Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato

Book II: Canto XXIV: The Clash of Monarchs

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

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Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato: Book II, Canto XXIV

Book II: Canto XXIV: 1-3: Chivalry’s power to delight the ardent mind

When the bugle, in the thick of battle,

Sounds the alarm, and summons to cruel sport,

Tis then the proud charger, in fine fettle,

Lifts his head, paws the ground, gives a snort,

Then shakes his mane, afire, on his mettle,

Stirs impatiently, to high tension wrought,

And kicks at any man who draws too close,

Neighing endlessly, a creature grown verbose.

Likewise, to listen to some lordly deed,

Of chivalry, recounted midst the crowd,

Pleases the noble mind, which pays it heed

As if it were itself involved; the proud

And manly heart is made manifest indeed,

In all that delights the spirit e’er unbowed.

Thus, I detect your daring, and your ardour,

You that read my words, with joy and pleasure.

Should I not therefore try my best to please

So kind, and courteous, an audience?

I ought to do so, must, and shall not cease;

And so, recall that final stanza’s sense,

(It closed my canto): Ferrau (to reprise)

And brave Rodomonte, his pride immense,

Rode out, their faces owning such a look

As if the heavens fell, and the earth shook.

Book II: Canto XXIV: 4-8: Charlemagne leads his company into battle; Otachier is slain

That pair of warriors led forth the rest,

A good bow’s shot ahead, to reach the plain

Like lions moving from their place of rest,

On viewing a herd of deer, some prize to gain.

They spurred their trusty mounts, in armour dressed,

Towards the Christians and Charlemagne,

That scorned the enemy, disdained them still,

Though they swept on, in splendour, down the hill.

The king had seen them gathering on the height,

Those Saracens, led by Marsilio.

Although he knew not who they were, by sight,

He laid his plans to counteract the foe;

Deploying many a foot soldier and knight,

And of them formed a large brigade, and so

Summoned every sound man to his banner;

Rank and status being of no matter.

Then he led forth that mighty company,

His steed’s caparison sweeping the ground,

As the trumpets and the drums played loudly,

And the earth beneath trembled at the sound.

Marsilio, rode down the hill proudly,

Though, as I said before, all girt around

By troops, while Ferrau and Rodomonte

Rode ahead. To face this hostile enemy,

Count Gano and brave Otachiero

(He of Hungary) spurred now o’er the field,

But Rodomonte struck first, at Gano,

And broke the Maganzese’s solid shield.

The proud pagan despatched it, at a blow,

Pierced the breastplate, and all his flank revealed.

Turpin (from whom this whole tale I derive),

Claims that the Devil kept the man alive.

No doubt he did him a service that day,

To save that lord for fresh torment later.

Ferrau meanwhile Otachier did slay,

Piercing the latter’s shield, and his armour,

Driving his lance, a yard or more, I say,

Through Otachier’s back, in his ardour.

Both Christians, thus, tumbled to the plain,

Though one was half-alive, the other slain.

Book II: Canto XXIV: 9-16: Ferrau and Rodomonte dominate the field

The pagans left them lying on the ground,

And galloped onwards, to attack our force.

That damned soul Count Gano, though unsound,

Recovered such that he could mount his horse,

And vanished from the field; while, all around,

That Saracen pair’s cruel mission ran its course.

Who’ll help me tell of it? I doubt, alone,

I can describe that war on flesh and bone.

A tongue of iron, the loud cannon’s roar,

Were needed to relate all that fierce tale.

The air seemed ablaze, as if lightning tore

The earth below, their swords the heavens’ veil.

Charlemagne seemed doomed, by Fate’s dark law,

To die, with his whole court, in that wide vale.

They could do naught to halt the pagan foe,

Though the strong and brave traded blow for blow.

That pair attacked, parting flesh and armour,

One gainst the right flank, one gainst the other,

While Charlemagne gave many an order,

Trusting in God, yet his mind no clearer

Than any of his troops, all lost together.

