The Chronicles of Prydain: Book 4
“Lloyd Alexander is the true High King of fantasy.”
“The strongest high fantasy written for children in our times.”
School Library Journal
Key Stage: KS2/3 E; Age 10+
Illustrator: Alison Read
Lloyd Alexander is one of the most respected and best-loved of American authors, with a huge following worldwide. He has written over forty books for adults and children. The Chronicles of Prydain have won many awards, including the highly prestigious Newbery Medal for The High King, as well as the Newbery Honour for The Black Cauldron and the ALA Notable Book for The Book of Three. He is best known for his tales of high fantasy and adventure, and in 2003 he was awarded a Life Achievement Award by the World Fantasy Convention.
Lloyd was born in Pennsylvania and lived, until he died in 2007, a few blocks away from his childhood home. He met his future wife, Janine, in Paris while attending the University of Paris. After they married, Lloyd wrote novel after novel and it was seven years before his first novel was published. His magical stories have now sold millions of copies and have been translated into thirteen languages.
“I never became a world traveller, an explorer, an adventurer. But I did become a writer, which is pretty much the same thing.”
It was full springtime, with promise of the richest summer the farm had ever seen. The orchard was white with fragrant blossoms; the newly planted fields lay light as green mist. Yet the sights and scents gave Taran little joy. To him, Caer Dallben was empty. Though he helped Coll with 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’ve seen you restless as a wolf on a tether ever since you came back from the Isle of Mona. Pine for the Princess Eilonwy if you must, but don’t upset the milk pail.” The stout old warrior clapped Taran on the shoulder. “Come, cheer up. I’ll teach you the high secrets of planting turnips. 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. His thoughts are on deeper matters. 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 him now.”
“Have a care,” warned Coll as Taran strode to the door of the shed. “His disposition rubs a little thin!”
Taran made his way through the cluster of low-roofed farm buildings. In the cottage, at the hearthside, a black-robed woman crouched and tended the cooking fire. She did not raise her head or speak. It was Achren. Thwarted in her scheme to regain her ancient power from the ruined 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 done before departing for Mona, and at day’s end silently vanished to her pallet of straw in the granary.
"Before Dallben’s chamber Taran paused uneasily, then rapped quickly on the door. Entering at the 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, Taran kept his distance from it. Once, in boyhood, he dared touch the ancient, leather-bound tome, 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 concerns such 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 in interrupting me is an excellent one.
“First, before you ask,” Dallben went on, “I assure you the Princess Eilonwy is well and no more unhappy than any pretty young madcap obliged to turn a hand to sewing instead of swordplay. Second, you are as aware as I am that Kaw has not yet returned. By now, I daresay he has borne my potion to Glew’s cavern, and the giant-by-accident who troubled you so much on Mona will shrink to the small stature he once had. But you also know your crow for a rascal and one to linger wherever he finds sport. Finally, an Assistant Pig-Keeper should have tasks enough to busy 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 a home and a name, and let me live as a son in your household. Yet who am I, in truth? Who are my parents? 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. “Speak up, my boy. If you want truth, you should begin by giving it. Behind your question I think I see 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. “When Eilonwy 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 cannot ask for the hand of a Princess. What is my parentage? I cannot rest until I know. Am I lowly born 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 is honour – 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 replied gently. He turned his careworn face to Taran. “But alas,” he said, “what you ask I may not answer. Prince Gwydion knows no more than I,” he went on, sensing Taran’s thought. “Nor can the 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 your power 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 and flung itself at Taran’s feet. “No, no, no!” howled Gurgi at the top of his voice, rocking back and forth and waving his hairy arms. “Sharp-eared Gurgi hears all! Oh, yes, with listenings behind the door!” His face wrinkled in misery and he shook his matted head so violently he nearly sprawled flat on the floor. “Poor Gurgi will be lone and lorn with whinings 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 my road, I fear, may be a long one.”
