Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato

Book II: Canto X: Balisardo the Shape-Shifter

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

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Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato: Book II, Canto X

Book II: Canto X: 1-3: Boiardo’s invitation to his audience

If knightly honour, and true chivalry

Can grant delight to the manly spirit,

You’ll win delight from my brave history.

Fair noblemen, of courtesy and merit,   

That ever praise valour and bravery,

Qualities that cowards ne’er inherit.

Come, listen to the tale that I unfold

In praise of those valiant knights of old.

Draw forward; hear of many a brave deed

Performed by cavaliers of proven worth,

And ever of greatest courage, so we read,

When adventure to greatest risk gave birth.

For brave spirits conquer all, tis agreed.

They win Fortune’s aid, those folk, on Earth,

Who seek to aid themselves, for such I mean;

And many a fine example we’ve seen.

Take Rinaldo, the subject of my text

At present, who’d barely quit one venture,

Ere he was eager to attempt the next.

Enchantments, to him, scarce seemed to matter,

(Though by vile Aridano he’d been vexed,

That had shamed him so, beside the river)

For scorning every spell and magic charm,

He’d sailed, intending Balisardo harm.

Book II: Canto X: 4-7: Rinaldo and the others disembark

Twas in my last canto, you know (or should),

That the knights went downstream with the flow,

To the coast, where two mighty castles stood,

And a tall bridge between the two did go;

And from that span, set high above the flood,  

A mighty giant gazed on the boat below,

And shouted at them, with a fearsome roar,

That shook the water and troubled the shore.

Each of the warriors, witnessing the sight,

Now wished to encounter this noisy foe,

So tall and arrogant, in his vast might,

Full wide in girth, malevolent also.

He’d hastened to the bridge, prepared to fight,

That scorner of all faiths, and gazed below

To discover who these people might be

That floated down the stream so recklessly.

Spying the giant, from afar, the maid

Turned pale as clay, and terror gripped her heart,

Such that from out her hand the tiller strayed

While the boat, now lacking that pilot’s art,

Drifted free, but Dudon his skill displayed,

And Rinaldo, too played the sailor’s part,

And the other two, all eager to make war

On this fellow, helped steer the boat to shore.

They disembarked, a bow-shot from the wall

Of one of those two castles, and saw naught

Till they reached the bridge, looming over all,

Where tall turrets framed three portals; none sought

To obstruct them, they heard no sound or call

From the castle above, from tower or court,

And no living soul appeared where they stood;

So, they dared to enter, where few men would.

Book II: Canto X: 8-10: Iroldo and Prasildo are captured by the giant

As I said, twixt the keeps flowed the river,

Beneath the arching bridge, and there before

Each of its ends stood an entrance tower,

With three turrets each one framing a door.

In the midst of the span the giant did glower,

Balisardo, who was mighty, to be sure.

Naught compared to him, or to his armour,

Steel-plate and mail, for no suit was larger.

The armour seemed to glow, twas burnished bright,

While his mail was of brilliant gleaming gold.

Set with pearls, and rich gems that caught the light,

No gear was e’er finer, if truth be told.

We’ll turn to the first brave and daring knight

Among our lords who, being knights of old,

Were both high in spirit, and fierce of heart;

Twas Iroldo who took the leading part.

Off to meet the giant then, went Iroldo,

Yet he was soon laid low, and forced to yield.

The next to try his luck was brave Prasildo;

Balisardo soon stretched him on the field,

(Or the bridge, at least) this irked Rinaldo,

Itching to employ his sword and shield,

As the giant hauled his two captives away,

Bold knights, and yet his prisoners that day.

Book II: Canto X: 11-20: Balisardo fights Dudon but is forced to flee

He soon returned, as threatening as before,

Shaking his club, and demanding battle.

Rinaldo longed to knock him to the floor,

And prepared to charge, ere he could settle,

But Dudon knelt in his path, to implore

His lord for a chance to show his mettle,

And be the next to meet their giant foe,

Rather than the rogue fighting Rinaldo.

The latter, somewhat grudgingly, agreed,

Not knowing how to deny the other.

This third contest was different indeed,

And proved quite unlike; in length and manner

Of a different kind, and while fought at speed,  

Not ended so easily, as either

Of the earlier two, for brave Dudon

Was fit to be Charlemagne’s champion.

