Long, long ago, a baby lay asleep in a cot in a palace. It was a royal baby, therefore it was never left alone for a moment, but always had two or three ladies watching it, by day and by night, so that no serpent should crawl into its cradle and bite it, nor any evil beast run off with it, as sometimes happened in other countries.
But one evening, after a very hot day, all the ladies in waiting felt strangely drowsy, and, though they tried their best to keep awake, one by one they gradually dropped off to sleep in the high carved chairs on which they sat. Then a gentle rustle might have been heard outside on the staircase, and when the door opened a brilliant light streamed in, though the ladies slept too soundly to be awakened by it. Wrapped round by the light were six fairies, more beautiful than any fairies that ever were seen, who glided noiselessly to the cradle of the baby.
‘How fair he is!’ whispered one; ‘the true son of a king.’
‘And how strong he is!’ answered another; ‘look at his arms and legs,’ and the whole six bent forward and looked at him.
‘The world shall ring with his fame,’ said the first, whose name was Gloriande, ‘and I will give him the best gift I have. He shall never fear death, and no word of shame shall ever touch him.’
Then the second fairy leaned forward and lifted the baby out of his cradle. She was tall, and on her head was a ruby crown, while a plate of gold covered her breast.
‘Through all your life,’ she murmured, ‘wherever war and strife may be, you shall be found in the midst of it, even as your forefathers.’
‘Yes,’ said a third; ‘but my gift is better than hers, for you shall never be worsted in any fight, and every one shall add to your honour.’
‘And though you are the first of knights,’ exclaimed the fourth, ‘you shall win fame for your courtesy and gentlehood, no less than for your valour.’
‘The hearts of all women shall turn to you, and they shall love you,’ said the fifth, who was clad in a robe of transparent green; ‘but beware how you give them back their love, for this love of mortals needs proving’; and with that she slipped away from the cradle.
The sixth fairy looked silently at the child for a few moments, though her thoughts seemed to be with something far away.
At length she spoke, and these were her words:
‘When you are weary of travel and of strife and have won all the glory and honour that may fall to men, then you shall come to me in my palace of Avallon, and rest in the joys of fairyland with Morgane le Fay.’
After that the light began to fade, and the six fairies vanished none could tell how or whither.
By-and-by the baby’s attendants woke up, and never knew that during their sleep the child’s fate had been fixed as surely as if he had been bitten by a serpent or carried off by a wolf. Everything seemed the same as it had done before, and so they took it for granted that it was.
Time passed on, and Ogier, for that was the name they gave him, was ten years old. He was tall and strong and could send his arrows farther than most boys many years older. He could handle a spear too, and his thrusts went straight at the mark; while he could sing a song, or touch the lute as delicately as a maiden. His father was proud of him, and it went sore with him when Charlemagne the emperor, who had had a bitter quarrel with the king of Denmark, demanded that Ogier should be sent as a hostage to his court of Paris.
For four years the boy lived happily in Paris, daily making new friends, and learning to be a skilled swordsman; but at the end of that time the Danish king sank some of Charlemagne’s ships, and the emperor vowed that Ogier should pay for his father’s deed. His life was spared, but the youth was banished to St. Omer, a little town on the coast. Here he spent some years, which would have been dull and very wearisome but for the kindness of the governor, who not only allowed him to fish and hunt on receiving his word that he would not try to escape, but gave him his daughter, the fair Belissande, as his companion, and even consented to a marriage between them. For, kind though he was, he did not forget that the captive youth was after all heir to the Danish throne.
Ogier would have been quite content to stay where he was, when suddenly the emperor summoned him to come to Paris and take part in a war which had broken out between him and the Saracens, who had landed in Italy. Unwilling though he was, of course Ogier was forced to obey, and he speedily won such fame that in a little while Charlemagne declared that from henceforth he should have in battle the place of honour on the right hand of the emperor himself. This favour so excited the jealousy of Charlot, the emperor’s son, that he laid many snares for Ogier’s life, but, owing to the gift of the fairy Gloriande, the young man contrived to escape them all.
On his return to France with the army, after the war was over and the Saracens had been beaten, he found two pieces of news awaiting him. One was that his father was dead, and that he was king of Denmark, and the other was that during his absence a son had been born to him.
Taking leave of the emperor, he chose the swiftest horse he could find in the stables and rode straight to St. Omer. The boy was by this time three years old, and promised to be tall and strong like his father. Already he could mount a pony and use a tiny bow and arrows that had been made for him, and even could tell the names of some of the battles his father had won.
But Ogier could not tarry long in the castle of St. Omer. Taking his wife and son with him, he set out at once for Denmark, and spent several years in the kingdom making laws and teaching his people many things that he had learnt in his travels.
