Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato

Book II: Canto XXVIII: The Hunt at Bizerte

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

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Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato: Book II, Canto XXVIII

Book II: Canto XXVIII: 1-3: Brandimarte issues his challenge

My lords and ladies, God give you good day,

And maintain you in joy and happiness!

As I promised I’ve returned, without delay,

To speak of Bizerte. With the boldness

That was ever Brandimarte’s to display,

He blew his war-horn (loudly, I confess)

And challenged Agramante: ‘Sovereign lord,

To my clear call, your due respect afford.

If the tales of your vast prowess are true,

(For your endless fame resounds everywhere),

Which make a second Hector out of you,

Naming you the crown of valour, and heir

To men’s praise and love, that may never view

Your face (in that company I did share,

Who, although ne’er encountering you before,

Have found myself but loving you the more),

Then, O valorous and most famous knight,

Grant my chivalrous challenge an answer,

That speaks the nature of your court outright,

Which is of every martial sport the flower.

Upon that slope, that lies within my sight,

I would joust with your nobles at this hour,

And yet I may be much deceived, and they

Have scant desire for a bold affray!’

Book II: Canto XXVIII: 4-7: Which King Agramante accepts

Now, King Agramante was then dancing,

Amongst fair ladies, on a balcony,

(In view of the pavilion) that stood facing

The entrance to the harbour and the sea.

On hearing the mighty war-horn blowing

That challenge, he left the dance, promptly,

And, leaning on Ruggiero’s shoulder,

Was the calm and curious beholder

Of a knight below, in the open field.

Agramante listened, studiously,

And, with joy and pleasure unconcealed,

Said: ‘I think he speaks most courteously,

Filling me with longing for lance and shield,

That I might be the first to show clearly

The extent of this knight’s strength and valour.

Come, bring me my arms and my charger!’

Now some declared this plan was evil,

And a murmur rose among the nobles there,

Deeming it wrong for so great a mortal

To fight with an unknown, however fair.

But the king was a man loved a battle,

Who did as he wished; and, without a care,

He ignored all that the courtiers said,

Armed himself and clapped his helm on his head.

His surcoat was quartered, azure and gold,

As was his great charger’s fine carapace.

His crest was still that distaff, proud and bold.

With his sword at his side, he took his place,

Upon the field, with Ruggiero, to uphold

His honour. After pausing for a space,

Courtesies exchanged with Brandimarte,

Each turned and gazed at the other party.

Book II: Canto XXVIII: 8-14: Brandimarte jousts with the king

Then they rode, lances lowered, to the fight,

Two lords skilled in jousting, who spurred

Their steeds on, to meet head-to-head. Each knight

Bore a lance so mighty that each incurred

A solid blow, and splintered his spear outright.

They met with such force, that it transferred

To their coursers whose haunches touched the ground,

Though instantly their feet again they found.

Stunned for but a moment, the horses fled,

And galloped, in their frenzy, a good mile,

And even faster would that pair have sped,

Were it not that they were reined in with style;

Though blood ran from each warrior’s head,

Or rather mouth, nose, and ears, for a while,

So furious and fierce that first encounter.

Yet each returned, ready for another.

Both combatants now sought revenge, I say,

And spurred their good steeds on, to the attack,

Charging wildly, as a seasoned fighter may

When his mount knows the horsemen on its back.

Neither sought his opponent’s shield that day,

The bright helm it was they sought to crack,

Yet the weighty lances those warriors bore

Snapped on impact, as their spears had before,

While the splinters flew high and, in their hand,

But a stump remained, less than three palms long.

Thus, neither’s blow achieving what was planned,

To claim advantage there had proved but wrong;

While, again, both dripped blood upon the sand,

Though fortunately both were brave and strong.

Their bold chargers, with loosened reins, meanwhile, 

Flew off, once more, and ran a solid mile.

The king called for lances: that fine pair

That the Temple of Ammon once possessed,

The ancient god. One, Hercules did dare

To wield, Antaeus the other spear did test,

So, writers claimed; each a mighty affair.

Nature (their proven weight the texts attest)

Has diminished men through the centuries.

Two now would fail to raise those same, with ease.

Such mighty strength had those knights of old,

Two, these days, would fail to achieve a deed

One wrought alone, though when those authors told

Their tales, and set them down, who knows, indeed,

How true they were! The knights did now behold,

That brace of lances and, all there agreed,

None knew which of that pair was the stronger,

Alike in size, weight, and manufacture.

Brandimarte had first choice of the two,

Honoured, in that way, by Agramante,

While the audience could not wait to view

The contest, to see who fought more fiercely.

But, as the combatants mounted anew,

From the river-bank a cry arose, loudly.

