Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato

Book II: Canto I: Agramante's War Council

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

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Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato: Book II, Canto I

Book II: Canto I: 1-4: Boiardo declares his intent

In that most gracious season, when Nature

Makes the star of Love to shine more brightly,

When she covers the world in fair verdure,

And the branches bear sweet blossom lightly,

Tis then youths and maids, and every creature,

With glad hearts, find happiness, and rightly.

But time goes by, and then comes cruel winter;

Joy departs, and pleasure follows after.

So, in times when virtue flourished freely,

Among the knights and noble lords of old,

There dwelt with us true joy and courtesy,

But then they fled along dark paths, grown cold,

To wander, lost, in some distant country,

With no thought of return to our drear fold;

Yet the chill winter winds are now no more,

And virtue blossoms, as it did before.

And I, in song, turn to the memory

Of deeds of prowess wrought in former days,

And shall relate the fairest history

(If you’ll listen, quietly, while its music plays)

For none was more glorious, in story,

And you shall hear of bold feats to amaze,

The worthy actions of knights long ago,

With those of the enamoured Orlando.

Of mighty prowess, and renown, you’ll hear,

And of the virtues of a Christian heart;

The infinite force and beauty shall appear

Of Ruggiero, whose fame stands apart,

(Though the third of that name, I mention here)

And whose skill, as regards the warlike art,

Was known to all; though Fortune did him wrong,

For by vile treachery he died, ere long.

Book II: Canto I: 5-9: Of Alexander the Great, and Elidonia,

In Bishop Turpin’s book I find it writ

That Alexander, that great prince and foe,

Having conquered the world, and all within it,

And toured the heavens, and the sea below,

Fell deep in love, in the land of Egypt,

Took the maiden as his mistress, and so

He might pay tribute to her rare beauty,

Beside the waves, he built a royal city.

And he called the place Alexandria,

From his own name (it yet adorns the shore)

Departing for Babylon thereafter,

Where a deed was done all men must deplore;

For he was poisoned by a vile traitor,

And his empire was overwhelmed by war;

The world was troubled, as his generals seized

This part of it or that, just as they pleased.

In Egypt, then, there remained his lady;

She was named Elidonia the Fair,

Six months pregnant, and in misery,

Upon hearing the news; thus, in despair,

Dreading she might be prisoned, cruelly,

She boarded a vessel, and thought to dare

The waves, without a helmsman, in her fear

So, letting Fortune trim the sails and steer.

A following wind drove her o’er the sea,

And carried her to Africa’s bare strand.

The breeze was gentle, and the sky cloud-free,

When, eventually, the boat reached land.

Raising her eyes, she saw an elderly

Fisherman hauling his net, hand o’er hand,

And begged the aged fellow to show pity,

And grant her aid, of his grace and mercy.

He sheltered her, from pure humanity,

And when three months had gone by, no more,

In his hut, blessed by humble poverty,

Three fine sons that troubled lady bore.

And, thereafter, the town of Tripoli,

Was founded there, upon that stony shore,

Her three sons, thus, recalled by that same,

While Tripoli is still the city’s name.

Book II: Canto I: 10-12: Of their three sons, the youngest being Argante

They, as the powers above chose to decree,

Were each possessed of so much martial skill,

They later slew the king there, Gorgone,

Africa being subject to his will.

Sonniberra, the eldest of the three,

Was tallest, and the first place did fill,

The second son was named Attamandro,

The last Argante, fair as a lily though.

Thus, those three noble brothers held sway,

In their time, over all North Africa,

Ruling tribes, from the Coast of Barbary,

To the borderlands of the Sahara.

They held the realm not through bravery,

Or vigour, or cunning, or mere power,

But through their innate virtue and good sense

That ensured their subjects’ obedience.

All three were courteous and, from their hands,

Their wealth was liberally dispensed to all.

Thus, every region of their far-flung lands

And every city, was, willingly, in thrall.

They ruled the sea-coast, and the shifting sands.

From Egypt to Morocco, they could call

On the realm’s support; on men of every hue,

From Dongola to distant Timbuktu.

Book II: Canto I: 13-17: Argante’s descendants down to Agramante

The eldest two sons died without an heir,

And Argante was left to rule alone,

Renowned and honoured by the people there,

Begetter of a race that held the throne,

The mighty lords of Africa the Fair,

That caused the lords of Christendom to groan.