Fearful the cries his dying men did utter,

The shouts and screams so loud that none could hear

The monarch’s commands, whether far or near.

Each man took position as he thought right,

Hastening desperately to join the fray,

While God indeed kept Charlemagne in sight,

Or surely the emperor had died that day,

And left France bereft. Full many a knight

On that battlefield in his own blood lay,

Though that pair, Ferrau and Rodomonte,

Took the lives of common men aplenty.

Rodomonte on the right, with Nimrod’s sword,

Gripped tight in both hands, slew Ranibaldo,

A good Christian, and Anversa’s lord;

Then robbed Alverna of its Count Salardo,

Ran him through, left him dead upon the sward;

Slew Ugo, and Raimondo, midst the rest,

(Piercing the one’s neck, and the other’s chest),

The first from Cologne, the second Picardy.

The Saracen king left them lying there,

And rode on, slaying others randomly;

The very crown of prowess he did bear.

Ferrau was no less powerful; equally,

In those nigh-wondrous deeds he too did share.

Ranier of Rheims he downed (the father

Of brave Oliviero) who fought no longer;

Likewise, that bold German, Count Ansaldo,

The lord of Nuremberg, he struck in haste,

With a fierce, and vicious, two-handed blow

That cleft that valiant warrior to the waist.

Christians, all o’er the plain, fled the foe;

Who would not fear that cruel blade to taste?

With a single stroke, he wounded, mortally,

The luckless dukes of Cleves and Saxony.

One’s head flew off, complete with helm and crest,

The neck clean-severed at a single blow,

While the other duke was pierced in the chest.

Then, that fierce pagan charged another foe,

Filling Charlemagne with such deep unrest

He could do naught but contemplate his woe.

As Marsilio and his troops drew near,

The Christian king was beset with fear.

Book II: Canto XXIV: 17-20: Ferrau unhorses King Charlemagne

He lacked brave Orlando, and Rinaldo,

Who were now fighting elsewhere on the field,

As were the Dane, and Oliviero,

Each forced to make good use of sword and shield.

Glancing round, the king saw none but the foe,

While his own troops now seemed about to yield.

He made the sign of the cross, and sat tall,

Then aimed his lowered lance at them all,

All those pagans, and cried: ‘God Almighty,

Abandon not the man who trusts in you,

As my army here has abandoned me,  

Leaving their king naught but his sins to rue.

Better to die, and dwell midst all that’s holy,

Among the blessed, than have shame be my due.

Aid me Lord, let me not be disgraced,

For in you all my faith and hope I’ve placed.’

He gripped his lance more tightly in his hand,

And, still calling on God to help His own,

He spurred his mount gainst the Saracen band,

Aimed at Ferrau, and made that warrior groan;

For upon the latter’s brow the blow did land,

And Ferrau well-nigh toppled, but the bone

Was strong enough there to withstand its force,  

And though stunned awhile, he held to his course.

The king’s lance split, the splintered pieces flew,

While Ferrau, reviving, burned with anger.

His fighting rage now rose within him, anew,

For he’d ne’er been struck, and shaken harder.

He turned and hit the king’s helm, as he flew

Towards him, and knocked him from his charger.

All that gazed on believed the king was slain.

Our troops, dismayed, trembled as if in pain.

Book II: Canto XXIV: 21-24: Balduino finds Orlando, who races to the rescue

Brave Balduino, of Gano’s false clan,

Cried out in woe, and wept, beyond the rest.

He galloped o’er the ground, his instant plan

To find the Count, and that dire news attest.

While Dardona’s Ugetto, that brave man,

Viewing Ferrau’s ill deed, now thought it best

To seek Rinaldo, and spurred on his steed,

Crossing before the Moorish ranks, at speed.

Meanwhile Marsilio had joined the fray,

With trumpets, drums, horns, and many a yell

His troops shouting, screaming in such a way

As seemed to send Heaven tumbling to Hell.

