Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato

Book II: Canto II: The Bridge Perilous

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

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Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato: Book II, Canto II

Book II: Canto II: 1-6: Rinaldo pursues Orlando

If those that had gathered at Bizerte,

(Of whom I spoke) had sailed without delay,

They’d have won Christendom entirely,

For Orland and Rinaldo, away

In the East, were far distant, and wholly

Undefended the shores of France now lay.

Without those champions, Charlemagne

Might well have failed his realm to sustain.

Not long since, I told you that Orlando

Had lost Brigliador his courser,

When Orrigille had deceived him so,

(He’d mounted the rock, through that fair traitor),

But I would follow after Rinaldo,

And pursue the adventures further,  

Of that brave knight, who, with Marfisa,

Laid siege to the fortress at Albracca.

While Agramante and his company

Searched for Ruggiero, yet all in vain,

Rinaldo, who had been consumed wholly

By his anger since the duel on the plain,

That I described, ended prematurely,

(I mean the battle where fate did ordain

That the maid intervened, and Orlando

Had quit the fight, and his anguished foe)

Was in deep despair, for he knew not why

The Count had abandoned the field of war;

For neither warrior was like to die

Of his wounds, and victory was unsure.

Whate’er the reason, twas strange to the eye,

For he knew the Count had ne’er fled before.

He decided to hunt him, day and night,

Find that warrior, and renew the fight.

When darkness fell, he mounted Baiardo,

Fully armed, and left, in the moonlight,

Accompanied by the Duke Astolfo,

And two who e’er supported the knight,

Iroldo, I mean, and brave Prasildo.

Not till the morning came, and it was light,

Did the Queen, the fierce Marfisa, know

That they’d departed, or missed Rinaldo.

She seemed unconcerned at their going,

Whether she was troubled by it, or not.

The company rode o’er the plain, slowing

For naught, till dawn, and at a steady trot.

The shadows waned, the day was breaking

The sky crimson, night well-nigh forgot,

While, ere the sun rose, a serene half-light

Tinted the heavens till the world shone bright.

Book II: Canto II: 7-12: He and his company come upon a damsel in distress

At the front rode Astolfo, Otho’s son,

On his mighty courser Rabicano,

Reciting his prayers with due devotion,

As was his custom, when travelling so,

When, ere his ‘ministrations’ were done,

He beheld a maiden, seeming full of woe,

Seated on a rock, who beat her face, her breast,

Moaned, and sighed, and clawed at all the rest.

‘O, wretch that I am!’ the damsel cried,

‘Oh, what grievous trouble, and dismay!

My sweet sister, half my heart, all my pride,

Would we had never seen the light of day;

To have that traitor whip your tender side!

Alas! I’m left alone to weep and pray,  

And Fortune so torments me, sore afraid,

I lack the power to bring my sister aid.’

‘What ill deed,’ cried the troubled Astolfo

‘Causes you to grieve so violently?’

As he spoke, he was joined by Rinaldo,

While the maiden still wept, ceaselessly,

And then by Iroldo and Prasildo.

‘Oh, wretched woman!’ the maid cried, loudly,

I’ll die at my own hands, and swiftly,

Should I find no kindly soul to help me.’

She gazed upon the mounted knights, and said:

‘If one of you, in his heart, has pity,

Aid me, for God’s sake, act in His stead,

Ne’er has a maid met with such cruelty.

If you are true warriors, and nobly bred,

Then, for the good Lord’s sake, show me mercy,

And prove all your virtue, gainst a traitor;

Vile, base, and cowardly, is his nature.

There stands a tall tower, not far from here,

Which is that evil madman’s dwelling-place,

Beyond the bridge, o’er the river, twill appear,

Where it flows into a deep dark lake, apace.

My sister and I were journeying near

That bridge (a maid she is of peerless grace)

When he from its span descended there,

And seized my poor sister by the hair!

He dragged her o’er it to the other side,

Raging full wildly, while she did suffer,

And I, now left behind, but wept and cried,

All I could do, with no way to reach her.

