RMCA Fiction: The Story of Gawain

RMCA Mouse Knight Fiction:
The Story of Gawain

Cutter Hays


nce upon a time in the west there was a woman who owned mice. She had two mice at first, then 13, then 30, then 70. Deciding this was too many mice for her, she took them all in a blue wooden chest out to the edge of a lagoon, far from the road near a fairgrounds, and let them go. Thinking they would be happy in their freedom, she drove away and never looked back.

For the first hour the mice, all females except for the tiny children, explored their new terrain. They crawled tentatively to and fro, back and forth, finding the water and such things.

Many of them never found their way back to the others, which huddled in terror in the midst of their new, wild environment.

So some sixty mice, mothers with children, pregnant mothers, and others, all relatives, crowded together in fear. Exposed and without shelter, they could feel the danger. They were domestic white mice - never meant for a wild existence. The moment the sun went down, and their exploring sisters did not return, a feeling of foreboding fell over the cringing colony. It got colder. The mice ate the food left to them quickly, then it was all gone.

One tiny mouse, a little boy, clung to his mother and smelled the terror on the others. Nothing like this had ever happened to them. They had always been warm, sheltered, and fed. They knew only safety and love, until this shattering moment. Now they were in terrible danger, and every one of them sensed it, but none more than the boy.

Auntie Licks died of fear. She was the first to go, and her death was perhaps the most merciful. Auntie Sniff wandered off, trying to find water for the babies, and they heard her scream of pain, then nothing. Auntie Woddle, one of the first to wander off in the daylight, came back crying for help without any arms. The monster that had maimed her was following behind.

The snake ate five of the mice right in front of the others, then departed to digest them. Paralyzed with fear, the mice shivered together in a huge ball of fur for warmth, and looked like nothing more than a huge meal to all the birds of prey from above.

The little boy saw the owls descend on his aunties and family only moments before they struck. His first thought was only curiosity. He had never seen an owl.

The owls fought over the mice, there in the midst of them, tearing and clawing into the huddled mass of frightened rodents. Mice shrieked, screamed, died, and the rest ran, all in separate directions. They ran into snakes who had smelled them from miles away, for wild mice had ways to hide their scents. They ran into the water and drowned, too panicked to swim, and they ran into other mouse-eating birds, who devoured them immediately. The sweet colony of mice, raised as pets, was quickly destroyed. Many of them died of fear before they were finally swallowed. The chaos and horror was so great no one was paying attention to anything else. Not one of the mice knew the fates of their sisters, and then, soon enough, they met their own ends.

The little boy had been carried by his mother a good distance away. His momma had only one mouth, and could carry only one child. She left his eight siblings behind. Finally, in the early hours of the morning, a snake wrapped her up and crushed her to death while the boy watched. Her last words to him were, "Run away, son. Run away!"

So he ran, and did not stop all night until the light of dawn. Exhausted and spent from the adrenaline now wearing off, he hid under a small rock and slipped into a nightmarish sleep.

He woke the next night to the sounds of frogs and crickets, which, for all he knew, were the monsters that had eaten his family. He knew deep despair. Wondering over and over why this had happened to him, he stayed under his tiny rock, afraid to come out. Far away, he thought he smelled a mouse, but a terrible shriek pierced the still air, and then the smell vanished.A lonely mouse in the dark. (Copyright 2004 Cutter Hays)

Any little boy, even a mouse, knows fear of the dark. Fear of terrors in the dark, fear of abandonment, and fear of an ugly end. This little boy had good reason to expect all these things, for now he had seen them. The shock of this new hellish world after the kind, gentle world he had been raised in had a profound effect on his young soul. He knew he could not stay under the rock. He was thirsty, hungry, and things wanted to eat him. He had never imagined the world could be so cold and cruel, but now he was in it. He had to survive somehow.

He could not go back to the colony place. He wanted to know if any of them had lived through the attack, but he did not want to face the monsters again. For all his speed and sharpness of tooth, he could not begin to imagine beating those awful giants. Sniffing the air, he finally smelled something like the house he had come from, far on the distant wind. It meant people. Maybe his owner would take him back. He would be very nice and cute and try to make up for whatever he did to make her mad enough to abandon his entire family. Knowing no better, he went in the direction of the smells.

Twice he smelled something strange, and hid. Strange was to be avoided in this dangerous place. He hid in a bush, and once under another rock, though he had to dig into the dirt. He found he was good at it, especially when he was desperate.

Another time that night he ran into something that wanted to hurt him. It was large, at least ten times his size, and hopped about, coming after him. He ran away from it, panicked, skittering over the landscape like lightning, bruising his feet and scraping his face against sticks.

