THE HILLS OF BRAN-GALEDD
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
"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."
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
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.
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."
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
"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.
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
A great icy blast blew, and Fflewddur saw Taran shudder.
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
"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.
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.