My poor sister he bound, and then he tied

Her arms to a cypress-tree by the river;

He’d stripped off her clothes, till she was bare,

And now he whips her sides, and naught doth spare!’

Book II: Canto II: 13-15: They ride to her sister’s aid

So many tears the wretched maiden shed

That she could scarce continue her sad tale,

While their pity and their anger it fed,  

Beyond all imagining; none could fail

To be distressed, and each warrior said

He would fight this mad villain, and prevail,

While, to pursue the matter, Astolfo,

Placed her on the back of Rabicano.

They rode on, perchance a mile or two,

Until they reached a bridge across the flood,

Whose entrance was barred to the riders, due

To a latticed iron fence; amidst it, stood

A small gate a man alone might pass through,

But a horse could not, be it understood;

And likewise, a gate barred the other end,

In a fence that the bridgehead did defend.

Beyond the bridge, a tower they could see,

In a wooded meadow, while the river spread

To a mile-wide lake; there a cypress-tree

On the bank, one of many, reared its head,

And there the girl was bound, cruelly,

And filled the air with her cries, as she bled

Profusely, neath a rain of wicked blows,

Delivered by an armed man, as he chose.

Book II: Canto II: 16-20: Iroldo and Prasildo are slain by the cruel knight, Aridano

In his left hand a club bound with iron,

In his right a bloodstained whip, he had,

And he beat the maid beyond all reason,

As if, indeed, he belonged midst the mad.

Iroldo who was moved with compassion,

Felt such pity, viewing the maid unclad

And hurting so, that, sans Rinaldo’s leave,

He grasped at the gate, and gave a heave.

He entered on foot, where no steed could go,

And the cruel knight met him on the way.

He had left the poor maiden to her woe,

(Still bound to the cypress, I should say)

And with the iron cudgel launched a blow,

As Iroldo came hastening to the fray.

And, thus, the battle lasted but a moment,

For neath the club the latter’s head soon bent.

He fell, and lay there, prostrate, as if dead,

So fierce was the stroke, and so weighty.  

The fierce pagan picked him up and sped

Back again, like an arrow and as swiftly,

And, before their eyes, raised him overhead

And hurled him in the lake, mercilessly.

The armoured knight vanished in the deep,

And all that such dark depths receive, they keep.

Lord Rinaldo dismounted from his steed,

To join battle with the knight, but Prasildo

Begged precedence, and the prince agreed.

The madman now stood ready for his foe,

In the field, as the knight advanced at speed.

The former launched another mighty blow,

And the battle ended as the first had done,

With a stroke designed to kill or stun.

Prasildo staggered, and fell, and once more

The pagan dragged his victim to the lake,

And hurled him in, as he had done before,

Fully clad in armour, ere he could awake.

Rinaldo felt great grief, his heart was sore,

For his friends were lost; it nigh did break.

All had happened so swiftly in each fight,

He’d barely registered the other’s might.

Book II: Canto II: 21-27: Rinaldo leaps into the lake clasping the madman

Now, vexed beyond measure, he crossed over,

With his head held high, and his shield gripped tight,

Like one accustomed to duels, as ever

He trod cautiously, sword low, towards the knight.

His foe swung his great club, at the other,

But Rinaldo kept the path it took in sight,

And skilled in fencing, swiftly leapt aside,

So that he dodged the blow, which fell full wide.  

Then he struck at the villain with his blade,

His spirit ardent, and landed a fierce stroke,

But the knight’s steel armour was so well-made,

He but treated the matter as a joke.

Their battle was full long, each blow repaid.

Rinaldo knew that club, of iron-bound oak,

Could slay him with a single mighty swing,

And so strove to avoid that very thing.

He slashed and thrust, but seemingly in vain,

For all he tried failed to stop the other,

His blows fell harmlessly, he thrust again,

The madman gave a shout, then another,

And hurled his club, with might and main,

At the prince and, ere he could recover,

The sidewards blow struck upon his shield,

Its sudden force nigh causing him to yield,

Yet he was hardly down ere he arose,

And, undaunted, he returned to the fight,

But that fierce stranger with him did close,

Seized him, and hauled him to the lake outright.

