Riddles Wisely Expounded

There was once a widow who had three daughters and each girl was as pretty as her two sisters. They could wash and cook; they could stitch and sew. They could bake a perfect loaf of bread – crisp and golden on the outside, soft, and warm on the inside. They could run a household as well as anybody else – if not better. They could spin and weave, sing and dance – they were the talk and wonder of the district.

Nearby, there lived another widow with her only son, a young knight. She was anxious for her son because she was getting on in years. So, one day, she took her son to one side.

“Son,” she said, “I have not much time left in this world. Who will look after you when I am gone?”

The young knight shrugged and shuffled his feet, uncomfortably – he really didn’t like talking about things like this.

“Go out and find yourself a wife,” said his mother. “But not just any old wife. Find yourself someone who can run the household properly, like me.”

And so, somewhat reluctantly, the young knight set out to travel across his vast estates and the wider world, in search of a spouse. At last, after many weeks of fruitless searching, travel stained and weary, the knight arrived at our widow’s house.

Her daughters answered the door in a state of great excitement – news of his quest had preceded him – and asked him in. They brought him a freshly baked loaf of bread and a jug of wine to refresh himself. They washed and repaired his, travel worn, clothing and, that night, they led him to a soft, warm bed.

By the time the knight had left the house, three days later, he had fallen in love with … all three girls and all three girls had fallen in love with him. But while the youngest had fallen in love with his soft voice, his courteous gentle manners and his kindly nature, her older sisters were in love with something else. They were dazzled by the wealth and power they would gain from such a match. They really couldn’t see beyond the fine clothes and the jewels.

The young knight returned to his mother with his head in a whirl. His mind was full of laughing eyes, dimpled cheeks, and winsome smiles. His mouth watered as he thought about the cooking and baking, he had sampled and his lips still tingled with the sweet, farewell, kisses they had given him.

“Well,” asked his mother, “have you found someone?”

“Er … yes.”

“What do you mean, er … yes?”

“It’s complicated.”

“Explain.”

“Well you see, there’s three sisters, all beautiful and all very accomplished at running a household. I don’t know which one I love the most and should marry.”

“Hmm,” said his mother, “let me think.”

Next day the knight’s mother said, “I’d like to see these paragons of virtue for myself. Write to them and invite them and their mother here.”

Well, the widow and her daughters came to the knight’s house and at the end of the first day he asked his mother.

“Well, what do you think of them?”

“You’re right,” she replied, “they are equally beautiful. This is going to take some thought.”

Next morning, the knight’s mother was sewing in the solar with the eldest sister. As their needles flashed and glided through the material trailing their coloured threads, she asked the girl.

“Do you like riddles, my dear?”

“They pass the time.”

“Well, let us while away the time with one, what do you make of this?

Oh, what is sharper than a thorn, and what is louder than a horn?

What is greener than the grass, and what is smoother than crystal glass?

What is whiter than the milk, and what is softer than fine silk?”

“Oh, that’s easy,” replied the girl.

“A needle is sharper than a thorn, and thunder is louder than a horn.

An emerald’s greener than the grass, and silk is smoother than crystal glass.

Snow is whiter than the milk, and down is softer than fine silk.”

“Very good,” replied the mother.

Next day, the knight’s mother was spinning with the middle sister. As their spindles twirled and spun, she said.

“Tell me, my dear, do you like riddles?”

“Not really?” replied the girl.

“Well answer me this one, dear, and indulge an old lady.

Oh, what is sharper than a thorn, and what is louder than a horn?

What is greener than the grass, and what is smoother than crystal glass?

What is whiter than the milk, and what is softer than fine silk?”

“Easy,” replied the girl. “A needle, thunder, an emerald, silk, snow and down,” not even trying to put them into a rhyme.

“Interesting,” replied the old lady.

Next day, she was kneading dough in kitchen with the youngest sister.

“Tell me, do you like riddles?” she asked.

“Oh yes, I love them.”

“Excellent. See what you make of this.

Oh, what is sharper than a thorn, and what is louder than a horn?

What is greener than the grass, and what is smoother than crystal glass?

What is whiter than the milk, and what is softer than fine silk?”

“Oooh … let me think,” replied the girl. A little while later, when the dough had been left to rise, she brushed the flour from her hands and said.

“I have the answer

Oh, hunger is sharper than a thorn, and rumour is louder than a horn?

Envy is greener than the grass, and flattery smoother than crystal glass?

Innocence whiter than the milk, and love is softer than fine silk?”

“Well done, my dear,” said the old lady, with a smile.

That evening the knight was talking with his mother.

“So, have you decided which sister I should marry?”

“Oh yes. Marry the youngest – she has depth, she sees below the flash and glitter of the surface.”

And so, on the basis that mother knows best, the young knight married the youngest sister. And they both lived long, happy and fulfilled lives.