Disclaimer: I do not own The Black Cauldron, Lord of the Rings; or anything associated with either of them. This story is being written just for fun and enjoyment.
Chapter #2: Taran meets Gurgi and the Horned King
Taran, Gandalf and Hen Wen had begun their journey in the early morning, although the hidden Cottage was still a long distance away; they had covered a lot of ground over the past couple of hours. At midday, they had stopped to eat from the supplies that Dallben had packed for Taran to carry along the way; taking only a short break so they wouldn't loose valuable hours of daylight. The path that they were taking wasn't in a straight line since it lead through the vast forest to other areas throughout Prydain where other people dwelled, therefore they had to follow it until it brought them as close as possible to their eventual destination before they could leave it and travel across country with only Taran's memory to guide them along for the remainder their journey together. By now, it was late in the afternoon and although the sun was not setting; it was beginning to head toward the west which meant that there were only a few hours left before nightfall arrived. Taran lead the way and Gandalf was able to keep pace with him easily, this was due to Gandalf's own experience of taking long travels and also because Taran's walking speed was being governed by Hen Wen's slow pace; forcing both of them to walk slower so she wouldn't fall behind. Hen Wen could easily be held and carried by Taran, but not for a long travel such as this one; and he only picked her up and carried her when ever there was a need for it in the event that they had to ford a river or anything like that.
After walking through hilly terrain with meadows covered in green grass and pretty flowers, the three travellers eventually entered the Forbidden Forest; this was now the last lap of their journey which would take them to the hidden Cottage Dallben had spoken of. The area that they were presently travelling through now was filled with healthy growing plant life, the trees and bushes both had lush green leaves all over them; and the vast forest echoed with various sounds of animal life from all the creatures dwelling in it. A few moments went by until the trio came upon a small stream from which they could drink, Gandalf and Taran got down on their knees and cupped their hands together before drinking the fresh cool liquid; quenching their thirst after a very long day of walking all over the countryside. Hen Wen took a few gulps of water until she was also satisfied, before taking a moment to sit still and relax for a bit until both Taran and Gandalf were ready to move on; waiting patiently white the two human beings both stood up and got to their feet.
"Ah, that tasted good; now all we have to do is get to the other side of the Forbidden Forest where we'll find the hidden Cottage." Taran stated after wiping any traces of water from his face until it was dry.
"Are you sure that it's as far away as you remember Taran?" Gandalf asked curiously, hoping that the young lad's memory was reliable.
"Yes Gandalf, Dallben and I travelled there once before; I still remember where it is and how to get there even though it's been a long while since my last visit." Taran answered, wondering whether or not the old wizard was doubting his word. "Don't you believe me?"
"Yes Taran, I believe you; it's just been many a long year since the last time I came to Prydain and I've never had the opportunity to explore your country before since I'm always so busy with my errands and other such tasks." Gandalf replied. "However, now that the day is almost over; perhaps I should go on ahead of you and see for myself if the hidden Cottage is still hidden and uninhabited as we both hope it is just to be safe. We wouldn't want anyone waiting to catch us in an ambush at the place where we intend to stay hidden for a while so I'll investigate it and return once I'm done, you stay here to watch over Hen Wen until I come back; I promise I won't be gone long and there will still be time enough for us to go on until we arrive at the hidden Cottage together before the night closes in on us."
"Well shouldn't I be the one to go on ahead instead of you given how much faster I can…" Taran suggested as he finished filling an empty flask with fresh water from the stream, only to turn around and find himself alone with Hen Wen; his eyes widening with shock as he wondered where Gandalf suddenly disappeared too and how he had done it so fast just a mere moment after the old wizard had been standing beside him and talking to him. "Gandalf? Where are you Gandalf? Hen Wen? Have you seen where Gandalf went?"
Hen Wen shook her head in reply with a look of concern on her as she too wondered where Gandalf had gone, causing her and wonder what was going on since it didn't make sense for one of them to disappear without a trace; but Gandalf was a wizard with mysterious magic powers of his own which neither she nor Taran knew about and that was probably how Gandalf left so swiftly. Taran also came to this conclusion as well, there was no other possible explanation and in any event; he could always ask Gandalf how he did it once he returned after going on ahead to inspect the hidden Cottage so it really wasn't anything to get all worked up and worried about.
"Oh well, don't worry Hen; Gandalf will come back soon so we'll just have to wait until he does before we move on." Taran said, laying down on the soft level patch of ground by the flowing stream; thinking that now was as good of a time as any to take a short nap. "We might as well rest for a bit until Gandalf comes back, we'll be on the move again in a short while; get comfy and relax Hen Wen."
Taran and Hen Wen both settled down comfortably on the soft grass covered ground for a brief rest, sleep took hold of them until they drifted off into unconsciousness; each of their minds filling with dreams and images of what their deepest desires were as time went by. There was no guessing what ever Hen Wen was dreaming of, but Taran on the other hand; well that was fairly obvious given how much he wanted to go out on adventurous quests and fight in glorious battles as all great warriors and heroes usually do which is how they are remembered once they do their deeds and ensure that their names last through the ages from generation to generation. In the unconscious boy's dream, Taran was dressed in full armour; armed with a sword and shield as he stood proudly at the centre of a crowd that was cheering him on to celebrate his victorious achievements and other heroic deeds which had recently made him famous.
Meanwhile, far ahead; Gandalf had now arrived at the hidden Cottage where Taran had been leading him. Although he had never travelled to this place before, the wise wizard was able to get his bearings after confirming its location at the forest's edge; opposite from where he had left Taran and Hen Wen a short while ago. Using his magic, Gandalf had vanished and relocated himself within a few moments in order to ascertain whether or not the hidden Cottage was actually safe enough to kept Hen Wen hidden from anyone or anything in the service of the Horned King or other dangerous foes that might be looking for her. Being a wizard didn't mean that Gandalf could freely use his magic powers on a whim when ever he liked, for one always had to conceal their abilities and use them only when they deemed it to be absolutely necessary so no power was wasted when it might be needed for an even greater purpose later on; but Gandalf judged that this was one of those times given how important it was to keep Hen Wen and Taran free from harm which is why he had made up his mind to carry out this forward reconnaissance before his two companions came upon the place later.