Our men scattered swiftly, or turned at bay,

As the Moors pursued, and upon them fell,

Hacking away shattering helm and shield,

Till as many as could run fled the field.

Balduino, at last, found Count Orlando

Who had now slain the knight Balgurano,

Staining the earth with the blood of his foe,

As if from some dark fountain it did flow.

Balduino beat his brow, and wept with woe,

And spoke of Charlemagne now laid low,

Dead, or wounded in perilous manner,

And like to die (twas all he could utter!)

Count Orlando, at this, nigh ceased the fight,

His heart sore pierced with grief, and then he turned

His eyes, and face, ablaze, and from the knight

The site of his bold monarch’s fall he learned;

Then he spurred his mighty charger outright,

And rode to where the king’s defeat was earned,

While, as that fiery spirit pierced the fray,

All that met with his savage gaze gave way.

Book II: Canto XXIV: 25-30: Meanwhile Ugetto finds Rinaldo, who does the same

Those repented that yielded too slowly,

For he swung his great sword without warning,

Careless if twas friend or foe, his angry

Blade, wielded wildly, now hot and smoking.

Many he slew, trampling them in fury,

While elsewhere Ugetto was still searching,

High and low, for Rinaldo whom he found

Drenched in his victims’ blood, as was the ground.

Ugetto scarcely knew him, such his state,

Crimson staining his armour and his shield.

He told him, in tears, of his monarch’s fate,

And the nature of his tumble to the field,

Thus, his life was in doubt, the peril great,

(Not a detail of his danger he concealed)

Unless, perchance, by then Count Orlando

Had reached him, and saved him from the foe;

For as he came, he’d seen good Balduino,

Turning back, with Orlando at his side,

Who no doubt had revealed an equal woe,

And thus, to rescue their king, both did ride.

Rinaldo groaned on learning it was so,

And, then, aloud: ‘Alas for me,’ he sighed,

If all that you tell me proves true, then I

Have lost the fair Angelica thereby;

For Charlemagne will wed her to the Count,

Should he rescue the king ere I am there.

I’ll be left, as ever, to weep a fount

Of tears, abandoned, shamed by this affair.’

And then: ‘You may as well, the sheer amount

Of time you’ve taken to arrive, I swear,

Have trotted, ambled, walked your idle steed;

The beast’s ne’er broken sweat, so slow his speed!’

‘Nay, I galloped, I spurred the horse along,

Cried Ugetto, ‘tis you who linger here!

Who knows? Perchance my passing thought was wrong,

And, ere Orlando can at that scene appear,

He’ll be much delayed, for the foe is strong.

You, then, should try your fortune, and not fear

To fail, ere you’ve ventured midst the throng.

Your charger is so swift and sure that he  

May reach Charlemagne first, it seems to me.’

Rinaldo, persuaded by Ugetto

To move swiftly, now galloped o’er the plain,

Spurring on his valiant steed, Baiardo,

And, since that fierce pace he did maintain,

He wrought havoc amidst both friend and foe,

Parting the ranks of Christendom and Spain,

While never ceasing, in his wild advance,

To cleave a path towards the King of France.

Book II: Canto XXIV: 31-34: Rinaldo slays Marcolfo, Folvirante, and Baliverzo

Marcolfo, a gigantic Saracen,

Who served at King Marsilio’s court,

Chased behind, and harried, our fleeing men.

He met Rinaldo, and the warriors fought;

The latter swung Fusberta, once again,

Two-handedly, and cut the fellow short.

Speeding on, our knight met Folvirante,

King of Navarre, gazed at him intently,

Then skewered him; the blade went through his back,

Full three palm-widths beyond, it did go,

Then he spurred Baiardo to the next attack,

While leaving far behind his outstretched foe.

He swung Fusberta (naught did that blow lack)

At a large and hefty Moor, Baliverzo,

Whose head was wrapped in a turban; his face

He sliced, and his neck, and away did race.   

He left those two to die, and urged his steed

Onwards, swiftly, to seek King Charlemagne.

