Whan that the goode Wif of Bathe hadde hir tale ytold, with ful light herte thought she, “Whan that I go again from Canterbury, Sekirly shalle I have a soper at the cost of alle.” Anoon a yonge lovere saide in parfit Englisch, “Lordings, now leten me tell the tale of most solas and best sentence.” The young lover paused for a moment: “Surely the tale would be much more enjoyable if we stop with all the Middle English.” The pilgrims nodded in agreement, wondering why they had not decided upon this earlier, and the lover continued,
“Now, permit me to tell the most pleasant and meaningful tale.”
“In the days of old, during the time of the great King Arthur, there was a knight well known for his courage, valor, and good looks; however, this knight was known to no woman, and many people spoke of this in jest. Also, there was a fair maiden, young and coy, who adored the knight. This lovely lady adored him so much that one day, as he was riding his great steed, she winked at him. This gesture greatly offended the courageous man. He dismounted his horse, went up to the woman, and asked her if she knew who he was.
She said, ‘Sir, I do know who you are, and I dare say that I have loved you for some time now.’
The knight was horrified by this beautiful, forthright, and bold woman. He said to her, ‘Woman, I am a fair knight, and thou art not my type.’ A few bystanders giggled, but the knight continued, ‘You shall be punished for what thou hast done to me.’ Then, with his great strength, he took hold of the woman, placed her behind him on his noble steed, and brought her to his lord, the great King Arthur.
The noble knight smiled gleefully and was full of joy as he greeted the knights of Arthur’s court (he seemed joyful and gay). The great King Arthur listened to the complaints of his brave knight, and after some time told him that he would need time to decide what punishment to give this girl. It was then that the best of Arthur’s knights saw the maiden, and he instantly fell madly in love with her. He begged Arthur, saying, ‘My king, you must spare this woman because I am sure that she is my one true love. Give her one year to answer this question: “What two things do men desire most from women?” If she answers correctly, her life will be spared, but if she does not, she will die. This will be both fair to the good knight, and to me, your most loyal servant.’ Arthur gladly granted his friend’s wish for he was the best of knights. Arthur then said to the maiden, ‘Woman, if you can answer me this one question you shall not die.’ The woman stared at him with desperate anxiety. ‘What two things do men desire most from women?’ There was a murmur amongst the people, and the fair knight was shocked by the king’s display of mercy: ‘You have no more than one year and a day to find the answer to my question. Go you now to seek the answer.”
The woman ran out of the court crying. She journeyed far, asking every man she passed if he knew the answer to the question she had been given. Some men told her it was for his woman to cook him food and keep well his children; others said that it was bed pleasure and silence. Still others said that it was respect and loyalty. The year’s end was rapidly approaching, and the woman still had no sure answer. Every man gave her a different response.
Then, the day before she was to go to the king and give her answer, a knight came to her. ‘I am the best of knights’ he told her. ‘And only I have the answer to your question.’
She looked at him in awe and said ‘Good sir, I was under the impression that you were supposed to be a magical fairy of some sort. And, also, you were supposed to be ugly, and of low social class. I don’t believe you have the answer I seek.’
The good knight laughed at her naiveté, and said, ‘Fair woman, you have too many false stories in your head. I am supposed to be handsome, and of a high social order. I will give you the answer, and save your life if you agree to marry me after you give your answer to the king.’ The young maiden quickly agreed to this. She found the knight attractive and so thought that she had nothing to lose. The knight whispered the answer in her ear, reminded her of her oath to him, and left her where he had found her. That night she slept well.
The following day the court was bustling with people. Everyone wanted to hear the sentence given to this fair maiden, for nobody believed her to have the correct answer to the king’s most difficult question. The young lady then came before Arthur and said, ‘My King, merciful king, I have the answer to your question.’ Arthur listened in silence, and the woman continued, ‘The two things that men desire most from women are sovereignty over them, and their loyalty.’
The great King Arthur waited a moment, and then he said, ‘Fair lady, you have answered my question correctly, and for that you shall be spared, but a good knight came to me today. He told me of the help he has given you. I will hold you to your oath to him.’ The young maiden stood. The best of knights entered the court to take his new bride. They were quickly wed and rushed off to a great feast held in their honor. The food was plentiful, the drink was good, and by the end of the feast, the two lovers could barely keep their hands from each other. They retired to the privacy of the knight’s living quarter.
The knight stood in awe of his new wife as she lay in bed waiting for his company. He smiled at her, but she was sad. He asked her if something was wrong. She turned her eyes to him, and said, ‘My husband, before we hold each other in passionate embraces, I must ask you two questions. You must answer these, or else I cannot be happy.’ The knight nodded in understanding. ‘Would you let me have complete sovereignty over you?’ The knight answered yes. ‘Would you let me choose whether or not to be loyal to you?’ Again the knight answered yes, and this contented the young bride. She happily spoke, ‘You would give the two things that you desire most to please me?’ The knight answered yes a third time, and upon doing so, the beautiful lady could no longer hold her desire for him. ‘My husband I have yet to make love with you, and it is already far into our wedding night. Come to me for I desire you greatly. My desire for you is so much that I must have you in bed every night, and I will keep you as happy as a wife can keep her husband.’ With that he went to her, embraced her, and gave her most passionate bed pleasure.
The following day, as King Arthur was walking in his gardens, the best of knights approached him, and said ‘My king, I must offer you my deepest thanks for you were right. I gave my new bride what women desire most, told her that I would give her all that made me happiest, and she gave me the best bed pleasure. What’s more, she says that she must have me in this way every night, and she even attended to me by nourishing me with her cookery after our passion had ended.’
Arthur smiled, and said ‘I told you that men can have their two deepest desires fulfilled with a little work.’
The knight walked away saying ‘And she’s happy doing it, too.’” The young lover stopped, and the other pilgrims told him that it was a most impressive and funny tale.