They conquered Spain, in their great arrogance,

Divided Italy, and stormed through France.

King Argante’s son was killed, Barbante,

When mighty Charlemagne made war in Spain.

That son was father to King Agolante,

And from his seed brave King Troiano came,

He that Orlando killed in Burgundy;

And Rugiero the Vassal, I blame,

And Chiarone; all three together,

Slew Troiano, twas a mortal error.

King Troiano left a young son behind,

That was but seven when his father died.

Now powerful in body, and in mind,

His harsh looks and gaze were born of pride.

A scourge to Christians of every kind,

He proved himself; let this work be your guide

To his deeds (stay lords, and hearken the while),

A world on fire the outcome of his guile.

Twenty-two was the noble youth’s age now,

This son of Troiano, Agramante.

Not a knight in Africa but must bow

Before him, for none dared, certainly,

To look him in the eye; none he’d allow,

But one youth, even fiercer than was he,

Brave, and strong, and tall; head to toe

A giant; son to mighty Ulieno.

Sarza’s savage ruler, Ulieno,

Fathered this warrior, Rodomonte,

Of whom I speak, so fierce, so proud also,

That he ravaged all France’s fair country.

From east to west, indeed, all men did know

Of his high worth, and of his bravery.

Hark, Christian gentlemen, I shall relate

All the turns, start to end, of chance and fate.

Book II: Canto I: 18-21: Agramante decrees a council at Bizerte (Hippo)

Now, Agramante summoned every king

From his realms, and they numbered thirty-two.

In the course of four months, that gathering

To his capital, Bizerte, he drew.

Some by land, some by sea, came journeying,

And ne’er was such magnificence in view.

Thirty-two great war-lords, wearing a crown,

Entered the gates of that most noble town.

For Bizerte was a rich place, in his day,

Though a pile of ruins now, on that shore;

For the Count razed it, sweeping it away,

In the course of that interminable war.

Now, as I said, beside its curving bay,

The monarchs camped, along the open shore,

And with great pomp, into the town, there went

Those thirty-two, to learn the king’s intent.

In a great keep, Agramante kept court,

A royal castle like to none other,

For the sun shone on no mightier fort,

Nor a more magnificent, nor richer.

The monarchs, two by two, his presence sought,

Clad in cloth of gold, to show their power,

Climbed the stairway, and feasted their eyes

On a view of Heaven, and fair Paradise.

For the hall was five-hundred paces, long,

And a hundred paces wide in extent.

While its golden ceiling shone, o’er the throng,

Red, green, and white enamels, therein, blent.

Rubies and sapphires, fine as those in song,

To each figure on the wall, beauty lent,

For there was engraved, in all its glory,

Alexander the Great’s wondrous story.

Book II: Canto I: 22-30: The depiction of Alexander the Great’s history

There one could view the wise astrologer

Who had fled the confines of his own land,

Having taken, in serpent’s form, his pleasure

With the queen he’d deceived; close at hand,

Was shown, next, the birth of Alexander,

That bold child, surely born to command;

For one saw him then as, from a wood, he led,

A steed he’d tamed, with horns upon its head.

Bucephalus was that great courser’s name,

And it was written so upon the wall.

And here he sat astride that very same,

There he crossed the waves, at destiny’s call,

For Alexander to the world laid claim,

And war rode at his heels, to challenge all.

Twas in this conflict Darius led a host

That covered all the lands about, almost.

There, proud Alexander lowered his lance,

Routed those armies and journeyed on,

No longer fearing Darius’ advance,

Which king returned to the fight, whereupon

Alexander conquered, and not by chance.

Next one viewed the satrap Bassus, thereon,

Who slew King Darius, through treachery,

And was slain, at Alexander’s decree.

Then one saw him reaching India;

Swimming that great river, the Ganges;

Then trapped in a town, alone moreover,

Surrounded by a throng of enemies,

Razing the walls of that town, thereafter,

And routing the inhabitants with ease,

Passing beyond it, and ne’er turning back;

Then repulsing the Indian king’s attack.

Porus was his name, and his great weight

No charger in this world could e’er support.