An abbot crossed his path, so fate decreed,

The king’s chaplain, as he sped o’er the plain,

Whose mule was fat, though (swollen by greed)

The man was fatter and, with half a brain,

Stood stock still, scarcely knowing what to do,

So great his fear. Baiardo fairly flew

O’er the ground, and the steed knocked him flat,

Trampling the winded priest, with the mule below,

Though indeed I know no more of it than that,

Since Turpin further comment does forego.

The bold peer of France, with that coup d’état,

Leapt o’er the obstacle, and many a blow

Then delivered, for heads and arms he skied,

And so cleared himself a path good and wide.

Book II: Canto XXIV: 35-41: And then saves Charlemagne

Behold, he saw before him a vast throng,

Encircling Charlemagne to slay the king,

Now concealed, by that host that did belong

To the Saracen ranks. They formed a ring,

While those behind, pressing in, made a strong

Barrier to movement, thus few could swing

A sword. They might have slain him, there and then,

Had he not fought back with the strength of ten.

That fierce battle went unseen by Rinaldo,

The monarch himself hidden from his view,

But he urged on his great steed, Baiardo,

And soon the state of play within, he knew.

Twas then Rinaldo moved against the foe,

Showed his valour as a knight, strong and true,

While Charlemagne cried out: ‘Aid me, my son,

God sends you here that justice may be done!’

As he spoke, the king swung his trenchant blade,

His body yet protected by his shield,

Though, truly, he was desperate for aid,

Such a host encircled him, on that field.

A count from Cordoba a thrust now made,

Towards him, and sought to make him yield,

While he attempted to slay that same.

Partano was that lively fellow’s name;

Unaware of our knight breaking through,

He was startled, and made but poor defence.

His fate was sealed. Rinaldo swung anew

And his sword robbed the man of all sense,

For the blow to his helm, was good and true,

And cleft him, head to chest, its force immense.

Rinaldo then attacked, with might and main,

That ring of blades encircling Charlemagne.

He struck the Count of Alva, Paricone,

Unseated him, and quickly seized his steed.

He laid about him, the reins grasped tightly,

For of that fresh mount his monarch had need.

He’d driven back the throng successfully,

And within the circle wrought many a deed

So, allowing the king to mount, despite

The attentions of many a Moorish knight.

And he was none too soon in the saddle,

For he was scarcely seated on the horse

When Ferrau appeared, that man of mettle,

Followed by Marsilio, in due course.

That king rode commandingly to battle,

Dealing hammer blows without remorse,

Scattering our troops who fled his blade.

All about them swift destruction they made.

Our men fled before them, in a trice.

Terrified, by blows to the head and face,

Not a man wished for that encounter twice;

Ne’er was there such woe as in that place.

But Charlemagne was there to cut and slice

At the foe, by God’s and Rinaldo’s grace,

And on his appearance stemmed the flow;

While they welcomed the prince, on Baiardo.

Book II: Canto XXIV: 42-44: Charlemagne fights Marsilio, Rinaldo fights Ferrau

The shouts rose on high, the war-trumpets blew,

The conflict revived, and fresh battle flamed.

Those about Charlemagne, heartened anew,

Turned about to fight, lest their flight be blamed

For defeat, and sought to show they were true.

King Marsilio, who many a life had claimed,

Witnessing that resurgence, slowed his pace,

And, with Ferrau beside him, ceased the chase.

Both reined in their chargers, and were still,

Though neither feared the Christian advance,

Then rode on, fiercely, as if to the kill,

Headed for those foes, massed with sword and lance.

They say men are created by God’s will,

Yet men choose their enemies, perchance,

And here Ferrau sought to slay Rinaldo,

While Charlemagne faced King Marsilio.

O the mighty blows, the clash of armour!

He that saw it with his own eyes, I think

His soul, dismayed, would have cried for succour,

And in fear cried: ‘Aid! Aid!’ on the brink

Of death, and when that soul, thereafter,

Left the flesh that, alone, to earth must sink,

Ne’er would it wish to see that place again,

Where those pairs of knights clashed, in rage and pain.