“Faithful Gurgi will follow!” pleaded Gurgi. “He is strong, bold, and clever to keep kindly master 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 I do not doubt,” he said to Taran. “Though before your search is ended, the comfort of his kindly heart may stand you in better stead. Yes,” he added slowly, “if Gurgi is willing, let him 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 you choose. Though you may not find what you seek, you will surely return a little wiser – and perhaps even grown to manhood in your own right.”
That night Taran lay restless. Dallben had agreed the two companions could depart in the morning, but for Taran the hours until sunrise weighed like the links of a heavy chain. A plan had formed in his mind, but he had said nothing of it to Dallben, Coll, or Gurgi; for he was half fearful of what he had decided. While his heart ached at the thought of leaving Caer Dallben, it ached the more with impatience to begin his journey; and it was as though his yearning 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 grey, 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 kneeled and put an arm around her.
“Farewell, Hen,” Taran said, scratching her bristly chin. “Remember me kindly. Coll will care 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 gave Hen Wen a last affectionate pat. Dallben had hobbled into the dooryard, and beside him Coll raised a torch, for the morning still was dark. Like Dallben’s, the old warrior’s face in the wavering light was filled with fond concern. Taran embraced them, and to him it seemed his love for 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 its inexhaustible supply of food. Bearing only his sword at his belt and the silver-bound battle horn Eilonwy had given him, Taran swung astride the impatient Melynlas, constraining himself not to glance backwards, 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-fringed hills. Taran had spoken little, and Gurgi trotted quietly behind him, delving now and again into the leather wallet for a handful of food which he munched contentedly. When they halted to water 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 he journey first with amblings and ramblings? To noble Lord Gwydion at Caer Dathyl? Gurgi longs to see high golden towers and great halls for feastings.”
“I, too,” answered Taran. “But it would be labour lost. Dallben has told me Prince Gwydion and King Math know nothing of my parentage.”
“Then to kingdom of Fflewddur Fflam? Yes, yes! Bold bard will welcome us with meetings and greetings, 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. “The Marshes of Morva.”
No sooner had he spoken these words than he saw Gurgi’s face turn ashen. The creature’s jaw dropped; 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 for his poor tender head! He wants never to return there. Fearsome enchantresses would have turned him 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, or whatever they may really be – are as powerful as Dallben. Perhaps more powerful. Nothing is hidden from them; all secrets are open. They would know the truth. Could it not be,” he went on, 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! No need to ask enchantresses!”
“I speak of noble blood,” Taran replied, smiling at Gurgi’s protests. “If Dallben cannot tell 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 hiding place 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 could scarcely hear his trembling whisper. “Faithful Gurgi follows, as he promised.”
They set out again. For some days after fording Great Avren they bore quickly westwards along the 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 his own. The closer they drew to the Marshes the more he questioned the wisdom of his choice. His plan which had seemed so fitting in the safety of Caer Dallben now struck him as rash, a foolhardy venture. There were moments when, Taran admitted to himself, had Gurgi spun the pony about and bolted homewards, he would have gladly done likewise.
Another day’s travel and the marshland stretched before them, bleak, ugly, untouched by spring. The sight and scent of the bogs and the dull, stagnant pools filled Taran with loathing. The rotting turf sucked greedily at the hooves of Melynlas. The pony snorted fearfully. 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 firmer ground at the rim of the swamps.
The narrow neck at the upper reaches of the Marshes could be crossed with least danger, and the path indeed was burned into his memory. Here, when he and Eilonwy, Gurgi, and Fflewddur had sought the Black Cauldron, the Huntsmen of Annuvin had attacked them, and Taran had lived the moment again and again in nightmares. Giving Melynlas rein, he beckoned to Gurgi and rode into the Marshes. The stallion faltered a sickening instant, then found footing on the chain of islands that lay beneath the brackish water. At the far side, without Taran’s urging, Melynlas broke into a gallop, and the pony pelted after, as though fleeing for its life. Beyond the stunted 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 even greater disrepair than Taran had remembered. The thatched roof, like a huge bird’s nest, straggled down to block the narrow windows; a spiderweb of mould covered the walls, which looked 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 by the chattering of Gurgi’s teeth, he strode slowly across the dooryard. Orddu was watching him with sharp, black eyes. If she was surprised, the enchantress gave no sign other than to bend forward a little and peer more closely at Taran. Her shapeless robe flapped about her knees; the jewelled clasps and pins glittered in her weedy tangle of dishevelled hair as she nodded her head rapidly and with evident satisfaction.