The hidden Cottage stood in a tiny clearing which was surrounded by bushes except at the one entrance door at the front, the shelter wasn't even half the size of Dallben's Cottage; and the forest kept it hidden underneath the outstretched branches of multiple trees so no trace of it could be seen from the sky and no one living in the place had a view of the sky either. A short distance away from the cottage was a gap in the trees and Gandalf was surprised to find that he was standing on the edge of a small cliff which dropped straight down from the top of this tall hilly terrain which the Forbidden forest had grown from and dominated; giving him and anyone dwelling in the hidden Cottage a perfect view of the land below and far off to the distance horizon. The stream which Gandalf, Taran and Hen Wen had stopped at to drink from flowed here as well and poured over the side of the cliff before it ran down until it reached the bottom; creating a tiny waterfall which also provided a water source for who ever used the hidden Cottage as a temporary haven to shelter themselves until they moved on and departed.
Gandalf stayed quiet and kept his ears alert for any sudden noises that might warn him of danger approaching nearby as he inspected the grounds surrounding the hidden Cottage before going inside to check the small dwelling's interior once he was sure that no one was around, the cottage was merely a wooden structure with a thick triangular shaped roof which was filled with straw to provide some protection from the wind, rain and other such elements of the changing weather; but an inside look revealed that there was a stone fireplace much like the one at Dallben's Cottage and several small rooms including the main room which was the kitchen. The others were somewhat smaller, one was a bedroom and the other was merely a storage room for stockpiling firewood; tools and other items. Although the place looked uninviting due to the fact that it was rarely used and therefore uninhabited, there was one piece of comfort which the small place provided besides being a safe sanctuary where one could live and remain hidden; there was a large bed in the bedroom still in usable condition with soft warm blankets and pillows which were both clean and dry.
"Well, it looks as though this place is safe enough; Taran and Hen Wen should both be comfortable here until Dallben feels that they can return." Gandalf said quietly to himself as he eyed the small chimney coming out of the room of the Cottage, it was very short so any smoke rising from it would vanish before it rose to the tops of the trees; ensuring that one could light a fire inside for warmth and for cooking without having to worry about giving away their presence during the hours of both day and night. "Wait, what was that noise?"
Turning around and pausing for a few moments as he listened carefully, Gandalf slowly walked back outside the Cottage and looked around as far as he could see in the thick forest; he was puzzles since he couldn't see anything out of place which made him wonder if what he had heard was just his imagination playing tricks on him. But then he heard the noise again, it sounded like predatory cry coming from some dangerous creature of some sort; the noise had echoed across the land and Gandalf was able to tell it had come from the direction of the land below the cliff where he could see a bird's eye view of the terrain from above which prompted him to walk to the small gap in the off chance that he could catch a glimpse of what ever had made the ferocious cry. A moment later, he was standing in position looking around until his eyes finally caught sight of what was responsible for the sudden noise he had heard; his eyes widening as he saw that there were two creatures instead of just one and that they were both flying together high in the sky.
They were dragon like beasts and yet somewhat different in appearance, for their flesh and scale clad bodies were black with only two legs and two massive wings which gave them a bird like description in terms of body structure; each of these creatures had a long tail with four tiny horns coming out of them in the same pattern that a stegosaurus would have on its tail. The ferocious claws of the beasts were especially dragon like since they had three long toes with razor sharp claws and a short toe with its own claw at the base of each foot, their heads were dragon like in appearance; having two pale green eyes on them as well. Two long horns protruded outwards from the tops of their heads and pointed backwards, their noses were located on the ends of their monstrous snouts with a single small horn protruding out from the tip which also pointed backwards; it was miraculous that these single horns at the front of their heads didn't obscure their vision which they solely relied upon in order to hunt and kill. Their open jaws were filled with razor sharp predatory fangs which were dipping with animal saliva and each of their tongues bore a sickening resemblance to that of a poisonous snake.
"Those creatures look strangely familiar to me even though I've never seen them before, now why would that be I wonder?" Gandalf thought to himself out loud until his eyes widened when he suddenly remembered Hen Wen's mysterious vision early this morning, for it was these two monsters which were chasing Hen Wen from that brief scene and so it was revealed that they were apparently searching for her which also confirmed that they were servants working for the Horned King; meaning that both Hen Wen and Taran were now in great danger. "Oh no, they're servants of the Horned King; I must return before Taran and Hen Wen are both spotted by those beasts."
"Thank you everyone, but you're all forgetting that I couldn't have defeated the Horned King without the help of Hen Wen here; she's also a hero as well." An excited smile crossed Taran's face until he suddenly came to his senses, his eyes widening as he looked around and found that Hen Wen was not at his side; nor was she in sight from where the two of them had stopped to relax by the stream. "Oh no…"
Without wasting a moment, Taran immediately set about to find Hen Wen; looking at the ground for any sign of her tracks since they'd be fresh considering how so little time had passed by from when she had supposedly wandered off on her own. But why on earth would Hen Wen wander off on her own without Taran and Gandalf to accompany and protect her? This was the biggest question on Taran's mind as he roamed about through the trees, continuing in the direction of the hidden Cottage in the hopes of finding Hen Wen along the way without walking further away from where Dallben had instructed them to go from the start of their little journey; hoping and praying that she'd be found before any danger befell her. As each minute passed by without any success, the young boy wished that Gandalf was here so that the wizard could possibly use his magic powers to find Hen Wen right away; he also wished he hadn't fallen asleep for a quick nap so that he could have prevented Hen Wen from wandering off on her own given how much she needed to be protected to ensure that her special powers could not be used for evil means.
