Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato

Book I: Canto XVIII: Two Duels

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2022, All Rights Reserved.

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Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato: Book I, Canto XVIII

Book I: Canto XVIII: 1-3: Marfisa unseats Prasildo and Iroldo

You have heard, in the preceding canto,

How Marfisa, that fierce warrior-maid,

Her challenge, in the flowering meadow,

To those three valiant knights, had proudly made.

Prasildo was the first his skill to show,  

His speed and bravery he now displayed,

Charging o’er the grass (though Rinaldo

Was more famed), he sped against the foe.

When he, thus, encountered the damsel,

His lance was shattered; she moved not a pace,

As that knight departed from the saddle,

Falling with a mighty thud upon his face.

The maiden cried: ‘Come now to the battle

You two, so I may swiftly leave this place,

For you see the herald hurries me along;

Agricane waits to fight, midst his throng!’

Iroldo, seeing his companion fall,

Stunned, to the ground, in that first encounter,

Sped to the joust, pausing not at all,

While Prasildo was taken prisoner;

Yet he fell too, as if he’d struck a wall.

She’ll find it harder to down the other,

My lords; be pleased to hear ere you go,

Each fierce and valiant charge, each bitter blow.

Book I: Canto XVIII: 4-6: Her arms and armour

Marfisa bore a long and massive lance,

All wrought of polished bone; twas immense.

Her shield, of blue, her device did advance,

A gold crown split in three; a brave defence.

Her surcoat bore the same and the expanse

Of her steed’s caparison, at rich expense,

While a dragon in green formed her helm’s crest,

Standing on high; red flames it there expressed,

The fiery flames so wrought that, in the breeze

They made a roaring sound; while, in a fight,

The noise increased and, like to stormy seas,

Added to her foe’s nervousness and fright.

The steel-plate, the mail, she wore without cease,

Was created by magic, in the night;

In that armour, which fitted her so well,

She felt safe, and protected by the spell.

Marfisa rode a massive charger

By far the largest Nature ever made.

It was a roan, with russet in its colour,

The head, and tail, and legs, a darker shade.

Though not itself an enchanted creature,

Yet boundless strength and fierceness it displayed,

And, high upon that mighty steed, the queen

Passed swiftly and smoothly midst the scene.

Book I: Canto XVIII: 7-25: She and Rinaldo do battle

On the other side, the brave son of Amone,

Lowering his wondrously weighty lance,

Charged, with the heart of a lion, fiercely,

And struck her visor, in his swift advance.

He might as well have struck at some lofty

Well-built tower; for at that blow, by mischance,

His lance shattered, and scattered o’er the land

Many a splinter smaller than a hand.

At the same time, the bold warrior-maid,

Struck his helm, forcefully, on the front,

While the knight fell backwards, sorely dismayed,

His head ringing, though his helm bore the brunt.

Marfisa lost her lance though, for the blade

Was driven back, now harmless as a blunt,

While the stout shaft split lengthwise, that she bore,

Though unbroken a hundred times before.

It shattered now, in that fierce encounter,

While the warrior-maid was sore amazed,

Yet, even more so, was filled with anger,

For Rinaldo kept his seat, though somewhat dazed.

She called Allah unjust, and that other,

The horned and beaked Trivigante, dispraised,

Crying: ‘Why do you leave him in his place,

And not render complete his sad disgrace?

Descend, show yourselves, come, choose your weapon!

I’ll guarantee to make an end of all,

And leave but a scorched field, like some dragon;

Tis on you above, Marfisa doth call.

You fear not my strength, for tis certain

I cannot climb the sky to work your fall,

Yet be warned, if I find a way, I’ll rise

To scorch and lay waste your Paradise!’

While the proud warrior-maid menaced so,

Threatening to destroy the peace of Allah,

She faced, once more, the half-dazed Rinaldo,

Who had swayed for a short while before her,

But now shook his head, and re-sought his foe.

She was ready for the fresh encounter,

And when he turned to charge at her again,

She laughed aloud at him, in high disdain.

‘You foolish wretch, go now, and quit the field,

While I give my mind to something better!

Is this some joy-in-pain, you’ve revealed?

Well then, pursue it with someone other!

By my faith, and by the sword that I wield,

I tell you plainly you’re in peril, brother:

Once I’ve despoiled you of your armour,

I’ll beat you with the flat, by my honour!’

With such proud words she spoke, but no answer

Gave Rinaldo; no, he uttered not a word;

Not wishing to indulge in idle chatter,

For he found her banter quite absurd.

His sword was his reply, as he met her

Face to face, while feigning he’d not heard.

He aimed Fusberta, but mistimed his swing,

Such that Marfisa scarcely felt a thing,

While the maid retreated not at the blow,

But repaid in kind the valiant knight,

Striking the beaver and the chin below,

Then splitting his shield in two, outright.

