As dawn breaks, Taran wakes to find that every joint in his body aches from sleeping on the ground. Far from glamorizing the adventure, Alexander makes sleeping in the woods sound so awful that I suspect my lifelong aversion to camping stemmed from reading this at an impressionable age. Gwydion pulls Taran into Melyngar’s saddle with him, but soon dismounts and tracks Hen Wen on foot. Taran, not for the first or last time, thinks that Gwydion looks like a gray wolf. Gwydion does some quick exposition and map-making, telling Taran (and the reader) that his land is to the north, that the River Ystrad divides Prydain into east and west, and to the west are Annuvin and Spiral Castle, “the abode of Queen Achren… as evil as she is beautiful.” He is certain that Hen Wen would not have gone in that direction, because she was a prisoner in Annuvin and would stay far away. Taran is surprised to hear that Hen Wen was in Annuvin. Gwydion explains that she once belonged to a farmer who had no idea of her powers, and she was kidnapped by Arawn and then rescued by a lone warrior who went into Annuvin and brought her out. Who was that brave warrior of legend? Why, none other than “Coll Son of Collfrewr.” Taran can’t believe that Coll was a hero because: “he’s so bald!” Gwydion laughs, but then of course has to turn it into a teaching moment, telling Taran that he’s never known courage to be judged by the amount of hair on a man’s head, OK, fine, we get it, Prince Super-serious.
Off they go after Hen Wen, Gwydion walking silently, Melyngar moving quietly and giving Taran “reproachful” glances whenever he makes noise, which is often. Taran’s about as stealthy as I would be in the forest, I think. The quieter he tries to go, the farther behind he gets, which is how he suddenly gets ambushed by my (and probably everyone’s) favorite character in the series! A pair of “hairy and powerful hands” grab him by the throat, and after he scuffles unsuccessfully with his assailant, Gwydion rescues him by flinging poor Gurgi against a tree. The “strangest creature Taran had ever seen,” Gurgi is apparently both animal and human, with long hairy arms and prehensile feet (not at all like his cute and cuddly appearance in the Disney animated film of “The Black Cauldron”). He’s basically a hairier version of Gollum, covered in dirt and leaves and with “the distressing odor of a wet wolfhound.” He immediately starts howling and sucking up to Gwydion in his peculiarly awesome speech pattern, begging for “crunchings and munchings” and to avoid being “smacked on his poor tender head… But what honor to be smacked by the greatest of warriors!” Gwydion says he’ll give Gurgi food if he answers his questions, and asks him whether he has seen a white pig. Gurgi says that he saw great lords riding angrily through the forest for “the seeking of a piggy.” The warriors went to “a certain place” where they were turned away by fire. The piggy went across the water “with swimmings and splashings.”
Gurgi reminds Gwydion that he promised “crunchings and munchings,” and says he wants “the smaller one for munchings,” eyeing Taran beadily, which is so awesome in light of their later relationship (spoiler alert) that I wonder if Taran ever reminds his most faithful friend later on that when they first met, Gurgi wanted to eat him. Probably not, because Gurgi would be overwhelmed with guilt and remorse. Gwydion says that Taran is an Assistant Pig-Keeper and would disagree violently with Gurgi. He gives him some dried meat instead, and Gurgi climbs a tree and disappears from sight. Taran is frightened for Dallben and Coll because of Gurgi’s mention of fire, but Gwydion suspects that the fire was “something Dallben arranged for unexpected visitors.” Taran says they must find Hen Wen before the Horned King does, and Gwydion channels the Professor from “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” as he haughtily says that has been Taran’s “only sensible suggestion” so far.
What do you think, readers? Am I drawing too many parallels between the characters of Middle-Earth and Prydain? (It’s hard to resist, because they have so much in common.) Do you love Gurgi as much as I do? Is Gwydion really a douche, or am I being too hard on him? Let me know in the comments!