Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato

Book I: Canto XXIV: Orlando's Labours

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

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Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato: Book I, Canto XXIV

Book I: Canto XXIV: 1-11: The progress of the duels

If my memory does not deceive me,

My lords, I promised to renew the tale

Of that fierce duel, with whose history

I sought my faithful listeners to regale;

Of how that strong and fearsome lady

Possessed of such pride, scorned every male,

And thought herself but mocked (beneath his breath),

By every man, unless she sought his death.

Aquilante and Grifone, for their part,

Were proud knights too, for none upon this earth

Whate’er his prowess in war’s fiery art,

Whate’er his courage, or his sense of worth,

Not Rinaldo, nor Orlando that brave heart,

Let alone all the rest of noble birth,

Could handle them together; since each one

Could meet the best that lived beneath the sun.

So never was there a finer duel fought,

Than that between the valiant Marfisa

And those two warriors, and hence I ought,

To pen these events in their due order.

I paused, as I recall, when having sought

To fell Aquilante, his bold brother,

Grifone, had struck her gleaming helm,

Seeking that noble maid to overwhelm.

She turned upon him now, with such force

That she believed she’d struck him dead indeed,

For his shield flew to pieces, and his horse

And he might have been cleft, I would concede,

Head to foot, had his armour not, of course,

Been enchanted, as the White Fay decreed,

For so deft and merciless was her swift blow,

Twould have brought one not thus protected low.

The brave Grifone answered her in kind,

Striking, two-handed, at her helm again,

Though the sharp blade but her hauberk did find,

And slid across her steel-clad breast, in vain.

Aquilante charged, to strike her from behind,

But she turned, in anger, despite the pain,

And struck at his face, with so harsh a blow

His head bowed down to his steed’s neck below.

She turned once more to meet Grifone,

And then let loose so desperate a swing

Of her fierce blade, that he was saved only

By that faery-steel of which we poets sing.

Meanwhile his brother, bold Aquilante,

Now on her other flank, tightly gripping

Her bright helm, as best he could, sought to show

His strength, and drag her to the ground below.

But though he gripped the helmet good and hard

Marfisa grasped the stout shield that he bore,

And so, his sly attempt proved but ill-starred,

While from his arm that brave defence she tore.

Grifone brought him aid, advanced a yard

And loosed such a vicious stroke once more,

That his sword split the maiden’s shield in two,

While she freed his brother, and turned anew,

To engage the other warrior, in fury.

They never ceased a moment from the fight,

But swung their great blades, seeking glory.

Like two conflicting storms in the night,

Where the lightning-flashes tell the story

Of the clouds on high, and the hail in flight,

The thunder, and the rain that beats the grass,

While the ash-trees shed their leaves, as they pass;

Such were their harsh blows, and such were they.

Neither knight ceased to strike at the lady,

One or the other’s sword was e’er in play,

While she was so bold, despite their fury,

Slight was their impression, one might say.

The bright blades rang in the air so loudly

That twenty blacksmiths’ hammers scarce could pound

On their twenty anvils with a fiercer sound.

Not far away on that plain, one could view

Another vicious struggle, for Rinaldo

Fought a second duel, one blade gainst two,

Chiarone, then brave Hadrian, his foe.

With sore wounds to both hip and arm, anew

He yet fought, that Lord of Montalbano,

So fierce, so skilled in every sort of fight,

He still prevailed against either knight.

While the third duel, between Oberto,

And the King of Turkey, was in full flow,

For that monarch, the mighty Torindo,

Fought as hard; the skill of Oberto, though,

Was superior, he the subtler foe.

The fierceness of each combat seemed to grow,

And yet, of the three, the fiercest, it’s true,

Involved Marfisa, and those valiant two.

Book I: Canto XXIV: 12-14: We return to Orlando and Leodilla, seeking Brandimarte

Of how those three duels ended, I swear

To tell you, tis a promise, but, for now,

I must return to that dense forest where

I left the Count (and Leodilla) to plough

A way amidst the trees, thorns everywhere,

O’er stony ledges, finding trails somehow

Searching for Brandimarte, while twas light,

And only ceasing with the fall of night.

