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Online Study Guide: The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart - Book Summary

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THE CRYSTAL CAVE: LESSON PLANS / TEACHING GUIDE

BOOK I - The Dove

CHAPTER 9

Summary

Merlin arrives in Segontium, known in Welsh as Caer’n-ar-Von, eighteen days later and gets his first sight of Vortigern. He describes the High King as “a hard man who had taken his throne by murder and held it by blood.” He sympathizes with the king who had to call in the Saxons to hold his kingdom and now that decision had “twisted in his hand like an edged sword slipping, and cut it to the bone.” Yet the king was spoken of with respect as a hard fighter while his Queen, Rowen, was hated as a witch.

Fortunately for the future, while he is there, King Vortigern never lays eyes on Merlin and his grandfather and Camlach even forget he is there. His greatest concern is to discover why Galapas insisted he ride there with his grandfather. But after 8 days, they head for home with Vortigern and his men riding halfway with them and Merlin still puzzled as to why he is there. They stop at midday at the spot where Vortigern was to leave them, at a ford where two rivers meet.

Merlin wanders off by himself and hears Vortigern and his grandfather speaking behind the rock where he finds shelter. He follows them, but is interrupted by Cerdic who has been watching him to protect him. Cerdic tells Merlin that his grandfather and the king are walking up to the top of crag where they can look up and down the valley in all directions. It’s called Dinas Brenin, or King’s Fort, and there used to be a tower there that’s now only a tumble of stones. Merlin insists he must follow them, so Cerdic warns him again about the ring-dove. At that moment a ring-dove flies by them followed by a merlin ready to strike. Merlin follows the birds who have crashed together onto the ground. Where the birds have fallen is an old mine entrance and he and Cerdic go inside. Once Merlin enters, he knows this is the place of dream - naked slaves mining rock. Outside the cave, Merlin takes the falcon with him, as he has injured his wing attacking the dove. Cerdic is sure the falcon will harm him, but the bird climbs calmly onto Merlin’s arm and they ride back to his grandfather’s train. For the first time, Cerdic calls Merlin “Young Master.”

Notes


The description of Vortigern is important for later in the novel when Merlin will be forced to help the king build the towers of the castle at the fork of two rivers. He will see that his first impression is true: this is a man who will do whatever it takes to keep his throne. The fulfillment of the dream will also be important as the presence of the mine will “undermine” the castle walls. Merlin will need to know this to save his own life. The god(s) are preparing him for his ultimate destiny: to bring about Arthur’s birth. The falcon and the dove are also obvious signs of the god(s) power since they lead Merlin to the mine and when Merlin finds the cave and tames the falcon, Cerdic calls him “Young Master,” an indication that Merlin has become a man. His destiny is in his own hands as well as those of the god(s).

New names in this chapter: Caer’n-ar-von, the Welsh name for Segontium; Rowan, Vortigern’s Saxon Queen; and Dinas Brenin, or King’s Fort, the place where Vortigern will eventually try to build an impregnable fortress against Ambrosius and Uther.


CHAPTER 10

Summary

Once home, Merlin decides to take the falcon to Galapas. Tension is heavy in his grandfather’s castle as Camlach and his grandfather are quarreling. He tells Galapas also about the cave of his dream, but he doesn’t know why he was sent there. Galapas, too, is puzzled by the meaning behind the cave, but he is able to explain why there are quarrels going on. Vortigern had three sons by his first wife: Vortimer, Katigern and Pascentius. These three have broken from their father and are raising troops to rebel against him. Vortigern doesn’t need this problem now and that’s why he had the meeting at Segontium: to assure himself allies against his son as much as against Ambrosius and Uther. The quarrel between Camlach and Merlin’s grandfather has to do with loyalty. His grandfather wants to support the High King while Camlach wants to side with Vortimer and his brothers.

Merlin goes into the crystal cave again to find the meaning of the dream. He sees Camlach riding hard for the castle where he finds the body of Merlin’s grandfather who had died of a broken neck in a fall. His bloody knife makes the servants fear him, but it is only deer blood from the hunt. Merlin’s grandfather had died in the courtyard after slipping on some lamp oil spilled on the steps by Cerdic. Cerdic had been on his way back with a cloth to clean up the mess, not expecting the king to go that way. Cerdic is killed for leaving the oil behind.

Camlach speaks with Niniane who asks her to finally let her go to St. Peter’s and to leave Merlin alone. Camlach’s emphasis on the fact that it was Merlin’s servant who left the oil makes Niniane aware that her son is not safe.

Merlin now knows that Camlach means to kill him and will use his grandfather’s death to justify it. Galapas tells him he must go and that the crystal cave will not protect him. Merlin realizes the falcon is gone and Galapas tells him the bird headed south right after his dream. He heads home after bidding Galapas good-bye and for the second time in his life, he weeps.

Notes

War is brewing not only against outside enemies, but within Merlin’s family as well. Merlin feels he must return to the crystal cave to discover why he found the mined cave. His dream will not only tell him about events at the castle but will reveal that he must say good-bye to two of his only friends: Galapas and Cerdic. Cerdic’s death shows us how hard was the life of a slave and how cruel are those men who would hold their power at any cost. Merlin’s good-by to Galapas shows us how difficult it is to grow up and accept that one must be responsible for his own life. Someday, according to Galapas, the cave will be Merlin’s, but for now he must move on. The falcon’s flight to the south is significant, because it is a sign that Merlin must go that direction, too.

New names in this chapter: Vortimer, Katigern, and Pascentius - the three sons of Vortigern


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