Book II: Canto XXIV: 45-51: The latter pair duel fiercely

I’ll leave the king to fight Marsilio,

(Their duel proved the lesser of the two,

In my opinion) and to Rinaldo

And Ferrau, and ardour’s heights, turn my view.

My heart now dreads to commence it though,

This song of bitter conflict, I renew.

How start? How end it? Twin flowers of valour,

Twin hearts of fire, battling there together.

The pair began with many a mighty blow,

Both seeking destruction, weapons clashing,

As if they’d not been fighting some foe

From the dawn light, to the fall of evening;

For each man held his ground, nor would he go

From that place or e’er be caught retreating.

They swung with such fury, as they drew near,

The hearts of the onlookers quaked with fear.

Ferrau took a fierce blow to the forehead,

And if his helm had not been charmed, truly

Twould have shattered to tiny fragments, spread

O’er the plain, lost to the sand, completely.

Fusberta against Ferrau’s shield now sped,

(Twas made of hide and iron plate) neatly

Slicing through it, to carve at his saddle.

Rarely was such a stroke seen in battle.

The Saracen responded to his game,

Striking hard at the helm once Mambrino’s.

It yielded scintillating sparks, and flame,

But stayed intact, beneath his savage blows,

That pierced the knight’s shield in the very same

Manner as his own had been; then Rinaldo’s

Saddle he hacked away at, sending more

Than a quarter down to the earthen floor.

Nor did he stop, but swung his sword again,

And struck Rinaldo’s helmet on one side.

Conceive the strength of that blow, and the pain!

Stunned, Rinaldo nigh from his mount did slide.

Confused, he struggled his seat to regain,

His wits addled, and half-blinded beside.

Baiardo leapt high, and carried him clear.

While a cry: ‘Lo, he falls!’ rose from those near.

Yet reviving, reviewing the danger

He’d encountered, his closeness to disgrace

Rendered both his cheeks a crimson colour,

For a blush of shame reddened all his face.

‘A Saracen, to down me?’ in his anger,

He cried aloud. ‘No, I’ll ne’er quit this place

Unavenged; I’d rather be a soul in Hell,

And leave my flesh to the dogs, ere I so fell!’

Rinaldo paused not, while he was speaking,

But at Ferrau he again swung his sword,

And struck his foe on the helmet, stretching

Him back, on his crupper, flat as a board.

No blow was ever fiercer. Deaf, unseeing,

Ferrau, for half an hour, the world ignored,

And, bright blood pouring from his mouth and nose,

Was forced to rest, recovering from those blows.

Book II: Canto XXIV: 52-55: Orlando grieves at arriving late to the scene

Yet I must leave my account of that fight,

And turn my steed’s head towards Orlando,

Who’d arrived somewhat later than the knight.

Brigliador, slower than Baiardo,

Had strained away, with all his will and might,

But, though valiant, no faster could he go,

And, thus, he had delivered his master

To the spot, with the king out of danger,

He found Charlemagne secure, in his seat,    

And fighting strongly gainst Marsilio.

That monarch he’d brought well-nigh to defeat,

For thrice now he’d wounded his royal foe.

And the Count’s discomfiture was complete,

When he saw Ferrau, stunned by Rinaldo.

He moaned and groaned, and visibly changed hue.

‘Ah, me!’ he cried, ‘What’s left for me to do?

It seems that every role’s already taken:

A curse on that traitor, Balduino,

Most aptly, born among the God-forsaken

Maganzeses, the worst the world doth know!

Tis through that sad wretch, lest I’m mistaken,

That hope of love is gone, and I’m brought low;

To lose the joys of paradise, my fate,

Because that fool brought me the news too late.

Charlemagne will declare I only came

Idly, out of duty, and too slowly.

But you, you cursed pagans, all the same,

Shall suffer cruel punishment, for, hear me,

My dire vengeance upon you all I’ll claim.