For when the sun had set, and day was past,

And many a star was gleaming in the sky,

Having failed to find a trace of him, at last

They emerged from the woods and, by and by,

He dismounted from his steed, somewhat downcast,

And lifted down the fair maid, with a sigh,

The maid of whose history you have heard,

And that of her foolish spouse, every word.

She wondered if he’d try to sleep with her,

And wondered if she’d resist, if he tried;

But she need not have pondered the matter,

For, his inclinations he did ever hide.

Bishop Turpin says that our Count of Brava,

Was chaste, and was a virgin till he died.

You may choose to believe what pleases you;

Of what good Turpin says, not all is true.

Book I: Canto XXIV: 15-18: They encounter a maiden, bearing a book and a horn

Orlando now stretched out upon the grass,

And never stirred a limb until the dawn.

Our valiant knight snored constantly, alas,

So, the maid lay there, waiting on the morn,

Wondering greatly as the hours did pass,

That such a valiant knight could be born

With so hard a heart that but scant delight

He took in love’s affairs; she spent the night

Disappointed in our brave Count Orlando;

And if, next day, ere they mounted again,

The maid had known where she was, or might go,

That disconsolate girl, I would maintain

Might well have slipped away, alone or no.

But they were lost, so she chose to remain,

Though nursing, wordlessly, her discontent,

Such that the Count asked what her silence meant.

She replied: ‘I’ve not had a moment’s rest,

Since your endless snoring kept me awake,

And, there’s another reason I’m oppressed…’

She was about to hint at his sad mistake,  

When a maiden appeared, richly dressed;

From a verdant grove, her way she did make;

On a palfrey draped in silk she was borne,

And clasped a book; at her side, hung a horn.

The horn was richly-worked, ivory-white,

And most marvellously wrought, and inlaid

In the middle, and at each end, with bright

Shining gold, fair enamel, and displayed,

Many a precious gem that caught the light.

It was a wondrous treasure; and the maid,

Who bore it, was beyond all others fair,

With a sweet manner, and most gracious air.

Book I: Canto XXIV: 19-24: Who explains the secrets of both

Dismounting she knelt before Orlando,

And, in a voice both courteous and clear,

Said: ‘Sir knight, you have found, for weal or woe,

An adventure this morn that will appear

More marvellous than any here below.

But you must bear a heart free of all fear,

Such as a perfect knight ought to bear,

For your aspect is both noble and fair.

This book will teach you all that you must do,

But the manner of its use I will explain;

First you must sound this horn, loud and true,

Read then the book; and you will find, writ plain,

The valiant deeds to be performed, by you,

In response to what the horn sets in train;

For, at the first note that sounds, high and clear,

A fierce, and dreadful, creature will appear.

The book, then, will explain, as I have said,

What you must achieve; yet anticipate

No time for idling, for you’ll find, instead,

You’ll need to use your sword, soon and late.

And if you overcome that thing of dread,

Don’t delay a moment, don’t hesitate,

Or you’ll be deprived of your liberty,

But blow the horn, again; and you will see

Something else issue forth, bringing danger;

So, ope the book once more, valiant knight,

And follow its advice; do not linger;

Though, if you are like to die of fright,

Twere best you avoid the whole adventure,

For tis only after darkness comes the light;

A fine beginning, but a wretched end,

Many a brave man has wrought, I’d contend.

And here’s the reason I counsel you so:

The horn was created by enchantment,

And if a knight is so feeble as to blow

Upon the thing, but then, in fear, repent,

He’ll spend his life in captivity and woe.

For to the Lake-Isle he must then be sent.

Thus, he who dare not finish, ne’er should start,

Three times you needs must sound it; or, depart.

The first two blasts bring the greatest peril,

Each is a weary trial, filled with pain;

Each time you must labour like the devil.

