The Tale of Jeremiah and the Christmas Hat

[It was Christmas day, and the entire Court was sitting after a wonderful Christmas Feast. Wines and ale filled the goblets, and well-overfed children were slowly munching on the last of the Christmas puddings. The King looked over to his Lady the Queen and asked, "Is it time for a story?"

"By all means!" she replied; "Let our good monk fill our ears as we have just filled our bellies."

"Roger!" called the King, "Is there a Christmas tale in your bag of stories?"

"Yes, my King," the portly monk replied; "but it is not one of great battles or noble deeds. Wait, perhaps I am wrong at that; your Majesties will have to decide if it was a tale of noble deeds or not."

"Then begin, good monk, and let all of us gathered here today be the story's judge."

Roger cleared his throat, sipped some of his mulled cider, and began to speak . . .]

It was a fine cold Christmas day in the Court of Good King Henry, and his Great Hall was filled with the merry sounds of the Lords and Ladies feasting and celebrating the birth of our Lord. The Hall was decorated with many lovely signs of the season, and everyone could see the beautiful Nativity set, made of real marble, that stood on a small dais opposite the great fireplace. Everything was just perfect, and not one sour heart could be found in the Royal Castle.

The Squires were all busy getting ready to enter the tourney that started on the morrow; the tourney that would see some of them maybe granted the white belt and spurs of a Knight. All the young ladies in waiting were discussing how wonderful everyone looked. They talked and talked of their hopes and dreams of catching the eye of some noble squire, for they all secretly wanted to become some Lordling's inspiration on the tourney field. Every maiden that day hoped that one 'lucky' squire would desire to wear her favor from his helm, inspiring him on to certain victory and Noble Knighthood.

But the best time of all was that had by the Royal pages; they had all received *Presents,* some for the first time in their lives! While many pages came from noble families and were gifted as befits the heirs to great lands and titles, even the poorest page was gifted of presents made by the Queen and her Ladies especially for them.

Among the latter group was one young Page, Jeremiah by name, and his gifts had special meaning for him. He had grown up in a miller's family, and had three sisters and five brothers, all of them older than he was. He had never gotten a shirt or a pair of breeches that were not hand-me-downs, and even his smallclothes had been passed down from an older brother. Nevertheless, here he was, happy to be in the King's household, and the proud new owner of not one, not two, but THREE Wonderful gifts; a woolen hat, a woolen scarf, and warm woolen mittens. He could hardly wait until the feast was over, for the tradition was that all pages were allowed to visit their families Christmas evening, and spend the night with his parents and kin. He hungered to show his family his new wealth.

But before he left the Great Hall, Jeremiah approached the Queen, who was sitting chatting with her Ladies. "My Queen," spoke the young page, "I wanted to thank you again for these fine garments. I have never had the like, and my parents will be so honored that their youngest son wears a gift of the Queen herself."

"I made those especially for you," replied the Queen; "You are a good page, and I am glad that you do well here. Remember, please, to thank your parents for letting the King and Me have such a fine young lad to serve Us."

With his thanks properly presented, the young page sped from the hall, gathered up his presents and his cloak, and started on his journey home. His parent's mill was just a two hour walk, but it was best he get started quickly; he did not want to arrive after dark, as he knew his mother and sisters would worry. (Naturally, his father and brothers would not worry, for was he not a miller's son, and a Royal Page also? Worrying was for women in their eyes.)

First wrapping the scarf tightly around his throat, Jeremiah then put his hat and mittens on, and his old woolen cloak over all. He sped out the gates of the castle, and while not running, he moved with a brisk pace that helped him to keep warm in the cold, clear air. He had not been walking for long, when he saw a man chopping wood by the side of the road. Jeremiah could see that the old man was not dressed too warmly, but what really struck him was the man's hands; they were blistered and cut from the axe, and were even bleeding in spots.

Jeremiah liked his new mittens, he really did. But here was a man who could not afford a good jacket, let alone mittens, and he obviously needed something to protect his hands. So Jeremiah went up to the old man and said; "Grandfather, you have need of these. Wear them in good health!" And before the man could protest, Jeremiah took off his mittens, and gave them to the woodcutter.

"How will you keep your own hands warm?" the old man asked.

"I have this fine cloak to wrap around my hands, and it is strong and warm," stated the miller's son; "and besides, those mittens were a little too large for me, while they should fit your hands perfectly!"

And so they did. After a brief thanks from the woodcutter, the lad resumed his trek along the path. "The sun was out, and the sky was clear, I really didn't need mittens," or so he thought to himself. As his journey took him along the road, the young page began to sing the Christmas melodies that he knew, and his heart was eased. He had not traveled but three miles further when he met a young mother-to-be. This woman looked scarcely older than the page was himself, and yet she was big with child. He greeted her, and was about to pass her on the path when he noticed that her headscarf was thin and torn. She shivered in the cold breeze, and clearly was in great discomfort. Without really thinking about what he was doing, he opened his cloak, and took off his neck scarf. Putting it around the woman's throat and head, he would hear no denials. "You must be strong and free from illness when your baby comes. This is not my gift to you; it is for your child. What would my mother say if she knew I had left a mother-to-be to freeze?" Dashing off to resume his journey, he heard in the wind a faint "thanks" and a blessing on such a good young man.

"Young man," the page thought; "she called me a young man. No one has ever done that before." And feeling quite remarkably pleased with himself, the lad sped along the road.

