The High King, Chapter 19 – The Death-Lord (Part 1)

Taran is clinging helplessly to the side of Mount Dragon when the gwythaint sinks its talons into his shoulders and starts to pull him away from the cliff face. He sees its “head, deeply scarred by an old wound” and notices that its “blood-red eyes” carry a “strange gaze of recognition.” He suddenly remembers the gwythaint he saved from the thorn bush all the way back in Book 1. “Was this the ragged bundle of feathers he had nursed back to life? Had the creature come at last to pay a debt so long remembered?” With no other choice than to trust that it is, Taran lets go of the cliff. The gwythaint flies him to the peak of Mount Dragon, then sets him down.

From the peak, Taran can see that “Achren had spoken the truth” – the western descent is a short, straight shot to the iron gates of Annuvin. Said gates are currently swinging open to admit the army of Cauldron-Born that Taran failed in his mission to stop. Some of the Cauldron-Born spy Taran on his perch and split off from the main troop. The gwythaint attacks them, and a few fall, but then the gwythaint is slain. Loyal to the end, that poor bird! Three Cauldron-Born have survived and are headed up the mountain to dispatch Taran once and for all. Taran looks around wildly for something to defend himself with. He sees—and hears—a weird-looking rock, making a keening sound as the wind blows through its eroded nooks and crannies. It’s almost like mute rock is speaking, y’all! Taran sets his shoulder to the rock and is able to shove it out of its hollow and send it crashing down the slope. The rock takes out two of the Cauldron-Born, but one is still making a beeline for Taran.

Can’t help noticing that the sword
shown in the cover art
is neither black nor flaming.

Taran looks down and sees, beneath the rock he pried from the hill, a crevice lined with stones and containing Dyrnwyn!! He grabs the sword, not recognizing it as the one that almost killed him the last time he tried to draw it, and only after he unsheathes it, blazing in all its glory, does he realize that he has drawn the sword and is unharmed. He stabs the Cauldron-Born through the heart, and “from lips long mute burst a shriek that echoed and re-echoed from the Death-Lord’s stronghold as though rising from a thousand tongues.” The Cauldron-Born — all of them — crumple and fall as one!

The Commot men mount their horses and follow Taran into the courtyard, battling Arawn’s guards and the remaining Huntsmen, who weren’t killed when the Cauldron-Born were. Taran runs into the Great Hall, waving Dyrnwyn, and finds Gwydion, who warns him: “Sheathe the blade, or it will cost your life!” Taran puts the sword away. Gwydion demands to know how Taran dared to draw Dyrnwyn, and commands him, “Give me the sword, Pig-Keeper.” Taran is surprised to hear Gwydion’s voice so “harsh and commanding,” since yeah, Gwydion’s usually a douche, but in a more gentle, patronizing kind of way. But when he promises to let Taran rule half of Prydain after they seize Arawn’s treasure, Taran finally realizes – duh – that ain’t Gwydion. He draws Dyrnwyn and gasps “Arawn!” As he strikes, “the “Death-Lord’s disguised shape” morphs into shadow and vanishes. Um, Taran, maybe that would have worked better if you didn’t say his name right before you tried to kill him?

At this point I was expecting a chapter break, but instead there’s just an extra blank line before the action plunges right on, which I think is a bizarre choice. Because so much has already happened and is yet to happen in this chapter, I’m going to split this entry into two parts. See you next time!