Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato

Book I: Canto XXVII: Orlando's Duel with Rinaldo

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

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Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato: Book I, Canto XXVII

Book I: Canto XXVII: 1-9: Rinaldo stuns Count Orlando

Who’ll grant me speech, both noble and profound,

Sufficient to describe that dreadful fight?

Never was fiercer fought on any ground

Than that mighty duel, twixt knight and knight.

Other battles, that in story are renowned,

Were but beds of roses, violets to delight.

This tests my art. Earth’s pride and valour

Fought there, face to face, both seeking honour.

Both were enraged, such that they terrified

All those gazing on, for some simply fled

Without a word, while, of those who defied

Their fear, few drew near, but watched in dread.

Hot breath rose from the visors on each side,

The air trembling at every word they said,

And those that were nearest to those same

Swore that their very helms were wreathed in flame.

They shouted harshly, and menacingly,

Glaring, behind their visors, at each other,

And though the battle had begun slowly,

As I’ve said before, twas in the manner

Of two bold men proceeding cautiously.

Both were proud and, facing one another,

They spoke, as I revealed, to demonstrate

That neither was inclined to take the bait.

But then Orlando waved Durindana,

Shouting: ‘Come, let us see if here’s a knight

To prove your equal and more, dear brother,

Come, wield your gleaming sword, and show your fight!’

The contest sprang to life; the prince, in anger,

Feeling obliged to move, and show his might,

Urged forward, riled now by Count Orlando

And grasping Fusberta, his Rabicano.

He launched a fierce and a powerful swing

Of that blade, using all his strength and skill.

Orlando’s crest, the Love-God, shattering,

Wings broken, flew through the air; yet, still,

Almonte’s helm, the Count’s life preserving,

Saved him (his own charmed hide served him ill

In such a circumstance) the blow so great

His brains were well-nigh addled in his pate.

But the Count, hot with pride, ignored the blow.

He seemed like a vast rock amidst the sea,

Untroubled by the waves that beat below,

Or some sudden gale, and answered instantly,

Striking Rinaldo’s helm (that once Mambrino

Owned) with his great blade, wielded powerfully,

Yet the prince, strong, and able to withstand

Far fiercer still, was scarce by that unmanned.

Rather, replying swiftly to the blow,

He struck Orlando between lance and shield,

Piercing the breastplate, and the mail below;

To Fusberta’s mighty blade all did yield,

Dragging down his jerkin and shirt also,

And leaving him with naked flesh revealed.

This but roused Orlando further; he smote

Rinaldo, the sword-blade aimed at his throat,

But it struck him on his left, above the shield,

Shattered it, and sliced through his armour,

Fragments of steel plate flying to the field,

As it cracked his hauberk, tore whatever

Lay beneath, and exposed what was concealed;

All his naked flank it did uncover.

Both waxed in fury, and in ill-intent,

The fight crueller, since neither would relent.

Rinaldo showed a strength and power, indeed,

That was greater than any he had shown,  

Landing a back-handed blow, at speed,

That would have cleft the Count’s helm, and the bone

Beneath, and knocked Orlando from his steed,

Had the helmet not been charmed; like a stone

The mighty blade fell, and so stunned the knight,

It robbed him, for a while, of sense and sight.

Book I: Canto XXVII: 10-12: Who responds by stunning Rinaldo in turn

His charger wheeled around, still bearing

The Count, in the saddle, all unconscious.

Lord Rinaldo cried: ‘And now, I’m thinking,

Twill not take long to decide between us!’

He sought to end it, wildly hammering

The helm a second time, and yet that vicious

Strike, though I know not the reason why,

Revived Orlando, who then oped his eye.

Seeing Rinaldo poised to make the kill,

The Count cried out, in anger: ‘Worthless slave,

Evil fortune has brought you naught but ill;  

You’ll ne’er win the day; however brave

You show, you will be slaughtered still,

Unless you seek your wretched life to save,

And flee, in shame! Defend yourself with pride,

Your wish for death shall ne’er be denied!’

So spoke the Count; in both hands he grasped

Durindana, that strong blade, and in anger,

Struck Rinaldo’s helm, gainst which it rasped,

And whose radiant gleam it served to smother,

Rinaldo, who his mighty sword yet clasped,

Fell backwards across his horse’s crupper,

While away the said Rabicano sailed,

As his master’s arms and sword madly flailed.

