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Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales
The Wife of Bath's Tale
(adapted by Marek Vít, read by Laurie Bram)
A long, long time ago, in the times of King Arthur, there was a young knight. He did a very bad thing and the King got very angry.
“The knight must die!” he cried.
But the Queen said, “Please, don't take his life, my Lord.”
And because King Arthur loved her, he agreed.
The Queen told the knight, “You will live if you can answer one question: What do women want most? Go and return in a year. If you come back without the answer, you will die.”
The knight was very unhappy. He travelled around the whole country and asked the people he met: “What do women want most?” But everybody gave him a different answer.
“They want to be rich,” one man said.
“They want beautiful clothes,” said another.
“They want men to tell them how beautiful they are.”
“My mother wants a baby,” a child said.
The knight was very sad. “I will never find the answer,” he thought. “I'm going to die.”
The year was over and he had to go back and meet the Queen. When he was riding through a large forest, he saw twenty-four beautiful women. They were dancing and singing. “I will ask these ladies,” he thought. “Perhaps they will know the answer.” But as he came near, they disappeared. He could only see an old woman sitting in the grass. She was very ugly.
She stood up. “Sir knight, what are you looking for? Maybe I can help you. We old people know a lot of things!”
The knight answered, “Old lady, I will die today if I don't find the answer to the Queen's question. What do women want most? Tell me and I will pay you well.”
“I will tell you the answer,” she said, “if you promise to do what I ask.”
“I promise,” the knight said.
“Then you will live,” she said and whispered something in his ear. Then she smiled. “That is the correct answer. Even the Queen will agree.”
Then the knight returned to the Queen's castle. She was waiting for him with all her ladies and many other women. “I have the answer,” the knight said.
“Listen to the knight,” the Queen said.
“Most of all, women want to have power over their husbands,” he said.
All the women agreed with him. They smiled and shouted, “That is true, it is the right answer!”
“You may live,” the Queen said and smiled.
But suddenly the old woman from the forest came to the front. “Dear Queen,” she said. “I gave the knight the right answer. He promised to do what I ask him. So I ask him now: Sir knight, marry me. I saved your life and now I want you to be my husband.”
The knight was very unhappy. “I can't!” he cried. “Please, ask me anything else, I can give you gold!”
“I don't want your gold,” she replied. “I want to be your wife, I want you to love me.”
“I could never love you!” the knight answered.
But he had to marry the woman, because he had promised. It was a sad wedding, nobody danced or sang.
That night he was lying in bed with her. She looked at him and smiled. “What's wrong my dear husband? I am your wife. I have never done anything wrong to you. Why are you like that on our first night together?”
“You are very old and ugly and poor, how can I love you?” he said.
“If I am poor, it is not bad,” she said. "Jesus himself chose a poor life. It is good to be poor. I am ugly, but real beauty is not what you can see, real beauty is the beauty of the heart. I am old, but I know what men like. I will make you happy.
“You can choose,” she continued. “I can be old and ugly and I will be yours forever, until you die. Or I can be young and beautiful, but other men will come to your house when you are away. Decide now. Which do you want?”
The knight thought about it and then said, “My love, my wife, choose yourself. You know which is best for both of us. Do which will make you happy, and then I will be happy, too.”
“So kiss me,” she said.
And when he looked at her, she was no longer old and ugly. She was young and very beautiful, the most beautiful woman in the world. The knight was very surprised and gave her a thousand kisses. And they had a very happy life.
Důležitá slovíčka z této povídky se můžete naučit zde:
- Okruhy slovíček: Wife of Bath's Tale
Ilustrace: Warwick Goble, 1912