After ten years, however, he became weary of this peaceful life, and, after Belissande died, he felt he could bear it no longer. So, leaving the crown to his uncle, he returned to France with his son and fought once more by the side of Charlemagne. This was the life he loved, and it seemed as if it might have gone on for ever had it not been for the prince Charlot, who, unhappily, only grew more quarrelsome and foolish the older he got.
Charlot was one day playing chess with the son of Ogier, and, as he was hasty and impatient, the game went against him. Like many others, he had never learned how to take a beating like a man, and, raising his hand, he struck the youth a blow on the temple which killed him. Charlemagne, grieved though he really was, refused to punish Charlot, and after saying bitter words Ogier left Paris, and took service with the king of Lombardy, but was soon captured, while asleep, by Archbishop Turpin.
By this time Charlemagne had felt the loss of Ogier so greatly, and had besides suffered so much from further ill-doings on the part of his son, that he lent a ready ear to Ogier’s offer of reconciliation, provided he were allowed to avenge himself on the murderer. But just as Ogier was about to strike off Charlot’s head, and rid the world of a man who never did any good in it, he was stopped by a mysterious voice which bade him to spare the son of Charlemagne. So Charlot was left to work more mischief throughout the land.
A second time a crown fell to Ogier in right of his wife, the princess Claria of England, who had been delivered by Ogier out of the hands of the Saracens. But the princess died not many months after, and the fetters of the throne were no more to Ogier’s taste in England than in Denmark. So he assembled all his barons, and bade them choose themselves a king from among them. This done, he set sail across the sea for the life of adventure that he loved.
For some time Ogier fought in Palestine, where he gained great fame, for no army and no city could stand before him. But his heart always turned to France, and directly peace was made he said farewell to his companions and took ship for Marseilles. At first the breeze was fair, but when they had made half the voyage a tempest arose and the vessel was driven on a rock, while all the crew except Ogier himself were drowned. This happened early in the morning, but as soon as darkness fell and Ogier was fearing that he might die of hunger, as no living thing could be seen on the island, he suddenly beheld facing him a castle of adamant. He rubbed his eyes and gazed at it in amazement, thinking it was a vision, for he knew not that this castle was enchanted, and, though unseen by day, shone by night from light of its own. However, he did not hesitate at the strangeness of his adventure, but taking his sword in his teeth he swam ashore, and mounted the flight of steps that led to the open door.
Rich and beautiful things lay scattered everywhere, but not a sign was there of any one to enjoy them. Room after room was empty, and Ogier was fast losing hope and wondering whether he was to die of starvation in the midst of all this splendour. He had searched every chamber of the castle except one which lay before him at the end of a long gallery. He would go into that too, but if it should prove as barren as the rest then his case was indeed perilous.
With a beating heart he drew back the bolts and lifted the latch of the great carved door. Before him a long table was spread with fruits and food of the rarest sort, while in a large chair at the further end a horse was seated enjoying a huge pasty. At the sight of Ogier he rose politely and bowed, after which he presented him with a golden bowl full of water and returned to his chair.
During his travels Ogier had beheld many strange things, but never before had a horse been his host, and he was so startled that, hungry though he was, he hardly touched the food which the horse heaped on his plate, expecting every moment that a magician might appear or the whole castle crumble away.
Quiet though Ogier was, the horse, who had been taught manners in the court of the sultan of Babylon himself, took no notice of his guest’s behaviour but finished his own supper, which was a very hearty one. When it was done he rose again, bowed a second time to Ogier, who had risen also, and, signing with his fore hoof towards a curtain on one side of the hall, passed through, followed by his guest. In the centre of a magnificent chamber stood a soft bed, at which Ogier gazed longingly. The horse saw the direction of his eyes, and with another bow he withdrew.
In the morning Ogier awoke early and passed through the door into a meadow bright with flowers. He looked round him, and saw a group of ladies sitting under a tree plucking fruit from its branches, and filling golden cups from a clear stream that ran at their feet. Not having eaten since his scanty supper of the night before, he approached the ladies, one of whom arose and spoke to him, saying:
‘Welcome, Ogier of Denmark! I have waited for you long. A hundred years have passed since I stood by your cradle — a hundred years of war and of fighting. But you have tired of them at last and have come back to me! And now you shall rest in the palace of Avallon. I am Morgane le Fay.’
She held out her hand, and Ogier placed his within it, and thus they entered the castle. Then she went to her closet and drew a casket from it, and from the casket she took a ring, which she slipped on Ogier’s finger. Afterwards she placed on his head a wreath of golden laurels intertwined with bays, and his white hair became once more like sunshine, and the wrinkles faded from his brow. And with the wrinkles faded also the recollection of the battles he had fought, and of Charlemagne himself, and even of Belissande, whom he had loved so well. Soft sounds of singing floated through the palace, and fairies trailing flowers glided in and out in the dance. While Ogier stood entranced and dumb, there entered King Arthur, to whom spoke Morgane le Fay:
‘Draw near, Arthur, my lord and brother, come and salute the flower of chivalry, the boast of the court of France, he in whom courtesy, loyalty, and all virtue are united.’
