St. Denis of France
The Enchanted Stag
HE road taken by St. Denis of France when the seven
champions parted from one another was a highway of
adventure. Yet little adventure befell this noble
knight, for from the very hour when Kalyb stole him (as
she stole all the champions in their infancy), he had
had another enemy besides the wicked Enchantress; and
that was an enchanter no less powerful and cruel than
Kalyb, the ill-famed Ormandine himself. Now, St. Denis
did not at first come directly into Ormandine's power,
but the wizard was able by his arts to throw misfortune
in his way, and keep him from winning fame by deeds of
chivalry. In every country he entered (and his road led
him to the coast of England, and thence by sea to the
mainland of Europe) such deeds were to be done and
adventure to be found—but not by St. Denis, for
Ormandine so guided his steps astray that he went by
barren paths and lonely byways in the wilderness, so
he would have lost his skill in arms through
lack of use unless he had felt in his heart that he was
fated to do great things.
At length in his wanderings he came to the land of
Thessaly, which in those days had a fair repute for
chivalry; many knights were wont to come thither, and
seek adventure against robbers in the high mountains,
or in the wars of the Kings of Thessaly against the
Saracens or in the splendid tournaments which the King
often held. Here, thought St. Denis, he would at last
meet some notable happening.
He stood late one afternoon on a mountain slope
overlooking the great green plains of the country. Far
off he could see the white towers of the capital city,
almost a day's journey distant. The meadows beneath him
were rich, and full of cattle and horses (for which,
indeed, the land was famous). It seemed a region of
happiness and prosperity, where doubtless honour might
St. Denis resolved to rest where he was that night, and
early next morning to ride to the King's Court, and
offer himself for service in any way that might seem
good. He looked round him for some resting-place. The
grass was green and soft, and hard by was a fine
mulberry-tree, whose shade looked cool and
peaceful, and whose purple fruit glowed with
refreshing juices. St. Denis led his horse to the tree,
and unsaddled him; and he picked and ate some of the
ripe mulberries to satisfy his thirst. Then he lay down
under the tree, and in a moment fell into a deep sleep.
That was no ordinary sleep. St. Denis, indeed, had put
himself into the power of his great enemy the
enchanter, whose arts had more strength in Thessaly
than elsewhere. That very tree under which he was
sleeping and its fruit were enchanted.
When he awoke again he felt curiously active, and yet
disinclined for warlike deeds. The moon had risen and
set again while he slept, and already the sun was
climbing the morning sky. He rose, and looked round him
for a pool of water in which to bathe. He found one at
a little distance—a deep, overshadowed pool that
reflected its banks as clearly as if it were glass.
He bent over it and peered into its depths. He started
back in terror and amazement at what he saw. There in
the water was not the form of a man, but the hairy skin
and horned head of a fine hart. He looked down at his
feet; they were hoofs, and his legs were slim and
tapering. He tried to press his hands to his head, to
drive away the terrible
vision; but he could not
lift them as a man can; they too were hoofs. He had
been wholly changed into a deer.
"Oh——" he groaned; and no words came from his lips—he
could not speak. In a frenzy of fear and bewilderment,
he fled swift as the wind up the mountain path down
which he had gone the day before. On and on he ran like
a mad thing, till at last he sank exhausted and panting
on the ground.
Gradually his reason came back to him, and he grew
calm. He saw that some terrible enemy of whom he knew
nothing had in some mysterious way done this evil to
him. Who that enemy might be, and why he had been so
cruel, and how to be rid of the terrible spell, he
could not guess.
When he had rested he went back more gently to the
place where he had slept. There was his faithful steed
still waiting by the mulberry-tree. The good beast knew
him, in spite of his changed appearance. It came to him
and rubbed its nose gently against his neck, and
It was long before he could resolve what to do. He
thought it best, in the end, to stay near the
mulberry-tree, for that seemed to him to be the only
thing that could have done him this harm—if,
indeed, it came
from any visible thing, and not
from an invisible spell chanted far off by some unseen
magician. There he abode, cropping the grass, and
drinking from the pool that had told him his fate. With
him remained the faithful horse. And so for a long
time, for more than a year, in truth, St. Denis was a
hart, and lived the life of an animal.
But in the course of time he had one night a very
strange dream. It seemed to him that he was walking in
a very beautiful garden, in the midst whereof was a
rose-tree of surpassing loveliness. Upon its branches
grew at once roses white and roses red, and its scent
was more delicate than that of any mortal flower. St.
Denis, so his dream ran, went to the tree, and, since
he was still a hart and desirous of leaves and green
things to eat, ate some of the flowers; and immediately
the spell fell from him, and he was changed into a man
as before. Thereafter in his vision he appeared to meet
a lovely Princess, but of that he was not sure, for he
awoke before it was made clear to him.
