The Apple of Winter – a Midwinter Message from King Wyndrake
A transcript of the first Midwinter Message delivered by His Majesty King Wyndrake:
Greetings to you all from the Palace at Winchester – I come to you tonight to wish you a happy Yuletide. Though we may be far apart, let us be as one – those who call Albion home, draw close.
I bring you tonight a story. A good story, and true – one which I enjoyed as a child, sitting by the fireside with my cousins as my grandfather read to us. One which, in turn, I shall read to my own children.
This story that goes back BEFORE the time of Arthurus Pendragon. To the days in which the fall of the Empire was in living memory, not long after Albion had been torn apart by the cruel sorcerer Vortigern and the warbands of the Sais.
This story is called The Apple of Winter.
My Lords and Ladies, I shall tell you now of one who lived many generations ago, in the time of Uther, Warlord of Albion, Pendragon of Britannia, father of the great King Arthur, and my own forebear.
The story speaks of a knight, hardy and strong, tall and fair, brave and noble. In all the world there lived no one as courteous, noble or generous as he. To landowners, who struggled in times of war, he gave gold. To poor farmers who worked the lands he held, he gave food and good cheer. A spare place at his table was always laid just in case anyone might pay a visit to him.
This knight had a gentle wife, the best a man could wish for. No woman was more beautiful, or more noble in her heart than she. Dame Clarys was her name. Of goodness, she had truly. Together they brought gladness to many a soul. No man, rich or poor, felt any ill will against them.
Every year, Sir Leodegore, for that was the name of this noble knight, would hold a feast at Midwinter. No knight or king celebrated that day in greater style than he. Rich and poor came to his feast. He would turn away no man. Priests payed him with blessings, minstrels with music – those were the highest prices he would ask for his food. When the feasting was over, the guests would not leave without gifts. He gave freely of robes, horses, silver and even gold.
But his wealth dwindled with each passing year. He would not give up his feasting or his gifts. He gave off all he had, until at last he had almost nothing left. The Midwinter feasting had to end. He lived meekly with his good wife and two children – and of luxuries, they knew no more.
One Midwinter’s Eve, Sir Leodegore was walking up and down his garden, when he heard the sound of trumpets, pipes, drums, harps and cymbals. He could hear carols and dancing. The sound of merriment brought back memories of his past feasts and festivities. He knew well that the music came from the court of King Uther, who was at Winchester for Midwinter. The King had not invited his loyal knight to join his table for the festivities. He had either forgotten him, or thought that he was dead. Sir Leodegore wrung his hands began to pray piteously.
“Oh Albion, our heart and our home. I thank you for times past, for the merriment I used to make. I gave freely for your sake. I fed both rich and poor. Those who dined at my table did not lack for any meat or game, or good drinks. Of the cost I thought nothing. Now, here I stand, a poor man at your service, overlooked and forgotten by all mortal men, high and low.”
As he stood mourning so, his wife came to him, and enfolded him in her arms. She kissed him with glad heart and said, “My true husband, I heard what you were saying. It does not help to have sad thoughts, so let your sorrow be gone. Everyone should be happy on this day, and be glad with what they have got. So let us go inside, and be merry and eat our dinner joyfully.”
“Of course,” said Sir Leodegore. With somewhat better cheer he quickly wiped the tear from his cheek and went inside to eat his food. After they had eaten, they took great delight in playing with their two children. At midnight they went to their shrine and asked the Ancestors to keep them clothed and fed.
On Midwinter’s morn, Sir Leodegore went into his garden. He knelt on the snow covered ground before his favourite apple tree, and prayed once again. When he had finished, he reached up for a branch to help him stand. As he arose, the bough broke in his hand. He noticed that it bore green leaves, and that there were ripe, round apples clustered around it.
He said, “What manner of berries are these that grow at this time of year?” Then he picked an apple and tried it. It was the most delicious fruit he had tasted since he was a small boy. He cut off a little branch and took it to his wife to show her.
“My dear, here is a novelty,” he said. “I found these growing in our garden. Apples in the heart of winter. I am afraid it is some ill omen, a warning to me for my sorrow and grieving.”
“Why no,” said his wife, “Rather it is a sign that goodness is coming to us. Tomorrow at first light, take the apples to Winchester and the King. He will have no better gift than this.”
When it was daylight, she prepared a large basket full of apples. She told their eldest son to carry it on his back, and walk behind his father to Winchester. So they set off, not on a steed or pony, but Sir Leodegore’ walking stick as his only support.
When they arrived at the gates of the castle, the porter saw his poor clothing and said, “You shall turn around and leave smartly without delay, or by my oath, I shall break your head. Go and stand in the beggars’ row. That’s the place for you.”
But Sir Leodegore said, “Good Sir. I pray you let me go in. I have a present for the king. Here, look.”
The porter went over to the basket and lifted the lid. When he saw the apples he marvelled and said, “If I let you pass, you must promise me a third of whatever reward the king shall grant you for this gift, be it silver or gold.”