Rinaldo countered, as you might suppose,

But his strength was equalled by the other knight;

Momently, his opponent’s so surpassed

His own he failed to break the other’s grasp.

Down to the lake his mighty foe did race,

To toss him, like the others, in the deep.

But Rinaldo held him in a close embrace,

And so the madman scant reward did reap,

For the prince cried out: ‘Swim with me, a space!’

And, clasping the other near, made a leap,

So that he plunged, while grasping him tight,

Into the lake’s dark depths, with the knight.

Neither surfaced again, for in that flood

The noble art of swimming found no place,

And their strong armour, be it understood,

Weighed enough to sink an army apace.

Astolfo looked on, though it chilled his blood,

He stood there helpless, with a pallid face,

Gazing, as they disappeared below,

Scarce crediting the fate of Rinaldo.

The knight dismounted, and passed the gate,

And hurried to the lake shore where he stood

An hour waiting, in a hapless state,

But it seemed that the prince was gone for good.

His soul was in mourning, his grief was great,

As you may imagine, for their brotherhood

Was broken; his cousin lost, Astolfo

Now knew not what to do, or where to go.

Book II: Canto II: 28-32: Astolfo and the two sisters leave the scene

The maiden too quickly crossed the river,

And ran, o’er the field, to the cypress tree,

Then swiftly liberated her sister,

And clothed her once again, most tenderly.

Astolfo ignored the pair however,

Consumed as he was by grief and pity;

He cried out, and wept, striking at his face,

And begged the Lord for death, of His grace.

He was so overcome by his anguish,

He might have tumbled in the water,

If the anxious maidens, perceiving this,

Had not run to the swooning warrior,

And comforted him sweetly, with a kiss,

Crying: ‘Brave lord, oh, beware the river!

Despair not; take heart; virtue’s never known

Till fate’s harshest; then is true courage shown.’

With many a wise word, to ease his woe,

One, and the other, consoled the knight,

And so prevailed upon the stunned Astolfo

To retreat from the riverbank’s steep height;

But when he’d reached, and mounted, Baiardo,

He felt he might yet die of grief outright.

Crying out: ‘Brave steed your good master’s lost,

And naught’s to do here now but count the cost.’

Many a word he uttered soft and low,

Weeping, all the while, most bitterly.

Then, one sister mounted Rabicano,

And since Prasildo’s steed was running free,

The other rode that of the lost Iroldo,

As they departed that place, mournfully,

The duke between the two on Baiardo,

That bore a master burdened by his woe.

They journeyed slowly on, till noon that day,

When they reached a second river, and there

The travellers heard a mighty horn’s loud bray…

Yet I must leave Astolfo, and repair

To the knights at Albracca, where they lay,

Guarding the keep, in that grave affair,

And fighting against the bold Marfisa,

The warrior-maid still afire with anger.

Book II: Canto II: 33-35: The situation at Albracca

There, Torindo was supporting her cause,

And he sent word to Sebastia,

To Bursa, all of Turkey and its shores,

Alexandria Troas, and Smyrna,

Ordering all the Turks to the wars,

To fight beside him and Queen Marfisa.

These forces were led by Caramano

That was the brother of King Torindo.

The latter swore he’d never quit the field,

Alive, until he saw Angelica

And all her people starve, or burn, or yield.

Therefore, he led his vast host, with fervour,

O’er the plain, and such vast power revealed

No defenders could leave, as earlier

Some knights had chosen to, nor could they stray

All about the walls, as they had, each day.

But proud Antifor, and King Ballano,

Were ever mounted and armed for the fight,

And King Hadrian, and bold Oberto,

King Sacripante, and that valiant knight

Chiarone; they still attacked the foe,

And slew all those on whom they did alight,

For Marfisa could not be in every place,

Though, where she was, men fled before her face.

