Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato

Book II: Canto XXV: Febosilla's Palace

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Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato: Book II, Canto XXV

Book II: Canto XXV: 1-3: Orlando and Rodomonte commence their duel

If e’er proud verse, and noble rhyme, I sought

In which to speak of conflict dark and dire,

I need them now, to pen the battle fought

Between two warriors, their hearts afire,

Ready to bring down Heaven’s ruined court

Upon a ruined Earth. Tis my desire

To tell their tale, though war is all around,

And I have news of other duels to sound;

For, here, Marsilio fought Charlemagne,

Oliviero met Grandonio,

There Serpentino battled with the Dane,

While bold Ferrau and valiant Rinaldo

Wrought more than those combined, upon that plain.

Yet now the Count, amidst duels aplenty,

To bring more ruin still, faced Rodomonte.

As I’ve related, in my last canto,

The combatants advanced amidst the fray,

Carving a path, careless of friend or foe,

Striking, and downing, all who blocked their way.

The ranks that beheld them progressing so,

Granted them space, lest they choose to stay,

Scattering, like starlings before the falcon,

All cried: ‘Make room, make room!’ and wished them gone.

Book II: Canto XXV: 4-9: The Count temporarily stuns Rodomonte

Boldly, pausing not, they met together,

And attacked at once. Each man broke his lance,

And then with his sword began to labour,

Dealing tremendous blows at every chance;

Till all who watched on, in hope or terror,

Could scarcely draw a breath, so fierce the dance,

So fearsome and immense each mighty blow

Wrought by those warriors to crush the foe.

Their blades broke shield and visor, plate and mail,

At every stroke, as if the heavens fell,

And, midst the falling fragments like fierce hail,

Brought fresh destruction to both Earth and Hell.

Bright steel, cut to pieces, away did sail,

Landing I know not where, for none could tell,

So small the splinters vanishing from sight,

Ne’er to be seen again, lost from the light.

Were it not for the magic helms they wore,

And thick armour, they’d not have lasted long,

In that dire, dark conflict, where to endure

Seemed all; each man’s desire was fierce and strong,

And measureless blows they dealt, by the score,

(Such as to scare me, absent from the throng).

When those blades met, it seemed the clouds on high

Oped, and twin lightning-bolts clashed in the sky.

Rodomonte, though, was burning to go,

Fearing, should he be delayed in bringing

Aid to Ferrau and King Marsilio,

That he’d arrive too late. So, fiercely swinging

His sword, two-handedly, at Orlando,

He struck the summit of his shield, slicing

From top to bottom, and through the saddle,

Close to the Count, where he sat astraddle.

When Orlando felt the force of that blow,

His rage and his disdain were multiplied.

With both hands, he raised his sword gainst the foe,

Dark with anger, and struck the shield aside,

(Severed in two, half fell); not pausing, though,

He dealt a backhand stroke that, falling wide,

Yet struck upon the cheek-guard, viciously,

And stunned that pagan king, Rodomonte.

Twas a stroke so immeasurably great

That the king was almost knocked from his steed,

Clinging to his horse’s reins, tempting fate

As he swayed about, conquered by that deed,

His sword, yet chained to his arm, a dead weight,

Dragged beneath, as he wheeled about, at speed;

While Orlando’s blow had so sapped his strength

He well-nigh fell backwards, outstretched full length.

Book II: Canto XXV: 10-12: Who responds in turn, stunning the Count

When the king revived, his senses restored,

Fiercer than ever, his revenge he sought.

He struck at the Count, delivering his sword

To the latter’s steel visor, which it caught,

Then hurled to the sky, and so high it soared,

That it well-nigh dwindled in size to naught,

Less visible than a mere speck of sand,

Soaring beyond the sky, ere it did land.

Almonte’s helm proved, luckily, so strong,

It saved Orlando’s life, although the blow

Nearly ended it; the helm, like a gong,

Echoed and rang, and he nigh fell below,

Losing his stirrups, to tumble headlong,

While, though he remained upright, even so,

His sword left his hand and, held by its chain,

Swung, as the pagan’s had, above the plain.