This Dudon earns good Bishop Turpin’s praise,

In his writings, as among the first at court.

He was a giant himself, in many ways,

Big but agile, strong but quick, when he fought;

Wielding that heavy mace of his, always

Many a Saracen he’d slain or caught.

Yet his goodness, and kindness, and restraint,

Had earned Dudon the nickname of ‘the Saint’.

Now he charged along the bridge on high,

Clad in his steel-plate and gleaming mail,

As Balisardo, who was disinclined to die,

Raised up his shield, determined to prevail.

Both carried their great clubs, so, by and by,

A lively contest would result, without fail.

They began to forge away with such force

The river shook, to the depths of its course.

Dudon now struck the giant on the head,

And broke the rim of his gleaming helm,

Such that Balisardo, stunned, yet not dead,

Almost fell. With a blow to overwhelm

E’en a giant, Dudon, two-handed instead,

Struck the costly silver shield, worth a realm,

And, pressing the Saracen, showed his strength

By splitting it in two, along its length.

Yet as if that second swing had roused the foe

From some deep slumber, this proud Saracen,

Leapt up and, instantly, fresh fight did show,

For he began to swing his club again,

And then struck Dudon, in the ribs, a blow,

That would have felled the very best of men.

That club weighed a hundred pounds or more,

And the young knight fell, winded, to the floor.

It knocked him down, but again Dudon rose,

Though, for one brief moment, his breath was gone,

Yet his strength was great, and now he chose

To swing his mace, twas a fearsome weapon,

At Balisardo’s helm; that king of blows,

Delivered to its crest, and falling thereon,

Struck home, which was the purpose of the thing,

Dented the helm, and made his foe’s head ring.

Dudon aimed ever at the giant’s brow,

His temples, and his face, while the other

Brought his great club down hard, anyhow,

On Dudon’s neck and arms; their encounter

Made the sky echo, and the air, I vow,

Seemed on fire, for, as they clashed together,

And their weapons struck and struck anew,

From the clashing iron, bright sparks e’er flew.

Now Dudon swung with both hands and broke

The villain’s visor, and his massive nose,

Knocked out three of his teeth (twas no joke

That sudden strike, nor were his other blows).

He shaved his beard, with that single stroke,

Without soap, the giant’s weak chin to expose,

Laying the beard upon his chest, that mace

Thus, smoothing and polishing, his bare face.

When the giant felt the outcome of the blow,

He recognised bold Dudon’s skill and might,

And knew that he’d encountered such a foe

As could battle him from morning to night.

Glancing at the second keep, Balisardo,

In an instant, had turned, and taken flight.

He dropped his mighty club, threw down his shield

And then fled from the bridge, and from the field.

Book II: Canto X: 21-25: Balisardo shape-shifts to a dragon’s form

Dudon followed Balisardo inside,

For the youth feared naught from his enemy,

And thus entered a courtyard, long and wide,

With a vaulted ceiling, set upon mighty

Columns, adorned with gold on every side;

The floor beneath was marble entirely.

Here he found Balisardo, defenceless,

Now unarmed, and in a state of undress.

The mage had shed both clothes and armour,

And revealed his naked body to the air,

His face changed to a serpent’s mask however,

In a moment, and his shoulders, once bare,

With his arms, turned to wings, while his lower

Limbs fused together, to his feet; and there

A tail they formed, while from his breast and thighs

Emerged short limbs, with claws of monstrous size.

Changed thus, little by little, as I’ve said,

The treacherous giant became a dragon,

Spewing flame and smoke about its head,

From its ears and mouth, in such a fashion

That the walls about the courtyard glowed red,

While its mighty roars, echoed on and on.

Enough to terrify the bravest knight,

Its massive bulk was now a wondrous sight.

And yet, that valiant youth was not dismayed,

A knight deserving of great praise, I say,

Though the fierce dragon clawed his shield, and made

To wrap its tail about its captive prey.

Binding his legs from thighs to feet, it weighed

Upon Dudon, and raised its head to slay,

Yet, fearlessly, he dropped his iron mace

The better to clasp the beast in his embrace.

He grasped its slender neck, close to the head,

With his two hands, and squeezed the dragon hard.

