In the imaginary Land of Prydain, where "evil is never distant," it has become imperative that the Black Cauldron, chief implement of the diabolical Arawn, be destroyed. In this cauldron Arawn has created his terrible army of deathless warriors from the stolen bodies of the slain. For each of those chosen to journey to Arawn's domain, the quest has a special meaning, and to Taran, Assistant Pig-Keeper, the adventure becomes a glorious opportunity to wear his first sword and prove himself a man among men.
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Author biography Lloyd Alexander is one of America's most distinguished authors. He has won the Newbery medal and has received one Lifetime Achievement Award for Children's Literature from Parents' Choice and another from the World Fantasy Convention.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Black Cauldron, The
CHAPTER ONE The Council at Caer Dallben Autumn had come too swiftly. In the northernmost realms of Prydain many trees were already leafless, and among the branches clung the ragged shapes of empty nests. To the south, across the river Great Avren, the hills shielded Caer Dallben from the winds, but even here the little farm was drawing in on itself. For Taran, the summer was ending before it had begun. That morning Dallben had given him the task of washing the oracular pig. Had the old enchanter ordered him to capture a full-grown gwythaint, Taran would gladly have set out after one of the vicious winged creatures. As it was, he filled the bucket at the well and trudged reluctantly to Hen Wen's enclosure. The white pig, usually eager for a bath, now squealed nervously and rolled on her back in the mud. Busy struggling to raise Hen Wen to her feet, Taran did not notice the horseman until he had reined up at the pen. "You, there! Pig-boy!" The rider looking down at him was a youth only a few years older than Taran. His hair was tawny, his eyes black and deep-set in a pale, arrogant face. Though of excellent quality, his garments had seen much wear, and his cloak was purposely draped to hide his threadbare attire. The cloak itself, Taran saw, had been neatly and painstakingly mended. He satastride a roan mare, a lean and nervous steed speckled red and yellow, with a long, narrow head, whose expression was as ill-tempered as her master's. "You, pig-boy," he repeated, "is this Caer Dallben?" The horseman's tone and bearing nettled Taran, but he curbed his temper and bowed courteously. "It is," he replied. "But I am not a pig-boy," he added. "I am Taran, Assistant Pig-Keeper." "A pig is a pig," said the stranger, "and a pig-boy is a pig-boy. Run and tell your master I am here," he ordered. "Tell him that Prince Ellidyr Son of Pen-Llarcau ..." Hen Wen seized this opportunity to roll into another puddle. "Stop that, Hen!" Taran cried, hurrying after her. "Leave off with that sow," Ellidyr commanded. "Did you not hear me? Do as I say, and be quick about it." "Tell Dallben yourself!" Taran called over his shoulder, trying to keep Hen Wen from the mud. "Or wait until I've done with my own work!" "Mind your impudence," Ellidyr answered, "or you shall have a good beating for it." Taran flushed. Leaving Hen Wen to do as she pleased, he strode quickly to the railing and climbed over. "If I do," he answered hotly, throwing back his head and looking Ellidyr full in the face, "it will not be at your hands." Ellidyr gave a scornful laugh. Before Taran could spring aside, the roan plunged forward. Ellidyr, leaning from the saddle, seized Taran by the front of the jacket. Taran flailed his arms and legs vainly. Strong as he was, he could not break free. He was pummeled and shaken until his teeth rattled. Ellidyr then urged the roan into a gallop, hauled Taran across the turf to the cottage, andthere, while chickens scattered in every direction, tossed him roughly to the ground. The commotion brought Dallben and Coll outdoors. The Princess Eilonwy hurried from the scullery, her apron flying and a cook-pot still in her hand. With a cry of alarm she ran to Taran's side. Ellidyr, without troubling to dismount, called to the white-bearded enchanter. "Are you Dallben? I have brought your pig-boy to be thrashed for his insolence." "Tut!" said Dallben, unperturbed by Ellidyr's furious expression. "Whether he is insolent is one thing, and whether he should be thrashed is another. In either case, I need no suggestions from you." "I am a Prince of Pen-Llarcau!" cried Ellidyr. "Yes, yes, yes," Dallben interrupted with a wave of his brittle hand. "I am quite aware of all that and too busy to be concerned with it. Go, water your horse and your temper at the same time. You shall be called when you are wanted." Ellidyr was about to reply, but the enchanter's stern glance made him hold his tongue. He turned the roan and urged her toward the stable. Princess Eilonwy and the stout, baldheaded Coll, meantime, had been helping Taran pick himself up. "You should know better, my boy, than to quarrel with strangers," said Coll good-naturedly. "That's true enough," Eilonwy added. "Especially if they're on horseback and you're on foot." "Next time I meet him," Taran began. "When you meet again," said Dallben, "you, at least, shall conduct yourself with as much restraint and dignity as possible--which, I