The Black Cauldron, Chapter 2 – The Naming of the Tasks
Gwydion’s announcement provokes amazed reactions in everyone except the cool-as-a-cucumber King Morgant. Gwydion says that anyone who wishes to leave is welcome to do so. King Smoit tries to bluster that any cowards will have him to deal with, but Gwydion firmly but gently says they must each make their own decision. Of course no one leaves, and Gwydion says that’s good because he has tasks for each of them. Fflewddur excitedly says his task must be to compose the epic song of their adventure, but Gwydion wants him for his sword, not his harp. Fflewddur is disappointed, but rallies, saying “a Fflam is always valiant!”
The plan is to journey from Caer Dallben to the Dark Gate, the “back door” of Annuvin, and divide into three bands. Doli is to turn invisible and break into the Hall of Warriors where the Black Cauldron is kept. Then he, Fflewddur, Coll, and Dallben will steal the cauldron, backed up by King Morgant and his warriors, who will attack the Dark Gate to create a diversion. King Smoit and his army will stand at the edge of Smoit’s kingdom to fight off pursuers and, if necessary, give shelter at Smoit’s stronghold, Caer Cadarn. (Smoit, of course, makes it loudly known that he is none too happy about being excluded from the front line that goes to Annuvin. ) The third band, made up of Adaon, Ellidyr, and Taran, will guard the pack animals at the Dark Gate and “serve as the need demands.” That sounds like a pretty crummy job to me, and Ellidyr agrees, crying out that he’s being treated as “no better than a pig-boy [who] is untried, a green apple!” Taran once again gets hot and bothered by Ellidyr’s insults, countering that he has stood with Gwydion against the Cauldron-Born, and that he has more experience than “Prince Patchcloak” (hee). Gwydion tells them both to cut it out and ends the meeting. They will ride for Annuvin at dawn.
As they leave the council, Taran tries to be the bigger man and offers his hand to Ellidyr to shake, but Ellidyr spurns him. Adaon intervenes with a “Gently, friends,” staving off another altercation. Then Dallben calls to Taran. He has something to give him: a sword! Taran is like, “Whoa, cool, what are its powers?” Dallben says it “is a bit of metal hammered into a rather unattractive shape,” and its only powers are those of the wielder. Then he bids Taran farewell and tells him to go get “the Princess Eilonwy” to gird the sword on him. Everyone’s so formal with her title – well, except Taran, who runs to the scullery and demands her girding services, saying please only as an afterthought. Eilonwy is flushed and flattered, and then Taran wrecks things, in his usual way, by pointing out that she’s the only girl around to do it. At that, she gets her ire up and refuses, but relents when Taran promises to tell her what happened in the council. When he gets to the part about riding for Annuvin at dawn, Eilonwy says she’ll barely have time to pack! Taran is all, um, no, by “we” I meant Gwydion and me and the other dudes. No girls allowed! Eilonwy squeals that even if he has a hundred swords, he’s still just an Assistant Pig-Keeper, and she has as much right to be included as he. She flings crockery at him as he flees the scullery. Boo, sexism. And yet I have a feeling Eilonwy will find some way to be part of this adventure (especially since Alexander says as much in the Author’s Note)!