The Book of Three, Chapter 14 – The Black Lake

That evening, the group dines on veggie-venison with Medwyn – “You wouldn’t expect him to cook his guests, would you?” quips Eilonwy when Fflewddur is surprised to learn it’s not meat he’s eating – and then retires to the byre, but Taran can’t sleep. He gets up and walks around the valley. Medwyn appears and says “A restless night is no way to begin a journey,” which is very true (and yet it seems I can never sleep the night before I’m scheduled to travel somewhere). Taran says he wishes his journey were finished and he fears he won’t see Caer Dallben again, but that staying in Medwyn’s valley would be the next best thing. Medwyn says Taran is one of the few people he would allow to stay in his valley, and invites him to give up his quest. Taran has a Gethsemane/Rivendell moment where he’s tempted to do just that, but of course, being the hero of the saga, he resists, saying his decision was made long before now. Medwyn puts a hand on Taran’s forehead and says he’ll grant him a good night’s sleep, since that’s all Taran will accept.

Next morning, Taran arises, refreshed, to find that Gurgi is all better – well enough to turn somersaults, in fact! – and that Medwyn’s given him a bath so he’s only “half as twiggy and leafy as usual.” Medwyn provides them with cloaks and food and makes them a little 3D rendering in the earth, showing the mountain passes they can take to regain their lost time and get ahead of the Horned King’s host. He escorts them from the valley, as Taran observes that he’ll never be able to find the path back (my kingdom for a GPS!), and bids them farewell.

Taran leads the way through the mountains following Medwyn’s recommended paths, and at the end of the first day they stop to rest and build a fire. Eilonwy lights her bauble and sets it in a rock crevice, which is a nice detail, I always thought. She asks Fflewddur to play his harp, so he does: a mournful song that makes Taran homesick for Caer Dallben all over again. Eilonwy reminisces about the sea in a beautiful little passage, describing the white crests of the waves that are known as the White Horses of Llyr. The bard says he’s even thinking of giving up wandering and returning to his little castle. Gurgi howls that he doesn’t have a home, and that when their quest is over, “it will be the fearful forest again for poor Gurgi.” Taran says that if it’s all right with Dallben, Gurgi can come home with him and stay as long as he wants. Gurgi is ecstatic. Sloth love Chunk!

They go to sleep, but during the night it begins to pour rain, and the morning’s travel is miserable and slippery. They come to a lake that looks black beneath the clouds. Medwyn’s directions would take them around in a half-circle along the mountains, but Taran thinks they should go straight across on the lake shore. There’s a brief difference of opinion – “For an Assistant Pig-Keeper who’s done very little traveling, you suddenly know all about it,” Eilonwy snarks – but Taran reminds her that he found the way out of the barrow and says it’s decided. They descend to the lake, which, up close, turns out to be truly black and not just shadowed. Taran still thinks he’s made the right choice as they start to wade through the shallows, but an undertow quickly pulls them to the center of the lake, where a whirlpool swallows them up. The chapter ends in another patented Alexander cliffhanger, as Taran feels himself drowning! Oh noes!