Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato

Book II: Canto V: Brunello the Thief

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

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Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato: Book II, Canto V

Book II: Canto V: 1-8: The tree with vicious thorns and golden apples

Joyful and endless life, my lords, to you,

That have listened to my song with delight.

Since you’ve returned, thus, to hear me anew,

From where I paused, I’ll begin outright.

The Count had tied not merely one but two

Huge giants to the bridge, bound them tight,

And now, having conquered all his foes,

Could leave the magic garden, if he chose.

And yet he thought, ere he quit the place,

If he did no more, he’d fail of his quest,

And find himself, indeed, in deep disgrace

With Angelica who’d imposed the test.

For the garden did much harm, and twas base

To allow it to endure, he confessed,

Since many a knight, many a fair lady

Had perished there, with savage cruelty.

Therefore, the Count halted, to consider

If he could destroy both the park and wall,

By some subtle means, and in some manner

That might serve to eradicate it all.

Thus, he would win renown and honour,

On him the crown of victory would fall,

And the cause of many a traveller’s death

Be ended, by his prowess, in a breath.

He read the book and found there was a tree

That kept the magic garden in being,

Yet break away its topmost branch and he

Would win, by that act, the park’s undoing.

No man had ever climbed it; seemingly,

Torment and death lay in so attempting.

Count Orlando, who feared naught neath the sky,

Determined to reach its high crown, or die.

He turned back from the wall, by a valley,

That led to the palace gate outright,

And so came to where he’d met the lady

That used the sword as a mirror bright.

He’d left the maid bound to a tall beech-tree,

If you recall, yet, nonetheless, the knight

Sped on his way, neglecting to free her,

Rather he left her there awhile to suffer.

He was in haste to reach the fatal tree,

And found it in the middle of the field,

The branch that crowned its summit he could see,

Possessed of a beauty that the light revealed.

No arrow from a Turkish bow could, surely,

Reach that height, and yet the task might yield

To his efforts; the branches spread around,

But twas not a yard about near the ground,

No thicker; the branches long and slender,

Hid vicious thorns amidst their greenery,

That fell, yet were renewed daily ever,  

Golden apples adorned it gracefully,

Heavy, glowing brightly in the cover

Of the leaves, yet hanging, menacingly,

O’er those who came too close to the tree,

Bowing the thin branches, threateningly.

These apples were a man’s head in size,

While whoe’er drew near to the trunk it swayed,

And trembled, and the apples shook likewise,

And then fell violently, and so repaid

The visitor with an unlooked-for prize,

For flat upon the ground that man was laid,

And slain indeed, since such was their great weight

That little could survive that act of fate.

Book II: Canto V: 9-12: Orlando sets out to break the topmost branch

The limbs began a bow-shot from the ground;

The trunk below them was as smooth as glass.

So, no living human being could be found,  

That could ascend and, to the summit, pass,

For that surface did every grasp confound,

And the trunk at the crown so thin, alas,

That no weight would it bear; Count Orlando

Had read it in the book, and learnt twas so.

But the more difficult appeared the quest,

Then the more audacious the Count became.

He set his mind on completing the test,  

And cut beech branches to construct a frame.

With turf and soil, he covered it, as best

He could, then on his shoulders placed that same.

It rose above his head; he lashed it tight,

Then o’er the field, at high speed, ran the knight.

Now, the strength of Orlando was so great,

That (so Bishop Turpin says) he once bore

A pillar, quite massive in its weight,

From Anglante to Brava; thus, he wore

His beech-frame lightly, as he headed straight

For the tree, which was shaken to the core,

And those enormous apples, thick as snow,

Fell on his back, and to the ground below.

He sped on anxiously, to reach the bole,

As the turf, earth and sods, were knocked away,

And still the hail of apples took their toll,

Till his wicker frame was full; there they lay,

And were like to achieve their vicious goal,

So heavily upon him did they weigh.

And if he’d not reached the trunk in time

He would have lost his life, ere he could climb.

Book II: Canto V: 13-15: He fells the tree, and the garden is destroyed

Think you the Count climbed it to the crown?

Not at all, for he felled it at a blow,

Broke the highest branch, once it was down,

And achieved the task he’d accepted, so.

Darkness, at once, did that garden drown,

For, neath the grass, the earth shook from below,

Quivered, and trembled as the sun was hid,

And the dark sky, above, closed like a lid.

The Count could see nothing where he stood,

While the earth oped, with a mighty roar,

And the air filled with smoke as black as mud,

While a flame rose, a tower’s-height or more.

