Taran Wanderer, Chapter 5 – A Judgment

In a feat that seems to defy the laws of physics, Taran single-handedly rescues Smoit, dragging the bleeding king from the whirlpool at the foot of the waterfall and managing to avoid drowning himself. Fflewddur says Smoit has “cracked his skull and half his ribs” (which he somehow can tell without an X-ray) and that they should take him to Caer Cadarn. Taran envies Smoit for being unconscious, which is usually Taran’s job, and suggests instead taking him to Aeddan’s farm, which is closer. He doubts they’ll be able to find Cornillo and the herd now, but just then Gurgi hears “cooings and mooings!” The cows are calmly grazing just past the trees on the riverbank. Smoit comes to and thanks Taran for saving his life: “Claim any favor, it is yours.” He sends two horsemen to tell Gast and Goryon to meet him at Aeddan’s hut. Taran then coaxes Cornillo and the herd to follow them there.

Map probably not to scale.

But Aeddan is not so happy to see them. He bursts from the hut with blazing eyes and a drawn sword; the feuding warriors have trampled his one good field (and for some reason he blames Taran for this?) and now he and his wife will starve. Taran is heartbroken at the sight of the wrecked field. Gast and Goryon arrive, in answer to the king’s summons, each shouting and accusing the other of being a liar and a thief. The enraged Smoit says he’ll throw them both in his dungeon and claim Cornillo for himself as a prize of war. But Taran asks Smoit if he may now claim the favor Smoit offered him for saving his life. He implores him to set Goryon and Gast free “to labor beside Aeddan and strive to mend what they have destroyed.” (Good call, Taran – definitely a more useful sentence!) He also asks Smoit to give Cornillo to Aeddan, who needs her more than Smoit needs a war prize, and grant Gast and Goryon her next set of calves. As for the rest of the herd, Taran decrees that Goryon will divide them in equal portions, and Gast will choose his half. Smoit agrees with me that this is pretty damn clever: “It takes two thieves to strike an honest bargain!” Aeddan thanks Taran for being a friend. He’s traveled down the road and back again. His heart is true, he’s a pal and a confidant…

That night, back at Caer Cadarn, Smoit takes Taran aside and thanks him again for his wise judgment. He’s decided to have his useless dungeons walled up immediately, and he asks Taran to stay on as his advisor. When Taran says he has to learn who his kinsmen are, Smoit says, “There’s enough of me to make all the kinsmen you could want!” He reveals that he’s a widower with no children, and offers to adopt Taran as his son and heir to the throne of Cadiffor. Taran thinks King of Cadiffor sounds a lot better than Assistant Pig-Keeper, as titles go, and that a throne would give him something to offer Eilonwy in marriage. But, he thinks Eilonwy could never respect him for abandoning his quest, nor could he respect himself. He thanks Smoit and says he must first complete his quest. If it turns out he has royal blood in his veins, he will gladly accept Smoit’s offer, but he has to know for sure who he is. Smoit is sad but wishes Taran luck in his search.