Thirteen years ago a knight-errant decided to ride out from Webster Groves in search of adventure.
He knew all the old stories of King Arthur and the Round Table, but he wasn't quite sure what sort of adventures knights had in the very late twentieth century.
So he placed an ad in the Webster-Kirkwood Times. It read, "You need a knight!"
The first call came from an older woman who needed a knight to fix her plumbing. Our knight, Sir Kwain (also known as Karl Kindt), knew how to fence and ride and, from his day job as a litigation support technologist at a law firm, how to do research. He did not, however, know much about plumbing. So he referred the woman to a friend who was a plumber.
"It seemed like the chivalrous thing to do," he says now.
Sir Kwain is nothing if not chivalrous. This distinguishes him from most other knights in history. "They were bullies," he says. "They wanted to force other people to believe the way they believed. I believe faith is a matter of the heart, not a sword or gun." He does keep a couple of swords, along with a lance and a dagger, in the back of his black Volvo station wagon, but he only uses them to slice watermelon.
Do not mistake Sir Kwain's gentleness for cowardice. He once captured a shoplifter in a convenience store and thwarted a band of drunken teenage party crashers. At age 63 he runs and lifts weights every day, not only because he considers physical fitness a necessity of knighthood, but also because his suit of armor, custom-wrought of steel by an armorer in Idaho, weighs 82 pounds.
During his career as a knight-errant, Sir Kwain has had many adventures. He has walked brides down the aisle, stood guard outside the Bevo Mill and prevented the city's most wealthy and powerful from tumbling down the ice-covered steps of the Saint Louis Art Museum. He once led the Veiled Prophet Parade. (That also qualified as an ordeal; his armor isn't ventilated.) Seven mayors have dubbed him a knight.
But Sir Kwain's greatest quest has taken place at the many schools and birthday parties he has visited over the years. He has assembled a large repertoire of stories about other knights, like Sir Watermelon and Sir Little, in order to teach children the value of chivalry.
"The tongue is more dangerous than the sword," Sir Kwain likes to tell his audiences. "Your words can go through my armor and hurt me." He instructs the children to stick out their tongues at the mirror every morning and say, "Tongue, don't hurt anyone today, or I will bite you."
The name Sir Kwain is an acronym for "Knight Without An Interesting Name." In one story, Sir Kwain goes on a quest to find a better name, but instead learns that his name is interesting because it is his.
Names are a matter of great importance to Karl Kindt. His father, also named Karl Kindt, was killed in World War II, three months before the younger Kindt was born. He left behind a Bible, a wedding ring, a photo and a letter to his unborn child that explained that, if he did not come home, it was because he had given his life so "the most sweetest, most beautiful woman in existence" could live in peace.
Kindt only knew his father through the letter. "It was a tender spot with my mother," he says. "She would cry as soon as I started to ask questions."
Sir Kwain sprang into existence in 1995, after Kindt traveled to Germany and France to see where his father had fought and was buried. Kindt had grown up hearing stories about King Arthur and his knights from his stepfather, his "Dad Prescott." As he placed flowers on his father's grave, Kindt realized his father had been a modern-day knight who had died in the service of God and country, and vowed to carry on his legacy.
"The idea of actually having armor made for myself for this purpose also came to me," Kindt writes on his website, www.knightforhire.com. "The armor has proved to be expensive but useful in drawing attention to the need in our society for men who are dedicated to the cause of truth, justice, to their wives and to the King of all Kings who loves us all."
For years Sir Kwain roamed St. Louis with Freckles, the only horse he had ever met who wasn't spooked by his armor. After Freckles died last year, Kindt began to consider whether his next steed might be a miniature horse, a creature small enough to accompany him on school and hospital visits.
"Miniature horses are therapy horses," Kindt explains. "They're also used as guide horses for the blind." Most are about the size of a large dog.
As it happens, Goose Creek Farms in St. Louis breeds miniature horses — including one named Thumbelina, who, at a height of seventeen inches from hoof to withers, is the smallest horse in the world.
Perhaps rashly, Kindt promised his three granddaughters that his mini horse would live in the back yard of the house he shares with Margie, his wife of 42 years.
Webster Groves is already home to chickens and potbellied pigs, but members of the town's Health & Environmental Services Advisory Board last week expressed concern about whether Kindt's half-acre lot would be large enough for the miniature horse to exercise and whether it would get lonely without other horses nearby.
"They asked if I would take it for walks," Kindt says. "I said no, it wouldn't be fair to the horse. Dogs would bark at it and make it nervous. Also, I don't feel like picking up horse manure." But Kindt's dog, a Maltese, would keep the horse company, he assured the board, and he'd bring it back to the farm occasionally for social visits.
The board didn't have a quorum at its meeting last week, so members tabled discussion until next month. In the meantime, Kindt volunteered to research how many square yards a miniature horse needs.
He has also ruled out adopting the horse he'd originally settled on. "Sandman is going to be 30 inches [tall]," he says. "That's almost pony-size. I'm looking at smaller horses now."
Kindt regrets not bringing his youngest granddaughter, five-year-old Ella, when he spoke to the advisory board. "If Ella were here," he says in retrospect, "she would have some arguments."
She would also have had the sympathy of at least one board member, Dennis Wells, Webster's director of public works. Wells, too, had been promised a horse as a child, but his parents had never delivered.
Leaving the meeting, Kindt sounds disappointed. "I was looking forward to telling the story of Sir Little with a real horse," he says. But he has not forgotten Sir Kwain's mission. Outside the conference room, the young daughter of one of the board members sits with a book in front of her, looking bored out of her mind.
Kindt hands her one of the DVDs he brought with him to the meeting. "Here," he says chivalrously. "Here are some knight stories. You'll like them!"