Book I: Canto XXVII: 13-21: The pair taunt each other

Yet there was ne’er a snake more venomous,

Never a fiercer dragon e’er awoke,

Than Lord Rinaldo, aware and conscious

Once more, despite that nigh-mortal stroke.

His heart and face on fire, his mood vicious,

He turned, and all his courage did evoke,

Gripped Fusberta hard, and loosed his rein,

As Orlando, likewise, advanced again.

Hot steel against each other’s armour smashed,

In furious conflict; still the force increased

Of every blow, as plate and mail they thrashed,

Scattering pieces to the field; and ne’er ceased

To strive for some advantage as they clashed,

For neither man relented in the least.

Now, hearts on fire, they struck at chest or head,

Now, stretched across their steeds, they seemed half-dead.

They drove at each other with an enmity

As was more fitting to the vengeful mind,

Stinging each other with harsh taunts; fiercely

Shouting, Orlando cried: ‘This day you’ll find

You’ve met the sword of justice; speak freely,

Confess your mortal sins, to fate resigned.

Tis said you are a thief, and with reason.

Embrace what’s right, for death’s now in season!’

‘Why! You seem to think that we’re in France,’

Replied the prince, ‘and that your threats hold weight.

Another land other customs; sword and lance,

Here, obey not King Charlemagne’s dictate.

You slander me, display your arrogance;

Think you that such ill speech I’ll tolerate?

I’ll prove, in whatever place you choose, that I

Am far the better man; tis you shall die!

What tis you boast of, you bastard, tell me?

That, by a fount, bound tight by Charlemagne,

There perished, at your hands, brave Almonte?  

You bear Durindana, and ride the plain,

Quite as if that sword were yours rightfully.

Oh, you’re a whoreson, I’ll e’er maintain;

She cared so much for honour, your mother,

After her first sin, she but craved another!

Or tis of Troiano you boast perchance?

Shameful indeed! He, wounded mortally,

Lacking a hand, still seeking to advance,

Unhorsed you, e’er you slew him finally.

Go hide yourself, my friend, quit sword and lance,

No man, are you; nor what you claim to be,

How dare you, thus, proclaim yourself a knight

When you work ill so, and so scorn the right?’

Orlando answered: ‘Nay, there’s no dispute

As to who’s better; a true knight am I,

And you but a base thief of ill-repute,

As the whole world will perceive, by and by.

That Almonte’s death was shameful I refute,

While Troiano, I say, was doomed to die,

And both knights were valiant, both well-born,

Men who’d have looked on such as you with scorn.

Ruggiero rode with me, and Chiarone,

The latter knight the flower of chivalry;

Men who were never in your company,

For neither was a brigand, nor like to be.

Why! You proclaim that you slew the mighty

King Mambrino, though, most curiously,

There’s none can say how you wrought the deed,

Since you fled, with considerable speed;

All occurred, unwitnessed behind a hill,

No man alive could swear what happened there.

Who knows if Malagisi wrought his will,

Conjured a demon out of darksome air,

And brought you victory, and does so still?

I’ve dreamed, or perchance I’ve heard somewhere

That his brother Constantin, you did attack,

Stabbing him, treacherously, in the back.’

Book I: Canto XXVII: 22-27: Then take up the fight again

With a wealth of scorn, they taunted each other,

Each in turn abusing his valiant foe;

Seeking something more than words, however,

Barbed speech led them on, to many a blow,

Outrageous deeds wrought on one another,

Wrath, and humiliation, gripped them so;

They swung their mighty weapons with such ire

That every stroke sent forth showers of fire.

Orlando swung with both hands, in anger,

And his sword landed with a hammer-blow,

Nigh unseating his opposite number

And sending him, stunned, to the ground below.

No fierce flare e’er burned so bright, however,

As the face of him of Montalbano,

Once that lord revived, no star to the sight

Could ever have appeared more filled with light.

He struck Orlando’s helmet with such force,

That the Count lost his senses, and lay back,

Unconscious, on the crupper of his horse,

Despite his vigour, dazed by the attack.

His steed, relinquished to a wandering course,

And he in such a plight, the reins now slack,

All thought that he must fall from the saddle

And, in that moment, concede the battle.

