Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful noble lady whose name was Thione. She was loved and cherished by all of her people, and her wisdom was prized for miles around. Her husband also was a brave and noble man, and loved by his people just as much as his wife. His name was Lord Paul, and he was lord over many of the king’s provinces.
And so when the king invited him to a feast to celebrate his own marriage, Lord Paul had to attend, and his wife, Lady Thione, stayed to govern the castle during his absence.
The journey was hard, but after weeks of travel, Lord Paul and his retinue entered the king’s palace. The feast was indeed as great as the king had said in his letter of invitation, and the splendor and aroma of the food made even the pickiest of the courtiers’ mouths water.
There was fruit in abundance, meat stews, beef, pork, and chicken, a great variety of cheeses and breads, and wine that came specifically from the king’s cellars in honor of his bride.
Yet happy as he was, Lord Paul also felt lonely for his fair Lady Thione, for he felt that the beauty of the new queen did not rival her, and soon this loneliness shown forth not only in his heart, but in his face, and the king, being keen of eye, noticed, and being slightly drunk from the overabundance of wine, was offended and inquired of his lord’s woe.
“How can I be happy, o my king,” Lord Paul answered, “when I long for my own wife whose wisdom is famed in the provinces and whose beauty goes unrivaled?” Then the king was furious for he felt that his wife’s beauty would surely surpass any who dared to boast in such a way. Therefore, he, in anger, had Lord Paul sent to the dungeons, until “the woman of whom he boasted should prove her wisdom to be greater than his queen’s.”
So he sent his decree to Lady Thione, convinced that nothing could rescue Lord Paul from his sentence.
* * *
Yet, as always, Lady Thione thought wisely and devoted all of her time to thinking of a way to rescue her husband on the king’s terms. Many days and nights she stayed in her tower, thinking and praying, till on the morning of the third day she emerged with a scheme. Quickly she commanded that a great and beautiful bow, inlaid with gold and silver, be made, along with a quiver of arrows of equal workmanship.
Then she called to the blacksmiths for gauntlets and leggings of mail to be made, along with an iron helmet. Then she and her maids set to work on the finest embroidered shirt and tunic that could be made out of fine silk and velvet, stitching in many patterns, making it as beautiful an attire as possible. For one entire month they worked, none knowing what she was scheming.
Finally, on the first day of spring, Lady Thione and her maids finished the strange-looking garment.
She arrayed herself with the heavily embroidered shirt and tunic, tying them in place with a green silk sash into which she thrust two foreign knives. Then she did up her hair and put on her helmet, along with the chain-mail leggings and gauntlets, and a few articles of gold, Finally slinging on her bow and quiver.
In that strange array, she looked like a young formidable prince from a far land, and her presence struck awe into her servants’ hearts. So she mounted her black mare and rode to the king’s palace.
* * *
The king could make nothing of the lordly stranger, except that he must be a great prince from a faraway land. His display of wealth was either the rashness of a fool, or he did not fear that anything would be stolen. The king decided upon the latter when he recognized the youth’s quiet, cold, yet courteous attitude.
So he politely invited the travel-stained lordling into his hall, and asked him why he had come. The disguised Thione replied using a strange accent, “I have journeyed for many miles, as it is the custom of my country to learn of those who live beyond our great borders.”
The king was nonplussed. But his wife was a little more suspicious and, whispering to the king, said, “O my king, I would be wary of that one, for something in me says that that is no man, but a woman who lies beneath that barbarian apparel.”
The king looked at the waiting prince and softly replied, “Perhaps, Queen, but I feel inclined to test this noble stranger before making such a judgment. If it would ease your heart, then I shall have you devise what three tests should be given him.”
To this the queen agreed, and the king turned again to the foreign prince. “In honor of your stay, we shall hold a feast, and events appropriate shall be named, of which I hope you will partake.” The strange nobleman nodded and the king continued. “Should you win all three of these events, I will grant one wish to you.” The prince bowed, and the king dismissed him to be guided to his quarters.
The feast was held the next day, and the food was indeed great to behold. But the prince did not eat with his hands but withdrew from his sash a pair of wooden sticks that were pointed on one end and dull on the other. Positioning them like claws in his hand, he ate his meal in that fashion, much to the surprise of the court.
All doubt that had been in the king’s mind until then was gone in that instant. The prince not only looked different, he acted different!
The first event was an archery competition among the younger nobles. When Thione’s turn came, he walked calmly to the line and gazed at the target two hundred yards away. Yet to the surprise of the courtiers he shook his head, and cutting himself a small branch, he wound it into a wreath barely the size of his palm. Espying a page, he commanded the boy to nail the wreath to the center of the target. The boy obeyed, and Thione carefully chose an arrow and aimed but for a moment before shooting. The king could not believe his eyes, for there was the arrow, right in the center of the wreath.
Turning to his wife, the queen, he asked, “Do you yet doubt? He is the best that I have ever seen!” Yet the queen was not convinced, and so it came time for the second event. It was a chess match, Thione against the king.
It was a long game that lasted till midday. Finally, using strategies that the king had never seen before, the prince won the game. It was then decided that the third event would be held the next day. So the king went to bed more mystified than ever.
The next day all woke early for the final test. Sir Mark, the strongest man, was selected to challenge the foreign nobleman in a wrestling match.
The boundaries were marked and Thione and Sir Mark faced each other, listening for the command from the king to begin. The sharp call cracked through the air. Mark lunged for the strangely clad figure. Yet every time he lunged toward the stranger, the prince seemed to disappear and would turn up in the least expected places, doling out small kicks and slaps while never receiving a blow himself. Sir Mark grew angrier and soon his blows were going wide.
That was when the stings became blows and Sir Mark admitted defeat.
Amazed, the king congratulated Thione upon his three victories, saying, “Now you have proven your skill, wisdom, and strength, therefore one wish I shall grant you. Reveal your desire.”
The stranger looked at him and to his amazement drew off his helmet, and though once tied back, Lady Thione’s hair cascaded down in golden showers and she curtsied. Then she said, “I am Lord Paul’s wife. You have sworn to me one wish. That wish is that you release my husband, for in his boastings he never thought to slander your queen.”
Then the king laughed, and its merry sound echoed throughout the hall, and he commanded his guards to release Lord Paul, for his folly had been amended.
Then was a great feast held, and Lady Thione met her bewildered husband, and he was glad, and his joy was full and without loneliness. And so they lived happily ever after.