"HEN WEN!" Taran called out loud in an effort to call out to female pig so as to call her back and make her return to him, standing still and keeping quiet as the whole forest around him echoed with his loud call; hoping that he would hear anything which would give away Hen Wen's presence even though there was no telling where she had gone or where she was at this point. Without any luck, Taran went on walking for a few more moments until a rustling noise alerted him that something or someone was close by; hidden in the forest. Thinking that it was Hen Wen since she couldn't have gotten far on her own, Taran pulled out a fresh red apple from his small bag of provisions which Dallben had given him; holding it out for Hen Wen to see in the hopes that it would draw her back to him from where ever she was hiding in the lush green environment covering the forest floor. "I've got a treat for you Hen, come on out or I'll eat this…"
"Ah! Ha!" An excited voice cried out as a small furry creature dove down from the tree tops and landed on top of Taran, the impact caused him to fall on the ground; the red apple falling from his hand and bounced on the ground until it was recovered by the hungry rascal who went by the name Gurgi. "Finally, some munchings and crunchings for poor starving Gurgi; a nice big juicy apple! Oh Boy! What a tasty treat this is going to be, Gurgi will always be grateful for the kind boy who gave him some munchings and crunchings!"
Taking a moment to shake his head and recover his senses as he got himself off the ground, Taran looked over at the strange creature who had stolen his apple from him; one look was enough to deduce that Gurgi wasn't dangerous or even big since he only stood about three feet tall which was at the height of Taran's knees. One would think he was either a dwarf or a midget if his human shaped form wasn't completely covered in shaggy fur from head to toe, his eyes were blue and his big black nose gave him only helped to make him look more like an animal even though he could talk like a human being; although his ramblings and choice of words didn't always make any sense when he spoke out loud. His paws were dark brown and padded much like that of a bear even though he had no claws on his fingers and toes, the majority of his shaggy fur covering his small body was light grey except for the rest that was on his belly and head which was so fair that it was almost white; his ears which could barely be seen from underneath the hair of his head were brown and hung down which gave Gurgi a look of loneliness. A furry moustache grew out from under his nose, matching the colour of the hair on his head and part of his face above it which surrounded his blue eyes was dark brown; giving Gurgi a few human traits to his face.
"Hey! No you don't! Hold it right there!" Taran shouted in response, grabbing hold of Gurgi's furry back from behind in an effort to catch the thief before he could get away; luckily Gurgi had been too fixated on the apple's appetizing appearance to remember who he had stolen the piece of fruit from. "I didn't give you that apple! You took it and it didn't belong to you! Now hand it back to me right now! Ow!"
"Not nice to grab hold of poor Gurgi that way, not nice at all." Gurgi replied after lightly biting Taran's fingers which forced the young boy to release his hold and examine his hand which gave Gurgi the chance to escape into the forest…or so Gurgi thought.
"Hey! Hang on you furry little thief! Come back here with my apple!" Taran demanded, giving chase as Gurgi broke into a run and scurried into the thick bushes where he could hide and hopefully sneak away without his pursuer noticing; so long as he moved quietly enough without making any noise or giving away his position. "I'm warning you, if you don't come out and give it back, you'll be sorry."
Gurgi was about to give Taran the slip when he suddenly found himself pulled up and out of his hiding place by an unknown third party who had grabbed hold of the apple he had just stolen a moment ago, the creature then used both paws in an effort to yank it free; but it was no use and Gurgi could only grasp it and hope that this other being wasn't a danger to himself. It turns out that the person who had grabbed hold of the apple and lifted Gurgi up and out of the bush was none other than Gandalf who had now returned just as quickly as he had left a short while ago, he had been standing for a few moments behind a tree which had hidden him from view and staying still only helped even more to keep his presence unnoticed by the two quarrellers who were busy fighting over an apple; the old wizard stepped out from behind the tree so he could observe the furry little thief who had drawn so much attention to himself simply by stealing.
"Well now, what do we have here I wonder?" Gandalf asked curiously, raising his arm up high with the apple in hand that Gurgi was still clutching and now hanging by so he could get a good look at the furry little creature; staring eye to eye which gave Gurgi a shudder. "Looks like you made yourself a friend while I was a way eh Taran?"
"He's not a friend Gandalf, he stole my apple that I had saved for Hen Wen; she's wandered off on her own and I was looking for her until he jumped down on top of me from the trees." Taran responded after hearing Gandalf's little joke. "Now let go of the apple or you'll be sorry!"
As if on cue, Gandalf let go of the apple even though he knew that Taran was addressing Gurgi; causing Taran's mouth to gape wide open for a moment until he gave the wizard a glare which told him that now wasn't the time for joking around. Laughing briefly at this, Gurgi stole a glance at Gandalf and then wore a guilty expression on his face as he knew he reluctantly had to give back what he had stolen from Taran; Taran stood waiting with an angry look on his face since he wanted this matter closed so he could continue his search for Hen Wen. Walking over to Taran, Gurgi wiped off any traces of dirt from the apple before he slowly managed to hand it back; his stomach was growling at him which made him all the more hungry even though he knew it was wrong to steal from others.
"Good, and don't ever steal anything from anyone again; you'll end up in a lot more trouble." Taran warned, putting the apple back inside his provisions bag. "Now that that's done, we can go look for Hen Wen. You didn't see her when you came back at all did you Gandalf?"
"No, I thought you were watching over her in order to keep her safe as you promised Dallben you would." Gandalf replied, focusing his gaze on Taran which made the young pig keeper wear a guilty look for having lost track of Hen Wen. "When did you last see her Taran?"
"We were resting by the stream where you left us, she laid down for a nap and I didn't know how long you'd be so I had one too; a-and she was gone when I woke up." Taran explained. "I began looking for her and when I thought I heard her close by, I held out my apple so she'd come out of hiding; and that's when this little furry thief stole it from me shortly before you came back."
"Come then; let's see if we can find her while there is still some daylight left." Gandalf ordered, before turning his attention to Gurgi whose eyes were presently fixated on Taran's food bag where the apple had been placed; tapping his long wooden staff on the ground to draw Gurgi's attention to towards himself. "Ahem! By what name do you call yourself my little furry friend? You do have a name do you not?"
"Gurgi." The furry critter answered with a hint of nervousness under the watchful stare of Gandalf whom he was facing as well as the suspicious glare which Taran was giving him even though Gurgi was presently standing with his back to the young assistant pig keeper.
"Hello Gurgi, I am Gandalf and my young friend behind you whom you've already met is Taran." Gandalf replied kindly in a polite and gentle tone of his voice, causing Taran to roll his eyes since he was unsatisfied with the measure of kindness that the old wizard was showing to someone who had just recently committed an act of thievery. "We've both lost our travelling companion, a pig named Hen Wen who has gone missing after wandering off on her own; we are trying to find her. Have you seen her by any chance Gurgi?"