Though I bring the heavens down about me,

I’ll match Rinaldo’s deeds, upon this plain,

Or nevermore may face King Charlemagne!’

Book II: Canto XXIV: 56-62: He defeats a string of Saracen warriors

With this he wheeled about, and rolled his eyes,

In scorn and rage, and, as a mighty gale,

A dark, howling tempest that stirs the skies,

(Such that the peasant’s heart it doth assail,

Who, dismayed by its advent, weeps and cries)

Comes, riding the preceding winds, to flail

At the trees, beat down the crops, passing o’er

The ruined fields, to strew the forest floor,

So came Orlando, wielding his great sword,

In those powerful hands, full fierce to see.

No Saracen but did him space afford,

None daring to do aught, but up and flee.

Those sad cowards vanished, with one accord,

While, as yet, the Count galloped furiously

Spurring Brigliador, cursing the creature,

Blaming on that poor beast his own failure.

The first knight he reached was Valibruno,

Count of Medina, whom he cleft in two,

From head to saddle, and then Orlando

Passed from the dead and silent, to the new.

He found Alibante of Toledo

Much the cleverest scoundrel midst that crew,

And sliced the thief across, side to side,

Then pressed on to the next man, as he died.

This was the treasurer, Baricheo.

He handled all the wealth of his king.

He’d been a Jew, a Christian also,

And now was a Saracen; if anything,

He’d grown worse with each new religion, though,

No god at all was most to his liking.

Orlando cleft the man from head to chest,

Nor do I know where his damned soul has rest,

Whether among the sinners, down in Hell,

Or the demons, in some fiery corner.

The Count left his corpse lying where it fell,

And, among the pagans, hunted another.

If, in Apulia, some ne’er-do-well,

Starts a blaze, that soon the field doth cover,

And which the wind serves to spread, so burning

All the ripe crops there, the harvest ruining,

The harm is like that wrought by Orlando,

Cleaving and scattering their vicious kind.

Origante was his next prey, midst the foe,

Though the Count would not strike him from behind,

As he fled, so he passed him, turning slow,

To strike his shield, then the sinews that did bind

The man together, and cleft him side to side

Like Alibante, then onwards did ride;

Origante, of Malaga the master,

Now parted in twain, he left there to die.

Orlando cleft Urgino, another

Proud Saracen, who fell with scarce a cry.

Yet Rodomonte now heard of the matter,

Far off amidst the plain, from one nearby,

Where he was fighting; heard how the foe

Now threatened Ferrau, and Marsilio.

Book II: Canto XXIV: 63-66: Rodomonte is alerted to the danger

He quit Brittany’s King Salamone,

Who’d remounted despite his wounded thigh,

And the cuts, on his face, Rodomonte

Had dealt him, bravely seeking to defy

The furious monarch, who had simply

Made him soar from his saddle to the sky,

Once again; he was thus beyond rescue,

Had that king not sought to battle anew.

Rodomonte left him, and met another,

William of Orleans, of noble breed.

The monarch cleft him, his helm and visor

Both useless in preventing that fierce deed.

And then the king, progressing further,

Hurled dead men about like scattered seed.

Where’er the man passed by, the more he found

The more he slew, and left upon the ground.

He hammered at, and beat down, Count Ottino,

Lord of Toulouse, and as he rode away,

He downed Bourbonne’s mighty duke, Tebaldo,

Though neither of that pair he chose to slay.

Thence he came to those killed by Orlando,

Heaps of dead men and steeds, across his way,

Piled high, on the blood-stained field, score on score,

Left by the Count to deck that killing-floor.

He heard the screams the cries, the loud lament,

Resounding from where Orlando now fought,

Drenched in blood, but, nonetheless, not content

As yet with his tally; still more he sought.

Yet I’ve been upon my verse so intent

I failed to see my canto I have brought

To its planned conclusion, for, in the next,

The Count gainst Rodomonte is my text.

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

Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato: Book II, Canto XXIV - End