Sir Cleges and the Christmas Cherries: A Retelling of a Story from the Legends of Arthur

Sir Cleges was knight like no other. Brave and fearless in battle, he had a kind heart and always helped anyone in need, lending money without expecting repayment, or forgiving rents if his tenants faced hard times.But over time he lost his fortune through his unstinting generosity, and had little left but the roof over his head. This Christmas season, there would be no celebrations, gifts, rich foods and visitors. There was no food at all, and only enough wood to keep the smallest of fires. Still, Sir Cleges knew there were people in worse shape than he was--people with no food at all, no home and no fire to warm them. 

Sir Cleges walked out one day on his land, thinking about how, even in his current situation, there were still so many who would spend the holidays with even less. He sat down under his favorite cherry tree, wondering if there was some way he could provide something for those poor people. A sound brought him out of his reverie.

"Why, it sounds like wind blowing through summer leaves, and yet here it is deep mid-winter!" Sir Cleges looked up and was stunned to see the tree was in full bloom and covered with ripe, juicy cherries.

"How can this be?" he exclaimed. "Cherries in winter? This must surely be a miracle!" He picked as many as his hands could hold and hurried home to his wife.

Reaching his home, he called out, "Look! Look what I have found! Can you believe it, cherries in winter?"

"It is a miracle!" she cried. She put one of the cherries into her mouth and smiled. "You must pick some of these magic cherries, Sir Cleges, and take them to Uther Pendragon. He is at Cardiff Castle now, I hear, and that is not so far away. He will be amazed to see these cherries, here at Christmas time!"

Sir Cleges agreed that this was a good plan, He picked a basket full of cherries, said good-bye to his wife and set off on his journey.

"Oh my, but will the King receive me, dressed as I am? Once I wore the raiment of a proud knight; now I am dressed like a beggar." Sir Cleges looked down at his ragged clothing in dismay. Then he straightened up and strode briskly on his way. "I may not be well dressed, but I am still a knight. I must act like one."

'Halt!" called the sentry at the castle gate. "Who are you and what is your business here?"

"Good day," said Sir Cleges. "I am Sir Cleges, a knight of His Majesty's realm. I have come to bring the King some Christmas cherries."

"You must pay me to enter here," the sly guard said. "What will you pay?"

"I have no money,"said Sir Cleges. "You can see my my clothing that hard times have overtaken me. All I have are these cherries, which I mean to give to the King."

"You will give me one third of your reward for bringing the King these cherries, or I will send you on your way."

Sadly, Sir Cleges agreed. He entered the castle and walked to the keep, but another guard stopped him.

"Halt! Who do you think you are, trying to enter here in your filthy rags?"

"I am Sir Cleges. I have come to bring these cherries to the King."

"You'll not enter here for free, my friend. What payment can you offer?"

Once again Cleges agreed to give the guard one third of whatever reward he was granted by the King. He walked up the stairs to the great hall, when yet another guard stopped him. Again payment was demanded.

"I suppose you want payment too!" Sir Cleges exclaimed.

"Take your cherries to the King. But you must give to me one third of whatever the King gives you as a reward for bringing him such lovely fruit."

Sir Cleges had no choice but to agree once again to these terms. He walked into the hall and bowed low, presenting his basket of cherries to the King.

"Cherries in winter! What a miracle!" The King shouted. He passed the basket of cherries around to his dinner guests, and all exclaimed in delight at such an amazing treat.

"Please, Sir Cleges, join us at the table." Sir Cleges sat down and ate of the rich and plentiful meal before him.

"Tell me, Sir Cleges, what reward do you wish to have in payment for bringing me such a treat?" asked the King.

"If it please Your Majesty, I should like permission to give twelve strokes with my stick to the people I choose."

The King stared at Sir Cleges. "That is a strange request indeed. Are you sure you would not prefer gold or meat or jewels instead?

"Thank you, Sire, I want only what I have asked."

"Very well, then," said the King. So it shall be."

Sir Cleges walked out of the hall and was soon stopped by the third guard. "Give me my third of your reward!" the man demanded. Sir Cleges struck the man on the back with four mighty blows that sent the guard howling out of the hall.

When he reached the entrance to the keep, the second guard demanded his payment. Sir Cleges obliged him, swinging his stick with all his strength and leaving the man crying on his knees. At the gate, the first guard stopped Sir Cleges and said, "All right, now pay me what is due me!" Once more Sir Cleges wielded his stick and struck the man the last four blows. As he passed through the gate, one of the King's men rushed up to him.

"Sir Cleges, Uther Pendragon has asked that you return to his hall," the man said. Sir Cleges was surprised but obeyed, returning to the presence of the King.

"I have recalled who you are, Sir Cleges. How come you to be dressed in the rags of a poor man?"

Sir Cleges bowed his head. "I have been too generous, Your Majesty, and then hard times struck and I have nothing left but him home and my family. And I thank God to have that much when so many have far less."

"But why did you not ask for gold or food as a reward? Surely that would have served you better?"

Sir Cleges explained about his encounters with the greedy guards. On hearing the tale, Uther Pendragon laughed and laughed.

"You are a clever man, Sir Cleges. Your story has earned another reward. You shall have new lands, and control of this Castle as well. But you must promise me to be a wiser steward of your money, and to be more cautious in your giving in the future."

And so it was, and so Sir Cleges did, and all was well with him once again.

There is a beautifully illustrated version of this story in achildren's picture book by Jane Louise Curry.

You can read more about this story and its place in Arthurian legendry at these sites:

University of Rochester Middle English Texts Series

Translation by Jessie L. Weston

San Francisco State University Medieval Forum

Database of Middle English Romance

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.