The High King, Chapter 13 – Darkness

Taran and company try to catch up with the retreating Cauldron-Born, but make slow progress crossing the Hills of Bran-Galedd in the wintry weather. Knowing that the Cauldron-Born get stronger as they get closer to Annuvin, Taran grimly observes that “Unless we halt them, one time for all, our efforts will do no more than sap our own strength.” Snow-blind and exhausted, they stop to make camp … and in the morning, the Cauldron-Born attack. The battle rages all day, and when the Cauldron-Born finally push their way back into the Red Fallows, Eilonwy and Gurgi are missing! Oh noes! Taran searches all night through the bodies of the fallen Commot folk, but can’t find them alive or dead.

The surviving Commot folk assemble, and Fflewddur advises Taran to give up searching and lead the charge to stop the Cauldron-Born from reaching the Fallows. Taran wants to keep looking for Eilonwy and Gurgi but reluctantly agrees. The war band tries to make up for lost time by pursuing the Cauldron-Born as fast as they can. It always cracks me up how they are able to go for days and nights at a time with only “moments of fitful rest” in these books. And with Gurgi gone, I guess they’re out of lembas and jerky too?

On the third day, an outrider raises an alert. The British are coming! No, it’s actually a band of Fair Folk, with Doli at the head. Taran greets him by goofily repeating “Doli! Good old Doli!” a bunch of times, and Doli gets a genuine laugh out of me by replying, “If I ever doubted you recognized me, you’ve fully convinced me that you do.” He explains that King Eiddileg sent him to serve Taran, whom he owes a debt for saving them from being transformed by Morda.

Doli meets Glew, who starts whining about having been a giant and a king in “the finest cavern, with the finest bats, on the Isle of Mona.” Hearing the word “cavern” gives Doli an idea: there’s a nearby Fair Folk mine that they can use as a shortcut to catch up with the Cauldron-Born at the edge of the Red Fallows. I don’t know, Doli – I’ve seen this movie and it didn’t turn out well. Taran hasn’t, apparently, because he agrees to follow Doli to the mine, even though he’s sure that by doing so he’s losing the last shred of hope that Eilonwy will somehow find them.

They light torches, and lead their horses into the mine entrance. Taran sees wooden platforms and notices that the timbers that brace the arches are partially rotted (foreshadowing!). Glew starts scavenging gems, gloating to himself about how rich he’s going to be. When he climbs up to one of the wooden platforms to get an exceptionally large jewel, his pouch rips open, scattering gems, and he loses his balance trying to grab them. He pulls on the platform, causing an avalanche of stones and timbers, which doesn’t kill anyone but blocks their way forward.

Doli says they can dig their way through, which could take days, but that there are likely to be other cave-ins now that the mine is weakened. He advises them to retrace their steps and try to get to the Fallows above ground. Taran and Fflewddur fear they have lost any chance of catching the Cauldron-Born before they reach Annuvin. Oblivious to the fact that he’s probably doomed all of Prydain, Glew whines that nobody seems to care that he’s lost a fortune (womp womp!).