Better the princess forget the shepherd boy.
Taran tipped back his head and glared angrily at the sky, silently cursing his fate. His quest, now achieved, had taken from him exactly what he had sought to gain. He had found a father's love, but was it enough? Taran pushed the evil question to the back of his mind. And yet it continued to resurface. The more he struggled against it the more the question filled devoured him. Would it have been better if he had never met his father? Although he hardly liked to admit to his childish fantasies, his ignorance had allowed him to imagine that he would find a warm and loving family, noble of birth and heart, living in a castle fit to bring a princess to. He realized now that this had been what he was searching for; a quest for a dream. His reality now surrounded and consumed him, his family was a sad and lonely man in a desolate place, devoid of joy or hope. Taran laughed hollowly, the sound eerily catching on the wind and echoing through the ravines. He should have known better. Where did his dreams and fantasies ever lead? He remembered thinking himself a great war leader on their search for the Black Cauldron only to have Adoan die in his arms. He recalled exactly how he had planned to rescue Eilonwy from Achren, the way she would fling her arms around him in relief and joy at his appearance and cling to him as he helped her safely climb down the rope to their overjoyed companions. Another bitter laugh escaped him as he remembered the way she had actually greeted him when he arrived to rescue her. Yes, he should have known better.
"Well you know better now, don't you?" Taran smiled. He could hear Eilonwy's voice as clearly as if she was sitting next to him. He closed his eyes and there she was. Arms wrapped around her legs, chin resting on her knees. She looked at him inquisitively. "I said; you know better now, don't you?"
"I'm beginning to doubt if I will ever learn."
"Nonsense. I meant that you know better than to expect to rescue me like that. Not that I'll ever need rescuing again. Whatever were you thinking of?"
"I continue to make mistakes, chase illusions. I still haven't stopped my childish dreaming." Taran smiled to himself as Eilonwy sighed in exasperation.
"Taran of Caer Dallben, unfortunate as it is; Assistant Pig-Keeper or shepherd, prince or bard or sorcerer, all men will continue to make mistakes. I doubt if there is any way out of it. Actually, I doubt if we would be human if we did not make mistakes. And as for dreaming, I don't think I should like you half as much if you never dreamed. Why, we wouldn't be sitting here now if you never dreamed."
Taran took a deep breath and filled his lungs with the fresh air of Caer Dallben. They were sitting there together in the shade of a tree, watching Hen Wen trot contentedly around her pen.
"But this," Taran said, running his hands through the grass and dirt of his home "will make it all the harder to wake up. For me to wake up and realize who and where I am. For us to wake up and realize that we can never…"
Eilonwy laughed. Her laugh always made him think of silver.
"No I don't fancy waking up to being smothered by down pillows. But I am glad that we are here now." She stretched and laid her head down on an obliging root. "I must say that I am rather disappointed in you. Not for your mistakes and illusions, but for telling Fflewddur that I should forget you. I thought you cared for me more than that." Her words stung him to the core.
"Eilonwy, I said it because I care for you. I am trying to protect you!"
"No, Taran. You are trying to protect yourself. Have you considered what would happen to us if we forgot each other?"
"It's for the best – I am trapped here!"
"Things aren't always what they seem, Taran." Caer Dallben was fading. He covered his face with his hands, willing the dream to stay. He had to make her understand, she had to know why he was doing this. Eilonwy was fading. Taran compulsively reached for her but she disappeared as mist in the sun. He looked around desperately but she was nowhere to be seen. He was alone with only the wind in the empty valley. Taran struggled against a rush of tears as he realized that he never wanted Eilonwy to forget him, for he knew he would be haunted by her memory forever.
Eilonwy woke with a start. She looked around for a moment and passed a hand over her forehead. Realizing where she was, she fell back into her down pillows. It seemed like she dreamt about Caer Dallben every night. She played idly with her silver necklace and looked at the sunlight streaming through the window. Although she was not completely unhappy on Mona, she ached for home. She braced herself as the inevitable thoughts of Taran flooded her mind. They made her sadder than usual this morning. She sat up as a lady in waiting entered her chamber.
"Good morning, Princess. I thought you would want to know that the bard who you are so fond of has returned to the castle." Eilonwy shot out of bed and hurriedly dressed herself.
She ignored the distasteful looks from some of the courtiers as she ran across the great hall to greet Fflewddur. The bard grinned broadly at her and laughed as she practically knocked him over. His smile changed slightly as he surveyed her. She must have changed more than she cared to admit. She asked quickly if the bard had seen Taran and felt her stomach drop as Fflewddur's smile turned decidedly uncomfortable and he shifted his gaze away from her.
"Flewddur," She asked with dread, "is Taran well?"
"He was well and whole when I left him…in a manner of speaking."
"Fflewddur…please. Tell me." She entreated him with her eyes, her voice grew weak.
"He sent me with a message for you."