The Two Gifts
A feminist medieval tale about the choices in using power in relationships.
May you find this story to be a drawbridge into the joyous castle of contentment in all your relationships.
A long time ago, in the early days of England when Arthur and his court ruled at Camelot, there was a kind young man named Jonathan. He was an artist in the service of the court. Jonathan had created fanciful works of art for the court. He was well respected for his creativity.
That year, Jonathan became engaged to Anne of Avenforth. She was a fair maiden who was skilled as an accountant, in service for the queen and the king. Anne lived in a castle in the next county and their impending wedding was announced to the delight of all.
One week before the wedding, Jonathan was walking through the west wing of the castle, intending to see the king. He had recently been commissioned to sculpt a rendering of Queen Guenevere’s summer castle. He wanted King Arthur to inspect his plans. As he passed by a door in the hallway, he heard a sigh from one of the king’s scribes working at his desk. Pausing to look in the door, Jonathan saw Andrew standing by his printing device. He was looking for something in the piles of matter on his desk that might remedy his problem.
Jonathan rarely saw Andrew because of the divergence of their respective responsibilities. He did remember seeing the printing devices the court’s scribes were using. He often marveled at their mechanisms.
“What’s the matter, Master Andrew?” Jonathan said. “You look like you have scribe’s block.”
“Oh hello, Master Jonathan,” Andrew responded with some fatigue in his voice. “I have no patience with these machines. It seems that just when I am about to produce a memorable speech for the king, this contraption seizes up and I cannot print with it. Drat, how I hate machines!”
Jonathan came over to the old scribe’s desk and peered into the wooden and metal printing instrument. With the patience of a physician tending a wound, Jonathan carefully reached into the machine and suddenly murmured “Ah-Ha!” Within a moment, Jonathan had fixed the device.
“You have made my day” responded Andrew with relief. “I will be able to finish the king’s work and have myself a weekend for a change.”
Jonathan started for the door and said over his shoulder, “It was nothing. I have a gift for such things.”
Andrew, an older man with long graying hair and a beard, turned in his chair and said, “Linger a moment, my friend. I understand you are soon to be married. I would like to give you not only a present for your wedding but also one for helping me out of the dungeon of my mechanical ineptitude. Have a seat for a moment.”
Jonathan sat on a nearby chair. He was starting to think that he might miss King Arthur. He was eager to ask about his sculpture. He saw a chart of the stars on the far wall. He remembered hearing that one of the king’s scribes was a sorcerer. He had little interest in sorcerers’ potions and spells. He generally was skeptical of wizards and magicians.
Andrew looked across his desk at Jonathan and continued. “Few people know this,” he said, “but it is within my power to command spells unavailable to ordinary magicians. Under the condition that you tell no one of this conversation, I am offering you two wishes of your choice.
“Most people, when granted their wishes, make the same mistake. They believe paradise to be simply what they don’t already have. So choose your two desires and they shall be yours. You may see me tomorrow to state your requests. But be sure to choose wisely and you will live to cherish your decisions.”
There was something about the evenness of Andrew’s voice and his steady gaze that commanded fear and respect.
Jonathan thanked him, and he awkwardly left the room, promising to return the next day. He walked back down the castle hallway, forgetting his intention to speak with the king about his sculpture project.
“Any two wishes I desire, Hmm!” Jonathan mused. “I suppose I should ask for gold so that Anne and I could afford our own estate. Or perhaps I should ask to become a knight. Then, Anne would be proud of me and my family would be honored.” “I know,” Jonathan said after some pause, “I should ask for the ability to create the finest sculpture in Camelot so that there would be none like it in the entire kingdom.”
For the rest of the evening and throughout the night, Jonathan struggled with his decision. It even occurred to him to ask for ten wishes of equal worth so that he could have anything he wanted. Jonathan soon concluded, however, that requesting more wishes would be greedy. He cast the idea aside. But were these things merely what he didn’t now possess — as the sorcerer had suggested?
The next day Jonathan sat before Andrew and had come no further in his decision making than he was the day before. But the words of the sorcerer came to him again: “Choose wisely …” and Jonathan realized what he wanted.
Andrew said to him: “What is it that you wish for your first gift, my friend?”
