The Courage of a Knight


After his brother had fallen asleep and their candle had burned out, Gaelin lay awake. The room was black, except where the moon shone through the window. He was trying to remember something so that he could forget how dark it was and how the shadows looked like wicked giants on the wall.

Only that morning, Gaelin had held the big stallion’s reins as he watched his father, Sir Gareth, swing into the saddle. Equipped with shield and sword, Sir Gareth had smiled at Gaelin through kindly eyes and said, “Now, my little knight, take good care of your brothers and sisters while I’m gone. And remember, Son, that true courage is fear that has said its prayers.” Then he had turned his charger and joined others of King Arthur’s knights as they assembled for a journey.

The next morning Gaelin arose early, dressed quickly, and ran down the stairs. He didn’t think about Sir Gareth’s words again until it was dark. Shivering more because of the eerie shadows than the cold, he went to his room.

That evening about eleven o’clock, a storm blew in from the ocean. The thunder and lightning were the worst part. Loud thunderclaps shook the stone walls of the castle. Gaelin and his little brother shivered under their wolfskins until they fell asleep.

It was past midnight when Gaelin’s mother came into the room and found the boys asleep. She whispered Gaelin’s name, and he awoke with a start. “What’s wrong, Mother?” he asked.

“Your littlest sister is very sick,” she replied. “Get up and dress quickly! The stableboy is saddling your pony. You must ride to the village and fetch old Grimbauld. She can save Leonora if anyone can!”

“The village?” Gaelin stared at his mother in horror. “But it’s five miles away … and it’s thundering and raining so hard!” He bit his lip, terrified of riding in the storm. Then he looked at his mother’s anxious face and whispered, “I’ll go.”

In a few minutes he was on his way, with the wind tugging at his cloak and teasing his pony’s tail. Brennet, his pony, lowered his head and drove himself into the rain while Gaelin held up the lantern his mother had given him. The boy squinted into the wind and bumped the pony’s sides with his heels.

Gaelin was soaking wet and cold even before he reached the forest. Five miles of forest, he worried. It’s dark and howling with wind and full of bears and dragons! Can I make it? His tiny lantern threatened to go out at any moment, and then he would certainly become lost!

The trail through the forest was well worn, and Gaelin urged Brennet into a gallop. The best way is to do it quickly, he decided. Then there won’t be time to be frightened. But the lantern swung wildly, and its moving shadows looked like dark giants bounding from behind old twisted trees to carry him away!

Brennet was strong-winded and had been ridden often, so Gaelin kept him running until he steamed beneath the saddlecloth and his breath came hard. Surely I’m almost to the village, Gaelin thought.

They stopped only once, when there was an explosion and a blinding flash ahead. The pony reared up on his hind legs, snorting. Gaelin didn’t fall, but he felt his heart pounding in his throat. Even so, he encouraged Brennet on.

As they rounded a bend, Gaelin saw the tree. Blackened and still smoking from the lightning, it had fallen across the path. He swallowed hard, gripped the pony’s sides tightly with his knees, and urged him to jump. But Brennet was too tired. He couldn’t spring high enough from the muddy earth, and his front hooves didn’t clear the branches. The pony tumbled headlong on the other side, pitching Gaelin from his saddle so that he struck the ground with the arm that held the lantern.

When Gaelin sat up, he was surrounded by blackness. The lantern was smashed! He couldn’t see the trees, his pony, or even the puddle he’d landed in. Fighting back tears because it was unknightly to cry, he suddenly remembered Sir Gareth’s words: Remember that courage is fear that has said its prayers.

With the storm crashing overhead, Gaelin knelt and prayed: “Please, dear God, don’t let me be frightened anymore! My little sister is very sick, and I must get help. Help me to find the way and not be scared! In the name of Christ our Lord, amen.”

Brennet was snuffling at the boy’s shoulder. Gaelin found the reins, swung up onto the pony, and started off once more. The moon was beginning to show its round face between the clouds, and the storm was moving up the countryside.

In front of old Grimbauld’s cottage, Gaelin tumbled off his exhausted mount and pounded on the heavy door with a hand that no longer shook. The kind peasant woman, wrapped in a thick shawl, brought him in to sit beside her little fire. With a dry sheepskin around him, he delivered his message.

Gaelin was warm by the time she’d gathered her herbs and other things and bridled her mule. She paused in the doorway and looked at him kindly. “You came all that way through the storm, boy? Weren’t you frightened? You must have the courage of a knight!”

Gaelin only smiled as he went out to take care of faithful Brennet. He wasn’t frightened anymore, and he knew that little Leonora would soon be well.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Shauna Mooney