"Piggy? Hmm…" Gurgi replied, thinking carefully for a moment before he started making gestures with his paws to figure out what she looked like; eager to help out and make up for the wrong he had done. "A round, fat piggy with a big snout; floppy ears and curly tail?"
"Yes, yes; that's what Hen Wen looks like." Taran responded, hoping that they would find her fast without any trouble. "Well? Have you seen her?"
"Nope, Gurgi not see any piggy; nope." Gurgi answered, shaking his head back and forth from side to side; dashing everyone's hopes.
"Oh, never mind then; looks like Gandalf and I will have to go look for her ourselves." Taran said with a sigh, knowing that the task would be very difficult given how wide the forest was as well as the many animals that dwelled within it; sunset was drawing near so time was short.
"Master, master; let Gurgi help you find lost piggy." Gurgi suggested, grabbing hold of Gandalf's staff and tapping it on the ground a few times before darting over to Taran and tugging on his food bag where he began digging through in search of the red apple he so eagerly wanted to eat. "Three of us looking for her are better than two; Gurgi will repay his debt for stealing; munchings and chrunchings must be somewhere in here."
"Get out of my food bag you greedy little…wait; stop!" Taran called out, frantically trying to pull Gurgi away from the pouch of food fastened to his waist belt until he suddenly stopped when he heard a faint cry echoing in the distance. "What's that noise? Can you hear it?"
"Sounds like…" Gandalf muttered, trying to distinguish what kind of animal it was from even though the sound was very faint; there were other cries which sounded very different which made it difficult to tell what cry was from what animal until Gandalf's eyes widened once he suddenly knew the answer.
"A piggy?" Gurgi spoke up, looking from Taran to Gandalf over and over again.
"Oh no, it's Hen Wen; she must be in trouble!" Taran said with a worried look on his face, breaking into a run to race through the forest in the direction of the echoing cries; the sounds in his ears bringing his imagination to life as he feared what dangers Hen Wen had befallen.
"Come!" Gandalf called out to Gurgi, chasing after Taran and managing to keep pace with the young boy as Gurgi followed. "Quickly!"
The three of them ran as fast as they could through the trees and while trying not to trip on any roots, low hanging branches or large stones which obstructed them until they reached the edge of the Forbidden Forest; there they came to a halt and saw what they were afraid of. Out in the open clearing of bare, rugged and hilly terrain surrounded by dead trees without leafs; Hen Wen was frantically scurrying about on all fours in a desperate attempt to dodge and flee from two predatory creatures which were attacking her from above. These were the very same dragon like beasts that Gandalf had seen a short while ago during his quick visit to the hidden Cottage, they were also the creatures which he along with Taran and Dallben had seen in Hen Wen's vision early this morning; these were servants of the Horned King. Though they looked like dragons, these creatures were called Gwythaints and unlike real dragons; they couldn't breath fire so that was a relieve.
"Uh oh, the poor piggy is going to be eaten up." Gurgi stated, receiving a brief glare from Taran which made him think before speaking out loud from now on. "Why are they eating the piggy wig yet?"
"They want to catch her alive and unharmed, it looks as though they're trying to keep her trapped in the open clearing where they can catch her once one of them picks her up in its claws; that explains why the two of them are taking turns darting down to attack her in a continuous cycle so she can't get away." Gandalf deduced, studying the Gwythaints carefully with his eyes from where he stood.
"Well I'm not waiting for that to happen; we have to save her now!" Taran said, breaking into a run and racing out into the open to chase Hen Wen down before the Gwythaints would take notice of him.
"Wait Taran!" Gandalf called out, knowing that the boy's courage had overcome his caution. "It's too dangerous!"
"Uh oh, young master is going to fight off scary flying monsters; not good." Gurgi commented, crouching down to stay hidden and safe.
"He's going to hurt himself if he doesn't learn any patience." Gandalf stated before following after Taran in order to keep him from harm.
"ROAR!" A Gwythaint screeched as it dove in and nearly clasped Hen Wen in its claws, shoving the helpless pig into the dirt and rubble before flying up while the other Gwythaint took its turn to swoop down and attack; repeating the attack pattern again and again.
Hen Wen continued squealing in fear as she desperately kept running around on the ground in an effort to escape from the flying beasts that were attacking her, time and time again; she narrowly escaped with her life as each Gwythaint came down to try and pluck her from the ground now that she was unable to leave the clearing since they were keeping her trapped where they wanted her. It was a miracle that Hen Wen had managed to avoid capture thus far given how helpless she was, she could dodge when ever a Gwythaint came in to seize her since they were flying creatures and couldn't turn as sharply as she could; but she was outnumbered and outmatched so it was only a matter of time until she was caught by one of them. Despite the danger of drawing the attention of the beasts, Taran knew that he could protect Hen Wen by allowing her to escape if he could get to her before she was plucked up from the ground; so he kept running and Gandalf followed close behind.
"Hen Wen!" Taran shouted out loud, catching Hen Wen's attention as she changed direction and ran towards him as fast as she possibly could. "Over here! Hurry! Come on! Hurry Hen! Run!"
But it was too late, for each of the Gwythaints had spied Taran and Gandalf from above and both of them reacted accordingly to stop Hen Wen from being rescued; one of them swooped down and grabbed the squealing pig in its claws while the other dove down to ground level and positioned itself between Taran and Gandalf. Hen Wen was just out of reach when Taran arrived on the scene, so he took hold of the Gwythaints massive tail in an effort to accompany Hen Wen to where ever it was that she was being taken too or to weight down the monster so it couldn't fly away; but the second Gwythaint attacked from behind and drove Taran's body face down into the hard ground which forced him to let go and allow the first Gwythaint to get away with its prey. Despite the numerous bruises he had sustained as well as a bloody lip on his face, Taran ignored his injuries and got back on his feet; racing after the flying monsters on foot with what ever energy and stamina his worn out body could muster.
"No! Come back here you flying brutes!" Taran called out loud as he ran into a dense thicket of tightly packed trees and thorn bushes; moving carefully through the narrow crawlspace and knocking branches out of his way until he had come out the other side; only to arrive at the base of a small rocking slope which lead upwards on an angle to the top of a large mountain. "Hang on Hen! I'm coming!"