A mighty elephant he rode, in state,

And yet his skill and prowess were worth naught,

With the size of his army, though twas great.

By Alexander that monarch was caught,

Treated by him as a man of valour,

Then freed, while still possessed of his honour.

Next, one could see a basilisk portrayed,

Lurking, evilly, on a mountain pass,

Murdering folk, with a glance like a blade,

And, with its hissing, scaring them en masse.

The perilous quest Alexander made,

To free the traveller from that impasse,

Was shown; how he, with a wise man’s counsel,

His shield a mirror, sent it down to Hell.

Every battle of his was painted there,

And every deed; richly, and fair to see;

And how he rode two gryphons through the air,

When he’d gained half the world, in victory,

Flaunting his sword and shield everywhere.

And how in a glass vessel, neath the sea,

He plunged to view the whales, full deep his dive,

Yet returned, to the air above, alive.

And then, once he had conquered all he might,

One perceived that he was conquered by love;

For Elidonia, with gaze clear and bright,

Had pierced his heart; and her he did approve.

Another scene portrayed a dreadful sight,

His being offered, at the first remove,

A gold cup, poisoned by Antipater,

And how all the world mourned, thereafter.

Then Elidonia, fleeing, one saw,  

Finding, with that old man, sanctuary,

And giving birth to her sons, by the shore,

Midst the fishing nets he deployed at sea.

The final scenes were those of blood, and war,

That Sonniberra, and fair Argante,

And Attamandro, brought to Africa.

The artist had painted all that matter.

Book II: Canto I: 31-37: Agramante addresses his council, and calls for war

On entering, the monarchs gazed around,

Wondering at the splendour of the scene,

Tumblers, and dancing girls, there they found

Seen performing on a raised stage, between

Fine musicians who drew harmonious sound

From tambours, strings, and pipes, the serene

Air filled with sweetness. There, on his high throne,

In royal robes, Agramante sat, alone.

With reverence the kings bowed to the earth.

He welcomed them, displaying his pleasure,

Clasped them, with due regard to rank and birth,

And kissed them, and calmly took the measure

Of their counsellors, men of power and worth.

The lesser folk were dismissed, and at leisure

The kings, their counsellors, each lord and knight,

Found their seats; the council a splendid sight.  

Thirty-two chairs, adorned with gold, were placed

On either side of his throne, while the rest

Of the council sat on lower seats well-spaced

Since there was room for every noble guest.

Many a conversation they embraced,

Speaking some well, some ill, as they addressed

Each other, as best they could, but silence fell

As the king, all their chatter to dispel,  

Began like this: ‘My lords, that here repair

At my command, I must love and honour

You, as highly as (by the love you share

With me more than yourselves) you ever

Show me honour. And, indeed, all my care

Is to love you, all you men of valour,

Always, and everywhere, and swell your fame,

As I seek, always, to exalt my name.

Tis not by singing, dancing, or the chase,

Or toying in the shade with some fair maid,

That we may honour, and renown, embrace,

But only where the drums of war are played.

Fame alone outlasts us, and those who face

Their end without a name, by Death unmade,

Through failing to seek honour, are but base;

For life is short, and time runs on apace.

Think you that twas by drinking, and feasting,

That Alexander conquered half the world,

The founder of our House, that puissant king?

O’er all the East, his mighty banners swirled;

His name is known where’er men are dwelling;

His history, on our walls, is here unfurled;

Showing that honour by great deeds is earned,

With naked blades and lances e’er concerned.

If my great hopes in you go not astray;   

If you would memory of yourselves enhance,

And seek to add to your renown someday;

If you love me, and would my fame advance,

Come, ride with me, and we will make our way

To war, against King Charlemagne, in France,

Allah’s law to glorify. This I’ll dare.

I pray, my lords, come fight beside me there!’

Book II: Canto I: 38-43: King Branzardo argues against war

After this bold speech, the king fell silent,

And waited for his councillors’ reply,

While they conversed, regarding his intent,

To which some lords said ‘no’, and some said ‘aye’.

Old Branzardo, sensible, and prudent

King of Bugia, watched by every eye,

Rose to speak, as many a time before,

And, gathering himself, delayed no more.

‘Magnanimous king’ said the aged lord,

‘All that one learns, all a man may know,

By all that experience can afford,

By example or reason’s proven so.  

