Henry Holt Books for Young Readers is proud to publish this 50th Anniversary Edition of Lloyd Alexander's classic Newbery Honor winner The Black Cauldron, the second book in the Chronicles of Prydain, with a new introduction by fellow Newbery Honor winner Rebecca Stead.
In the land of Prydain, evil is never far away. Arawn, Lord of the Land of Death, has been building an army of dark warriors to take over Prydain, and the only way to stop him is to destroy the Black Cauldron he uses to create his dreaded soldiers. Taran the Assistant Pig-Keeper and his loyal companions must journey deep into Arawn's domain to destroy the Black Cauldron. For each of them, the quest has a special meaning. For Taran, it is the glorious opportunity to use his first sword in battle. But war requires a sacrifice greater than he'd ever imagined. . . .
About the Author
Lloyd Alexander (1924-2007) is the author of many magical books for young readers. Among them are the Prydain Chronicles, which include the Newbery Medal winner The High King and the Newbery Honor book The Black Cauldron. Time Cat, originally published in 1963, was his first fantasy for young readers. Mr. Alexander's work has inspired a loyal following of readers of all ages.
Read an Excerpt
The Black Cauldron
By Lloyd Alexander
Henry Holt and CompanyCopyright © 2015 Rebecca Stead
All rights reserved.
The Council at Caer Dallben
Autumn had come too swiftly. In the northernmost realms of Prydain many trees were already leafless, and among the branches clung the ragged shapes of empty nests. To the south, across the river Great Avren, the hills shielded Caer Dallben from the winds, but even here the little farm was drawing in on itself.
For Taran, the summer was ending before it had begun. That morning Dallben had given him the task of washing the oracular pig. Had the old enchanter ordered him to capture a full-grown gwythaint, Taran would gladly have set out after one of the vicious winged creatures. As it was, he filled the bucket at the well and trudged reluctantly to Hen Wen's enclosure. The white pig, usually eager for a bath, now squealed nervously and rolled on her back in the mud. Busy struggling to raise Hen Wen to her feet, Taran did not notice the horseman until he had reined up at the pen.
"You, there! Pig-boy!" The rider looking down at him was a youth only a few years older than Taran. His hair was tawny, his eyes black and deep-set in a pale, arrogant face. Though of excellent quality, his garments had seen much wear, and his cloak was purposely draped to hide his threadbare attire. The cloak itself, Taran saw, had been neatly and painstakingly mended. He sat astride a roan mare, a lean and nervous steed speckled red and yellow, with a long, narrow head, whose expression was as ill-tempered as her master's.
"You, pig-boy," he repeated, "is this Caer Dallben?"
The horseman's tone and bearing nettled Taran, but he curbed his temper and bowed courteously. "It is," he replied. "But I am not a pig-boy," he added. "I am Taran, Assistant Pig-Keeper."
"A pig is a pig," said the stranger, "and a pig-boy is a pig-boy. Run and tell your master I am here," he ordered. "Tell him that Prince Ellidyr Son of Pen-Llarcau ..."
Hen Wen seized this opportunity to roll into another puddle. "Stop that, Hen!" Taran cried, hurrying after her.
"Leave off with that sow," Ellidyr commanded. "Did you not hear me? Do as I say, and be quick about it."
"Tell Dallben yourself!" Taran called over his shoulder, trying to keep Hen Wen from the mud. "Or wait until I've done with my own work!"
"Mind your impudence," Ellidyr answered, "or you shall have a good beating for it."
Taran flushed. Leaving Hen Wen to do as she pleased, he strode quickly to the railing and climbed over. "If I do," he answered hotly, throwing back his head and looking Ellidyr full in the face, "it will not be at your hands."
Ellidyr gave a scornful laugh. Before Taran could spring aside, the roan plunged forward. Ellidyr, leaning from the saddle, seized Taran by the front of the jacket. Taran flailed his arms and legs vainly. Strong as he was, he could not break free. He was pummeled and shaken until his teeth rattled. Ellidyr then urged the roan into a gallop, hauled Taran across the turf to the cottage, and there, while chickens scattered in every direction, tossed him roughly to the ground.
The commotion brought Dallben and Coll outdoors. The Princess Eilonwy hurried from the scullery, her apron flying and a cook-pot still in her hand. With a cry of alarm she ran to Taran's side.
Ellidyr, without troubling to dismount, called to the white-bearded enchanter. "Are you Dallben? I have brought your pig-boy to be thrashed for his insolence."