Although the rocky slope was on an angle, its surface was solid and almost smooth apart from the jagged rocks and lose fragments which were laid out over it; this made climbing it a difficult challenge for anyone even if they were as agile and young as Tara was. After nearly losing his grip sliding back down on several occasions, Taran managed to reach the top from where he could observe the landscape and horizon; Gandalf and Gurgi eventually caught up with him just a few minutes later and the three of them now looked at what lay ahead before them. A twisted landscape of mountains and a desolate wasteland devoid of any vegetation or animal life as far as the eye could see, a ruined castle with a gloomy lake beyond; the Gwythaints were both flying towards it which meant that they had discovered the Horned King's lair. The blood red coloured sky was blocked out by a thick blanket of thunderclouds and the lightning bolts which crashed in the distance signalled that a heavy storm was gathering, the sun was now setting and once it was gone; the only light sources other than the lightning would be from the torches which were lit up by the inhabitants who had now occupied the castle for themselves.
"I must go and get Hen Wen out of there no matter what it takes, regardless of what dangers I'll have to face inside." Taran stated, before he felt a hand on his shoulder; he saw it was Gandalf after turning around to look behind him. "That's where Hen Wen's been taken too, I saw those monsters fly over to that castle; we have to go and save her before the Horned King does anything to her!"
"Patience…take a deep breath and let's think before we act, only with clear heads and calm minds can we hope to prevail now." Gandalf advised. "Remember that the Horned King dwells inside that castle, he needs Hen Wen's special powers to discover the where the Black Cauldron is presently located which means she'll be kept alive; we can't rush in blindly like fools without a plan or we'll lose more than just our lives."
"Well can't you use your magic powers to get us inside quickly without being spotted?" Taran asked curiously, hoping that would work.
"No, a wizard only uses his powers if and when it's absolutely necessary; magic does not solve all of one's problems." Gandalf explained, causing the young pig keeper to let out a sigh since he knew they'd have to sneak in the conventional way and hope that they wouldn't get caught. "Being a wizard isn't as great as someone like yourself might think it is, I'm still an old man and I'm every bit as human and normal as yourself Taran; the only differences if any are that I'm many years older than you could ever guess or could ever hope to reach in age when you too become an old man. But I've used that immense amount of time to learn various skills and accumulate a great deal of knowledge throughout my long life, because of that; I have gained other abilities which I can use at my disposal whether they are magic or not. For example, I carry a sword so I can defend myself or others whom I wish to protect and although I am a wizard; I've learned swordsmanship since I have to rely on it when ever I can't afford to use my powers. I can be killed just as easily as you and Gurgi can, it's just a question of when, how or by whom if fate decides that I am to fall by another's hand instead of dying from old age."
"I…understand." Taran replied after managing to process all of what Gandalf had just said in his explanation. "Well what now then?"
"In order to rescue Hen Wen we must first find a way to enter the castle, preferably without our presence being discovered." Gandalf answered. "Secondly, to find out Hen Wen's whereabouts and whether or not she's alright; only then can we devise a plan which will allow all of us to escape together. Now besides rescuing Hen Wen, we must also find out all we can about the Horned King's plans; most specifically how he came by the knowledge of the Black Cauldron and how he has forged an alliance with the Dark Lord Sauron."
"So are we going in together or are we splitting up?" Taran asked before turning to Gurgi. "Are you going to accompany us Gurgi?"
"Me? G-Go in there?" Gurgi responded with a reluctant look on his face which was more than enough to show he was too frightened to go inside of the castle where the two Gwythaints had gone; the Horned King was also inside so there would be many dangers inside which he did not want to encounter. "Oh no, no, no; it's too dangerous. Listen to Gurgi, don't go in there or you won't come out again if you do."
"Fine, stay here then; Gandalf and I don't need you because we can go in on our own." Taran said, pulling the apple out of his food bag and tossing it to Gurgi. "Here, I won't need this if I won't make it out of the castle once I go in; you can have it for yourself."
"We'll both go down together until we reach the castle and from there, you sneak inside one way and I'll go in another; I'll be sure to find you once you're inside so just worry about yourself and Hen Wen." Gandalf instructed, looking around for the best possible route to climb down the top of the mountain until they reached the bottom. "You lead and I'll follow behind you, just make sure not to go too far ahead of me as we go down; I'm still an old man and I might require your aid along the way until we both eventually arrive at the bottom."
"Alright, be careful not to lose your footing, call out if you fall or need help so I'll know before it's too late." Taran replied as he started off.
"Well I suppose this is where we part ways, goodbye to you Gurgi; take care of yourself as best as you can and don't steal from anyone." Gandalf said, causing the furry critter to climb up his long staff and hug him by the waist for a moment before letting go.
"Goodbye." Gurgi replied with a few sniffles as Gandalf patted him softly on the head before following after Taran; leaving Gurgi alone at the top of the mountain. "If Taran and Gandalf go into evil castle, poor Gurgi will never see his friends again; and Gurgi will be all alone."
The climb down was somewhat easier than expected, although there were a few times when both Taran and Gandalf had momentarily lost their footing or grip of the rocky surface as they climbed down together; one slow movement at a time just to be safe given the perilous height that they were at and because of the smooth angled slope with jagged rocks here and there like barriers. Once they arrived at the bottom, they begun the long laborious walk towards the castle which now looked even farther away from when they had been standing at the top of the mountain; but there was a single rocky pathway winding around through the hilly labyrinth of rock formations which would lead them straight to the castle so there was no need to worry about getting lost. Although they could be seen from the castle, all the inhabitants were presently inside and no lookouts had been posted to watch over the surrounding area around the moat so that was another blessing that they were thankful for; the sun had already vanished and the dark had set in which also covered the approach of the two travellers. After accomplishing most of the journey by way of the road leading to and from the castle, Taran and Gandalf left the path in order to approach the castle without being spotted at the main gate where the entrance was; they waded across the water of the moat which was connected with the lake until they arrived at the base of the outer wall.
"Well, here we are; we've arrived safely." Taran said cheerfully even though the cold water was making him shiver a little. "Now all we have to do is climb inside, look around until we find Hen Wen and get out quickly without getting killed; sounds easy enough eh?"
