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THE CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN PDF

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The chronicle of Prydain is a fantasy. Such things never happen in real life. Or do they? Most of us are called on to perform tasks far beyond what we believe we. The Book Of Three - The Chronicles Of Prydain 01 Lloyd Alexander The Chronicles of Prydain Book One THE BOOK OF THREE. The Chronicles of Prydain has 29 entries in the series.


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Editorial Reviews. Review. "An exciting, highly imaginative, and sometimes profound fantasy of Kindle App Ad. The Chronicles of Prydain by [Alexander, Lloyd]. The Prydain chronicles by Lloyd Alexander; 1 edition; First published in ; Subjects: Accessible book, Protected DAISY, In library. American literature for children." The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander;. The Book of Three. The Black Cauldron. The Castle of Llyr. Taran Wanderer.

Very well. She will be found. I must discover all she knows of the Horned King. Give me a sword and I will stand with you! Do you think a lone warrior and one Assistant Pig-Keeper dare attack the Horned King and his war band?

He is the man most to be dreaded in all Prydain. Will you hear something I learned during my journey, something even Dallben may not yet realize? Thread by thread, the pattern forms. There are chieftains whose lust for power goads them like a sword point. To certain of them, Arawn promises wealth and dominion, playing on their greed as a bard plays on a harp. Arawn's corruption burns every human feeling from their hearts and they become his liegemen, serving him beyond the borders of Annuvin and bound to him forever.

I know beyond question that he has sworn his allegiance to Arawn. He is Arawn's avowed champion. Once again, the power of Annuvin threatens Prydain. Gwydion turned to him. And one of us will die. That is my oath. But his purpose is dark and unknown, and I must learn it from Hen Wen. I think I can find the place. It was just before the Horned King We sleep here and I shall be off at first light. With good luck, I may have her back before I let her escape and it is I who must find her.

If the Horned King rides toward Caer Dallben, I cannot send you back alone and I dare not go with you and lose a day's tracking. You cannot stay in this forest by yourself. Unless I find some way Dallben and Coll will see I can do what I set out to do!

For a little while at least. He unpacked provisions from the saddlebags. Excitement robbed him of appetite and he was impatient for dawn. His wound had stiffened so that he could not settle himself on the roots and pebbles.

It had never occurred to him until now that a hero would sleep on the ground. Gwydion, watchful, sat with his knees drawn up, his back against an enormous elm. In the lowering dusk Taran could barely distinguish the man from the tree; and could have walked within a pace of him before realizing he was any more than a splotch of shadow. Gwydion had sunk into the forest itself; only his green-flecked eyes shone in the reflection of the newly risen moon.

Gwydion was silent and thoughtful for a long while. His voice from the shadows was quiet but urgent. Who are your kinsmen? I don't know who my parents were.

Dallben has never told me. I suppose," he added, turning his face away, "I don't even know who I am. Our meeting was fortunate," he went on. It makes me wonder," Gwydion went on, with a laugh that was not unkind, "is there a destiny laid on me that an Assistant Pig-Keeper should help me in my quest? Sleep now, for we rise early tomorrow. The cloak Taran had slept in was damp with dew. Every joint ached from his night on the hard ground.

With Gwydion's urging, Taran stumbled toward the horse, a white blur in the gray-pink dawn. Gwydion hauled Taran into the saddle behind him, spoke a quiet command, and the white steed moved quickly into the rising mist. Gwydion was seeking the spot where Taran had last seen Hen Wen. But long before they had reached it, he reined up Melyngar and dismounted. As Taran watched, Gwydion knelt and sighted along the turf.

Despite Taran's disappointment at finding the Lord Gwydion dressed in a coarse jacket and mud-spattered boots, he followed the man with growing admiration. Nothing, Taran saw, escaped Gwydion's eyes. Like a lean, gray wolf, he moved silently and easily. A little way on, Gwydion stopped, raised his shaggy head and narrowed his eyes toward a distant ridge.

She might have gone anywhere in Prydain. Here, Great Avren flows. See how it turns west before it reaches the sea. We may have to cross it before our search ends. And this is the River Ystrad. Its valley leads north to Caer Dathyl. Hen Wen would shun this above all.

She was too long a captive in Annuvin; she would never venture near it. She belonged to a farmer who had no idea at all of her powers. And so she might have spent her days as any ordinary pig. But Arawn knew her to be far from ordinary, and of such value that he himself rode out of Annuvin and seized her.

What dire things happened while she was prisoner of Arawn it is better not to speak of them. But how did she escape? A warrior went alone into the depths of Annuvin and brought her back safely.

Gwydion looked closely at him. It was Coll," he said. A hero? I have never known courage to be judged by the length of a man's hair. Or, for the matter of that, whether he has any hair at all. This, too, Hen Wen would avoid at all cost. It is the abode of Queen Achren, She is as dangerous as Arawn himself; as evil as she is beautiful. But there are secrets concerning Achren which are better left untold.

From what little I can see, she has run straight ahead. Quickly now, we shall try to pick up her trail. As they reached the bottom of the slope, Taran heard the waters of Great Avren rushing like wind in a summer storm. Stay close behind me," he ordered. Gwydion made no more sound than the shadow of a bird.

Melyngar herself stepped quietly; hardly a twig snapped under her hoofs. Try as he would, Taran could not go as silently. The more careful he attempted to be, the louder the leaves rattled and crackled. Wherever he put his foot, there seemed to be a hole or spiteful branch to trip him up. Even Melyngar turned and gave him a reproachful look. Taran grew so absorbed in not making noise that he soon lagged far behind Gwydion.

On the slope, Taran believed he could make out something round and white. He yearned to be the first to find Hen Wen and he turned aside, clambered through the weeds to discover nothing more than a boulder.

Disappointed, Taran hastened to catch up with Gwydion. Overhead, the branches rustled. As he stopped and looked up, something fell heavily to the ground behind him. Two hairy and powerful hands locked around his throat. Whatever had seized him made barking and snorting noises. Taran forced out a cry for help. He struggled with his unseen opponent, twisting, flailing his legs, and throwing himself from one side to the other. Suddenly he could breathe again. A shape sailed over his head and crashed against a tree trunk.

Taran dropped to the ground and began rubbing his neck. Gwydion stood beside him. Sprawled under the tree was the strangest creature Taran had ever seen. He could not be sure whether it was animal or human.

He decided it was both. Its hair was so matted and covered with leaves that it looked like an owl's nest in need of housecleaning. It had long, skinny, woolly arms, and a pair of feet as flexible and grimy as its hands. Gwydion was watching the creature with a look of severity and annoyance. He is not half as ferocious as he looks, not a quarter as fierce as he should like to be, and more a nuisance than anything else. Somehow, he manages to see most of what happens, and he might be able to help us.

He was covered with Gurgi's shedding hair, in addition to the distressing odor of a wet wolfhound. Yes, yes, that is always the way of it with poor Gurgi. But what honor to be smacked by the greatest of warriors!