Though twas enough to fill the heart with dread,

He choked the creature; its attack he marred,

Freed himself, and gripping the beast, instead

Of being gripped, swung it high above the yard,

Then hurled it down, to meet the marble floor,

Intending that the beast should rise no more.

Book II: Canto X: 26-31: Then to a strange hybrid beast which Dudon pursues

Yet the courtyard oped beneath it, as it fell,

For the paving stones cracked from side to side.

Though it vanished in the darkness, for a spell,

It soon re-emerged, its form modified.

For its body was changed, its mask as well,

Now a wild-boar’s jaws it opened wide;

Below the boar’s head, a bear’s shape was seen,

No stranger, fiercer creature has there been.

Balisardo could shift his shape to aught

That he conceived; no poet’s fertile pen

Could describe the shape the enchanter brought

To the fight; twas a boar’s head he showed then,

As to the rest, though I am quite untaught

In such descriptions, I’ll work mine again,

And, from snout to tail, depict the creature,

If I can, in every salient feature.

It possessed twin tusks, two palms long I’d say,

While its fiery eyes burned with crimson light.

Its hairy torso signalled ‘bear’ in every way,

As did its powerful claws, designed to smite.

It showed a serpent’s tail to grip its prey

Six yards in length (I shudder, as I write)

A pair of wings, and horns upon its brow.

Naught worse was e’er created, you’ll allow.

It gave a bellow, and then charged Dudon,

Who yet scorned to reveal his back in fear,

But raised his shield and mace, whereupon

The necromancer, each horn like a spear,

Pierced the targe, and broke the thing, and drove on.

The breastplate too he shattered, twould appear,

While the knight himself was flung to the ground,

Though he rose in an instant, with a bound.

Now Balisardo, in his transformed state,

Charged again, and struck the youth in the side.

One long tusk caught Dudon, now most irate,

Bounced from his ribs, and winded him beside.

He was forced, for a breath or two, to wait,  

Though betraying scant concern, out of pride;

If his breath was less, his anger was greater.

He raised his mace, and charged at the creature.

Our mighty paladin swung at the head

Of that singular beast, with all his might;

And one vicious horn, shattered, earthwards sped.

Balisardo saw he’d lose to the knight;

Swiftly, along the colonnade, he sped,

No longer seeking to prolong the fight,

But hastening from the castle, as Dudon,

Bold as ever, followed where his foe had gone.

Book II: Canto X: 32-33: Dudon is trapped, and imprisoned aboard ship

The creature flapped its wings, skimmed the ground,

For its feet scarcely left the floor below,

And sped forth from the castle, where it found

A tall ship nearing harbour; that fierce foe,

The evil enchanter, now safe and sound,

Landed on its bridge; there, Balisardo

Waited, as Dudon, who his death did vow,

Pursued him, leaping high to the ship’s prow.

Now around the bow there was looped a snare,

And this bold Dudon tripped, as he landed.

I know not how it happened, but the affair

Concluded with our brave knight left stranded,  

Then swiftly caught, and chained like a bear,

By the fierce crew, whom his foe commanded,

Dragged to the hatch, and imprisoned below,

Where I’ll leave him; and speak of Balisardo.

Book II: Canto X: 34-42: Balisardo, assuming Dudon’s form, deceives Rinaldo

Having quickly shed his previous form,

He now assumed the likeness of Dudon,

And, so that he might more closely conform

To that seeming, did the youth’s armour don;

Once he was clad in that knightly uniform,

He dropped his club, took the mace, thereupon

Changing his voice and manner, equally,

That all might say: ‘Tis Dudon, certainly!’

And then, in that semblance, the enchanter

Crossed the bridge to the second keep,  

And found Rinaldo there, full of anger,

Waiting by the bridge, who a watch did keep.

He quickly enquired of present danger.

Balisardo he would slay and bury deep.

Was the rascal still at large? He believed

He spoke to Dudon; by black arts deceived.

The other now replied: ‘The giant has fled,

And for three good miles I chased the fellow;

And yet not before I’d clubbed him on the head,

Broken his nose, and beaten him hollow.

I pursued him to a flood; to its bed

He plunged, and twas there I ceased to follow,  

For the flow there was a hundred yards wide,

And you or I, in that torrent, must have died.

