Robert Priest


The Knight and the Baby

1985 (Now Magazine, Toronto)

A short story

By Robert Priest

As he awaited his audience with the King, Ogo dreamed of the glorious quest he would soon be sent on in order to attain his knighthood. Recently, giant dragons had been seen in the south. Perhaps this would be the task the king would set for him. Afterwards they would call him Sir Ogo the Dragonslayer. Or maybe there were princesses somewhere in need of rescue from fierce trolls or savage men.. His fondest dream, though, was to be sent after the Laughing Giant. If anyone could defeat that spiteful Titan it was he - Sir Ogo the Giant Slayer.

At last the call came and Ogo strode forward to meet his king.

"It says on your dossier that you are the best broadswordsman in the country."

"Yes sire."

"That you are unsurpassed with the long bow."

"Yes sire."

"That you are the fastest runner, the best mathematician, the strongest swimmer and even excel at the ancient art of blacksmithing."

"Sire, I made my own armor" Ogo replied proudly and he turned the shining metal of his breastplate so that it sparkled beautifully in the firelight.

"And all that is very good Ogo. I am pleased to hear of your many and various manly skills, but there is one quality here which is rather curious in a young man seeking knighthood."


"The assessors have noted that you have a reputation for being an extremely kind young man."

Ogo said nothing but blushed to the roots of his hair.

"Well don't worry Ogo - all this qualifies you for a very special mission that I have in mind."

Ogo held his breath. Ogo the giant-slayer. Ogo of Dragons.

"You have no doubt heard that my infant daughter - the Princess Illia - has been visiting me for some weeks now."

"Yes sire."

"Illia is fast approaching an age when she will begin to speak her first words. Now, with a normal child this wouldn't be a problem but Illia's mother is the good witch Queen Blue and there is a good chance Illia too will prove to have magical powers. Indeed I am informed by my court astrologers that if she should begin to speak unattended by someone well crafted in the arts, she might inadvertently say powerful spells and cause great havoc here - people suddenly turned to pumpkins - that kind of stuff. For that reason she must be returned as soon as possible to the land of Orriodor where her mother awaits her. I had been planning to take her myself by the northern route but now the way is blocked by the terrible Gannucks and I must go and meet and talk with these bland people. The only way for my daughter to reach her mother on time , is for someone to take her across the Wasteland of Feer. As you may know this is an area which is full of the fiercest and most frightful creatures. Every step along the way will be dangerous and you will need all your skills - including your skill at running for the way is steep and mountainous and a horse will not last long. I am glad too that you have been chided for your kindness because my daughter's happiness is all-important. It will not be enough to carry her. She must be fed, played with, cleaned, rocked, read to. This Ogo is your mission."

Ogo tried to look happy but inside he was utterly crestfallen. All his training, all his many achievements and dreams for this - to be a babysitter.

That night the Nurse taught Ogo some basic child-care techniques, including the fine art of diaper changing, and he returned unsmiling to his dwelling. Soon a fierce glow lit the night from within and a great clanging sound ensued.

"He's taking it out on his armor!" said a fellow named Fub who had dared to look in his window. "He has a mighty hammer and he is smashing his breastplate to bits."

Next day at the palace, Ogo picked up the things he would need on his journey - some picture books, some baby food, some toys and slung over his back - a big bag of diapers. There was a tearful farewell, a great trumpet blast and then Ogo and the baby set forth. "And remember," the nurse called after him weeping, "absolutely no sugar"

As he walked by, the young men could see the results of his blacksmithing the previous night. He had hammered out the inside of his breastplate to make a kind of metallic bubble. For the moment it was swung open on tiny hinges and cradled within it, her two magic green eyes glowing piercingly out at them, was the beautiful babe - the King's daughter Illia.

"It is to protect the princess Illia that he has refashioned his armor."

"And to keep her warm," said Fub. "Babies like to cuddle." Here he let forth a loud shrill snort of laughter. Ogo heard it and blushed but rode nobly on.

Ogo and the baby had not been inside the wasteland long when a herd of wild black horses, fast as the wind rushed by. Leading them was one pitch black horse who stopped and turned to face Ogo, met his eye, then lifted its head and neighed at him before running off out of sight over the mountain . And Ogo knew that this was the horse. The horse which if he could but capture it, and tame it and ride it, would lead him onto the most glorious fields of victory any knight had ever known. For a fleeting second he felt like running as fast as he could after it, sure that he could catch up with it if he used his utmost power but just then the baby began to cry. Ogo remembered his promise to the King and took her out and rocked her like he had been told. He sang to her in his toneless voice but it was no good. He offered her milk but she spat it out all over his halberd. Then he got an idea. He held the baby up and swooped her around in the air as though she were a bird. He did this until she began to giggle and gurgle and finally laugh and hoot with enjoyment. Thereafter he would stop and play with the baby every few miles, for she got impatient inside his armor and demanded his attention. One thing he noticed was that the more the baby laughed the better he felt. In fact, lately he had caught himself babbling, goo-gooing and singing in a high sweet falsetto voice. He laughed when he thought what a fool he would seem if anyone overheard him.

