The High King, Chapter 17 – The Snowstorm
The companions journey laboriously through Annuvin, leading their horses over the treacherous rocky terrain, which only Llyan manages with ease. Doli’s pace begins to slow down, and soon he starts to stagger and can’t catch his breath. Turns out he’s not as immune to the effects of Annuvin as he thought. Taran says they must stop for the day and let Doli recover his strength. Doli says they can’t afford to lose the time, but it’s obvious his condition is serious. Taran tells Fflewddur to ride back on Llyan with Doli, to save his life. Doli says to just leave him, that the mission is too important to lose Fflewddur’s sword. When Taran protests, Doli demands, “Are you a war leader or an Assistant Pig-Keeper?” And Taran replies in the most darling way, “Need you ask, old friend? I’m an Assistant Pig-Keeper.” It’s a great moment.
Fortunately, Doli has another brainwave. He turns himself invisible and immediately starts to feel better. Apparently, it was being invisible last time he was in Annuvin that protected him, and had nothing to do with the time he’s spent around humans. He picks up his staff and resumes guiding the party, who follow his staff, leaving me with all kinds of questions. If he had been holding the staff when he turned invisible, would the staff have turned invisible too? If he puts on a hat while he’s invisible, does the hat stay visible? The world may never know.
Fflewddur spots three gwythaints circling around something in the distance. As they begin to swoop down toward their prey, a murder of crows (greatest group noun ever) suddenly surrounds them. The crows drive the gwythaints away, and one of the crows is, of course, none other than Kaw! He tells Taran that the gwythaints were attacking Achren, who we haven’t seen since she left Caer Dallben. Kaw leads the companions to her. Achren is alive, but unconscious and badly hurt. Taran and Fflewddur lift her and put her on Llyan’s back.
A violent snowstorm moves in. The companions are very close to freezing to death, particularly Eilonwy, who lapses into a dream-state in which she’s wrapped in a “lovely goosefeather quilt.” Taran says they need a fire, but they have no fuel for one. Fflewddur unslings his harp, saying, “It shall give us the tune we need.” Then he smashes it over his knee, and Doli sets the small pile of wooden fragments ablaze. The fire burns brightly all night, and the from the fire come all the songs that were ever played on the harp. “All night the harp sang, and its melodies were of joy, sorrow, love, and valor. The fire never abated, and little by little new life and strength returned to the companions.” In the morning, the storm ends and the fire finally subsides. From the ashes, Fflewddur pulls out the one unbreakable harp string that Gwydion gave him. Sob!