Those who saw the stroke, had much to say

About its power, and the fall of that blow,

But sudden cries arose: ‘Aid us this day!’

As men fled, at the advent of the foe,

The Saracens saw, as they joined the fray,

A mighty host (from whence they could not know),

For Gualtiero of Monleone,

Rode forth, with the valiant Bradamante.

Book II: Canto XXV: 13-18: Bradamante makes her move

She had led them from their hiding place

As soon as Charlemagne sent the order,

Urging on ten thousand knights, apace,

That had scarce done more than rest, and wonder.

The foe dismayed at what they now might face,

Flinched at that sudden lightning and thunder,

And, daunted by the speed of her attack,

Turned and ran, Bradamante at their back.

For at full tilt rode the warrior-maid,

A bow-shot ahead, racing o’er the field,

And such a look of arrogance displayed,

That many a frightened man sought to yield,

A banner here, a standard there, she laid

Upon the ground, as if their cloth concealed,

The only foe she sought now, Rodomonte,

Urged on by many a shameful memory.

He, in Provençe, had killed her brave charger,

And slaughtered her troops, thus, she was keen

To avenge those deeds, and filled with anger;

And so, she galloped on, amidst that scene,

Scorning the Saracens, and every danger,

Passing, at speed, amidst their ranks, I mean,

As if she scarcely saw them, mid the rout;

Yet, as she went, still swung her blade about.

Archidante, Count of Sanguinto,

And Olivalto of Cartagena,

The latter slain, the former knight laid low,

Fell before her, as they looked to hinder

Her advance. To deal with Olivalto,

She pierced his shield, and then burst asunder

His breastplate; her lance, entering the man,

Cracked steel like glass, and sank in nigh a span.

She left him, and meeting Archidante,

Swung two-handedly, in her fierce anger,

At the warrior’s face, the sword, luckily,

Turning, so as to lessen the danger.

His feet flew from the stirrups; abruptly,

He fell to the ground, to groan and suffer;

Where he remained, as the proud maid flew on,

Charging the rest, urging them to be gone.

The Saracens were now in full retreat,

As she scattered one band then another,

And where she had passed, a path replete

With severed arms and legs, showed her anger,

A trail of heads and torsos, hands and feet.

While the Christian ranks, who followed after,

Were forced to ride, as on some darksome shore,

Through many a pool of blood, and stream of gore.

Book II: Canto XXV: 19-22: She renews her fight with Rodomonte

Viewing such destruction, Narbinale

Count of Algeciras, a fierce pagan,

(He was strong and dextrous, riding swiftly,

Though a bold corsair by occupation)

Viewing, as I say, the damage that she,

The warrior maid, wrought, the devastation,

Confronted her, and halted her advance,

With the tip of his huge, unpolished lance.

Yet the maid remained unmoved, kept her seat,

And swung at the pagan’s helm; her bright blade

Sank to beyond his teeth, his doom complete.

He fell from his mount, and in the dust was laid.

When the Saracens saw him fall at their feet,

They were swift to depart, their souls dismayed.

They ran, in a moment, being of one mind,

Leaving the joyful Christians behind.

The lady chose, rather, to seek the right,

Not the left, of the field by which they fled!

And so, she reached the spot where our bold knight,

Orlando, slumped in his saddle, half-dead.

While Rodomonte gazed on, at the sight,

Unmoving, and unmoved. Onwards she sped,

For she recognised him, his name revealed

By his crest, and the emblem on his shield.

Thus, she galloped, straight to the encounter,

And there, at once, renewed the bitter fight.

That pair cut and thrust, shattering armour

With cruel strokes twixt the maid and the knight.

Yet I’ll pause, and not speak of their ardour,

For tis now that Bishop Turpin sheds more light

On Brandimarte, whom Fortune did advance,

Till, at last, she saw him, safely, to France.

Book II: Canto XXV: 23-26: Brandimarte and Fiordelisa reach Febosilla’s palace

Now, once he had slain that treacherous foe,

Barigaccio, he and Fiordelisa,

Mounted on his steed, the brave Batoldo,

Had ridden on, slowly, at their pleasure,

And so reached a palace as they did go,

Whose garden, designed for joy and leisure,

Faced a balcony on which stood a lady,

Dressed in gold, possessed of wondrous beauty.

