonwy.”

    “Doli sends his best wishes,” said Coll, “but we shall have to do without his company. Ourdwarf friend is harder to root out of the Fair Folk realm than a stump out of a field. He’llnot budge. As for Fflewddur Fflam, nothing can keep him and his harp from any merrymaking,whatever. He should have been here long since.”

    “Prince Gwydion as well,” Dallben added. “He and I have matters to discuss. Though you youngpeople may doubt it, some of them are even weightier than the homecomings of a Princess and anAssistant Pig-Keeper.”

    “Well, I shall put this on again when Fflewddur and Prince Gwydion arrive,” said Eilonwy,taking the golden circlet from her brow, “just so they can see how it looks. But I won’t wearit a moment longer. It’s rubbed a blister and it makes my head ache—like someone squeezingyour neck, only higher up.”

    “Ah, Princess,” Dallben said, with a furrowed smile, “a crown is more discomfort thanadornment. If you have learned that, you have already learned much.”

    “Learning!” Eilonwy declared. “I’ve been up to my ears in learning. It doesn’t show, soit’s hard to believe it’s there. Wait, that’s not quite true, either. Here, I’ve learnedthis.” From her cloak she drew a large square of folded cloth and almost shyly handed it toTaran. “I embroidered it for you. It’s not finished yet, but I wanted you to have it, evenso. Though I admit it’s not as handsome as the things you’ve made.”

    Taran spread out the fabric. As broad as his outstretched arms, the somewhat straggle-threadedembroidery showed a white, blue-eyed pig against a field of green.

    “It’s meant to be Hen Wen,” Eilonwy explained as Rhun and Gurgi pressed forward to study thehandiwork more closely.

    “At first, I tried to embroider you into it, too,” Eilonwy said to Taran. “Because you’reso fond of Hen and because—because I was thinking of you. But you came out looking like stickswith a bird’s nest on top, not yourself at all. So I had to start over with Hen alone. You’lljust have to make believe you’re standing beside her, a little to the left. Otherwise; I’dnever have got this much done, and I did work the summer on it.”

    “If I was in your thoughts then,” Taran said, “your work gladdens me all the more. No matterthat Hen’s eyes are really brown.”

    Eilonwy looked at him in sudden dismay. “You don’t like it.”

    “I do, in all truth,” Taran assured her. “Brown or blue makes no difference. It will beuseful—”

    “Useful!” cried Eilonwy. “Useful’s not the point! It’s a keepsake, not a horse blanket!Taran of Caer Dallben, you don’t understand anything at all.”

    “At least,” Taran replied, with a good-natured grin, “I know the color of Hen Wen’s eyes.”

    Eilonwy tossed her red-gold hair and put her chin in the air. “Humph!” she said. “And verylikely forgotten the color of mine.”

    “Not so, Princess,” Taran answered quietly. “Nor have I forgotten when you gave me this,”he added, taking up the battle horn. “Its powers were greater than either of us knew. They aregone now, but I treasure it still because it came from your hands.

    “You asked why I sought to know my parentage,” Taran went on. “Because I hoped it wouldprove noble, and give me the right to ask what I dared not ask before. My hope was mistaken.Yet even without it—”

    Taran hesitated, searching for the most fitting words. Before he could speak again, the cottagedoor burst open, and Taran cried out in alarm.

    At the threshold stood Fflewddur Fflam. The bard’s face was ashen, his ragged yellow hair dungto his forehead. On his shoulder he bore the limp body of a man.

    Taran, with Rhun behind him, sprang to help. Gurgi and Eilonwy followed as they lowered thestill figure to the ground. Glew, his pudgy cheeks quivering, stared speechless. At the firstinstant, Taran had nearly staggered at the shock. Now his hands worked quickly, almost ofthemselves, to unclasp the cloak and loosen the torn jacket. Before him, on the hard-packedearth, lay Gwydion Prince of Don.

    Blood crusted the warrior’s wolf-gray hair and stained his weathered face. His lips were drawnback, his teeth set in battle rage. Gwydion’s cloak muffled one arm as though at the last hehad sought to defend himself with this alone.