When he awoke, his good steed was no longer by him, at
which he marvelled, for it was wont to stay by his side
always, day and night. But he had not been awake long
when he heard far away the distant sound of
in the mountains. It grew nearer and nearer, and
presently the horse came in sight. But it had a
singular appearance, as though it were pushing its way
through trees and blossoms. A heavenly scent filled the
air, and grew stronger as the horse approached. Soon
the noble beast was close at hand, and the poor hart
could see it clearly. In its mouth it bore leaves and
blossoms, from which the scent issued. The blossoms
were white and red rose-blooms in flower upon a great
branch. The horse, by some strange means, had been led
to wander into the mountains and find the enchanted
tree, and bring a branch of it to the champion.
Immediately St. Denis remembered his dream, and he put
his lips to the rose-blossoms and ate them. Hardly had
he touched them when once again deep sleep fell upon
him, and for many hours he lay almost as if dead. When
he awoke he recalled all that had happened, and,
mindful of his former grievous change, ran to the pool
to see if he had been restored to man's shape.
This time he had no need to start back in horror. In
the cool waters he saw himself exactly as he had been
before he ate of the enchanted mulberry-tree. The spell
was gone from him, and the power of Ormandine over
him had vanished. He fell upon his knees and
thanked God for his deliverance.
Rejoicing, he ran back to his charger, and threw his
arms round its neck. "Oh, my good steed, never will I
forsake you," he cried. "We will go through life
together, and when you are too old to come with me upon
knightly adventures you shall rest in the greenest
meadow in the world, and have the finest stable that
man can build. But as for that accursed mulberry-tree,
I will see that it does no more evil."
He hurried to the tree; drawing his sword and swinging
it round with all his force, he clove the trunk at one
blow of the sharp blade. But, instead of splintered
bark and wood, he saw a wonderous sight. The tree fell
asunder in two halves; a sound as of thunder was heard,
and out of the trunk stepped the most beautiful maiden
St. Denis had ever seen.
"Princess—for such you must be," said St. Denis in
astonishment—"how came you here? What have I done
that my strength should cleave this tree to the ground?
And why did I do you no harm in that stroke, if you were
within this prison of wood?"
"I was within it, and yet not within it," answered the
maiden; and her voice sounded
to St. Dennis like the
chiming of silver bells. "You say truly that I am a
Princess; I am Eglantine, daughter of the King of
Thessaly. Many years ago—I know not how many—the
vile enchanter Ormandine carried me off from my father
the King, against whom he had a grudge because of the
laws against witchcraft. He turned me into this
mulberry-tree by his spells. But when you struck it
with your sword his power over me was gone, and since
the tree was wrought by magic, no harm to it could come
upon me also. I could see through my leaves your sorry
fate, and it was the whisperings they made at night
that at length came to your good steed's ears, and bade
him search for the magic rose-tree, and set us both
free. Now let us go at once to my father the King, in
his palace in the plain below."
Without more ado they went down from the hill together,
the Princess riding on the champion's horse, and St.
Denis walking at the bridle. With every step he took he
thought her more lovely; and she was not backward in
looking favourably upon him.
They came presently to the chief city. When the
citizens saw the Princess—for it was but some ten years
since she had been enchanted, and she lived in their
memory—they ran out of their houses and
shops and booths, and followed her with shoutings and
joyful music; and so they arrived at the King's palace,
the news of their coming flying before them, for rumour
is swifter than the feet of men. The King was ready to
receive them, and he ran down the marble steps of his
palace door, and embraced her as she alighted from the
horse. Then he greeted St. Denis honourably, and they
entered the palace.
It was not long before the Princess Eglantine had told
her tale, and marvellous it seemed to them.
"Sir Knight," said the King when she had ended, "I
will grant whatsoever you ask of me."
"I could ask of you but one thing, Sire," answered the
champion, "and that is the most precious thing you
"Whatever it is, you shall have it," said the King. "Ask."
"I ask your daughter in marriage, if she will deign to
look upon me with favour. Though I am not yet dubbed
knight, I am of the royal line of the ancient kingdom
"Your lineage is high and proud, friend," said the
King; "but your boon I cannot
grant. It is of my
daughter that you must ask it. If she will give it, I
will not say nay."
"Nor will I refuse to grant it," said Eglantine. "If
you desire me for wife, fair sir, I will be your wife."
So gracious was the King and so well-disposed to the
knight who had set his daughter free from Ormandine's
enchantments, that he welcomed St. Denis the more
joyfully for his bold request, and also he made him a
knight, after the manner of chivalry. In a little time
St. Denis and Eglantine were married amid great
rejoicings, and afterwards a tournament was held, the
news of which the King caused to be proclaimed through
all Christian lands. In the tournament St. Denis held
the lists against all comers, and overthrew every
knight with whom he fought. When the tournament and all
the revelry that followed it was ended, the champion
and his bride set out to visit other courts, and seek
out the six champions wherever they might be found. And
first they journeyed to the court of the King of
Greece. But whom they met there shall be told later.