The Black Cauldron, Chapter 19 – The War Lord – and Chapter 20 – The Final Price, part 1

Morgant’s warriors tie up Taran and his companions, knocking Gurgi unconscious when he tries to fight. They even put a gag on Eilonwy after she accuses Morgant of being a traitor and a liar. Taran warns Morgant that if he kills them, he’ll have to answer to Gwydion. Morgant says he fears no man, now that he has the Black Cauldron. He plans to use it to become even more powerful than Arawn. “Power such as this was offered once to Gwydion,” he says, but Gwydion refused it. I’m guessing he’s referring to Achren’s tempting of Gwydion at Spiral Castle, though I’m not sure how Morgant would know about that. Anyway, Morgant pretty much re-enacts that scene, playing the part of Achren with Taran in the role of Gwydion. He says that if Taran swears allegiance to him now, he will make Taran his war lord, and together they will be the most powerful men in Prydain.

Taran does not seem even remotely tempted by this offer, calling Morgant an evil traitor. Morgant threatens to make Taran into a Cauldron-Born, and Taran dares him to “Cast me in it now, even as I live!” Morgant scoffs that he knows the secret of the Crochan, but he respects Taran’s boldness for trying to trick him. (I feel he should also mention Taran’s bravery, knowing that Taran would be willingly giving his own life if Morgant had taken the bait – but Morgant doesn’t mention this, probably because his brand of self-promoting evil doesn’t recognize the nobility of such a sacrifice.) Morgant gives Taran a choice: take his offer to join the dark side, or watch all his friends be slain and fed to the cauldron before him. “Who will it devour before you cry a halt… the bard?… the shabby creature that serves you?… the young Princess?” Holy crap, that’s dark. Then Morgant exits the tent with a swish of his black cloak. Did I mention that he’s eeeeevil?

Fflewddur sort of wishes he’d let Orddu turn him into a toad. Eilonwy works the gag out of her mouth and says she’ll make Morgant rue the day he decided to make his own Cauldron-Born. Taran says that none of them will be sacrificed on his account. He will accept Morgant’s offer so that they can gain time; an oath made under threat of death will not be binding. Eilonwy says that Morgant will undoubtedly kill them all anyway, once Taran is under his thumb. The companions struggle to get out of their bonds. Gurgi is still out cold, but Ellidyr regains consciousness. He apologizes to the companions for getting them into this mess. But, he says, he “stole the cauldron out of pride, not evil.” He only planned to return it to Caer Dallben to be destroyed; he would never have used it himself. Taran believes him. He asks if Ellidyr has enough strength to break his bonds and free the others. Ellidyr tries, but is too depleted from his wounds.

Just then, Taran feels unseen hands pulling at him, and hears a grumpy voice tell him to stop struggling. It’s Doli! He’s never stayed invisible so long at one stretch, and pops into sight complaining of his ears buzzing. He says he’s been following Ellidyr on foot, ever since he escaped the Huntsmen and his pony – “dratted beast, we never liked each other” – ran off. He unties all the companions, then asks Taran if he should free Ellidyr, considering what he’s done. Taran says yes. Once freed, Ellidyr says even though he has lost his strength, he can still be of service, and dashes out of the tent. It’s such a climactic moment, I’m marveling the chapter doesn’t end here, given Alexander’s propensity for cliffhangers. I’ll end this post, though, and be back next week to wrap up recapping The Black Cauldron!