Wednesday, 23 May 2001 By MAX GROSS
GRISELDA OF THE MOORS(or, What Women Really Want, with acknowledgements & apologies to Pervis K.Z.) Young King Arthur was ambushed and imprisoned by fat Lord Hagiss the Huge, monarch of a neighbouring kingdom. Lord Hagiss had planned to execute him as a potential rival, but was moved by Arthur's youth. So he offered him freedom, on the condition that Arthur answer one rather difficult question. Arthur would be given a year's grace, but if, after a year, he could not provide a satisfactory response, he would indeed be put to death.Lord Hagiss's question was this: What do women really want?   Since prehistoric times, this question had already perplexed generations of even the most experienced and able men. To young Arthur, it seemed an impossible query.Well, a year is a year, and certainly better than death. Arthur accepted Hagiss's challenge to have an answer in twelve month's time.Giving a solemn oath to surrender himself in a year, Arthur returned to his own kingdom and began to poll everybody: the nobles, the prostitutes, the priests, the poets, the scholars, and the court jesters.Nobody offered an answer. Arthur suspected that his loyal subjects feared being responsible for his eventual death by providing him with the wrong response.What most people did tell him was to consult the old witch Griselda, who lived in a hovel on the moors and was the most repulsive individual among both men and women in the whole of Ancient Britain. She was also considered wise and canny, and would surely know the answer. The price, however, would be high, since the witch was infamous not only for her ugly appearance but for the exorbitant prices she charged for the benefit of her counsel.The end of the year arrived. Arthur had no alternative but to talk Griselda. He journeyed deep into the desolate, mist-drenched moors to find her waiting for him outside her hovel. Her stench was so great he had to hold his nose.What do women really want?Griselda agreed to answer Arthur's question, assuring him that she alone knew precisely what the answer was.However, young King Arthur must first meet her demand to marry Sir Gawain, the most noble of the Knights of the Round Table. Gawain was also Arthur's dearest friend!Arthur was horrified. Griselda was blindingly revolting. With just a few rotten teeth, she was also hunchbacked, filthy, drooled incessantly, and smelled like open sewage. The old witch was beyond doubt the most repugnant living thing he had ever seen.Shaking his head in despair, Arthur resigned himself to his fate. He refused to ask his best friend to marry this loathsome creature.However, noble Sir Gawain, upon learning of the predicament, hurried to Arthur's side. For the sake of the Kingdom, for the sake of the Round Table, for the sake of his close friendship with royal Arthur, Gawain insisted on marrying Griselda. It was a sacrifice any truly noble knight would gladly endure.Before the entire assembled court, Arthur proclaimed the wedding with tears in his eyes. That night, riding on the back of a monstrous wild boar scarcely as ugly as she, Griselda arrived at the castle to answer the young king's question.As the witch shuffled into the throne room, courtiers and guards alike shrank back at the stench. Ladies fainted and warriors turned pale. Even the great Sir Gawain felt the bile rise in his throat at the sight of her.What do women really want?"What any woman really wants," cackled Griselda, with slime dripping from her nostrils, "is to be in charge of her own life."As soon as the words were spoken, everyone recognised that the witch had revealed a profound truth. Arthur's life would be saved. And so it was.Lord Hagiss the Huge spared Arthur's life and granted him total freedom.Torn between relief and anguish, King Arthur lavished upon noble Sir Gawain and vile Griselda the biggest wedding feast the kingdom had ever seen. Though visibly perturbed, Gawain behaved in a civil, gentle and courteous manner towards his bride. The old witch, however, was appalling.Throughout the gracious speeches, Griselda snorted and spat. During the poetry readings she farted and drooled. And while a choir of children sang a specially written song of praise, she cackled so loudly wine sprayed from her nose. She drank so much she threw up on the maids of honour, and then continued drinking. A madrigal singer had to be carried from the hall in hysterics. Many guests left early, unable to cope with Griselda's disgusting odour, which seemed to increase as the night wore on. Arthur was convinced he had seen maggots wriggling in her greasy, unkempt hair.As the inevitable nuptials approached, brave Gawain - sobre, clean and steadfast - prepared himself for a horrific night.Gawain entered the bedroom. He froze in the doorway. The most exquisitely beautiful woman he had ever seen lay waiting for him!"Fear not, my love, it is indeed I, Griselda. Come to me!"Stunned, Gawain asked how this miraculous transformation had occurred.The beauty replied that since he had been so kind to her when she was a witch, she had decided to use her considerable magical powers to perform this extraordinary change. However, she warned, there was a catch. Naturally.The catch was this: half the time she would be her sickeningly repulsive self, and the other half, she would be a gorgeous young maiden."Dear Gawain," breathed the witch, "how would you prefer me during the day, and how during the night? When hideous? When beautiful? Whichever enchantment you prefer, so it will be. But remember, the condition will be permanent: I will not be able to undo this final magic."Gawain hesitated in the doorway, pulse racing.The possible consequences of his choice ricocheted in Gawain's mind like marbles in a box. During the day, Griselda could be a beautiful, sophisticated woman to present before the royal court, but at night, in the privacy of his chambers, in bed! a vile, disgusting witch. Or should he choose the opposite? Should he ask Griselda to remain a repellent hag during the day but at night transform into a beautiful maiden with whom he could share the most exquisite intimacy?Dear reader, what would you do? Go on: decide!And don't read on about Gawain's decision until you have made up your own mind.??????Give up???????Noble Sir Gawain replied that Griselda should choose for herself.Upon hearing this, Griselda pronounced that she would always remain a beautiful maiden because Gawain had demonstrated his respect for her by allowing her to be in charge of her own life.And what, you may well ask, is the moral of this bullshit story?The moral is that it doesn't really matter if your lady is attractive or ugly as sin because, deep down, she is still a smart and powerful witch. And don't you ever forget it!
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