A Gift for the Princess
When Princess Katherine Rose came of age, young men of noble birth from kingdoms near and far hoped to win her hand. Unlike most monarchs of his day, King Rufus, Katherine Rose's father, had no wish to have his only child enter into a loveless, politically motivated marriage. He therefore left the choice of husband up to the princess herself.
Katherine Rose was not impressed by the dashing knights and wealthy princes who sought her hand. The former's talk of crusading, jousting and gaming bored her, and the latter's discussion of politics, royal intrigue and war frightened her.
Whenever possible, she fled to the sanctuary of the royal library.
"I've read every book in here," she mumbled as she scanned the shelves, lovingly running her hand over the cherished volumes.
"If only I could select one of you as a husband," she laughed. "I have yet to meet a man--except, of course, for my dear father--who is even half as interesting as one of my books."
Later than night, the princess had a brilliant idea. She would not harken to the call of foolish romance; she would instead choose a husband who shared her love of books and knowledge.
The following day, Katherine Rose appeared in the throne room and made an official announcement. "I will marry the man who, in one year's time, can offer me a collection of books unrivaled by my father's royal library."
The assembled noblemen protested. Even King Rufus was concerned about his daughter's decision. "How can you possibly marry a man on the basis of his book collection?"
"It is not the books themselves I care about, but the man who collects them. A man with an impressive personal library is bound to be wise and refined."
The king was not so certain.
* * *
Prince Harold the Fair, son of one of the richest and most powerful rulers in all of Europe, had his heart set on winning the hand of the beautiful princess. So he went to every monastery in his father's realm and commissioned the monks to create a wide variety of books. These scribes spent long hours painstakingly copying volumes of text onto the finest parchment available with quills and inks made from hand-ground pigments. When the words were completed, other monks, skilled in art, embellished the pages with illustrations and gilded designs in the margins. These manuscripts were then bound and their covers decorated with fine jewels and ivory.
The monks worked feverishly for more than eleven months. Then all the finished books were collected and transported to King Rufus' palace.
One year to the day from Katherine Rose's proclamation, a dozen hopeful bridegrooms gathered in King Rufus' throne room. One by one, they presented their books--or, in some cases, an inventory of the books--to the princess.
None was as grand as the collection assembled by Prince Harold the Fair.
"These are indeed the richest books I've ever seen," Katherine Rose admitted. "The jewels in their covers alone are worth a small fortune."
Prince Harold beamed with pride and self-satisfaction.
But before the princess announced her choice, a poor, young, shabbily dressed knight entered the throne room and presented himself to Katherine Rose.
"Your majesty," he humbly exclaimed, bowing deeply. "I have here my books."
The few well-worn volumes he had were as tattered as his attire.
"They are not nearly as grand as those of your suitors," he continued. "There are no fine gilded pages and no jeweled covers, but the writings contained in these books are themselves a work of art. I have traveled many miles in the service of your father and have gone from one kingdom to another to maintain the peace of his realm. Oft times my only companions, my dearest friends, were these books."
"Why do you present them to the princess?" Harold laughed cruelly. "Do you hope to win her hand with those pathetic old relics?"
"No, great prince," the knight replied sadly. "I could never compete with such men as you. I come here only to give the books to the princess as a token of my devotion to her and her father."
He then turned to Katherine Rose. "I know they are not much, your highness, but they are what I treasure most in life. I hope they bring you some of the happiness they brought me."
The princess was deeply touched--not by the books themselves but by the unselfish gesture of the knight. "If you give your books to me, what will you read on your journeys?"
"I have read them so often that I have committed them to memory."
The princess then turned to Prince Harold. "Tell me, my lord," she inquired. "Of all the books you have given me, which is your favorite?"
"They are all equally beautiful," the prince replied.
"You misunderstand me. I want to know which one you most enjoyed reading."
Harold laughed heartily. "Read? I have no time for books. I leave that up to monks and"--he turned toward the young knight--"poor young lads who cannot afford more manly entertainment."
"It is as I thought," she said. "These books were meant to impress me with your wealth."
The princess then turned to the handsome but penniless young knight and extended her hand to him.
"I have made my choice. You, Sir Knight, have won my heart as well as my hand."
Prince Harold was astonished. How could the princess choose an impoverished knight over the son of a wealthy and powerful king?
She must be mad! Yes! That's it! he thought. The poor girl is insane. Her brain is no doubt addled by reading all those books!
"I am sorry, Prince Harold--and all my other suitors--for the trouble you have gone to on my behalf."
Harold, however, was now glad to be rid of her. He did not want a lunatic--no matter how beautiful--for a wife.
"No trouble at all," he said, anxious to take his leave. "Keep the books," he added. "I give them to you as a wedding present."
Princess Katherine Rose married the young knight and became queen after her father died, and she and her husband ruled the kingdom with compassion, kindness and fairness for nearly half a century.