Taran’s immediate reaction to seeing an unarmed stranger is to pull out the sword he’s just acquired and start slashing away. Fortunately, he’s terrible at sword fighting, so the newcomer is able to avoid getting hacked to bits by hiding behind a tree. Taran shouts, “You’re not Gwydion!” and the guy is like, duh, I never claimed to be, and also I’m unarmed, so can you please stop trying to kill me? Eilonwy grabs Taran’s arm and tries to get him to stop, but he turns on her and accuses her of betraying him to Achren and leaving Gwydion to die. He even raises his sword to her! Not cool, Taran. Not cool. Eilonwy runs off crying. Taran feels bad and puts down his sword.
The new guy pokes his head out from behind the tree and is all “Truce?” He introduces himself as Fflewddur Fflam, and let me tell you, my fingers don’t want to type those two Fs in a row; thank goodness for copy-paste. Fflewddur is “a bard of the harp” with allegiance to the House of Don, and he’s flattered that Taran mistook him for Prince Gwydion. Taran says Gwydion is dead, and that it’s all Eilonwy’s fault. Fflewddur says that A: that’s a hard judgment to pass on a “winsome lass” who isn’t here to defend herself, and B: if she’s that much of a traitor and liar, why is Taran letting her escape into the forest? Taran grimly agrees, and goes after Eilonwy. He finds her sitting on a boulder, crying. She tells him that he’s hurt her feelings, and over something that was his own fault to begin with. Taran is confused, and Eilonwy points out that he never said “Go and rescue a man named Gwydion.” Instead he assumed the man in the other cell was his companion, and gave her no other details to go on. So she rescued the man in the other cell, who turned out to be Fflewddur. She puts her chin in the air and won’t look at him. Taran is ashamed and apologizes for accusing her of treachery. He says he can’t expect her to help him find Gwydion, but of course she quickly gets over the whole chin-in-the-air act and slides off the boulder and goes with him. Love that girl!
Now we get a description of Fflewddur Fflam – lanky, with a pointed nose and “bright yellow hair,” which is kind of hard to picture on a grown man (but I bet he looks a lot like this guy). He has a beautiful harp, but his clothes are worn and patched, and he looks nothing like “the bards Taran had learned about from The Book of Three.” I guess those bards were fat and had brown hair and nice clothes? Taran explains that Fflewddur was rescued by mistake, and Fflewddur says he should have figured as much, because who would care if he were “languishing in a dungeon or not?” Poor Fflewddur! Taran wants to go back to the ruins and look for Gwydion, in case he miraculously survived having a castle fall on him. Fflewddur is all for storming the castle, but disappointed to hear “there’s not much of it left to storm.”
They arrive at the ruin of Spiral Castle, see some dead guards sprawled around, try to move a couple of heavy rocks and then Taran, in his typical melodramatic fashion, pronounces Gwydion good and dead and turns his face away. He announces, “I am impatient to be gone from here” – a phrase which I absolutely love and plan to use the next time I’m waiting in line somewhere. Eilonwy points out that the rest of them aren’t having a splendid time either. I love how this whole chapter is just Eilonwy pointing out what an insensitive dunce Taran is. They pick up some extra weapons, travel a safe distance away from the ruins, and then stop to rest. Taran takes the first watch, and before long, who should appear but poor humble Gurgi! He greets Taran: “Crunchings and munchings?”
Eilonwy and Fflewddur are intrigued by the new arrival. But Taran calls him a “miserable, sneaking wretch who deserted us as soon as we were attacked.” Because he hasn’t learned anything from when he threw Eilonwy under the bus in similar fashion a few hours ago and was totally wrong about it. Gurgi protests that he ran off to find help. Eilonwy takes his part and says it was probably sensible for him to do so, and Gurgi throws himself at the feet of the “noble lady.” Taran is having none of it, so Gurgi goes to crawl sadly away, but not without first dropping a hint about what he’s seen. Taran agrees to share some “crunchings” in return for the information, which is that many more hosts have joined the Horned King. Fflewddur does his whole delusions-of-grandeur thing again and says they should ride out and attack, but Taran wisely acknowledges that it would be foolish to go up against such numbers without help. He tries to go to sleep, but is tormented by the vision of those burning wicker baskets – you’re not the only one, Taran! – and can’t decide whether his next move should be to continue pursuing Hen Wen or to carry out Gwydion’s mission of warning the Sons of Don at Caer Dathyl. Things have “ceased to be simple,” and now he wishes he were back home at Caer Dallben pulling weeds and making those boring old horseshoes again. Poor kid. I know I pick on him a lot, but I really do feel for him in this scene. What would you do, readers?
If you keep looking for Hen Wen, turn to page 118.
If you go to Caer Dathyl to warn the Sons of Don, turn to page 95.