No wounded lion e’er raged as fiercely,

No sleeping dragon roused with greater ire,

Than did Orlando, waking, filled with fury;

Now, from his visor, breathing steam and fire,

For he was less dazed than rendered angry,

And bolder yet, to victory did aspire,

Hacking cruelly at Rinaldo’s shield

And scattering at least a third o’er the field.

As he slashed that mighty chunk of it away,

Durindana cracked his hauberks’ steel-plate,

Tore it from Rinaldo’s ribs and, sent to slay,

Ripped his chain-mail, reduced to sorry state

His whole breastplate and, in its vicious play,

Toyed with his jerkin, shirt, till its full weight

Came to rest, with a thud, against his side,

Its force diminished greatly; else he’d died.

Rinaldo, though, so heated in the fight

That he scarcely felt that final blow at all,

In a sudden burst, again attacked the knight,

And launched a stroke, intended to appal,

That split the Count’s shield in two, outright,

Cleft his breastplate, and to his waist did fall.

The count had his enchanted hide to thank,

For resisting the blade that struck his flank.

Book I: Canto XXVII: 28-35: At eve, they agree to rest, and fight next morn

If I were to count the blows, one by one,

And speak also of the fierce sparks that flew,

Darkness would fall, ere my long task was done,

(A thousand strokes they dealt, good and true)

I’ll refrain; yet I claim that there were none

Of the ancients, not Hercules, nor those two

Giants of Troy, great Achilles and Hector,

Not bold Sampson himself, e’er fought harder.  

What ill-fated Tristan, what pure Galahad;

What further brave knight-errant, sung of old;

Would not have wearied of the wounds they had,

In the fierce encounter, of which I’ve told?

They fought on fiercely, until scarcely clad

In armour, pride and honour to uphold,

From dawn to dusk; nor wavered in the fight,

Each believing himself the finer knight.

The stars were showing in the evening sky

Before they even spoke of seeking rest,

Their hearts so wrathful, both prepared to die,

And each full certain he’d survive the test.

Ere the light was gone, they halted, by and by,

Ashamed to proceed, thinking it were best

To halt till morning, for no honest knight,

In their day, e’er took to the field at night.

The Count said: ‘You can thank the setting sun,

And the fading light, that your death’s delayed,

For it seems that we must stop, now day is done,

Though I grieve that your debt remains unpaid.’

Rinaldo answered: ‘Our contest is unwon;

You may trounce me in debate, like a maid,

But as yet you’ve gained little with your sword,

Nor will do, while I live, rest you assured.

I myself am ready to end this now,

To demonstrate I lack all fear of you,

For you trouble me not, I here avow,

And, night or day, our duel you will rue.’

‘Villain!’ the Count replied, ‘Yet, I’ll allow,

Twould show your nature, ever to pursue

The beginning or ending of a fight

By an ambush sprung in the dark of night.

I’d rather wage our contest in broad day,

So, all can clearly witness your shame,

Free of shadows, in which to slope away,

And hide your sorry self from scorn and blame!’

Rinaldo cried: ‘I’m delighted, I must say,

To be so distant from home; you can maim

Or slay me (faint hopes!) in this far country,

Without my bringing pain to Duke Amone!

Oh, I’ll fight you in the forest, if you will,

At eve, at morning when the sky is light,

Here on the plain, or on some lofty hill,

From dawn to dusk, and so on through the night.

While you display your rare renown and skill,

Polish your fame, and keep it e’er in sight,

Such that you ne’er fight till the sun is high,

Thinking your quartered ensign awes the eye!’

Around them stood the armoured gathering,

Those from the fortress, those with Marfisa;

For they had quit their duelling, at evening,

To gaze on the warriors’ fierce encounter.

The proud pair now decided on returning

Next morning, once more to face each other,

So, at last, they might settle this affair,

As to which was the best and bravest there.

Book I: Canto XXVII: 36-39: Angelica discovers Rinaldo is at Albracca

Then they returned to the fortress keep,

Orlando, I mean, and his company,

The rest to the tents where they would sleep.

In the field, horns and trumpets blared loudly,

Many a strange tongue called from the deep,

And sudden campfires flared, shining brightly,

While torches lit the walls of Albracca,

Where the bells tolled; twas there Angelica

Accompanied by her ladies, met the Count,

In a richly decorated chamber,

Where food, and wine in copious amount,

Were served. The Count was troubled, however;

His armour split, as my tale did recount,

His shield, with its ermine insignia,

Quite shattered, while he’d lost his Cupid crest,

Hence, add an anxious heart to all the rest.