Yet I saw that the rogue survived the water,

And landed on the shore (how, I know not).

Iroldo is there, beyond the river,

Imprisoned with Prasildo, a bow’s shot

From the bank, in a tent, you’ll discover,

Where Balisardo stopped; twas my ill lot

To encounter so fast-flowing a stream,

Too wide and deep for me to swim, I deem.’

Rinaldo waiting not to hear him further,

Sought to cross the bridge to the other side,

Saying: ‘Than suffer your disgrace, I’d rather

Drown in that flood, however deep and wide.

No man shall hear it said of me, ever,

That I’d desert my friends, as you’ve implied!

Knight of little courage, if you so fear

A little water, of my blazing fire stay clear!’

Balisardo, in the guise of Dudon,

Feigned to be angered at Rinaldo’s scorn,

And answered him, thus: ‘You should be beaten;

A fool, as ever, and a madman born!

You consider yourself a champion

Of sorts; tis but a boast. Go, blow your horn;

Yet it takes more than shouting that you’re brave,

While belittling how better men behave.

Go seek him. I choose not to follow.

Cross o’er the raging flood; since you can swim.’

But Rinaldo, deeming his words hollow,

Crossed o’er the bridge, and so abandoned him.

Balisardo stayed, and watched Rinaldo go,

As if needing rest, and humouring his whim,

But the wizard went about, treacherously,

To murder bold Rinaldo secretly,

He crossed, and went another way, that led

Behind the knight, to take him by surprise,

And struck the other fiercely on the head,

With a two-handed blow, in Dudon’s guise,

Designed to lay him low; and yet, instead,

Of slumping to the ground no more to rise,

Rinaldo, whose strength was beyond measure,

Stood firm, and scarce registered displeasure.

Rather, the knight turned and asked, politely:

‘What are you about, lad? Were your father,

The Dane, not one I respect, then surely

I’d have slain you by now. Find another

To vex, in some other, far-off, country!’

So, Rinaldo spoke, and turned to recover

His path, but, as he wheeled, Balisardo

Struck the back of his head a second blow.

>Book II: Canto X: 43-48: They fight, and the enchanter flees to his ship again

Rinaldo raged, his face full of anger,

Crying: ‘May heaven witness this affair!

I’m obliged to treat him as a stranger,

For the life of a villain, I’ll not spare!’

After that, he sighed aloud, however,

For love and courtesy did wrath impair,

Yet right, and his own safety, decreed

That he should perform the deadly deed.

He drew Fusberta, and offered his reply,

Still, believing twas Dudon that he fought.

Should I describe their fight, I’ll not deny,

If the tale of the sword and club I sought

To tell, and all that happened, by and by,

In that fierce five-hour contest (though I ought)

Then I’d have so much matter, this canto

Would be filled, as would the next to follow.

So, in brief, to conclude, I’ll simply say

That although Balisardo, in disguise,

Burned with rage and though his club did weigh,

More than any other (twas vast in size)

In the end, like a man of snow, that day

He’d have melted, or been caught as a prize,  

Had not his spells, his artful trickery,

Have yielded him the means to up and flee.

He transformed himself in a hundred ways,

By use of his enchantments; now a panther

With fierce eyes, intended to amaze,

A tall giraffe, a slinking hyena,

A tiger with striped coat and fearsome gaze,

Revealing himself as many another;

Contending in a gryphon’s form, and then

A crocodile’s, with furtive acumen;

And then he seemed to wreathe himself in fire,

And sparkled like a furnace, burning bright.

Yet Rinaldo, ne’er retreating, filled with ire,

Leapt boldly towards that glowing light,

Careless of the flames, in his desire

To wield Fusberta and so end the fight.

Thirty times he wounded Balisardo,

Though in many a form he glimpsed the foe.

The latter faced defeat; blood sprayed the air,

As he raced to reach the castle gate once more,

Now as a bird, now as a beast clothed in hair;

No man could count the many forms he bore.

Rinaldo, still enraged, pursued him there,

Quite determined to strike him to the floor,

Balisardo reached his ship however,

And leapt, to gain the prow, in sheer terror.