    “Lord Gwydion is slain!” Eilonwy cried.

    “He lives—though barely,” Taran said. “Fetch medicines,” he ordered Gurgi. “The healingherbs from my saddlebags—” He stopped short and turned to Dallben. “Forgive me. It is notfor me to command under my master’s roof. But the herbs are of great power. Adaon Son ofTaliesin gave them to me long ago. They are yours if you wish them.”

    “I know their nature and have none that will serve better,” Dallben answered. “Nor shouldyou fear to command under any roof, since you have learned to command yourself. I trust yourskill as I see you trust it. Do as you see fit.”

    Coll was already hurrying from the scullery with water in a basin. Dallben, who had knelt atGwydion’s side, rose and turned to the bard.

    “What evil deed is this?” The old enchanter spoke hardly above a whisper, yet his voice rangthrough the cottage and his eyes blazed in anger. “Whose hand dared strike him?”

    “The Huntsmen of Annuvin,” replied Fflewddur. “Two lives they almost claimed. How did youfare?” he urgently asked Taran. “How did you outride them so quickly? Be thankful it went noworse for you.”

    Taran, puzzled, glanced up at the distraught bard. “Your words have no meaning, Fflewddur.”

    “Meaning?” answered the bard. “They mean what they say. Gwydion would have traded his lifefor yours when the Huntsmen set upon you not an hour ago.”

    “Set upon me?” Taran’s perplexity grew. “How can that be? Gurgi and I saw no Huntsmen. Andwe have been at Caer Dallben this hour past.”

    “Great Belin, a Fflam sees what he sees!” cried Fflewddur.

    “A fever is working in you,” Taran said. “You, too, may be wounded more grievously than youknow. Rest easy. We shall give you all the help we can.” He turned again to Gwydion, openedthe packet of herbs which Gurgi had brought, and set them to steep in the basin.

    Dallben’s face was clouded. “Let the bard speak,” he said. “There is much in his words thattroubles me.”

    “Lord Gwydion and I rode together from the northern lands,” Fflewddur began. “We’d crossedAvren and were well on our way here. A little distance ahead of us, in a clearing…” The bardpaused and looked directly at Taran. “I saw you with my own eyes! You were hard pressed. Youshouted to us for help and waved us onward.

    “Gwydion outdistanced me,” Fflewddur went on. “You’d already galloped beyond the clearing.Gwydion rode after you like the wind. Llyan carried me swiftly, but by the time I caught upthere was no sign of you at all, yet Huntsmen a-plenty. They had dragged Gwydion from hissaddle. They would have paid with their own lives had they stood against me,” cried Fflewddur.“But they fled when I rode up. Gwydion was close to death and I dared not leave him.”

    Fflewddur bowed his head. “His hurt was beyond my skill to treat. I could do no more thanbring him here as you see him.

    “You saved his life, my friend,” Taran said.

    “And lost what Gwydion would have given his life to keep!” cried the bard. “The Huntsmenfailed to slay him, but a greater evil has befallen him. They’ve stripped him of hissword—blade and scabbard!”

    Taran caught his breath. Concerned only for his companion’s wounds, he had not seen thatDyrnwyn, the black sword, hung no longer at Gwydion’s side. Terror filled him. Dyrnwyn, theenchanted blade, the flaming weapon of ancient power, was in the Huntsmen’s hands. They wouldbear it to their master: to Arawn Death-Lord, in the dark realm of Annuvin.

    Fflewddur sank to the ground and put his head in his hands. “And my own wits are lost, sinceyou tell me it was not yourself who called out to us.”

    “What you saw I cannot judge,” Taran said. “Gwydion’s life is our first care. We will talkof these things when your memory is clearer.”

    “The harper’s memory is clear enough.” A black-robed woman moved from the dark corner whereshe had been silently listening, and stepped slowly into the midst of the company. Her long,unbound hair glittered like pale silver; the deadly beauty of her face had not altogethervanished, though now it seemed shadowy, worn away, lingering as a dream only half-recalled.

