Once upon a time...
...in a faraway kingdom, there lived a handsome prince. He was strong, skilled in the arts of war and heir to his father's vast and wealthy kingdom.
One day, when the Prince was out riding, he glimpsed a woman gathering firewood. Though she was dressed simply and wore not a single jewel on her body, she caught his eye because her features were sharp and clear, her eyes large and dark and her hair think and glossy. Never had the Prince seen such a beautiful woman. He could scarcely contain himself.
'Beautiful lady!' He called out, 'I do not know your name, but you have stolen my heart. Come to the palace with me and become my wife. '
The woman was started at seeing the prince. 'O great Prince,' she said kneeling, 'I am flattered by your affections, but I do not wish to marry you.'
Now it was the Prince's turn to be surprised. 'Why? You could be the princess of the kingdom, and in time, the queen. You will have ornaments and silks beyond count, and servants to tend to your every comfort. Your sons will be kings.'
The woman smiled. 'I thank you for your offer, majesty. But I do not wish to marry you.'
Unsure of what to do, the Prince consulted his best friend over a game of dice.
'lt is not so easy to woo a woman, my Prince!' laughed the friend. 'How can she know you are serious in your proclamations of love? You must be persistant. Ride to the place where you saw her and ask her everyday for a week, to prove the truth of your love.'
The Prince agreed. Six times he asked her. Seven times he asked her, and seven times she declined.
'What is wrong now?' The Prince asked his friend. 'I have crossed many miles to see her gathering firewood, and even helped her carry it to her modest dwelling. Still she had refused me.'
'Ah, but there is much more to be proved Prince.' said his friend, knowingly, 'You have proved your love, but only a foolish woman is swayed by love alone. Tomorrow, shower her with gifts to prove your generosity and wealth.'
The Prince agreed, and rode to her house with a chest of gold and jewels. 'Take these,' he said, 'As a token of my love. You shall have much more when you marry me!'
The woman flushed. 'This is generous of you, your majesty.' she said. 'But I cannot accept your gifts, because I will not accept your offer of marriage.'
So the Prince rode back with his chest of gold, dissapointed. He went back to his friend, who grew thoughful.
'This woman seems more cautious than most. You have assured her that you will love and provide for her, but will you defend her? She wants you to prove that you are a brave and skilled warrior.'
'How should I do that?' asked the Prince.
'Give it a few days. An opportunity may present itself.'
So the Prince waited, and as it happened, an opportunity arose. He saw the woman on the ground, trembling beside her bundle of firewood, with a tiger snarling above her. Tears were running down her cheeks as she whispered in fear.
Without a second thought, he rushed forward to defence his beloved. The tiger leapt towards him, but drew his sword and killed it with a slash.
The woman knelt at his feet and thanked him profusely, still crying. The Prince beamed with pride at having finally impressed his beloved. He helped to her feet and wiped her tears, and said carefully: 'I have proven myself to be true and generous and wealthy and brave. Surely you will find my worthy of your heart now, dearest?'
The woman blinked and stepped back.
'Your majesty!' she exclaimed. 'I never considered you lacking of these qualities. I simply never wished to marry you, no more than I do now.'
This was too much for the prince. 'Ungreatful wench! I have risked my life for yours, and even now you continue to refuse me!'
The woman grew exasperated. 'I am duely greatful to tour for saving me. I just fell at your feet and thanked you. But I won't marry you out of gratitude.'
'Why are you so stubborn? Are you already married?'
'In love with someone else?'
'Promised to some other man? Taken a vow to never marry? My royal word can free you of these obligations to lesser men.'
'And who,' said the woman, 'Will free me of you?'
The Prince's face fell. The woman's eyes were full of anger. 'First you follow me around for a whole week, against my will. Then you try to buy me with gifts, and now you try to guilt me into marrying you. Next, you'll threaten to have me killed. My answer remains the same: I don't want to marry you.'
'But I have so much to offer you.' the Prince protested, 'Wealth and comfort and protection and love. Surely you want a man who can give you those. And who can give more of them than I?'
'How can you be sure of what I want? Have you asked me?'
The Prince paused. 'Tell me.' He said, 'What do you want?'
'I want a simple and modest lifestyle. I want to tend my parents' farm for as long as I can. I want to be honest and work hard. I want to marry a man who values my opinions, and treats me as his equal.'
She gave the prince a meaningful look. He hung his head in shame.
'I understand.' he said, and apologied profusely for his mistakes. He offered her any number of gifts as atonement, but she refused.
'I don't need your gifts. Instead, go teach the people of your kingdoms the lessons they learnt today. They, too, must learn to respect one another and their choices.'
The Prince agreed, and returned to his kingdom a changed man.