The cold wore harder on the elevations of Bran-Galedd than on the Red Fallows that sprawled below.  As much as the crags and shelves gave some shelter from the winter blasts from one direction, so did the troughs and defiles funnel others more harshly into their path. 

When darkness dropped, the trail through the uneven terrain littered with crevices and pits proved too treacherous for all but the sure-footed Llyan.  Her yellow eyes, those of a nocturnal huntress, were as efficient as ever, but not so for the horses or for the men.

"We break here for the night," Fflewddur called back to the rag-tag column of Commot men who followed.

He would not risk a fire with the Cauldron-Born so near by.  A Fflam is brave, yes, but not when being sensible would better serve.  So the companions slumped wearily to the rocks, taking what shelter they could wrangle out of overhangs and crannies, to eat a cold supper drawn from Gurgi's wallet of food. 

"Crunchings and munchings?"  With a hand covered in scraggly fur, Gurgi extended an offering to Glew.  he puny fellow sat huddled with his sodden hood drawn completely over his head leaving him look much like the ice-covered rock around him 

There was no answer.  Too tired to even eat, the former giant was already asleep.

While the host settled in as best they could, Fflewddur kept lookout for Taran, who was to follow behind them on the swift Melynlas.  Fflewddur climbed up to an outcropping and found a reasonably sheltered spot from where in one direction he could overlook the camp and the other back from whence they had come: the Red Fallows, now made not just a little more red through their battle there earlier in the day.    Llyan padded along behind him, which was just as well.  Something about the giant mountain cat always made the horses skittish.  Not to mention anyone else encountering her for the first time.

"I wish he'd hurry back," Fflewddur confessed as he surveyed their assembled band of makeshift warriors.  "The worst part about being a king—aside from the boredom and the dreary castles, that is—is having the responsibility of so many others.  As a bard I make merry, and if those around me decide to stay gloomy, well, that's rather their own muddle, isn't it?  But a king has a duty to his subjects—not that I have all that many, but for a man of good character, a duty to one weighs as heavily as a duty to thousands—to protect them and allow for their welfare.  And if he should fail— Well, as I said, I never cared for being king.  I wish Taran would hurry back."

"So do I," said Eilonwy, keeping vigil at his side.

"Get some sleep, princess.  I'll wake you when he comes.  Or tell him to.  Yes, yes, that would be the thing.  No point in putting myself to trouble when it's him you want to see."

Eilonwy glanced at him crossly.  "Now why would I have an assistant pig-keeper do something for me that I can do perfectly well myself?  That's like some court-lady dress you.  They always put the boots on the wrong foot or leave part of your undergarments bunched up against your skin so that it bothers at you all day. 

"Though I must say that he has done exceptionally well on this journey," said Eilonwy.  "Sometimes you wouldn't know that he's an assistant pig-keeper at all.  Unless you asked, that is."  She yawned.

"If Prydain stands against Annuvin, it will be because of Taran."  Fflewddur spoke with unaccustomed solemnity.

"It is amazing when people surprise you, isn't it?  It's like when you look at an egg that seems to be like all the other eggs you've ever eaten in your life, but one day you turn around, and there's now a bird flapping about!"

"I shouldn't like to think at what cost to the egg."  Fflewddur peered out at the path from the Fallows.

Eilonwy sighed.  "I wish he'd hurry back."

"Yes, princess, so do I."

As if conjured by enchantment, they heard the scrabble of gravel on the rock.  Eilonwy raised her bauble and shone a low light down the way that they had come.  "It's Taran!" Oblivious to the  perilous footing, she sped off to greet him. 

Fflewddur closed his eyes and leaned back against Llyan, who began butting him with her head.  "Easy, girl.  It's a little cold for harp music tonight.  A Fflam is stolid, but he will need his fingers in the future."

She butted him again, more forcefully this time.  "All right, but just for a little while."  Fflewddur unslung his harp.  Blowing on his icy fingers,  Fflewddur warmed them against the great cat's body, and softly he began to play.

Greeting exchanged, Eilonwy made for the horses, where most of the men had bedded down amongst them for what heat and protection they could give from the wind.  She found Gurgi on his side shivering in his with his arms wrapped tightly around himself, too cold to sleep and too spent to stay awake.  Heedless of the soggy mess of matted fur and the impressive odor of a Pyrenees that has been rolling in a stable, she lay down against him and threw her traveling cloak over them both.