And Arthur drew near, and they embraced each other.
Two hundred years passed as a single day, till one morning when Ogier was lying on a bank listening to the birds which sang like no birds which mortal ears have ever heard, he took for an instant the crown from off his head. In a moment the memories of his old life flashed across him, and, starting up, he sought Morgane le Fay, and bade her give him his sword, for he was going to fight for fair France again. In vain the fairy besought him not to forsake her, but he would hear nothing, and she was fain to do as he wished. So by her magic she conjured up a little boat which bore Ogier to Marseilles, whence he hastened to the war, which was being carried on in Normandy.
Great was the surprise of the warriors and ladies of the court at the sight of the new-comer, whose face was as young and fresh as their own, but whose arms and whose speech were of a time long gone by. At first some were inclined to try him with jests, but they speedily found that, strange though his manners might seem, it were wiser to accept them. Indeed, it was not long before Ogier’s presence had caused itself to be so felt throughout the camp that he was given command of an army that was about to march against the enemy who were invading France and utterly routed them. In gratitude the king begged him to counsel him in all things, and in a few months some of Ogier’s strength and wisdom had passed into the people.
Now night and day Ogier wore the ring which Morgane le Fay had placed on his finger, and as long as it was there no youth about the court was fairer and more splendid than he. The gift with which he had been endowed in his cradle had lost none of its power, and as he passed through the crowd, towering full a head over other men, the hearts of the ladies went out towards him. He could not help it, and they could not help it. It had been so ordained by the fairy. Even age could not preserve them; nay, it seemed to render them an easier prey.
Amongst the noble ladies whose pulses beat faster at the sight of Ogier’s golden hair was the Countess of Senlis. Old was she, and withered of face, but she had never ceased to think that she was young, and she mistook the kindliness and courtesy of Ogier’s manner for the love that man bears to woman.
One morning, in crossing the garden to attend upon her mistress the queen, the countess came upon Ogier lying asleep under the trees. She stopped and looked upon him tenderly; then her eyes fell upon the ring on his finger, whose stone, of a strange green hue, was graven with devices.
‘If I could see them close, perchance I might guess who he is and whence he came,’ said she to herself, and, stooping, she drew lightly the ring from his hand, not knowing that the queen had crept up and stood behind her. But what an awful change came over him all at once! His limbs grew shrivelled, his hair white, his eyes so shrunken that they seemed hardly more than points; but when the queen turned with horror to ask her lady what it meant, the change in her was hardly less wondrous, for, though the old countess was ignorant of it, fifty years had been swept from her, and she was straight and winsome as of yore.
They were still standing, dumb with surprise, when Ogier awoke and glanced about him with feeble, uncertain gaze. Catching sight of the ring, which the countess was still holding, he stretched his shaking hand towards it. The action was more than the queen could bear.
‘Give it back to him,’ she said; and, unwilling though she was to part with such a treasure, the countess was forced to obey.
Tremblingly Ogier restored the ring to its place, and in an instant his youth and beauty returned to him.
Soon after this the king of France died, and when the time of mourning was over the queen made known to Ogier that she wished to take him for her second husband. Gentle was she and fair, and easy it was for Ogier to love her, and his heart beat high at the thought of sitting on the throne where Charlemagne had once sat. The people rejoiced greatly when they heard of the marriage, for with Ogier for their king they were safe, they thought, from invaders.
The wedding day had come, and scarce a man or woman in Paris had closed their eyes the night before. Magnificent indeed would the procession be that was to end in the new cathedral; gorgeous would be the trappings of the horses, dazzling the dresses of the ladies that would ride, some in litters and some on horses, through the streets that bordered the river. Early was the queen astir, to be tired by her maidens, and if Ogier’s slumbers lasted longer — well, it was not the first time that he had been crowned a king.
At length he was awakened by the sound of a voice calling his name:
‘Ogier, Ogier!’ and at the sound the present was forgotten, and the past rushed back. ‘Ogier, Ogier!’ whispered the voice again, and, looking, he saw standing by his bed not the queen, but Morgane le Fay.
‘Rise quickly,’ she said, ‘and put on your wedding garments. Clothe yourself in the mantle Charlemagne wore, and the crown that was placed upon his brow. Set on your feet his shoes of gold, and let me see you once as France would have seen you.’
He did her bidding, and she gazed at him awhile, then slowly drawing nigh she lifted the crown from his hair, and in its stead she put on him the wreath of laurel which brought peace and forgetfulness.
‘Now come with me,’ she said, holding out her hand, and together they left the palace unseen, and entered a barge that was waiting in the river, and in the sunrise they sailed away to the castle of Avallon.
[Adapted from Dunlop’s History of Prose Fiction, and Morris’s Ogier the Dane.]
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57