When she saw the knight, and the fair maiden,

She signed, with looks and gestures, that they

Should pass by the palace and the garden,

And pursue their path, by a different way.

Now, my lords, I know not (I seek pardon)

If Brandimarte understood what she did say

(By her gestures) but he chose not to wait,

And his charger soon reached the palace gate.

When they arrived before the ornate door,

He could see a spacious courtyard within,

With painted archways, and a marble floor,

A hundred yards on each side, and therein

Stood a giant; neither sword nor club he bore,

Nor wore aught that might serve to save his skin,

No stout suit of armour, no plate or mail.

Though the giant held a serpent by the tail.

It comforted our cavalier to find

That he had come upon a strange adventure,

For, there, a verdant garden lay, behind

And beyond the first door, through another.

And there a knight stood, his task confined,

It seemed, to guarding a fair sepulchre;

This sepulchre was set beyond the sill

Of the second door (by who knows whose will).

Book II: Canto XXV: 27-31: Brandimarte slays the giant who wields a serpent

The giant was engaged in a fierce struggle,

As I said, with the snake, to small avail,

Since neither could progress in the battle,

For the former kept tight hold of the tail

Of that golden-scaled snake, while its muzzle

Struck at his head, yet could not prevail;

For however hard it struck, he could check

Its movements, and unwind it from his neck.

The giant caught sight of bold Brandimarte

As he whirled the serpent round and round,

And, full of scorn, came at him, angrily,

Trailing the snake behind him o’er the ground.

May Heaven help the warrior, and swiftly!

An adventure indeed, that knight had found,

For it seemed an enchantment, strange and great

As any seen, would now decide his fate.

The giant raised the serpent up on high,

As if it were a weapon, and then swung

The fierce creature at the knight, by and by.

He, since it was long and thick, was stung

By that huge blow, and felt that he might die.

Yet he knew no fear, and though its coils hung

About him a moment, struck the other,

The giant I mean, fiercely, on the shoulder.

His blade had cut a wound a yard in length,

Or a little less; the giant swung the snake,

And, so employing his tremendous strength,

Forced Brandimarte swiftly to forsake

His saddle, and while scarce using a tenth

Of his might, gave the serpent a shake,

Then knocked the steed, Batoldo, to the floor,

As the stunned knight revived, and rose once more.

He met the raging giant, sword in hand,

Trusting in the powers above, for aid,

As the former swung furiously, to land

A second blow that nigh the man unmade.

Yet brave Brandimarte still had command

Of his sharp sword, and drove the gleaming blade

A span deep in the giant; thus, they fell

Well-nigh together, and the serpent as well.

Book II: Canto XXV: 32-34: The dead giant becomes a serpent, the serpent a giant

The snake’s mask now became a human face,

That of the giant, while it grew legs and arms,

Till its altered frame thus served to replace

The latter (with all his features, and charms!)

The dead giant, meanwhile, in but a brief space,

Became a serpent, used to war’s alarms

It seemed, and being wielded like a flail;

For, once again, it was seized by the tail.

The giant turned again to Brandimarte,

And swung the snake as he’d done before,

While the knight who, unafraid, had swiftly

Regained his feet, wielded his sword once more.

He cut and thrust with the blade, ceaselessly,

Aiming carefully, its direction sure.

How ardent Brandimarte was, and brave!

To the giant, four painful wounds he gave,

Though he himself was beaten, now and then,

With that accursed snake. The fight was long,

And fierce (the giant possessed the strength of ten;

Twas a good thing Bradamante was strong)

Yet it had to end at last; once again

The knight drove Tranchera, like a prong,  

At the giant, to pierce his chest, who became

A serpent, while the snake replaced that same.

Book II: Canto XXV: 35-38: The transformation occurs six times, before he destroys them

As before the fierce giant whipped the knight

With the heavy snake, having seized its tail,

And they, once more, resumed the bitter fight,

As, once more, the warrior sought to prevail.

