The Black Cauldron, Chapter 6 – Gwystyl

Doli has a long, muffled conversation with the voice from the hollow tree trunk, and afterward he leads the party down a steep embankment to an imposing wall of thorns. The thorn bushes crack open to reveal a sad, thin member of the Fair Folk, wrapped in a dingy robe. This is Gwystyl, and I picture him looking like Dobby the house-elf crossed with Puddleglum the Marsh-wiggle. He’s morose and self-pitying and acts as if he’s suffering terribly from some feverish ailment, but it’s pretty clear that, like King Eiddileg, he’s just a bundle of neuroses (though I find Eiddileg’s fussbudgetry more entertaining than Gwystyl’s melancholia). Doli reads Gwystyl the riot act about being in charge of a Fair Folk way post and not being prepared to offer protection to those in need. Gwystyl moans in protest about being asked to admit not only humans, but horses as well! Nonetheless, he parts the thorns enough to admit everyone into the gallery. There’s a passageway leading to a small chamber with a smoking hearth (where Gurgi curls up), a sleeping pallet and a table and chairs.

Adaon gallantly thanks Gwystyl for his hospitality, while Doli demands Gwystyl get them something to eat and drink. Gwystyl asks, “When did you say you were leaving?” Hee. Eilonwy, ever the animal-lover, delightedly spots Gwystyl’s tame crow on a perch. She compliments it, although its feathers are a mess: “They’re unusual, but very handsome once you get used to them.” Petting the crow, Taran thinks sadly about the gwythaint he rescued and wonders how she’s doing. Eilonwy asks the bird’s name, and Gwystyl says it’s Kaw, because of the sound it makes. Fflewddur is like, wow, how clever, I would never have thought of that! I can’t tell if he’s just being nice or if he’s legitimately impressed.

Adaon treats Ellidyr’s wound, though Ellidyr peevishly protests that he isn’t troubled by it and won’t slow them down. Gwystyl wonders if Adaon has anything for his “condition,” and complains about the dampness and drafts, which he’s certain will outlast him. Doli tells him to knock it off and start thinking of a way to help them escape the Huntsmen. Gwystyl has another attack of shivering and moaning, and tells Doli and Taran it was inconsiderate of them to involve him in their “mad schemes.” Adaon starts to say that he would rather not tell Gwystyl the reason for their plight, but then Taran goes and blurts out that they were on a quest from Gwydion to steal the cauldron from Arawn. Adaon doesn’t reprove Taran for speaking out of turn (as I bet Gwydion would have) but merely tells Gwystyl the rest of their story. Gwystyl sighs that it’s a very unfortunate business and they should never have gotten mixed up with the cauldron. Taran says they aren’t mixed up with it, because someone has already taken it from Annuvin. And Gwystyl’s surprising response? “Yes… yes, I know.”