He came around a bend an hour later, running toward the distant smells with no thought of stealth, and ran right into a snake. He fell down after hitting the side of the long scaly body, and sat petrified. The snake made no move to eat him. Three mouse sized lumps already sat in its middle. Whining and staring in terror, the small mouse got up and ran past the monster, wondering which of his aunties it had eaten; wondering if he somehow got them out, would they be able to take care of him in this cold place? But he ran on and did not look back.

Twice he dodged owls, trying to land on him and peck him to death. Three times he fell a long distance, running too fast to see ahead of him, and hurt himself. Finally, bruised and beaten, he found a hole in the ground to hide in, only to turn around and run for his life upon sniffing the strange smell. Sure enough, chasing him out came a serpent, inches behind him. He ran to the smell of water, and leapt in, hoping the snake would not know how to swim.

Perhaps it did not know how, or was just too lazy, but it did not follow the small mouse. The mouse swam and swam until it was exhausted. Lack of food and all the running had worn the poor boy out. He was ready to drown and give up when he smelled grass and headed for it.

Pulling himself up onto the bank on the other side of the stream, he lay there gasping for breath. He expected monsters to come and eat him now, while he was tired, but none came. He was cold, shivering. Slowly, he crawled into a thicket of grass and fell asleep.

Waking up frozen and hungry, he ate nearby grasses and seeds from the ground, though there weren't many. Unsatisfied, he resumed his trek on tired, sore feet. He was terribly lonely. He could not stop thinking about what had happened to his family. Why on earth had the human done what she did?

Not wishing a repeat of the last night (for he was certain he would not survive it again), he realized he had to be a smart mouse. His momma had been a smart mouse, building one of the best nests of the colony, back when they had nesting stuff given to them. He thought hard. How could he survive here?

First off, he was white. Nothing out there was white. He stood out like a sore thumb. He rolled in the dirt, but he was still white. He covered himself in mud. That was better. He felt icky, but he wasn't white anymore. And now he smelled a lot more like mud.

Second, he was going in the right direction, but much too fast. He had to slow down and sneak. Be careful crossing open areas. Look for food and water to drink on the way. And always dig his own holes.

Doing this, and finding small morsels of food, he covered the miles one at a time, many times narrowly missing monsters, and sometimes having to run for his life. They seemed to be everywhere. Time passed slowly. The boy felt he would never be safe again.

At last, he came to the edge of the stream once more. He sighed. He didn't want to cross it again, but the smell of people (and food) was on the other side. He dreaded the swim, for the first time it had been very long, and he was weaker now that he had been then. Mice truly don't enjoy swimming, though time and evolution have made them quite good at it. So, moved by need, in he went.

He kept his head above water and propelled himself with his legs and tail to the other side, not being able to see it, and barely able to smell it over the scent of water. The swim was shorter than the first time, though big things swam under him several times. He had never thought that there might be monsters in the water that would want to eat him as well. He finally pulled himself up on the far shore, greatly relieved.

The smell of people and food was close now, but it still took him another week to reach it. By the end of that week, he was tired, hurt, hungry, thirsty, and fed up. His fur was caked with mud, his whiskers bent and broken, his ears drooping from starvation. He had grown thin, and that was the only way he had grown. He was supposed to be a growing mouse, eating wonderful food from a food bowl and playing with his siblings, momma near, aunties always licking him and cleaning him. Instead, he was alone and hunted. Cold and afraid. Hungry and thirsty. It was unfair. He had heard myths of wild mice, but he had never believed in them. No mouse could live out here for long, and neither would he.

arly in the morning, the grass and dirt ended in a flat, hard packed sand. He stopped there at the edge of it, for it was a vast open area and very dangerous to a mouse. The smells he had been pursuing this entire time were on the other side of it, however, so he crossed it, running as fast as he could. And he was almost across it when the most horrible monster yet came after him.

It had fur, like him, but was hundreds of times bigger, and as fast as he was. It had fangs, and claws. Its eyes burned with desire to catch him. And it was gaining on him.

The giant thing chased him all the way to the end of the parking lot, and up onto the pavement. The little mouse dodged around trash cans, into bushes, down sewer pipes, and finally lost the cat, but was thoroughly lost himself as well.

The smells of people, trash, food, and a thousand other things assaulted his sensitive nose. He found a piece of popcorn and hastily devoured it. It tasted good. His breath eventually returned to normal and his heart slowed down. He began to explore the huge place, following the smell of food. It was only luck that he avoided the poisons and mousetraps set about; there was other food to be had easily. He had no idea what a mousetrap was or what poison looked like that might eat his stomach from the inside out with acids. Lucky and unknowing, he slept in a crack in the wall.