On the second day, when he awoke he was amazed to find himself in the midst of a herd of sleeping dragons. Somehow, unaware of his presence, they had landed in the night silently and dozed off all around him. How stupid dragons are! Right next to him, slept a particularly enormous dragon and Ogo knew that with one mighty swing of his broad sword he could kill it for sure. Ogo the Dragon slayer. But again he knew he couldn't. By himself he might fight off the other dragons and escape with the hideous head, but with the babe still fast asleep inside his breastplate there was too much danger. So, carefully without so much as a squeak from his armor, Ogo crept out of the sleeping, snoring, flaming ring and ran till he was far from their sight.

On the next day, as they approached the canyon of Despair which was the last peril before the land of Orriodor, a terrible laughter reached Ogo's ears. He looked up and there stood an extremely ugly looking giant.

"O ho ho ho! What is that I see? Shouted the huge voice. "Is this a tin of wild bums that has learned to walk or is this one of those terrible creatures called a mite - I mean knight. I always get it wrong. Ha-ha-ha-ha."

Oh no! This was the Laughing Giant and he was blocking the way to the only bridge across the canyon. "Ho ho ho ho! Haw-Haw-Haw," roared the giant, pointing down at Ogo. "Hey canned man, how did you get your mighty feathers? Did you pluck them from a horse you ridiculous thing?" Ogo stood stock still, the baby asleep inside his armor. All his life he had waited to do battle with this creature and now just as he got his big chance, in order to protect the baby he would have to pretend fear. Ogo hung his head, pretended to tremble and attempted to just walk by the giant. It was the hardest thing he had ever done.

"What is that knocking I hear?" howled the giant. "Can it be the iron in the mines underground, frightened of the dark? Is it tin cans up in the sky being knocked around by dandelion fluff or what? Surely the canned man's knees are not knocking."

Just then the baby awoke and began to cry "Waaaaaaaaah!!" in her high whining baby voice.

"Fee fi fo fum - what was that?" the giant howled in disbelieving mirth. "Surely I did not hear - I cannot have heard you let loose a little kind of bleat - a mewly little gurgle of terror."

"Waaaaaaah!" the baby continued even louder now frightened by the Giant's huge voice.

"O honor! O great kings hide your heads in shame. Do not let even your mightiest mice see this can encrusted coward who shivers by me. Why never in all my life- not in a billion battles with the world's most scared men have I ever heard such a little shameless whine from anyone."

"Waaaaaaaaah!" again the baby wailed and this so struck the Giant that he began to scream with laughter until he was short of breath and fell down beating the earth, big tears rolling down his cheeks

Ogo walked by quicker and quicker, pretending to shiver as much as he could till he had crossed over the bridge and was safely on the other side. When they were far enough away that he could no longer hear the Giant's great gargly laughter, Ogo was finally able to stop and take the baby out and comfort her. "O sweet babe, sweet babe," he said, and then realized that although not being able to fight the Laughing Giant had hurt his pride it had hurt a lot more to let the babe go on crying like that. Just then he looked up and on a far off hill he saw - Wild Eyes-that horse again.

And so he brought Illia safely to her mother the Good Witch - Queen Blue. There was a big indigo swirl of joy as she swept her daughter up into her arms laughing and then she danced round and round with her, kissing her cheeks and grinning and sighing and even crying a bit in joy.

That night there was a grand banquet in celebration and Ogo told the large audience of his adventures.

"Ogo, or should I say Sir Ogo, said the Queen, " you have shown much good sense and courage in your journey and in gratitude I wish to grant you a boon. As you know all knights upon coming in to the order are assigned a life long quest by their King or Queen. But you Ogo, because you have shown such unusual courage and service - I will let you pick your own."

Ogo thought first about that black horse he'd seen and how much he wanted it. He remembered again the Laughing Giant and gritted his teeth a little. He was just about to decide when in a very strange little baby accent, Illia gurgled. "Ogo? Ogo go go?" And she looked sadly at him.

"Did she say Ogo?" Ogo asked almost leaping with joy. "Did she say my name?'

"I believe she did, "Queen Blue said

Then Ogo made up his mind. "I wish to be this young baby's guardian Knight. To keep her safe and attend to her happiness forever!" Ogo hardly finished his statement before the big gasp of Elven joy overwhelmed him. That night he received the title that was to stay with him all his life, and long after into the history books. SIR OGO OF BABIES.

The next day when Ogo took Illia out for a walk she began to point at something off in the distance and say "Ogo go go! Ogo Go Go!" Sensing the presence of magic. Sir Ogo walked in the direction she was pointing out over a field, across a meadow, up a hill until finally in front of a huge grey stone beside a golden stream she began to make a noise she had learned from one of her story books. It was a high-pitched whinny - a sound rather like that of a horse. Ogo's heart jumped with an amazing thrill as something stepped out from behind that rock. It was the horse. And neighing softly, it walked right up to him and nuzzled his face.

The End

The Knight and the Baby (1985)
The story that inspired Knights of the Endless Day!

The Milton Acorn Memorial People's Poetry Award, 1989
Special Choice Award, Children's Book Centre, 1993
Socan Airplay Award, 1994
Chalmer's Award, Theatre for Young Audiences, 1998

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