Had Gurgi owned a tail, Taran was sure he would have wagged it frantically. Oh, joyous crunchings and munchings! Many years from now, when the great princes revel in their halls what feastings they will remember hungry, wretched Gurgi waiting for them.

Have you seen a white pig this morning? They would not be cruel to starving Gurgi oh, no they would feed him You will save miserable Gurgi from hurtful choppings! Gurgi is so quiet and clever, and no one cares about him.

But he listens! These great warriors say they have gone to a certain place, but great fire turns them away. They are not pleased, and they still seek a piggy with outcries and horses. Oh, terrible hunger pinches! Gurgi cannot remember. Was there a piggy? Gurgi is fainting and falling into the bushes, his poor, tender head is full of air from his empty belly. After the way you jumped on me, you deserve to have your head smacked.

Gwydion turned severely to Taran.

Leave him to me. Do not make him any more frightened than he is. Then I will surely come back with wrath. Remember, I want no mischief from you. He feels so sorry for himself that it is hard not to be angry with him. But there is no use in doing so. The Horned King has ridden to Caer Dallben. Until now, he had paid little mind to his home. The thought of the white cottage in flames, his memory of Dallben's beard, and the heroic Coll's bald head touched him all at once.

A beetle could not creep into Caer Dallben without his knowledge. No, I am certain the fire was something Dallben arranged for unexpected visitors. Our quest grows ever more urgent," Gwydion hastily continued. He will pursue her. They dismounted and hurried on foot in the direction Gurgi had indicated.

Near a jagged rock, Gwydion halted and gave a cry of triumph. In a patch of clay, Hen Wen's tracks showed as plainly as if they had been carved. Had I known he would guide us so well, I would have given him an extra share. The air had suddenly grown cold and heavy. The restless Avren ran gray, slashed with white streaks.

Clutching Melyngar's saddle horn, Taran stepped gingerly from the bank. Gwydion strode directly into the water. Taran, thinking it easier to get wet a little at a time, hung back as much as he could until Melyngar lunged ahead, carrying him with her. His feet sought the river bottom, he stumbled and splashed, while icy waves swirled up to his neck.

The current grew stronger, coiling like a gray serpent about Taran's legs. The bottom dropped away sharply; Taran lost his footing and found himself wildly dancing over nothing, as the river seized him greedily. Melyngar began to swim, her strong legs keeping her afloat and in motion, but the current swung her around; she collided with Taran and forced him under the water.

With every gasp, the river poured into his lungs. Gwydion struck out after him, soon overtook him, seized him by the hair, and drew him toward the shallows.

He heaved the dripping, coughing Taran onto the bank. Melyngar, reaching shore a little farther upstream, trotted down to join them. Gwydion looked sharply at Taran. Are all Assistant Pig-Keepers deaf as well as stubborn? If Melyngar hadn't sat on me Melyngar's hoofs clicked over the stones.

Taran, snuffling and shivering, looked toward the waiting hills. High against the blue, three winged shapes wheeled and glided. Gwydion, whose eyes were everywhere at once, caught sight of them instantly. The abrupt change of direction and Melyngar's heaving burst of speed threw Taran off balance.

His legs flew up and he landed flat on the pebble-strewn bank. Gwydion reined in Melyngar immediately. While Taran struggled to his feet, Gwydion seized him like a sack of meal and hauled him to Melyngar's back.

The gwythaints which, at a distance, had seemed no more than dry leaves in the wind, grew larger and larger, as they plunged toward horse and riders. Downward they swooped, their great black wings driving them ever faster.

Melyngar clattered up the river bank. The gwythaints screamed above. At the line of trees, Gwydion thrust Taran from the saddle and leaped down. Dragging him along, Gwydion dropped to the earth under an oak tree's spreading branches.

The glittering wings beat against the foliage. Taran glimpsed curving beaks and talons merciless as daggers. He cried out in terror and hid his face, as the gwythaints veered off and swooped again.

The leaves rattled in their wake. The creatures swung upward, hung poised against the sky for an instant, then climbed swiftly and sped westward. White-faced and trembling, Taran ventured to raise his head. Gwydion strode to the river bank and stood watching the gwythaints' flight. Taran made his way to his companion's side. His face was dark and grave. He had clumsily fallen off Melyngar at the moment when speed counted most; at the oak, he had behaved like a child. He waited for Gwydion's reprimand, but the warrior's green eyes followed the dark specks.

No one stays long hidden from them. We are lucky they were only scouting and not on a blood hunt. He will not be idle. I have no doubt he knew the moment I rode from Caer Dathyl. The gwythaints are not his only servants. For generations they have been trained in this. Arawn understands their language and they are in his power from the moment they leave the egg.

Nevertheless, they are creatures of flesh and blood and a sword can answer them. It is said he steeps them in a cauldron to give them life again if it can be called life. Like death, they are forever silent; and their only thought is to bring others to the same bondage. Yet from time to time Arawn sends certain of them outside Annuvin to perform his most ruthless tasks. He has destroyed their remembrance of themselves as living men.

They have no memory of tears or laughter, of sorrow or loving kindness. Among all Arawn's deeds, this is one of the cruelest. They led over a barren field, then to a shallow ravine. The weary and discouraged Taran could barely force himself to put one foot in front of the other, and was glad the dusk obliged Gwydion to halt. Gwydion tethered Melyngar in a thicket. Taran sank to the ground and rested his head in his hands.

Time is too short to ponder each one. There is an ancient dweller in the foothills of Eagle Mountains. His name is Medwyn, and it is said he understands the hearts and ways of every creature in Prydain. He, if anyone, should know where Hen Wen may be hiding. Others have sought him and failed. We should have only faint hope. But that is better than none at all. From a distance came the lonely baying of hounds. Gwydion sat upright, tense as a bowstring. And so," he mused, "Gwyn, too, rides abroad.

Gwyn the Hunter rides alone with his dogs, and where he rides, slaughter follows. He has foreknowledge of death and battle, and watches from afar, marking the fall of warriors. Flung across the sky, the sound pierced Taran's breast like a cold blade of terror. Yet, unlike the music itself, the echoes from the hills sang less of fear than of grief. Fading, they sighed that sunlight and birds, bright mornings, warm fires, food and drink, friendship, and all good things had been lost beyond recovery.

Gwydion laid a firm hand on Taran's brow. But do not listen overmuch to the echoes. Others have done so, and have wandered hopeless ever since. As Gwydion rose and went to her, Taran glimpsed a shadow dart behind a bush. He sat up quickly. Gwydion's back was turned. In the bright moonlight the shadow moved again. Choking back his fear, Taran leaped to his feet and plunged into the undergrowth.