Jonathan looked pensive. He responded, “I have thought of half the treasures in the kingdom. Yet I have already been given skills enabling me to comfortably earn a living. As I am fortunate enough to marry Anne, I expect I’ll be the happiest man in the kingdom.” Then fully looking at the aging scribe, Jonathan continued: “What I would like, Sir Andrew, is something you advised me to use: wisdom. I would like wisdom. ”
Andrew leaned back in his chair with a dawning look of triumph and glee on his face. “Fantastic!” he called out, never taking his eyes off Jonathan.
The sorcerer stood up, putting his arms on Jonathan’s shoulders, saying: “In all of my years of magic, I have never had the privilege of granting a better gift.” Andrew swept his hand majestically in the air before Jonathan and said, “Be it as you have so desired!”
For a moment, Jonathan felt a tingling sensation throughout his entire body. He had an inner sense that something powerful and life-changing had taken place.
“And what is your second request?” Andrew asked as he sat back down in his chair.
Jonathan thought for a moment and then he said: “I am about to join my life with my love, Anne. If a gift has been granted for me, it seems only fitting to request a gift for her.”
“And what is the gift you request for your Anne?” Andrew said with intense curiosity.
Jonathan paused again and started to say something but stopped himself. “I suppose wealth or plenty of healthy children or even nobility in the court would be welcomed. But there is something within me that says she would know best what she wants. I think I’ll ask her what she desires.”
Andrew responded, leaning back in his chair, “Your wisdom is already becoming you. Seek her pleasure and return to me tomorrow with your answer.”
Soon Jonathan left, bowing to thank the sorcerer for his first gift.
On his way to the village of Avenforth, Jonathan wondered what Anne would request. “Perhaps she will want to marry someone else — a nobleman or one of the kings champions?” he thought to himself. “Or perhaps she will want wealth and finally scorn me for not asking for it in the first place?” And the more Jonathan wondered what Anne would request, the more he began to worry that she might demand something that would be difficult to acquire, even for the sorcerer scribe.
Jonathan spent the day with Anne but was afraid to ask her what she wanted most. He feared accidentally telling her a sorcerer had granted him requests. This, he knew, would violate the agreement to tell no one of the magic. So as the day wore on, they talked about everything else but what Jonathan had on his mind.
That evening, Jonathan and Anne sat beside a window overlooking a courtyard below. They saw children playing but there was a small disturbance.
One of the boys below was pretending to be a knight and was holding a wooden sword. He was commanding one of the girls to return to his castle to fix him a feast to honor him for slaying a mighty dragon.
The girl said, “I want to go out and kill the other dragon. Then we can both feast.”
But the boy quickly responded, “I am the king of the castle. It is I who gives the orders.”
Immediately the children began arguing. Fortunately, they were soon called in by their parents for dinner and they were gone.
Anne said with a sigh, “It is too bad that adults are much like children.”
Jonathan was not paying much attention. He was lost in his thoughts about how he should ask his question. He grunted and responded, “You’re right, my dear.” But suddenly he took heart and asked: “Anne, my love, if you were granted one wish by a sorcerer, what would be your request?”
“Why to be with you, my love” Anne said as she looked into his eyes with affection.
“No, … well, yes, you already have that, … but besides that, ... what would please you, above all things? What would be your greatest desire?” Jonathan persisted.
Anne sat pensively for a while as she looked out on the evening sunset. She thought about her good fortune. Jonathan was a kind and gentle man. Anne felt that her own life had been enriched by her friends and her activities. She realized that they were living in good times and were blessed with more than she could have imagined.
As had Jonathan, Anne considered wealth. She also thought of becoming a lady of the court. But then she remembered the children. She remembered the adults. And with a playful but confident look on her face, she turned to Jonathan with her answer and said, “I would like to be treated as your equal, so that if one eye cries, so will the other.”
Jonathan was amazed at the request. He pondered it for some time. If granted, it would mean a life different for them than that of their friends and those in court. And while their conversation turned to other matters that evening, Jonathan continued to reflect on Anne’s wish.
The following morning, Jonathan went to the scribe’s office. He had not slept a wink during the night. He was afraid that if this unusual wish were granted, his life would be upset. There would be no order to their relationship. How would things be decided? Would not everything be thrown into complete chaos?
It crossed Jonathan’s mind that he could tell the sorcerer that Anne had asked for gold. That way, they would be rich, and she would never know she could have had something else.
When Jonathan was sitting before the sorcerer, he was about to request gold, but he suddenly felt compelled to change his course. He said to Andrew, “Anne would like most of all, that she be treated as my equal.”