He was so downcast, he was scarcely sure

If he was alive or dead, for he thought

The lovely maiden had been keeping score,

And twas that emblem, of the Love-God, she sought.

He was not troubled long though, for she saw

His nervousness, and so asked about naught

But what appeared most pleasing to the knight,

And spoke only of his valour in the fight.

As they passed their time in conversation,

Concerning the duel on the plain below,

In so doing, the Count had occasion

To name the Lord of Montalbano

As his foe, I know not for what reason.

Hearing sudden mention of Rinaldo,

The maiden started, but, wise and clever,

Hid her thoughts, and dissembled, as ever.

Book I: Canto XXVII: 40-43: And finds a pretext to be near him in the morn

She said to the Count: ‘Tis melancholy

To stand all day watching from the wall,

Uncertain if tis you, far-off, I see,

Amidst the crowd, and fearing lest you fall.

If fate allowed, on that field I would be,

Just once, when you fight, and view it all,

Simply to admire your great skill in war,

In truth, I pray to God for nothing more.

Though she’s harsh and cruel, this Marfisa,

Think you for a day she’d guarantee

My security, if I stood closer?

Who could be sent to the lady, from me,

That might successfully seek that favour,

And so, win a promise of my safety?

Who’ll present my petition to the maid?

Perchance, Sacripante my cause will aid.’

King Sacripante, she summoned to her;

He, to his very marrow, was on fire

With love for that fair lady (as later,

You will hear) possessed by such desire

That there was naught he’d not attempt for her,

And, to be brief, here’s the tale entire,

She spoke with him, and swiftly conveyed

What she required of the warrior-maid.

He departed, and rode swiftly o’er the field,

Though, as I’ve said, twas now the dark of night,

And her request to the queen he revealed

As soon as he was led before her sight.

She answered favourably; the pact was sealed,

(He was nothing if not eloquent, the knight)

With pleasant words twas determined so,

That Angelica might safely come and go.

Book I: Canto XXVII: 44-47: She passes a sleepless night

When every star had vanished from the sky

But the morning-star that precedes the sun,

And the dewdrops, that on the grass did lie,

Seemed like shimmering crystals, every one;

When dawn broke, and the heavens, by and by,

Took on hues of gold and crimson, night was done;

Or, to state things more simply, it was morn,

Though the bright sun itself was scarcely born.

Now, Angelica, stirred by that fierce fire

That burns the heart, but ever chills the mind,

Consumed, I mean, by her love and desire

For Rinaldo, rose swiftly, disinclined

To wait for the dawning sun to rise higher,

For each moment seemed but harsh and unkind,

That concealed the sight of Rinaldo’s face,

And her hours wasted, lacking his embrace.

And since, as I’ve related, she now knew

The prince was sleeping in his tent below,

She’d not won an hour’s rest, not e’en a few

Precious minutes, through thinking of him so.

Hoping in joy, sighing with sadness too,

She waited for the sun’s clear light to show.

For ever it was her wish, nay her longing,

To see him, though she should die of seeing.

Meanwhile, all undisturbed, Orlando

Was yet lying, fast asleep, in his bed.

Still, lost in slumber, battling the foe,

As fiercely as he had (though in his head!)

I doubt there lives a mortal, brave or no,

Whether a common man or nobly bred,

Who’d not have been a little scared to view

That knight who, e’en in dream, did war pursue.

Book I: Canto XXVII: 48-52: She rouses Orlando at dawn, and seeks a promise

Alone, the maiden came to him, at dawn,

And hardly dared to wake him, but as one

Who’d have the time speed by, and it be morn,

To whom minutes seemed hours, ere they were done,

While an hour seemed a day, ere day was born,

E’en more ready to ride forth with the sun

Than was the Count, with her lips, now her hand,

She sought his wakeful presence to command.

‘Come, rise from your bed, and sleep no more!’

She cried: ‘The world awakes on every side.

I heard a mighty horn blast, I am sure,

To summon valiant knights, from far and wide;

And, since I wished and therefore did implore

You to lead me to the field, and with pride,

God willing, aid our return, I did wish

To wake you and, from you, seek a promise.’

