The Unknown Bride (cont.)
"Tell me," she said, "what it is that women most desire."
There was no need that the court ladies should strain their ears, for the knight answered in a clear, manly voice, "The thing that women most desire is to rule their husbands. This is their strongest wish. I declare it even though you put me to death. I am at your mercy. Do with me as you will."
There was not one court lady present who would deny the truth of what he had said. They all agreed that he ought to have his life, and the Queen at once declared that he was free of every bond and claim.
"No, my lady Queen," said a strange voice. "I beg your mercy, but there is yet a claim upon him. Give me justice, I pray, before you depart. I told the knight what answer to make, and in return he vowed by his knightly faith that he would do the first thing I should ask of him if it were in his power. Now before this court I demand, sir knight, that you take me for your own wedded wife. You know well that I saved you from the gallows tree. If I speak falsely, deny this upon your faith."
"Alas," said the knight, "I know only too well that such was my promise, but for God's sake make another choice. Take all my wealth if you will, but let me go free."
"No," she replied. "I am old and homely and poor, but for all the gold that is buried in the earth, I would not give up being your wife and your love."
"My love? Rather, my ruin," said the knight. "Alas, that such a thing should be, that such a shame should befall my house!" There was no help for it, however: he must take the old crone for his wife, and so he married her, but you may know well that there was no merriment and no feasting at that wedding.
After the wedding, the knight was so glum and serious that the bride said, "Is this the way King Arthur's knights behave with their brides? I am your love and your wife, and, surely, I have never done you a wrong. Did I not save your life? Why do you treat me so? If I have done anything unkind to you, tell me what it is that I may make all the amends in my power."
"Amends!" cried the knight. "There are no amends that can be made, for you come of such common folk, and you are so poor and old and homely."
Then the bride told him that folk might indeed hand down their wealth to their children, but not their goodness; that a man is not noble because he is the son of a duke or an earl, but because he himself does noble deeds. "I am of gentle blood," she said, "if I live virtuously and do not sin. And as for my poverty," she continued, "it is true that a man would never choose to be poor but, nevertheless, he who is poor need have no dread of thieves. Poverty is like a glass through which one may see who are his true friends, and sometimes poverty teaches a man to know both his God and himself. You call me old, but is it not true that gentle folk of honor and courtesy never fail to show respect to age? Often it happens that with age comes wisdom."
The knight could not help seeing that her words were wise and true, and when she asked, "Would you rather have me old and poor and homely and come of common folk, but a faithful, loving wife — or, perchance, young and rich and handsome and of high birth, but careless of your love and maybe false to you?" he pondered and sighed, and sighed and pondered, and at last he said, I believe that you are wise and good, and I take you for my true and faithful wife."
"On my word I will be to you as true a wife as ever lived since the world was made," declared his bride. "Now kiss me once and then draw up the curtain."
The knight obeyed, and when he had drawn up the curtain and turned his eyes upon her in the full sunlight, behold, she was young and fair and charming. He caught her in his arms and kissed her, not once, but a thousand times, and then a thousand more, and unto the last day of their lives they lived in peace and happiness.