    “Ill fortune mars our meeting, Assistant Pig-Keeper,” Achren said. “But welcome,nonetheless. What, then, do you still fear me?” she added, seeing Taran’s uneasy glance. Shesmiled. Her teeth were sharp. “Neither has Eilonwy Daughter of Angharad forgotten my powers,though it was she who destroyed them at the Castle of Llyr. Yet, since I have dwelt here, haveI not served Dallben as well as any of you?”

    Achren strode to the outstretched form of Gwydion. Taran saw a look almost of pity in her coldeyes. “Lord Gwydion will live,” she said. “But he may find life a crueler fate than death.”She bent and with her fingertips lightly touched the warrior’s brow, then drew her hand awayand faced the bard.

    “Your eyes did not play you false, harper,” Achren said. “You saw what was meant for you tosee. A pig-keeper? Why not, if thus he chose to appear? Only one wields such a power: Arawnhimself, Lord of Annuvin, Land of the Dead.”

    Chapter 2

     The Letter Sticks

    TARAN COULD NOT STIFLE a gasp of fear. The black robed woman glanced at him coldly.

    “Arawn dares not pass the borders of Annuvin in his true form,” Achren said. “To do so wouldmean his death. But he commands all shapes, and they are both shield and mask. To the harperand Lord Gwydion, he showed himself as a pig-keeper. He could as well have appeared as a fox inthe forest, an eagle, even a blind worm if he deemed that would best serve his ends. Yes, Pig-Keeper, with no less ease could he have chosen the form and features of any creature living.For Lord Gwydion, what better lure than the sight of a companion in danger—one who had foughtoften at his side, known to him, and trusted. Gwydion is too shrewd a warrior to be taken in aweaker snare.”

    “Then all of us are lost,” Taran said, dismayed. “The Lord of Annuvin can move among us ashe pleases, and we are without defense against him.”

    “You have reason to fear, Pig-Keeper,” replied Achren. “Now you glimpse one of Arawn’ssubtlest powers. But it is a power used only when none other will serve him. Never will heleave his stronghold, save in the press of mortal danger; or, as today, when what he sought togain far outweighed the risk.” Achren’s voice lowered. “Arawn has many secrets, but this oneis most deeply guarded. Once he assumes a shape, his strength and skill are no greater thanthat of the guise he wears. Then can he be slain, like any mortal thing.”

    “Oh, Fflewddur, if I’d only been with you!” Eilonwy cried in despair. “Arawn wouldn’t havedeceived me, no matter how much he looked like Taran. Don’t tell me I couldn’t have told thedifference between a real Assistant Pig-Keeper and a false one!”

    “Foolish pride, Daughter of Angharad,” Achren answered scornfully. “No eyes can see behindthe mask of Arawn Death-Lord. No eyes,” she added, “but mine. Do you doubt me?” Achren wenton quickly, seeing Eilonwy’s surprise.

    The woman’s ravaged features held shreds of an old pride, and her voice sharpened withhaughtiness and anger.

    “Long before the Sons of Don came to dwell in Prydain, long before the lords of the cantrevsswore allegiance to Math, High King, and Gwydion, his war leader, it was I who commandedobedience to my rule, I who wore the Iron Crown of Annuvin.

    “Arawn was my consort, who served me and did my bidding,” Achren said. “And he betrayedme.” Her voice was low and harsh, and rage glittered in her eyes. “He robbed me of my throneand cast me aside. Yet his powers are no secret to me, for it was I who taught them to him. Lethim cloud your sight with whatever guise he chooses. From me, never can the face of Arawn behidden.”

    Gwydion stirred and groaned faintly. Taran turned again to the basin of healing herbs, whileEilonwy raised the warrior’s head.

    “Bear Prince Gwydion to my chamber,” Dallben ordered. The enchanter’s careworn face wasdrawn, and the lines had deepened in his withered cheeks. “Your skill has helped keep him fromdeath,” he said to Taran. “Now I must see if mine may help him to life.”

    Coll lifted Gwydion in his burly arms.

    Achren made to follow after him. “I have little need of sleep and can best keep a vigil,”Achren said. “I shall watch the night over Lord Gwydion.”

    “I shall watch over him,” Eilonwy said, stepping to the side of Coll.