Piercing his flank, most cruelly, also,

Despite hauberk and mail; fierce it did bite.

When Rinaldo felt the blood drench his side,

It but increased his courage, wrath and pride.

The Lord of Montalbano had never

Experienced a battle such as this.

He abandoned his shield altogether,

And swung his sword, seeking not to miss.

He knew that the contest would be bitter,

Yet felt no fear, her skill sought to dismiss,

As, with a double-grip, he struck her shield

And sent the pieces flying o’er the field.

That powerful blow caused the warrior

To drop her horse’s reins, while his attack

Annoyed her, as much as it amazed her.

She stood tall in her stirrups, fighting back,

Raising her face, now scarlet with anger,

And launching a savage counter-attack,

With another huge, and two-handed, swing

As the knight performed the exact same thing.

Like her, he waited not, but launched his blow;

Thus, each mighty weapon struck the other,

As they sought to land a hit on the foe,

Raising sparks, as the blades clashed together.

While both were razor-sharp, honed to bestow

A mortal wound, yet, here, his Fusberta,

Proving stronger, broke the maid’s blade in two,

As an axe cuts wood; to the ground part flew.

When Marfisa saw her fine blade trimmed short,

Which she had previously so esteemed,

She rained blows on Rinaldo, for she sought

To disarm him, nonetheless; though it seemed

But a desperate cause for which she fought,

For a master swordsman the knight was deemed,

While he simply kept an eye on each wild swing,

To attack, or defend by parrying.

Marfisa launched a tempestuous blow,

Believing she had found an opening,

And if she’d landed it upon her foe,

He’d have lost his life but, receiving

That bold stroke upon Fusberta, held low,

He attacked her, it seemed, in defending,

Striking the broken weapon from her hand,

So that upon the ground the sword did land.  

When she saw her broken blade fall to earth,

No frenzy in the world could equal hers.

She urged on her steed, straining at the girth,

And, unarmed, charged the knight, with flailing spurs,

Aiming to strike, for all she was worth,

As a wild-boar charges, headlong, midst the furze,

While the blow from her fist was scarcely light,

For it made the former ones seem but slight.

I marvel at that maiden, and her blows,

Though I but say what Bishop Turpin wrote:

‘The red blood spurted from Rinaldo’s nose,

And from his ears, and filled his mouth and throat.

Though the magic helm, that was Mambrino’s,

Saved the knight from death (I simply quote)

For, if he’d worn another helm that day,

That fierce blow would have torn his head away!’

Rinaldo was dazed, but kept the saddle,

Though that fist had rattled him indeed.

His charger now bore him from the battle,

Leaving Marfisa behind, on her steed;

For his horse was of so fine a mettle,

That its hooves flew o’er the flowery mead,

Without stirring a single blade of grass,

Nor a petal, so swiftly it did pass.

It ran silently, its flight could scarce be seen.

Marfisa raised her eyebrows in surprise.

She retrieved her broken sword from the green,

Then sought to mark his passage with her eyes.

By now, Rinaldo was far from the scene,

But, once recovered, that fact did realise,

And he galloped back to see if he could find,

Bold Marfisa, with a swift revenge in mind.

For he felt the blood flowing down his face,

And reproved himself fiercely, in this way:

‘What a deal of cowardice, in this place,

Your base spirit has thought fit to display;

Tis a maiden pursues you in the chase!

What, in truth, would the Count of Brava say,

If he could see you battling gainst a maid,

Yet failing to ensure your debt’s repaid?’

With that painful thought, the bold Rinaldo

Gripped Fusberta hard, in his fury.

Yet I must speak of bold Count Orlando,

While that other seeks vengeance and glory.

For the Count, who loved Angelica so,

Had obeyed her plea (you’ve heard the story)

To assist her father, Galafrone,

Who gazed now, upon his fleeing army.

Book I: Canto XVIII: 26-30: Agricane seeks to lure Orlando from the field

Any man that saw the Count in the field,

At once, recognised that valiant knight,

Whose sword slew one, and made another yield,

Felling the flags and their bearers, outright.

A fierce struggle was at hand, with sword and shield,

Though the men of India were in full flight,

(For they’d abandoned all thought of attack,  

The hordes of Tartars ever at their back).

Confused, and then routed, the fools had run,

(Or had galloped on their steeds) o’er the plain,

And the king too, when all was said and done,

Had sought the safety of his camp to gain.

But now a breathing space was swiftly won,

Those who’d fled turned to face the foe again,

For Orlando had arrived, and stopped the rout;

With King Hadrian, he turned the men about,

Helped by Chiarone, Brandimarte,

Each, willingly, committed to the war,

And, there too, Oberto dal Leone.