He struck the giant’s shoulder-blade outright,

Sliced through the flesh, and watched his sharp blade sail

Down the giant’s frame, falling from on high,

To come to rest, deep in the other’s thigh.

The snake and giant, transmuted as before,

Took up the fight again, the duel fiercer;

Thus, they fell, and rose again, three times more,

For Brandimarte could finish neither.

Six times the knight had them on the floor,

But failed to slay the one or the other,

So discomforted, so filled with despair

He doubted not that he must perish there.

But, being one of the valiant, the flame

Of his courage still burned, and so the knight

Swung again and, dealing more of the same,

At the serpent sent a daring blow to smite

The creature on its mid-part; down it came,

Or rather just its front half; taking fright,

The giant, seeing that great stroke, now threw

The tail end to the ground, and off he flew,

Bound for the sepulchre, beyond the door,

Groaning aloud and, rightly, terrified.

Brandimarte caught him, and then, once more,

Cleft his head to the waist, and thus he died.

For his companion lay dead upon the floor,

Thus, there was naught to look to on that side.

The monstrous creature fell, his life ended;

The ground there shaking, as he descended.

Book II: Canto XXV: 39-41: Then slays the Knight of the Sepulchre

The giant had scarcely fallen when the knight

(Not our knight, but the one beyond the door)

Charged in, and sought to extend the fight,

So, our warrior took up his blade once more,

And the pair cut and thrust, with all their might,

Though Brandimarte, the stronger, made sure,

To end the bout with a flourish, and the foe

Beside the giant and the snake, he laid low.

Fiordelisa had followed Brandimarte

Into the courtyard, and viewed all, there.

On witnessing that last blow, she, swiftly,

Offered thanks to the Lord, hands joined in prayer.

Then, they sought, but failed to find, the entry

Through which they both had come. Though the pair

Looked all about the place, they searched in vain;

Not a trace of that portal did remain.

Uncertain what to do, they, patiently,

Set their hopes on the lady they had seen,

She that had signalled to them, urgently,

(Believing she might bring them aid, I mean),

And, while waiting there, and wandering, idly,

About the place, they traced each frescoed scene

That adorned the courtyard walls; many a hue,

Enhanced them, as did gold leaf, bright and new.

Book II: Canto XXV: 42-45: The prophetic paintings on the walls: Aldobrandino II

On each side of the square, were displayed

Frescoes, showing many a mounted knight.

Like giants they seemed, the folk there portrayed,

And all bore crests and emblems to the fight.

Each was well-armoured, as forth he essayed,

And so fierce of face, that meeting that sight

Unprepared, those who entered were surprised,

And startled, by the wonders they now eyed.

Whose was the hand that wrought them, I know not;

But, there, a fine artist had sought to show

True prophecies, that naught might be forgot,

Though how he’d learned of them no man did know.

In the first scene, on his charger did trot,

A brave lord, one refined and humane, though,

And he for Holy Church would win honour

Gainst Henry the Seventh, the Emperor.

The River Adda in the Brescian field

Was depicted, likewise that furious fight,

The German dead all nakedly revealed,

Beside the Ghibellines (full half their might).

There the black eagle, beaten, wretched, wheeled

Away o’er the plains and mountains, in flight

Before the white eagle’s outstretched talons,

Whom Fortune favoured, with its companions.

The name of that lord was writ o’er his head,

Inscribed in gold upon an azure ground,

Though the painting made clear, as I’ve said,

His title: Virtue’s treasury, there, was found.

Others of that kin, of the same root bred,

Were displayed, whose valiant deeds would resound,

All painted, and chronicled, on that façade

To their right, forming one wall of the yard.

Book II: Canto XXV: 46-49: The prophetic paintings on the walls: Azzo VII d’Este

On the second wall a young man was seen,

(His great-grandfather) whom Nature would show

To this world for but a short time, I ween,

Heaven coveting such on Earth below.

Sovereign virtues must soon depart the scene;

All were joined in him: valour gainst the foe,

Boldness wed to wisdom, and rare beauty,

And strength, and valour, and true chivalry.

Against him, there, beyond our River Po,

Were the Bohemians, and Ghibellines,

And Ezzolino, named ‘da Romano’

Though made in Treviso (by no means

Natural, spawn of the dark Inferno!)

