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!
Gwydion quit the Dunedain to start his own band. I don't know if Strider and the boys in Middle Earth threw him out or if he was ready to go solo. But while the Sons of Don strung together a few decent albums, they never quite matched the success of those northern lads.
LMAO, Joe. I think I have one of the Sons of Don albums. I got it at a yard sale. The first track, "It's Not the Trappings That Make the Prince," was pretty catchy but it gets a little preachy and repetitive after that.
Laughing aloud at this commentary. The Aragorn references are unavoidable. He does come off like kind of a jerk, though trying to put myself in his place gives me a little more sympathy. He's, arguably, the Most Important Person in Prydain going about his Important Business and now he's suddenly saddled with this idiot kid who is going to slow him down and cause trouble. Meanwhile he knows who Taran is and you know he's thinking the whole time, "Really, Dallben? THIS kid? S***, we are DOOMED," but he can't just drop him off at a local woodcutter's hut because then he'd be responsible for the abandonment of the potential future You-Know-What.
Reading it over for my graphic novel I tried to go more in a direction of his being sort of exasperated but patient with Taran's nonsense. I also got rid of most of his annoying proverbs, which makes him more likeable…even so, I have a hard time believing how cut up Taran is later when he thinks Gwydion is dead – until I remind myself that the man is a legend. It would be like being sort of indirectly involved in the death of Michael Jackson.
So glad you lol'ed! It's been my hope that readers who love the books as much as you do will laugh, or at least smile indulgently, at my snark (realizing that it doesn't dampen my complete and utter admiration for Alexander and his creations).
Re: Taran's shock and dismay at Gwydion's apparent death, could it also be that he's been so sheltered he's simply never known anyone who's died before? And now this man who helped him and shared his food with him is suddenly just gone. Add that to Gwydion's hero status and yeah, pretty tough pill for a 13-ish-year-old to swallow.
That's true. All things considered Taran should have had a good case of PTSD by the end of the book, let alone the end of the series, but I guess the standard medieval attitude toward it would have been more or less, "that's life, get used to it." The whole idea that at 14 or 15 he'd have been considered old enough to "do his duty" on the battlefront is so abhorrent to us now but was pretty much par for the course until fairly recent history.
Also…(forgive me for being a pesky nerd, here)…one of the things I realized as I wrote, was Taran's sense of direct responsibility for G's death. Not just for not being more specific with Eilonwy when asking her to help his friend, but also because Gwydion and he were captured by the cauldron-born specifically as G. was trying to buy him time to escape. There was no winning that battle, but had G. been alone he could have outrun them. That is the kind of thing T. would take to his sweet little noble heart and brood over endlessly.
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