Taran Wanderer, Chapter 15 – The Open Cage

Taran, Gurgi and Craddoc finish mending the cottage in time for the first snow of winter. Taran is pleased with his handiwork, in a depressed kind of way. Craddoc says that it is no longer his cottage, but both of theirs. They spend the long winter evenings talking by the fire, but Taran is overcome by emotion and has to stop talking whenever he thinks of Eilonwy. One day, Craddoc remarks that Taran has never called him Father. Taran bites his lip and can’t answer. Craddoc doesn’t press him and just says, “Perhaps … perhaps one day you shall.”

A fierce snowstorm comes, and Taran is reinforcing the cottage windows when Gurgi rushes in, crying for help. Craddoc has fallen into a gorge! When they get there, he’s lying twisted and motionless at the bottom, and Taran has a brief moment of exhilaration that he’s finally free. Then Craddoc moves; he’s still alive! Taran says they can’t leave him to die, but wonders how they can possibly lift him out of the gorge without breaking their own necks in the process. Once again, he thinks that this could be his chance at freedom, if there’s no way of saving Craddoc. Then, furious with himself, he cries, “What man am I?”

He scrambles down the slope, getting stabbed by a sharp rock on the way. Gurgi follows. They free Craddoc from the fallen rocks and carry him between them to the cliff, where there is a narrow passage that leads almost straight up. They try several times to bear Craddoc to the passage but he’s too seriously wounded, and the wind is too strong. Finally Craddoc tells them to leave him and save themselves. Taran replies, “You are my father. I stay.” And then – holy cow, you guys – Craddoc tells him that there is no bond of blood between them. Turns out that Dallben did pass through the valley, but he never took Craddoc’s son away – because the son died, along with his mother, the day he was born. Craddoc says he was ashamed of lying to Taran and hoped that, given the option, Taran would have left with Fflewddur, but Taran chose to stay. He adds that “no father came to love a son more dearly.” Then he falls back and tells Taran again to go.

Taran remembers the Fair Folk horn, and without hesitation, blows the three notes: Hot … Cross … Buns! Then “whirling shadows” come, and he is only half-conscious as a party of dwarves arrives with ropes, rescuing them. He wakes in the cottage, with his chest wound bandaged and Gurgi at his side. Taran asks how Craddoc is, but Gurgi just sadly bows his head. Taran cries out in anguish, as another sad chapter draws to a close.

When I first read this book, at age eleven or so, I remember being absolutely livid with Craddoc for lying to Taran and – although glad that Taran nobly tried to rescue him anyway – even more furious that the battle horn’s single call was wasted, since Craddoc did not survive. As an adult, having enjoyed many morally complex stories with protagonists who lie all the time – “Mad Men,” “Dexter,” and “Breaking Bad,” to name a few – I’m not nearly so outraged at Craddoc’s deception, but I’m still totally bummed about the horn. I wonder, if Taran had remembered it and sounded it before climbing down the cliff himself, would the dwarves have come sooner and been able to save Craddoc’s life? Would Craddoc then have told Taran the truth in gratitude, or would he have been too ashamed? Leave a comment and let me know what you think!