But, for a third time, sound the horn again,

And you’ll need no sword, or casque of metal,

For so fine an adventure’s then in train

That if you lived a hundred years or more

You’d find but joy and happiness in store.’

Book I: Canto XXIV: 25-29: Orlando blows the horn for the first time

Once the Count had learned from the maiden

All he needed, of the wondrous adventure,

He burned to complete the tasks, as given,

Nor sought more advice (as was his nature!)

But stretched out his hand, as he was bidden,

And took the book and horn; first, however,

Ere he started, to prepare for the fight,

He helped the maid, Leodilla, to alight.  

Then he pressed to his lips the magic horn,

And being quite well-skilled in warlike art,

Blew a thunderous note; o’er the land twas borne,  

And could be heard in the remotest part.  

And when that call had ceased to adorn

The air, a mighty boulder split apart,

A hundred yards off, with a crashing sound,

And two great creatures rose from the ground.

For, once that mass of stone had split in two,

A pair of wild bulls emerged, with a roar,

Strange and dreadful in their size and hue,

Each with a cruel gaze; sharp horns they bore,

And both of iron; pawing the bright dew,

Those creatures, waited, and Orlando saw

Their hides were shimmering, now green, now black,

Red, yellow. Ere the monsters could attack,

He oped the book; the Count found written there,

A text that read: ‘Sir knight, know you must lose

Should you seek their deaths, for in this affair

Your sharp sword can do naught; no, you must use

Your bodily strength, if their horns you’d dare,

And would end the matter, and do so choose.

You must capture them both, whate’er the pain,

And then yoke them tight, with a length of chain.

Once those wild bulls are yoked, then plough the ground

There where you saw the boulder split in two,

And cut furrows in the soil, all around.

Do this when you have blown the horn anew,

And then, a second time, here will be found

The means and the manner by which you

Will win honour in this labour, or death.

Away now, and breathe fire with every breath.’

Book I: Canto XXIV: 30-38: He captures and yokes the wild bulls

Orlando closed the book; he read no more,

But made his way straight towards the boulder,

Nor was there much delay, for to be sure

The bulls charged, with a great roar of anger.

He quit Baiardo for the grassy floor,

And faced the first enormous creature,

That lowered its head, and swollen with pride,

Arriving swiftly, struck the Count’s left side.

It threw him more than twelve feet in the air;

He fell heavily to the solid ground

Where the second, with its iron horns laid bare

His chest, scattering plate and mail around.

It tossed him to the sky, and, slowing there,

He descended, once more, with scarce a sound.

His flesh and bones were bruised, but, being charmed,

He landed on soft earth, and was unharmed.

Don’t ask me if the Count was in a rage;

For no human tongue could express his ire.

With both feet firmly planted centre-stage,

He displayed his strength, and his sole desire;

Delivering harsher blows than I could gauge,

Making Durindana sing, eyes on fire,

As at those wild bulls’ horns, and bristling backs,

He aimed the blade, in his all-out attacks.

His weapon served as well as a blunt stick;

It failed to pierce their flesh, or do them harm,

For their hides were not only good and thick

But well-protected by a magic charm.

And, although Orlando was strong and quick,

They drove him about, to his great alarm,

So fiercely, as they tossed him here and there,

With their iron horns, that he gasped for air.

Yet, since he was hardly there for pleasure,

He sought for vengeance, in his sorry plight,

And fought on, striking hard at each creature,

The very image of a stalwart knight.

Despite their thick hides, he had their measure,

And made them bellow with pain, in that fight,

For he struck them so hard, such strength he found,

They were frequently beaten to the ground.

Now the cautious bulls began to back away,

Their heads lowered, in reluctant defence,

Though when the Count held them both at bay,

Their proud spirits roused the pair to offence.

And so thrice they retired from the affray,

And thrice, as if the fight they’d recommence,

They returned, until at last the bold Orlando

Gripped one iron horn, of the nearest foe.

He grasped it with his left hand and the beast,

In a rage launched its body in the air.

