The Black Cauldron, Chapter 20 – The Final Price, part 2

As Ellidyr charges toward the cauldron, Morgant draws his sword and commands his guards: “Slay him! Keep him from the cauldron!” Taran, Doli, and Flewddur rush out of the tent, and unarmed, Taran tries to wrestle Morgant’s sword away from him. Morgant throws Taran to the ground. Ellidyr gets stabbed in the side by one of Morgant’s guards, but manages to break free and – despite Taran shouting “No! Ellidyr! Save yourself!” – he throws himself into the cauldron.

The cauldron shudders, then cracks and shatters into pieces around Ellidyr’s lifeless body. Then, lots of things happen very quickly. King Smoit rides into the clearing, along with Gwydion, Coll, and Gwystyl, with Kaw on his shoulder. There’s a battle between Smoit’s and Morgant’s warriors, and Smoit kills Morgant. Taran bends over Ellidyr, grief-stricken, and murmurs that the black beast is now gone from him. Then Islimach, frenzied from the loss of her master, runs headlong right off the edge of a cliff. Do horses really commit suicide? I’m never certain whether all the animals in Prydain are supposed to be a little magical (like Kaw, who is clearly more intelligent than your average crow), or if this is based on actual reported animal behavior. Regardless, it’s sad.

The dust settles from the battle. Gwydion says he regrets not finding Taran sooner, and that King Smoit’s impatience saved the day, since he grew restless and came after Gwydion and Coll. He tells Taran that the destruction of the cauldron was one of the worst defeats ever for Arawn, but that he knows the price Taran paid. Taran says that Ellidyr deserves all of the honor, and Gwydion says they will raise a barrow over him along with Islimach. So, they’re going to drag the horse up from the bottom of the ravine? Or bring Ellidyr to the bottom? Either way, I’m not sure this is the best plan. Probably best not to overthink it. They’ll also build barrows for Smoit’s dead warriors, and one for Morgant. Taran is surprised that Morgant would get an honorable burial, considering what he’s done. But Gwydion believes in looking at someone’s whole track record, and says Morgant was a brave companion who saved him in battle in the past. So he’ll honor Morgant “for what he used to be, and Ellidyr Prince of Pen-Llarcau for what he became.” And do Morgant’s slain warriors get barrows too? Sounds like no? OK, then.

Eilonwy’s been busy, first healing Gurgi and then finding Taran’s sword, which she returns to him. Taran is greeted by Fflewddur and Doli, then Coll, and then Smoit. Finally, Gwystyl comes up doing his morose act, and Taran is like, don’t try to fool me again, Gwystyl. Gwystyl says that Taran can have Kaw as a gift in thanks from the Fair Folk for helping to destroy the cauldron. Kaw says “Taran!” and Gwystyl warns not to listen to anything he says. Foreshadowing, perhaps?

They raise the barrows, and then ride into the Ystrad Valley. Gwydion is headed to King Math to give a report of what happens, and says Taran must go tell Dallben. I’m like, wouldn’t Dallben already know, from Hen Wen or just his own psychic connection to the witches via The Book of Three? Taran is philosophical, saying he couldn’t wait to enter the world of men, but now he sees how cruel and sad it can be. Gwydion says that is true, but there are “equal parts of love and joy. Think of Adaon and believe this.” He reminds Taran how awesome his friends are, that they would have each given up what was most precious to them, and Taran realizes that the brooch never really belonged to him after all, though he is grateful he had the brief chance to feel what it must be like to be a hero. Gwydion says that Taran chose to be a hero not through enchantment but through taking “the risks of a man.” He bids him farewell and calls him friend. And with that, Taran, Gurgi, and Eilonwy head home for some Caer Dallben and chill. The end!