From the Desk of Her Majesty the Queen
Transcribed hereafter, the Words of Her Majesty Queen Eloise, upon wishing her subjects a Good Yule.
Greetings to you all from Forest Glen – I come to you tonight to wish you a happy Yuletide. Though we may be far apart, let us be as one – those who call Albion close, draw close.
I bring you tonight a story. A story that was well-loved by a friend of mine, Mistress Culpeper. A story that goes back to the time of Arturus Pendragon. A story of a time when the Court had only men as knights. Did you know that Carlisle was once known as the City of Love? It’s true. There was a time when the Court traveled to Carlisle to go hunting and making merry around Yuletide. Arthur and his knights went hunting one day, but Arthur became separated from his knights – he was chasing a stag into a deeper, darker part of the forest. And as he happened upon his way, he saw something stir through the trees, and there he saw a knight in black armour sat upon a black horse. He carried in his arm a lance, and he held it towards Arturus’ heart. He called out to him “Arturus Pendragon, I challenge you for your throne! Come and fight with me and hand over your kingdom!”
Arturus looked to his hip, for Excalibur, but recalled he had left his mighty sword in Winchester. The Knight in Black laughed aloud.
“You are too easy to kill tonight,” he said, “but I will give you a quest – return to this place in three days with the answer to a riddle that I shall set for you. If you can answer the riddle, you shall keep your kingdom. If you cannot, you will die, and your kingdom will be mine.”
Of course Arthur had to accept, and with a weary, heavy heart he returned through the forest to his men and to the court. And along the way, through the streets of Carlisle, he wondered upon the question that the knight had set for him.The question was this, “What is it that women most desire?”
On his way he asked every woman that he could find, “What is it that you most desire?” but each woman gave the King a different answer, or none at all.
Arthur did not know what to do. He was so sad of heart, he realised that as an honourable king he may lose his throne, and his life, and his kingdom. All through his court the ladies gave him different answers – one wanted wealth, one wanted beauty, another wanted a husband, another wanted to be a knight, which caused the men to fall about laughing. The time came for Arthur to return to the forest, and so he went, alone, on his horse. As he grew nearer and nearer to the darker part of the forest he saw a flash of scarlet through the trees. And there, sitting on a tree stump was the loathliest, ugliest woman he had ever seen. She had barely a hair upon her head, her teeth were like the teeth of a horse, she drooled, her hands were like knuckles on the branch of a tree, she was covered in sores, her back it was hunched, her body was bloated. He had never seen such a loathly lady before. “Draw close, my lord” she said “ for I know that you are Arturus Pendragon”
He dismounted his horse and walked towards the lady. “What is it that you wish for, my lady?” he said.“I know what is that you need to know,” she answered him “I know that you have been asked a question by a knight in black. I will give you the answer to that question, but you must give me one wish!”“It is agreed, madam,” he said, and she beckoned him closer, and whispered into his ear. With joy, he sprang back towards his horse, but she grasped his cloak. “Oh no no no,” she said “my dear lord Arturus, you must grant me my wish!”
“Of course my lady, whatever it is that you wish for!”
And she said “My wish is this – that you will allow me to marry your bravest knight!”
Arthur was dumbfounded – how could he force any of his knights to marry this woman? But because the hour was late, he realised he must rush. “Yes yes! You will have your wish!”
And he was gone.
Deeper into the forest he went and there he saw the knight in black upon his black steed, and he said to him “I have your answer.”
The black knight laughed “HA! What is your answer? You do not have it, and your kingdom shall be mine!”
Arthur called out, “I know the answer to your riddle, and it is this – what women most desire is to have the freedom to choose.”
With a roar of anger the knight in black threw his arms into the air, he turned his steed, and he rode away, never to be seen again. There was much joy in Arturus’ heart as he rode back through the forest. However, he knew that he would have to keep his court to the loathly lady. He returned to court, where he had to decide – who was the bravest of his knights?
They talked back and forth, one knight after another attempted to prove that he was not brave, for they did not wish to marry the loathly lady. But in the end, one knight stepped forward – Sir Gawain. He said, “My lord, let me be chosen. I will marry this lady, so that your honour will not be broken.”
Arthur saw that, indeed, this was his bravest knight. They agreed that the wedding would take place the following morning.
And so they went forth to collect the loathly lady. They put jewels on her hands, and flowers in her hair, but no matter how beautiful the silks upon her, she was still the most loathly of ladies. People gasped as she walked into the Great Hall, men thanked their ancestor that Gawain had stood forward. With a heavy heart Sir Gawain stood and took his vows. That night, there was no dancing. No one felt like eating at the feast, and eventually it was time to go to bed. Gawain led his wife into his chamber, and fell into his chair in front of the fire with a wail. Then he heard a sweet voice behind him saying “My husband, why do you not come to bed?”
He looked around, and there he saw a woman of the most exquisite beauty. “Who are you?” he said“I am your wife,” she answered “I have been cursed. My name is Katherine – you may call me Kate. It is your choice whether you lift this curse from me. By night I am the beautiful woman before you, but by day I am the loathly lady. But it is you who must choose whether I become beautiful by day, or remain beautiful by night.”
Gawain put his hands to his face – how could he possibly decide? He thought, if I force this lady to be loathly during the day, the court will laugh at her. If I force her to be loathly at night she will hide herself from me – what am I to do?
Gawain could not find the answer, and so he turned to Kate and said “It is not for me to choose. This must be your choice.”
With delight she laughed, “That is the right answer,” she said “you have given me what women most desire – their own choice.”
The next morning, they were late to rise. Arturus was worried, he thought perhaps something had gone happened, that something had gone wrong. As it turned out, they had been ‘learning sword play’.
When Kate and Gawain eventually walked into the great hall it was with Kate carrying a sword, declaring that she had ‘learnt how to use Gawain’s weapon’.
That is the end of that story, but it should be known that Kate went on to fight alongside Gawain in the battles he faced at Arthur’s side, and she was the first of Arthur’s knights who was a lady. Take of that story what you will. Thank you Lazarus. [The Arch-High Incantor handed Her Majesty a glass of wine at this point]
And so, I hope for each of you that Yuletide is a time of blessing. The last time that I met many of you we were at Ditchit, that jewel of a village. There we stood together, facing our nightmares. The creature is now dead – her name will not be written in the history books. But we did lose some; Willful, and Mistress Culpeper. Please raise a drink to them both. I vow that I will make sure that Mistress Culpeper’s daughter, Imelda, will be looked after.
We all share her loss. But draw together, tell your stories, and be blessed this Yuletide – Albion Forever!