It leapt about, but, while its strength decreased,

He held it tight, though fiercely it did glare.

He had Baiardo’s bridle; when it ceased,

He took it from his belt (he’d stored it there)

And with the bridle, which was mostly chain,

He bound the bull, that loudly did complain.

As he dragged the monster round, by its horn,

Which he’d ne’er released, the second creature,

Stung by anger, circled round him; twas born

To rile him; the charm enhanced its nature.

With a mighty heave, now treating it with scorn,

He dragged the first to a marble pillar,

Carved with a text, declaring that below

That spot lay the tomb of King Bavardo.

Having bound the first proud bull with the chain,

He yoked the second to the first, as well,

And pounded them so hard one might fain

Describe them both as tamed, as by a spell,

Both those wild creatures, now subdued by pain.

Now the warrior, that in war did e’er excel,

Harnessed the pair in front of Durindana,

(Its blade slanting forward) like a farmer.

Book I: Canto XXIV: 39-42: And ploughs the earth, then blows the horn again

Then Orlando cut a branch for a goad,

And set to ploughing the earth with his blade,

Driving the bulls ahead, as he bestowed

A blow, now and then, till they obeyed.

O’er the open space his straight furrows showed.

And never a better job of it was made;

Durindana, razor-sharp, eased his toil,

As it sliced through the roots, and stones, and soil.

When he’d ploughed the field to its boundary,

The Count celebrated, and stopped to rest,

Thanking God, in His virtue, and divinity,

For granting the honour of this great test.

He then freed the bulls, who bellowed loudly,

And soon vanished down a dale to the west.

He and the maidens watched them out of sight,

But, on the horn, his hand did soon alight;

For though the bold Count was more than weary

From his vast labour in ploughing the field,

Each moment now seemed like a year, till he

Might address the task the second blast revealed.

Nor strength nor cunning (met with bravery),

Would conquer him, he felt, so he appealed

To fate, and raised the splendid horn once more,

And blew a note that shook the valley floor.

The maiden who’d borne it had, earlier,

Quit her palfrey, to watch the whole affair.

And in a field that fair flowers did cover,

She sat twining a garland for her hair.

Though the echoes of the note grew fainter,

The ground was still shaking everywhere,

When the summit of a mound, not far away,

Erupted, sending forth a fiery ray.

Book I: Canto XXIV: 43-48: A dragon appears and the Count refers to the book

Milone’s son was waiting, silently,

To observe whatever sight might appear.

When, from the hill, a dragon flew, swiftly;

Twas so hateful Leodilla quaked with fear.

The other maid, who dreaded naught, simply

Turned to her, as she thought to disappear,

Saying: ‘Flee not; you are safe here with me;

Tis the knight that needs show his bravery.

This task does not belong to you or I,

For the knight must execute it alone.’

Leodilla made disdainful reply:

‘Tis fitting he should do so on his own!’

Listen, gentlemen, to the lady’s cry,

For, by the Count’s example, tis shown

That true service to a woman counts as naught,

If her loving attention goes unsought.

I return to the fire-breathing dragon;

No larger specimen had e’er been seen.

Its wings flapped in a bat-like fashion,

Multi-coloured; its scales shone gold and green.

Its tail made a swishing sound in action,

Its sharp teeth showed three tongues in between,

And it sent forth jets of smoke and flame, on high,

From its mouth and ears, that obscured the sky.

When this serpent had taken to the air,

Orlando consulted the book once more,

And read the text that was presented there:

‘None, in all this world, that lived before

This day, and sought to do what you shall dare,

Such pain as you will feel did e’er endure,

And yet the dragon you shall surely slay,

If you choose to perform all that I say.

The battle you engage in must be brief,

For the serpent’s breath is so venomous

The scorching from its heat beyond belief,

The smoke and flame it emits so noxious,

You must sever its head to win relief.

Once you’ve dealt with the vicious creature thus,

Grasp the head; show the courage that is yours,

And draw every single tooth from its jaws.