Book II: Canto X: 49-54: Rinaldo is imprisoned in Monodante’s realm

Twas but three yards from the quay to the deck,

A trivial leap for Balisardo,

While, fully armed and so risking his neck,

Twas well-nigh too far for bold Rinaldo;

As he landed, the net held him in check,

That had ensnared Dudon now chained below,

And its mesh wrapped about each leg and arm,

As he tried, in vain, to escape from harm.

Then two evil sailors, swarming with lice,

Picked him up, as he struggled in its grip,

And dragged him off to the hold, in a trice,

Down to the sunless bowels of the ship.

Three ounces of hard bread, must suffice

For his meal (with no fennel, on this trip)

A feast fit only for a Florentine,

And not a chance of dousing it in wine.

He lay, a good fortnight, chained down there,

Bound hand and foot, deceived by spells and guile.

That hold with friends, and others, he did share,

As the ship journeyed to the Distant Isle,

King Monodante’s seat; twas far though fair.

And so, they sailed many a long sea-mile,

To that realm, where one cell housed Rinaldo,

Brave Dudon, Iroldo and Prasildo.

Their guards allowed the knights to go unbound,

Though they were imprisoned most securely.

There, other captives lay within, they found

And, among those whom they knew (full many),

Was Astolfo of England, safe and sound,

But a prisoner of the mage who, cunningly,

Had transformed himself to a lovely maid,

To lure him to the ship; his trust betrayed.

For, once he’d left the lake, where Aridano

Had plunged with Rinaldo to the water,

He’d searched the world, on Rabicano,

With Baiardo and the damsels, though ever

Filled with tears, and yielding sighs of woe,

Since he feared his cousin lost forever.

Journeying one day he’d reached a castle

Where he’d heard a horn summoning to battle.

This keep stood where a circling river ran

About the confines of a verdant meadow,

And there a maid (such was the evil plan)

Had ferried him to the bridge far below.

The mage, in altered form for a brief span,

For this was no maid twas Balisardo,

Had lured him to the vessel and its snare.

I’d tell the tale, if I’d but time to spare.

Book II: Canto X: 55-61: We return to Orlando, Marfisa and Brunello

Yet now I’d have us seek Count Orlando,

Who had parted from his friends, you’ll recall,

To return to that fair maid who tasked him so

That day and night he laboured, in her thrall.

Yet his love was undiminished, even though

She thus burdened him and, despite it all,

His love drew him to one who was, likewise,

The sole object of his thoughts, and his sighs.

With Brandimarte to keep him company,

He thus journeyed to seek Angelica,

To tell her that the garden was wholly

Destroyed, and then to accept whatever

Fresh task she gave him. Thus, twas only

The third day, at dawn, when, by a river

They came upon a flowering meadow,

And saw a man and maid, she his fierce foe.

Be still, and quiet now, if you would hear

All the tale of the two that they found there,

One that pursued, and one that fled in fear;

For naught is more delightful, than this pair.

I’ll tell you who they are, that now appear.

You’ll recall the canto where I did share

The wicked deeds of that thief, Brunello,

Who stole Marfisa’s sword; swift to follow,

She had followed the African till now,

Crying out that she’d hang him from a tree,

While he’d made her many a mocking bow,

As he paused then ran, or gestured rudely.

He’d deceived her, as only he knew how,

And led the queen all about, most vilely,

For a good six days already, as he played

His tricks, and so teased the warrior-maid.

Her could have given her the slip, for he

Was mounted on so fine and swift a steed,

If it fled twas most difficult to see,

It ran so fast; none better for pure speed.

How he’d stolen the horse you’ve heard from me,

Twas at Albracca he’d performed the deed,

From beneath King Sacripante, he drew

That brave creature; though naught the monarch knew.

Now, he was racing on, as I have said,

With many a taunt, mocking the queen,

While she, who longed to see the fellow dead,

Pursued him swiftly o’er the meadow’s green.

If the maid were to catch him as he fled,

The rascal’s life would scarce be worth a bean,

For a single blow from her and his chest,

Belly, neck, would be crushed, and all the rest.

The Count, striding out with Brandimarte,

As I mentioned, came upon this affair.

They observed the pair, for a time, closely,

Doing naught else but rein in, quietly, there.

Now, I commend myself to you, wholly,

Fair lords; these pages I have sought to share,

Are complete, and oft proved is my theory:

To speak for too long, doth ever weary.

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