Thorns tore at him. He landed on something that grappled frantically. He lashed out, seized what felt like someone's head, and an unmistakable odor of wet wolfhound assailed his nose. And you should know better than to jump into thorn bushes without first making sure what you will find. Save your anger for a better purpose You may be many other things, Taran of Caer Dallben, but I see you are no coward. I offer you my thanks," he added, bowing deeply. Not even a small munching for helping find a piggy!

I wouldn't be surprised if you'd gone and told him The lord of the great horns pursues wise, miserable Gurgi with leaping and galloping. Gurgi fears terrible smackings and whackings. He follows kindly and mighty protectors. Faithful Gurgi will not leave them, never! They cross water, but only clever, unthanked Gurgi knows where. And they light fires with fearsome blazings. Gwydion saddled Melyngar and, clinging to the shadows, they set out across the moonlit hills.

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Gurgi led the way, loping ahead, bent forward, his long arms dangling. They crossed one deep valley, then another, before Gurgi halted on a ridge. Below, the wide plain blazed with torches and Taran saw a great ring of flames. Disregarding him, Gwydion motioned for them all to descend the slope. There was little need for silence.

A deep, hollow drumming throbbed over the crowded plain. Horses whickered; there came the shouts of men and the clank of weapons. Gwydion crouched in the bracken, watching intently. Around the fiery circle, warriors on high stilts beat upraised swords against their shields.

The baskets another ancient custom best forgotten. And there," he exclaimed, pointing to the columns of horsemen, "I see the banners of the Cantrev Rheged!

The banners of Dau Gleddyn and of Mawr! All the cantrevs of the south! Yes, now I understand! Flames seized the osier cages; billows of foul smoke rose skyward. The warriors clashed their shields and shouted together with one voice. From the baskets rose the agonized screams of men. Taran gasped and turned away.

Until now, he had not spoken. Even Gurgi had been silent, his eyes round with terror. His face was grim and pale. The Horned King has raised a mighty host, and they will march against us.

The Sons of Don are ill prepared for so powerful an enemy. They must be warned. I must return to Caer Dathyl immediately. Taran sprang up. The first horseman spurred his mount to a gallop. Melyngar whinnied shrilly. The warriors drew their swords. Gwydion was at Taran's side as the first rider bore down on them. With a quick gesture, Gwydion thrust a hand into his jacket and pulled out the net of grass.

Suddenly the withered wisps grew larger, longer, shimmering and crackling, nearly blinding Taran with streaks of liquid flame. The rider raised his sword. With a shout, Gwydion hurled the dazzling mesh into the warrior's face. Shrieking, the rider dropped his sword and grappled the air. He tumbled from his saddle while the mesh spread over his body and clung to him like an enormous spiderweb. Gwydion dragged the stupefied Taran to an ash tree and from his belt drew the hunting knife which he thrust in Taran's hand.

The great sword swung a glittering arc, the flashing blade sang above Gwydion's head. The attackers drove against them. One horse reared. For Taran there was only a vision of hoofs plunging at his face.

The rider chopped viciously at Taran's head, swung around, and struck again. Blindly, Taran lashed out with the knife.

Shouting in rage and pain, the rider clutched his leg and wheeled his horse away. There was no sign of Gurgi, but a white streak sped across the field.

Melyngar now had entered the fray. Her golden mane tossing, the white mare whinnied fearsomely and flung herself among the riders. Her mighty flanks dashed against them, crowding, pressing, while the steeds of the war party rolled their eyes in panic. One warrior jerked frantically at his reins to turn his mount away.

The animal sank to its haunches. Melyngar reared to her full height; her forelegs churned the air, and her sharp hoofs slashed at the rider, who fell heavily to earth. Melyngar spun about, trampling the cowering horseman.

The three mounted warriors forced their way past the frenzied mare. At the ash tree, Gwydion's blade rang and clashed among the leaves. His legs were as though planted in the earth; the shock of the galloping riders could not dislodge him.

His eyes shone with a terrible light. The sword whistled, one rider gave a choking cry. The other two did not press the attack, but hung back for a moment.

The Book of Three (The Chronicles of Prydain Book 1)

Hoofbeats pounded over the meadow. Even as the attackers had begun to withdraw, two more riders galloped forward. They reined their horses sharply, dismounted without hesitation, and ran swiftly toward Gwydion. Their faces were pallid; their eyes like stones.

Heavy bands of bronze circled their waists, and from these belts hung the black thongs of whips. Knobs of bronze studded their breastplates. They did not bear shield or helmet. Their mouths were frozen in the hideous grin of death. Gwydion's sword flashed up once more. Take Melyngar and ride from here! In another instant, the Cauldron-Born were upon them.

For Taran, the horror beating in him like black wings came not from the livid features of the Cauldron warriors or their lightless eyes but from their ghostly silence. The mute men swung their swords, metal grated against metal.

The relentless warriors struck and struck again. Gwydion's blade leaped past one opponent's guard and drove deep into his heart. The pale warrior made no outcry. No blood followed as Gwydion ripped the weapon free; the Cauldron-Born shook himself once, without a grimace, and moved again to the attack.

Gwydion stood as a wolf at bay, his green eyes glittering, his teeth bared. The swords of the Cauldron-Born beat against his guard. Taran thrust at one of the livid warriors; a sword point ripped his arm and sent the small knife hurtling into the bracken. Blood streaked Gwydion's face where an unlucky blow had slashed his cheekbone and forehead.

Once, his blade faltered and a Cauldron-Born thrust at his breast. Gwydion turned, taking the sword point in his side. The pale warriors doubled their assault. The great shaggy head bowed wearily as Gwydion stumbled forward. With a mighty cry, he lunged, then dropped to one knee. With his flagging strength, he fought to raise the blade again. The Cauldron-Born flung aside their weapons, seized him, threw him to the ground, and quickly bound him. Now the other two warriors approached.

One grasped Taran by the throat, the other tied his hands behind him. Taran was dragged to Melyngar and thrown across her back, where he lay side by side with Gwydion.

Why did you not flee, as I ordered? I knew I was powerless against the Cauldron-Born, but I could have held the ground for you. Yet, you fought well enough, Taran of Caer Dallben. I remember the net of grass you wove before we crossed Avren. But in your hands today it was no grass I have ever seen. The wisp of grass yes, it is a little more than that. Dallben himself taught me the use of it. Alas, they are not great enough to defend myself against the powers of Arawn. Today," he added, "they were not enough to protect a brave companion.

Snatching the whip from his belt, he lashed brutally at the captives. If we should not meet again, farewell. Fording the shallow River Ystrad, the Cauldron-Born pressed tightly on either side of the captives. Taran dared once again to speak to Gwydion, but the lash cut his words short. Taran's throat was parched, waves of dizziness threatened to drown him.

He could not be sure how long they had ridden, for he lapsed often into feverish dreams. The sun was still high and he was dimly aware of a hill with a tall, gray fortress looming at its crest. Melyngar's hoofs rang on stones as a courtyard opened before him.