Sow the teeth, in the furrows that you ploughed,

And then you’ll see a wondrous thing occur:

Armed men will grow from the earth, a crowd,

Strong and bold, that you must slay and inter.

If you survive the hour, and, fierce and proud,

Return with honour from the field (tis the spur

To renown) and thus display your bravery,

You will prove the very flower of chivalry.’

Book I: Canto XXIV: 49-52: He kills the dragon and extracts its teeth

It seems no more was written in the book,

And Orlando closed it when he was done.

The dragon-serpent (but a moment it took)

Flapped its wings, and then dived, out of the sun,

Upon him, spewing flame; his body shook.

He waited, boldly; in the air it spun,

As the strange creature opened wide its maw,

And sought to snare him on its lower jaw.

But, as God willed, it merely caught his shield,

Which, being simply made of wood, caught fire,

And to the flames was swiftly forced to yield.

The fierce cloud of steam and smoke rose higher,

His helm, his armour, shirt of mail, concealed

For an instant, like some dimly-glowing pyre,

In its depths. His surcoat burned with the rest,

As tongues of flame consumed his helmet’s crest.

The Count had never duelled with such before,

His strength and martial skills of little aid,

The smoke filled his visor, the dust it bore,

Blurred his vision and, discomforted, he swayed;

He could scarcely see his sword, and unsure

Of the beast’s position, wild blows he made,

Swinging his sharp blade from side to side,

Though often flailing, and so striking wide.

Yet, in sweeping his weapon to and fro,

In that hot and dark and clouded fight,

He dealt the dragon’s neck a mighty blow,

Sliced it through, and severed the head outright.

Grasping it in his hand, Count Orlando

Gazed upon that vile and fearsome sight,

(Twas in hue, green and brown, gold and crimson)

And wrenched away the teeth, his labour done.

Book I: Canto XXIV: 53-55: He sows the teeth and warriors spring from the ground

He removed his helm, and filled it with the teeth,

Then took himself to where he’d ploughed the ground,

As the book had instructed, and beneath

The soil he sowed them, scattering them around.

Thus, to the earth, strange seed he did bequeath,

There where King Bavardo’s tomb was found.

Bishop Turpin says (and he rarely lies!),

Helmet crests from the field began to rise.

The bright plumes, I mean, fluttered in the air,

Then a helm would show, a head, a body,

While the Count could only stand and stare,

Until, from the field, emerged an army.

Foot-soldiers first, then horsemen, a mare

Or stallion under them, rose swiftly.

And with: ‘War! War!’, raising horn and banner,

Aimed their lances in a threatening manner.

Book I: Canto XXIV: 56-58: He slays the warriors, and blows the horn for a third time

Perceiving so marvellous a matter,

The Count said, to himself: ‘The crop I’ve sown,

I must scythe away with Durindana,

And if I’m slain then the fault is my own.

We delight in blaming someone other

For our mistakes, as history has shown;

And a man should be twice as swift to weep

That sows evil seed, and evil doth reap.’

So, he spoke, and countenanced no delay,

For our knight had not a moment to waste.

Lacking sword or shield, he would but stay

To don his helmet, again, which he laced,

Leapt to Baiardo’s back (who gave a neigh)

And spurred him against the foes he faced.

Thus, proudly, gainst that army he had sworn

To destroy, he charged; though twas newly born!

What need have I to speak of every blow,

Or every single stroke from Durindana,

Since that blade overwhelmed every foe,

Every weapon, show of skill, or armour?

I’ll conclude by saying that Orlando

Put every man there to the slaughter,

And all to which the soil had given birth

Now vanished, silently, beneath the earth.

When Orlando gazed about him, and saw,  

They were gone like dew on a summer morn,

And those who’d lived for an hour, no more,

Interred in that place where they were born,

Prepared to sound the summons, as before,

The knight drew breath, and raised the magic horn,

That those fearsome tasks might end with the third.

The next canto will tell you what occurred.

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