Book II: Canto II: 36-42: The Bridge Perilous, now the Bridge of Roses

These few knights had departed the fortress:

Aquilante, and the bold Grifone,

And Brandimarte, courteous to excess.

The last had been the first to go, wholly

Due to his love for Orlando no less,

The which had grown while in his company,

And, once he’d learned that the knight had left,

Soon followed, of that company bereft.


Then the two sons of Oliviero,

(I mean Grifone and Aquilante)

Had set out the next morn, nor rode so slow

On their passage through that open country

That they failed to by-pass Count Orlando,

And thus, attaining a view of the sea,

They came upon a palace near the shore,

In a meadow that many a flower bore.

There was a seaward-facing loggia,

Their way before which the warriors made,

In which damsels were dancing together,

While minstrels a rare, sweet music played.

Grifone, passing, asked an onlooker

(Two stood there, with hawks and hounds arrayed)

Whose was the palace, and this countryside.

‘Tis called the Bridge of Roses,’ he replied.

‘If you know not, there, lies the Caspian Sea.

Where this palace and its gardens stand now,

A dense forest stood, many a tall fir tree,

And a vile giant, on that bridge, I avow,

That, o’er the flood below us, you can see.

And that monstrous villain would ne’er allow

A knight or maiden their passage to maintain;

Every one that attempted it was slain.

But Poliferno, a most valiant knight,

He that was later made Orgagna’s king,

Killed the giant, in a most furious fight,

And felled the trees, afterwards adorning

This place, where weary travellers may alight,

With the palace, garden, and everything.

You will find all is as true as I claim;

And he also altered the bridge’s name.

It was the Bridge Perilous before,

And now as the Bridge of Roses tis known,

While this palace he built upon the shore,

So that every brave knight that serves a throne,

And every courtly maid, might thus ensure

That the seed of his fame is widely sown,

And all the world might laud his courtly ways,

That, in every country, engender praise.

You may not cross the bridge unless you swear

That you will lodge for a full night therein;

So, before you should choose to ride elsewhere,

I pray you, seek shelter and rest within.’

Bold Grifone replied: ‘We’ll gladly share

A meal beneath its roof, for that’s no sin,

If my brother welcomes our doing so;

I thank you for the offer you bestow.’

Book II: Canto II: 43-44: Grifone and Aquilante enter the palace

‘Tis as you please!’ answered Aquilante,

And they both dismounted on the shore,

Then approached the palace, with Grifone,

The more eager, now forging on before.

They reached the loggia, strange and lovely,

Where the maidens, that festive garlands bore,

And the minstrels, came joyfully to greet

The two brothers, with ministrations sweet.  

Their armour was removed and they sat

To taste confections, fruit, and drink rare wine

From a golden cup; much refreshed by that,

They joined the dance, to music half-divine.

And then, behold, the dancing stopped, whereat,

O’er the flowering field, as if by design,

A lady came riding, and when they saw

Her steed they wondered, for twas Brigliador.

Book II: Canto II: 45-48: Orrigille deceives them, claiming that Orlando is dead

The two brothers now left the dancing-place,

And went to attend upon the lady,

And set to questioning her, for a space,

Seeking to learn, from her lips, the story

Of how she’d found the horse, and, of her grace,

Where that most valiant warrior might be

Who had been the true owner of the steed;

And she answered them, graciously indeed.

Like all those who are false beyond measure,

She revelled in the falsehoods she could spread;

And claimed that on a bridge, o’er a river,

She had come upon a knight, lying dead.

His surcoat was of a bright green colour,

And the crest, that topped the helm on his head,

Was a small green tree, while beside the knight,

Lay a giant he had slain in valiant fight.

The knight’s flesh was unmarked even so,

But a weighty blow had dented his skull.

Aquilante hearing this, felt deep woe,

All joy departed, and his eyes filled full.

‘Ah, who has betrayed you, dear Orlando,’

He cried, ‘for no giant was e’er so dreadful,

In his strength, that he could, in a fair fight,

Overcome the world’s most accomplished knight.’