Rough hands pulled him from Melyngar's back and drove him, stumbling, down an arching corridor. Gwydion was half-dragged, half-carried before him. Taran tried to catch up with his companion, but the lash of the Cauldron-Born beat him to his knees. A guard hauled him upright again and kicked him forward.

At length, the captives were led into a spacious council chamber. Torches flickered from walls hung with scarlet tapestries. Outside, it had been full daylight; here in the great, windowless hall, the chill and dampness of night rose from the cold flagstones like mist.

At the far end of the hall, on a throne carved of black wood, sat a woman. Her long hair glittered silver in the torchlight. Her face was young and beautiful; her pale skin seemed paler still above her crimson robe. Jeweled necklaces hung at her throat, gem-studded bracelets circled her wrists, and heavy rings threw back the flickering torches.

Gwydion's sword lay at her feet. The woman rose quickly. Someone shall answer for this neglect! At the pressure of her fingers, a comforting warmth filled Taran's aching body. Instead of pain, a delicious sensation of repose came over him, repose as he remembered it from days long forgotten in Caer Dallben, the warm bed of his childhood, drowsy summer afternoons.

She sets a trap for you! For an instant he could not believe such beauty concealed the evil of which he had been warned. Had Gwydion mistaken her? Nevertheless, he shut his lips tightly.

The woman, in surprise, turned to Gwydion. Your wound excuses your conduct, but there is no need for anger. Who are you? Why do you Beyond that Do you say that you know nothing more? Now that I see you face to face," she said, her eyes on Gwydion, "I am glad such a man is not bleeding out his life in a ditch.

For there is much we have to discuss, and much that you can profit from. I offer you something you cannot have even if I loosened your hands and gave back your weapon. By that, Lord Gwydion, I mean your life.

No," she said, "there are other, pleasanter ways to bargain. You do not know me as well as you think, Gwydion. There is no future for you beyond these gates. Here, I can promise It is no secret what you are! Hissing, she struck at Gwydion and her blood-red nails raked his cheek. Achren unsheathed Gwydion's sword; holding it in both hands she drove the point toward his throat, stopping only a hair's breadth from it.

Gwydion stood proudly, his eyes blazing. You scorn my promises! This promise will be well kept! Sparks flashed, the blade rang unbroken. With a scream of rage, she dashed the weapon to the ground. The sword shone, still undamaged. Achren seized it again, gripping the sharp blade itself until her hands ran scarlet. Her eyes rolled back into her head, her lips moved and twisted. A thunderclap filled the hall, a light burst like a crimson sun, and the broken weapon fell in pieces to the ground.

She raised her hand to the Cauldron-Born and called out in a strange, harsh language. The pale warriors strode forward and dragged Taran and Gwydion from the hall. In a dark passageway of stone, Taran struggled with his captors, fighting to reach Gwydion's side. One of the Cauldron-Born brought a whip handle down on Taran's head.

A few feet above him, pale yellow sunlight shone through a grating; the feeble beam ended abruptly on a wall of rough, damp stone. The shadows of bars lay across the tiny patch of light; instead of brightening the cell, the wan rays made it appear only more grim and closed in.

As Taran's eyes grew accustomed to this yellow twilight, he made out a heavy, studded portal with a slot at the base. The cell itself was not over three paces square.

His head ached; since his hands were still bound behind him, he could do no more than guess at the large and throbbing lump. What had happened to Gwydion he dared not imagine. After the Cauldron warrior had struck him, Taran had regained consciousness only a few moments before slipping once again into whirling darkness.

In that brief time, he vaguely remembered opening his eyes and finding himself slung over a guard's back. His confused recollection included a dim corridor with doors on either side.

Gwydion had called out to him once or so Taran believed he could not recall his friend's words, perhaps even that had been part of the nightmare. He supposed Gwydion had been cast in another dungeon; Taran fervently hoped so.

He could not shake off the memory of Achren's livid face and horrible screaming, and he feared she might have ordered Gwydion slain. Still, there was good reason to hope his companion lived. Achren could easily have cut his throat as he braved her in the council hall, yet she had held back.

Thus, she intended to keep Gwydion alive; perhaps, Taran thought wretchedly, Gwydion would be better off dead. The idea of the proud figure lying a broken corpse filled Taran with grief that quickly turned to rage. He staggered to his feet, lurched to the door, kicking it, battering himself against it with what little strength remained to him.

In despair, he sank to the damp ground, his head pressed against the unyielding oaken planks. He rose again after a few moments and kicked at the walls.

If Gwydion were, by chance, in an adjoining cell, Taran hoped he would hear this signal. But he judged, from the dull and muffled sound, that the walls were too thick for his feeble tapping to penetrate.

As he turned away, a flashing object fell through the grating and dropped to the stone floor. Taran stooped. It was a ball of what seemed to be gold.

Perplexed, he looked upward. From the grating, a pair of intensely blue eyes looked back at him. I don't want you to think I'm a baby, playing with a silly bauble, because I'm not; but sometimes there's absolutely nothing else to do around here and it slipped out of my hands when I was tossing it Are you slow-witted? I'm so sorry for you. It's terrible to be dull and stupid. What's your name? Wrong-footed, you know, or as if I had three thumbs on one hand, if you see what I mean.

It's clumsy This, he realized, could be another trap. I suppose you're a lord, or a warrior, or a war leader, or a bard, or a monster. Though we haven't had any monsters for a long time. He bit his lip as soon as the words were out; then, to excuse his loose tongue, told himself it could do no harm for the girl to know that much. He doesn't move at all, but I should imagine he is alive; otherwise, Achren would have fed him to the ravens. The fields, ready to cultivate, would soon turn golden with summer.

The Book of Three lay closed on the table. Taran had never been allowed to read the volume for himself; now he was sure it held more than Dallben chose to tell him.

In the sun-filled room, with Dallben still meditating and showing no sign of stopping, Taran rose and moved through the shimmering beams. From the forest came the monotonous tick of a beetle. His hands reached for the cover. Taran gasped in pain and snatched them away. They smarted as if each of his fingers had been stung by hornets. He jumped back, stumbled against the bench, and dropped to the floor, where he put his fingers woefully into his mouth. Dallben's eyes blinked open. He peered at Taran and yawned slowly.

Now you know better. Well, that is one of the three foundations of learning: I'm certainly not to be anything. I'm not anything even at Caer Dallben! From this moment, you are Taran, Assistant Pig-Keeper. You shall help me take care of Hen Wen: If you want to be something with a name attached to it, I can't think of anything closer to hand.

And it is not every lad who can be assistant keeper to an oracular pig. Indeed, she is the only oracular pig in Prydain, and the most valuable. A black, buzzing cloud streaked from the orchard, and bore on so rapidly and passed so close to Coll's head that he had to leap out of the way.