Thus, in replying, I would here record

My counsel, and true loyalty will show.

I say that to make war on Charlemagne,

Will go ill, twere a journey made in vain.

And rational thought makes this manifest.

Within his borders, he’s a powerful king,

And has noble lords, with sterling virtues blessed,

Of ancient Houses, used to gathering,

As one, for war, where each supports the rest,

As they ever support him, while fighting;  

Yet your host are conscripts, nine in ten,

That can but lose, gainst experienced men.

Then, take, for your example, Alexander,

Your ancestor, who crossed the sea to war,

His men grey-haired, yet each a warrior,

Who’d fought for him, many a time, before;

While Darius led a host, through Persia,

To encounter the foe, on land and shore,

Where each man there scarce knew another’s name,

And thus, his armies Death alone did claim.

As for experience, I’d choose rather

To recall another race than our own,

But a descendant of your grandfather

Agolante, brave Caroggieri’s known

To have failed in Italy, moreover

His brave men died ill, in seeking a throne.

Almonte, Agolante, were slain so,

As was your father, brave Troiano.

For Allah’s sake, forego this cursed plan.

Reign in your will, while you have time and space.

Dear lord, if I say ‘nay’, perchance I can,

As one yet most deserving of your grace,

For what harms you, harms me, that am your man.

I bore you, when a child, in my embrace,

All threat to you is, thus, by me deplored,

For to me you’re both a son, and my lord.’

Book II: Canto I: 44-51: King Sobrino supports his speech

Old Branzardo then knelt before the king,

Returning soon thereafter to his seat.

Now Sobrino, both wise and clear-thinking,

The King of Algoco, took to his feet.

He had travelled through the land, surveying

And inspecting the realm; his tour complete

He had made his way to join the council,

And prepared to speak, while listening still.

‘My gracious lord,’ he said, ‘this beard, now white,

I bear upon my face, may lead some here

To think I lack the strength of a true knight,

But by Allah, I swear that, though tis clear

My strength is not as it was, my mind and sight

Are unchanged, from those times I hold dear

When I fought, long and hard, in Reggio,

On behalf of that great lord Ruggiero.

So, believe not that I’d seek to deter you,

From the course you propose, through cowardice,

Or that I fear for my life, for tis true

I’ve not many years to live, and would wish

To spend them in the way you’d have me do.

But, as your servant of old, I’d give, in this

Grave matter, the counsel that seems to me

The wisest, nor one born of enmity.

One may reach the land of France, in two ways,

And those two journeys I have made before.

One a path that reckless folk might praise,

By landing from the sea towards Aigues-Mortes.

Tis reckless, for the Christians, these days,

Hold defensive lines, guarding that same shore,

And we would need a host of willing men,

A hundred, or more, to their every ten.

The other, and better path, I would maintain,

Is by way of the straits of Gibraltar,

Where your ally, Marsilio of Spain,

Will welcome you, as he would a brother,

Provide an army, and your cause sustain;

Thus, the Christians must face another

Mighty host; for as they say, and I believe,

All wars take more to end, than to conceive.

We’d seek to reach the Gascon plain, and so

Put all its inhabitants to the sword;

Yet fierce Rinaldo holds Montalbano,

He guards the pass that leads to it, my lord,

And may Allah protect us from that foe!

None easily withstand him, be assured;

For when you think you’ve driven him away,

He’ll attack you on another side, next day.

Charlemagne will gather every brave knight

Of his court, and none better can be found.

Don’t think that they’ll run from the fight,

To hide behind their walls; open ground

They love; while Orlando, in all his might,

That wields keen Durindana, and doth sound

Almonte’s horn, that indomitable lord,

Will be there; he severs all with that sword.

Count Gano, and Uggiero the Dane,

I’ve encountered; he’s a giant, the latter.

Oliviero we’d meet upon the plain,

Salamone, and many another.

Against them we strove, with might and main,

When King Agolante, your grandfather,

Crossed the sea, and we fought. It seems to me,

By far the best plan is to let them be.’

Book II: Canto I: 52-56: Rodomonte berates the counsellors

Thus, the white-haired warrior had his say,

More or less in such words as I have done.

But Sarza’s king was next to speak that day,

Bold Rodomonte, Ulieno’s son.