Some demon out of Hell grasped the falsehood,

And drew it down beneath the valley-floor,

While, once that garden’s ruin was complete,

The sky cleared, and the sun his eyes did greet.

The wall that had encircled all that ground,

Had quite vanished; naught remained to the view.

And neither fount nor palace could be found,

The landscape all about him cleared anew,

And all the enchantress had fashioned, drowned;

Though that maid, Falerina, it was true,

Yet remained alive, as Orlando saw,

Still bound fast to the beech-tree, as before.


Book II: Canto V: 16-24: Falerina’s plea

The maiden grieved, and wept profusely,

Over the destruction of her garden.

No longer silent, but pleading loudly,

She begged the Count that he might pardon

Her false enchantments, and show her mercy,

And, viewing her sorry plight, not harden

His heart towards her: ‘Flower of chivalry,’

She cried, ‘death I deserve, yet pity me!

For though I deserve to die, tis true,

If you were to kill me now, the deed

Would mean the cruel end of no small few

Knight and ladies whose capture I decreed.

Hearken now, ere your actions you might rue.

It took me seven months, at wondrous speed,

To create the garden, with my magic arts,

And all therein; a day, and it departs!

To punish a single knight it was wrought,

And a maiden, his deceitful lover,

Though rather than to them, death it has brought,

If I am honest, to many another.

For the garden sufficing not, I sought

To build a bridge o’er the stream, to capture,

Knight and ladies, all those that might appear,

As many as thought to cross, or came near.

The knight I speak of is Ariante,

Orrigille is the false maiden’s name,

I’ll say no more of them, though there’s plenty

That I might say of those evil same.

Tis my misfortune that, among the many

Who were caught, those two I failed to claim,

Though more have died there in misery,

Than there are leaves and branches on this tree.

For the enchanted garden put an end

To all those who sought to venture there;

While my captives that river-bridge doth send

To imprisonment; a guard has the care

Of that crossing-place, which he must defend,

And has tempted many the path to dare.

I’ll not describe the place, but, by my plan,

Those who’d pass are captured by that old man.

Not so long ago, a fair enchantress,

Who is King Galafrone’s daughter,

Angelica, and dwells, in some distress,

Besieged in Albracca, with her father,

Was deceived and held, under duress,

By that old man, as she chanced to wander

Beside the bridge and, how I do not know,

Escaped, and freed the rest as she did so.

Yet a host of prisoners still remain,

For the old man ever captures more,

And, instantly, were I to be slain,

The bridge, and his prisoners, tower, and shore,

Would vanish, ne’er to be seen again,

All would die with me, you may be sure,

And you the cause; yet if my life you’ll spare

Then I’ll free them all, safe and sound, I swear.

And should you not believe what I say here,

Then take me with you, bound as I am now,

Captive or free, tis all the same I fear,

For I am shamed, regardless of my vow

To destroy his tower (twill disappear

If you do) and their freedom straight allow;

Choose which path you will, then, as you please:

To let them die, or set me at my ease.’

The Count swiftly chose the latter course,

Though he’d not have slain her, either way,

Neither hatred nor injury could force

The Count to harm a maid, nor make her pay.

So, though she showed little true remorse,

They left, to seek the bridge, without delay.

But, here, my source, deferring their story,

Turns to Marfisa and Sacripante.

Book II: Canto V: 25-31: Brunello enters Albracca and seeks Angelica

Their battle had continued in the same

Manner as their first fierce encounter,

Marfisa nigh indifferent to the game,

Well-defended by her wondrous armour,

And unconcerned by lance or sword, I’d claim,

While Sacripante’s steed dodged, as ever,

Her blows, so swiftly it nigh went unseen,

And he rode by, unwounded by the queen.

Thus, on the plain they fought, fruitlessly,

Though Marfisa’s blows rained down thick and fast,

For she swung her mighty blade uselessly,

As, before her eyes, he quickly passed.

Meanwhile, the King of Fez’s bold lackey,

Brunello, his African thief, at last,

After crossing many a distant border,

Reached the lofty walls of fair Albracca.

King Agramante had sent Brunello there,

Because the thief had boasted to the king

That he could enter Albracca the fair,

And, from Angelica’s hand, take the ring,

Which, if you recall, no charm did spare,

For so subtle a mind had wrought the thing,

That, in its presence, every enchantment,

Lost its power to deceive, its magic spent.

The ring was needed to find Ruggiero,

Concealed on Mount Carena’s lofty peak,

And so, this brazen thief, and cunning foe,

Had been sent that very thing to seek.