    “Fear me not, Daughter of angharad,” Achren said. “I bear no ill will against LordGwydion.” She bowed deeply, half-humble and half-mocking. “The stable is my castle and thescullery my realm. I seek no other.”

    “Come,” Dallben said, “both of you shall help me. Wait—the others. Be patient andhopeful.”

    Darkness had blinded the windows of the cottage. To Taran, it seemed the fire had lost itswarmth and cast only cold shadows among the silent companions.

    “At first I thought somehow we could overtake the Huntsmen and keep them from reachingAnnuvin,” Taran said at last. “But if Achren speaks truth, Arawn himself commanded them, andGwydion’s sword is already in his hands. I do not know his purpose, but I am deeply afraid.”

    “I can’t forgive myself,” Fflewddur said. “The loss is my fault. I should have seen thetrap instantly.”

    Taran shook his head. “Arawn worked a bitter ruse on you. Gwydion himself was deceived.”

    “But not I!” cried the bard. “A Fflam is keen-eyed! From the first moment, I sawdifferences. The way he sat his steed, the way…” The harp, slung at the bard’s shoulder,tensed suddenly and a string snapped with such a twang that Gurgi, crouched near the hearth,started bolt upright. Fflewddur choked and swallowed. “There it goes again,” he muttered.“Will it never leave off? The slightest… ah, coloring of the facts, and the beastly stringsbreak! Believe me, I meant no exaggeration. As I thought back it did seem that I could notice…No, the truth of it is: The guise was perfect. I could be snared again—and as easily.”

    “Amazing!” murmured the King of Mona, who had been watching wide-eyed. “I say, I wish Icould do that sort of shape-changing myself. Unbelievable! I’ve always thought: Howinteresting to be a badger, or an ant. I should love to know how to build as well as they do.Since I’ve been king, I’ve tried to improve things here and there. I mean to put up a newseawall at Mona Haven. I’ve begun once already. My idea was to start from both ends at thesame time and thus be done twice as quickly. I can’t understand what went wrong, for I tookcharge of all the work myself, but somehow we didn’t meet in the middle and I’ll have to finda better way of going at it. Then I’ve planned a road to Glew’s old cavern. It’s an amazingplace and I think the folk of Dinas Rhydnant will enjoy visiting it. Surprising how easy itis,” Rhun said, beaming proudly. “The planning, at any rate. The doing, for some reason,always seems a little harder.”

    Glew, hearing his name spoken, pricked up his ears. He had not left his place in the chimneycorner; nor had his alarm at the happenings in the cottage made him loosen his hold on thecook-pot. “When I was a giant,” he began.

    “I see the little weasel is with you,” said Fflewddur to King Rhun, recognizing Glewimmediately despite the former giant’s present stature. “When he was a giant,” the bardmuttered, giving Glew a look of ill-concealed vexation, “he was a paltry one. He’d have doneanything to be free of that cavern—even to popping us into that foul stew he’d cooked up. AFflam is forgiving! But I think he went a little too far.”

    “When I was a giant,” Glew continued, either ignoring or not hearing the bard’s remarks,“no one would have humiliated me by taking me by the ears and hustling me aboard a smellyboat. I had no wish to come here. After what’s happened today, I have less wish to stay.”Glew pursed his lips. “Dallben shall see that I’m taken back to Mona without delay.”

    “I’m sure he will,” Taran replied. “But Dallben has graver concerns now, and so do weall.”

    Mumbling something about shabby treatment and lack of consideration, Glew scraped a fingeralong the bottom of the pot and sucked his teeth with indignant satisfaction. The companionssaid no more, but settled down to wait out the night.

    The fire burned to ashes. A night wind rose outside the cottage. Taran rested his head on hisarms. At this homecoming he had longed to stand before Eilonwy, forgetting rank and birth, asany man before any woman, and ask her to wed. But now the disaster that had overtaken Gwydionmade Taran’s own wishes unimportant. Though he still did not know Eilonwy’s heart, nor whather answer to him might be, he could not bring himself to learn it until all hearts were atpeace again. He closed his eyes. The wind screamed as if it would rip to tatters the quietmeadows and orchards of Caer Dallben.

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