An instant later Taran heard a loud clucking and squawking from the chicken run. He turned to see the five hens and the rooster beating their wings. Before it occurred to him they were attempting to fly, they, too, were aloft. Taran and Coll raced to the chicken run, too late to catch the fowls. With the rooster leading, the chickens flapped awkwardly through the air and disappeared over the brow of a hill. From the stable the pair of oxen bellowed and rolled their eyes in terror.

Dallben's head poked out of the window. He looked irritated. Quickly, help me find them. Taran was both frightened and excited. Dallben, he knew, would consult Hen Wen only on a matter of greatest urgency. Within Taran's memory, it had never happened before. He hurried to the pen.

Hen Wen usually slept until noon. Then, trotting daintily, despite her size, she would move to a shady comer of her enclosure and settle comfortably for the rest of the day. The white pig was continually grunting and chuckling to herself, and whenever she saw Taran, she would raise her wide, cheeky face so that he could scratch under her chin.

But this time, she paid no attention to him. Wheezing and whistling, Hen Wen was digging furiously in the soft earth at the far side of the pen, burrowing so rapidly she would soon be out. Taran shouted at her, but the clods continued flying at a great rate. He swung himself over the fence. The oracular pig stopped and glanced around. As Taran approached the hole, already sizable, Hen Wen hurried to the opposite side of the pen and started a new excavation. Taran was strong and long-legged, but, to his dismay, he saw that Hen Wen moved faster than he.

As soon as he chased her from the second hole, she turned quickly on her short legs and made for the first. Both, by now, were big enough for her head and shoulders. Taran frantically began scraping earth back into the burrow. Hen Wen dug faster than a badger, her hind legs planted firmly, her front legs plowing ahead. Taran despaired of stopping her. He scrambled back over the rails and jumped to the spot where Hen Wen was about to emerge, planning to seize her and hang on until Dallben and Coll arrived.

He underestimated Hen Wen's speed and strength. In an explosion of dirt and pebbles, the pig burst from under the fence, heaving Taran into the air. He landed with the wind knocked out of him. Hen Wen raced across the field and into the woods. Taran followed. Ahead, the forest rose up dark and threatening. He took a breath and plunged after her.

Ahead, Taran heard a thrashing among the leaves. The pig, he was sure, was keeping out of sight in the bushes. Following the sound, he ran forward. After a time the ground rose sharply, forcing him to clamber on hands and knees up a wooded slope. At the crest the forest broke off before a meadow. Taran caught a glimpse of Hen Wen dashing into the waving grass. Once across the meadow, she disappeared beyond a stand of trees.

Taran hurried after her. This was farther than he had ever dared venture, but he struggled on through the heavy undergrowth. Soon, a fairly wide trail opened, allowing him to quicken his pace. Hen Wen had either stopped running or had outdistanced him. He heard nothing but his own footsteps. He followed the trail for some while, intending to use it as a landmark on the way back, although it twisted and branched off so frequently he was not at all certain in which direction Caer Dallben lay.

In the meadow Taran had been flushed and perspiring. Now he shivered in the silence of oaks and elms. The woods here were not thick, but shadows drenched the high tree trunks and the sun broke through only in jagged streaks.

A damp green scent filled the air. No bird called; no squirrel chattered. The forest seemed to be holding its breath. Yet there was, beneath the silence, a groaning restlessness and a trembling among the leaves. The branches twisted and grated against each other like broken teeth. The path wavered under Taran's feet, and he felt desperately cold. He flung his arms around himself and moved more quickly to shake off the chill. He was, he realized, running aimlessly; he could not keep his mind on the forks and turns of the path.

He halted suddenly. Hoofbeats thudded in front of him. The forest shook as they grew louder. In another moment a black horse burst into view. Taran fell back, terrified. Astride the foam-spattered animal rode a monstrous figure. A crimson cloak flamed from his naked shoulders.

Crimson stained his gigantic arms. Horror stricken, Taran saw not the head of a man but the antlered head of a stag. The Horned King! Taran flung himself against an oak to escape the flying hoofs and the heaving, glistening flanks. Horse and rider swept by. The mask was a human skull; from it, the great antlers rose in cruel curves. The Horned King's eyes blazed behind the gaping sockets of whitened bone.

Many horsemen galloped in his train. The Horned King uttered the long cry of a wild beast, and his riders took it up as they streamed after him.

One of them, an ugly, grinning warrior, caught sight of Taran. He turned his mount and drew a sword. Taran sprang from the tree and plunged into the underbrush. The blade followed, hissing like an adder. Taran felt it sting across his back. He ran blindly, while saplings whipped his face and hidden rocks jutted out to pitch him forward and stab at his knees. Where the woods thinned, Taran clattered along a dry stream bed until, exhausted, he stumbled and held out his hands against the whirling ground.

He was lying on a stretch of turf with a cloak thrown over him. One shoulder smarted painfully. A man knelt beside him. Nearby, a white horse cropped the grass. Still dazed, fearful the riders had overtaken him, Taran started up.

The man held out a flask. His eyes were deep-set, flecked with green. Sun and wind had leathered his broad face, burnt it dark and grained it with fine lines. His cloak was coarse and travel-stained. A wide belt with an intricately wrought buckle circled his waist. He is a great war leader, a hero! He is not The golden pommel was smooth and rounded, its color deliberately muted; ash leaves of pale gold entwined at the hilt, and a pattern of leaves covered the scabbard.

It was truly the weapon of a prince. Taran dropped to one knee and bowed his head. From all Dallben had told him of this glorious hero, from all he had pictured to himself--Taran bit his lips. Gwydion caught Taran's look of disappointment. Come," he ordered, "tell me your name and what happened to you.

And do not ask me to believe you got a sword wound picking gooseberries or poaching hares. I saw the Horned King himself! It was horrible, worse than Dallben told me! Does Dallben know you are in the forest?

Is Coll with you? And they are too wise to let you wander here alone. Have you run off, then? I warn you; Dallben is not one to be disobeyed. Now she's gone, and it's my fault. I'm Assistant Pig-Keeper What has happened to her? I have been followed, spied on, hunted. And now," he added with a bitter laugh, "she has run off.

Very well. She will be found. I must discover all she knows of the Horned King. Give me a sword and I will stand with you! Do you think a lone warrior and one Assistant Pig-Keeper dare attack the Horned King and his war band?

He is the man most to be dreaded in all Prydain. Will you hear something I learned during my journey, something even Dallben may not yet realize? Thread by thread, the pattern forms.

There are chieftains whose lust for power goads them like a sword point. To certain of them, Arawn promises wealth and dominion, playing on their greed as a bard plays on a harp.

Arawn's corruption burns every human feeling from their hearts and they become his liegemen, serving him beyond the borders of Annuvin and bound to him forever. I know beyond question that he has sworn his allegiance to Arawn. He is Arawn's avowed champion.

Once again, the power of Annuvin threatens Prydain. Gwydion turned to him. And one of us will die. That is my oath.