Up the wall, climbing swiftly, he did go,

Over which a spider could scarcely sneak,

For the castle’s smooth stone all but defied

An assault, cut sheer from the mountainside.

Only upon one face was there a stair,

Hewn, with toil, by heavy picks, from the stone.

The entrance to, and exit from, that lair,

A steep flight, manned by soldiers, stood alone.

The stone was smooth above the river; there,

No guards were e’er required, for flesh and bone

Could not ascend (was doomed to die trying,

Twas thought) by any means, short of flying.

Brunello was adept at scaling all

Such obstacles, and climbed, as on a rope,

All the rock below, and so reached the wall;

Then he clung there, above the lower slope,

Feet and arms fully stretched, ere he could fall,

And for every little crevice then did grope,

Launching forth, like a swimmer in the sea;

Spite the peril, not one prayer needed he.

Full of confidence, he made his ascent,

As if he slipped across a grassy field,

And, after he had gained the battlement,

Like an agile fox was soon close-concealed.

Twas not night, nonetheless, he was content,

Though a bright sun was, now and then, revealed,

For he slunk about, as a sly fox would,

And so reached the place where the lady stood.

Book II: Canto V: 32-36: He steals the ring, and escapes

Angelica was standing o’er the gate,

Having climbed to that spot, to watch the fight,

Her eyes fixed on the duel which, of late,

Had restarted twixt Marfisa and the knight,

Bold King Sacripante, I mean, whose fate

Was now discussed, some saying, at the sight:

‘See how Marfisa handles her fierce blade,

The king’s swift steed won’t save him from the maid.’

While others cried: ‘He’s a skilful horseman,

He’ll prance about, and keep the maid at bay,

If he veers not too close (for that’s his plan),

And protects the steed, and goes not astray.’

Meanwhile Brunello, cautiously, began

To creep amidst them, ere he made his play,

Not wishing to linger there till evening,

Deftly, from her finger, sliding the ring.

She’d not have known, but she glimpsed his face,

And called out, in alarm, at the sight.

With the ring in his hand, he fled the place,

And sped to the battlement, in his fright,

O’er which he’d climbed; twas now a race,

For the rest pursued the wretch outright,

While Angelica, in tears, tore at her hair,

Crying: ‘Quick! Quick! that’s the villain, there!’

‘Seize him, ere that vile thief escapes’ she cried,

‘I’ll die if that foul villain is not caught!’

To please the queen, the whole company tried

To do so, but their efforts went for naught.

He slid down the wall, leaping from its side

To the cliff below, then the flood he sought,

As if he were descending a rocky stair,

O’er the slope, to reach sanctuary there.

Don’t think he was troubled for an instant,

For he swam like a fish, and then the flow

Was swift, and deep and wide the current,

So, he plunged in, and down the stream did go,

With his muzzle in the air, quite content.

Like a frog he seemed, for a while did show,

Yet though they sought to keep the wretch in sight,

He vanished, just as though he’d drowned, in flight!

Book II: Canto V: 37-40: Then steals Sacripante’s horse, Marfisa’s sword, and flees

Angelica remained in deep despair,

The wretched maiden now beat at her face,

While Brunello quit the stream, without a care,

And fled o’er the plain, scarce leaving a trace

And came upon the resting warriors there,

And stopped to observe them. Still in place,

Queen Marfisa and Sacripante,

Had yet paused awhile amidst their tourney.

For, wearied by their second savage bout,

Both wished to catch their breath. Now, Brunello

Though to himself: ‘I’ll not pass you without

Acquiring something useful as I go.

You’ll be lucky if, ere you can raise a shout,

I’m not off with whate’er you’ve left on show.’

But since you’re brave knights, of courtesy,

I’ll leave the rest, as a small gift, from me!’

Musing thus, he studied Sacripante’s steed,

For the king was pondering, all alone,

About the state of his realm and, indeed,

Seemed, for the moment, nigh turned to stone.

He pictured his land in flames, in sore need

Of his aid, and was fearful for his throne.

And his thoughts brought Sacripante such pain,

He saw naught, his eyes fixed upon the plain.

Brunello smiled: ‘Who is this sleeping knight,

And with so fine a horse? Next time I doubt

He’ll be so keen to slumber, thus, upright.’

And with that, while keeping a sharp look-out,

He untied the girth and, concealed from sight,

Set the saddle on a tree-stump thereabout,

And as Sacripante mused, with lowered head,

The bold thief stole his horse; yet, ere he fled,

He passed Marfisa who stood there wide-eyed.

(By now you’ve guessed Brunello had the ring

In his mouth, and was invisible), one stride

Took him to where her sharp sword was leaning

On a rock; this the wily thief had spied,

And, while she stood astonished, seized the thing,

And ran, swiftly, the stolen mount to gain,

On which he spurred rapidly o’er the plain.

Book II: Canto V: 41-48: Sacripante learns of the ring’s theft from Angelica

He now replaced the ring on his finger,

And Marfisa, seeing him, cried aloud:

‘You’ll pay for this!’ Indisposed to linger,

He gestured vilely at her, as he bowed,

And shouted out: ‘Learn then, from your error!’

He sped away as, from her camp, a crowd

Hastened forth, and pursued, but he, who’d won

Both the horse and the blade, fled neath the sun.

Sacripante meanwhile stood in wonder,

Quite unable to say what had occurred,

Whether twas a theft or some blunder

Of his own, at last the warrior stirred:

‘Who was he then;’ in a voice of thunder,

He cried: ‘that evil wretch, who has spurred

Away, on my steed, and yet all unseen?

Tis some imp, with his vile magic, I ween.

Yet, if that’s true, my lady with her ring

Can retrieve the steed, and the ill can mend.

It shames me, and yet where’s the man living

That against such enchantments can contend?’

With this he turned towards Albracca, sighing,

And, distraught, to the gate his way did wend,

Where, once he was within the walls, he found

Angelica, half-dead, upon the ground.

Her grief had nigh slain her, as she dwelt

Upon the injury that was done her.

Sacripante, by his beloved, knelt,

Calling out her name, as her fond lover:

‘Dear heart, who’s harmed and wronged you?’ He felt,

More than merely heard, her mournful answer.

‘I’m defenceless now, and this Marfisa

Will end my life, and with savage torture!

I have lost what till now protected me,

Twas my best defence, my last resort,

And now I’m doomed to captivity

And cannot live for long once I am caught.

And it weighs more heavily upon me

Since it was done almost as if in sport.

Yet I know no more, sadly, of this thing

Than that some thief stole my precious ring.’

Sacripante, in the field, as we know

Had seen naught of all that occurred before,

And so twas only now he heard, with woe,

How a thief had snatched it, and how they saw

Him scamper down the wall, and skip below,

And then run, apace, to the river-shore,

And how they’d failed to follow, for he’d leapt,

And then vanished, as downstream he was swept.

Sacripante said: ‘By Allah, that villain

Drowned not in the flood (would it was so!),

For tis he, I think, who, surfacing again,

Came and stole my swift steed a while ago,

And then sped, like a bird, o’er the plain.

Though Marfisa set herself to follow,

I doubt the thieving fellow will be caught,

For I know the steed that he sits athwart.’

Book II: Canto V: 49-54: Caramano’s army arrives before Albracca

While they all conferred, and his reply

Led to further speech, the guard in the tower

Cried: ‘To arms!’ and rang the bell hung on high,

And to their questions gave a swift answer,

That an army, fast approaching, he could spy;

So vast that it filled the plain, moreover,

With pennants, and great banners flying there,

So many that naught he’d seen could compare.

Now the mighty host he could see below,

(I say this so you’re certain of the fact)

Was led by the powerful Caramano,

That came a further siege to, there, enact.

Two hundred thousand warriors or so,

Now made camp, occupying a vast tract

Of land; the army raised by Torindo.

He sought to slay Angelica, his foe.

His force now encamped upon the plain,

Its men sworn to besiege Albracca,

Till the walls of that fortress they might gain,

And raze it from the heights to the water.

Angelica, trembling lest she be slain,

Menaced by fierce foes threatening slaughter,

Was desolate; the hostile camp had grown,

Yet the knights were gone, leaving her alone.

The maiden recalled how that bold knight,

Orlando, had arrived to rescue her,

With valiant men, to battle for her right

To hold the keep; why then make him suffer

By sending him upon that quest outright?

She cursed Fortune, herself, and her ardour,

The love that warmed, yet scorching her so,

Now left her helpless; that for Rinaldo.

With her there remained King Sacripante,

Yet he was handicapped in waging war,

Since he’d lost that agile courser, sadly,

That had served him so usefully before.

And then he was distressed for his country,

Now invaded, so grieving him the more;

Still, his sorrow was greater in seeing

His lady besieged, and lacking the ring.

He’d not have wept for the loss of his steed

Nor his realm, could he have found a way

To help her, for she was frightened indeed,

Now that this mighty army was in play.

The fortress held three months’ supplies to feed

Those within the walls, then they must pray

That relief arrived from some other source;

Prompt aid they needed, from some friendly force.

Book II: Canto V: 55-59: Galafrone suggests seeking aid from King Gradasso

This was the counsel King Galafrone

Gave Sacripante, and Angelica:

‘Here is my sound advice, go, seek promptly

The aid of my peer, in Sericana.

Beyond India is his far country;

Look to him for help gainst those who gather.

Gradasso is his name, noble his birth,

And his prowess unequalled on this Earth.

Seventy-two the realms he has conquered,

In his own right, and he commands them still.

Every sea, and France and Spain, he’s entered,

Such that his name all true men’s ears doth fill.

Now he’s sworn, seemingly discontented,

Urged on by arrogance, and his proud will,

That the crown he has doffed he’ll wear no more,

Till he has landed on that western shore.

The cause arises from his war in France,

For he won there, and captured Charlemagne,

Who promised him, by some fatal mischance,

That he’d send him a sword, he would obtain

From a lord named Orlando; happenstance

Has seen Gradasso long for it in vain.

Now he prepares to journey to the west,

And capture Charlemagne, with all the rest

Of his noble lords. In Druantuna

Which is his ancient and established seat,

He gathers a mighty host, and sooner

Rather than later, once all is complete,

Twill be on the move; and none greater

Neath the moon was seen, nor his noble fleet;

Though his men are worth little in my sight

When compared to the strength of that great knight.

Therefore, to save us from Marfisa’s hand,

Twould seem to me, he is our best resort;

Yet how shall we make the king understand

Our plight, and by how much we fall short

In men and arms; those at his command

He will send if I ask; have we not fought

Side by side? By what means, however,

Can we do so, save some true messenger?’

Book II: Canto V: 60-67: Sacripante accepts the mission

Then he turned his eyes on Sacripante,

And added these words: ‘You are, my son,

A brave knight and love me and my country,

And my daughter, and many a fight have won.

Not bold Mandricardo it seems to me,

That despoils your land, nor yet that dear one

You grieve for, your brother Olibandro,

Prevents you aiding our mission, so.

And, if God wills it, we shall reward you,

Most fittingly, though how I know not,

But all we have, and ourselves, firm and true,

Is yours; for such aid could ne’er be forgot.  

By Mohammed’s faith, if you pursue

This task, and if victory be our lot,

Then my daughter, my kingdom, all this land

Shall be at your service, and your command.

But all such, indeed, is as good as lost,

(For both we and the realm will fall, as one,

And not a soul will be left to count the cost)

If we cannot find aid; for I have done

All that I can, every bridge have crossed,

Now in secret, now openly neath the sun,

To resolve this affair, and yet must fail,

If Gradasso comes not. Yet we’ll prevail,

My son, if you’ll go, as I conjure you,

(By our love, and by your sovereign power).

Let this mission be one you’ll now pursue.

Seek Sericana. At the evening hour,

When all is dark, and watching eyes are few,

Slip quietly from the confines of this tower,

And pass by those ill foes, who, unaware

Of your going, will grant it little care.’

Sacripante gave but a brief reply;

To serve was all he wished to do, he said,

Merely sad that the eve was not yet nigh,

And he could not leave, instantly, instead.

As soon as the sun had set, and the sky

Began to darken, he covered his head,

And body, in a black robe, pilgrim-wise,

And so passed the Turkish lines in disguise.

Men gave him but a glance as he strode by.

He wielded a long staff in his right hand,

But the robe, beneath which no man could spy,

Hid his armour, and sword, you understand.

The maid and her father, with many a sigh,

Remained there in the keep as, o’er the land,

Sacripante on his way swiftly pressed,

Finding high adventure in the quest.

You shall hear the tale and many another,

Containing much that’s marvellous, that I,

For your true delight, have stitched together,

(In India the Stone Fount he’ll pass by).

But now, my fair audience, I’d rather,

Speak of Rodomonte, that would all defy;

That King of Sarza, whose pagan belief

Was: that Allah was scarcely worth a leaf.

Of other deities, he thought little more,

For his god was his ardour and his might,

Nor aught he could not see would he adore.

His arrogance was such, that he would fight

All the world, in his pride, on every shore,

Yet declared in fair France he’d first alight,

And, in three days, would there subdue the foe,

As you’ll hear, in the very next canto.

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