by Sharlyn Guthrie
A young peasant woman shuddered at the sight of the prince striding toward her. Shrinking into the shadows she attempted to hide, fearful of his motive in seeking her out. She had spat at him yesterday as he passed, though she hadn’t thought he’d noticed.
The shadows failed to conceal her. He grasped her with firm, yet surprisingly gentle hands. “I saw you on the street yesterday.”
Her eyes scanned the pebbles near his feet and her throat constricted, preventing a reply. Placing one finger under her chin, he tipped her head, causing her to meet his tender gaze. He wiped a smudge from her cheek, then caught her as her knees buckled.
“I have come to offer you this.” He smiled, extending a roll of parchment tied with red ribbon. “It is a ketubah, a marriage contract. I love you, and wish for you to become my kallah, my bride.”
“You? Marry me?” She searched his face for the mockery she expected to see, but none was found. “I haven’t a dowry,” she managed, ashamed.
“It makes no difference. If you accept my proposal I will see to it that you are housed and cared for until I return to take you as my wife. It’s all here in the ketubah: my love for you, my intent to marry you, and promises to fulfill all of my obligations to you both now and in the future.”
“But where will you be?”
“I am going away to prepare our future home. I can’t say when I will return, only that I will. And when I do, you must be ready for our marriage. Will you accept me as your groom, your choson?”
“Oh yes, I do accept!” She bent to kiss his feet, but was quickly drawn up into his embrace.
“Then you must begin now to act worthy of me. Go, change your clothes and ready yourself for the day of my return.”
One rapturous kiss was shared, and the prince left as quickly as he had come. Word of the betrothal spread, and many were taken aback. Why would a prince marry a peasant woman? Some were angered, while others simply chose not to believe it was true. Still others marveled at the mystery and intrigue of the unlikely match.
The kallah soon discovered that her temporary home was situated in the realm ruled by the prince’s arch-enemy. Still, she cheerfully went about her preparations for marriage, concerning herself with little else. Her new life contrasted sharply with the life she had lived as a peasant. Few had taken notice of her in the past, but with her name now linked to that of her choson, all eyes, it seemed, were on her.
Attractive suitors clamored for her attention –men of strength, ardor, and shocking impropriety. Their attention was flattering, nevertheless. One offered wealth beyond compare, another fame and recognition throughout every worldly kingdom, yet another promised amazing supernatural powers. Such offers sometimes tempted the kallah, who was growing weary, and at times impatient.
Each suitor was seemingly more attractive than the last. When their charming ways failed to entice her, their tactics became less subtle. “Didn’t he say he would return?” they taunted, “Where is your choson? See? He has left you with only a ketubah filled with empty promises. Surely he is dead, or else he has found another lover more worthy of his name.”
Confused, the kallah unrolled the ketubah, seeking her beloved’s wisdom. “Be on the alert for imposters, sent by the enemy,” it said. “They are wolves in sheep’s clothing who seek to snatch you away from me. Don’t pay them any heed. Keep your heart pure.”
Years passed, and life went on around her. Most of the kingdom dwellers lost interest in the story of the peasant and the prince. When the aging woman attempted to remind them, they laughed. “You’re still waiting for your prince? You’re missing all the fun. Don’t you know that purity is outdated? A real lover wouldn’t expect you to wait so long.”
Still, the kallah remained faithful, yearning for her beloved. The wait had been long, and sometimes it seemed unbearable. But day after day she reached for the well-worn ketubah, and each day its words rekindled her passion and restored her longing. For once she was merely a peasant woman in soiled garments, but soon her home would be a palace. She knew the prince, her precious choson would come.
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