He surpassed his father in every way,

In size and strength, many a fight had won,

With endless valour, yet he was full of pride,

And so despised the whole wide world beside.  

He rose, and said: ‘In every single place

One lights a fire, the flame at first is small,

But then it gains and occupies a space,

And looks as if tis set to trouble all,

But then it wanes, and loses force apace,

And so do human beings wax and fall,

For when his prime is past, every knight

Loses courage, and valour, wits, and sight.

And is this not seen here, clearly, my lord,

In these two who have spoken, for we see

That each, once more than skilful with the sword,

Is now robbed of common-sense entirely,

So much so that they would have ignored

What their king now asks of them, humbly.

The white-haired ever give their advice

More freely than their aid, and do so twice!

Your lord has not asked you to advise

Him of the worth of the task, but to say

That you will join his royal enterprise,

And then propose the most effective way

To swell your fame, and gain for him the prize.

And all that refuse are traitors, I say,

And those who seek to go against the king,

I’ll fight in mortal duel; war I’ll bring!’

So spoke the King of Sarza, for the plan,

The arrogant, and eager Rodomonte,

And there was ne’er a fiercer, prouder man,

For, from a boy, he’d fought savagely,

And had a giant’s strength, and height, and span.

His deeds we shall hear of aplenty.

With a black gaze, he looked around that hall,

Meeting silence; they feared him, one and all.

Book II: Canto I: 57-59: The King of Garamanta, and priest of Apollo speaks

Garamanta’s king, though old and slow,

Sat there in council; ninety-years of age,

He was a priest of the god Apollo,

Astrologer, enchanter, and wise sage.

His desert land was bare and empty, so

Its skies revealed the heavens’ wondrous stage;

He’d view the night sky and count the stars,

That reign on high, above this world of ours.

This bearded veteran was not dismayed

By Rodomonte’s threats; he simply said:

‘My lords, of such bold talk be not afraid,

The lad’s but one opinion in his head.

If I now seek to challenge and dissuade,

Let him do what he will; and folly wed.

Hear the word of Apollo, and believe!

Not for the lad, but for you, lords, I grieve.

Hark, and take note of what I say, for I

Have consulted the oracle; all here

Who choose to fight a war in France, shall die;

Their campaign both long and bloody, I fear,

And filled with pain, beneath a foreign sky.

Neither the small nor the great shall win clear,

And King Rodomonte, for all his might,

Shall feed the crows in France; a woeful sight.’

Book II: Canto I: 60-62: Rodomonte scorns his prophecy

When he had spoken, he regained his seat,

His desert headscarf wound about his face,

But Rodomonte laughed, saw him retreat,

And, once the old man was silent a space,

Cried, dismissively: ‘How the aged bleat!’

In his great voice, devoid of tact or grace.

‘While we are here still, you may sigh and vent,

And prophesy our fate, to your heart’s content,

But once we’ve sailed over the sea to France,

And put that land to fire, and to the sword,

No such prophecies will you dare advance,

For I shall be the prophet there, my lord!

These words you think you heard, in some trance,

May scare the rest, to me they but afford

Amusement; wine, and foolishness, forego;

You’ll soon cease to hear from your Apollo!’

Full many laughed, savouring his reply,

Despite the arrogance the young king showed,

For most of the younger men saw eye to eye

With Rodomonte, needing no sharp goad

To spur them on to fight, to win or die;

But the old, those who’d travelled that same road

With Agolante, scarcely overjoyed,

Called out that Africa would be destroyed.

Book II: Canto I: 63-67: Agramante insists on war

Great were the many cries from the floor,

But Agramante raised a sovereign hand,

And obtained a sudden silence, once more.

Then, speaking temperately, gave his command:

‘My lords, I yet desire to win that shore,

And challenge Charlemagne in his own land;

Thus, tis to France we shall make our way;

Tis mine to decree, your place to obey!

And think not that, once the royal crown

Of Charlemagne is shattered, and all France,

You shall have rest; for I now seek renown.

With the Christians subdued, I will advance,

The walls of many a city I’ll tear down,

And conquer all the Earth with sword and lance.

And after I have won this world, likewise,

Ascend to wage fresh war, in Paradise!’

