Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato

Book II: Canto XXI: Atlante's Prophecy

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Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato: Book II, Canto XXI

Book II: Canto XXI: 1-6: Orlando and Rinaldo commence a duel

Sovereign Power of that orbit neath the Sun,

You, that guide the turning of the third sphere,

Grant me sweet song, eloquence that has won,

With gentle words, many a listener here;

So that those who would hear all that was done

In days of old, and noble deeds hold dear,

May the tale of those brave knights approve,

That fought each other, in the name of Love.

In my last canto, they met together,

Amidst the leafy trees, by Merlin’s fount;

One gripped Fusberta, one Durindana;

You know the pair, Rinaldo and the Count.

Amongst all knights in this world, wherever

Such are spoken of, in chivalric account,

None has equalled them, nor ever will,

In strength or courage, confidence or skill.

Truly, they were the flower among men,

And brought such fire and ardour to the fight,

That the heavens shook, and then shook again,

Earth trembled, and the very air took fright.

Every armature and piece of plate was fain

To shatter, and fall, as knight battled knight,  

Striking tempestuously at each other,

Till the sky and the forest seemed to shudder.

Rinaldo swung Fusberta, and let fly,

And struck a blow at Count Orlando’s shield,

With a sound as if a bolt from out the sky,

Had landed there, its fiery power revealed.

Bishop Turpin says no bird was seen to fly

From the scene; all fell, stricken, to the field,

And the creatures of the forest, so I read,

With howls and cries, fled in fear of the deed.  

Orlando swung hard with Durindana.

At that crash, in the forest far and near,

Leaves and branches fell; it struck the armour

That clad Rinaldo’s chest, and split it sheer.

Those two mighty strokes affected neither,

Though it seems, the fount’s water, bright and clear,

Was now rendered dark, well-nigh opaque,

And the marble surround was seen to shake.

Their blows grew fiercer still; such a fight

Had ne’er been seen before, and the maid,
Angelia, who watched the duel, in fright,

Turned pale; twas a bitter game they played.

A feeling of deep dread urged her to flight,

For she felt she’d die herself, if she stayed.

Neither lord was aware of her departure,

Each man fought in rage, like some mad creature.

Book II: Canto XXI: 7-10: The fleeing Angelica encounters Oliviero

The maid turned away, and urged her steed,

As best she could, to depart from the place,

While her palfrey, born of a noble breed,

Flew along, as if engaged in the chase.

When from the forest she at last was freed,

By her mount’s intelligence and its pace,

She found herself in a field, midst a host

Pitching camp and, there, among the foremost,

She saw a knight, standing and watching on,

And, desiring to know who these might be,

She turned her steed towards him, whereupon

He greeted her, and she asked, politely.

He replied: ‘The host you have chanced upon,

Rides with Emperor Charlemagne, for he,

The King of France, gathers men gainst the foe.

As for myself, I am Oliviero.

The Saracens, led by one Rodomonte,

Have crossed the sea, and routed Duke Namus.

Their leader has now vanished, utterly,

Along with his men, greatly troubling us;

While Rinaldo, who came from Hungary

To join the fighting force (the knight is famous),

Leading fresh troops, has disappeared also,

For there’s not a sign of our lord Rinaldo.

The whole court is dismayed, and then Orlando,

The Count of Anglante, is absent still,

Who won us great renown, amidst the foe,

For all respect his strength and martial skill.

I swear to God, could I but see one blow

From his death-dealing blade, then let them kill

Me where I stand (that is, if such folk can)

For more than I love life, I love the man.’

Book II: Canto XXI: 11-15: She tells of the duel, and Charlemagne rides to the fount

Once the maid understood their need to know

Where Orlando and Rinaldo were, she said:

‘You prove so courteous, that I would show

Myself as impolite, and most ill-bred,

If I were to keep silence, now, and so,

I shall tell you of those you seek, instead:

Rinaldo and the Count fight each other,

Midst the Ardennes Forest, by the water.’

On hearing the news, Oliviero,

Was filled with joy and swiftly sped away,

Hastening to let his brave comrades know.

Few in the camp there lingered, I may say.

In mounting, King Charlemagne proved not slow,

As, with Angelica leading the way,

He rode to the fount, with his court and more,

Some riding behind him, and some before.

As they sped on, he learned the reason why

Those cavaliers were fighting with such fury.

Charlemagne marvelled that the Count should sigh

For love, and prove the offending party,

For he thought him the least inclined to die

For a lady, though Rinaldo he, clearly,

Considered prone to do the like, or worse,

Since such follies he’d seen him oft rehearse.

They reached the woods, still in conversation,

The leafy Forest of Ardennes, I mean.

Some searched here, some there, in agitation,

To find the hidden fount amidst that scene.

Soon they heard the sound of swords in action,

A fierce battle, somewhere midst the green:

A clash of arms, plate and mail, appalling

All, as if the very skies were falling.

From every direction came lord and knight,

By many a path, and the first man there,

The Dane, Uggiero, that man of might,

Was soon joined by Salamone the Fair,

And Bishop Turpin, who tells of the fight,

Which continued without cease; none did dare,

To interrupt the warriors, that was clear;

While all watched the ill contest, full of fear.

Book II: Canto XXI: 16-18: Charlemagne halts the duel

When Charlemagne appeared, they paused awhile,

For though the pair possessed hearts of fire,

And paid scant regard to the rank and file,

They respected the king, so quenched their ire.

The combatants parted, without a smile,

And for the moment hid their one desire,

While Charlemagne, the royal face benign,

Embraced them and wept (perchance by design!).

The lords and knights now circled them about,

Urging the quarrellers to make their peace.

Voicing different arguments (though some did shout)

Such as they felt fitting, and bade them cease,

While the king sought to talk the matter out,

With bold words, and flattery, and fervent pleas.

Now he issued his command, and now he prayed

That a truce between them be swiftly made.

Indeed, they might have reconciled, and quickly,

Were it not that each loved Angelica,

And till that question was settled, fully,

Both commands and pleas were altogether

Useless in the matter, while the lady

Had vanished, though I know not why, other

Than that, perchance, she so loathed Rinaldo

That the knight’s very presence brought her woe.

Book II: Canto XXI: 19-22: He orders Duke Namus to act as Angelica’s ward

Yet, realising she had left, Orlando

Followed, and sought to keep her in sight;

Nor was the other asleep, bold Rinaldo,

For he now hastened to pursue the knight.

The rest of the king’s company also,

Fearful of what might happen, taking fright,

Hastened, with Charlemagne, upon their trail,

Ready to ensure that the truce prevail.

They found the combatants not far away,

In a dale, with naked swords, face to face,

Though neither’s gleaming blade was yet in play,

For the court had followed at a rapid pace.

Some few lords that along the vale did stray,

Found Angelica, in a narrow place;

Some cave in which to hide she’d been seeking,

And they led her, once more, before the king.

Duke Namus was now appointed her ward;

He should treat the lady with great respect.

The king then sought to forge an accord

Between that pair of knights, to some effect.

He promised: a solution he’d afford

To the matter twixt the two, and reject

Aught that might be judged unreasonable;

A fair solution, true, and just, and legal.

On their return to the camp that evening,

The lords and knights chose to celebrate,

For Orlando had seemed lost, and now the king

Was thinking of a means to terminate

His war with Rinaldo. The next morning,

The royal court set out for Paris, while fate

Sends us, instead, to seek Agramante.

We must cross the waves to his far country.

Book II: Canto XXI: 23-27: We return to the wounded Ruggiero

I left that monarch at Mount Carena,

Amidst his knights, at the tourney there.

Deeply he sighed, the mighty warrior,

At having being unhorsed in that affair,

And what disturbed him greatly, moreover,

Was how Ruggiero’s side was laid bare.

I’ve related the tale, as you’ll recall,

So, I’ll turn to that which did next befall.

I’ll simply add that, wounded in the way

I’ve said (a lawless deed, that injury!),

Ruggiero had made Bardulasto pay,

For his act of malicious treachery.

He’d left him dead in the woods, and away

Had gone, to find his mentor Atlante,

Who was waiting by the rock, where a king,

Tingitana’s Brunello, was yet standing.

When Atlante perceived that the young knight,

Had been wounded, cruelly, in the side,

He felt as though he had been knifed outright

Deep in the heart: ‘Ah, woe is me!’ he cried,

‘Tis no joy to me that, with second sight,

I foresaw your death; I take little pride

In that, if you must die so soon!’ And yet,

On seeing the lad’s bright eyes, he ceased to fret;

While the youth said: ‘Weep not, I shall be cured

By your medicines and salves, for I know

That many a remedy you’ve explored;

I’ll not suffer this for long, tis but a blow.

I think the wound less harmful, be assured,

Than when that fearsome lion laid me low,

I once slew in the hills, or when my chest

Was pierced by that elephant I addressed.’

The old mage examined his hurt with care,

(Twas not grave, having wrought but little harm)

Sewed the wound, and applied a goodly share

Of soothing unguent, rare herbs mixed with balm.

By then Brunello had been made aware,

Of how the tourney had ended in alarm

At the youth’s exploits, and now saw a way

To claim the lad’s deeds, and thus win the day.

Book II: Canto XXI: 28-31: Brunello reveals Ruggiero’s presence

He grasped his armour, surcoat, and shield

That Ruggiero had borne in the fight,

Though stains of blood and gore they revealed,

And upon Frontino leapt the little knight,

Ere riding, swiftly, to the battlefield,

Where the rest still fought on with all their might;

Though when those warriors saw his shield and crest,

They thought a wise retreat might yet prove best.   

Agramante, much angered by his fall

As I said before, sheathed the royal blade,

And cried: ‘Enough was done here by you all,

To lure Ruggiero forth, much skill displayed,

And yet he’s failed to answer to our call.

He’ll not be found, I think; be not dismayed.’

Then he called for Brunello, who appeared

In his armour; while the king’s wrath he feared.

Said Agramante: ‘After this pleasant tourney,

Which you claimed would draw forth the boy,

I’ll not believe he’s hereabouts, unless he

Dwells in the clouds, or some means doth employ

To live, without breathing, deep in the sea.

Yet I swear, that the weapons you deploy,

Are enough for us, watching blow on blow,

To forego the need for Ruggiero.’

Bold Brunello replied: ‘Twas in your honour;

All that I’ve done, and do, is wrought for you.

If you are pleased with my skill and valour,

Then, Sire, I am, indeed, contented too.

Yet twill give you more joy to discover,

That the boy is found; what I claim is true;  

For he quit the rock above to join the fight,

And he shall be yours, ere the fall of night.’

Book II: Canto XXI: 32-36: But is then accused of killing Bardulasto

This news delighted King Agramante,

And, neglecting the former tournament,

He mounted, and, riding in company

With his lords and knights, to the cliff he went.

Many, who were there, were less than happy,

To see Brunello, but quelled their discontent,

(He to whom they had yielded in the field,

Not knowing twas Ruggiero there concealed).

Now, as they rode, they traversed the glade

Where lay Bardulasto of Alcazar,

Cleft from head to chest by the young lad’s blade,

And they halted on viewing him afar.

Agramante, drawing nearer, now displayed

Great anger, that some sorry knight should mar

The tourney by slaying another so,

And recognised the face of Bardulasto,

Damaged though it was; in displeasure

He shouted: ‘Who is he, that disobeyed

My strict command, and flouted my measure,

Making such ill employment of his blade?’

None said a word, but every warrior

Gazed at his comrades, mortally dismayed.

None dared to breathe while the wrathful king

Menaced them, there, all gathered in a ring,

And, as is oft they case, they looked around

Seeking the culprit, glancing here and there,

And in behaving so, their eyes soon found

The blood and gore Brunello’s arms did bear.

‘Behold!’ arose the cry: ‘Let him be bound;

For the traces of his crime, he yet doth bear!’

The words had scarcely been uttered, when lo,

Those nearest to him seized King Brunello.

He spoke swiftly, and needed to indeed,

For his glib tongue alone could aid his case,

Claiming Ruggiero had done the deed,

Bearing his arms, having taken his place.

None believed him, whate’er he might plead,

Since the truth so rarely his lips did grace,

While all around him shouted their counsel

To the monarch: ‘Let us hang the rascal!’  

Book II: Canto XXI: 37-43: Brunello is rescued by Ruggiero

Finding himself accused, thus, of the crime,

He complained loudly to the king and court,

Reminding them, in frenzied pantomime,

How he’d gained the ring Agramante sought,

And risked his life, to do so, on a time.

They mocked him, calling him a thief, in short.

So, a courtier’s service may please tonight,

Yet is viewed as naught come the morning light;

A lord seems of some age long-dead, if he

Recalls today the deeds of yesterday,

For the message now is: ‘In serving me,

Lies your whole reward, my friend; but obey!’

And so it was with Brunello, as we see,

Who was scorned, in that ungrateful way;

Those reviled him that once had sought his eye,

As happens to those folk that climb too high.

King Grifaldo now received the order

To hang this Brunello without delay.

Grifaldo who was prompt to serve his master,

Declared: ‘If I can find no other way,

With my bare hands I’ll slay the murderer!’

And the miscreant was soon led away,

Along the cliff nearby, towards the wood,

Neath where Ruggiero and Atlante stood.

The young warrior saw them drawing near,

And, on viewing the dwarfish king, he grieved,

Not being one (unlike the many here!)

That soon forget a favour they’ve received.

‘Though I may die,’ Ruggiero said, ‘tis clear,

I should aid him, for I was ne’er deceived,

He loaned me both his armour and his steed;

Twere wrong to scorn him in his hour of need.’

But Atlante argued strongly gainst the plan,

Saying: ‘Where go you, son, without armour,

Lance, or sword, or shield? To assist the man?

He’ll hang from the highest branch, whatever

You may attempt to do, or think you can.

Would you, weapon-less, now seek to conquer

A whole host? Tis too perilous a task.

What would you seek to do there, I might ask?’

Ruggiero replied not, but ran, swiftly,

To reach the field, and snatched a weapon

From a passing knight, unexpectedly.

In barely an instant, the thing was done.

Grifaldo’s company comprised many

A man, but boldly he now dealt with one,

Next, he slew another and, from the dead,

Took a sword, then a shield, and onward sped.

Imagine how he led those knights a dance,

Once that gleaming blade he had in hand!

Ne’er had any of those knights, perchance,

Received such wounds, there or in any land.

King Grifaldo and two more, by happenstance,

Escaped the blows from that whirling brand,

And, quaking at the onslaught, ran to free

Brunello, ere he dangled from a tree.

Book II: Canto XXI: 44-50: Who explains to Agramante what has occurred

Grifaldo, quite dismayed, returned to find

Agramante, and, uncertain what to say,

Was so mortified, and confused in mind,

He cared not if he died that very day.

The king wondered at his tale, and assigned

Him, to lead them there by the shortest way.

For it seemed to him most novel and strange

That a mere youth could such a force derange.

When he’d viewed the wounds, he marvelled

At his deeds, for every knight showed some trace

Of his passing, and many a man still bled,

While some, motionless, now adorned that place.

Sneering, ‘Rest there!’ the ruthless king now said,

‘Or where’er the damned lie, in deep disgrace,

For, by Allah, I give not a fig to lose

Such fools, that arms and armour but abuse!’

On seeing Agramante, Brunello,

Sought to escape by any means he could,

But was swiftly seized by Ruggiero,

Who cried: ‘Do as I say, and as we should,

For to stand before that lord, we must go,

And make clear to him, and all, that the blood

Of Bardulasto’s on my hands, for I

Slew the man, and I’ll give the reason why.’

With that, he went and knelt before the king,

Brunello by his side, and said: ‘My lord,

I know not why this man pays for a thing

That I myself enacted, for, be assured,

The blame is mine, and mine the sin, being

The one who did that villain death afford;

If sin it can be called to slay a foe,

In self-defence, as I slew Bardulasto.

For I was assailed, in a sudden attack,

Most treacherously, by that very knight,

Who struck at me, from behind my back,

With the edge of his blade, with all his might.

He fled, and him I killed, nor did I lack

The right to do so. Any that would fight,

(Save the king, and his own) and so deny

That the wretch deserved it, come, let him try!’

When he’d spoken, they gazed at each other,

In amazement, questioning: ‘Is he the one,

Destined to acquire great worldly honour?

Truly, tis fitting, that such deeds be done

By a knight of such beauty and such valour.

Ardour, strength, and nobility, have won

To worthy place, in the form of one so fair,

Tis well that such courage true grace should share.’

Fierce Agramante, beyond all the rest,

Could not remove his eyes from the lad.

‘This, must be Ruggiero!’ he confessed

To himself, and thanked heaven, and was glad.

No further words needed to be expressed,

And he embraced the boy, nor thought it sad

That a king, Bardulasto, had been slain.

He cared not; his own law he would maintain.

Book II: Canto XXI: 51-52: Agramante formally dubs Ruggiero a knight

The youth, who e’er sought the path of valour,

Spoke humbly of the matter, and said this:

‘I have learned that the demands of honour

Ask of the knight, in chivalry’s service,

That he should defend law and truth, ever.

Since that has been my aim, tis now my wish

To save this fellow, and, if I must fight,

Beg that you dub me your loyal knight.

Let me receive his arms and steed, my lord,

For he promised to grant me them, before,

And I deem I have earned them with the sword;

I risked my life to save his, what is more.’

Agramante replied: ‘And rest assured,

Twill be done; right valiant the deeds we saw!’

And taking arms and steed, from Brunello,

With due ceremony, dubbed Ruggiero.

Book II: Canto XXI: 53-61: Atlante’s prophecy

Atlante was there; he stood nearby,

And was roused to tears by the monarch’s deed.

‘King Agramante,’ he said, with a sigh,  

‘Hear my words, such as heaven has decreed,

For all that shall come to pass, by and by,

I divine, and view the future, at need.

The heavens speak true, as they do ever,

And pronounce, as I do, on this matter.

To win the day, this fair youth you must take,

At all costs, with you, o’er the sea to France.

He’ll discomfort Charlemagne, for your sake,

Such that in pride and boldness you’ll advance.

Yet, of him, a Christian they will make;

And not honourably, with sword and lance,

Shall he be slain, but by foul treachery,

Wrought by the ill-conceived Maganzese.  

Nor is that the final grief we’ll endure,

For Ruggiero’s offspring will remain

Among the Christians for evermore;

As great the honour’s that they will gain

As any seen amongst us, on this shore.

All that is fine and worthy they’ll maintain,

With goodness, courtesy, love, joy, and grace,

The flower of the world in that far place.

Ugo Alberto, of Saxony, I see,

Encamped there, on the Paduan plain,

Of arms, and of intellect, the glory,

Noble, and generous, and humane.

He who rides neath that banner, Italy,

Is your salvation; I shall say again,

He will bring all his strength and aid to you,

And, thus, fill all Italy with his virtue!

Azzo the Seventh; Aldobrandino

The Second; which lord shall prove the greater?

One will conquer the traitor Ezzelino,  

One Henry the Seventh, the emperor.

Behold another knight named Rinaldo,

Not ours! He Treviso, and Verona,

And fair Vicenza shall rule, and the crown,

From mighty Frederick’s head, send tumbling down.

Nature shall reveal her future treasure;

Leonello, the Marquis, all virtue his!

O happy world, blessed beyond measure,

Where all shall live in freedom, as they wish;

A time when the white eagle shall feature,

Joined with the golden lily, naught amiss,

And mount the sky; within whose boundaries,

All that is best shall flower, twixt two fair seas.

And if Amphitryon’s second bold son

To wear the ducal robes, wise Ercole,

Shall follow the good, flee the evil done,

Like Leonello, not just men, but every

Bird above, spreading its wings neath the sun,

Shall bow to him; yet why should I foresee

More of the future; know you will destroy

All Africa, great monarch, through this boy!

For you’ll bear our virtue’s seed, o’er the sea,

O King Agramante, from which the flower

Of a fair race will be born, for such must be,

And doth weigh upon my heart, at this hour,

Since naught can be otherwise, assuredly.’

The old man wept as he spoke, his visage dour,

While the king waited on his every word,

Yet understood little of what he’d heard.

Rather he replied, when this speech was done,

Half-smiling: ‘I believe the love you bear,

Towards the lad, as if he were your son,

Darkens your prophecy, fills it with care.

Yet an end to this business shall be won;

You shall go with him, and our journey share.

You too shall sail. Come, cease your tears and woe.’

Farewell, my lords, here, I’ll end this canto.

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