Upon that wall were shown horrendous scenes

Of massacre, and bloody butchery;

Women and children slaughtered, ruthlessly.

Eleven thousand Paduans would die,

Given by that evil hound to the fire,

None in Italy or elsewhere, say I,

Would e’er prove worse, or wreak havoc more dire.

Further down the wall, there, painted on high,

Were the Second Frederick’s flags; his desire

Would be to end God’s Holy Church on Earth, 

To which end, the Devil would give him birth.

An eagle, white upon an azure field,

Guarding the sacred keys, was there displayed,

And soldiers were shown, with sword and shield,

At war, in a mountain pass, while, dismayed,

Cruel Ezzolino, in flight, was revealed,

His left foot pierced by a shaft, as he made

His retreat, his head wounded, his army

Routed, running midst the woods, swiftly.

Book II: Canto XXV: 50-53: The prophetic paintings on the walls: Niccolo III d’Este

The second wall of the courtyard was replete

With fair pictures, of a similar nature;

But, on the third, with deeds the eye did meet

As of some super-natural creature,

So polished, of a beauty so complete,

None might rival him in face or feature.

Fair lilies, and roses, and April flowers,

Fell upon that noble spirit, in showers.

A mere child, on becoming their master  

Kith nor kin were seen to grant him aid;

He was shown beset by many a creature,

For two lions (Venice and Florence) made

Their presence felt, while a serpent-monster

(Visconti’s) menaced him twice; there displayed,

His own white eagle’s (Azzo’s) threat seemed greater,

Besides that, posed by the panther (Lucca).

Here, he slew the serpent, drove the eagle out,

There, ceding much land, appeased one Lion,

(Venice), showing the panther (I’ve no doubt,

She’s still aware of it!) his every talon.

Next, twas a journey he was seen about,

Accompanied by knight, count, and baron,

Pictured setting sail, so that he might view

The Holy Land, and kingdoms old and new;

Then returning, as if on wings, to see

All the western shores, and all of Spain.

The French court receiving him, joyously,

As though some close-relation they did gain.

Yet naught there showed his deep humanity,

(The artist’s sole mistake, I would maintain)

His kindness, his infinite capacity

For love, and generosity, and mercy.

Book II: Canto XXV: 54-56: The prophetic paintings on the walls: Ercole I d’Este

The third wall was adorned in that manner.

On the fourth, was revealed that ruler’s son,

One who, as a boy, ill Fortune ever

Would hound. Pale as a lily neath the sun,

He was shown, fair-skinned like his father,

With that aquiline nose. Virtue, once won,

(His sole concern) he would bear away;

All else he’d leave behind, another’s prey.

Next, he was seen (having ripened slowly),

Mature in fame, wisdom, and in valour,

His heart, ever moved to clemency;

Shown in the tourney, striving for honour,

And in war, burning like a flame, fiercely;

One wrought for triumphal laurels ever.

Through many a region, his enemies

Would flee his ire; peace he’d win by degrees.

On the wall, o’er his head, was writ in gold,

(Or such the tenor of the inscription):

‘If, through art, I could make your eyes behold

The heart’s virtues blazoned on the person,

No more fine or worthy tale could be told

In all this world than by that depiction;

Yet, by mortal hand, naught can be designed

To show what’s far beyond the human mind.’

Book II: Canto XXV: 57-58: Brandimarte is exhorted to open the tomb

Brandimarte was viewing this painting,

With admiration, when the lady appeared,

She who’d signalled to them. Descending

From her balcony, she cried: ‘As I feared,

You waste precious time in idle gazing;

Know you not what you must do?’ As she neared

The knight, she said: ‘This sepulchre, you need

To open, or starvation death will breed.

Yet, once the tomb lies open, you must show

A brave heart; you’ll be ruined otherwise,

And the two of us, as well, you should know;

The flame that burns but weakly ever dies.’

Now, my lords, tis true (or I deem it so),

That my canto’s end appears in ill guise.

Are you not yearning now to hear the rest?

In the next, fear not, all shall be addressed.

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