"You seem very confident that we'll be able to pull this off without running into any set backs or difficulties." Gandalf replied humorously, knowing full well that Taran was just trying to keep their spirits up; especially since the Horned King was somewhere inside the castle.
"I'm just trying to stay positive, that's the best way to survive; whether you're in freezing cold water or sneaking into a heavily guarded castle." Taran said with a smile as he managed to climb out of the water by grabbing hold of the rugged and ruined wall of stone.
"Since the hour is now late, everyone will probably be dining together in the banquet hall; that will hopefully allow us to wander around in search of Hen Wen with less guards being stationed throughout the majority of the castle." Gandalf deduced, staying in the water for a few more moments to gather his strength despite how cold he was. "Nevertheless, be on your guard; there's no telling how many inhabitants there are inside of the castle. In fact, pretend as though you're going to save Hen Wen by yourself and that I was never with you; the Horned King must believe that you're alone if you are caught so that I can save you as well as Hen Wen. Understand Taran?"
"Yes I understand Gandalf, what will you be doing besides looking around for Hen Wen?" Taran asked curiously before looking upwards for any sign of a window or balcony which he could use to enter inside of the castle. "Will you be looking around for the Horned King?"
"No, I will be looking around for answers to questions, questions that need answering; but I'll be sure to find you in the event that I happen to find Hen Wen first." Gandalf answered, holding his staff still and concentrating quietly with his mind on another task at hand.
"Sounds good, but what to I do if you get captured instead of…me?" Taran asked, looking back down only to find Gandalf had once again vanished without a trace; feeling somewhat envious of the old wizard's magic powers. "Why couldn't you use that on both of us?"
Shaking his head in frustration, Taran let it go and focussed on his own task; scaling the wall until he could find a way to get inside of the castle without being seen. Although climbing straight up was a difficult challenge, Taran was fortunate that it was night time so no one would be able to see him; the thunder and lightning provided plenty of noise to drown out any sounds he made during his ascent and that was also something to be grateful for. The castle wall was constructed of brick and stone, but in its worn and ruined condition; not all of them were solid and sturdy as one would expect them to be. There were many loose ones, and Taran found this out the hard way when he grabbed hold only to yank them out and watch them fall all the way down into the moat below; the overgrowth of vegetation of thorns and veins helped to deteriorate the castle walls over time and they also served Taran by giving him something to pull himself up with when there were no ledges or places to grip with his worn out hands. Finally, Taran hid a stroke of luck when he yanked a rumble of loose rocks away; revealing a gapping hole in the wall that was just large enough for him to crawl his way through from the outside. Upon entering, he found himself standing in a hallway which leads throughout the castle. Although there were still many dangers that he had yet to face, Taran was glad that he had no more climbing to do; so he walked around and made sure to stay quiet as he looked around.
"Wooah! Wooah! Wooah!" An angry dog barked loudly, yanking on its chain collar in order to break free and attack Taran who was given quite a scare by the sudden surprise appearance; the commotion awoke a guard sleeping at a table which forced Taran to hide and hope that the man and dog would leave without incident.
"Come on you stupid old mutt, its time to begin our shift; you're a guard dog so only bark if you see anyone." The man grumbled, moving along and leaving the area as he tugged on the chain leash which forced the dog to accompany him; leaving Taran alone.
After letting out a sigh, Taran heard voices from behind him as he peered through an open door; he was surprised to find himself standing in the rafters of the ceiling directly above the banquet hall which was filled with perhaps thirty or forty men; all henchmen or mercenaries by the manner in which they were dressed as well as from what Taran could gather from overhearing their conversations. All the men were dirty, middle aged; some with beards and some without. They were all dressed in raggedy old clothes, some which were made of furs from animals; and they were apparently celebrating some sort of occasion which Taran had yet to find out about. Everyone was drinking beer, wine or ale; which ever was being served as well as eating roast meat. No one had any table manners at all, not that Taran seemed to mind or care since he had far more important things on his mind to worry about. But all there weren't just henchmen present in the hall, both of the Gwythaints which had abducted Hen Wen were perched on a large T shaped post that was fastened to the floor; the men eating at the table would occasionally toss bones and scraps at the creatures in order to watch them fight over food.
In addition to the Gwythaints, there was also a women dancing on top of a table surrounded by a band of brigands; she was dressed in a bright coloured garment which suggested she might be some sort of circus performer or an entertainer of some kind. The most curious person in the banquet hall was a small goblin, green like a frog with his right eye kept shut by a deformity of his body. His left eye was functional and looked overly big and pale, but one could tell it was red even though it was tough to tell; unless one looked carefully enough. He looked to be the same size as Gurgi although he wasn't as tall, but that's all Taran could gather from the vantage point; the goblin was dressed in what looked like a bright purple poncho and brown shorts. His small teeth and tiny claws looked menacing enough in addition to the ugly glaring expression that he frequently wore on his face, but given his small size; he wasn't really one to be afraid of which Taran could easily see for himself as the henchmen took turns bullying and harassing the foul creature. Since everyone was hungry, it was wise to eat what you could when you could before someone else helped themselves to food on the table; the green goblin wasn't welcome at the table when he tried to get some food for himself.
"Hey!" A man at the end of the bench shouted, slamming his sword down on the table and cut the slice of meat in two portions; leaving the tiny piece for the goblin to take. "Keep your hands away from our food, you little Creeper!"
"Going somewhere Creeper?" Another man said sarcastically as he tripped the green goblin over with his foot, causing him to fall with his plate landing on top of his head; making everyone laugh out loud even more than they were already. "Ah! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!"
But suddenly a low howling noise echoed throughout the hall, followed by a gust of wind which blew the overhanging banners around; causing everyone to hush and stay silent. A crackling sound from orange flames and blue streaks of lightning appearing in one of the entrances to the banquet hall gave everyone a shudder, a cloud of black smoke rose out of the doorway and as it cleared; a lone figure hooded and cloaked stood just inside with his back to a burning fire behind him. Taran's eyes and mouth were gapped wide open, even he felt the same fear that everyone below felt as their hearts were struck with fear upon seeing the Horned King; he managed to control his breathing just enough to calm himself so he could watch what would happen next now that the Horned King had finally made an appearance. Now more than ever, Taran wished Gandalf was here; he'd feel much safer with him at his side and he'd also felt better since the old wizard could usually formulate a plan to get out of any difficult situation whether he used his magic powers or not.
