Disclaimer: Characters and affiliated material is all property of Lloyd Alexander.

At Caer Dallben

The new place was far more favorable than the dingy way post he had been caged in with Gwystyl, who would release him from that confinement only on errands. The stuffy room laden with smoke from the hearth, the loamy smell, and the amber-toned dimness were all replaced by the contrasting brilliance of his new home at Caer Dallben. Here, the winds wafted the scent of green lawn and apples, and the windows illumined the golden rooms of pale earthen walls and dark wood beams.

The shifting world around him never rested. Sunrise and sunset, day and night, changed the sky's illumination and the colors of his surroundings—from red-tinged setting horizons, to pale golden mornings; gilded pastures under a clear noon sun or bright green meadows pelted by rains, and even a bluish black that inked the land when the moon rose over it. Whether filled with white nimbuses sailing quietly or gray storm clouds that rumbled, or a rich indigo sprinkled with pale gems that humans called "stars", the skies appeared to be in eternal motion. The variable winds would turn ferocious, which he surfed at his leisure, and would return to soft breezes that ruffled his wispy plumage pleasantly.

But best of all, he flew where and when he pleased. His wings directed solely by the wind.

For Kaw, Caer Dallben was freedom; a dynamic and lively home. Not least of all, his new master was an endearingly noble hatchling, though his virtuous heart brought him more hardship than anything else.

On a particular mid-autumn and windless day, the cool air warmed somewhat by the sun, his new young master walked over to the pig's enclosure with a wooden bucket of water, swishing and spilling over the edges, and placed it on the other side of the pen before jumping over. Hen Wen had trotted towards him, snorting a happy welcome. His black hair, almost as dark as Kaw's feathers, grazed his flushed cheeks as he bent to give the pig a bath. Taran's white sleeves, poking under a thick leather tunic, were rolled up to his elbows and his forearms were tanned by the past summer's toiling under the blazing sun. One arm dipped into the foamy water, a brush of boxwood in hand, while the other held the white but grimy animal steady.

Hen Wen snorted delightedly. Taran splashed her with water and brushed her side while he spoke in kindly low hums to her. There was a sad ring to it; the boy had been sighing over his recent adventure since he got to the farm.

Kaw remained perched on the railing and watched for a few moments before stretching his wings, sunlight glinting off his black plumage, and set off with a great flap of wings towards the clear blue sky, then gliding back down in the direction of the cottage. Standing over tawny grass and red and yellow leaves, the small building had its white walls recently washed and a clean new thatched roof , from which a thin wisp of smoke trailed from the hearth beneath it. The scent of warm food wafted from the window upon which Kaw perched himself.

In the room a cauldron lay over the small hearth nearby with stew boiling and vegetables floating within its gaping mouth. Coll stood over the round table, cutting slices of bread from a thick, steaming loaf on a wooden board. His bulky hands were swift and precise, and the ivory slices fell one after the other in equal portions. There was an opened door that led to the scullery in which he caught sight of Eilonwy, clattering about with oaken tableware.

She returned to the room to finish setting the table. Her long, golden waves were held in a single braid down her back, rogue strands hung by her face. She wore a simple, rough wool dress, and from her slender waist hung an apron which she grabbed to wipe her hands. "Done! Is there anything else I can help with, Coll?"

Nodding his bald head, he replied, "Food's almost done, could you fetch Taran? He should be tending to Hen Wen."

At that, the girl's face darkened. She was annoyed with Taran and such occurrences seem to happen frequently as of late. Eilonwy would chatter and his master's mind would be elsewhere, brooding, then she would get angry and ignore him for a few hours. Kaw's keen ears caught the distinct "Never again!" in her promises, but he understood well the incapacity to hold ones tongue for long. He envied the girl's talent for saying much in so little time.

Mumbling, Eilonwy left the cottage and Kaw took flight again, returning to Taran's shoulder. The boy stopped momentarily to look at him questioningly.

"Eilonwy! Comes!"

His only response was a slight frown and a shrug before he continued to wash the pig.

Eilonwy walked to the pig's pen almost tentatively, placing her hands around the rail and clearing her throat. "Um…meal's ready."

Taran did not bother to look up. "I'm not hungry."

Kaw saw her blue eyes narrow and her lips purse, her expression one of utter vexation. He flew towards the fence a few meters away from the girl, out of the line of fire.

