It was the time of King Arthur, and Great Britain was filled with fairies and elves, but "to-day there walks the holy friar himself"(18).
One day a knight sees a beautiful maiden, and is overcome by lust. He "took her maidenhead" (34).
Arthur "condemned the knight to lose his head" (37). However, the queen intervenes and tells the knight that if he is able to tell her what women want most in the world in exactly a year and a day, his life will be spared. Otherwise, the court will go through with the beheading.
The knight travels all around the country for a year, and "he knocked at every house, searched every place" (65). Unfortunately, all women seem to give him different answers. One day, on the way back to the castle, he sees a group of women dancing, but they soon disappear and an old woman appears instead. She tells him she'll help save his life, but only if he agrees to marry him. He agrees as a last resort, and they head back to the castle.
The knight brings the old woman back with him to court, and tells the queen the answer she gave him, which was that "a woman wants the self-same sovereignty"(184). The queen and the women in the crowd agree resoundingly, and the knight's life is spared. The old woman then proposes marriage publicly to the knight, who is horrified, but is eventually forced to agree.
The knight and the old woman are married and go to bed the same night, but the knight is miserable the entire time. In bed, the old woman asks what is wrong, and the knight replies that she is "old, and so abominably plain, So poor to start with, so low-bred to follow", and she replies by asking if he'd rather her be beautiful and fair but faithless, or ugly and old but loyal(247-248). He let's her choose, and because of this she becomes both beautiful and loyal.