"Welcome sire! Forgive us for any disturbances; we were all merely celebrating our success!" Creeper said in an excited tone, he poured a cup full of wine until he realized that the cup was upside down which made him flip it over in order to fill it with what was left in the wine bottle before serving it on the arm rest of the throne where the Horned King was now seated at so he could look over the banquet hall from an elevated height; it was obvious he was sucking up to the Horned King who was his master since he was panting like a dog for a moment when ever he didn't talk. "I-I mean your success! Ahem, bring in the prisoner!"
"Oh no, well at least she's alive; time to see what happens next." Taran whispered to himself as he watched Hen Wen who had chained cuffs fasted to her forelegs and a chain collar around her neck which was used to drag her forward until she stood before the Horned King as a prized captive with the jailor holding the other end of the chain like a leash.
"As you can see sire, we've captured the pig that creates prophetic visions!" Creeper explained as another man placed a bowl of water in front of Hen Wen so she would be able to use her powers as she did earlier in the morning at Dallben's cottage. "Alright pig, show His Majesty where the Black Cauldron can be found! Get on with it, we haven't got all night; everyone here in the banquet hall is waiting!"
But Hen Wen knew better than to help her enemies, she simply turned her head and ignored the command; giving everyone a clear indication that she wouldn't cooperate. This brief act of defiance in the presence of the Horned King made Taran chuckle quietly with amusement, even in a dangerous situation such as this; Hen Wen put on a brave face and refused to carry out what was demanded of her. A pity that Dallben and Gandalf weren't here to witness this, Taran was sure that they'd find it as amusing as he did; but Hen Wen couldn't keep this up for long since any refusal would make her captors furious and less merciful. When Creeper commented about how stubborn Hen Wen was acting, the Horned King wasn't amused; he took hold of the green goblin's neck and squeezed it for several seconds before tossing the critter on the floor.
"Yes sire, you're quite right; I'll see to it at once! Well? Where is the Black Cauldron? Show us swine!" Creeper demanded, grabbing Hen Wen and shoving her head into the bowl of water before grabbing an iron tool to clasp and hold a piece of burning hot coal taken from the cooking fire with which to burn Hen Wen's flesh if she didn't do as she was told. "I warn you, the King's patience is running short!"
"No! Don't hurt her! Wooah! No!" Taran cried out, giving himself away in the process as he lost balance and tumbled from the rafters above; falling down on the floor below after grabbing hold of a banner which tore apart and gave him a soft landing.
Upon landing, some of the henchmen wandered over to take Taran prisoner since he was both an intruder and an enemy; his unexpected presence caused a commotion and everyone was wondering how long he had been up in the rafters as well as how he had managed to sneak inside of the castle without being seen. Taran grabbed hold of what he thought was a spear in order to defend himself with, but he realized his mistake when he saw it was a broom instead; forcing him to give up fighting given that he was outmatched and outnumbered by all of these armed mercenaries. When the brigand who had caught Taran was about to run him through with his sword, Creeper demanded that Taran be released so everyone could find out just what was going on; so the muscular man tossed Taran over to Hen Wen were he could be presented to the Horned King. Once Hen Wen was reunited with Taran, she momentarily forgot the danger she was in and smiled at the welcome sight of her young caretaker; making a few affectionate grunts here and there to show how happy she was to see Taran once more.
"It's alright Hen Wen, I've found you and I'll make sure no one will hurt you; yes I'm happy to see you too." Taran said, hugging her gently.
"Well now, it seems to me that the two of you know each other; which means that you must be this pig's care taker." The Horned King said calmly even though his deep voice sounded twisted which made his words echo as he spoke aloud. "Am I not correct, young boy?"
"Y-Yes sir, I-I am Hen Wen's keeper." Taran answered, his own fears were driving him to reply back; for his voice was trembling for a moment and all of Dallben's warnings about the Horned King had now come back to haunt him as he heard them repeatedly in his mind.
"Then instruct her to use her powers so she may show me the whereabouts of the Black Cauldron." The Horned King demanded, finally taking the cup of wine so that he could drink while he waited for Taran to do as he had commanded.
"I-I'm sorry sir, I can't do that; I promised my master that I wouldn't." Taran answered. "Besides, I can't guarantee what she'll show you."
"Very well then, if that is your decision; then the pig is of no use to me." The Horned King replied coldly, shattering the glass cup with the forced pressure of his skeletal looking hand; this was a signal to Creeper who now grabbed Hen Wen and pulled her away from Taran.
"Wait! What are you doing?" Taran asked in dismay as Creeper shoved Hen Wen over an execution block for the hooded man to fell her head off with a single blow of his long axe, raising the weapon up for the strike; Hen Wen squealed in fear for her life. "No! You can't!"
"Don't worry pig boy, she won't feel a thing; it'll be quick and painless! Ah! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!" Creeper commented sarcastically, causing everyone to join in and laugh; Taran could only watch helplessly as he was being restrained by two henchmen. "Does anyone want some roast pork? Ah! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! The Gwythaints look like they're hungry eh pig boy?"
"No don't! Stop!" Taran pleaded, knowing that giving in was the only way to save Hen Wen's life. "I'll make her use her special powers."
"That's better, release the pig…and the boy; stand aside and give them plenty of room." The Horned King spoke out before giving commands to his henchmen; they obeyed quickly and backed away so he could observe Taran using Hen Wen's special ability.
"Get on with it and show us some visions then, pig!" Creeper shouted as he kicked Hen Wen from behind until she was beside the bowl of water, Taran was shoved to the floor upon being released and spilled some of the water when he collided with the bowl; but there was still enough water inside for him to make Hen Wen use her powers.
"I'm sorry Hen, there's no other way to save you; let's get it over with." Taran whispered apologetically before spinning his finger in the water as he spoke the commanding words which, Hen Wen's eyes followed along until they became heavy; she would soon drop her chin into the water once Taran was done. "Hen Wen, from you I do beseech; knowledge that lies beyond my reach. Troubled thoughts weigh on your heart; share you now those thoughts in part."