The Count, gazing on her lovely face,

Felt his poor heart fill with amorous fire,

And trembled as his lady, of her grace,

Clasped him in her arms (the flames grew higher!),

She saying, as he warmed to her embrace:

‘I am at your command, but wait, dear sire,

If you love me, for, upon my, faith I swear,

I will do as I say, true love will share,

With you, and I will let you do your will,

Alone, as we are now, in your chamber,

If you grant me but one gift, and fulfil

My request when I ask it, and so offer

A proof of your love and your goodwill.

Come, show me that I possess your favour,

For tis but a single deed I’ll request

When I ask it; and grant you all the rest.

But if you’re so unkind as to seek

To take your pleasure now, and so shame me,

You’ll be known as a villain; what you wreak

Will turn delight to tears and disgrace me;

For I’ll die by my own hand, yet will speak

Before I die, to others, of your villainy.

It rests with you alone, and your own will,

Whether you slay me, or I live on still.’

Book I: Canto XXVII: 53-57: Which he concedes

As she finished speaking, the tears ran down;

She lowered her eyes, to rouse his pity.

The Count, in his own tears, well-nigh did drown,

Unable to endure hers, and spoke humbly,

In a low voice, and begged that she not frown,

And sought her pardon if, inadvertently,

He’d offended, and blamed his ardent heart,

For naught was intended, upon his part.

And then he swore a sacred oath, that he

Would honour the request that she had made.

Now, the moonlight had waned, and o’er the sea

The bright rays of the risen sun now played,

When that best of knights, full of bravery,

Who e’er the laws of chivalry obeyed,  

Readied himself the cruel foe to assail,

And clad his body in steel-plate and mail.

Though Orlando possessed a manly heart,

And there was naught of which he was afraid,

Yet he checked his armour, standing apart,

His gauntlets, iron-clad boots, and bright blade;

For he knew Rinaldo fought with skill and art,

And had his courage in their joust displayed,

Thus, twas wise not to grant his mortal foe

The least benefit, nor good sense forego.  

Once he was quite content with his armour,

And had his sword, Durindana, at his side,

He received, from the fair Angelica,

A helmet-crest, and painted shield beside.

On a field of gold, a tree, this latter

Displayed, like to the crest he now applied

To his helm, and then mounted on his steed,

Gripped his lance, and, as the pair had agreed,

Descended, with the maiden, to the plain,

She riding a well-mannered white palfrey.

Aquilante and Grifone again

Accompanied him, with bold Brandimarte,

And King Ballano; all unarmed; in their train,

Rode King Hadrian and Sacripante.

The wounded Chiarone, kept to the steep,

With Galafrone, and guarded the keep.

Book I: Canto XXVII: 58-62: Orlando and Rinaldo arrive for the duel

I’ll speak of her champion, Orlando,

Who having ridden to the field below,

Halted, briefly, in the flowering meadow,

And blew his great horn, to challenge the foe;

Whereupon, in plate and mail, bold Rinaldo,

Now present to commence the duel, also,

Sounded his response, beside Marfisa;

She was there in support of the latter.

Her helmet doffed, her face thus unconcealed,

No finer warrior-maid e’er was seen.

Her blonde hair, coiled, her flawless brow revealed;

Her eyes were brighter than a star at e’en.

Her beauty’s glory and nobility were sealed

By her agile movements, confident mien,

Her bold, clear speech, tall form, and bronzed colour,

Or so Bishop Turpin says, who saw her.

Angelica’s looks were dissimilar,

Hers were much softer, and more delicate;

Her skin white, her lips a crimson colour;

Her silky glances, meant to fascinate,

Stole the hearts of those who gazed upon her;

Her hair too was coiled above, in ornate

Fashion; her speech was sweet, gentle, light,

Turning every mournful thought to delight.

Angelica, then, rode beside Orlando,

As I said but a moment before,

While beside the Lord of Montalbano

Came Marfisa. All armoured as for war,

Rinaldo rode the valiant Rabicano,

And was accompanied, you may be sure,

By Torindo, and the duke Astolfo,

Prasildo, and the vigorous Iroldo.

Now both parties have reached the grassy plain,

They have halted, a moment, ere the fight,

Each sounding his challenge, to maintain

His claim to be the world’s finest knight.

I beg you, noble lords, return again,

The next canto will add to your delight;

Of all the many duels of which I tell,

This was the greatest joust that e’er befell.

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