Once upon a time, King Arthur was riding about his kingdom with Gawain, the noblest of his knights, at his side. Together they were looking for adventure and other knights with which they could joust and parlay.
On one dreary September day the two came upon a Black Knight astride a equally black stallion. The immediate challenges and acceptances between Arthur and the Black Knight were issued, despite Gawain’s attempt to intercede and protect his king. But Arthur, with Excalibur at his side, was confident.
His confidence was soon vindicated as he began to best the Black Knight. But at the critical moment, the Black Knight used magic and suddenly had the once and future king at his black mercy. Before he could deliver the coup de grace, however (and before Gawain could intercede), the Great Queen, the master of the Black Knight, stepped forth from the forest and held back the hand of her servant.
“You have been bested,” she cried aloud to Arthur, “Thus your life is forfeit. But because magic was used, magic must be served. You will be reprieved and allowed to live if you and your knight can correctly answer one question.”
Arthur quickly agreed.
“You will allowed to leave here, and return to Camelot, where you will have one year to learn the answer to this question. At the end of 13 moons, you must agree upon your knightly and kingly honor to return here to answer the question -- and if you fail to answer the question correctly, forfeit your life without defense.”
Arthur and Gawain looked at each other. “Piece of Cake”, they thought. What with the resources available at Camelot: the libraries, the scholars and wizards, the Inter Net connections, and Gawain’s own brilliant ability to synthesize all manner of wisdom and knowledge -- answering one question should be a cinch!
As Arthur and Gawain enthusiastically agreed to the condition, a broad smile crossed the face of both the Great Queen and her underling, the Black Knight. She said, “You must find the answer to this question: What is it that women desire above all else?”
Sheer panic crossed the faces of the two great knights. For they knew without question that their fate was down the tubes! Thousands of years of scholarly activity had never revealed the answer to that question! So the two left the forest and began their long, weary trek back to Camelot. They were no longer smiling.
Upon arriving at Camelot, a massive project was launched to find the answer. Knights were sent on quests to the far corners of the kingdom and beyond. Oracles were consulted, runes were thrown and interpreted, stones were turned, even women were asked! Many possible answers were considered, but instinctively everyone knew that they had yet to uncover the one true answer, the one thing that women desired above all else.
Finally the day of woe and reckoning arrived, and Arthur and Gawain began their return to the forest of the Great Queen. It was a sad day at Camelot.
On their way, they came upon an Ugly Damsel. I mean, we’re talking UGLY!!! Blotchy, diseased skin, bloodshot eyes, cracked and blistered lips, hair which looked as if it had been used to clean the sewage lagoons, and a breath to stop a Tyrannosaurus Rex in his tracks. (The artist of this greatest threat to femininity won two academy awards: one for best make up, another for best acting in his ability not to heave in the face of his creation.)
Arthur and Gawain gallantly attempted to by pass the Ugly Damsel at a safe distance (i.e. by way of Cleveland), but the female would have none of it. She smiled broadly (as only such a woman can) and said, “I know to whence you go, and I know also that you haven’t a clue as to the correct answer to the Queen’s question.”
Gawain was incensed, “Do you thus mock us?”
“By no means,” the Ugly Damsel replied. “For I have the answer and will gladly share it with you. For a price.”
Arthur asked, “And what is that price?”
“That one of your knights marry me and become my devoted husband.”
Arthur’s reaction was immediate, “Better that I die than ask any of...”
“I will marry this... this really ugly damsel,” Gawain quickly interjected. “As the most noble of your knights, I will thus descend into Hades itself, if necessary.”
“Which is pretty much what we’re talking about here,” Arthur observed.
“Then,” the Ugly Damsel quickly interjected, “If this Gawain, this incredibly noble, handsome, gallant, and sexy knight, will upon his knightly honor agree to marry me, I will tell you the answer.”
“Upon my honor, if your answer is revealed to be true, I will marry you and act in all respects as your lifelong husband,” Gawain replied.
The Ugly Damsel smiled and then told the two the answer. Arthur and Gawain looked at each other. It made sense, they thought, and it’s a lead pipe cinch that they didn’t have a better answer. So they decided to risk it.
Once before the Great Queen -- with the Black Knight eagerly watching the proceedings -- they were asked, “What is it that women desire above all else?”
Arthur gave the Ugly Damsel’s answer, “To be sovereign with and equal to men.”
Both the Great Queen and Black Knight lost their coloring -- which was pretty pathetic for the Knight inasmuch as his color changed to a pasty gray. But the Great Queen soon recovered her composure. “You have answered correctly and thus you are free to go.”
Arthur and Gawain turned to each other, their faces smiling for the first time in a year, their eyes twinkling with sudden delight. Until that other little thing recalled itself to their minds. There was still the honor thing and that Ugly Damsel, and the combination was not something that brought a lot of happy expectancy.
But Gawain and his liege were honorable. To the core.
Upon returning toward the place where they had first met the Ugly Damsel, they found her waiting for them, her bags packed and astride a dilapidated donkey. After a quick hug of Gawain’s leg, she fell in alongside the two knights and the three rode off to Camelot.
There the greatest of royal weddings was held -- even as the other knights and ladies were aghast at the nobility and sacrifice that Gawain was making. All were stunned at the sheer ugliness of the Damsel, and many mourned Gawain’s fate.
But the wedding was held, all pretense was maintained, and after a feast where many of the knights and ladies encountered new challenges in eating, drinking, and not subsequently losing it, Gawain and the Ugly Damsel retired to their bridal chamber. There, Gawain approached the bridal bed with some trepidation.
The Ugly Damsel, seeming to understand his mood, turned to Gawain and asked, “Will you come now to my bed?”
“Yes,” Gawain replied, and he turned to remove his wedding garments.
But then, when he turned back toward his bride, he was suddenly astonished to see what could easily have been the most incredibly beautiful woman to have ever walked the face of the earth! Something of a permanent smile begin to cross Gawain’s face.
The Formerly Ugly, Now Incredibly Beautiful Damsel smiled and said, “How you see me now is how I used to be. But I was cursed by the evil one, and that curse continues. I can only be beautiful while I am alone with you. You will be able to enjoy my beauty to your heart’s content. But when we are in public or with others, I will again be the Ugly Damsel. Thus I am gorgeous in private and ugly as sin in public.”
For a moment, Gawain only stood there. “Oh,” was his brilliant reply.
“However, the curse allows for me to switch these roles, whereby I can be beautiful in public, where all our friends can see and admire your good fortune, and then in private be uglier than the south end of a north bound babboon with diarrhea. But once the choice is made, it can never be changed. Therefore, which do you choose: For me to be beautiful in public and ugly alone, or beautiful alone and ugly in public?”
Gawain hesitated only momentarily. “I leave the choice to you.”
Whereupon his bride smiled and said, “In that case, because you have given me Sovereignty, the curse is broken and I will be beautiful at all times.”
Sir Gawain was pleased.
P. S. It has been said, “Women who strive to be equal with men, lack ambition.”
2003© Copyright Dan Sewell Ward, All Rights Reserved [Feedback]