Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato

Book II: Canto III: Seeking Ruggiero

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

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Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato: Book II, Canto III

Book II: Canto III: 1-6: Marfisa and Sacripante contend

In my previous canto, Marfisa

Was left battling against Circassia’s king.

Regardless of how she fought, however,

That steed of his, deftly manoeuvring,

Made an equal match of their encounter.

Anger gnawed her, for though contending

With his blade, and then answering again,

With two handed sword-blows, twas all in vain.

Behold the king, swooping like a falcon,

Struck her cheek-guard on either side.

She, with a backhand thrust, neatly done,

As swiftly as she could, at once replied.

Yet that steed, with a leap towards the sun,

As if bearing wings, nimbly flew aside,

Denied the least advantage to the queen,

And, at once, leapt back to where it had been.

Sacripante aimed at her shoulder-blade.

His weapon struck against the solid plate,

And, sliding down, across her shield, displayed

Her steel-clad arm, leaving, in sorry state,

All it touched; yet, with every move he made,

If she were but to land a blow, his fate

Would be decided, for if she came near

Then he’d be split in two; that fact was clear.

As when a castle on a rocky steep

Is besieged on every side, and the foe

Receives weighty rocks and beams, in the deep,

That endanger their forces there below,

And, as the hail descends, close watch they keep

Lest they are downed by but a single blow,

So Sacripante and Marfisa fought,

Cautious in all they did, conceding naught.

She struck like lightning from a winter sky,

Whene’er she advanced her keen-edged blade,

For through the air that fearsome sword would sigh,

The blow despatched right swiftly by the maid.

But the king’s steed, scarcely troubled thereby,

Rarely paused, leapt about, and never stayed,

While in front, behind, and on every side,

In a blur, the king his whirling weapon plied.

He trimmed from her helm, the helmet-crest,

Her shield was broken, splintered from the fight.

He’d rent her surcoat, and yet all the rest,

Of her armour was whole, in his despite.

He hammered at her arms, and sides, and breast,

But she cared not, the damage merely slight,

Biding her time, and hoping in her heart,

With one fierce blow, to split the knight apart.

Book II: Canto III: 7-12: Sacripante receives ill news

They had fought each other to a standstill,

And had agreed to retire, awhile, to rest,

When a messenger appeared on the hill,

And reached the field; his face his fear expressed.

His looks, to Sacripante, boded ill,

As he knelt before him, his voice distressed,

And tearfully, proclaimed: ‘My lord, I bring

Ill news of your realm, for that mighty king

Mandricardo, who is Agricane’s heir,

Being his eldest son, has sought to gather

His far-flung Tartars, all the land can spare,

And has invaded your Circassia.

He himself has slain your own brother, there,

Thus, your kingdom seeks to call you thither.

Mandricardo would surely flee or yield

If he saw you lead your men o’er the field.

We were greatly saddened by a rumour

Of your death, the which prompted, suddenly,

An invasion; for that fierce warrior,

Entered the realm with a new-made army,

Took the bridge at Levashi, crossed over,

Moved south, and burned the town of Shamakhi.

There it was he slew Olibandro,

Your valiant brother, to our grief and woe.

He has brought flame and ruin everywhere

Passing like a firebrand through the land.

While you defend a maid, however fair,

You but neglect the realm that you command.

The people call for you alone, and there

They have no other hope; they make a stand,

But our most noble country faces doom,

The steel rends her, and the flames consume.

The brave monarch listened with altered face,

And wept endless tears of grief and anger,

Both his thoughts and feelings churning apace,

Torn twixt love and ire, condemned to suffer;

Urged, by the latter, to depart the place,

Yet bound to defend his lady, by the former.

Then finally, his heart torn twixt the two,

He turned to the queen, reluctant to pursue

Their duel, sheathed his blade, and to Marfisa

Relayed the news the messenger had brought,

Of the devastation wrought by another,

That, counter to the right, destruction sought.

And then, asking humbly, he begged of her

As eloquently as he could, with tears fraught,

In a fine speech, with many a sweet word,

To quit the place; let the siege be deferred.

