The Prydain Project

Thirty years after first devouring Lloyd Alexander's Prydain books, I'm rereading them to see if the magic is still there. If you've arrived at this blog because you loved Prydain as a kid, I hope you’ll enjoy the chance to revisit it along with me. To read the recaps in order, start here: "The Book of Three," Chapter 1

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Book of Three, Chapter 10 - The Sword Dyrnwyn

Taran wakes the next morning to find Gurgi sniffing hungrily around the saddlebags. He shares out the mysterious “provisions,” which are variously referred to in this section as “food,” “scant portions” and a “meager breakfast” but still with no specifics as to what the heck they are, exactly. (So I’m going to guess lembas bread and beef jerky.) Eilonwy is more interested in studying her sword than in eating. When Taran tries to look at it, she says she dare not let him. There is a “symbol of power” on it that she recognizes from some of Achren’s most forbidden items, along with an inscription in the “Old Writing” that she can’t quite translate. Taran suggests Fflewddur, being a bard, might be able to understand it. Fflewddur takes a peek and says the inscription says “something like ‘Beware My Wrath’ – the usual sentiments.” Immediately, one of his harp strings snaps, and he goes off to fix it.

Eilonwy says Fflewddur was totally wrong, and she can read the inscription better now. It says the sword, Dyrnwyn, can only be drawn by someone of royal blood, which, she guesses, doesn’t include Assistant Pig-Keepers. Taran points out that he could very well be a prince, since he doesn’t know who his father was, and that sort of thing “happens all the time in The Book of Three.” Eilonwy says she’s never heard of The Book of Three – burn! – but that she’s pretty sure having royal relatives isn’t enough, that you have to have “something very special” to be able to draw the sword.

Taran is peeved that she thinks him so ordinary, though she tries to soften the blow by saying he’s the nicest person she’s ever met. She clearly hasn’t met too many people, because he’s been mostly a jerk to her, a trend which he continues now, by scoffing that she ought to be carrying a doll, not a sword. She’s about to slap him when Fflewddur comes back. She snaps at the bard for not being able to read the inscription, and he confesses that he’s not really a bard, but actually a king. Taran instantly calls him “Sire” and drops to one knee, which is hilarious. Fflewddur says he doesn’t bother with all that anymore. He says his kingdom is vast (breaking two harp strings) and he did quite well on his bard examinations (another string). In case we haven’t caught on to the harp gimmick yet, he then explains that the Chief Bard Taliesin presented the harp to him as a gift, but he wonders sometimes if Taliesin was really doing him a favor. You see, the strings always seem to break when he – ahem – readjusts the facts for dramatic effect. But he keeps it because it has such a beautiful tone. Eilonwy suggests he might stop readjusting the facts so much, and he laments that he got into the habit of it as a king and now finds it hard to stop.

Taran asks Fflewddur for a boon, and explains that he is giving up on his search for Hen Wen and instead will take up Gwydion’s quest to journey to Caer Dathyl and warn the Sons of Don about the Horned King and the cantrevs that have joined him. He thinks Gwydion is surely dead, and that it’s his fault, so now he has to do what Gwydion would have done. (Sorry, Hen Wen!) Fflewddur points out that Taran had no way of knowing Gwydion wasn’t in the other dungeon, but Taran has his mind made up. He wants Fflewddur to tell him how to reach Caer Dathyl and to take Eilonwy back to her people. Eilonwy is having none of that and says “If you’ve made your decision, I’ve made my own” and she’s not going back to her “mean, stupid kinsmen” who will be just as dreary as Achren. She’s going to Caer Dathyl too, just try to stop her! You go, girl!

Taran wearily admits that there is safety in numbers and perhaps they should all go to Caer Dathyl together. But he warns Eilonwy and Gurgi not to be hindrances. Fflewddur says he would prefer to be in charge of the expedition, but agrees to accept Taran as the leader since Taran is, after all, standing in for Gwydion. Then his excitement gets the better of him and he boasts that he’s carved through “walls of spearmen,” causing six harp strings to break at once, which I’m pretty sure sets the record for the entire series – oh yes, readers, this harp thing goes on and on (and on), so better settle in for it. Hope you all have enough provisions for the journey. Off to Caer Dathyl we go!

1 comment:

  1. Glad I'm not the only one who finds Taran's instantaneous self-abasement hilarious. It seems naive - he takes it at such immediate face value that Fflewddur is what he says he is. (Which is amusing, when you think about it, that the guy who can't help spinning whoppers right and left does, in fact, speak the truth when naming himself royalty. I don't know why I find that so funny.)

    Eilonwy's attempt to be conciliatory feels strange to me, too, for the reason you state. Not only has he been a jerk; he's being a jerk at that very moment and her usual reaction is to call him on his bad behavior, not console him. I assume that somehow she picks up that he really is wounded by her apparent low assessment of him and realizes her own rudeness. One can hope.

    And yes, the ubiquitous "provisions". I always want to write that they're eating pemmican or something but I don't think they'd figured out that sort of thing in the middle ages.

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