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Modern Text

And so bifel it, that this king Arthour
Hadde in his hous a lusty bacheler,
That on a day cam rydinge fro river;
And happed that, allone as she was born,
30He saugh a mayde walkinge him biforn,
Of whiche mayde anon, maugree hir heed,
By verray force he rafte hir maydenheed;
For which oppressioun was swich clamour
And swich pursute unto the king Arthour,
That dampned was this knight for to be deed
By cours of lawe, and sholde han lost his heed
Paraventure, swich was the statut tho;
But that the quene and othere ladies mo
So longe preyeden the king of grace,
40Til he his lyf him graunted in the place,
And yaf him to the quene al at hir wille,
To chese, whether she wolde him save or spille.
Well anyway, back in this time, one of King Arthur’s young knights was riding through the forest one day. Pretty soon he came upon a young woman walking along the road, and he wanted her so badly that he violently raped her. The people were so angry that they went to King Arthur, who sentenced the knight to death—that was the punishment for rape back then, you know. This knight would have been beheaded for his crime were it not for the queen and other noblewomen who begged Arthur over and over again to have mercy on the knight. They pressured Arthur so much that he finally gave in, granted the knight clemency, and put his fate in the hands of the queen to do whatever she wanted with him.
The quene thanketh the king with al hir might,
And after this thus spak she to the knight,
Whan that she saugh hir tyme, upon a day:
‘Thou standest yet,’ quod she, ‘in swich array,
That of thy lyf yet hastow no suretee.
I grante thee lyf, if thou canst tellen me
What thing is it that wommen most desyren?
50Be war, and keep thy nekke-boon from yren.
And if thou canst nat tellen it anon,
Yet wol I yeve thee leve for to gon
A twelf-month and a day, to seche and lere
An answere suffisant in this matere.
And suretee wol I han, er that thou pace,
Thy body for to yelden in this place.’
The queen thanked Arthur from the bottom of her heart, then turned to the knight and said, “Now don’t think this means you’re not going to die. You’re not in the clear just yet. I’ll let you live if you can tell me what women want more than anything else in the world. Be careful, though, because your answer will determine whether you live or die. If you don’t already know the answer, then you may go out and look for it and return in exactly a year and a day from now, which should be enough time to find the answer. You have to promise me, however, that you’ll come back and turn yourself in on that day.”