Book II: Canto III: 13-16: Marfisa rejects his plea

The queen began by pledging her whole army

And herself, to his service, if desired;

Yet would not countenance the thought that she

Should leave; to her aim she yet aspired,

Of Angelica’s death; nor would mercy

Be shown the citadel, till she’d acquired

Its surrender; thus, in greater discord,

The pair renewed the fight, with shield and sword.

They began a fierce and dread encounter,

More ardent than the pair had fought that day.

Sacripante, mounted on his swift courser,

Flew about her, thus keeping her at bay.

He knew how easily he might suffer

Both disgrace and shame, in that mortal play,

For should Fortune fail to come to his aid,

One mighty sword-stroke and he’d be unmade.

He’d resolved to tire the warrior-maiden,

Or die striving, if ill-fate so decreed.

He struck her helm and armour often,

Yet could not dent the metal, while, indeed,

The queen, unwearied, maintained her station,

Undisturbed by his blows, or by his steed,

Dealing two-handed strokes that oft promised

Much, yet given his tactics simply missed.

The fight between those two was so prolonged,

It needs more time to describe it fully;

Yet, should I leave it awhile, you’re not wronged,

I’ll return to the same point, faithfully.  

But now to those to whom the task belonged

I turn, that assigned by Agramante,

Of searching Mount Carena’s every trail,

Seeking Ruggiero, for so runs the tale.

Book II: Canto III: 17-19: Mulabuferso fails to find Ruggiero on Mount Carena

Mulabuferso, King of Fizano,

Fierce in mien, expert at everything,

Searched all the mountain, riding to and fro,

From the desert to the sea, pursuing

Any trace of the said Ruggiero,

Found him not, and returned to face the king,

To whom he sped, on reaching Bizerte,

Convinced twas but vain to search further.

‘My lord,’ he said, ‘performing your command,

I have searched all Carena’s mountain height,

Yet, despite my toil and care, please understand,

All was the same, at the last, as at first sight,

And I assure you that, in all that empty land,

There is nary a sign of that young knight.

A Ruggiero died, there, at Reggio,

And no other I think the world doth show.

Yet, if it pleases the king of Garamanta,

Let him divine the place where he might be,

Since he knows that art, and may see further,

And yet we’d be but mad, it seems to me,

To attend upon this old snake-charmer,

For, by now, we should be upon the sea.

He searches for what may be found no more,  

So our people may not sail, and make war.’

Book II: Canto III: 20-24: Rodomonte pours scorn on divination

Rodomonte scarce let him make an end,

Scornful, as he listened, with fiery gaze,

Ere he cried: ‘That’s as I told you, my friend.

He makes mock of the king with his mad ways.

No, he’d not have us war; those that depend,

On some man’s word, accepting all he says,

Are, full oft, misled; tis wrong to believe

In things unseen, and speeches that deceive!

For the world’s latest fashion is to lie,

And never a man that does so, shows shame,

But charts the heavens as the stars pass by,

To colour each incredible new claim,

Announcing what will happen, by and by,

And interpreting dreams, to swell his fame.

Mercury, Jupiter, or Mars he’ll say

Is fostering peace or war, somewhere, this day.

If there are gods, of which I am unsure,

They care for things above, not here below.

No man has seen them, and yet, all the more,

Base fools, through fear, believe they come and go

Upon this Earth: My faith you may explore:

Tis in my armour, and my sword, the blow

From my iron mace, and in my good steed

For I am my own god, and none do need!

While this old priest, with an olive twig draws

Circles in the dust, claiming, when the Sun

Is conjoined with Venus, we’ll see no wars,

Because we’ll be at peace with everyone;

And that, when the grass is springing outdoors,

And the fairest of the seasons has begun,

The King should refrain from war in France,

Scratch his belly, and rest his sword and lance.

I marvel that my bold and puissant lord

Can endure so vain and idle a tale.

