Taran and Gurgi ride to Lord Goryon’s stronghold, which is described as “a large huddle of buildings circled by a barricade of wooden stakes lashed with osier,” which made me so happy, because I recently learned what osiers are! They find a stable boy, and Taran asks him if a gray stallion was recently brought in. The boy exclaims, “Gray dragon, rather!” Melynlas, it seems, bit him and has thrown off both Lord Goryon and the Master of Horse multiple times, but Goryon is determined to break the stallion’s spirit, “even if he must first break its back.” Alarmed, Taran runs in the direction the boy indicated and sees Melynlas, surrounded by a ring of armed warriors, fling a bearded man to the ground.
Taran runs to Melynlas and takes hold of his bridle. The would-be rider, Lord Goryon, sputters, “Insolence! Impudence!” and orders Taran thrashed. But Taran says he does no more than claim his own horse, and Goryon’s like, that’s impossible, my men rescued the horse from six giants. Taran says there were no giants, just him, Aeddan, and Gurgi, but when Goryon blusters that his men are not liars, Taran thinks quickly and posits that the long shadows caused by the setting sun could understandably have made their height and numbers seem greater. The Master of Horse challenges Taran to try mounting Melynlas, which of course Taran does with ease. He continues thinking on his feet by offering to give Lord Goryon his “pig-keeper’s nag” as a gift. Goryon is outraged by the impudence and tells Taran and Gurgi to get lost and take the horse (and Gurgi’s pony, barely mentioned up till now) with them. And so they ride off, Taran having channeled his inner Odysseus in a way that’s effective if not quite consistent with what his character has been in the books so far.
As night falls, they arrive at another stronghold, and Taran calls to the guard in the watchtower that he is a friend of King Smoit’s. The name-dropping works, and Taran and Gurgi are invited into the Great Hall, where a war lord is listening to a harp played by none other than Fflewddur Fflam! The bard greets them, saying he really did intend to try staying in his kingdom and ruling, but then spring came, and “here am I.” As reasons for inserting him into the storyline, that’s barely better than the Dinas Rhydnant one, but I love Fflewddur, so I’m not complaining. He plays a tune of his own composing, busting a harp string when he says it’s been “praised by thousands.” Oh, that Fflewddur. Always exaggerating his YouTube reviews.
Lord Gast makes a big show of being generous, while stuffing himself and barely sharing any of his food with the assembled guests. When he finally passes out at the table, the companions are able to eat a little bit before retiring to “a meanly furnished chamber” for the night. The next morning, Gast shows off his treasures, which include a beautiful wine bowl Fflewddur recognizes as the work of “Annlaw Clay-Shaper… the most skilled potter in Prydain.” Taran wonders how Gast came by it, and Fflewddur says probably the same way Goryon acquired Melynlas. Finally, Gast shows off his cow, “Cornillo, the finest cow in all the land!” Cornillo, he says, can pull a plow better than an ox and her milk is always sweet cream. This section of the book, to be honest, feels a little bit like a video-game tutorial. Did everyone notice the WINE BOWL? The fancy COW? OK then. Just checking.
Finally, Taran, Gurgi, and Fflewddur, who has agreed to accompany them (riding Llyan), are allowed to go. As they ride away, Taran wonders aloud how Gast and Goryon see such good qualities in themselves. But Fflewddur says not to judge the cantrev nobles too harshly – they’re all hoarders, sure, but he’s known them to be extremely generous at times, including laying down their lives in battle for a comrade. And then, going on a bit of a tangent, he says that stories of valor in battle tend to be exaggerated with the passing of time, and if everyone had a harp like his, “what a din you’d hear from every stronghold in Prydain!” And that’s the third chapter in a row that ends with riding away from one place and heading to another – this book is episodic as hell – but since chapter 4 is titled “A Matter of Cows,” I have a feeling we’re going to see more of Lord Gast. Hope you all noticed the fancy COW a few pages ago. If not, please repeat the tutorial level before moving on.