Attacking fiercely; slaying many a score,

They fell on the astounded enemy,

Turning red the field and the river-shore.

Brandimarte with his lance downed Poliferno,

And then, wheeling, unseated bold Uldano,

While Orlando engaged Agricane,

And so resumed their uncompleted fight.

No fiercer was e’er seen, for, viciously,

Each hacked at the other, while the sight

Of his brave ranks now in ruins, cruelly

Afflicted the king, for this other knight

Kept him so tied he’d no way to send aid,

But must face the foe, and counter his blade.

A sudden thought he had, which was to lure

The Count away from the battlefield,

To deal with him, in some place more obscure,

And then return, swiftly, the act concealed;

For then he might, more readily, ensure

That the fate of the enemy was sealed,

For he thought their troops not worth a straw,

And King Galafrone worth little more.

Book I: Canto XVIII: 31-37: He and the Count converse

With this in mind, he broke from the fight,

And spurred his valiant steed o’er the plain.

The Count, not knowing what he had in sight,

Thought Agricane fled from fear, or pain,

And sped in pursuit of the other knight,

Until both reached a more wooded terrain,

And, in its midst, entered upon a glade,  

With a fount at its heart, that gently played.

Agricane halted by this woodland spring,

Dismounted, yet still gripped his shield, firmly,

Nor sought to doff his helm, and then the king

Awaited his pursuing enemy.

When Orlando arrived, and saw him standing

By the stream, he called out to him, loudly:

‘You fled from me, sir knight, which scarcely shows

A man of fortitude or daring! Heaven knows

How you can bear the shame, and the disgrace,

Of seeking to evade one man alone?

Perchance, you merely thought, thus, to save face?

You were in error, as you now must own.

None can escape; to meet one’s death with grace

Is best; cling to the life that one has known,

And one may lose at once life and honour;

One must die well to win heaven’s favour.’

The king remounted, and gave his reply:

In a calm voice: ‘You are the boldest knight

I have ever met; that, I can’t deny;

And you shall live, and in life delight,

Due to the courtesy, and skill, say I,

That you displayed before when we did fight,

When I was forced to quit the encounter

That I might save the army, thereafter.

I would have you live, if you’d but stay

Far from my presence, and annoy me not.

For my flight was but to lure you away

Or you’d have been struck dead upon the spot.

Choose to duel, and you’ll but go astray;

Fight with me, and death must be your lot;

But let sun and sky be witness to the fact

Your death would offend me; I shun the act.’

Orlando answered him, graciously,

Pitying him, despite all that he’d said:

‘Noble as you are, it pains me, truly,

That midst the damned you’ll be, once you are dead.

Tis ill that you scorn Christianity,

And embrace a lesser path instead.

Save your body and your soul, I say,

Be baptised, and you may go on your way.’

Agricane answered, gazing at his face,

‘It seems then, that you must be Orlando!

Though I were heaven’s king, I’d change place

With any knight in this world, here below,

To duel with you, and life or death embrace.

And yet let me advise you, so you’ll know,

You preach about your God in vain to me.

Sword in hand, defend yourself, and bravely!’

Book I: Canto XVIII: 38-40: They recommence their duel, but cease when night falls

Without more ado, he drew Tranchera,

And attacked Orlando, with ardour.

A fierce contest now began, moreover,

As, with cut and thrust, both men sought honour.

Each was a shining light of true endeavour;

While (the book says) they fought together,

From the height of noon till the fall of night,

Their courage waxing the longer the fight.

But once the sun dipped beyond the mountain,

And the stars appeared, adorning the sky,

The weary Count addressed the king again:

‘What now?’ he said, ‘It darkens there, on high.’

‘We must rest here in the meadow, tis plain,’

Came the courteous monarch’s swift reply,

‘And then tomorrow, with the morning light,

We may rise together, and resume the fight.’

On this matter, the pair were in accord.

Each tethered his brave charger as he pleased.

Then the green grass did each a couch afford,

They, like neighbours between whom war has ceased,

As if bound by ancient peace, graced the sward.

The Count beside the stream his tired flesh eased,

While the king lay nearer to the trees,

Beneath a pine, stirred by the evening breeze.

Book I: Canto XVIII: 41-44: Orlando talks of faith and learning

They talked together for a goodly while,

Of noble things, conducive to their state.

The Count gazed at the sky, mile on mile,

And declared: ‘What we behold, soon or late,

Is all the work of the Lord; the silver dial

Of the moon, the stars that tell of our fate,

The shining sun, its light upon our face,

God made them all for the human race.’

‘I see,’ the king replied, ‘that twould please

You to reason concerning faith, and such.

In the field of science, I lack expertise,

Not inclined to it in youth, overmuch.

