The Black Cauldron, Chapter 16 – The River – and Chapter 17 – The Choice

At dawn, the companions set out again, with the Black Crochan tied between Melynlas and Lluagor. Taran worries that the wide open moors offer them no protection from gwythaints. He decides they should detour to the Forest of Idris. Within the forest, the horses struggle to carry the cauldron through the thick brush. Taran wishes Doli were here, since he’d “think of something clever. Like making a sling out of branches and vines.” Eilonwy praises Taran’s ingenuity and says he doesn’t need Adaon’s brooch, which strikes me as a little odd, since Taran had voiced a longing for Doli, and not the brooch. Whatever. They make the sling and labor onwards, toting the cauldron between the four of them. Eventually, one of the branches snaps, and so does Taran, saying, “We’ll never get it through the forest. No sense trying.” Eilonwy says he sounds like Gwystyl. I think he sounds like this guy:

He mends the sling, though, and they continue on until they reach the banks of a choppy brown river, which Fflewddur says must be the River Tevvyn. They attempt to cross, but Fflewddur stumbles against some sharp boulders, and the cauldron falls down and sticks in the mud. Fflewddur, pale, gasps, “Is it broken? Is it broken?” Taran examines his arm and says he fears that it is. But of course Fflewddur could care less about an arm, it’s his harp he was worried about! The same harp that he was about to trade for the cauldron a chapter ago. Awwww. The harp is intact, but with Fflewddur injured, the others are unable to lift the cauldron out of the river.

Ellidyr appears! Looking the worse for wear, he leads Islimach to the riverbank and greets the companions in his usual scornful fashion. “The pig-boy, the scullery maid – I do not see the dreamer.” Taran shouts that Adaon is dead, thanks to Ellidyr’s betrayal. Ellidyr is like, don’t care, give me some food. Gurgi doesn’t want to share his magical lembas and jerky with the traitor, but Taran commands him to. He asks why Ellidyr is there, and Ellidyr says he was heading for the Marshes of Morva, but ran into some gwythaints that slashed his face, and some Huntsmen he outran. Taran says they’ve been to Morva already, and points to the cauldron in the riverbed. Ellidyr is enraged to have been cheated out of what he considers his rightful prize. When he calms down a little, he mocks Taran for not having the strength to smash the cauldron. Taran explains the only way to destroy it is to sacrifice a life, so of course Ellidyr double-dog-dares him to climb in himself. Taran ignores the taunt and asks Ellidyr to help them move the cauldron out of the river; Ellidyr scoffs.

Three gwythaints swoop down on the company, but see the cauldron and fly off instead of attacking. Taran surmises they have gone to tell Arawn the cauldron’s location. Ellidyr decides he’ll help move the cauldron on one condition: that the others swear that he, and he alone, found it and won it. Taran warns him of the black beast, but agrees, despite Eilonwy’s protests, that they will all agree to his terms. Ellidyr uses his considerable strength, along with that of the three horses, to raise the cauldron and drag it to the bank. Once it’s there, he wonders aloud whether the price he demanded was too low, whether he can count on Taran’s utter silence, and whether maybe he could carry the cauldron by himself. Taran says he’s mad, and Ellidyr responds by drawing his sword and forcing Taran into the river. Taran slips, hits his head on a boulder and blacks out!