That day he woke to the sounds of people everywhere. He looked out his tiny wall breach to see men and women everywhere, walking about, dropping food. He darted out several times to grab a small piece of this or that, and always returned to his hidey hole to munch it. He desperately wanted to approach the people. Maybe one would take him and feed him, pet him and be kind to him. Maybe they would even go back and look for his family.

But the little mouse no longer trusted people. So he stayed put until dark, and after the sun went down, all the people went away.

So he came out, looking for water and food. He found plenty, but he had not been eating five minutes before the cat monster found him again, and this time by surprise. The tiny mouse was trapped in a corner with nowhere to run. Shaking with anxiety, he cringed. The cat knew the mouse was doomed, and took his time, extending the suffering. He swaggered right up to the mouse. A small thing, and very dirty, but it was the first mouse he'd ever found here in a long time, so it would have to do.

The monster batted the tiny boy into the wall. The impact hurt terribly, and the boy squeaked, which seemed to delight the beast. The mouse wondered underneath all his fear why the monster, and the human, hated him. He would gladly be their friend. What a great friend he could be. And what a great friend the monster would make, if he weren't so set on cruelty.

The cat leaned in and opened his mouth. The little mouse, refusing to surrender after coming this far, dashed to the side, jumping over the cat's swinging claws and racing along the wall. He ran into another wall, though, and the cat was just one second behind him, charging with open jaws. The mouse bounced off the barrier and fell on his back. It was about to end. He really didn't want to be eaten by a monster after seeing it happen to his family, but that was what was going to happen.

Suddenly there was a high pitched scream, like a war cry. Something bright flashed in the little boy's eyes. The cat skidded to a halt and spun, standing right over the mouse, to face... Another mouse! (Copyright 2004 Cutter Hays)

Another mouse! A full grown, white male mouse stood there, facing the cat! And he held something in his paws. Something long and sharp... something glowing.

The tiny boy watched in awe as the mouse refused to move an inch. He stared the cat right in the eye without fear, standing perfectly still, that sharp thing poised before him. The cat lunged, and took a blow from the sharp glowing thing in his nose. Blood flew. Howling in pain, the cat slashed at the big mouse, only to lose all his claws. They clattered to the floor, separated from the cat's paw. In abject horror, the cat turned on his feet and vanished, yowling his frustration.

The big mouse lowered the weapon and came to offer his hand to the young kid, who took it and was pulled to his feet.

"Wowwweee..." said the child. He eyeballed the handsome, sleek stranger up and down.

"Hello to you too," said the big mouse, who stood with his chest out and chin up.

"I've never seen anything like that," the little mouse said.

"Indeed?" the big mouse smiled gently. The little mouse loved that smile. It was friendly and genuine. "Tell me, young man, what have you seen? You look worse for wear."

"I what?" the little one said.

"You look like you've had a hard time of it. What happened?"

"Oh," the boy said. He looked down at the floor. "I ran away. All my aunties and momma got eaten. Maybe. I didn't see it all. Most of us ran."

The big mouse frowned in concern. "I see. Where was this?"

The little mouse pointed. "Over there. Seven days I think. Two rivers - or maybe the same one. Lots of hiding. Not much food, and none of it tasted like this place."

"This food tastes good, but isn't very good for you," the big mouse said. "Come with me."

Taking the little mouse around, he showed the boy what to eat; what was safe and what was not, and showed him the poison and traps.

"Don't go onto these boards with metal. They snap you in half. No matter how hungry, don't go here," he told the boy.

"I can do that," the boy said.

"Don't go near the stuff that smells sweet, either - not much of it is worth anything, and some of it will kill you."

"Okay," the boy said. "Why do humans do this?"

"You mean put out traps and poison?" the big mouse said.


"They don't like us. They want to get rid of us. From what I've seen, they've done a pretty good job here in these fairgrounds."

"Fairgrounds?" the little boy asked.

"Yes. You came from a great distance, little mouse. Not many would have been able to do that, especially as untaught as you were. You have courage."

"What's that?" the boy asked.

"It means you are strong. In your soul."

"What's that?" he asked again.

The bigger mouse laughed. He started to pick the mud out of the boy's hair. "You are a smart mouse," he said.

"Thanks!" the boy cried in pleasure. "You're very big and strong! What's that?" he pointed toward the sharp pointy thing.

"A sword," the bigger mouse said. "A very special one. It belonged to my father."

"Ohhhh," the little mouse said. "Was your father big and strong too?"

The big mouse smiled as he groomed the boy. "Yes. He was. He was my hero."