Grifone now joined in his dire lament,

Overwhelmed, completely, by his grief.

Asked for more, the lady gave her consent

To describing that scene beyond belief.

The bright sun was now making its descent,

Behind a hill; seeking solace and relief,

The two brothers, full of sorrow, did repair

To the palace, where they met with rest and care.

Book II: Canto II: 49-51: They are seized, while abed, and imprisoned

That same night they were seized, while abed,

And taken, bound, to a forest, dark and deep;

And, once there, to a castle they were led,

And imprisoned in the depths of its keep.

They were held in irons, in constant dread

Of execution; none for them did weep.

One day their gaoler led them forth again,

With their arms fastened by a length of chain,

And, with the brothers, they led forth the maid

Who’d appeared mounted on Brigliador.

They met a captain, and his men, in a glade,

Who greeted them, and this vile message bore:

‘Today a death you’ll suffer long-delayed,

Unless God, in his mercy, brings the cure!’

From the maiden’s face all colour did drain,

On hearing the news that they’d be slain.

But the brothers flinched not, stout hearts they bore;

To God, each now his soul commended;

While, on emerging to the plain, they saw,

A knight on foot, armed; his way he wended

Towards their troop. The distance being more

Than a hundred yards, none comprehended

Whom it might be though, later, I’ll declare,

What man it was that trod the roadway, there.

Book II: Canto II: 52-56: Marfisa’s encampment is attacked

For I must speak, instead, of Albracca

Besieged by the valiant warrior-maid.

Chiarone, with many another

That the tale names, each day displayed

His courage, riding forth to discover

The enemy’s placements, but no knight stayed

To meet Marfisa, who countered swiftly,

For all had fought her but Sacripante,

He had stayed within the wall, to his woe,

For in the opening campaign, the knight

Had been injured by an arrow, and so

Was unable to wear armour and fight.

A full month had passed now, you should know

Since Galafrone had joined in their flight.

Now, one morning, they began an enterprise,

To take the queen’s encampment by surprise.

All within cried: ‘To arms!’ and forth did go;

Each seemed a very lion in his pride.

Before them, went the bold King Ballano,

And, this time, King Sacripante did ride,

With Hadrian, Antifor, Oberto,

And Chiarone; the maiden they defied,

And ran riot midst her camp on the plain

Slaughtering many, dealing the rest much pain.

First one and then another valiant knight

Attacked, each one from his own direction.

They wore their shields at their back to fight

So that both hands were free when in action.

Knights and infantry fell, or took to flight.

Men quaked and ran, but for a mere fraction

Scattered o’er the field; cowards fled the scene,

While Queen Marfisa sought to intervene,

The maid, not delayed by donning armour,

For she lived, clad in steel, prepared to fight,

Now looked to display a leader’s valour.

She was soon perceived by that skilful knight

Ballano, who had fought her; he, however,

Having gained experience of her might,

Found a reason to be elsewhere, for his part,

Than in the presence of that fiery heart.    

Book II: Canto II: 57-60: She counters, and King Ballano is taken

The band of knights had earlier agreed,

That each would lend his companions aid,

For they knew she’d attempt some mighty deed,

And seek them out; thus, none were unafraid.

Now, as Ballano veered away at speed,

She chased behind, her anger well-displayed,

Crying: ‘Turn, turn, you hound! Come face me here!

You’ll not so easily, this day, win clear!’

Shouting loudly, she chased him o’er the plain.

Antifor of Albarossia, he

Struck her hard from behind, but to mere pain

Oblivious, she rode on, furiously,

Intent on meeting Ballano again.

That king spurred his steed on more swiftly.

Oberto too, in pursuit, crossed her course,

And lashed out at her helm, behind, with force.

She scarce noticed, bearing down on Ballano.

Chiarone, with a snake’s swift attack,

Launched towards the queen a two-handed blow,

That likewise struck her helmet, at the back,

Which again she barely felt, being so

Intent on Ballano, who with no lack

Of courage, turned his steed, and from the sky

Dealt a stroke that landed hard, as she sped by.

