The following morning, Doli leaves to take Angharad’s jewel to King Eiddileg, while the rest of the companions head in the direction of the Lake of Llunet. Taran sensibly guesses that the lake, having the same name as the Mirror, may lead him to the end of his quest. They travel all day, Fflewddur still trying to shake off the long-term traumatic effects of having been a rabbit for, like, five minutes. That evening, they smell food cooking. Apparently tired of eating lembas and jerky, they follow the aroma to a glade, where they encounter two armed guards, and another dozen men gathered around a campfire where “collops of meat” are roasting. Now, not to be critical, but the OED defines “collops” as “slices of meat,” so I think the “of meat” is redundant here – they couldn’t be collops if they weren’t meat. But I’m sure Alexander is intentionally providing context clues to help his young (and young-at-heart) readers understand the word.
The leader of the group is described as a “heavy-faced” man with “yellowish” hair. (I picture him looking like Kid Rock.) He refers to himself as Dorath and greets the companions as “lordships.” Taran says he is no lord but an Assistant Pig-Keeper – oh, Taran, seriously? Do you never learn? How many surly thugs have you told your title in these books, and how has it gone for you so far? – and Dorath mocks him (of course!), calling him “Lord Swineherd.” Then he invites the companions to share the collops, and asks Taran, “Where do you come from? Where do you go?” Where do you come from, Cotton Eye Joe? Taran answers truthfully that he is headed to the Lake of Llunet to seek his parents. Dorath doesn’t believe him, and thinks that they are seeking treasure. Taran bristles at being called a liar. There’s a tense moment where it seems like Dorath and Taran are going to duel, but then Fflewddur breaks the tension by playing a tune on his harp.
Dorath insults Fflewddur’s harp playing and orders the companions to spend the night, “and in the morning my Company will guide you to the Lake of Llunet.” Taran says no thanks, as they plan to travel through the night, but Dorath won’t take no for an answer. He says he can protect them from the many dangers along the way, in exchange for a small part of the treasure they find. His men make it clear that this is an offer Taran can’t refuse. Fflewddur sagely observes that the danger they need protection from is Dorath himself. Taran considers blowing the battle horn for help, but doesn’t want to waste it. He and Fflewddur decide to wait until early morning, when presumably all the men will be asleep, and then try to make a break for it. I guess he hasn’t considered the possibility that the guards would work in shifts to keep watch. At first light, they slip off to untether the horses and Llyan. Taran’s gamble seems to have paid off, as the guards are asleep – but then Dorath emerges from the shadow of a tree and blocks his way. D’oh!