Saint Ferdinand and the Shy Knight who Challenged Seven Moors

August 14, 2014

A beautiful anecdote is narrated by the Chronicle that illustrates the chivalrous and noble, although at the same time, quite simple spirit with which Ferdinand had imbued his army. The King lived in the midst of his vassals like an ancient patriarch with his family. He did not need to isolate himself to inspire respect, because the holiness that shone in him was such that the closer they saw him the more they respected and loved him.

Saint Ferdinand III

One clear and crystal morning during the Andalusian winter, the King had just returned from attending Holy Mass. Enjoying the sunrise, he stayed at the door of his tent talking to Lorenzo Suárez when he saw two knights who, followed by their respective esquires, were leaving the camp, cantering off to the southern plain. “Where are they going?” the King asked.

“They must be going to guard the pasture, Lord. Perhaps they are late.”

Following them with his eyes distractedly, Don Ferdinand resumed his conversation with Suárez when the sudden appearance of seven Moors barring the way of the two knights joltingly attracted his attention. Both knights stopped for a moment; one of them took his weapons from the esquire and, motionless, faced the Moors. The other turned his horse toward the camp, taking a detour to avoid notice. The eyes of the King sparked with anger. “Look, Lorenzo Suárez! See how that wicked knight leaves his companion at such a critical moment!” Suárez squinted to see better. The King continued: “Lorenzo, go and send others to help him, as he is alone against seven!”

Moors

But Lorenzo Suárez, who had just noticed on the brave knight’s shield the white and purple waves of the Vargas, turned calmly to Ferdinand and proposed:

“Let him be, Lord, for that knight is Garci Pérez de Vargas, who needs no help for such a small number of Moors. If the Moors recognize his shield, they will not dare attack him, and if they do, you will see today the marvels he will perform.”

How unaware was the good Garcí Perez, who became so easily embarrassed and blushed when his heroic deeds were advertised, that the King’s eyes were on him at that moment! Ferdinand and Suárez watched as Vargas continued on his way in an impetuous gallop, his spear well-aimed and his arm firm in the shield’s handle. When he reached the seven Mohammedans, they moved away, separating themselves to both sides of the trail without even daring to face him.

But this was not the end of the incident. After he had gone some distance, Garcí started to remove his helmet. Putting it back on, he took his spear again and slowly retraced his steps to the place where the Moors remained stationary, four on one side and three on the other. In a remarkable performance, he stopped in the middle of the road between them and picked up something from the ground with the spear’s tip. Then, with the same calmness with which he had come, he left, permanently this time.

Garci Pérez de Vargas

Statue of Garci Pérez de Vargas at Plaza Nueva in Seville

“What could it be?” the King commented to Lorenzo. “You must ask him as soon as he comes in this evening.”

Both laughed, thinking of the embarrassment that was awaiting the poor Garcí Pérez.

That evening, as the King was conversing with his noblemen at his tent’s door, those who had been guarding the pasture that day came to pay homage to him. Noticing Garcí Pérez, the King nodded slightly to Lorenzo Suárez, and asked him, smiling: “Where were you going, Garcí Pérez, when you left the camp this morning?”

“I was going to guard the grazing animals, Lord.”

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Here Don Lorenzo intervened: “And who was the knight who was accompanying you?”

Garcí became as red as scarlet when he realized they had seen everything and answered: “I do not know him, and I do not know who he is.”

He bowed to kiss the hand of the King who looked at him, interiorly pleased. He was as pleased with Garci for showing the proper Christian honor in protecting another’s reputation as he had been that morning when witnessing Garci’s extraordinary courage. Taking Garci’s right hand, he shook it vigorously and said to him: “You are, in truth, Garci Pérez, a good friend!”

A chain mail Coif

A chain mail Coif

Of course, Vargas hurried to escape further compliments. But to his acute embarrassment, twenty-four hours later, there was no one in camp who did not know the details of the episode. It was discovered that the object that fell was his coif; it was also known that when his poor esquire had tried to dissuade him from entering again between the seven Moors, Garci had answered: “Do not mention it again! As you can well see, without a coif I do not have a head!”

Only the identity of the cowardly knight was never discovered, neither from Vargas, in spite of all the insistence of his friend Lorenzo, nor from his esquire, whom Pérez de Vargas had bound by an oath never to reveal the identity of the other knight who had so cowardly abandoned him.

KSF

Sr. Maria del Carmen Fernández de Castro Cabeza, The Life of the Very Noble King of Castile and León, Saint Ferdinand III (Mount Kisco, NY: The Foundation for a Christian Civilization, 1987), pp. 231-3.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 411

 

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