"Where is he?" the boy asked.

"He died." Answered the big mouse, pulling mud out of the smaller one's ears.

"Oh, I'm sorry," the little boy said, genuinely meaning it. "My momma died too. She got squished by a big, long monster."

The big mouse stopped grooming for a moment and looked at the small mouse, who was lost in hard memories.

"Do tell me the story, if you would," he asked the boy, picking mud from him.

So the little mouse told the bigger mouse everything he had been through. By the time he was done, he was clean again. White and clean. He felt better, though tears were falling from his eyes.

The big mouse was silent a long time. At last, he said, "You have come through much. You remind me of my father. He was like you. He did not give up." He petted the smaller mouse, who put his head against the big mouse's chest affectionately, grateful for the kindness after so many days of suffering alone. "You said your aunties had names," the big mouse continued. "Only pets have names."

"The human who left us out there named some of my aunties. We were taken care of for a little while. None of my aunties were very old. The oldest one was five months. How old are you?" The boy said.

"I am over a year and a half old," the big mouse said, smiling.

The boy stared, mouth hanging open. That was ancient! "What an old mouse!" he blurted.

The other mouse laughed and hugged the boy. "Not so much, yet," he said. "I still have much to do." He looked down at the lost kid. "It is terrible to be a loved pet and be cast out." His face took on an expression of deep compassion. "There is nothing worse than that. You are a special mouse to have survived such tribulation."

"What's that?" the boy chirped.

"Heh heh heh," the big mouse chuckled. "It means something hard. You sound like my brother when he was younger. I like you, little one."

"Thanks. I like you too. Are you my new daddy?"

The bigger mouse started, surprised. He looked off toward some far off place and appeared troubled.

"No," he said. "No, I cannot be your father. I'm sorry. I have a holy quest. I can only stay here one night, and in the morning, I must depart."

The little mouse looked crestfallen. "Oh, oh please? I'll be good. I promise. I won't make you mad. Please stay."

The bigger mouse looked genuinely upset now.

"I can't, little one. I must continue my crusade."

"Let me come along. I'll help you. I want a quest."

The big mouse considered it. He shook his head. "It is very dangerous. I am chasing a very bad, strong mouse. He would hurt you."

"Maybe I'd hurt him!" the little one chirped.

The big mouse laughed. "Maybe," he said. "But I'll not risk you. I will make you an offer instead. I can teach you, for the rest of the night, how to survive here, in this place. If you're careful, this could be a good home for a mouse. Then, one day, if you so choose, you might earn a quest of your own. What say you?"

The young mouse was disappointed, but said, "Okay."

"Excellent," said the bigger mouse. "We should begin with tactics."

"What's that?"

"Okay... we'll begin with English," chuckled the bigger mouse.

So, all through the night, the two mice traveled over the fairgrounds, and the older mouse taught much to the little boy. One night to a mouse is like two weeks to a human, and the lad learned a great deal. True to his heritage, he was a very smart mouse, and absorbed all the knowledge the older mouse offered like a hungry child. He learned many hundreds of things from the older mouse, all of which he was made to repeat at random or perform at regular intervals. The older mouse helped him to find a safe place and taught him to build a nest from comfortable soft things they found. They gathered food and spoke of great knowledge. The little boy was taught when to go out, where to go, how to go, and how to protect himself. By the time the night was almost over, he felt quite confident that he could make the fairgrounds into a fine home. He had grown, at least inside, by many human years. He was also quite sad at losing his only friend.

"Do you feel able to handle this place and rule it with integrity?" the older mouse asked him as they sat at the edge of the fairground's border.

"Yes, Sir," the little mouse said. "I understand everything you taught me."

"Good," the big mouse said. "Remember not to trust humans, and read everything you can with what I taught you. If you practice constantly, you might get it with just the little time we had together."

The little mouse looked longingly at the bigger mouse. "I don't want you to go, Sir."

"I know," said the bigger mouse. "I would stay, but I made a promise. You remember how important those are?"

"Yes Sir."

"You must always keep your promises if you want to be a good mouse."

"I understand, Sir. I will."

"I shall," the older mouse corrected.

"I shall, Sir," the little mouse said. "Sir... someday I wish to be like you."

"What do you mean?" the older mouse asked.

"You have something to you no other mouse I've ever seen has. I don't know what to call it. I want to be like you."

"It's inside," the big mouse said, "but there is a title for those who have practiced it long and hard. It's called knighthood. I am a Mouse Knight."

"I want to be a Mouse Knight," the boy said.

"Perhaps you shall be," the older mouse said softly.

"I thank you for saving me, Sir," the boy said.