"Tut!" said Dallben, unperturbed by Ellidyr's furious expression. "Whether he is insolent is one thing, and whether he should be thrashed is another. In either case, I need no suggestions from you."
"I am a Prince of Pen-Llarcau!" cried Ellidyr.
"Yes, yes, yes," Dallben interrupted with a wave of his brittle hand. "I am quite aware of all that and too busy to be concerned with it. Go, water your horse and your temper at the same time. You shall be called when you are wanted."
Ellidyr was about to reply, but the enchanter's stern glance made him hold his tongue. He turned the roan and urged her toward the stable.
Princess Eilonwy and the stout, baldheaded Coll, meantime, had been helping Taran pick himself up.
"You should know better, my boy, than to quarrel with strangers," said Coll good-naturedly.
"That's true enough," Eilonwy added. "Especially if they're on horseback and you're on foot."
"Next time I meet him," Taran began.
"When you meet again," said Dallben, "you, at least, shall conduct yourself with as much restraint and dignity as possible — which, I allow, may not be very great, but you shall have to make do with it. Be off, now. The Princess Eilonwy can help you to be a little more presentable than you are at the moment."
In the lowest of spirits, Taran followed the golden-haired girl to the scullery. He still smarted, more from Ellidyr's words than from the drubbing; and he was hardly pleased that Eilonwy had seen him sprawled at the feet of the arrogant Prince.
"However did it happen?" Eilonwy asked, picking up a damp cloth and applying it to Taran's face.
Taran did not answer, but glumly submitted to her care.
Before Eilonwy had finished, a hairy figure, covered with leaves and twigs, popped up at the window, and with great agility clambered over the sill.
"Woe and sadness!" the creature wailed, loping anxiously to Taran. "Gurgi sees smackings and whackings by strengthful lord! Poor, kindly master! Gurgi is sorry for him.
"But there is news!" Gurgi hurried on. "Good news! Gurgi also sees mightiest of princes riding! Yes, yes, with great gallopings on white horse with black sword, what joy!"
"What's that?" cried Taran. "Do you mean Prince Gwydion? It can't be ..."
"It is," said a voice behind him.
Gwydion stood in the doorway.
With a shout of amazement, Taran ran forward and clasped his hand. Eilonwy threw her arms about the tall warrior, while Gurgi joyfully pounded the floor. The last time Taran had seen him, Gwydion wore the raiment of a prince of the royal House of Don. Now he was dressed simply in a hooded cloak of gray and a coarse, unadorned jacket. The black sword, Dyrnwyn, hung at his side.
"Well met, all of you," said Gwydion. "Gurgi looks as hungry as ever, Eilonwy prettier than ever. And you, Assistant Pig-Keeper," he added, his lined and weathered face breaking into a smile, "a little the worse for wear. Dallben has mentioned how you came by those bruises."
"I sought no quarrel," Taran declared.
"But one found you, nonetheless," Gwydion said. "I think that must be the way of it with you, Taran of Caer Dallben. No matter," he said, stepping back and studying Taran closely through green-flecked eyes. "Let me look at you. You have grown since last we met." Gwydion nodded his shaggy, wolf-gray head in approval. "I hope you have gained as much wisdom as height. We shall see. Now I must make ready for the council."
"Council?" Taran cried. "Dallben said nothing of a council. He did not even say you were coming here."
"The truth is," Eilonwy put in, "Dallben hasn't been saying much of anything to anybody."
"You should understand by now," said Gwydion, "that of what he knows, Dallben tells little. Yes, there is to be a council, and I have summoned others to meet us here."
"I am old enough to sit in a council of men," Taran interrupted excitedly. "I have learned much; I have fought at your side, I have ..."
"Gently, gently," Gwydion said. "We have agreed you shall have a place. Though manhood," he added softly, with a trace of sadness, "may not be all that you believe." Gwydion put his hands on Taran's shoulders. "Meanwhile, stand ready. Your task will be given soon enough."
* * *
As Gwydion had foretold, the rest of the morning brought many new arrivals. A company of horsemen soon appeared and began to make camp in the stubble field beyond the orchard. The warriors, Taran saw, were armed for battle. His heart leaped. Surely this, too, had to do with Gwydion's council. His head spun with questions and he hurried toward the field. He had not gone halfway when he stopped short in great surprise. Two familiar figures were riding up the pathway. Taran raced to meet them.
