Taran and Gurgi leave Morva and head to Cantrev Cadiffor, ruled by King Smoit, who Taran plans to ask for sturdier gear for the long journey ahead. They stop to camp for the night, but are set upon by a group of five armed horsemen. The rough-looking riders who demand to know who Taran is, and jeer when he introduces himself as “Taran Assistant Pig-Keeper.” Which, seriously, Taran. If ever there was a time to haul out “Prince Glessic,” this would be it. They ask how a punk like Taran came to have a fine-looking steed like Melynlas, naturally don’t believe him when he says that Melynlas was a gift from Gwydion, and proceed to force him out of the saddle, striking him on the head with the flat of a sword. Surprisingly, Taran doesn’t lose consciousness from the blow, but by the time he regains his footing, Melynlas has been horsenapped!
A stranger with an oaken staff drives the riders away, and tells Taran not to worry, Melynlas will be all right: “The henchmen of Lord Goryon treat steeds better than strangers.” He introduces himself as “Aeddan Son of Aedd,” and invites Taran back to his farm to heal his broken head. At the farmstead, Aeddan’s wife Alarca gives Taran a dry jacket to wear and mixes a poultice for his wound. Aeddan shares his food with Taran and Gurgi, and it’s an exciting moment, because for what I think is the first time in the entire series, we’re told what a meal consists of: “bread, a cheese, and some dried fruit.” He apologizes that they don’t have much to offer guests, seeing as how they’re dirt-poor and their crops have failed the last two years in a row. I wait for Taran or Gurgi to say, that’s OK, we have a magical wallet full of jerky and lembas, so we wouldn’t dream of eating what little food you have saved, but they don’t.
Aeddan says that in his ancestors’ day, the people of Cantrev Cadiffor had magical plows and scythes that worked the land, but that Arawn stole these treasures along with their secrets of making the soil rich and fruitful. Now Aeddan has to work for his neighbors to make ends meet, and “the more I must toil for others, the less I may work my own fields.” Alarca adds that they also lost their ox and cow to illness and that their son, Amren, whose jacket Taran is wearing, died defending the fields from raiders. Taran tries to console her by saying her son is a hero. She replies, “My son is slain.” The raiders, like the farmers, were starving, all thanks to Arawn. Aeddan says that most of their farm is now fallow; they only have one field planted, and if it fails, they’re goners. This sounds like pretty ominous foreshadowing, you guys.
In the morning, Taran and Gurgi work alongside Aeddan and Alarca to help repay the couple for their hospitality. Once again, I wonder if they plan to share some of their literally limitless supply of food, but if they do, it’s not mentioned. Aeddan compliments Taran on his mad farming skillz and tells him he’s welcome to stay longer. But Taran’s gotta find Melynlas, so he gently returns Amren’s jacket, and they say farewell.