A/N - I want to give a huge thank you to adaon45 and CompanionWanderer! The first time I wrote and posted this story they were awesome enough to review and kindly point out to me that Eilonwy was, sadly, rather OOC. I've been reading through The Chronicles of Prydain again (and falling in love with them even more!). I came back to this fic and realized that they were entirely right, so I worked on changing it. Hopefully, now, I've done more justice to what Eilonwy really felt. Enjoy, and please tell me what you think! :)
Eilonwy breathed in deeply, enjoying the crisp air tinged with autumn's smells. She smiled broadly as Caer Dallben at last came into sight.
"It's so good to be home again!" she cried. "It's better than sitting next to a warm fire after being out in the cold!"
It seemed that all the companions sat up a little straighter and the horses' steps were lighter. Everyone was happy to be almost home. Drawing closer, Coll gave a cry of delight.
"There's my old garden again!" he exclaimed. "It seems to be doing fine!" His bald head glowed with happiness. Eilonwy laughed, suspecting that nothing could happen to keep the old warrior from fussing over his vegetables. Next to her, Taran smiled more widely than she had seen him smile for some time. Perched on his shoulder, Kaw cocked his head and surveyed his new surroundings.
"Dallben," he croaked. "Home."
They rode up to the old cottage and swung down from their mounts. Eilonwy looked around contentedly, trying to forget all the hardships of their journey, happy just to be back at Caer Dallben. Hen Wen heaved herself up and waddled over to the fence of her pen, grunting excitedly.
"Hello Hen," Taran said happily as he moved over to scratch the large pig under her chin.
Hearing a noise behind them, the companions turned to see Dallben emerging from the cottage. Eilonwy stifled a giggle. She would not soon forget Orddu's talk of "little Dallben" with his rosy cheeks and chubby fingers.
"So, you've come back then, have you?" the old enchanter asked. "And brought another friend," he added, eyeing Kaw. "Yes, well, welcome back. It's been rather quiet lately with you all gone. Though I daresay," he added under his breath, "you could have waited a little longer. I was in the middle of my meditations."
Taran smiled broadly.
"Yes, yes!" Gurgi cried. "Home at last! After evil cauldron broke with great quakings and shakings!"
"Well, you shall have to tell me all about it," Dallben continued. "And then, Taran, I don't believe Hen Wen ever got her bath."
Taran laughed. "Poor Hen. I'm sure I wouldn't want to go that long without a bath."
"You silly Assistant Pig-Keeper!" Eilonwy burst out. "You have gone that long without a bath! Unless of course you count that dunk in the river, but I would say that was much closer to drowning than a bath." She turned to Dallben and smiled politely. "I'm sure I'd like to tell you all about it, but I do believe I'll leave that up to Taran. He ought to be able to tell you how everything happened. I would very much like to tidy up the scullery. I left it in such a mess!"
"Very well, Princess," Dallben said, nodding. "You may do as you wish."
"As for me," Coll put in, "I need to tend to my garden."
Putting Kaw on Gurgi's shoulder, Taran followed Dallben into the cottage. Coll headed to his garden and Gurgi hurried to put the horses in the stable. Eilonwy turned and walked briskly toward the scullery, the breeze pulling at her long hair and making her skirt swirl around her legs.
She walked in with a smile that quickly turned to a frown when she saw the sorry state of things. Pots and kettles lay everywhere, coated with dust. With a sigh she rolled up her sleeves, ready to get to work. Suddenly a gust of wind ripped open the door, stirring the dust and whistling loudly through the empty pots.
Eilonwy froze halfway to the door. She could have sworn it was Ellidyr's voice, bitter and mocking. She swallowed hard, her emotions bringing a sudden lump to her throat. Yet she couldn't say what emotions she was feeling. Anger? Everything Ellidyr had done came back to her mind then – all his harsh words, his contempt toward Taran, his betrayal of them, and his last mad attempt to take Taran's life. All the irritation and anger she had felt toward him on their journey seemed to be building up, ready to explode.
Then the wind came through the still-open door once again, softer this time, gently whispering through the scattered kettles.