allow, may not be very great, but you shall have to makedo with it. Be off, now. The Princess Eilonwy can help you to be a little more presentable than you are at the moment." In the lowest of spirits, Taran followed the golden-haired girl to the scullery. He still smarted, more from Ellidyr's words than from the drubbing; and he was hardly pleased that Eilonwy had seen him sprawled at the feet of the arrogant Prince. "However did it happen?" Eilonwy asked, picking up a damp cloth and applying it to Taran's face. Taran did not answer, but glumly submitted to her care. Before Eilonwy had finished, a hairy figure, covered with leaves and twigs, popped up at the window, and with great agility clambered over the sill. "Woe and sadness!" the creature wailed, loping anxiously to Taran. "Gurgi sees smackings and whackings by strengthful lord! Poor, kindly master! Gurgi is sorry for him. "But there is news!" Gurgi hurried on. "Good news! Gurgi also sees mightiest of princes riding! Yes, yes, with great gallopings on white horse with black sword, what joy!" "What's that?" cried Taran. "Do you mean Prince Gwydion? It can't be ..." "It is," said a voice behind him. Gwydion stood in the doorway. With a shout of amazement, Taran ran forward and clasped his hand. Eilonwy threw her arms about the tall warrior, while Gurgi joyfully pounded the floor. The last time Taran had seen him, Gwydion wore the raiment of a prince of the royal House of Don. Now he was dressed simply in a hooded cloak of gray and a coarse, unadorned jacket. The black sword, Dyrnwyn, hung at his side. "Well met, all of you," said Gwydion. "Gurgi looks as hungry asever, Eilonwy prettier than ever. And you, Assistant Pig-Keeper," he added, his lined and weathered face breaking into a smile, "a little the worse for wear. Dallben has mentioned how you came by those bruises." "I sought no quarrel," Taran declared. "But one found you, nonetheless," Gwydion said. "I think that must be the way of it with you, Taran of Caer Dallben. No matter," he said, stepping back and studying Taran closely through green-flecked eyes. "Let me look at you. You have grown since last we met." Gwydion nodded his shaggy, wolf-gray head in approval. "I hope you have gained as much wisdom as height. We shall see. Now I must make ready for the council." "Council?" Taran cried. "Dallben said nothing of a council. He did not even say you were coming here." "The truth is," Eilonwy put in, "Dallben hasn't been saying much of anything to anybody." "You should understand by now," said Gwydion, "that of what he knows, Dallben tells little. Yes, there is to be a council, and I have summoned others to meet us here." "I am old enough to sit in a council of men," Taran interrupted excitedly. "I have learned much; I have fought at your side, I have ..." "Gently, gently," Gwydion said. "We have agreed you shall have a place. Though manhood," he added softly, with a trace of sadness, "may not be all that you believe." Gwydion put his hands on Taran's shoulders. "Meanwhile, stand ready. Your task will be given soon enough."
As Gwydion had foretold, the rest of the morning brought many new arrivals. A company of horsemen soon appeared and began tomake camp in the stubble field beyond the orchard. The warriors, Taran saw, were armed for battle. His heart leaped. Surely this, too, had to do with Gwydion's council. His head spun with questions and he hurried toward the field. He had not gone halfway when he stopped short in great surprise. Two familiar figures were riding up the pathway. Taran raced to meet them. "Fflewddur!" he called, while the bard, his beautiful harp slung over his shoulder, raised a hand in greeting. "And Doli! Is that really you?" The crimson-haired dwarf swung down from his pony. He grinned broadly for an instant, then assumed his customary scowl. He did not, however, conceal the glint of pleasure in his round, red eyes. "Doli!" Taran clapped the dwarf on the back. "I never thought I'd see you again. That is, really see you. Not after you gained the power to be invisible." "Humph!" snorted the leather-jacketed dwarf. "Invisible! I've had all I want of that. Do you realize the effort it takes? Terrible! It makes my ears ring. And that's not the worst of it. Nobody can see you, so you get your toes stepped on, or an elbow jabbed in your eye. No, no, not for me. I can't stand it any more!" "And you, Fflewddur," Taran cried, as the bard dismounted, "I've missed you. Do you know what the council is about? That's why you're here, isn't it? And Doli, too?" "I know nothing about councils," muttered Doli. "King Eiddileg commanded me to come here. A special favor to Gwydion. But I can tell you right now I'd rather be back home in the realm of the Fair Folk, minding my own business." "In my case," said the bard, "Gwydion happened to be passingthrough my kingdom--purely by chance, it seemed--though now I'm beginning to think it wasn't. He suggested I might enjoy stopping down at Caer Dallben. He said good old Doli was going to be there, so of course I set out immediately. "I'd given up being a bard," Fflewddur continued, "and had settled quite happily as ...
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Book Description Henry Holt & Company, 1995. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 30896878