Sir Leodegore replied, “I consent,” and he went through the gate into the castle. On his way to the banqueting hall he met an usher of the court who said, “Go, vassal, get out of my sight, and if I find you again within these walls I shall beat your head and your limbs without a moment’s regret.”
At this, Sir Leodegore said, “Good Sir. Stay your anger. Be gentle and good – for I have brought a present for the king. See here, these fruits grew this winter season in my garden. They are the fairest apples that man did ever see.”
When the usher saw the apples, he was amazed and said, “If you grant me a third part of whatever you may win for these, then you may indeed go on.”
As Sir Leodegore had no other choice, he agreed to the usher’s terms, and into the hall he went with his son and the basket.
As they entered the Hall, the steward saw them. He went up to Sir Leodegore and said, “Who made you so bold as to come in here uninvited? Turn around smartly and get out.”
Sir Leodegore replied, “See, good sir, I have a gift for the king.” When the steward saw what he had brought he exclaimed, “By the Elder, I never saw such fruits at this time of year. You shall go before the king, but only if you promise me a third part of whatever you shall receive.”
Sir Leodegore stood and thought to himself that betwixt these three men, he would divide all that he received. For all his trouble he would win nothing. As he did not reply right away, the steward demanded, “Have you no tongue? Give me your answer without delay or I shall beat your rags with my stick!”
Seeing that he had no other choice, Sir Leodegore said, “Very well, whatever the king shall reward, you shall have a third part.”
The steward brought Sir Leodegore before the king, where he knelt down and uncovered the basket.
“Great King,” he said. “These fruits grew in my garden this Midwinter, and I have brought them to you as a gift.”
The king saw the apples, fresh and new, and said, “Truly this is the work of the Ancestors.” He commanded Sir Leodegore to sit down and join the feast. The king sent a portion of the apples to a radiant and fair lady in Cornwall, and he commanded the rest to be served around the hall. When all had eaten and were glad, the king commanded, “Bring before me the poor man who gave me the apples.”
Sir Leodegore knelt again before the king, and the kind said, “I thank you heartily for the gift you have brought me. It has honoured my feast. Whatever you will have, I will grant you. Whatever your heart desires, be it lands, or serfs or goods.”
Sir Leodegore replied, “Great King. I ask nothing but 12 strokes of my stick that I might give freely to my enemies around this castle.”
On hearing this the king was angry and said, “I am sorry that I granted you this gift. Better that you asked for silver or gold, for you have more need of it. Nevertheless, if that is your wish, let my debt to you be paid with blows.”
Sir Leodegore went into the hall and sought the steward to give him his reward. He dealt him such a blow that it knocked him down. Then he gave him three more. On leaving the hall he found the usher and told him, “Here’s the third part of my gift that I promised you!” And he beat him four times with his stick. Then he found the porter and gave him his reward with the words. “I keep my bargain. Take this, and this, and this and this!”
While Sir Leodegore was busy paying back his enemies, the king sat in his chamber and listened to a minstrel. The minstrel sang of a great knight who had served him in years past, one who was full of fortune, nobility and grace. His name was Sir Leodegore. As the king listened, memories came back to him, and he realised that he had seen the good knight that very evening.
“Why, was that not him who kneeled before me in the hall?” Exclaimed the King.
“Sire, indeed it was,” replied the minstrel.
When word reached the lords and ladies of the court of how Sir Leodegore had paid back the porter, the usher and the steward, they all laughed heartily and thought that it was good sport.
The king called Sir Leodegore before him, and this time he gave him lands, forests, and a cup of gold to take to his wife. He made his son a squire and gave him fine clothes to wear.
Every year after that, Sir Leodegore and his wife celebrated Midwinter with good food, music, merriment and gifts, and they lived in great happiness until their time came to cross the bridge of swords.
The son of Sir Leodegore, who King Uther took as a squire, grew to be a great knight, in service to King Arthur. He would accomplish many great deeds in his time, and so, too, would his descendants, who can still be found at court today. But these are stories for a different time.
There are lessons to be learned from this story – be generous and welcoming, but do not be lavish, and remember that, in times of need, Albion shall provide.
A different but equally important lesson was learned by the porter, the usher, and the steward that night.
Don’t be a dick.
I bid you, come, with your kin, and join me this Midwinter, as we celebrate the festival of Yule in the Halls of the Ironhold, ‘neath Trinity Reach, as guests of Olaf Greytalon, Lord of that Hold.
There we will feast, drink, make merry. There also we renew the bonds of friendship and the oaths that bind us all together. There we shall celebrate the passing of winter and the coming of summer.
Together we shall look to the future, and plans forthcoming, campaigns, and movements for the coming year.
I hope that 1119 may bring you the blessings of your Ancestor and all the things you long for.
Until I see you again, I remain your servant. I bid you keep well, keep warm, and have a very merry Midwinter.
In the words of my great forebear, strength through unity; Albion prevails!