Andrew’s eyes opened wider and a look of great interest spread across his face. He asked, with what sounded like amusement in his voice, “And how do you feel about that wish Master Jonathan?”
Jonathan said, “Well, I suppose that just as I had my wish, she certainly is entitled to her own. And it seems fair. It’s not as if she is asking for more power than mine. But tradition has it, . . .” Jonathan paused, “that I am to be in charge; to make the decisions and to have the final say. Isn’t that what being a man is about?”
“Before I answer that question, you must state your second wish,” said the scribe. “You must decide now what you want for your second gift.”
Jonathan sat in silence for a moment and said: “Then I wish Anne will be treated as my equal, for I love her with all my heart, although I fail to understand the practicality of her wish.”
Andrew slowly stood up and waved his hand, as he had before, and the wish was granted.
“Now tell me the answer to my question, if you will, sir. How is it that we will be able to go about making decisions for our lives?”
The old sorcerer slowly walked from his desk over to a nearby window and looked out. “I have seen the splendor of the king’s court. I have seen how the wealthiest and the most powerful in the land have acquired riches beyond belief. I have seen persons of beauty captivate the hearts of the humble and the proud, the powerful, and those of low estate. I have seen royalty end in rags, nobility fall to dishonor. But there is one beauty in life that rises above all else.”
The scribe wandered back to Jonathan and placed his hand on his shoulder. “When you decided to give up your power to choose the second gift, you were yielding to the voice of your wisdom and your love for Anne. You were allowing her the same privilege of choice that you have — allowing her to choose a wise or a foolish thing. You were giving up control.
“As your days turn into years with her, you will find that neither of you will rule your home. Instead, decisions will be made by discussion and compromise. Each choice will be influenced most by the one who has more experience, more passion or more interest in the subject. One of you will be more influential in some decisions while in other matters, the other will have greater influence. Decisions will not be made by role or tradition. They will transpire in the magic of this equality. In this dynamic, both of you will experience beauty and contentment worth more than all of the king’s gold.”
At the end of the week, on a beautiful Spring day in May, Jonathan and Anne were married in the royal chapel. In the coming years, they were blessed with healthy and cheerful children. Their years together brought the beauty and the contentment the scribe had predicted.
As they grew old together, they took comfort in the fact that the two gifts they had been were passed on to their children and their children’s children. And they lived happily together in the good times and in the bad times. As one of them cried in joy or sorrow, so did the other.
About the Illustrator
Andrea Oswald is a native of Buffalo, NY. She lives in the suburbs with her husband Donald — and of course their beloved pooch, Icicle. Andrea and Don have two children, Ken and Nichole.
Andrea has a degree in graphic arts. She has been active in Western New York’s thriving artist’s scene for many years and has exhibited her art in numerous galleries.
In addition to painting, she authored her first book Icicle. Andrea has always wanted to write and illustrate children’s books. After adopting Icicle, she was inspired by her pet. Putting pen and brush to paper, Icicle was created. Look at the Amazon bookstore for Andrea’s illustrated books.
For updates and information on other publications by Andrea Oswald, go to this supporting webpage at:
About The Author
Philip Siddons and his wife Linda live in Los Angeles, CA. He completed a BA with literature and religion majors in Wheaton College, a Master of Divinity (with concentration in New Testament and Feminist studies) at Gordon Conwell and a Doctorate of Ministry (with the same research concentrations at Colgate Rochester Divinity School.
His doctoral thesis was published by Judson Press in 1980 as Speaking Out For Women. After several reprints, he decided to rename the book Jesus, Feminism & You (now sold in the Amazon store). The lesson learned, he suggests: “When it’s your first book and the publisher suggests a title, don’t accept their decision without thinking more about it.”
Philip worked as a Protestant minister for 15 years. In those years, he campaigned, often without success, for rights and leadership equality of all people, regardless of their race, gender, or sexual orientation.
As much as he loved the teaching, writing, and opportunities to make a positive difference in people’s lives, his career migrated to marketing, advertising, technology, and communication.
In the ensuing years, he worked for several wonderful non-profit organizations — in his mind “ministering” to their clients but this time through technology and communication. Through time, he developed his skills in electronic publishing, web communications, graphics, and videography.
He has a profound sense of gratitude in being able to write and publish content that he feels empowers and delights his audience.
This story is dedicated to my wife Linda, who has shared with me her wisdom, love and extraordinary patience.
For updates and information on other publications by Philip Siddons, go to this supporting webpage at: