That Little Fellow
In all England’s history, the storytellers say, no king was ever as great as King Arthur. No castle was as splendid as Arthur’s Camelot, and no king ever held such magnificent feasts and tournaments. Most of all, no king helped the poor and weak as Arthur did. All the knights of his court vowed to defend the defenseless. Among them were famous knights—like Sir Lancelot the Great, Sir Kay the Loyal, and Sir Gawain the True—as well as others, like Sir Pellinore the Absent-minded, Sir Griflet the Tidy, and Sir Caranos the Usually Washed. Whatever their special qualities, though, these knights brought justice to England and made King Arthur’s reign the Golden Age of Adventures.
It was Easter when one adventure came to the court. King Arthur was holding a holiday feast at Camelot, when a herald—that’s what they used to call messengers—appeared in the banquet hall. “O King Arthur Pendragon,” the herald announced, “High King of All England, Protector of the Weak, Defender of the —” “Yes, yes, here I am,” interrupted the king. “May I help you?” “I bring tidings of a most prodigious adventure: a hunt for a wonderly marvelous stag!” He could have said “I’ve come to tell you about an amazing stag,” but heralds always used difficult, flowery language. No one knows why. “And what is so marvelous about this stag?” asked the king.
“Not only is the creature uncannily white in hue, but legend saith that the knight who captures this wondrous beast earns thereby the right to kiss the fairest damsel in the world!” Arthur’s knights looked puzzled. “You mean whoever catches this stag gets to kiss the most beautiful lady in the world?” asked the king.
“That’s what I said,” replied the herald. “But I prithee peradventure thou be aforewarned! The quest bringeth with it dire peril!” (Which is to say, “Be careful; it’s dangerous.”) “A quest isn’t supposed to be easy,” the king said. He looked at his knights. “What do you say, my friends? Shall we go hunting?” Before anyone could reply, one young man—who wasn’t even a knight yet—rose to his feet. He was named Givret, though few called him that. Nearly everyone referred to him as “that little fellow,” because he was easily the shortest man at court. “My liege?” said Givret.
“Yes, Givret?” “I wouldn’t do this,” said Givret. Other knights stared at Givret, but the king only said, “Why not?” “It doesn’t seem wise, sire.” At that, Sir Lamorak the Hasty exclaimed, “Of course we should do it! I’m not afraid of dire peril.” “I agree!” shouted Sir Gareth the Valorous. “The direr the better, I say! If that little fellow is afraid, he doesn’t have to come!” Other knights joined in, calling for the hunt to begin and sneering at Givret’s cowardice. Givret grew red, but he held his tongue.
At last another young man rose. This was Sir Erec, a newly made knight and the son of King Lac of East Wales. Sir Erec cleared his throat. “My friends,” he said. “You do wrong to call Givret a coward.” He smiled at Givret, then added, “After all, we shouldn’t expect to find great hearts in little bodies.” Givret didn’t smile back.
King Arthur held up a hand. “Enough of this. Thank you for your advice, Givret, but I see no harm in this adventure. Let us go hunting!”
Within the hour all the court had gathered at the forest’s edge for the hunt. Hounds bayed, horses snorted, and knights in bright hunting clothes milled about. Amid the splendor and confusion sat King Arthur’s queen, Guinevere, on a white mare. When all the knights were ready to begin, King Arthur called out, “I need one man to stay with the queen, to be her guard and escort!” There was a long silence. No knight wanted to be left behind. Then Givret urged his mount forward. “I will stay with Queen Guinevere, sire.” “Thank you, Givret,” said the king. The hunting horn sounded, and a moment later Givret and the queen were alone.
“I thank you, too, Givret,” said Queen Guinevere. “It must have been hard to volunteer to stay behind.” Givret shrugged. “Everyone thinks I’m a coward anyway.” “I don’t,” the queen replied. “But I can’t help wondering: Why did you advise against this hunt?” Before Givret could reply, though, a strange knight in full armor rode out of the woods, followed by a lady on a gray mare. Givret wore no armor, but he had promised to protect Queen Guinevere, so he moved his own horse between the knight and the queen. “Good day, Sir Knight,” he said politely. “Who are all these blundering fools riding through the forest, kicking up mud?” the strange knight demanded. “They nearly spattered my lady, the most beautiful lady in the world!” “They meant no harm,” Givret replied soothingly. “That wwas a hunting party from King Arthur’s court.” “A hunting party that large? Ridiculous! My lady, who is the most beautiful lady in the world, scoffs at the verrrrry idea.” Givret glanced at the most beautiful lady in the world. She was picking a bit of grit from under her thumbnail and paying no attention. “Er, if you say so, Sir Knight,” Givret said.
“Why would so many go hunting at once?” the knight continued.
“You see, they’re after a magical white stag,” Givret explained.
“Magical? What do you mean?” “It is said that whoever catches the stag earns the right to—” Givret broke off.
“Well? Right to do what?” Givret shrugged. “The right to kiss the most beautiful lady in the world,” he said.
“That they shall not!” roared the knight. “For my lady is the most beautiful lady in the world, and no one shall kiss her but I—Sir Yoder, son of Nut!” “That’s your name?” Givret asked. “Sir Yoder, son of . . . of . . .” “Son of Nut, yes.” “I see. That would make me a bit testy, too,” Givret commented. Sir Yoder ignored him. “No other lady is so beautiful as my lady! Compared to her, even that lady beside you is a warty hag!” Sir Yoder placed his hand on his sword, as if expecting Givret to react angrily, but Givret only replied, “If that is so, Sir Yoder, then you must capture the white stag yourself. You should join the hunt at once!” Sir Yoder drew a sharp breath. “Why, you’re right!” “And I will help you,” Givret continued. “For I happen to know that Arthur’s knights are chasing the wrong stag! The real magical stag is in . . . in Scotland!” Sir Yoder blinked. “Scotland? But that’s days and days from here!” “You’d better hurry, then,” Givret said urgently, “before someone else catches the stag and earns the right to kiss—” “You’re right again!” shouted Sir Yoder. “Come, my lady! To Scotland!” And off they rode.
Queen Guinevere began to giggle. “Thank you, Givret, for getting rid of our rude friend. But did you have to send him so far?” “Nothing wrong with Scotland,” Givret replied. ...