“Yes, and so it is!” Orddu called out pleasantly. “The dear little fledgling and the – whatever-you-call-it. But you’ve grown much taller, my duck. How troublesome it must be should 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 to tease cockleburs from a lapful of wool shearings. Orwen, if indeed it was Orwen, was turning a rather lopsided spinning wheel; the milky white beads dangling from her neck seemed in danger of catching in the spokes. Orddu herself, he guessed, had been at the loom that stood amid piles of ancient, rusted weapons in a corner of the cottage. The work on the frame had gone forward somewhat, but it was far from done; knotted, twisted threads straggled in all directions, and what looked like some of Orgoch’s cockleburs were snagged in the warp and weft. Taran could make out nothing of the pattern, though it seemed to him, as if by some trick of 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 he still have The Book of Three? And his beard? How heavy it must be for him. The book, not the beard,” 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 have any at all.”
At this, Orgoch snorted and mumbled under her breath. Beneath her black hood Taran glimpsed a shadowy 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 bold goslings. Few
in Prydain have been willing to brave the Marshes of Morva; and of those few, not one 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 deny he’s acted bravely on occasion. He’s fought beside Lord Gwydion and been proud of himself as a chick wearing eagle’s feathers. But that’s only one kind of bravery. Has the darling robin ever scratched for his own worms? That’s bravery of another sort. And between the two, dear Orwen, 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 Orgoch always spoils them.” She giggled. “You shall give us a thousand and three guesses and I shall be first to ask.”
“Very well, Orwen, if it pleases you,” Orddu said indulgently. “But are a thousand and three enough? A young lamb can want for so much.”
“Your concern is with things as they are,” Taran said, forcing himself to look the enchantress in the eyes, “and with things as they must be. I believe you know my quest from its 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 you has ever known each other, what difference can it possibly make – to them or to you? Believe what 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 are those 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, poor dear; never sure whether he was a land creature, who liked swimming under water, or a water creature, who liked sunning himself on logs. We turned him into a stork with a keen appetite for frogs, and from then on he had no doubts as to who he was – nor did the other frogs, for the matter 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 fearsome changings and arrangings!”
“Don’t forget the serpent,” Orwen told Orddu, “all fretted and perplexed because he didn’t know if he was green with brown spots or brown with green ones. We made him an invisible serpent,” she added, “with brown and green spots, so he could be clearly seen and not trodden on. 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 untidy endings.”
“You see, my pullet,” Orddu said, “we can help you in many ways, all quicker and simpler than any you might think of. What would you rather be? If you want my opinion, I suggest a hedgehog; it’s a safer life than most. But don’t let me sway your choice; it’s entirely up to you.”
“On the contrary, let’s surprise them,” cried Orwen in happy excitement. “We’ll decide among ourselves and spare them the tedious business of making up their minds. They’ll be all the more pleased. How charming it will be to see the look on their little faces – or beaks or whatever it is they finally have.”
“No fowls,” grumbled Orgoch. “No fowls, in any case. Can’t abide them. Feathers make me cough.”
Gurgi’s fright had so mounted he could only babble wordlessly. Taran felt his own blood run cold. 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 lose considerably more. You know your blade is useless here, and waving swords is no way to set anyone 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 mouth began twitching.
Taran stood firm. “Orddu,” he said, keeping his voice as steady as he could, “will you tell me 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 her beads. “You needn’t take offence.”
“Of course we shall tell you, my brave tadpole,” Orddu said. “You shall know all you seek to know, directly we’ve settled another matter: the price to be paid. Since what you ask is of such importance – to yourself, at least – the cost may be rather high. But I’m sure you thought of that before you came.”
“When we sought the Black Cauldron,” Taran began, “you took Adaon’s enchanted brooch in fee, 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. Are you saying you brought nothing with you? Why, count yourself lucky to become a hedgehog, since you can afford little else.”