He’d dropped the reins, swung the sword o’er his head,

And the blade, descending, fell on her shield,

And sliced it like a piece of mouldy bread,

Such that half of it scattered o’er the field.

The maid returned, and aimed to strike him dead,  

His helm cracking, and his skull thus revealed.

Her men, now grouped about her, caught his steed,

The king seeming but half-alive indeed.

Book II: Canto II: 61-65: She captures King Hadrian, and kills Oberto

Nor did she linger there, but Chiarone

She then hunted, like a hare, o’er the field,

While his comrades dealt the maiden many

A blow, though her scorn went unconcealed,

Counting them not worth a fig; angrily,

She caught Chiarone, forcing him to yield,

And had him bound, and dispatched to her tent.

Antifor fled, escape his sole intent,

Yet, reaching him, his helm the maiden seized,

And dragged him, rendered helpless, from his steed,

Then shaking him about, the knight she teased

Like a cat that will toy, despite its greed,

With a mouse, doing with him as she pleased,

Then tossed him to her men. Next, at speed,

She caught King Hadrian, though Sacripante

Being elsewhere on the field, yet went free.

She set eyes on Oberto dal Leone;

He had scattered a squadron, all alone.

The savage warrior-maid spurred swiftly

To meet him, fell upon him like a stone,

Split his stout shield in two completely,

Broke apart the plate guarding flesh and bone,

Stripped his hauberk, and the mail below,

And pierced his skin, with a single blow.

The brave knight, dismayed beyond measure,

With two hands launched a swing of his blade,

Which the maid turned aside, at her leisure.

For scant regard for such blows she displayed,

As her armour and helm were ancient treasure,

Wrought by enchantment, in a secret glade,

And protected her ever; she dealt a stroke

That landed on his helm, which promptly broke.

Her sword descended with such vicious force

His stout helmet could not withstand the blow

That split his brow and nose, in its fierce course,

And sank through the mouth, teeth, and jaw below.

Down to the saddle, and well-nigh his horse,

That keen blade passed, there only did it slow,

And, but for an inch, near cut the saddle through,

After slicing Oberto clean in two.

Book II: Canto II: 66-70: And is then confronted by Sacripante

King Sacripante fought some way away,

Cleaving the foe in battle, with his sword

Wielded in his two hands. To his dismay,

He saw Oberto slain, that valiant lord.

Now he rode, abandoning the affray,

And galloping, amidst the tangled horde,

To reach Marfisa and that gory scene

Blade in hand, and fight the warrior-queen.

He delivered such a blow that the maid

Was sure she’d never felt the like before.

She almost swooned, such pain the stroke conveyed.

Twas now as if King Sacripante bore

A pair of wings, so swift the turns he made.

Her prowess, all the strength she had in store,

Went for naught, so rapid was his course,

As he circled her on his splendid horse.

He spun about her like some agile bird,

Avoiding her wild blows, while striking hard.

Many a trenchant sword-stroke he conferred

Upon the queen, who was ever on her guard.

Frontalate was his mount; he scarcely spurred

The creature, which ever went unscarred,

So agile was he, and so clever in a fight,

That, when Sacripante his flag unfurled,

On that fair steed, he scorned the mortal world.

The courser was quite faultless, he’d maintain;

Twas so well-formed, that it lacked for naught,

A fine bay-horse, and of a chestnut grain,

Though a white blaze on its brow, it did sport.

That steed was bred in Granada, Spain,

Its mould was slim, its haunches strong, in short

A rare beast, with a long tail, and blonde mane,

While pale ‘socks’, on three fetlocks, showed plain.

When armed and so mounted, Sacripante

Claimed that he could conquer any foe.

He’d great need of that mount now, for, clearly,

Ne’er before had he had to labour so,

As he faced that relentless warrior-lady.

I’ll describe the rest in the next canto,

Or I’ll seek to do so, for, to tell no lie,

It needs a more brilliant penman than I.

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