Chapter 19 wraps up with Taran – once he’s up and walking around – and the other companions getting first an audience with King Math, who is described as being as old as Dallben and as long-winded as Eilonwy, and then some gifts from Gwydion in recognition of their valor. Fflewddur gets a harp string that will never break, no matter how many “gallant extravangances” he uses. Doli gets his much-longed-for power to become invisible (can’t see that backfiring on him at all). Gurgi gets the best present ever: a wallet of food that never runs out. Of course Gwydion doesn’t say what kind of food it holds (lembas and beef jerky, no doubt). Eilonwy gets a gold ring set with a jewel carved by the Fair Folk. That’s pretty lame compared to the other gifts. But not as lame as what Taran gets, which is… nothing. Gwydion couldn’t decide what to get him, so he literally didn’t get him anything. Not even a Cracker Barrel gift card. Taran graciously says that he asks for no reward, but Gwydion is all like, no, seriously, I’ll give you whatever you want, except I can’t make you a hero, so what else would you like? Taran, like Dorothy, just says there’s no place like home. And so that’s what he’ll receive.
So just as I’m getting outraged that everyone else got a present, and all Taran gets is to go home, it’s mentioned that Taran did in fact get an awesome gift – a gray stallion named Melynlas. But each of the other companions got a horse too, so in my opinion, Taran is still down one present from everyone else. Oh well. They all journey to Caer Dallben together, unhindered by the lords of the southern cantrevs, who have slunk away to their own lands after the defeat of the Horned King. Coll gives everybody bear hugs, and Taran is thrilled that “such a hero” would deign to remember him, which is a little much, I think, but it shows how childlike Taran still is. He still thinks a hero must be some kind of demigod and can’t fathom that Coll is the same person he always was, regardless of his past deeds.
They have a feast, and afterwards Dallben and Gwydion hang out in private for a while. Gurgi goes to sleep in the barn, Fflewddur and Doli go off exploring, and Taran shows Hen Wen’s pen to Eilonwy, who very nicely says that Caer Dallben is lovely and asks if Taran will go back to “Assistant Pig-Keeping” now. Taran hesitantly starts to ask her something, but is interrupted by the arrival of Coll, who says that Dallben wants to see Taran privately. Taran enters Dallben’s chamber to find the old man writing with a quill in The Book of Three! (Is he writing the story we just read?) Dallben closes the book quickly and asks Taran how he likes being a hero. Taran says he has no reason to be proud, that he didn’t do anything. Gwydion defeated the Horned King with Hen Wen’s help, Gurgi found Hen Wen, Eilonwy found Dyrnwyn, and Fflewddur and Doli fought valiantly. “As for me, what I mostly did was make mistakes,” he says ruefully. Dallben says all that may be true, but it was Taran who held the companions together and who fulfilled his quest of bringing Hen Wen safely home – and does it really matter who did what, “since all shared the same goal and the same danger?” He reminds Taran that a part of each of us is in everyone else, and that Taran has been at times as impetuous as Fflewddur, as self-pitying as Gurgi and as stubborn as Doli. Taran agrees, but says he feels different since coming home to Caer Dallben. He loves Dallben and Coll and he’s glad to be back, but everything feels smaller now. Dallben says it’s Taran who has grown bigger.
Finally, Taran asks what’s been on his mind – what will happen to Eilonwy? Could she possibly stay at Caer Dallben with them? Dallben says “the Princess Eilonwy” really should go home to her people – “yes, she is a princess. Did she not tell you?” – but that there’s no rush, and maybe she would consent to stay if Taran asked her. Taran races out to the barnyard and shouts “You’re to stay! I’ve asked Dallben!” Eilonwy humphs that it didn’t occur to him to ask her. Seriously, Taran, you had one job. Dallben just told you to ask her, and you blew it. But no matter, Coll is already fixing up a room for Eilonwy. But how did he know? How did Eilonwy know? All she says is “Humph!” … and Hen Wen chimes in with a “Hwoinch!”
And that, my friends, is the end of the book! If you’ve read this far, thank you so much for accompanying me on this adventure. I’m going to take a little break to read some more recent YA (currently on John Green’s “Paper Towns”) and then I’ll be back with book 2 of the Prydain series, “The Black Cauldron.” Witches! Ellidyr! Adaon! There will be swooning … and sobbing. Can’t wait!