"I'm not going to fight another battle and a half to get some food into you! Have you any idea how difficult it is to peel potatoes and then having my eyes sting from those awful onions, and all I could think about is making sure you don't get yourself sick!"

"Don't talk as if you're only doing it for me" Taran snapped back, without stopping in his task. "You need to eat as well. So go eat. But, I am not hungry!"

Eilonwy stood behind the fence silently—a sure sign of impending violence. Kaw watched both with anticipation and dread for his poor master. The girl climbed over the pale wooden barriers and stomped over to Taran. He finally looked up and seemed about to snap at her when his face changed to one of wariness. "What are you—ow!"

Eilonwy pulled his ear upward and he had no choice but to stand up. Thus, she led him to the cottage. "You are not the only one grieving for lost companions, but growing ill and thin won't bring them back, or make you, or anyone, feel better. Stop being a dolt—more than you usually are, at any rate. You're going to eat and that's the end of it. I'm running out of patience for hard-headed assitant pig-keepers!"

"Fine, fine, let go of my ear," he cried.

She did so and Taran hissed, rubbing his bright red lobe with a grimace.

Kaw perched himself once again on the boy's shoulder and saw a close up of the sorrow his eyes could not hide. "Taran! Dolt! Eat!" he crowed and ruffled the boy's hair with his beak.

Taran gave the bird a sad smile and stroked his feathers.

"He truly is a wonderful bird," Eilonwy said softly. "I don't think there is a smarter one—save perhaps for Medwyn's eagle. That's the thing about you—you're always surrounded by animals and people that are special in some way. I suppose that's the only reason you've survived this long, with your tendency to throw yourself into situations without thinking."

Something in her words must have dug some freshly buried pain, because Taran bowed his head to hide his contorted expression.

Sometimes a limited capacity for speech was a gift, Kaw thought.

Eilonwy widened her eyes in realization and waved her hands frantically in front of him. "Oh, no, that's not what I meant!"

"I know what you meant," Taran mumbled and sniffed a bit while wiping tears from reddened eyes. "But you're right—"

He was cut short by Eilonwy's frustrated cry. The girl flung her arms up, rolling her eyes, before slapping her palms to her thighs and glaring at him. Kaw saw her eyes glisten with unshed tears and knew that she was more frustrated at her own helplessness in making Taran see clearly than the boy's stubbornness.

"It's always about you! You, you, you—why does everything that happen have to revolve around you! Adaon made the decision he thought best and so did you. He could have easily told you what might happen if you chose to seek the Black Cauldron, but he didn't!"

The girl had a point; that soft-spoken but compelling wanderer had been too wise to let another decide his fate for him. But she needed to learn a bit more tact and patience—especially with a headstrong and sentimental lad like Taran. His young master's heart was more noble than most prince's he had seen, and as adnirable as it was, it cause him to feel solely responsible for the repercussions of his actions – whether he truly was or not.

Adaon would have thought it nobler of Taran if he did not use his own sense of reponsibility to wallow in self-pity.

Taran seemed to think on her words before whispering tentatively, "But you were right… I had gone to the marshes because of Ellidyr. Adaon gave me the choice."

Eilonwy stared at him angrily before she leaned her face barely an inch from Taran's, her voice hissing like steel melting in a furnace. "Do you, then, deem Adaon weak-willed? He didn't 'give' you anything!" Her rising voice trembled. "He chose not to use your blind trust in him to make a decision only you could make! Taran of Caer Dallben you don't understand anything," she shouted and with a toss of her golden plait, stomped back into the cottage.

Kaw remembered that man's face when they left for the marshes; he had bore an illumined expression, like the clean pride of an air-borne creature sailing the winds that blew for him in the sort of joy only such freedom could grant. Kaw rarely felt gloomy, but if he could emit a lugubrious sigh he would… because he did nott have enough words to speak all this to his young master.

Taran stood frozen in contemplative silence. Hopefully turning over the girl's words and discovering some logic in them. Kaw ruffled Taran's raven-dark hair affectionately. The boy turned his head to him and smiled quite softly before following Eilonwy inside for supper.

Having seen a light dawn in his master's brooding gaze, Kaw realized that humans were much like the things that surround him in his hourly flights. The skies shifted through many colors which painted the land, and the winds never announced from where they would blow next; dynamic and lively, and like his new home, the sun never failed to rise over them the next day.

"There is a destiny laid on us to do what we must do, though it is not always given to us to see it."