"Take this," said Taran taking a cloak from Melynlas and spreading it over top of where his two friends lay cuddled.

"Now why would I take yours when I already have a perfectly good one?" grumbled Eilonwy through closed eyes.  She tugged at the snow-soaked woolen around her that was already stiffening in the frosty air.  "That's worse than reaching over and eating some one else's dinner when you've just finished your own."

"It is not mine; it is—it was Coll's," Taran answered grimly.  "The only manner in which it can serve him now is in the service of those whom he held dear."

Eilonwy opened her eyes wide and strained to peer at him above her.  "Thank you," she said finally.  "Had I been born a pig, I can think of no one I should like better to have caring for me.  Not that I wish to have been born a pig that is.  Nor turned into one, which was always an uncomfortably immediate possibility while living with Achren.  Everyone thinks it is so glamorous to be an enchantress, but having been born into a family of enchantresses has its unpleasantness, I tell you.  Not that there is anything unpleasant about being a pig, I shouldn't think.  Far better than being a salamander I should think, always sliding about in the muck and risking being gobbled up by a crane, or worse, stepped on and squished at any moment—"  Gradually, her sleepy voice trailed off until there was only the huffing grunts of Gurgi's snore.

"Rest well, Daughter of Anghared.  Much more will be required of you—of all of us—come daybreak if we are to turn back the Cauldron Born.  To-morrow you will have ample opportunity to display your mettle.  For to-night, husband your strength and swell it as best you can."  He tucked the edges of the cloak around her, pausing his hand and letting it hover for a moment over her red-gold hair.  Finally he turned away.  He pulled his own cloak tighter around himself, although the wind had eased itself for the moment.

Fflewddur watched as Taran surveyed his company, the men—some barely more than boys—who had left home and family to follow him to attempt to defeat the unbeatable foe.  It seemed too much for any man, so why not an assistant pig keeper, then?  Could he be any more ill-suited than any other mortal?

A great icy blast blew, and Fflewddur saw Taran shudder.

Against the meowed protests of Llyan, Fflewddur rose and unfastened his cloak as he picked his way down to Taran.  "A Fflam is considerate.  You use mine."  He held it out.  "No good to anyone—-least of all me, who wants nothing to do with the idea of having to step in—our leader catching his death of cold."

"Gallant Fflam.  I am no leader, but I am versed enough to know enough to ask no more of they who follow than he who bids them to.  Or do you think me so callous as to take my warmth at the expense of a friend's?"

"Asking, taking." Fflewddur waved him off.  "I don't recall any such words.  And as a bard words are one of the things I remember best.  "Llyan's coat is thick enough for the two of us.  I shall be warm as boiled potatoes nestled against her.  Though I daresay I shall need a good brushing in the morning. "  Fflewddur swiped at his sleeve, already speckled with copious amounts of tawny fur.

Taran looked to the harp, but the strings remained quiet and intact.  He pulled the fabric over his shoulders and his own soaking garments.

"Then thank you, my friend, for your kindness for the chill of this day was close to being more than I could bear."  He took Melynlas by the bridle to find shelter enough for both of them for the night.

"Taran!"  Fflewddur called out to his retreating form.  When Taran turned, Fflewddur's voice stuck. "About Coll—  I am so very sorry."

"There will be more than enough time for sorrows and far too many of them to spend for those who must when we are done.  Let us wait till then to tally the cost when we can afford to grieve as our valiant friends deserve."  Taran turned back to see to Melynlas, then chose for himself a solitary hollow in the rock from with a view of his charged band of men.

Fflewddur went back to Llyan, who welcomed him with open paws.  He pushed himself against the soft heat of  her belly until he thought that the tremor of her purr would shake his brain right out of his ears.  He pulled her paws around him and tilted his head as hot breath—flavored with her most recent meal of things he'd rather not think—upon poured over his face, then drifted down his neck and shirt. 

Finally the rumble simmered down to a rolling cadence.  "Good night, old girl," he murmured into her ear.

She licked his face twice with her raspy tongue.

Snug with his arms pinned beneath her legs, Fflewddur didn't bother to wipe it off.  A Fflam has endured worse things than the unconventional affections of a friend.  He managed to twist one hand enough to stroke her underside the way she liked, and he worked his head solidly into the crook of her neck and closed his eyes.

Unconventional, Great Belin! A Fflam knows better than to scorn love wherever one may find it—or it him.