But his purpose is dark and unknown, and I must learn it from Hen Wen. I think I can find the place. It was just before the Horned King We sleep here and I shall be off at first light. With good luck, I may have her back before I let her escape and it is I who must find her. If the Horned King rides toward Caer Dallben, I cannot send you back alone and I dare not go with you and lose a day's tracking.

You cannot stay in this forest by yourself. Unless I find some way Dallben and Coll will see I can do what I set out to do! For a little while at least. He unpacked provisions from the saddlebags. Excitement robbed him of appetite and he was impatient for dawn. His wound had stiffened so that he could not settle himself on the roots and pebbles. It had never occurred to him until now that a hero would sleep on the ground.

Gwydion, watchful, sat with his knees drawn up, his back against an enormous elm. In the lowering dusk Taran could barely distinguish the man from the tree; and could have walked within a pace of him before realizing he was any more than a splotch of shadow. Gwydion had sunk into the forest itself; only his green-flecked eyes shone in the reflection of the newly risen moon. Gwydion was silent and thoughtful for a long while. His voice from the shadows was quiet but urgent.

Who are your kinsmen?

I don't know who my parents were. Dallben has never told me. I suppose," he added, turning his face away, "I don't even know who I am. Our meeting was fortunate," he went on. It makes me wonder," Gwydion went on, with a laugh that was not unkind, "is there a destiny laid on me that an Assistant Pig-Keeper should help me in my quest?

Sleep now, for we rise early tomorrow. The cloak Taran had slept in was damp with dew. Every joint ached from his night on the hard ground. With Gwydion's urging, Taran stumbled toward the horse, a white blur in the gray-pink dawn.

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Gwydion hauled Taran into the saddle behind him, spoke a quiet command, and the white steed moved quickly into the rising mist. Gwydion was seeking the spot where Taran had last seen Hen Wen.

But long before they had reached it, he reined up Melyngar and dismounted. As Taran watched, Gwydion knelt and sighted along the turf. Despite Taran's disappointment at finding the Lord Gwydion dressed in a coarse jacket and mud-spattered boots, he followed the man with growing admiration.

Nothing, Taran saw, escaped Gwydion's eyes. Like a lean, gray wolf, he moved silently and easily. A little way on, Gwydion stopped, raised his shaggy head and narrowed his eyes toward a distant ridge. She might have gone anywhere in Prydain. Here, Great Avren flows. See how it turns west before it reaches the sea. We may have to cross it before our search ends. And this is the River Ystrad. Its valley leads north to Caer Dathyl.

Hen Wen would shun this above all. She was too long a captive in Annuvin; she would never venture near it. She belonged to a farmer who had no idea at all of her powers.

And so she might have spent her days as any ordinary pig. But Arawn knew her to be far from ordinary, and of such value that he himself rode out of Annuvin and seized her. What dire things happened while she was prisoner of Arawn it is better not to speak of them. But how did she escape? A warrior went alone into the depths of Annuvin and brought her back safely.

Gwydion looked closely at him. It was Coll," he said. A hero? I have never known courage to be judged by the length of a man's hair. Or, for the matter of that, whether he has any hair at all. This, too, Hen Wen would avoid at all cost. It is the abode of Queen Achren, She is as dangerous as Arawn himself; as evil as she is beautiful. But there are secrets concerning Achren which are better left untold. From what little I can see, she has run straight ahead.

Quickly now, we shall try to pick up her trail. As they reached the bottom of the slope, Taran heard the waters of Great Avren rushing like wind in a summer storm. Stay close behind me," he ordered. Gwydion made no more sound than the shadow of a bird.

Melyngar herself stepped quietly; hardly a twig snapped under her hoofs. Try as he would, Taran could not go as silently. The more careful he attempted to be, the louder the leaves rattled and crackled. Wherever he put his foot, there seemed to be a hole or spiteful branch to trip him up. Even Melyngar turned and gave him a reproachful look. Taran grew so absorbed in not making noise that he soon lagged far behind Gwydion.

On the slope, Taran believed he could make out something round and white. He yearned to be the first to find Hen Wen and he turned aside, clambered through the weeds to discover nothing more than a boulder. Disappointed, Taran hastened to catch up with Gwydion. Overhead, the branches rustled. As he stopped and looked up, something fell heavily to the ground behind him. Two hairy and powerful hands locked around his throat.

Whatever had seized him made barking and snorting noises. Taran forced out a cry for help. He struggled with his unseen opponent, twisting, flailing his legs, and throwing himself from one side to the other. Suddenly he could breathe again. A shape sailed over his head and crashed against a tree trunk. Taran dropped to the ground and began rubbing his neck.

Gwydion stood beside him. Sprawled under the tree was the strangest creature Taran had ever seen. He could not be sure whether it was animal or human. He decided it was both. Its hair was so matted and covered with leaves that it looked like an owl's nest in need of housecleaning.

It had long, skinny, woolly arms, and a pair of feet as flexible and grimy as its hands. Gwydion was watching the creature with a look of severity and annoyance. He is not half as ferocious as he looks, not a quarter as fierce as he should like to be, and more a nuisance than anything else. Somehow, he manages to see most of what happens, and he might be able to help us. He was covered with Gurgi's shedding hair, in addition to the distressing odor of a wet wolfhound.

Yes, yes, that is always the way of it with poor Gurgi. But what honor to be smacked by the greatest of warriors!

Had Gurgi owned a tail, Taran was sure he would have wagged it frantically. Oh, joyous crunchings and munchings! Many years from now, when the great princes revel in their halls what feastings they will remember hungry, wretched Gurgi waiting for them.

Have you seen a white pig this morning? They would not be cruel to starving Gurgi oh, no they would feed him You will save miserable Gurgi from hurtful choppings!

Gurgi is so quiet and clever, and no one cares about him. But he listens! These great warriors say they have gone to a certain place, but great fire turns them away. They are not pleased, and they still seek a piggy with outcries and horses. Oh, terrible hunger pinches! Gurgi cannot remember. Was there a piggy? Gurgi is fainting and falling into the bushes, his poor, tender head is full of air from his empty belly. After the way you jumped on me, you deserve to have your head smacked.

Gwydion turned severely to Taran. Leave him to me. Do not make him any more frightened than he is. Then I will surely come back with wrath. Remember, I want no mischief from you. He feels so sorry for himself that it is hard not to be angry with him.

But there is no use in doing so. The Horned King has ridden to Caer Dallben. Until now, he had paid little mind to his home. The thought of the white cottage in flames, his memory of Dallben's beard, and the heroic Coll's bald head touched him all at once.

A beetle could not creep into Caer Dallben without his knowledge. No, I am certain the fire was something Dallben arranged for unexpected visitors. Our quest grows ever more urgent," Gwydion hastily continued.

