The Book of Three

The first book in the Chronicles of Prydain series

A novel by Lloyd Alexander

For the children who listened,

the grown-ups who were patient,

and especially for Ann Durell.

Author's Note

THIS CHRONICLE of the Land of Prydain is not a retelling or retranslation of Welsh mythology. Prydain is not Wales? not entirely, at least. The inspiration for it comes from that magnificent land and its legends; but, essentially, Prydain is a country existing only in the imagination.

A few of its inhabitants are drawn from the ancient tales. Gwydion, for example, is a 'real' legendary figure. Arawn, the dread Lord of Annuvin, comes from the Mabinogion, the classic collection of Welsh legends, though in Prydain he is considerably more villainous. And there is an authentic mythological basis for Arawn's cauldron, Hen Wen the oracular pig, the old enchanter Dallben, and others. However, Taran the Assistant Pig-Keeper, like Eilonwy of the red gold hair, was born in my own Prydain.

The geography of Prydain is peculiar to itself. Any resemblance between it and Wales is perhaps not coincidental? but not to be used as a guide for tourists. It is a small land, yet it has room enough for gallantry and humor; and even an Assistant Pig-Keeper there may cherish certain dreams.

The chronicle of Prydain is a fantasy. Such things never happen in real life. Or do they? Most of us are called on to perform tasks far beyond what we believe we can do. Our capabilities seldom match our aspirations, and we are often woefully unprepared. To this extent, we are all Assistant Pig-Keepers at heart.


Chapter 1

The Assistant Pig-Keeper

TARAN WANTED to make a sword; but Coll, charged with the practical side of his education, decided on horseshoes. And so it had been horseshoes all morning long. Taran's arms ached, soot blackened his face. At last he dropped the hammer and turned to Coll, who was watching him critically.

'Why?' Taran cried. 'Why must it be horseshoes? As if we had any horses!'

Coll was stout and round and his great bald head glowed bright pink. 'Lucky for the horses,' was all he said, glancing at Taran's handiwork.

'I could do better at making a sword,' Taran protested. 'I know I could.' And before Coll could answer, he snatched the tongs, flung a strip of red-hot iron to the anvil, and began hammering away as fast as he could.

'Wait, wait!' cried Coll, 'that is not the way to go after it!'

Heedless of Coll, unable even to hear him above the din, Taran pounded harder than ever. Sparks sprayed the air. But the more he pounded, the more the metal twisted and buckled, until, finally, the iron sprang from the tongs and fell to the ground. Taran stared in dismay. With the tongs, he picked up the bent iron and examined it.

'Not quite the blade for a hero,' Coll remarked.

'It's ruined,' Taran glumly agreed. 'It looks like a sick snake,' he added ruefully.

'As I tried telling you,' said Coll, 'you had it all wrong. You must hold the tongs? so. When you strike, the strength must flow from your shoulder and your wrist be loose. You can hear it when you do it right. There is a kind of music in it. Besides,' he added, 'this is not the metal for weapons.'

Coll returned the crooked, half-formed blade to the furnace, where it lost its shape entirely.

'I wish I might have my own sword,' Taran sighed, 'and you would teach me sword-fighting.'

'Wisht!' cried Coll. 'Why should you want to know that? We have no battles at Caer Dallben.'

'We have no horses, either,' objected Taran, 'but we're making horseshoes.'

'Get on with you,' said Coll, unmoved. 'That is for practice.'

'And so would this be,' Taran urged. 'Come, teach me the sword-fighting. You must know the art.'

Coll's shining head glowed even brighter. A trace of a smile appeared on his face, as though he were savoring something pleasant. 'True,' he said quietly, 'I have held a sword once or twice in my day.'

'Teach me now,' pleaded Taran. He seized a poker and brandished it, slashing at the air and dancing back and forth over the hard-packed earthen floor. 'See,' he called, 'I know most of it already.'

'Hold your hand,' chuckled Coll. 'If you were to come against me like that, with all your posing and bouncing, I should have you chopped into bits by this time.' He hesitated a moment. 'Look you,' he said quickly, 'at least you should know there is a right way and a wrong way to go about it.'

He picked up another poker. 'Here now,' he ordered, with a sooty wink, 'stand like a man.'

Taran brought up his poker. While Coll shouted instructions, they set to parrying and thrusting, with much banging, clanking, and commotion. For a moment Taran was sure he had the better of Coll, but the old man spun away with amazing lightness of foot. Now it was Taran who strove desperately to ward off Coll's blows.

Abruptly, Coll stopped. So did Taran, his poker poised in mid-air. In the doorway of the forge stood the tall, bent figure of Dallben.

Dallben, master of Caer Dallben, was three hundred and seventy-nine years old. His beard covered so much of his face he seemed always to be peering over a gray cloud. On the little farm, while Taran and Coll saw to the plowing, sowing, weeding, reaping, and all the other tasks of husbandry, Dallben undertook the meditating, an occupation so exhausting he could accomplish it only by lying down and closing his eyes. He meditated an hour and a half following breakfast and again later in the day. The clatter from the forge had roused him from his morning meditation; his robe hung askew over his boney knees.

'Stop that nonsense directly,' said Dallben. 'I am surprised at you,' he added, frowning at Coll. 'There is serious work to be done.'

'It wasn't Coll,' Taran interrupted. 'It was I who asked to learn sword play.'

'I did not say I was surprised at you,' remarked Dallben. 'But perhaps I am, after all. I think you had best come with me.'

Taran followed the ancient man out of the forge, across the chicken run, and into the white, thatched cottage. There, in Dallben's chamber, moldering tomes overflowed the sagging shelves and spilled onto the floor amid heaps of iron cook pots, studded belts, harps with or without strings, and other oddments.

Taran took his place on the wooden bench, as he always did when Dallben was in a mood for giving lessons or reprimands.

'I fully understand,' said Dallben, settling himself behind his table, 'in the use of weapons, as in everything else, there is a certain skill. But wiser heads than yours will determine when you should learn it.'

'I'm sorry,' Taran began, 'I should not have…'

'I am not angry,' Dallben said, raising a hand. 'Only a little sad. Time flies quickly; things always happen sooner than one expects. And yet,' he murmured, almost to himself, 'it troubles me. I fear the Horned King may have some part in this.'

'The Horned King?' asked Taran.

'We shall speak of him later,' said Dallben. He drew a ponderous, leather-bound volume toward him, The Book of Three, from which he occasionally read to Taran and which, the boy believed, held in its pages everything anyone could possibly want to know.

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