"Fflewddur!" he called, while the bard, his beautiful harp slung over his shoulder, raised a hand in greeting. "And Doli! Is that really you?"
The crimson-haired dwarf swung down from his pony. He grinned broadly for an instant, then assumed his customary scowl. He did not, however, conceal the glint of pleasure in his round, red eyes.
"Doli!" Taran clapped the dwarf on the back. "I never thought I'd see you again. That is, really see you. Not after you gained the power to be invisible."
"Humph!" snorted the leather-jacketed dwarf. "Invisible! I've had all I want of that. Do you realize the effort it takes? Terrible! It makes my ears ring. And that's not the worst of it. Nobody can see you, so you get your toes stepped on, or an elbow jabbed in your eye. No, no, not for me. I can't stand it any more!"
"And you, Fflewddur," Taran cried, as the bard dismounted, "I've missed you. Do you know what the council is about? That's why you're here, isn't it? And Doli, too?"
"I know nothing about councils," muttered Doli. "King Eiddileg commanded me to come here. A special favor to Gwydion. But I can tell you right now I'd rather be back home in the realm of the Fair Folk, minding my own business."
"In my case," said the bard, "Gwydion happened to be passing through my kingdom — purely by chance, it seemed — though now I'm beginning to think it wasn't. He suggested I might enjoy stopping down at Caer Dallben. He said good old Doli was going to be there, so of course I set out immediately.
"I'd given up being a bard," Fflewddur continued, "and had settled quite happily as a king again. Really, it was only to oblige Gwydion."
At this, two strings of his harp snapped with a resounding twang. Fflewddur stopped immediately and cleared his throat. "Yes, well," he added, "the truth of it is: I was perfectly miserable. I'd have taken any excuse to get out of that damp, dismal castle for a while. A council, you say? I was hoping it might be a harvest festival and I'd be needed to provide the entertainment."
"Whatever it is," Taran said, "I'm glad you're both here."
"I'm not," grumbled the dwarf. "When they start talking about good old Doli this, and good old Doli that, watch out! It's for something disagreeable."
As they made their way to the cottage, Fflewddur looked around with interest. "Well, well, do I see King Smoit's banner over there? He's here at Gwydion's request, too, I've no doubt."
Just then a horseman cantered up and called to Fflewddur by name. The bard gave a cry of pleasure. "That's Adaon, son of the Chief Bard Taliesin," he told Taran. "Caer Dallben is indeed honored today!"
The rider dismounted and Fflewddur hastened to present his companions to him.
Adaon, Taran saw, was tall, with straight black hair that fell to his shoulders. Though of noble bearing, he wore the garb of an ordinary warrior, with no ornament save a curiously shaped iron brooch at his collar. His eyes were gray, strangely deep, clear as a flame, and Taran sensed that little was hidden from Adaon's thoughtful and searching glance.
"Well met, Taran of Caer Dallben and Doli of the Fair Folk," said Adaon, clasping their hands in turn. "Your names are not unknown among the bards of the north."
"Then you, too, are a bard?" asked Taran, bowing with great respect.
Adaon smiled and shook his head. "Many times my father has asked me to present myself for initiation, but I choose to wait. There is still much I hope to learn, and in my own heart I do not feel myself ready. One day, perhaps, I shall be."
Adaon turned to Fflewddur. "My father sends greetings and asks how you fare with the harp he gave you. I can see it wants repair," he added, with a friendly laugh.
"Yes," admitted Fflewddur, "I do have trouble with it now and again. I can't help, ah, adding a little color to the facts — most facts need it so badly. But every time I do," he sighed, looking at the two broken strings, "this is the result."
"Be of good cheer," said Adaon, laughing wholeheartedly. "Your gallant tales are worth all the harp strings in Prydain. And you, Taran and Doli, must promise to tell me more of your famous deeds. But first, I must find Lord Gwydion."
Taking leave of the companions, Adaon mounted and rode on ahead.
Fflewddur looked after him with affection and admiration. "It can be no small matter if Adaon is here," he said. "He is one of the bravest men I know. That and more, for he has the heart of a true bard. Someday he will surely be our greatest, you can mark my words."
"And our names are indeed known to him?" Taran asked. "And there have been songs about us?"
Fflewddur beamed. "After our battle with the Horned King — yes, I did compose a little something. A modest offering. But it's gratifying to know it has spread. As soon as I fix these wretched strings I'll be delighted to let you hear it."