Then, that mighty king, Rodomonte,

Rose up joyfully, his face aglow,

‘My Lord,’ he cried, ‘Let your name be, loudly,

Acclaimed, where’er the sun lights all below.

I swear I’ll serve your cause, and faithfully,

Through Heaven or Hell, gladly, will I go,

Following my master, Agramante;

Or in the van, if he so commands me!’

Tremizon’s king affirmed he would so do,

And ride with Agramante, by hill and plain;

This was Alzirdo, a bold warrior too.

Marbalusto of Oran, cried, again,

That he agreed; his year-old crown yet new.

Bambirago, Arzila’s king, was fain

To raise his hand and swear, by Allah, he

Would ne’er cease to follow Agramante.

What more is there to say? All present swore

An oath; and the fiercest won most favour!

They issued their threats, and spoke of war,

None daring to admit their fears (as ever).

The elders, though opposed to it before,

Still vowed allegiance, upon their honour.

Yet Garamanta’s wise and aged king

Spoke again, once more prophesying.

Book II: Canto I: 68-70: The King of Garamanta conveys a further prophecy

‘My lord,’ he cried, ‘Though all that go must die,

I’ll not refrain, since such is your intent.

I too would go to Europe, though, on high,

Baleful Saturn ascends the firmament,

For all that lives must perish, by and by,

And far too many years have I been lent,

Thus, I care not, let whatever come that may,

For I’ll not last much longer; yet, I say,

Hearken now; for I speak Apollo’s word,

And in his sacred name, my lords, I pray,

You’ll attend, since in haste you have conferred,

And chosen to seek war, on this dark day;

Lord, in your realm (perchance you may have heard),

Dwells a warrior, one peerless, in his way,

The astrology that I employ doth show

That he’s the best that ever fought the foe.

Apollo speaks to you, my lord, and he

Proclaims that, should this knight but follow you,

You’ll win praise and honour in that country

Of France, and Charlemagne rout often, too.

If you would know who that knight might be,

If his worth and lineage you would view,

Know his mother was your father’s sister,

The lady’s name was: Galaciella.

The knight is your fraternal cousin, then,

And heaven, in its wisdom, did ordain

That this child should be born a Saracen,

And, so, would Christianity disdain;

While should he e’er become a Christian,

Our warriors everywhere will be slain.

His father was the good Ruggiero

The flower of chivalry, and yet, in woe,

His mother, in a humble boat, sailed here,

After her noble husband was betrayed

And Reggio was burned; with many a tear,

On our shore she sought a fisherman’s aid,

And lodged in his hut; wretched and afraid,

She bore two infants, with much pain, I fear.

One, the fair youth, the knight I spoke of so,

Is named, as his father was, Ruggiero.

The other, a sister, I have not seen,

Though if she is as fair as her brother,

She must be lovelier than any queen,

For he shines brighter than any other,

Brighter than the sun itself, I mean.

Their birth saw the death of their poor mother,

And so, the orphaned babes, thereafter,

Atlante raised, the sage necromancer.

Your vassal, he dwells on Mount Carena,

(And there has wrought an enchanted garden;

None, it seems, can reach that place however.)

A great astrologer, the stars in heaven

He had read, and knew the skill and power

That the youth would come to wield among men,

And so, he nourished the boy on the fresh

Blood of lions, bone-marrow, and their flesh.  

And he trained him in all the skills also,

That he’d have need of, all the arts of war.

If you’d defeat him, then you’d need to show

All your skill and power, you may be sure,

Yet he’s the sole means to defeat the foe,

And bring down Charlemagne, and so ensure

That you save your men, and victory attain;

And not, as I prophesied, yourself be slain.’

So spoke Garamanta’s grey-bearded king;

His words won belief with Agramante,

For he divined many a hidden thing,

Was skilled in magic, and necromancy,

Knew of each star its rising and setting,

And the arcane rules of astrology;

Thus, far into the future this man saw,

Predicting dearth or plenty, peace or war.

Thus, without delay, the king conceded

That they should seek out that mountain lair,

And find the young warrior they needed,

In that fair garden, wrought high in the air.

My canto’s now complete; all who’ve heeded

Its clear song, and have fed upon its fare,

Return for the next, for I promise you

Rare delight, of this tale both old and new.

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

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