This old man twould be pleasing to afford

A tight grip on his hair, who doth regale

The court with such, and so heave him aboard,

Then leave him there, in France, without a sail,

Or whisk him through the air; I know not why

I refrain, twould be fine to see him fly.’

Book II: Canto III: 25-30: Garamanta’s king speaks of Atlante’s realm, and of the ring

The white-haired priest merely smiled, and said:

‘His words, and the fiery look, this lad shows,

This brave youth with such wisdom in his head,

Scare me not; tis the truth, as my lord knows,

I reveal; the boy to war has been bred,

His mind, ever astray, is filled with foes.

The gods care not for him, nor he for they.

Of other things I speak; come, hark, I say!

I told you, my lords, and I say again

That on Carena’s mountain dwells a knight,

Whose clear destiny Heaven doth ordain,  

A youth unequalled in his skill and might.

Lest you’ve forgotten, tis with toil and pain,

One may hope to find him; twill be despite

His guardian, schooled in necromancy,

That hides him well. His name is Atlante.

He wrought a garden on that mountain peak,

Which is encircled by a wall, like glass,

And sits so high, upon cliffs bare and bleak,

That he’s secure there, for no man can pass.

The ring-wall is quite sheer, its stone unique.

Though tis marvellously hard, that great mass,

Twas raised by dark enchantment, in a day;

Sprites from Hell he conjured; there’s no way

One can ascend the peak without consent,

For that old wizard guards the heights above,

And so, none sees the garden therein pent.

Not even from a distance, can one prove

That realm exists; for such was his intent.  

Rodomonte laughs! Fools e’er disapprove!

And yet still one may view this wondrous thing,

If one but possesses the magic ring

That I know of, wrought in such a manner

(Many a time, its power has been shown)

That its presence dispels every barrier,

Achieved by the work of magic alone.

Tis owned by King Galafrone’s daughter;

In Cathay, in far India, is his throne,

While Angelica holds court in Albracca

Now besieged by the fierce Queen Marfisa.

Unless that magic ring is in your power,

The lofty garden will be sought in vain;

For that peak’s an impregnable tower.

Sail without Ruggiero, and naught but pain

Will you endure, with every passing hour,

While none, who war there, will return again.

Since I foresee, if that fair knight you lack,

Ill-Fortune shall clothe Africa in black.’

Book II: Canto III: 31-33: He prophesies that his own death is imminent

When the old king ceased from speaking so,

He bowed his head, and wept many a tear:

‘Yet I’m happier than you all, for I know

The moment of my death, the which is near.

And that proof, of what I say, I may show,

I say the hour fate chose for me, is here.

When the Sun enters Cancer, then my life

Will end as if twere cut through with a knife.

I die ere the hour has passed, and truly.

If there’s aught, of Allah, that you may need,

Then I’ll bear your request along with me.

Now hold fast to the words the god decreed,

Which I’ll now repeat: ‘Choose to journey

To France without that knight, who indeed

Shall be your only shield, and pay the cost;

All shall be sore dismayed; all shall be lost.’

His life was no longer than he’d foretold

Being a wise and skilful diviner.

He died that instant; in their sight, grew cold.

Agramante was stunned, every warrior

Was dismayed; even those who were most bold,

And had denied the king’s prophetic power,

Now believed all that the old man had said,

For he lay, on the ground before them, dead.

Book II: Canto III: 34-37: Rodomonte departs, to prepare for war

Rodomonte, alone, was unafraid

And scornfully addressed Agramante:

‘I too, my lord, the old man’s fate had weighed,

And foresaw he’d not live long, at ninety!

The wicked old babbler certainly displayed

Every sign of dying and, it seems to me

Being so full of years, in constant pain,

He knew he neared the end of his long reign.

But now his death appears to prove, somehow,

Since he predicted it, the claims he made.

Yet it’s nothing new, all here would avow,

To witness an old man’s death, long delayed.

Remain behind then, follow not my prow;

I’ll cross the waves alone, with lance and blade.

We’ll see if Heaven thwarts my bold advance,

Enough to keep me from the throne of France.’

