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

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Black Cauldron, Chapter 5 – The Huntsmen of Annuvin

As the sun begins to rise, Taran can see the attacking Huntsmen – of which there are about a dozen. They wear clothing made from animal skins, and each has a crimson brand on his forehead. Guessing that the symbol is a mark of Arawn’s power, Taran is chilled with fear. The Huntsmen are pretty terrifying, I guess, but somehow I never found them as frightening as the Cauldron-Born. Deathless zombie warriors > fur-clad, branded, Hydra-type warriors for sheer horror in my book. Plus, I would like to know where the Huntsmen came from. The Cauldron-Born have no choice but to serve Arawn, being drafted in death into his service, but what about the Huntsmen – are they volunteers? Does Arawn kidnap them and put a spell on them? I can't remember whether this gets explained later. And lastly, I would think that Cauldron-Born, which presumably never have to eat or sleep, would be a better investment for Arawn than human armies that require resources to maintain. Unless the Huntsmen are much better at strategy or fighting – like special forces – it seems like Arawn is just diversifying for the sake of not having all his eggs in one cauldron. (Rimshot.)

Anyway, they fight, and Taran is pulled from Melynlas and pinned by a Huntsman. Things look bleak for a second, until Ellidyr kills the Huntsman from behind. (That’s two you owe me, junior.) A sigh ripples through the remaining Huntsmen, and then they renew their attack with superhuman ferocity. Taran shouts at the others not to kill any Huntsmen: “Defend yourself but do not slay them!” Like, how exactly would you do that, unless you were in a cartoon? Speaking of which, the Huntsmen start falling all over the place as invisible fists pound them and grab their weapons away. It’s Doli, of course. He creates enough of a distraction for Adaon to grab Gurgi, shout “Follow me!” and ride off on Lluagor (presumably to victorious music on the soundtrack, whenever they get around to making the live-action movie version). Taran mounts Melynlas, grabs Eilonwy and gallops after him. They all flee to the relative concealment of a riverbed, where they lose the Huntsmen, then keep galloping west into the forest.

Adaon says they can stop for a brief rest. There’s some squabbling over whether they should make a stand or shun the Huntsmen. Taran thanks Ellidyr for saving him, and Ellidyr is predictably scornful in response. They set off again, as the day turns cold and damp. Suddenly Doli draws up and says there are Fair Folk around. Taran asks how he knows, and Doli says, “How do you know how to swallow your dinner?” which gave me a chuckle. Sometimes Doli’s not a total drag. He dismounts, runs to a hollow oak and starts yelling down into it. No one answers, but Doli is sure he calculated correctly. He kicks at the tree and says he’ll report this mismanagement to King Eiddileg himself! Eilonwy gets in on the hollering-into-the-tree action, and finally there’s a faint response: “Go away.” Strap in, folks: we’re about to meet yet another charming and fun representative of the Fair Folk.


  1. The curious lack of cauldron-born in this book makes sense if Arawn knows that Gwydion has Dyrnwyn by this point. And he probably does know that, by his various means of spying.

    Considering that he waited until after Dyrnwyn was in his possession before using the cauldron-born again in an offensive campaign, he surely knew what the sword was capable of doing--possibly from the two warriors who chose not to attack Taran and Eilonwy when they saw her with the sword in the Book of Three, or perhaps recognized a prophecy about the sword no one else had knowledge of (being the thief of knowledge that he was), or he simply intuited the properties of such a sword as a counter to the properties of his own deathless warriors.

    In any event, it's clear in hindsight that he was keeping the cauldron-born away from any situation where they might cross paths with Gwydion until after Dyrnwyn was taken from him.

    I always assumed the huntsmen were volunteers. How he recruited them is a question I haven't given much thought to before, though Prydain never seems to lack a supply of restless young men who like fighting and might enjoy a bit of extra power on the side if they can get some.

    1. Wow, witteafval, I hadn't remembered that the Cauldron-Born don't appear in this book at all -- very interesting, considering the central quest is to stop their means of production! I think the theory you mentioned in your comment on an earlier post holds up; Arawn must know that Dyrnwyn has been found and can stop the Cauldron-Born: