Finley Stewart, "Lady Ragnell"

King Arthur was walking through the woods one day with a satchel of arrows upon his back, when soon he came upon a wood he had not seen before. He was just about to leave when he heard a thunder upon thunder, a roar upon roar, and a crash upon crash: there before him, some ten feet tall, with his great black armor, helmet, and sword, stood a great black knight.
The knight looked down upon Arthur and spoke, “You have been hunting in my wood, and for that you must die!”
The knight took his mighty sword, grabbed Arthur by the neck, and was about to take his head, when Arthur spoke, “I am Arthur, King of Camelot. There must be some mistake, for I knew not that it was your wood!”
“All right, old bo, we’ll play ourselves a little riddle,” the great knight said. “If you can answer me this riddle within one year’s time, then you shall keep your head. But if you cannot answer me this riddle within one year’s time, then your head will be mine, Arthur of Camelot. Meet me back here in this wood, within one year’s time with the answer to this: name it, what is it, the one thing that a woman wants most?”
Arthur smiled, for he thought he knew that answer. Most men do: THINK they know the answer. “All right,” he said, “this game we shall play.” And he watched as the great knight mounted his stallion and disappeared through the trees.
Arthur walked all the way back to Camelot, wondering what it was, the one thing that a woman wants most. As he made his way down the path, he met some women, and as he met them, he began to ask what t as, the one thing that a woman wants most. Some said love. Some said children--lots and lots of children. Still others said--sleep!
A year passed, and on the very day he was to meet the great knight, Arthur was walking down a path, where there by a stream, sitting on a log was…a woman? It must be a woman, he thought, but he couldn’t be sure: for he looked at her, and she had a roll of fat, over a roll of fat, over a roll of fat. She had long gray hair that grew from her head--and from her legs! She had one long lip tat reached down to her first layer of fat. Arthur thought to back away, when he turned and she spoke to him, and she said, “Arthur! Don’t go away. I know what it is that you want. You want to know what it is, the one thing a woman wants most--and Arthur, only I have the answer! If you will do me my bidding, I will tell you the answer to the secret you seek.”
Arthur could not believe his eyes. The woman wa so ugly he could not witness it all with just one glance: she had scabs and sores all about her body. She was so grotesque that her knees were knobby, and pus ran from them.
“Good woman!” he spoke. “What is your name, and what is it that you seek?”
“My name…is Lady Ragnell. All that I ask in return is that you give me the hand of your most handsome knight, Sir Gawain, in marriage.”
“I am sorry, milady, but this I cannot do. Sir Gawain is his own man, he has his own sovereignty, and I can promise his hand to no woman.”
The woman cocked her had with a knowing glance. “I understand,” she said, “but at least ask him. Ask him if he will but marry me, and then I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you what it is, the one thing a woman wants most!”
Today is the day, Arthur thought. “All right, old woman, we’ll give it a try!”
Arthur made his way back to Camelot, back to Sir Gawain. Arthur told Gawain the whole story of meeting the old woman in the wood, and that if he would but marry her, then Arthur’s own life might be saved.
And Sir Gawain, who was truly a most honorable knight said, “Sire, you are my king, and whaever you would ask, surely, I would do!”
“Hold on, old boy,” said Arthur, “you haven’t seen the old hag yet.”
Arthur led Gawain down the path to where, near a stream, sitting upon a log was…Lady Ragnell. Sir Gawain looked at Lady Ragnell: the scabs and sores, knobby knees and pus! Worse yet, her nose was not a nose, but more like a snout--and there was something hanging from it.
Gawain turned to Arthur and spoke, “Arthur, you are my king, and I shall marry this woman!”
Lady Ragnell pulled Arthur’s ear over, and she whispered in his ear the secret: what it is, the one thing that a woman wants most. Arthur wiped the mucus from his ear, and then he set out to that secret wood; for by now it was time to meet the great black knight.
Once there, he heard a thunder upon thunder, a roar upon roar, and a crash upon crash! Once again, standing before him, some ten feet tall, with great black armor, helmet, and sword was the great black knight. “If you wish to keep that head upon your shoulders, speak now, boy--speak! Name it, what is it, the one thing that a woman wants most?”
Arthur did not want to risk Sir Gawain’s life so quickly to the old hag, so he offered other answers:
“Could it be a husband?”
The great knight sighed!
“Children?” said Arthur.
The knight’s sigh turned to laughter.
“Equal pay for equal work?”
The great knight would take no more. He took his sword, he grabbed Arthur by the neck, and he was about to chop off the king’s head when Arthur turned and said: “Could it be, the one that that a woman wants most…could it be…her own sovereignty--the right to choose, her own free will?
“Curses!” the knight shouted. “Only my sister could have told you!” The great knight mounted his stallion and disappeared through the trees.
Arthur walked back down the path toward Camelot, now knowing what it was, the one thing that a woman wanted most--her own sovereignty, her own free will. As he neared the castle Camelot, he saw throngs of people heading toward the castle. Why would all these people be heading toward the castle? He thought. The wedding! For surely now there must be a wedding, a wedding between Sir Gawain and Lady Ragnell!
As he entered, he saw that the great hall was full and festive. There was meat, there was fruit, there was drink. But no one ate, no one save Lady Ragnell. For she would pull open her li down to the first layer of fat, pick up a side of beef, stick it in, and pull it out all bones again!
The time for the great wedding came. There were scores of people on both sides of the hall. As Sir Gawain and Lady Ragnell made their way down the aisle, the women, they cried. Some of the men cried. But soon the two said their vows and they were married!
Sir Gawain took Lady Ragnell’s hand and whisked her high up the stairs to the castle tower. She looked at him with her one good eye and said, “Sir Gawain, could you do me one last request?”
“You are my wife,” he said, “and surely whatever you would ask, I would do.” Sir Gawain was truly a most honorable knight.
“Could you, but just, give me…a kiss?”
She was his wife, and he was an honorable knight. He walked on over, bent down, and gave Lady Ragnell just…a kiss.
A kiss! He thought to himself as he covered his face from the sight of hers. But when he brought his hands down again, there standing before him was not that old hag but a beautiful, golden-haired woman!
“Are you…”he asked
“Yes!” she answered. “I am Lady Ragnell. My wicked brother placed a curse upon me for some menial task that I refused to perform. But now, Gawain, now that curse is broken. And now, Gawain, we shall be together. And now, Gawain, you have a choice. For you may choose me to be a beautiful woman by day and an old hag by night. Or an old hag by day and a beautiful woman by night! The choice is yours, Sir Gawain, and only you shall make it.”
Sir Gawain thought for a very long time. But soon a smile rose to his face, and his hands rose with it. “I have it, milady! This choice, this choice that you so boldly speak of! It is not mine to make--but yours!”
She threw her arms around him and said, “Oh Gawain, you’ve done it! You’ve broken the curse altogether. And now I shall be beautiful by both day and night. For now I have what no man can give me--my own sovereignty, my own free will!”