The Book of Three, Chapter 2 – The Mask of the King

Taran runs deep into the woods after Hen Wen, but soon loses her, of course, and before long realizes he is lost himself. The atmosphere of the woods changes and becomes cold and scary. And then! In a sequence that gave me serious chills as a wee lass, the Horned King rides in from nowhere, sporting a crimson cloak, crimson stains on his arms – are those supposed to be blood? Tattoos? It’s not clear – and of course, a mask made from a human skull adorned with the horns of a stag. Terrifying. (And probably really heavy and uncomfortable. No wonder he’s so grim.)

He’s followed by a host of riders, one of whom, “an ugly, grinning warrior,” spots Taran and slashes at him with a sword for no reason. Taran flees, passes out, and comes to later on to find himself being nursed by none other than Strider from “Lord of the Rings”! But he’s called Prince Gwydion in this series. We know this because he refers to himself in the third person, as “Gwydion Son of Don,” causing Taran, who has seen only his “simple attire” and “worn, lined face” to rudely cry out that that’s not possible, only to bite his tongue when he sees Gwydion’s bad-ass sword. Taran introduces himself as Taran of Caer Dallben, which Gwydion is surprised to hear, because he himself is on his way to consult Hen Wen about the Horned King. Gwydion confirms that the Horned King is Arawn’s champion, and he talks about the threads of a pattern “loomed in Annuvin” while weaving some blades of grass together to make a mesh (this will be important later).

Gwydion says he has taken an oath to meet the Horned King in combat “and one of us will die,” because he’s extremely serious, and also seriously extreme. He reluctantly agrees to let Taran accompany him to finish searching for Hen Wen, who is, after all, Taran’s responsibility, though Gwydion kind of brushes that off, and only agrees to team up because taking Taran back to Caer Dallben would waste time. He shares with Taran the provisions he keeps in the saddlebags of his white horse, Melyngar – I remember wondering what exactly those provisions were, but Alexander doesn’t describe the meal other than to say it was “hurried” – and then Taran tries to sleep on the unheroic-feeling ground while Gwydion sits against a tree philosophizing out loud and probably muttering in Elvish.

Taran reveals that he doesn’t know who his kinsmen are, if he even has any – he’s lived with Dallben as long as he can remember. “I suppose … I don’t even know who I am.” Gwydion sort of douche-ily says that that’s something we all must figure out for ourselves and how funny is it that he should get help from an Assistant Pig-Keeper, “or is it perhaps the other way around?” And now I remember not liking Gwydion very much on first meeting. I think he gets a little cooler later on, but he’s always somewhat stuck-up, if I recall correctly. And that’s the end of chapter 2!