The High King, Chapter 18 – Mount Dragon

Welcome back! It’s been a while since we visited Prydain (in book form, anyway). As we approach the climax of the final book in the series, things have gotten much colder and darker for Taran and his friends… literally. They survived a deadly snowstorm only by burning Fflewddur’s treasured harp, while Llassar and the Commot warriors (I’d almost forgotten about them!) found shelter in a cave. And now they’re facing down the final obstacle in their journey to Annuvin, a “dark and forbidding” (because of course it is) peak called Mount Dragon.

Achren has regained consciousness, and Gurgi is uneasily sharing his lembas and jerky with her. Haughty as ever, she scoffs at the idea that “a pig-keeper and his shabby followers hope to triumph where a queen failed.” Eilonwy whispers to Taran that Achren is not a queen anymore but seems to think she is, and Achren, overhearing, apologizes. She says she’s grateful for her life, and she will repay the companions by showing them the only surmountable path to Annuvin, a hidden trail to the western descent of Mount Dragon.

Taran, Doli, Eilonwy and Fflewddur huddle up to decide whether to trust Achren or not. Taran concludes that although he fears Achren, “I will not let fear blind me to hope.” They agree to follow Achren to Mount Dragon, which got its name by being—wait for it—in the shape of a dragon. Who’d a thunk? Achren leads them up a steep path, bounded by tall cliffs to keep them hidden as they approach Annuvin. This path, she boasts, is known only to her and Arawn, “for it was I who showed him the secret ways of Mount Dragon.” I’ll bet you did, you naughty minx, you!

As they crest the shoulder of the dragon, Kaw flies to them, calling out “Gwydion!” Taran struggles over a rock ridge and sees Annuvin below him, “glittering like black, polished marble,” with a battle raging in the courtyard. He spots Gwydion and Taliesin, seeming close to victory over Arawn’s forces, but also the army of Cauldron-Born hastening toward the gates. You had one job, Taran! As he jumps from the ridge, the stones give way under him! He’s left clinging to the side of Mount Dragon, his sword clattering down into the gorge below. He’s too far down for his friends to reach him… and then… a gwythaint swoops toward him!