One day as she sat watching her sheep her eyes fell on the white towers of a castle that stood not far from the village where she lived. It was the castle of the Marquis Walter, who was lord of all that land. Griselda looked kindly at the white towers. She thought that their master was the best and greatest man in the world. She knew that he was kind also, and courteous. When she saw him ride towards her, her face lighted up, and she rose to courtesy to him. She hoped he would draw up his horse beside her, and greet her, and ask for her father Janicola.
This morning, as she looked at the castle, she saw a company of men hurrying along the road that led to its gate. Farmers were there in dull and homely clothes, and knights in armor that flashed back the sunlight, and lords in gay colors that glanced and gleamed among the olive-trees under the blue Italian sky.
Griselda knew why they were going to Lord Walter, and she wondered what they would do and say when they reached him. She could not go after them, for her sheep would have wandered away if she had left them.
When the men that Griselda had watched reached the courtyard gate, they met Lord Walter. He was on horseback ready for the hunt. The foremost of the company prayed him to grant them a little time that they might tell him why they had come.
Lord Walter threw the reins to a squire, and led his people into the great hall of the castle. There he seated himself in state to listen to their grievance whatever it might be.
Then the same man who had spoken before said to him:
“Noble Marquis, thy generous kindness in times past giveth us courage to come before thee. Truly, sire, thou and all thou dost art so dear to us that, save in one thing, we cannot wish for better fortune than to live under thy government. One thing alone disturbs the peace of thy faithful people. Though thou art young and strong, yet age creeps on! Time flies and waits for no man. Death threatens young and old alike. We pray thee, sire, that thou wilt wed, for if swift death should lay thee low ere a son be born to thee, then alack for us and for our children! In the power of a stranger then would lie our fair lands and even our lives. Grant us this boon, noble Marquis, and, if thou wilt, we will choose for thee a wife. Noble shall she be, and good, so that thou shalt have honor and gladness in thy wedding.”
Then the Marquis said:
“My people, loyal and true, ye ask of me that which I thought not to grant, for the free life of the forest and the hunt pleaseth me well. Yet will I do this thing that ye desire. Only to me myself must fall the choice of her whom I will wed. On you I lay this command that, be she who she may, yet shall ye honor her as if she were an Emperor’s daughter through all her life. Nor shall ye raise one word against the maiden of my choice. Unless ye agree to this, I will not wed!”