Cart and Cwidder by Diana Wynne Jones

Cover to Cart and Cwidder by Diana Wynne Jones

In the Kingdom of Dalemark, three kings have died without an heir. The kingdom has been in chaos for generations as earl after earl vies for the throne. Bloody battles have only produced a stalemate, and now the free North and the repressive South tensely await their next war.

Enter the family of Clennen the Singer. As licensed entertainers, they travel undisturbed from the North to the South, passing news and singing songs of old battles. Clennen's children—fiery Brida, bookish Dagner, and day-dreaming Moril—travel with their parents in a cheerfully painted pink and gold cart. They may argue, as families will, but they all agree how much they detest the snobby boy Kialan who has paid to accompany them.

"Do come out of that dream, Moril," Lenina said. "Glad rags, Moril," said Brid. "We're nearly in Derent."

Moril sighed reproachfully. He had not been in a dream, and he felt it was unfair of his mother to call it that. He had merely been gazing at the white road as it wandered northward, thinking how glad he was to be going that way again, and how glad he would be to get out of the South. It was spring, and it was already far too hot.

But that was not the worst of the South. The worst, to Moril's mind, was the need to be careful. You dared not put a foot, or a word, out of place for fear of being clapped in jail. People were watching all the time to report what you said. It gave Moril the creeps. And it irked him that there were songs his father dared not sing in the South for fear of sounding seditious. They were the best songs, too, to Moril's mind. They all came from the North.

In Cart and Cwidder, Diana Wynne Jones (author of Howl's Moving Castle) began a memorable fantasy quartet with a tale where the fate of a kingdom hinges on the theatrical talents of a traveling bard and his family.