I broke my teachers’ heads; by degrees,

I turned from learning, and its tiresome clutch,

Till none was there to teach me to write,

Or show me books; for they all ran in fright.

And so, I spent my early years in arms,

In riding, hunting, jousting and the like.

I think a nobleman should shun the charms

Of reading all the day, and learn to strike

The targe, gain strength and speed for war’s alarms,

And learn the use of lance, and sword, and pike,

All that a knight may need; oh, learning’s fine

For priests and scribes; the art of war is mine!’

Orlando answered: ‘With much I agree;

Yes, in arms a man should first seek honour;

Yet learning is not lesser in degree,

As flowers a field, it adorns the bearer.

An ox, a stone, a log, it seems to me

Is one that fails to praise the Creator.

Without knowledge how savour the sublime

And majestic heights, noble and divine?’

Book I: Canto XVIII: 45-48: He declares that he loves Angelica

‘You have the advantage’, said the king,

‘So, to argue would seem discourteous.

I’ve told you of my nature and, seeing

That you are the better-read betwixt us,

I’ll not deign to respond to your preaching.

If you choose to sleep rather than discuss

Aught with me, then so do, but I implore

You to talk, else, of naught but love or war.

Now, I pray you, to aught I ask of you,

Speak the truth, on your honour, as is right

If you’re Orlando, that brave warrior, who

Is known through all the world for his might.

Come, say what it may be that you pursue,

In coming here, and if you’ve loved, sir knight,

For the lord that scorns love, he lacks a heart;

Though he may seem alive, but plays a part.’

Said the Count: ‘I am indeed Orlando;

He who slew Troiano and Almonte.

Tis Love has made me wander to and fro,

And journey, now, to this far-flung country.

And, since I speak true, then you shall know

That the daughter of King Galafrone

Holds my heart, that maiden and no other,

She who rules the keep, yet, at Albracca.

You have made fierce war upon her father,

Seized his lands and his castles by force.

Love brought me here to help the daughter,

Because she needs my aid, her last recourse.

Full often I’ve ridden to the slaughter,

For faith, or honour, or simply to enforce

The right; and now I fight to win the maid,

Nor seek in other ways to be repaid.’

Book I: Canto XVIII: 49-52: Agricane asks that Orlando renounce her till dawn

Once the king heard he loved Angelica,

He was enraged, far beyond all measure;

His face, indeed, was suffused with anger,

Though the dark of night hid his displeasure.

He wept and sighed (inwardly, however)

That this knight now coveted his treasure,

Stirring jealousy’s dark flame, its fierce fire,

So stricken he near died of desire.

He said to the count: ‘Prepare your thought,

For as soon as daylight shows in the sky,

The two of us must battle, as we ought,

And in that fierce duel, one of us shall die.

Yet I pray of you, ere the fight be fought,

Let the love that you proclaim be set by,

Renounce the woman that your heart desires,

Let the maid seem mine till the night expires.

For, while I am alive, I’ll not endure

That another man should love the maid.

At dawn one of us must breathe no more,

And lose his life, and the lady, in this glade.

Renounce her, all will seem as before,

None will know; it will ne’er be betrayed,

By the trees about us, that you did so

For a time; tis but little you’ll forego.’

Said Orlando to the king: ‘I have kept,

Every promise that I have ever made.

If I were so unwise as to accept,

I’d be forced to renege. If some sharp blade

Cleft my flesh, or blinded me while I slept,

Yet I could live sans eyes, sans limbs, dismayed,

Without a soul, without a heart, but never

Without my love for fair Angelica.’

Book I: Canto XVIII: 53-55: Orlando refusing, they fight once more

Agricane was angered past belief,

Unable to endure that proud reply,

And in the darkness, full of ire and grief,

He seized Baiardo, and mounted on high,

His sudden action bringing some relief.

Challenging the Count, loud came his cry:

‘Renounce the maiden now, or mount and fight;

Forgo her, or defend yourself, sir knight!’

The Count leapt to the saddle in a trice,

For when he’d heard the mighty monarch stir,

He’d feared some treachery, some foul device,

And so was ready for what might occur.

And, once mounted, his answer proved concise:

‘No, I’ll ne’er renounce my love for her,

Nor would not, if I could, by night, or day.

If you’d attain her, seek another way!’

As a storm begins that looms o’er the sea,

So that duel re-commenced, by the light

Of the bright moon above, rising swiftly,

As they spurred their mounts o’er the field of night.

The strokes they exchanged (twas no mere tourney)

Were landed ruthlessly, by knight on knight,

For both were strong, and ardent, to be sure.

This canto is complete. I’ll speak no more.

The End of Book I: Canto XVIII of ‘Orlando Innamorato’

Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato: Book I, Canto XVIII - End