He was well over two-thirds of the way to his parent's mill when he heard a baby's cry. Looking around, he saw no one, but then the child cried again and he could hear where the sounds were coming from. Behind an ancient wall of rocks were a small family, a father, a mother, and their infant child. None of them were dressed for the weather, but the child was dressed the worst. Only a thin blanket wrapped around the otherwise naked child, there was not even enough cloth to go over the baby's head. As the young mother tried to nurse the babe, the father was about to take his own coat off and try to use it to keep his son's head covered, but Jeremiah had a better idea.

"Use this hat," cried the page; "It is really too small for me, and will fit your child well!"

"We have no money to give you," started the man, "and I could not accept such a gift."

"But this is Christmas," replied the lad, "and the gift is not to you, but to the child. As for payment," continued the boy, "please keep me in your prayers."

Before the man could protest further, the lad sped off along the road. "I have this fine cloak," he thought; "why would I need a hat, too?"

It seemed that the lad spoke the truth, for he felt no cold as he ran along the road. Soon he got to his parent's mill and all thoughts of gifts given away were struck from his mind. His Father had made him a longbow, and his brothers had promised him to teach him how to shoot. His sisters had modified one of their old blouses into a shirt perfect for him to wear at Court. His mother had made all of his favorite dishes, and in short it was one of the nicest times any page had ever had when making a Christmas visit.

But when the boy arose next day he was a little afraid of what would happen when he returned to court. He did not know exactly the penalty for giving away a Queen's gift, but he was sure it would not be pleasant. "Well, I would not mind a spanking," the boy thought, "but I hope I will not be sent home!" Jeremiah had known one unfortunate boy who was found to have stolen from another page, and he was sent home in disgrace. Surely giving away a Queen's gift is not as bad as stealing. But the thoughts running through his head made Jeremiah's feet move slower, and so it was well into the afternoon when he passed through the castle gates.

"Jeremiah," spoke one of the guards, "The Queen commands your presence in her solarium."

Jeremiah felt a sudden chill. He knew somehow that the Queen had somehow found out about his losing his presents, and was straightway about to send him back home! But scared though he was, Jeremiah was no coward, so he sped off through the castle to the Queen's Solarium.

Upon seeing him, the Queen spoke up quickly; "Jeremiah, I see you have returned from your parent's home. I hope you had a pleasant trip. I see, however, that you are not wearing the gifts I made you. Did you leave them with your parents, or did you lose them somehow?"

More than anything, Jeremiah wanted to say that they were lost, or stolen, or with his mom and dad. But he had given his word when made a royal page that he would never lie to the Crown, and he feared breaking his word much more than mere banishment, so he looked the Queen in the Eye and said, "I did not lose them, nor were they left anywhere or stolen. I gave them away to people who I felt needed them more than I did."

There, it was said. The Queen looked at the troubled page and simply said, "Come with me." They walked the halls of the keep through passages Jeremiah had never before seen, and did not stop until they came to a small room near the King's Private chapel. The King sat in there with the Royal Chaplain, and their faces looked grim.

"Oh, no!" thought Jeremiah, "Giving away royal gifts was a *SIN*!" He was fully prepared to hear the priest say the words of excommunication when the Queen said, "Tell the King what you told me."

And so the boy repeated his words to the King. "What people did you give them to, and why?" asked the priest.

Jeremiah stood there and told them all what had transpired on the previous day. The tale wove on, and after a few moments the King bade the boy sit and continue his story. He finished the story with, "and so when I left the poor family with the hat for the child I went on to my parent's mill, and am just returned now."

No one said anything for a moment. Fearing the worst, the boy stood up and asked, "Am I to be excommunicated? Is there no possible penance for a sinner who gives away royal gifts?"

The other three in the room looked at poor Jeremiah as if he had grown another head. Finally the Priest spoke up, "Oh, you were wondering why I was here, were you? No, there is no penance for giving away royal gifts, for it is not a sin. I am here, well, er, um . . . perhaps, Your Majesties, we had better show him why I am here?"

"Let us go into the Great Hall," spoke the King.

As the four of them walked into the Great Hall, the room was quiet. It was not the site of feasting and merriment that it was the day before, the fires were banked, and only a few wall sconces held torches, giving the room a somber atmosphere. The King led them over to where the Nativity scene was sitting on its table, and suddenly Jeremiah knew why the Priest was there. On the statue of Joseph was a fine pair of mittens, on the Virgin's neck his scarf, and on the Baby Jesus' head . . .

"My Hat! But I did not put my gifts there! Honest!" wailed the lost page; "I don't know how they got there."

"We did not think you did," replied the Priest; "Go up and take them off."

Using a small set of steps behind the crèche, the lad went to do the Priest's bidding. But when he tried to remove the mittens, they would not come off. Nor would the scarf, or the hat, for the garments were no longer wool, but stone.

"I shall have to make you new ones, Jeremiah," said the Queen; "I fear that those to whom you gave them to refuse to give them back!"

["And from that day to this," finished the monk, "the Great Hall's Nativity scene has had the mittens, scarf, and hat of a young man who, though having little, shared what he had with others."

"You were wrong," spoke the King; "it WAS a tale of noble deeds." And the assembled nobles agreed that Jeremiah was a young man of great worth. And all looked anew at the Nativity scene, and saw that the Virgin Mother wore a neck scarf over her head, while the statue of Joseph had on his hands a fine set of mittens, and Christ Child's head was protected from the elements by a lovely marble hat.]

Roger of Belden Abbey
Copyright © 2004, Daniel A. Thompson, Jr.

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