It was Ellidyr's voice again, but drastically different. The bitterness and contempt was gone, replaced with both kindness and deep sorrow. Eilonwy gasped as memories flooded into her mind, playing before her eyes. In horror she could see it all again – Ellidyr's beaten face looking toward them sorrowfully as he lay bound in the tent, his frantic dash toward the cauldron, Taran screaming at him to stop, his struggle with Morgant's warriors, the way he threw himself into the cauldron's gaping mouth, and his still and lifeless body that Taran knelt beside in grief.
Putting her hand over her mouth, Eilonwy struggled against the tears rising to her eyes. When Ellidyr had died there was no time to react or even to think about what he'd done. She had watched his sacrifice in amazement and in her mind she knew that he had given himself to destroy the cauldron, yet her heart had never had time to accept it. When it had happened she had pushed all her thoughts and emotions aside to focus on what needed to be done as Morgant was dealt with and the wounded were cared for. Even afterwards she had continued to push the matter aside, not knowing what to feel and not wanting to deal with it. Now she knew she couldn't ignore it any longer.
Her struggles to hold back her tears were in vain. With a sob she sunk down onto a stool, buried her face in her hands, and wept. She still could barely tell what emotions she was feeling, but her anger was breaking down, giving way to something else entirely.
"Now, what's this? The scullery maid crying?"
A hand rested on Eilonwy's shoulder. She looked up into a kind and gently smiling face. It was Ellidyr.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
Eilonwy stared at him for a moment, surprised at the fact that she wasn't at all surprised to see the Prince of Pen-Llarcau. "I – I don't know," she admitted, wiping away her tears. "I was just so angry with you. Even when I was trying to not think about it, the anger was still there. But after what you did for us. . ." she trailed off, shaking her head. "Perhaps I was wrong about you."
Ellidyr laughed softly. "You were completely right about me, Princess."
"But Ellidyr, in the end –"
"In the end," he interrupted, "I did nothing but realize what a horrible fool I had been."
"Ellidyr, forgive me," Eilonwy pleaded.
"There is nothing to forgive, Princess," Ellidyr answered with another smile. "Now, Taran is calling you. And, Eilonwy," he added, "forgive me."
Eilonwy opened her eyes and stared into Taran's face. The Assistant Pig-Keeper opened his mouth to say something but stopped abruptly when he saw she had been crying.
"What's wrong?" he asked, taking another step forward in concern.
Instead of answering Eilonwy cried out in protest and pushed Taran away from her. "I hate people seeing me cry!" she burst out, standing up from her stool and quickly turning her back to the startled Taran.
"Is it Ellidyr?" Taran asked softly. She didn't answer. "Eilonwy," Taran continued, "there is nothing wrong with weeping."
Eilonwy spun back around and noticed with surprise the tears in Taran's own eyes. This was too much for her and she began weeping again.
"I treated him so horribly," she whispered. "He was horrible to us, but I'm still sorry."
"I don't believe Ellidyr would hold it against you," Taran replied. "And you shouldn't hold it against yourself, either. Ellidyr's main concern, in the end, was that we know how sorry he was. Forgive him, and know that he forgave us."
Eilonwy nodded. "I wish I could have thanked him. He said he wanted to repay the ill he had done us. He certainly did that."
"It's ironic, really," Taran mused quietly. "All his life, Ellidyr sought for glory. When he at last truly received it, he didn't seek it. He looked only to help others."
Eilonwy nodded again, thinking over this idea.
"One thing I've learned," Taran continued, "is that the greatest men and leaders are the ones who are willing to serve others, putting themselves last. An easy lesson to state, but one that is harder to live by."
Eilonwy smiled. "Maybe you have learned something sensible after all, Taran of Caer Dallben."
Taran simply smiled back.
"Well," Eilonwy continued, wiping away her tears, "I don't suppose I'll ever be upset if someone calls me 'scullery maid' again. It will make me think of Ellidyr – of who he became. In fact I think I shall feel honored if someone calls me that."
Taran smiled again. "Come on, Eilonwy. Hen Wen wants her bath."
"As if that were my job!" Eilonwy retorted. "I still haven't cleaned up my scullery and you're the Assistant Pig-Keeper!"