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He will pursue her. They dismounted and hurried on foot in the direction Gurgi had indicated. Near a jagged rock, Gwydion halted and gave a cry of triumph. In a patch of clay, Hen Wen's tracks showed as plainly as if they had been carved. Had I known he would guide us so well, I would have given him an extra share. The air had suddenly grown cold and heavy. The restless Avren ran gray, slashed with white streaks. Clutching Melyngar's saddle horn, Taran stepped gingerly from the bank.

Gwydion strode directly into the water. Taran, thinking it easier to get wet a little at a time, hung back as much as he could until Melyngar lunged ahead, carrying him with her. His feet sought the river bottom, he stumbled and splashed, while icy waves swirled up to his neck. The current grew stronger, coiling like a gray serpent about Taran's legs.

The bottom dropped away sharply; Taran lost his footing and found himself wildly dancing over nothing, as the river seized him greedily. Melyngar began to swim, her strong legs keeping her afloat and in motion, but the current swung her around; she collided with Taran and forced him under the water. With every gasp, the river poured into his lungs. Gwydion struck out after him, soon overtook him, seized him by the hair, and drew him toward the shallows.

He heaved the dripping, coughing Taran onto the bank. Melyngar, reaching shore a little farther upstream, trotted down to join them. Gwydion looked sharply at Taran. Are all Assistant Pig-Keepers deaf as well as stubborn? If Melyngar hadn't sat on me Melyngar's hoofs clicked over the stones.

Taran, snuffling and shivering, looked toward the waiting hills. High against the blue, three winged shapes wheeled and glided. Gwydion, whose eyes were everywhere at once, caught sight of them instantly. The abrupt change of direction and Melyngar's heaving burst of speed threw Taran off balance.

His legs flew up and he landed flat on the pebble-strewn bank. Gwydion reined in Melyngar immediately. While Taran struggled to his feet, Gwydion seized him like a sack of meal and hauled him to Melyngar's back. The gwythaints which, at a distance, had seemed no more than dry leaves in the wind, grew larger and larger, as they plunged toward horse and riders. Downward they swooped, their great black wings driving them ever faster. Melyngar clattered up the river bank. The gwythaints screamed above.

At the line of trees, Gwydion thrust Taran from the saddle and leaped down. Dragging him along, Gwydion dropped to the earth under an oak tree's spreading branches. The glittering wings beat against the foliage. Taran glimpsed curving beaks and talons merciless as daggers. He cried out in terror and hid his face, as the gwythaints veered off and swooped again. The leaves rattled in their wake.

The creatures swung upward, hung poised against the sky for an instant, then climbed swiftly and sped westward. White-faced and trembling, Taran ventured to raise his head.

Gwydion strode to the river bank and stood watching the gwythaints' flight. Taran made his way to his companion's side. His face was dark and grave. He had clumsily fallen off Melyngar at the moment when speed counted most; at the oak, he had behaved like a child.

He waited for Gwydion's reprimand, but the warrior's green eyes followed the dark specks. No one stays long hidden from them. We are lucky they were only scouting and not on a blood hunt. He will not be idle. I have no doubt he knew the moment I rode from Caer Dathyl. The gwythaints are not his only servants.

For generations they have been trained in this. Arawn understands their language and they are in his power from the moment they leave the egg.

Nevertheless, they are creatures of flesh and blood and a sword can answer them. It is said he steeps them in a cauldron to give them life again if it can be called life. Like death, they are forever silent; and their only thought is to bring others to the same bondage. Yet from time to time Arawn sends certain of them outside Annuvin to perform his most ruthless tasks. He has destroyed their remembrance of themselves as living men.

They have no memory of tears or laughter, of sorrow or loving kindness. Among all Arawn's deeds, this is one of the cruelest. They led over a barren field, then to a shallow ravine. The weary and discouraged Taran could barely force himself to put one foot in front of the other, and was glad the dusk obliged Gwydion to halt.

Gwydion tethered Melyngar in a thicket. Taran sank to the ground and rested his head in his hands. Time is too short to ponder each one. There is an ancient dweller in the foothills of Eagle Mountains.

His name is Medwyn, and it is said he understands the hearts and ways of every creature in Prydain. He, if anyone, should know where Hen Wen may be hiding. Others have sought him and failed. We should have only faint hope. But that is better than none at all. From a distance came the lonely baying of hounds. Gwydion sat upright, tense as a bowstring.

And so," he mused, "Gwyn, too, rides abroad. Gwyn the Hunter rides alone with his dogs, and where he rides, slaughter follows. He has foreknowledge of death and battle, and watches from afar, marking the fall of warriors. Flung across the sky, the sound pierced Taran's breast like a cold blade of terror. Yet, unlike the music itself, the echoes from the hills sang less of fear than of grief. Fading, they sighed that sunlight and birds, bright mornings, warm fires, food and drink, friendship, and all good things had been lost beyond recovery.

Gwydion laid a firm hand on Taran's brow. But do not listen overmuch to the echoes. Others have done so, and have wandered hopeless ever since. As Gwydion rose and went to her, Taran glimpsed a shadow dart behind a bush. He sat up quickly. Gwydion's back was turned. In the bright moonlight the shadow moved again. Choking back his fear, Taran leaped to his feet and plunged into the undergrowth. Thorns tore at him. He landed on something that grappled frantically. He lashed out, seized what felt like someone's head, and an unmistakable odor of wet wolfhound assailed his nose.

And you should know better than to jump into thorn bushes without first making sure what you will find. Save your anger for a better purpose You may be many other things, Taran of Caer Dallben, but I see you are no coward. I offer you my thanks," he added, bowing deeply. Not even a small munching for helping find a piggy! I wouldn't be surprised if you'd gone and told him The lord of the great horns pursues wise, miserable Gurgi with leaping and galloping.

Gurgi fears terrible smackings and whackings. He follows kindly and mighty protectors. Faithful Gurgi will not leave them, never!

They cross water, but only clever, unthanked Gurgi knows where. And they light fires with fearsome blazings. Gwydion saddled Melyngar and, clinging to the shadows, they set out across the moonlit hills.

Gurgi led the way, loping ahead, bent forward, his long arms dangling. They crossed one deep valley, then another, before Gurgi halted on a ridge. Below, the wide plain blazed with torches and Taran saw a great ring of flames. Disregarding him, Gwydion motioned for them all to descend the slope. There was little need for silence. A deep, hollow drumming throbbed over the crowded plain. Horses whickered; there came the shouts of men and the clank of weapons. Gwydion crouched in the bracken, watching intently.

Around the fiery circle, warriors on high stilts beat upraised swords against their shields. The baskets another ancient custom best forgotten. And there," he exclaimed, pointing to the columns of horsemen, "I see the banners of the Cantrev Rheged! The banners of Dau Gleddyn and of Mawr! All the cantrevs of the south! Yes, now I understand!

