The Black Cauldron, Chapter 1 – The Council at Caer Dallben

I’m back, folks! And excited to dive into recapping Prydain once more. Book Two begins much like Book One, with Taran engaged in the business of Assistant Pig-Keeping. It’s early autumn at Caer Dallben, and Taran is grudgingly starting to give Hen Wen a bath, when a horseman rides up and addresses Taran as “Pig-boy!” Oh no he didn’t! The rider is described as “a youth only a few years older than Taran” with tawny hair and black eyes. His garments are high-quality but worn and patched, and his roan mare looks as ill-tempered as he does. Taran asserts that he is not a “pig-boy” but an “Assistant Pig-Keeper,” but the rider is like, tomato, to-mah-to. He tells Taran to run and tell Dallben that Prince Ellidyr is here. Taran, busy trying to keep Hen Wen from rolling in the mud, retorts that Ellidyr should find Dallben himself, or wait until Taran is done with his own work. Things escalate quickly, and Ellidyr scoops Taran up by the jacket and urges his horse to a gallop, shaking Taran violently and then flinging him roughly to the ground. So we’re only three pages in, and Taran has already gotten hurt. Gonna be another bumpy ride.

This is the version I own,
with the Disney movie cover art.
Don’t judge.

Dallben, Coll, and Eilonwy hear the noise and come outside – Eilonwy’s wearing an apron and holding the pot she was scrubbing. Ellidyr calls to Dallben that Taran ought to be beaten for his insolence. Dallben tuts him and tells him to go water his horse and his temper, and that he’ll be called when he’s wanted. Game, set, match, Dallben! Princess Eilonwy (referred to by Coll as “the Princess Eilonwy” … so formal, Coll!) helps patch Taran up. Gurgi climbs through the window with tidings of the “mightiest of princes” arriving. Taran says he can’t mean Gwydion, but of course he does, and then we get the exact same single-sentence paragraph we got at the end of The Book of Three: “Gwydion stood in the doorway.” OK, Gwydion, once is dramatic, but twice is pushing it. You better not go for a third.

Taran, Eilonwy, and Gurgi are happier to see Gwydion than I am and don’t notice the redundancy. Gwydion still has Dyrnwyn, but he’s dressed plainly, in travel clothes. He tells them he has summoned others to Caer Dallben for a council. Taran gets excited and says he’s old enough to join the men. Gwydion basically tells him to chill out but then assures him that he’ll have a seat. And in short order, we get the equivalent of the Rivendell arrival scene in “The Fellowship of the Ring,” as a bunch of warriors show up, including Fflewddur (yay!) and Doli (sigh). Fflewddur is happy to get away from his damp, drafty castle. Doli is miserable because his recently granted power of invisibility leaves his ears ringing and he gets bumped into all the time. Oh, Doli, will you ever win?

Fflewddur points out one of the new arrivals as the son of Chief Bard Taliesin. Oh boy, you guys. Heartthrob alert. His name is Adaon, and I had the most enormous crush on him when I first read these books at age 10. He is tall, with long straight black hair and deep, clear gray eyes, he wears a “curiously shaped iron brooch” on his collar, and he greets Taran and Doli by name, saying “Well met,” like all absolutely fabulous fantasy heroes do. He’s not a bard yet, saying he feels he still has too much to learn before presenting himself to the board (so he’s humble), and he ribs Fflewddur in a friendly way about the enchanted harp he got from his dad (so he’s got a sense of humor). If that’s not enough, after he leaves to go find Gwydion, Fflewddur tells Taran that Adaon is one of the bravest men he knows. He’s the total package! Whew! I’m swooning already.

The council convenes, and we meet two more key players – King Smoit, who is huge, loud, and red, and King Morgant, who is dark, icy, and Snape-like. They get right down to business. Dallben exposits that it’s been a little over a year since the defeat of the Horned King. “But in Prydain evil is never distant,” he says. Gwydion takes the floor and explains that Arawn has been making a bunch more Cauldron-Born warriors, and that he’s no longer just robbing graves but actually killing people to stick in his cauldron and swell his ranks. Taran is properly horrified, and I feel bad for having sort of suggested that tactic myself. Gwydion says he plans to attack Annuvin and destroy the cauldron. Aaaand scene!