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Harp and Soup

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Fflewddur Fflam was not the type of bard to show up on a host’s doorstep empty-handed. So even though he counted the residents of Caer Dallben as more akin to family than friends, he couldn’t just arrive without something for each of them. He stopped in varying cantrevs on his journey, exchanging songs for various trinkets and gifts—a necklace for Eilonwy, farming tools for Coll, candies for Gurgi.  His harp was relatively well-behaved for the duration of the trip, though perhaps it was because the folk he passed didn’t really seem interested in stories. He just sang them his songs and went about his merry way.


Still, it made for a longer journey than he would have expected, and he started to fear that he would be very, very late in reaching Caer Dallben.


“We’ll still make it there in plenty of time, Llyan,” he said as he patted the top of her head, “And besides, it can’t be helped that I was delayed, you know how upset they all would be if I arrived without any gifts for them at all…”


There was a resounding twang as one of his harp strings broke. Fflewddur sighed. He would have to wait until he reached Caer Dallben to fix that one.  


It had snowed off and on throughout the journey, and as the day went on the flakes began falling thick and fast. Fflewddur urged Llyan on, for he had hoped to reach Caer Dallben by nightfall. Out of nowhere a pack of wolves burst onto the road, snarling and running straight for Fflewddur and Llyan.


“Great Belin!” Fflewddur shouted, and Llyan sprang into a full gallop, barrelling past the wolves. Unfortunately, she was now running too fast even for Fflewddur, and when she made a particularly sharp turn he tumbled off her back and onto the road. He stumbled to his feet and tried to run in the opposite direction of the wolves, but he tripped over his feet and before Fflewddur knew it he had tumbled down a ridge, landing face first in a snowbank.


“Well, better this than a pile full of rocks,” he said to himself. He stood up shakily, dusted himself off and looked around. The wolves seem to have been left at the top of the ridge, but Llyan was nowhere to be found.


“Llyan?” he called out, “Llyan?” his voice echoed through, but the cat did not appear.


Night fell, and Fflewddur knew he was nowhere close to Caer Dallben. There was nothing for it, though, and at least he hadn’t lost any of his gifts. He could get there well enough on his own two feet—if only it wasn’t quite so cold, and it wasn’t quite so close to dinnertime.


“What I wouldn’t give for one of Gurgi’s crunching and munchings right now,” he said to himself, “I suppose I could eat the candies I got for him, but he would be so disappointed if I were to show up empty-handed for him.” 


“At least the night is peaceful,” he said aloud. The snow seemed to have let up, and the forest was filled with evergreens—Fflewddur had always loved the smell of evergreens. To keep his spirits up Fflewddur took out his harp, and sang to himself as he walked. He was in the middle of a particularly boistrous verse of “The Ballad of Branwen” when he heard a rough voice shout out “Would you be quiet out there? Some of us would perfer to go about their lives without listening to an infernal racket.” 


Fflewddur turned. He’d been so absorbed in the song that he hadn’t noticed a farmhouse in the distance, warm light blazing from one of the windows. And older man had leaned his head out of it, and it was he who was shouting at Fflewddur.


“My apologies, good sir!” he called back, approaching the farmhouse, “I didn’t realize I was so close to civilization. But now that I have—I don’t suppose you could spare a bit of food and shelter for a poor traveller who’s lost his bearings?”


“Absolutely not,” the man snapped, “I never let strangers into my own house—you never know who’ll try to rob you in your sleep.”


Fflewddur sniffed.  He had never tried to rob a soul in his life, and he had been in travelling mishaps more desperate than this.


“Well, that’s just as well,” he said, “I can make myself enough food out here anyway, with a good old-fashioned evergreen soup…” Another harp string broke with a loud twang.


“Evergreen soup?” The man asked, “What on earth is that?”


“Oh, don’t you know, it’s the High King Math’s favorite delicacy,” Fflewddur said, an idea starting to form in his head. He winced as another harp string broke. “I’ve sung in his castle, you know, and every time I do he demands that I make him the most delicious evergreen soup.”


The man frowned. “Something wrong with your harp?”


“Oh no,” Fflewddur said, “It’s just being out in the cold. If you could let me warm up by your fire just for a little while she’ll be right as rain…and then I could show you how to make my evergreen soup…”


The man scowled, but he was clearly intrigued by the High King Math’s favorite delicacy. The doors were opened and Fflewddur was ushered in.


