A Matter of Hours


Taran came back to himself with a small start, gazing between Melynlas's ears, and realized Eilonwy had called him several times.

"You look like you've forgotten your own name," she said, with a sympathetic smile. "If I might suggest it, don't look so when you talk to Smoit. What are you thinking of?"

A loaded question, he thought ruefully. The past, present, and future. Great joy and great sadness intermingled, like the dark and light threads woven together in the tapestry of his life. The long, winding path that had turned an Assistant Pig-Keeper into a King. The faces he would never see again, sleeping beneath the earth or turned eastward toward an unearthly light. The silent stones of Caer Dathyl scattered on the bloodstained earth. The people they passed, gazing at him with mingled wonder, curiosity, doubt, and hope. The responsibilities he now bore, and what he'd be doing about them in twenty years, or ten months, or the next five hours.

And the young woman at his side, who had never seemed so radiant and alive. And…well, accessible. There was still that pressing problem about the beds at Caer Dallben. "Everything," Taran answered, finally, and then grinned. "But mostly you."

Eilonwy blushed, and glanced self-consciously around at the handful of people who accompanied them. "You ought to stick with one thing at a time," she admonished. "You'll get along much better."

"Very well," he said, sighing, "I'll begin with thinking of Smoit, and whether there can possibly be anything left of the food supply within another day of his sojourn here. That should take up a few minutes at least."

"And then you'll have to think of whatever it is he wants to speak about," she put in, "which could take hours."

Taran rubbed his chin. "After that, I shall think about stone quarries." At Eilonwy's quizzical look, he explained, "We're going to need a great deal for rebuilding." He tapped his leg. "Then I shall spend the rest of the day thinking of…horses and cows and pigs, and how many there are of each in the camps." He cast her a sidelong glance; she was beginning to look slightly put out. "Then perhaps this evening I'll find time to look over all those parchments rescued from Annuvin," he added, trying not to laugh, "and spend a few hours thinking about agriculture and irrigation canals."

"Hmph," Eilonwy said, tossing her head, her eyes glittering. "I hope you'll enjoy that."

"I'm sure it will be terribly interesting," Taran replied, with a wicked grin. "But I suppose I'll have to lay them aside at some point tonight, and think about…oh…embroidery."

A shower of dirt and pebbles hastily scraped from an overhanging embankment pelted him about the ears. "Embroidery!" Eilonwy exclaimed, the laughter in her voice barely held in check by indignation. Once again she muscled Lluagor ahead of him, putting her heels to the horse's flanks. Her voice floated back to him. "Taran of Caer Dallben, I'm not speaking to you!"

The High King laughed. Many things could change in a few hours, indeed.

But some things never would.