Finding no more to say, proud Rodomonte,

Without taking leave, departed the council.

To Sarza went that fiery heart, then swiftly

Gathered men to Algiers, to assemble

An invasion force, equip a navy,

Such as to make the Frankish kingdom tremble.

I’ll tell you later how those waves he crossed

And the war he waged, to Charlemagne’s great cost.

The counsellors, yet assembled, as ever

Pursued the matter, saying yay and nay,

While the king, regaining his composure,

Was still set on sailing, without delay.

All swore to follow, if they could be sure

That this Ruggiero would pave the way,

If he were not found, all might yet go ill;

The king agreed and, thus, expressed his will:

Book II: Canto III: 38-44: Brunello promises to steal the ring, and the council ends

Agramante vowed that if any man

Could be found with a nature so daring

As to steal the ring, by some cunning plan,

That Galafrone’s daughter was wearing,

He’d grant him a realm, a tract larger than

One could conceive, rich beyond comparing.

All understood the prize, thus to be won,

And yet worthwhile offering came there none.

Till the white-haired King of Fez was heard

To say: ‘My lord, let me depart a while,

And, Allah willing, you shall hear the word

Of a servant of mine, a man of guile.’

He was not long away, while they conferred,

And returned with a dwarf who did smile

A wicked smile, his fingers never slow

To acquire fine things; his name, Brunello.

In height the thief was a little fellow,

But in malice marvellously great.

He was four and a half feet tall, or so,

With short black curly hair on his pate.

He spoke a base tongue, his voice a bellow,

Like a war-horn’s bray, that did ever grate

On the ear; he slept by day, moved by night,

Unrestrained in speech, in virtue light.

When he arrived, and cast his gaze upon

The gems and gold platters, of which I told,

He wished he was taller, his eyes thereon

As large as they, then, nothing if not bold,

He drew near the throne: ‘You may count upon

Me, my lord,’ he cried, ‘Ere the day is old,

I’ll be off to win, by cleverness and skill,

The kingdom you’ve promised, that I will.

I’ll seize the ring, not a chance of failure,

And return to the palace, in a trice,

And if you should need me for a bigger

Task or two, well you needn’t ask me twice.

I could pluck the moon from heaven quicker,

Or seize the Devil’s trident; for a price,

Spite the Christians, steal the Pope’s treasure,

And rob bells of their peals, for good measure.’

King Agramante marvelled to see

A little fellow with such self-assurance.

Brunello went away to sleep, for he

Preferred the dark of midnight, to advance

His cause, and none saw him, certainly,

Prising jewels from the walls; twas by mere chance

He’d been born to dwarfism, and so small

He could scarce reach those gems, to seize his haul.

The king’s council was dissolved, there and then

For the work of that gathering was done.

Each man journeyed to his own land again,

To seek all required for the invasion.

The king, of his grace, gifted all these men

With such gifts as had their allegiance won,

For he gave armour, jewels, jars of gold,

Brave steeds, and hawks, and deerhounds, we are told.

Book II: Canto III: 45-48: Orlando meets a troop of men, and their prisoners

Each lord, singing loudly, his road did go,

Dressed all in cloth of silver, and of gold;

But I must quit them, and seek Orlando,

Whom I left, afoot, a sad sight to behold,

Suffering, as he walked, both pain and woe;

For Brigliador he’d lost, the trail now cold,

While he rebuked himself, for he’d obeyed,

And been deceived by, a treacherous maid.

To himself, he said: ‘Though, I set her free

From depths of torment as cruel as death,

Yet she was but discourteous to me,

And led me to this sorry waste of breath.

May he be damned that trusts so foolishly

In woman: so many an old book saith.

For each is faithless, when put to the test,

And never a loyal one midst all the rest.’

Yet he struck his lips, when the thought was done,

And scolded himself: ‘Villain of a knight,

What could make you think thus, of anyone?

Have you forgotten, then, the noble sight,

Of her who won your heart, the tender one

That ever fills your mind and soul with light?

Surely her goodness and example prove,

That there are women worthy of your love.’