“Last time,” Orgoch hoarsely whispered in Orddu’s ear, “you would have taken one of the young 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 least try to think of what we all would like.”
“There was a golden-haired girl with him then,” Orwen put in, “a pretty little creature. He surely has lovely memories of her. Could we not take them?” She went on eagerly. “How delightful 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, at least – simply doesn’t enter into the question as far as we’re concerned. However,” she went on, 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 to keep them from trembling. “It is true I own little to treasure, not even my name. Is there nothing you will have of me? This I offer you,” he went on quickly in a low voice. He felt his brow dampen. Though he had taken this decision at Caer Dallben and weighed it carefully, with the 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 greatest treasure that may come into my hands – I pledge it to you now. It shall be yours, and you shall claim it when you please.”
Orddu did not answer, only looked at him curiously. The other enchantresses were silent. Even Gurgi had ceased his whimpering. The shapes on the loom seemed to writhe before Taran’s eyes as he waited for Orddu to speak.
The enchantress smiled. “Does your quest mean so much that you will spend what you have not yet 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 a chancy thing at best, and really satisfies no one. Nothing is all that certain, and very often we’ve found the poor sparrow who makes such a pledge never lives long enough to fulfil 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 sad experience 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; he could not be sure whether it was Orddu, Orwen, or Orgoch whom he faced. It was as though there had risen in front of him a wall of ice which force could not breach nor pleading melt. Despair choked him. He bowed his head and turned away.
“But, my dear gosling,” Orddu called cheerily, “that’s not to say there aren’t others to answer 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 Mount Kilgwyry,” said Orwen. “He knows all that has ever happened. If you’re patient you might wait and ask him.”
“Oh, Orwen,” Orddu interrupted with some impatience, “sometimes I do believe you dwell too much in the past. Mount Kilgwyry has been worn down long ago with his pecking and the little darling has flown elsewhere.”
“You’re so right, dear Orddu,” replied Orwen. “It had slipped my mind for a moment. But what 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 more reliable 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 would show 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 been moved. But come along, my gosling. Orgoch is growing restless. I know she’d enjoy having you here, and with two disappointments in the same day I shouldn’t want to account for her behaviour.”
“But how may I find it?” Taran could do no more than stammer his question before he was outside the cottage, with Gurgi trembling at his side.
“Don’t tarry in the Marshes,” Orddu called, while from within the cottage Taran heard loud and angry noises. “Else you may regret your foolish boldness – or bold foolishness, whichever. Farewell, my robin.”
The crooked door closed tightly, even as Taran cried out for Orddu to wait.
“Flee!” Gurgi yelped. “Flee, kindly master, while Gurgi’s poor tender head is still on his shoulders!”
Despite the creature’s frantic tugging at his arm, Taran stood staring at the door. His thoughts were confused, a strange heaviness had settled upon him.
“Why did she mock my bravery?” he said, frowning. “Courage to scratch for worms? That task would be far easier than seeking the Mirror of Llunet.”
“Hasten!” Gurgi pleaded. “Gurgi has his fill of questings. Now he is ready for returnings to safe and happy Caer Dallben, yes, yes! Oh, do not make useless peekings and seekings!”
Taran hesitated a moment longer. Of the Llawgadarn Mountains he knew only that they rose far to the east.
With nothing to guide his search the journey might indeed prove useless. Gurgi looked imploringly at him. Taran patted the creature’s shoulder, then turned and strode to Melynlas.
“The Mirror of Llunet is the only hope Orddu has given me,” Taran said. “I must find it.”
While Gurgi hastily mounted his pony, Taran swung astride Melynlas. He glanced once again at the cottage, his heart suddenly uneasy. “Given me?” he murmured. “Does Orddu give anything for nothing?”
I love these books...Long Live Prydain!
Meg Rosoff, Award-winning author of How I Live Now
A very fine fantasy adventure with a quite compelling magic of its own. It is rare that high excitement yields such quiet wisdom.
New York Times