Taran Wanderer, Chapter 4 – A Matter of Cows

Taran, Fflewddur, and Gurgi arrive at the castle of King Smoit, who greets them effusively and comments that the last time he saw them, Taran was as “scrawny as a plucked chicken,” implying – without actually saying so – that Taran has filled out some since then. Taran asks Smoit if he’s ever heard of the Mirror of Llunet; Smoit hasn’t, but says the Llawgardarn Mountains are in “the land of the Free Commots,” and the residents there are “a stiff-necked breed.” Fflewddur exposits that Annlaw Clay-Shaper, plus a bunch of other craftsmen with mad skillz, live in the Free Commots. They have no ruler except the High King Math, and Smoit says “there’s more peace and neighborliness in the Free Commots than anywhere else in Prydain.” (The word “neighborliness,” which is just beautiful – in both sound and meaning – is ripe for a revival, don’t you think?)

Smoit advises Taran to forget about the Mirror of Llunet and hang out with him in Cantrev Cadiffor, where they’ll enjoy feasting and hunting and put even more flesh on Taran’s bones. But Taran won’t be deterred from his quest, and so, the next morning, they go to Smoit’s storehouse to get outfitted with some gear for the journey. A guard bursts in to say that the cantrev lords are fighting again: Goryon has stolen Gast’s fancy COW – which I sure hope you all remember from the last chapter! – and the rest of his herd as well. Smoit roars that he’ll throw Gast in his dungeon, and Taran is confused – isn’t Goryon the thief? Smoit says that no one knows who Cornillo’s rightful owner is; she’s been stolen back and forth by the two squabbling lords for years. The companions mount their horses (and Llyan) and ride from the castle at a breakneck pace, accompanied by a dozen of Smoit’s warriors.

Smoit, who can never go very long without eating, soon calls a lunch break, and starts to chow down on a “joint of meat” from his saddlebag (hooray for the naming of foods instead of mysterious references to “provisions!”) Taran suggests that there must be some way to achieve peace between Goryon and Gast. After all, Smoit’s thrown them both into his dungeon many times, but it never seems to work. Smoit says Taran may be on to something – then, hilariously, posits that the dungeon’s not damp enough and vows to have it “well watered down tonight.” Taran’s like, um, that’s not exactly what I meant.

A messenger from Lord Goryon rides up and begs the party for help in defending Goryon’s stronghold from Gast’s army. He says that when Gast attacked, the cows got scared and ran off, and now both lords are swearing vengeance for the herd’s loss. Smoit is ready to crack some skulls, and even Fflewddur gets caught up in the battle lust. Taran sensibly says that maybe someone should go find the cows, but Smoit ignores him, and the war party rides off in the direction of Goryon’s stronghold. On the way, they take a detour through some woods, and find themselves at the bank of a swiftly moving river. The reckless king gallops on in, and Taran watches in horror, as the current pulls Smoit from his mount and carries him over the edge of a waterfall. And on that cliffhanger, we end chapter 4, so until next time: Peace and neighborliness to you!