While he was musing thus, afar, he saw

Standards, and pennons atop lances, gleaming.

Men were passing o’er the plain, as if to war;  

Most were on foot; some brave steeds were riding.

A captain led two prisoners on before  

The rest; two knights, or such was their seeming,

Arms bound with iron chains, and in despair.

As they neared, the Count recognised the pair.

Book II: Canto III: 49-53: The captives are Aquilante, Grifone and Orrigille

Those knights, Aquilante and Grifone,

Were both being led to execution.

A maid, on Brigliador, rode sadly

Before them, bound tightly in position,

All pallid of face, and grieving deeply,

As she was borne to her destination.

Orlando knew her visage, instantly,

Twas that false deceiver, Orrigille.

Concealing his knowledge, he now approached

The soldiers, and asked as to their intent.

One with a russet beard, to whom he broached

The question (his fat belly tightly pent

In armour) replied: ‘These three encroached

Upon this land, where the mighty serpent

Consumes all that come here, and are caught;

For, as offerings then, their death is sought.

Should you know it not, this is Orgagna;

And you are close to Falerina’s Garden.

Naught more wondrous was created ever,

For the queen’s magic wrought its construction.

Therefore, fear to draw nearer, stranger,

For you will be pounced upon, and taken,

And go to feed the dragon with these three,

Should you fail to take to your heels, and flee.’

Now, Count Orlando was filled with delight,

On learning, from the soldier’s calm reply,

That the enchanted garden, as fair as night,

Which he was bent on destroying, was nigh.

But then the speaker, whose face to the sight

Was like a doleful hound’s, cried: ‘Fly, man, fly,

If our captain sees you, you’ll be caught,

And then thrown to the serpent, for its sport.’

The man had scarcely ceased answering though,

When his fierce captain caught sight of the pair,

And shouted: ‘Seize the rascal, don’t be slow!

Bad luck for him he chose to breathe our air,

Bound in chains, with these others, he shall go.

This day, the beast will devour that trio there,’

He cried, and then, pointing at Orlando:

‘He’ll make a tasty mouthful for tomorrow.’

Book II: Canto III: 54-58: Orlando routs the troop

The soldiers rushed to capture the brave knight,

The whole troop attacking him together,

While, as one always ready for a fight,

He gripped his shield, and drew Durindana.

Not knowing his boundless skill, and might,

They felt no fear as they ran in, however,

Each, hastening on, ignorant and eager,

Since they prized his weapon, and his armour.

Yet they swiftly discovered their mistake,

For as soon as they met in this encounter,

He cut at some, and other men did rake

With his blade, and scarce a blow in error.

‘Stand firm, lads, now! Hold fast, for honour’s sake!’

Came a shout from a tall man, with a banner,

‘Stand firm!’ he cried, his efforts all in vain,

For he’d been left far behind, on the plain.

None heeded him, but quickly turned to flee,

Seeking whatever cover might be found,  

While the Count ran beside them, cheerfully,

Scattering heads, arms, and legs o’er the ground.

He reached the tall flag-bearer, and fiercely

Swung Durindana, with a whistling sound,

And sliced the man in two, in a trice;

While none lingered to see him wield it twice.

The captain, who rode the choicest steed,

Led their swift retreat, shouting as he fled:

‘That’s the one who wrought the fatal deed

And slew Rubicone; we’ll all be dead,

Unless Fate saves us, and this turn of speed!

Woe to the man that’s forced to face his blade,

It cuts flesh like butter; he’ll not be stayed!’

Whether you recall the thing, I scarce know,

But twas Rinaldo slew Rubicone,

And, with that blow, my lords, saved Prasildo,

And Iroldo; and this captain, simply

Thought, when he gazed on bold Orlando,

And saw him swing his sword so fiercely,

That this was the self-same cavalier,

And fled the faster, thinking he drew near.

Book II: Canto III: 59-61: He forgives Orrigille

But the Count chose not to pursue the foe,

For the rogues were clearly at his mercy:

‘Away with you, you rascals! Off you go!’