Flames seized the osier cages; billows of foul smoke rose skyward. The warriors clashed their shields and shouted together with one voice. From the baskets rose the agonized screams of men. Taran gasped and turned away. Until now, he had not spoken.

Even Gurgi had been silent, his eyes round with terror. His face was grim and pale. The Horned King has raised a mighty host, and they will march against us. The Sons of Don are ill prepared for so powerful an enemy.

They must be warned. I must return to Caer Dathyl immediately. Taran sprang up. The first horseman spurred his mount to a gallop. Melyngar whinnied shrilly. The warriors drew their swords.

Gwydion was at Taran's side as the first rider bore down on them. With a quick gesture, Gwydion thrust a hand into his jacket and pulled out the net of grass. Suddenly the withered wisps grew larger, longer, shimmering and crackling, nearly blinding Taran with streaks of liquid flame. The rider raised his sword. With a shout, Gwydion hurled the dazzling mesh into the warrior's face. Shrieking, the rider dropped his sword and grappled the air.

He tumbled from his saddle while the mesh spread over his body and clung to him like an enormous spiderweb. Gwydion dragged the stupefied Taran to an ash tree and from his belt drew the hunting knife which he thrust in Taran's hand. The great sword swung a glittering arc, the flashing blade sang above Gwydion's head.

The attackers drove against them. One horse reared. For Taran there was only a vision of hoofs plunging at his face. The rider chopped viciously at Taran's head, swung around, and struck again.

Blindly, Taran lashed out with the knife. Shouting in rage and pain, the rider clutched his leg and wheeled his horse away. There was no sign of Gurgi, but a white streak sped across the field.

Melyngar now had entered the fray. Her golden mane tossing, the white mare whinnied fearsomely and flung herself among the riders.

Her mighty flanks dashed against them, crowding, pressing, while the steeds of the war party rolled their eyes in panic. One warrior jerked frantically at his reins to turn his mount away. The animal sank to its haunches. Melyngar reared to her full height; her forelegs churned the air, and her sharp hoofs slashed at the rider, who fell heavily to earth.

Melyngar spun about, trampling the cowering horseman. The three mounted warriors forced their way past the frenzied mare. At the ash tree, Gwydion's blade rang and clashed among the leaves. His legs were as though planted in the earth; the shock of the galloping riders could not dislodge him. His eyes shone with a terrible light.

The sword whistled, one rider gave a choking cry. The other two did not press the attack, but hung back for a moment. Hoofbeats pounded over the meadow. Even as the attackers had begun to withdraw, two more riders galloped forward. They reined their horses sharply, dismounted without hesitation, and ran swiftly toward Gwydion.

Their faces were pallid; their eyes like stones. Heavy bands of bronze circled their waists, and from these belts hung the black thongs of whips. Knobs of bronze studded their breastplates.

They did not bear shield or helmet. Their mouths were frozen in the hideous grin of death. Gwydion's sword flashed up once more. Take Melyngar and ride from here! In another instant, the Cauldron-Born were upon them. For Taran, the horror beating in him like black wings came not from the livid features of the Cauldron warriors or their lightless eyes but from their ghostly silence.

The mute men swung their swords, metal grated against metal. The relentless warriors struck and struck again. Gwydion's blade leaped past one opponent's guard and drove deep into his heart.

The pale warrior made no outcry. No blood followed as Gwydion ripped the weapon free; the Cauldron-Born shook himself once, without a grimace, and moved again to the attack. Gwydion stood as a wolf at bay, his green eyes glittering, his teeth bared.

The swords of the Cauldron-Born beat against his guard. Taran thrust at one of the livid warriors; a sword point ripped his arm and sent the small knife hurtling into the bracken. Blood streaked Gwydion's face where an unlucky blow had slashed his cheekbone and forehead. Once, his blade faltered and a Cauldron-Born thrust at his breast. Gwydion turned, taking the sword point in his side. The pale warriors doubled their assault. The great shaggy head bowed wearily as Gwydion stumbled forward.

With a mighty cry, he lunged, then dropped to one knee. With his flagging strength, he fought to raise the blade again. The Cauldron-Born flung aside their weapons, seized him, threw him to the ground, and quickly bound him. Now the other two warriors approached. One grasped Taran by the throat, the other tied his hands behind him.

Taran was dragged to Melyngar and thrown across her back, where he lay side by side with Gwydion. Why did you not flee, as I ordered?

I knew I was powerless against the Cauldron-Born, but I could have held the ground for you. Yet, you fought well enough, Taran of Caer Dallben. I remember the net of grass you wove before we crossed Avren. But in your hands today it was no grass I have ever seen. The wisp of grass yes, it is a little more than that. Dallben himself taught me the use of it. Alas, they are not great enough to defend myself against the powers of Arawn. Today," he added, "they were not enough to protect a brave companion.

Snatching the whip from his belt, he lashed brutally at the captives. If we should not meet again, farewell. Fording the shallow River Ystrad, the Cauldron-Born pressed tightly on either side of the captives. Taran dared once again to speak to Gwydion, but the lash cut his words short. Taran's throat was parched, waves of dizziness threatened to drown him. He could not be sure how long they had ridden, for he lapsed often into feverish dreams.

The sun was still high and he was dimly aware of a hill with a tall, gray fortress looming at its crest. Melyngar's hoofs rang on stones as a courtyard opened before him.

Rough hands pulled him from Melyngar's back and drove him, stumbling, down an arching corridor. Gwydion was half-dragged, half-carried before him. Taran tried to catch up with his companion, but the lash of the Cauldron-Born beat him to his knees.

A guard hauled him upright again and kicked him forward. At length, the captives were led into a spacious council chamber. Torches flickered from walls hung with scarlet tapestries. Outside, it had been full daylight; here in the great, windowless hall, the chill and dampness of night rose from the cold flagstones like mist. At the far end of the hall, on a throne carved of black wood, sat a woman.

Her long hair glittered silver in the torchlight. Her face was young and beautiful; her pale skin seemed paler still above her crimson robe. Jeweled necklaces hung at her throat, gem-studded bracelets circled her wrists, and heavy rings threw back the flickering torches. Gwydion's sword lay at her feet. The woman rose quickly. Someone shall answer for this neglect! At the pressure of her fingers, a comforting warmth filled Taran's aching body.

Instead of pain, a delicious sensation of repose came over him, repose as he remembered it from days long forgotten in Caer Dallben, the warm bed of his childhood, drowsy summer afternoons.But he is a man of evil for whom death is a black joy.

He supposed Gwydion had been cast in another dungeon; Taran fervently hoped so. We might go on tramping for days. When she is being formal, she calls herself "Princess Eilonwy, daughter of Angharad , daughter of Regat of the Royal House of Llyr " in reference to her mother and grandmother respectively. He sat up quickly.

He is the man most to be dreaded in all Prydain. The bottom dropped away sharply; Taran lost his footing and found himself wildly dancing over nothing, as the river seized him greedily.

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