The older mouse smiled. "Very good." He picked up a straight stick from the ground. "Show me your kata again, one last time."

The little mouse set himself, pointed the stick forward, raised his other paw behind his head, and lunged, then spun through a long series of fluid, quick movements. He finished by turning, saluting the older mouse, and putting his stick through a piece of twine wrapped about his waist. Then he bowed, and went through an even longer series of moves without the stick.

"Excellent," the older mouse said, smiling. "Practice every day."

"I shall, Sir."

"If you ever find anything that looks like this," the mouse touched the sword at his side, "keep it and use it, remembering to clean it and sharpen it often. Remember where you got it, because there are probably more."

"Yes Sir."

"Be careful," the big mouse admonished, "but enjoy life. Remember, we do not live very long. Each day is precious."

The little mouse looked at the ground. "I might enjoy it more if I had a friend, Sir."

The older mouse actually looked guilty for one moment, then came forward and put his arm around the little mouse.

"Well, let's see what we can do about that," he said. He went down to one knee. The little mouse followed suit. "We shall pray to the Mousegod."

"There is one?" the little mouse asked, amazed.

"Oh yes," the big mouse said. "And he is a friend of my brother's. He will listen."

They bowed their heads.

"Oh, Bigfat," the older mouse began.

"He's big and fat!?" the child yapped.

The older mouse hushed him with a finger to his lips. "Yes. And he's very sensitive about it, so don't offend him."


The older mouse continued. "Please grant this small mouse a long, healthy, happy life, and a friend to comfort him in his solitude. We thank you for our good fortune. Please bless the safe house and all mice. Amen."

"Amen," the boy said. He looked up at his mentor. "What's the safe house, Sir?"

"Where I come from, son," said the big mouse. "Very far away."

"You were a pet, Sir?"

The older mouse smiled that charming grin. "Yes."

"Might I inquire your name, master?" the boy said.

It was time for him to go, though his heart was heavy. (Copyright 2004 Cutter Hays)

"My name is Percival." He petted the lad. The sun was making the sky light. It was time for him to go, though his heart was heavy. "And I have no children. I may never. So, with your permission, I'd like to think of you as mine, and name you."

The little mouse stared in awe. "Oh, thank you, Sir. What name will you give me?"

"I name you Gawain, my boy," he said, running a paw over the boy's ears.

"What does it mean?" the boy asked.

"It means you are very brave, very strong, and meant for great things," Percival said.

Gawain's eyes shone with wetness. "Thank you, Sir."

"Fare well, son."

"Fare well, Sir."

As Percival turned to go, Gawain said, "Sir?"

Percival faced Gawain and said, "Yes, son?"

"I know what my holy quest will be. When I am a knight."

Percival smiled. "What is it?"

"It shall be to teach humans that mice have feelings, and not to abandon them. If I ever have a family, it shall never be abandoned."

Percival put a hand on Gawain's shoulder and looked him in the eyes with respect.

"A finer quest I could not have chosen."

The boy smiled broadly.

"Gawain," Percival said, "someday a Mouse Knight may come through here. In fact it is likely, since there will be many knights someday. If that happens, tell them that I taught you, and ask to be taken as a squire."

"I shall sir."

"Practice hard for that day."

"Yes sir."

"It has been a great honor knowing you, lad."

The little mouse swallowed. "You too... Sir."

With that, the older mouse trotted off toward the rising sun at a brisk pace, as if chasing something in the distance that might escape him. The little mouse watched until he was gone from sight.

Walking back to the fairgrounds to the nest he and Percival had built for him under a building, he though of all the amazing things he had learned in one night from such an amazing mouse. He would always miss his friend.

Ducking under the hole in the wall and crawling through the narrow space to his open room, he stopped at the pipe for a clean drink of water, then chose a clean corn kernel from a pile he had gathered during the night, and retired to his comfortable bed.

Only to find another mouse in it!

She was tiny, and frightened. And covered in mud. She looked at him with tense anticipation. Her sorrowful gaze begged him to let her stay, terrified of being cast out.

He smiled. "Hello," he said. "So the monsters didn't get us all, then?"

She shook her head.

"Well, we both have much to learn," he crawled into bed and began grooming the mud from her fur. "But it can wait until tomorrow night. Would you like some corn?"

She gently took the corn and smiled at him.

hus began the legend of Sir Gawain, who later did indeed become a great Mouse Knight. He sired a vast family, all of whom lived at those fairgrounds, and the humans were none ever the wiser. None of his family were ever abandoned, and many went on to become loved pets as Gawain taught humans to love mice. Gawain never saw Percival again, but each of them heard tales of the other from across great distances, and it always made each of them smile.