He cried, and then turned to the knights swiftly,

Who wept for joy, escaping pain and woe,

Scarce believing twas really Orlando;

But the maid, who’d deceived him, turned paler,

And let her head hang down even lower.

She was fair, beyond measure, as I’ve said,

In every way exemplifying beauty,

Such that e’en her embarrassment and dread

Failed to hide the fact that she was lovely.

Viewing her splendid figure, toe to head,

The Count’s thoughts were muddled, entirely,

And he forgot his injuries, and her slight,

And only grieved at witnessing her plight.

What shall I say? The maiden pleased him so,

That he freed her first, and his nephews last.

While she, a false deceiver, as you know,

Seized her chance to bury the recent past,

As she would; begged for mercy, cried her woe.

The Count, seeing her so sad, and downcast,

Had no wish to see her weeping like this;

So, he raised her, and made peace, with a kiss.

Book II: Canto III: 62-64: Who, it seems, is now in love with Grifone

Once they were reconciled, and he content,

Orlando once more mounted his brave steed,

Having unchained the two knights; her intent,

However, was to another’s side to speed,

For her eyes upon Grifone now were bent.

That pair were deep in love; fate had decreed

That, though held in separate cells, the fire

Had been aroused in both, of fond desire.

Why wonder that she preferred Grifone?

For the Count with bushy eyebrows was blessed,

And one eye had a squint (though twas barely

A blemish, and scarce diminished the rest)

While those rosy cheeks of ‘dear’ Grifone,

And the absence of a beard, tis confessed,

Appealed more to the young; the strength and size

Of the Count seemed, to her, the lesser prize.

She kept her gaze fixed on her Grifone,

While that knight with like passion gazed on her,

Full of love for the maid, and sympathy,

His ardent breast heaved; his heart sighed for her,

And the lovers behaved so openly,

That Orlando was not inclined to suffer

Grifone’s presence long, and so he told

The knights to depart, ere the day grew old.

Book II: Canto III: 65-67: The knights depart, and a lady appears

He said that he was bound upon a quest,

And was sworn to accomplish a great deed,

That very day, alone, and so twas best

If they quit his company, and at speed.

Graciously, they obeyed his curt request,

And said their farewells, though twould need

Three reminders at least from Orlando

Ere Grifone, mounted, felt bound to go.

Once his two nephews had departed,

Orlando dismounted and, although

An awkward lover (though stout-hearted),

Was seeking to confess his love, when, lo,

A lady appeared, ere he’d quite started,

Upon a white palfrey, and ambling slow.

When salutations were done, the maid cried:

‘Ah, unlucky man, whom Fate has so denied

The good-fortune you deserve, know you not,

You are but two miles from the dreaded gate

Of Orgagna’s garden; death will prove your lot

If your fate draws you there. Tis not too late!

Flee now, by God! Let this land be forgot,

For close to death are you, the danger great,

When near, as now, to that enchanted wall,

Yet you linger, as if you’re safe from all.’

Book II: Canto III: 68-70: Orlando seeks her counsel

Orlando answered the maid, with a smile:

‘I must render you my thanks, endlessly,

E’en though you’d have me ride many a mile

From great peril, for such you’ve said to me.

To that garden I shall win, by force or guile,

You must understand; I deign not to flee.

For Love, who sends me there, at a venture,

Assures me I’ll, thus, enhance my honour.

If you would but give me advice, or aid,

And suggest what I might say there, or do,

For none to me such matters have relayed,

I’d truly, be beholden unto you.

I’ve met none who this same journey has made,

Or likewise, has had its stone walls in view.

And so, I pray you, of your courtesy,

If you know aught of that realm, counsel me.’

The damsel dismounting, graciously,

From her white palfrey, trod the field below,

And revealed to him all that he might see,

No more nor less; or all that she did know.

Twas a marvellous adventure, truly,

Which I’ll tell you of, in the next canto,

If the Lord so pleases; sweet company,

Rest in peace; and we’ll meet again, shortly.

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