Don’t worry, kids, Taran doesn’t get eaten by the eels at this time – that is to say, he doesn’t drown. Instead, he comes to on a flat stone surface lit by a pale blue light from above. He’s holding on to Fflewddur’s harp (which means we can look forward to more broken strings), and the bard himself calls out from nearby. Eilonwy, Gurgi, and Melyngar are there too, but their food and supplies were all washed away, though they still have their swords. Before they can explore their surroundings (an embankment near a wide canal), they are seized from behind and sacks are thrown over their heads. Taran’s sack smells strongly of onions, which is a great detail. The companions are hustled to a chamber and the bags are removed. Gurgi has somehow gone missing in the interval. Their captors are revealed to be dwarfish warriors; Eilonwy has given one of them a black eye for trying to disarm her.
A yellow-bearded dwarf wearing a red and green robe and glittering rings shouts at the other dwarves for disturbing him. This is revealed to be King Eiddileg, who speaks in tones varying from sarcastic scorn to put-upon exasperation to utter outrage. He’s like a combination of Larry David on “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and Christian Bale doing his “ohhhh, good for you!” rant. This scene from the Disney animated film portrays him as much more benevolent and fails to milk his comic potential, IMHO:
The king tells the captives they’re in the heart of the kingdom of “the Fair Folk, the Happy Family, the Little People, or whatever other insipid, irritating names you’ve put on us.” I like how dwarves, fairies, lake sprites and the “Children of Evening” are all like departments of a large magical corporation in the Prydain world, and Eiddileg is a frustrated administrator trying to keep everything running smoothly just so that the “long-legged gawks” (unappreciative humans) “can enjoy a little charm and beauty in the world above.” Eilonwy says she appreciates it, and the king thanks her for being the rare human to acknowledge all his hard work. Taran, it should be noted, does not express appreciation, though he does compliment the song that the Children of Evening are rehearsing. He asks the king to show them passage to Caer Dathyl. But Eiddileg says he put the whirlpool in place to trap those who get too close, and that now they’re in, they’ll have to stay.
Taran and Fflewddur draw their swords, intending to fight their way out. King Eiddileg simply wiggles his fingers at them and freezes their arms in place, then says to give him a decent reason why he should let them go “in a year or two.” Taran tells the story of their quest so far. The king is unmoved, saying that humans stole Prydain from the Fair Folk in the first place and they’ll have to sort out their own problems, but Taran warns that if the Horned King is successful, the kingdom of the Fair Folk will also fall to Arawn. Eiddileg takes a very Treebeard-like tack, saying that he owes no allegiance to any side, and Eilonwy cries that he’s conceited and selfish. At that, Eiddileg explodes, throwing off his rings and cloak and having a “Go ahead! Take it all!” temper tantrum. At that moment, in a plot twist that I’d totally forgotten (I literally got chills!), Gurgi bursts in, swinging two hapless dwarf guards hither and thither, and exclaiming that he knows where Hen Wen is: “Here, mighty lord… the piggy is here!”