“I’m sorry, dear, “ he whispered to his harp and shoved it deep into the bottom of his satchel. He swore he could almost hear it groaning with protest, but supposed that might be his own attachment to the blasted thing.  He felt slightly guilty for the trick he was about to play, but it had been a long and tiring day, and he really was hungry. The manor kitchen was light and warm, and Fflewddur.


“All right,” the man said, a skeptical look on his face. “Show me how you make this evergreen soup of yours.”


“Well, I’ll need a pot of water, whatever spices you’ve got, and I’ve brought in some evergreen branches,” Fflewddur said, “All we need to do is have it sit to boil.”


The farmer brought out the ingredients, and Fflewddur set the pot on the fire. Steam began to rise from it after a time—it smelled wonderful, to be sure, though not necessarily something you would want to eat. He dished out a bowl for both himself and the farmer, and they each took a sip.


It was absolutely foul, but adding color to facts was Fflewddur’s specialty.


“It’s just as it should be!” he exclaimed, “Delicious—just like the High King Math likes it.” He heard two loud twangs from within his bag, but he pointedly ignored them.


The farmer took one sip and spit it out immediately.


“Why—that’s foul!” he exclaimed, “How can you stand the stuff?”


“You don’t like it? Really?” Flewddur asked, “Why, this is practically all the Sons of Don will eat through the wintertime!” Twang.


“No disrespect to the Sons of Don, but they must have a quite limited taste!” the farmer sputtered, “Even on my worse days I can make better food than this!” 


“Do you now?” Fflewddur asked, “I don’t believe it—nothing can surpass the delight of an evergreen soup!”


“Look here man, I’ll show you,” the farmer said indignantly, “Even the simplest vegetable and barely soup I make tastes better than this gloop.”


“Well, if you insist on showing me, I can hardly refuse,” Fflewddur said, “and the cooks for the Sons of Don are always looking to expand their horizons.”


The farmer’s soup took far longer to make than Fflewddur’s evergreen soup, but Fflewddur was glad enough to be out of the snow and wind. Eventually, the farmer ladled out two steaming bowls of soup, and Fflewddur tasted his experimentally.


It was, indeed, leagues above any evergreen soup.


“I say,” Fflewddur exclaimed, “This is some of the best soup I’ve ever tasted!"


“Do you really think so?” the farmer said, looking bashful and pleased with himself, “It’s really not much…”


“No, no, my dear man, it is delightful,” Fflewddur said, “I really must put in a good word for you with the king. I’m sure he’s always looking for new cooks.” Another twang from inside his bag.


“Would you really do that?” he asked, astonished.


“Absolutely, my good sir,” Fflewddur said, “You’ve fed a hungry man tonight with the most delicious soup he could ask for—it’s the very least I could do.”


The snow had stopped and the moon was out by the time Fflewddur took his leave of the farmer, but it was with a full stomach and renewed energy that he set back out for Caer Dallben. He walked on through the night, and couldn’t have been more than an hour away when he heard the sound of hoofbeats approaching him.


“Fflewddur!” He heard the familiar cry of Princess Eilonwy, coming towards him astride Llyan. Taran followed after her on Melynlas. “We’ve been looking all over for you—or, rather, Llyan has. She arrived without you, looking all matter of distressed—worse than a horse without a rider!”


“Well, that’s what she was, essentially,” Taran said, “What happened, Fflewddur? We couldn’t get a thing out of her…”


“We got separated by a pack of wolves...but it all turned out all right in the end. A little worse for the wear, nothing more.” Taran looked concerned, and Fflewddur waved his hand away.


“Truly, my friend, it could have been far worse,” he said, “I have been a lucky traveller on this day. And I have gifts for you both!” he cried, reaching into his bag, “It’s been so long since we’ve been together, I can’t wait another second.”


He pulled out his harp so that he might reach Taran and Eilonwy’s gifts, and Eilonwy let out a gasp. Fflewddur looked down. All the strings on it were broken, save the one Gwydion had given him years before.


“Fflewddur, what happened?” Eilonwy cried.


“Ah,” he said, slightly embarassed. “I had to, ah…tell a tale or two for my supper this evening.”


“A tale or seven, it would seem,” Taran laughed. 


“And I think I’m going to have to have a chat with the High King Math next time I see him,” Fflewddur said, looking slightly distressed, “I think I might have just hired a new cook for him.”