The Knight and the Lion

"The White Stag"

Yvain's horse was trotting gently along the track when a stag sprang from the bushes in front of him. Its coat was pure white and its antlers were broad and high. They too were white as ivory. At once Yvain gave chase as the stag darted off ahead of him, leaping lightly over the rocks and brambles in its path.

There was a custom at King Arthur's court that every year at Easter-time, the King and his knights would set out to hunt the white stag. Whoever caught it could kiss the fairest lady of the court. This year, however, there had been no white stag to be found.

Even though Yvain was not usually very interested in this custom and had never got close to the white stag before, now he wasted no time, spurring on his horse as hard as he could.

Yet the bobbing snow-white flanks of the deer were always just ahead of him. Just as he drew near, the stag would flick its heels and bound away.

'If I could only touch it,' he thought, reaching out his hand. But the deer was too quick for him and vanished among the trees.

Yvain searched for the stag, but the trees grew close together in this part of the forest, making it dark and hard to see. The white stag was gone, and Yvain realised that he himself was completely lost. He found a rough and narrow track and began to follow it and in a short time the way was easier and there was sunlight between the trees.

As he rode, Yvain fell into a daydream about the beautiful deer, and did not notice that he had arrived at a shallow ford. His horse had already splashed half-way across the stream, and was drinking the water, when a stern voice on the other side called out:

'Do not go any further, Knight. I am guarding this ford and I forbid you to cross it.'

The horse carries on drinking, but Yvain, still deep in his thoughts about the stag, is not listening.

The knight who has shouted at him is very angry at this:

'You needn't think you can just ignore me. Get out of my ford!'

Still Yvain does not hear.

'Well, since you can't hear, perhaps you can feel,' declares the knight grimly, and he pricks his horse with his spurs and charges at Yvain. His lance easily knocks Yvain's shield aside, for Yvain is not at all prepared. He starts up in surprise.

'Why have you struck me, stranger knight?' he asks.

'Because I told you not to cross my ford and you disobeyed me,' the other replies.

'Disobeyed you?' says Yvain. 'I never even heard you. Yet now you shall have a fight if you want one, for interrupting my thoughts and for striking me. For I shall cross your ford, whatever you say.'

Then they draw back a little and both gallop into the ford, jousting with their lances and trying to tip one another into the water. When they have no success, they start to fight with their swords, and the sound of metal clanging on metal rings out loudly as they dent each other's helmet and armour with their blows.

The other knight is strong, but it seems that Yvain has skill as well as strength and drives his enemy back toward the bank. Suddenly the knight turns and flees, leaving the ford clear. Yvain gallops after him but, like the stag before him, he is nowhere to be seen.

Yvain does not know whether the way to the Spring lies in the direction he is now riding, but having crossed the ford he is not going to turn back. Instead, he makes his way along this new path.