The Book of Three, Chapter 11 – Flight Through the Hills

The little band of heroes sets off to Caer Dathyl. Fflewddur scratches out a map in the dirt to show Taran his proposed route, one that takes the high ground, avoiding the valley where the Horned King and his hosts are riding, but also avoids coming too close to Annuvin. Taran does the old tried-and-true manager’s trick of saying “that sounds very reasonable” though he understands none of it. Everything goes smoothly at first, but then Taran turns to look back at the ruin of Spiral Castle and spots two Cauldron-Born pursuing them on horseback. They begin to run through the forest. The sun goes down, and they keep running. Everyone starts to get very fatigued, except Gurgi. Eilonwy at first refuses to ride on Melyngar, but when she’s literally falling asleep while running, Taran puts her on the horse despite her protests.

It’s dawn when they finally risk stopping for a short rest. Taran tries to liberate Eilonwy of her heavy sword, but she wakes up enough to pull it away from him and say he never understands things the first time she says them, “but I imagine Assistant Pig-Keepers are all alike.” Then she goes back to sleep, cradling the scabbard in her arms. Gurgi climbs a tree to see if they’ve given the Cauldron-Born the slip.

There isn’t enough food in the saddlebags to split, so Fflewddur and Taran decide to give Eilonwy what’s left. Gurgi comes down the tree sniffing for a “small crunching,” but Taran says there is no more food. Gurgi’s seen the Cauldron-Born some distance away, and says there’s time for him to “find munchings” for the “great noble lords.” Fflewddur nearly breaks another harp string bragging about his foraging prowess before admitting he “can’t tell a mushroom from a toadstool.” He stays with Eilonwy while Gurgi and Taran go to search for food. Taran is gathering mushrooms when he hears Gurgi yelp, and finds him pinned under a tree branch, next to a honeycomb that he was climbing to get when the branch broke under his weight. Poor Gurgi’s leg is badly injured, though not broken. He begs Taran to chop off his head so that they won’t be slowed down and all end up being killed by the Cauldron-Born. “Gurgi will squeeze up his eyes so as not to see hurtful slashings,” he insists, but of course, Taran, not being a monster, can’t bring himself to kill Gurgi. He says Gurgi can ride on Melyngar along with Eilonwy, and he carefully helps him back to the camp.

Taran divides up the honeycomb, but Gurgi says his portion is for Taran: “Gurgi is not hungry for crunchings and munchings today.” And my eyes fill with tears as Taran insists Gurgi eat to keep up his strength, they smile at each other and Taran puts his hand on Gurgi’s shoulder. He remarks that Gurgi’s odor doesn’t seem as bad as before. I remember reading this scene for the first time 30 years ago, and it cemented my abiding love for Gurgi. It’s still totally heartwarming, but re-reading it as an adult, I can’t help but remark that Taran has been journeying for four days straight, got dunked in a river, slept in a stinky dungeon and just ran all night through the forest, all in the same clothes he was wearing while making horseshoes and tending Hen Wen. So he probably doesn’t smell too great himself. Just sayin’!