"Look! Look at the water sire!" Creeper said, jumping on the stone stares of the elevated throne as he clapped his hands in excitement; a golden light shone from the water and Hen Wen's prophetic visions were once again revealed for all those present to see. "It's working!"
"Ah, so it's true; the Black Cauldron can be found after all!" The Horned King said in awe, standing up from his throne and walking down to get a closer look from where Taran sat kneeling; completely captivated by Hen Wen's prophetic vision just as everyone else was. "Go on, yes. Where is it? Where can it be found? Show me…show me…"
Knowing that the Horned King was approaching closer, Taran gave in to his own curiosity and turned around to look behind him; getting a perfect glimpse of the Horned King's face. Although the Horned King was hooded and cloaked, Taran was close enough to see the bare skull with barely any skin and flesh left on it; it was a miracle that he was even alive at all from Taran's opinion. Given how cruel he was though, perhaps he possesses some evil power which allowed him to remain alive despite of his body's condition and appearance; or so Taran guessed anyway. The Horned King was presently standing from behind Taran's crouched form leaning to look over his head so he could gain a perfect view of the water which Hen Wen's visions were being revealed, this wasn't a good idea though; and the deformed dictator would find out in a moment. As frightening as his face was, it was the Horned King's eyes which gave Taran the scare of his life; Hen Wen was fortunate not to see since she was hypnotized in a trance. The Horned King's eyes burned like fire and yet they were red; the very centre of each eye was slightly darker than the rest of it which was especially frightening to see up close.
"Ahh!" Taran cried out, leaping to his feet and accidentally stepping on the bowl of water; catapulting it into the air and dosing the now scolding hot liquid into the Horned King's face and eyes as he grabbed Hen Wen so they could make a getaway. "Come on Hen Wen!"
"AAAHHHHHH!" The Horned King shrieked in agony as he held his skeletal hands to his face in an effort to make the pain go away, steam rose from above where he stood; no one dared approach him for fear of unleashing his wrath upon them.
"After them!" Don't stand there you fools! Catch them!" Creeper demanded, taking charge on behave of the Horned King until his master had recovered from the injuries he had sustained to his face; all the henchmen and mercenaries chased after Taran and Hen Wen.
Taran knew he needed to find another way out of the castle than the one he had used to get in, but that would have to wait; the main problem was outrunning the hordes of henchmen and mercenaries who were pursuing him. The Gwythaints gave chase too; but they were still chained to the T shaped post fastened to the floor and although they yanked it loose with their combined strength; its shape and size would prevent them from overtaking their runaway prey. The creatures flew along as they dragged the post with them from the ends of their chains, the post tripping over many of the henchmen from behind before knocking over the large pot on the cooking fire; scattering hot coals and burning debris everywhere which stopped them dead in their tracks. The Gwythaints quickly caught up with Taran and almost had him and Hen Wen within reach to grasp with their claws, but the T shaped post at the other end of their chained became caught on the entrance beams of the doorway and once the chains tightened up; both creatures halted and dropped to the stone floor. Taking a turn, Taran came to an abrupt halt as he found he had nearly entered a butchery where livestock was killed and prepared to be cooked. The man inside hurled a butcher knife at Taran and luckily the deadly kitchen tool missed when it embedded itself into the wooden door, and a moment later; one of Taran's pursuers had managed to catch up to him.
"Gotcha, pig boy!" Creeper cackled in an overly confident tone as he leapt into the air, trying to grab hold of Taran's neck; the young pig keeper ducked just in time before running away which resulted in the green goblin to land inside of a barrel with rolled along due to the critter's momentum until it collided with the man who had thrown the butcher knife at Taran a mere moment ago. "Woaah! Woaah!"
After a quick series of turns, Taran arrived at an outside balcony that looked out of the castle and even better; the moat was down below. Still holding on to Hen Wen with one arm, the determined young boy shoved the huge door shut and slammed down the locking beam which kept it shut; that would hopefully buy him and Hen Wen enough time to escape. Although it was a long way down and too long for anyone to jump, there was no other alternative available and they had only a few minutes at most to get away now; the door couldn't hold off the henchmen forever. Now would certainly be a good time for Gandalf to show up, but there was no point in thinking that and neither Taran; nor Hen Wen had any spare time to waste by waiting for him. Using all his strength, Taran lifted Hen Wen up to the stone balcony wall and pushed her up with his hands so she could climb over the top; then she could jump down and he would follow her before they would swim to the other side and escape together.
"I know it's a long jump down to the moat Hen, but it's our only chance of escape; come on and climb!" Taran urged, pushing Hen Wen up from underneath with his hands; lifting her weight and allowing her to scramble over the wall as the door was being broken down with axes and clenched fists. "Go on, jump! Good, now hurry and swim for the other side Hen! I'll be down before you no it…wooah!"
"Gotcha, pig boy!" Creeper shouted triumphantly as he dragged Taran away from the wall by his ankles after squeezing through the broken door just in time to stop the escapee from jumping, the henchmen made way for the Horned King to come on to the scene; Taran was dragged back and set in front of him so that he could be dealt with for trying to escape. "I caught him your Majesty! I caught the boy!"
"But you allowed the pig to get away didn't you?" The Horned King replied with an unsatisfied tone of disappointment as he held Creeper up by his neck, choking the green goblin for a few moments before letting him drop to the floor; turning his attention to Taran. "You have caused me quite a lot of trouble young man, cause anymore and your life won't last for much longer. Throw the boy into the dungeon!"
Author's Note: I most sincerely apologize to all those who have been waiting patiently for the next chapter of this cross over story, life has been hectic and I'm also writing more than one story; its very difficult to write when time is limited and especially when one lacks the energy or experience to write efficiently enough to complete each chapter within a set schedule. As much as I would like to update a chapter for each of my three stories in a continuous order, I tend to focus on a particular one from time to time depending on the events of the stories and how much I can transfer from my imagination to paper. I will try and write out a new chapter for this story more often; hopefully the wait will just be a month to a month and a half. Thank you all for your patience and support, I very much appreciate it.