* * *
Soon after midday, when all had refreshed themselves, Coll summoned them to Dallben's chamber. There, a long table had been placed, with seats on either side. Taran noticed the enchanter had even made some attempt at straightening up the disorder of ancient volumes crowding the room. The Book of Three, the heavy tome filled with Dallben's deepest secrets, had been set carefully at the top of a shelf. Taran glanced up at it, almost fearfully, sure that it held far more than Dallben ever chose to reveal.
The rest of the company had begun to enter when Fflewddur took Taran's arm and drew him aside as a dark-bearded warrior swept by.
"One thing you can be sure of," the bard said under his breath, "Gwydion isn't planning a harvest festival. Do you see who's here?"
The dark warrior was more richly attired than any of the company. His high-bridged nose was falconlike, his eyes heavy-lidded but keen. Only to Gwydion did he bow; then, taking a seat at the table, he cast a cool glance of appraisal on those around him.
"Who is he?" whispered Taran, not daring to stare at this proud and regal figure.
"King Morgant of Madoc," answered the bard, "the boldest war leader in Prydain, second only to Gwydion himself. He owes allegiance to the House of Don." He shook his head in admiration. "They say he once saved Gwydion's life. I believe it. I've seen that fellow in battle. All ice! Absolutely fearless! If Morgant's to have a hand in this, something interesting must be stirring. Oh, listen. It's King Smoit. You can always hear him before you can see him."
A bellow of laughter resounded beyond the chamber, and in another moment a giant, red-headed warrior rolled in at the side of Adaon. He towered above all in the chamber and his beard flamed around a face so scarred with old wounds it was impossible to tell where one began and another ended. His nose had been battered to his cheekbones; his heavy forehead was nearly lost in a fierce tangle of eyebrows; and his neck seemed as thick as Taran's waist.
"What a bear!" said Fflewddur with an affectionate chuckle. "But there's not a grain of harm in him. When the lords of the southern cantrevs rose against the Sons of Don, Smoit was one of the few who stayed loyal. His kingdom is Cantrev Cadiffor."
Smoit stopped in the middle of the chamber, threw back his cloak, and hooked his thumbs into the enormous bronze belt which strained to bursting about his middle. "Hullo, Morgant!" he roared. "So they've called you in, have they?" He sniffed ferociously. "I smell blood-letting in the wind!" He strode up to the stern war leader and fetched him a heavy clout on the shoulder.
"Have a care," said Morgant, with a lean smile that showed only the tips of his teeth, "that it will not be yours."
"Ho! Oho!" King Smoit bellowed and slapped his massive thighs. "Very good! Have a care it will not be mine! Never fear, you icicle! I have enough to spare!" He caught sight of Fflewddur. "And another old comrade!" he roared, hurrying to the bard and flinging his arms about him with such enthusiasm that Taran heard Fflewddur's ribs creak. "My pulse!" cried Smoit. "My body and bones! Give us a tune to make us merry, you butter-headed harp-scraper!"
His eye fell on Taran. "What's this, what's this?" He seized Taran with a mighty, red-furred hand. "A skinned rabbit? A plucked chicken?"
"He is Taran, Dallben's Assistant Pig-Keeper," said the bard.
"I wish he were Dallben's cook!" cried Smoit. "I've hardly lined my belly!"
Excerpted from The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander. Copyright © 2015 Rebecca Stead. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Introduction to the 50th Anniversary Edition,
CHAPTER ONE The Council at Caer Dallben,
CHAPTER TWO The Naming of the Tasks,
CHAPTER THREE Adaon,
CHAPTER FOUR In the Shadow of Dark Gate,
CHAPTER FIVE The Huntsmen of Annuvin,
CHAPTER SIX Gwystyl,
CHAPTER SEVEN Kaw,
CHAPTER EIGHT A Stone in the Shoe,
CHAPTER NINE The Brooch,
CHAPTER TEN The Marshes of Morva,
CHAPTER ELEVEN The Cottage,
CHAPTER TWELVE Little Dallben,
CHAPTER THIRTEEN The Plan,
CHAPTER FOURTEEN The Price,
CHAPTER FIFTEEN The Black Crochan,
CHAPTER SIXTEEN The River,
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN The Choice,
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN The Loss,
CHAPTER NINETEEN The War Lord,
CHAPTER TWENTY The Final Price,
About the Author,
The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander,