Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato

Book II: Canto VII: Morgana's Lake

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

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Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato: Book II, Canto VII

Book II: Canto VII: 1-7: Bradamante attacks King Rodomonte

There was ne’er, my lords, so terrible a fight,

Nor so strange, as this, whereon I discourse,

For, King Rodomonte, that man of might,

Stood alone against Namus, whose great force

Was large enough. Twas a most wondrous sight;

And its details I’ll describe, in due course.

Yet Turpin from the truth did ne’er depart,

The bishop states all as fact, not mere art.

I know not if eternal Heaven blessed

With such endless strength the Saracen king,

Or if a devil from Hell, as some attest,

Fought that day on the field; here’s the thing:

Of our forces he routed the very best,

On that most fateful day of which I sing,

Such that none can recollect a defeat

Of Christian troops so grievous, or complete.

All our squadrons, as I said, descended,

From the mountainside, where Rodomonte

Opposed their coming, and thus upended

Many a knight, battling so fiercely,

That our sorry ranks their lives expended,

Mown down like grass, slaughtered cruelly;

Our horsemen, infantry, the weak, the strong,

All fell before the monarch’s scythe ere long.

Ever striking true, that bold African

With many a straight or backhanded blow,

Screaming his war-cry, working to a plan,

With his blade cleared a space amidst the foe.

Twas now fair Bradamante faced the man;

That maid of a proud race, her skill did show;

Like a bolt from Heaven, her gleaming lance

Struck Rodomonte, halting his advance.

She moved to clip him on his left-hand side,

And the valorous maiden pierced his shield,

And almost laid him on the ground beside

Yet the Saracen ne’er a wound revealed.

For though the king on many a skill relied,

His strength appearing endless in the field,

Yet he wore (and twas no enchanter’s trick)

A tough serpent’s-hide, half a hand’s-width thick.          

Nonetheless, he nearly fell to that blow,

Of which I’ve told, as he made his advance,

When the maid, who valiant force did show,

Thrust him in the side with lowered lance.

Her men, who knew not if she’d slain him so,

Cried aloud (twas a telling circumstance),

Yet they kept a good distance from the foe,

Shouting as one, as if she’d laid him low.

She turned her armoured steed, once more,

To face the furious Rodomonte,

While Count Roberto, now upon the shore,

Thrust at the warrior’s shield, full fiercely,

While Ansuardo, wise in battle-lore,

Spurred beside him, sword drawn, in company.

Then her men, inspired by their bravery,

Charged as one, driving forwards, valiantly,

Book II: Canto VII: 8-11: Rodomonte slays Ansuardo and unseats Bradamante

Crying: ‘On! On!’ and launching many a stone,

Many a sharpened arrow, many a spear.

Yet the scornful king, laughing, stood alone,

Like a man quite unaccustomed to fear.

He swung his mighty blade; flesh and bone

It found in Ansuardo’s form, slicing sheer

Through his waist; and the Count of Lorraine

Collapsed, in a moment, to join the slain.

The sad corpse was cleft, a sight to deplore,

Half mounted, and half tumbled to the ground;

A stranger incident scarce seen in war.

Rodomonte now turned himself around;

Against Bradamante his sword he bore;

He missed the maid but her brave steed he found,

Clad in chain-mail and steel-plate all in vain;

He sliced the neck, half-covered by its mane.

The charger fell, and thus the maid also,

While Rodomonte left her there to lie,

As he sought to find some other bold foe;

Roberto, Count of Asti, caught his eye.

He was cleft in two by a single blow,

A fearsome stroke, a sight to terrify,

Enough to make the bravest warrior yield,

And any that could do so, fled the field.

Bradamante though was forced to remain,

Amidst the gravely wounded and the dead,

Still trapped beneath her charger, on the plain,

While mighty Rodomonte forged ahead,

Wielding his fierce blade till all were slain,

That stayed to fight him, while cowards fled.

Where’er men held, the Saracen appeared,

Hacked at their bodies, sliced, and cut, and sheared.

Book II: Canto VII: 12-16: The first assault having failed, Bovo is slain

On every side, he scattered o’er the ground

Pieces of armour, from some man or steed.

What need then to describe the dreadful sound

Of his whirling blade, twas terrible indeed.

Our ranks were routed, sanctuary they found

In Heaven’s care, the field did swift concede.

And, in short, though but little time had passed,

Our first assault had well-nigh proved our last.

For the king, midst our second rank of men,  

Had, there, the vicious contest now renewed,

And, though they pressed upon the Saracen,

His course of swift destruction he pursued,

Swinging that mighty blade, at will, again;

And heaps of dead like stacks of straw accrued.

Namus viewed that slaughter beyond belief,

And thought that he would die of bitter grief.

‘God in Heaven’, he cried aloud, ‘if our sin

Has brought your fierce justice down upon us,

Let not the heathen this great contest win,

And so, gain honour against the pious!’

With that, he called, above the mighty din,

To one who’d bear news of their perilous

Plight, and their need for aid, to Charlemagne,

Though endless ruin was their fate, twas plain,

For the Saracen king was of such might

That none could defend against the man.

Now Bovo of Dozona, that brave knight

He disembowelled, whose followers soon ran,

Leaving him there to lie, a wretched sight.

All who at first were brave, and then did scan

The field, and so viewed the dead, on seeing

Bovo fall, fled, with the foe pursuing.

Rodomonte chased, and harried, and downed

Many a man in flight, without a thought.

Some were on foot, while some a horse had found,

But all were slow to him; a host he caught;

For that monarch was so swift o’er the ground,

He’d bring down leopards as they ran, in short,

To flee was no defence; the king would gain

On his foe, and leave him dead on the plain.

Book II: Canto VII: 17-22: Rodomonte kills Amerigo, and fights Namus and his sons

As in November, when the cold winds blow,

And the first frosts chill all the air around,

And leaves from the branches swiftly flow,

Till few remain, so the dead cloaked the ground.

Amerigo of Savoy addressed the foe,

And his lance the Saracen’s breastplate found,

But the lance shattered, to his great dismay;

Rodomonte flicked the fragments away.

The Saracen attacked the duke, his blade

Cleft the knight’s helmet, falling to his thigh.

The Christan soldiers ran, now sore afraid,

Ne’er was such chaos viewed by any eye.

Old Duke Namus his courage now displayed,

Lowered his lance, prepared it seems to die,

As did his sons: Ottone, Avino,

Avorio, and Belengiero.

The contest waxed; the loud war-cries rang out;

Midst the tumult, clouds of dust rose on high.

Avorio struck home, despite the rout,

Yet broke his lance, as he passed the king by.

Rodomonte hardly stirred, but turned about

To face Ottone charging with a cry,

Then stood fast on his two feet, as ever,

Indifferent to that blow from the other.

Belengiero and bold Avino

Next made their attempts, old Namus too,

A fine warrior, match for many a foe,

But naught gainst this madman could they do.

After the fifth lance, and fifth failed blow,

Like a snake, the king raised his brow anew,

And tossed his head as if to cry: ‘Away,

With you, men of straw, for mine is the day!’

He spoke not a word, but raised his sword,

And struck Ottone’s head with lethal force,

The Son and the Virgin did their aid afford,

For the stroke fell flat, the blade altering course.

Yet such a hit Rodomonte scored

As knocked this bold opponent from his horse.

Nor did the king rest with that fierce blow:

Belengiero, and Avorio,

He now toppled, wounded, and the rest,

Whether noblemen or base, he’d have slain,

Every man that he could see, I’d suggest,

But Desiderio now reached the plain,

With his Lombards, and put him to the test.

For Fortune now a fresh course did maintain,

As that king brought a host of fighting men,

And sent their ranks against the Saracen.  

Book II: Canto VII: 23-26: His troops are assailed by Desiderio’s men

The king sought to capture Rodomonte,

Who routed and chased many another,

Having left Avino bleeding freely,

Beside Avorio, and their brother.

As some mighty storm, raging fiercely,

The fields with blowing sand will cover,

So that savage, with his fearsome blade,

The battlefield with slaughtered men arrayed.

Shields, and fragments of mail, flew through the air,

Helmeted heads, severed arms in armour.

Rodomonte not a man chose to spare,

Slicing steel, flesh and bone to uncover.

Yet oft he turned his eyes, gazing where:

His men, routed, o’er the field did scatter.

As he waged his fierce and dreadful war,

He watched the ranks, disliking all he saw.

As a lion, trapped in some woodland glade,  

That hears the hunter nearing, at its back,

Shakes its head, tosses its mane, undismayed,

Roars, and shows its claws, set to attack,

So that monarch, a scornful face displayed,

As he turned, with the Lombards on his track,

To view his troops scattering o’er the plain;

Angered now, and expressing deep disdain.

His people fled; those who could spurred hard,

And those in front were the happiest there.

King Desiderio, with scant regard

To his safety, like a hound on the hare,

Paused not; yet first, by many a yard,

His son, Count Arcimbaldo, now did share

The lead with the mighty Rigonzone,

He of Parma; both vying, eagerly.

Book II: Canto VII: 27-30: And his banner is toppled

Rigonzone was fierce beyond measure,

Though he possessed a mind as light as straw,

For he’d fight with or without his armour,

And in an eye-blink would be off to war.

He seemed careless of both life and honour,

And a crossbow without a lock, he bore,

For he’d shoot a man at the slightest jest.

‘Brave but mad’ his character, thus, expressed.

This pair now chased the Saracen foe,

Spreading rout and ruin all around,

Rigonzone, and Count Arcimbaldo.

Sarza’s standard was toppled to the ground,

The scarlet banner, that a lion did show

Bridled by a queen, now swiftly downed.

She was Doralice of Granada,

Loved by Rodomonte, with pure ardour.

His ensign ever bore amidst the strife,

Her portrait to inspire his bravery.

It seemed so natural, so true to life,

It lacked her voice alone; while but to see

That banner float on high, where war was rife,

Increased his courage (and his savagery).

As if he saw her in the flesh, one look,

To fill his heart with fire, was all it took.

Watching her flag now tumble to the ground

Made him sadder than aught that he had known.

His face turned pale, as his teeth he ground,

Then it burned with anger, he gave a groan.

If God brings not his aid, ne’er safe and sound

Shall Desiderio, his flesh and bone,

Nor his troops depart the battlefield.

Lost to Rodomonte’s fury, they must yield!

Book II: Canto VII: 31-34: We return to Orlando and Falerina

Later on, I’ll recount to you further

The story of this battle without end.

But I’ll say no more now of the matter,

For to seek Orlando my path I wend.

Who’d reached the Fay’s enchanted river.

In Falerina’s garden he’d been penned,

And despite the devices there employed,

Its walls all wrought by magic he’d destroyed.

That place was guarded (I should explain,

For those who can’t recall it) by a dragon,

A bull, an ass, a giant, though in vain;

For he slew them all, with scarce a weapon.

And then Orlando, with no little pain,

Cleft the branch, and so ended the garden.

He untied the captive Falerina,

To help him free her prisoners, thereafter;

They were the noble folk she’d had ensnared

By that old rascal at the bridge. Therefore,

Orlando took her with him, as he fared

To that place, their liberty to ensure.  

O’er hill and plain they travelled, strangely paired,

Falerina on foot, no less, no more,

Than the Count, for traversing the country

They lacked both his fair steed and her palfrey;

The Count had lost Brigliador, to his woe;

The horse was stolen, with Durindana.

Now, as they walked, albeit they were slow,

They came one fine day upon a river.

Now twas here the Treasure Fay, as you know,

Had ordained a thing, the strangest ever,

Whereby a sudden challenge, and a leap,

Had sunk the flower of knighthood in the deep.

Book II: Canto VII: 35-39: Aridano, the guardian of the bridge

For Rinaldo had been plunged in her lake,

As I’ve told you, as had been Iroldo,

(The mere memory of it, keeps me awake)

And his friend, the valiant Prasildo.

Not long after, Dudon who, for their sake,

Had been searching all over, to and fro,

On the orders of the king, Charlemagne,

Came seeking the knights, o’er the plain,

Both Rinaldo and Orlando, I mean.

Dudon had searched nigh all the world, in vain,

Until, led by ill-fortune to the scene,

The shore of the evil lake that lord did gain.

There Aridano, its guard, fierce and keen,

Had brought many a knight-errant pain,

And many a lady, for many he did take

In his grasp, and then plunge into the lake.

And Dudon was, in that way, held, and thrown

To the water; in vain was all defence.

Aridano, by spells, though flesh and bone

Had yet been granted a strength so immense  

Twas six times that of any knight, alone,

(Never mind the ladies who fought!) and hence,

He entrapped them all; strong though they might be,

His enchanted grasp o’ercame them, readily.

That villain was possessed of such might

That one could often see him swimming there,

Fully-armed, and, plunging far from the light,

Returning from those depths without a care.

When he’d disposed of some passing knight,

He’d dive down, search around with time to spare,

Find their armour, and return to the shore,

And add it to his ever-growing store.

For he was proud and arrogant, and he

Having gained the armour of those he caught,

Hung it there, like a trophy, from a tree,

Though lacking honour, in the way he fought.

And, high above all the rest, one could see,

Rinaldo’s armour and surcoat athwart

A cypress branch, where that vile Saracen

Placed it openly, to taunt honest men.

Book II: Canto VII: 40-49: Falerina warns Orlando of the danger

Now, Orlando came on foot, as I’ve said,

To this shore, with the witch Falerina,

Who was ever at his side; he strode ahead;

But when she saw the bridge o’er the river,

Rather than urge him on, she chose instead

To deter the Count, blaspheming Allah

And the faithful: ‘Sir knight, we shall be slain;

We’ll ne’er escape from death, and bitter pain.

This is the work of some celestial foe

(May he fall from Heaven into Hell!)

Who has led us both to this place of woe,

To perish by force, or perchance some spell;

For a brigand dwells here, I’d have you know,

He slays many, and robs those folk as well.

Treachery and cruelty are his game,

And Aridano is that villain’ name

He was not born strong, or fierce, or bold.

He comes of ill blood, and low ancestry.

But now he’s stronger, transformed of old,

As I’ll explain; tis a strange history.  

Deep in the lake, its waters dark and cold,

Dwells Morgana, a creature of faerie,

That, by her art once wrought a magic horn,

That would bring an end to any man born.

For the knight that the magic horn did sound

Was doomed to meet his death, out of hand.

The tale’s too long to tell, yet twould astound,

Of all those caught and slain at her command.

Yet a knight who that evil place had found,

Blew the horn (I forget his name and land)

And then conquered a wild bull, a dragon,

And slew the soldiers that arose, everyone.

That knight, a man of wondrous valour,

Broke the spell, its dark enchantment,

And stirred the Fay to disdain and anger,

That any could so do; in discontent,

She then formed this bridge o’er the river.

If one searched the world, an aeon spent,

One could ne’er find a knight, howe’er brave

That, once o’er the bridge, she’d not enslave.

She deemed that the knight who’d blown the horn,

Would pass by one day or, of his honour,

Being to chivalry and adventure born,

Would seek this perilous place, to kill her;

And then she’d capture him, that very morn,

For no man the bridge and guard could conquer.

Twas Morgana wrought the flood, and the lake,

To slay that cavalier, for vengeance’ sake.

She searched the world o’er to discover

A guardian both cruel and treacherous,

And found Aridano, that vile creature,

Pitiless and, than all folk, more vicious.

She furnished him with enchanted armour,

And then with something far more marvellous,

For he ever has six times the strength, or more,

Of any that dare face him on this shore.  

And thus, it seems true; nay, I am sure,

That none could e’er survive that cruel test.

I foresee that, like so many men before,

You’re doomed, likewise, to perish in the quest,

While I too will sink to the lake’s deep floor;

For, once seen, we are doomed to join the rest,

There’s no recourse, no time in which to go,

Ere we’re caught by the fearsome Aridano!’

Orlando merely smiled at all she’d said,

And told the maiden, speaking soft and low:

‘Neath the sun, no man fills my heart with dread,

Nor shall I retreat one step before the foe.

God knows, I’ll not see you harmed or dead,

Nor leave you here alone. Your fear, forego,

All will be well; need I explain at length.

Cold steel will handle this fellow’s strength.’

Yet the maiden replied, while still weeping:

‘By God, fly now, sir knight; fly death and fate!

E’en the famed Orlando would flee this thing,

All Charlemagne’s fair court would quit it straight!

I shed tears, possessed by fear of dying;

Yet, sadder still, all thought of your death, I hate.

For I am worth but little, while, sir knight,

You are noble and bold, the future bright.’

Book II: Canto VII: 50-54: He spies Rinaldo’s armour

The Count was slowly yielding to persuasion,

Swayed by her speech, both gentle and sweet,

Thinking that he heard the voice of reason,

And had well-nigh determined on retreat,

When he spied, and twas with some emotion,

Rinaldo’s armour, hanging there, complete,

From the tree: ‘Cousin, who has wronged me here?

He cried: ‘O flower of knights, your death I fear!

Murdered it would seem, most treacherously,

By that villain on the bridge, for no man

Could e’er overcome you, honourably,

Twould need some evil, some deceitful, plan.

In Paradise, whence you gaze down on me,

Hear the plea of your Count, and, if you can,

Forgive him you once loved, though he erred,

Overpowered by passion; hear now his word.

For tis your mercy I seek. Pardon me,

My cousin, if I e’er offended you,

For I am yours, and was, and e’er shall be,

Though false suspicion, and vain love, tis true,

Persuaded us to fight; twas jealousy

Placed sharp swords in our hands, which I now rue.

I loved you, and do still. I did you wrong.

Tis to me that both blame and shame belong.

Where’s the vile wolf, the traitor, where is he;

Who has prevented us from returning,

To a state of sweet peace and harmony,

Bathed in noble kisses, softly weeping?

The bitter grief that well-nigh unmans me,

Is that I cannot, with familiar greeting,

Speak to you, once more, and seek your pardon.

That’s the reef that my heart is wrecked upon!’

With this, Orlando gave a mighty sigh,

Grasped his stout shield, and drew forth his sword,

A sword which all enchantment did defy,

And through all foes cut a path deep and broad.

I have told you before, nor need, say I,

A further explanation to afford,

Of when, and how (herbs, roots, and spells her aid)

Falerina had forged that magic blade.

Book II: Canto VII: 55-60: The Count fights Aridano

The Count, who seethed with grief and anger,

Leapt onto the bridge, and the blade did wield,

Downed the gate and fence above the river,

And sought for Aridano in the field.

Neath the cypress tree, he found that robber,

Where hung the armour, and the sword and shield,

That belonged to the Lord of Montalbano,

Which he was gazing on. He heard Orlando

Call out, and with a start raised his eyes,

To find the Count a formidable foe.

He had taken the villain by surprise,

But the rascal seized his club, even so,

And then cried aloud: ‘If all Paradise

And Allah were to aid you, you should know

No mere mortal will prove stronger than I,

No matter how you fight, you’re doomed to die!’

With that, he swung his club, bound with iron,

And shattered Orlando’s solid shield.

The Count fell to his knees, loosed his weapon,

And the rogue, thinking him about to yield,

Bent and spread his arms, in one swift action,

To grasp him, and drag him o’er the field,

In the way he did with all he would unmake,

Plunging with them to the depths of the lake.

Orlando, though, was not inclined to yield,

Despite his situation, unafraid,

He launched a blow at Aridano’s shield,

Knocked a segment to the ground, sank his blade

Deep in the other’s side, rose, and wheeled,

Slicing through plate and mail; the villain swayed,

His enchanted strength unequal to the sword,

And might have, but for his posture, been floored;

For, in stooping, he’d avoided its full force,

Else the Count would have cut him clean in two,

Like a round of cheese; thus, stopped in his course,

The rascal would have paid his every due.

Nonetheless, the man staggered like a horse.

While wrath and venom rose in him, anew,

He launched a weighty blow, its measure great,

But Orlando, wise to all, chose not to wait,

For he leapt swiftly, as his blade he plied,

Aiming his sword, low, at Aridano,

Just as the Saracen, took one long stride,

His iron-bound club descending for the blow.

Each swung, backhanded, from his left-hand side,

Thus, their weapons clashed together, although,

The sword, that countered every magic threat,

Cut two feet from the cudgel, as they met.

Book II: Canto VII: 61-63: Who plunges, with him, into the magic lake

Aridano gave a bestial cry,

And leapt at the Count, in his anger.

While Orlando, who was startled thereby,

Could do little to avoid the danger,

Grasped by the rogue, who like a hawk did fly

With his prey, to the edge of the water,

And, embracing the Count in his armour,

Plunged into the lake, then swam deeper.

They’d dropped, in a moment, from the bank,

Into the shadowy depths far below;

Falerina waited not, while they sank,

But o’er the plain, full swiftly, she did go.

Her concern was for herself, to be frank,

Glancing back in terror, and trembling so,

That naught but Aridano filled her thought,

She imagining that she’d soon be caught.

Twas a while ere he surfaced again,

Having reached the lakebed with Orlando.

But I’ll not take the time, now, to explain,

I’ll defer the rest to the next canto.

Return, and listen to my noble strain,

For the strangest thing you’ll hear of so,

The truest, and most certain to delight,

If God grant peace to all; for such I’ll write.

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