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Taran wanderer, p.1
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       Taran Wanderer, p.1

           Lloyd Alexander
 
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Taran Wanderer


  For Wayfarers still journeying, for Wanderers at rest

  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  CHAPTER ONE - Who Am I?

  CHAPTER TWO - Cantrev Cadiffor

  CHAPTER THREE - Goryon and Gast

  CHAPTER FOUR - A Matter of Cows

  CHAPTER FIVE - A Judgment

  CHAPTER SIX - A Frog

  CHAPTER SEVEN - Friends in Danger

  CHAPTER EIGHT - The Wall of Thorns

  CHAPTER NINE - The hand of Morda

  CHAPTER TEN - The Broken Spell

  CHAPTER ELEVEN - Dorath

  CHAPTER TWELVE - The Wager

  CHAPTER THIRTEEN - The Lost Lamb

  CHAPTER FOURTEEN - The End of Summer

  CHAPTER FIFTEEN - The Open Cage

  CHAPTER SIXTEEN - Taran Wanderer

  CHAPTER SEVENTEEN - The Weir

  CHAPTER EIGHTEEN - The Free Commots

  CHAPTER NINETEEN - The Potter’s Wheel

  CHAPTER TWENTY - The Spoilers

  CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE - The Mirror

  Author’s Note

  The Chronicles of Prydain

  Prydain Pronunciation Guide

  About the Author

  Copyright Page

  CHAPTER ONE

  Who Am I?

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

  “Farewell, Hen,” Taran said, scratching her bristly chin. “Remember me kindly. Coll 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 backward, knowing if he did, his parting would grieve him the more deeply.

  The two wayfarers rode steadily while the sun climbed higher above the rolling, tree-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 labor 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 westward 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 homeward, 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 mold 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 jeweled clasps and pins glittered in her weedy tangle of disheveled 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.

 
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