Men sped towards them, calling out for aid,

Fleeing the scene, distressed and much afraid.

Book II: Canto XXVIII: 15-18: The joust is interrupted

So, the monarch abandoned his great lance,

And, armed as he was, went to seek the cause.

While Brandimarte likewise made advance,

To aid him, since the joust was now on pause.

A host of men streamed past them, but, by chance,

Agramante caught one from out the scores

That sped by, riding bareback on his horse,

But thwarted now, a moment, in his course.

‘Where go you, you knave?’ cried Agramante,

‘Why do you flee?’ and the man gave answer:

‘We took our horses, all were hot and thirsty,

To drink, and cool themselves, by the river,

There, a pride of lions charged us, fiercely.

Forced, thus, to abandon one another,

All looked to themselves, and sought to flee;

You, sire, should take flight along with me,

For there are thirty in that pride, at least,

And they came at us so swiftly, for their part,

That though I chanced to see the leading beast

Leave the trees, I scarce managed to depart

In time; as for the rest, perchance they feast,

Those creatures, on my friends; with a head start,

I turned not back to see what was their fate.

Take my counsel, sire, ere it proves too late!’

The monarch smiled then, at Brandimarte,

And declared: ‘Though tis annoying, I know,

To lose the pleasure of our joust, yet we

May enjoy a lively hunt, even so.’

Brandimarte replied, with courtesy,

Being prudent: ‘They’ll make a worthy foe.

I am your command, in joust or chase,

Or aught else that you may wish for, your Grace.’

Book II: Canto XXVIII: 19-21: The hunters assemble for the chase

The monarch now sent word to Bizerte,

Summoning up his huntsmen, and the pack,

Swift greyhounds, trained to obey their master,

Brave bloodhounds, mastiffs fierce in the attack,

And lesser breeds, accustomed to danger.

Not waiting, as the messenger turned back

Towards the walls, he, with Brandimarte,

And Ruggiero rode on, full swiftly.

When the king’s command was received at court,

The dancing stopped; the knights donned their armour.

The huntsmen mustered nets, spears, pikes; in short,

All that was needed to arm the hunter,

For a chase like this is more than simply sport.

Twas no mere land of hares and goats either;

Those hills the leopard and the lion maintain,

There, herds of elephant roam o’er the plain.

Many a lady mounted her courser,

Bow in hand, and dressed in her finery.

Many a man sought to ride beside her,

Happy to offer her his company.

The noble lords and knights began to gather,

And blowing their hunting horns, full loudly,

Set forth; it seemed the heavens were falling

So loud the shouting, barking, and neighing.

Book II: Canto XXVIII: 22-25: The three warriors are attacked by lions

Young Ruggiero followed Agramante,

With Brandimarte riding at their side.

They spurred their coursers on, furiously,

To reach the victims by the riverside.

Skill and strength they needed, and bravery,

For the lions attacked men, far and wide;

Some were pinned, yet alive and seeking aid,

Some, dying, looked heavenwards and prayed.

The three warriors, pitying their plight,

Seeking to help them, in their hour of need.

Drew their gleaming swords, and prepared to fight,

Not wishing to ride in vain, or concede

The task as hopeless. One lion turned outright

From the river, where it had slain a steed,

Roared loudly, and shook its mane, at the foe,

Then quit its prey, and charged Ruggiero.

The knight waited, then dealt a backhand blow

At the creature, slicing it from ear to ear.

Meanwhile a second, lurking below,

Sprang at Agramante, and then leapt clear;

Fiercer than the first aggressor though

It had clawed at the monarch nigh his ear,

Raking the helm, then the shield, of the king;

Which grave danger to the monarch did bring.

The creature might have knocked him from his steed,

Had not brave Ruggiero seen his plight.

He sliced at its flank, a courageous deed;

Twas far shorter in the shank from the fight.

Brandimarte fought a third, of that breed,

While needing to exert all his great might,

And had almost slain the beast, when the sounds

Reached them of the hunters’ horns and hounds.

Book II: Canto XXVIII: 26-30: A mass hunt begins, driving forth a giraffe

I lack skill to describe all this in verse,

The strident calls and cries, the seething throng.

The lions shook their manes; to many a curse

They quit their prey and, well-nigh thirty strong,

Slunk to the trees, reluctant to disperse,

Growling in anger; then, prodded along

By pikes and spears, or firmly held at bay,

Each turned at last, and slowly moved away.

So great a crowd followed on their trail,

The hunters’ shouts and cries shook hills and plain.

A host of darts were loosed, to scant avail,

For most were poorly aimed, and fired in vain.

One lion then another sought the vale

Beyond the trees, where the monarch, again,

Had deployed bold hunters, till closely fenced

The beasts were confined. Then the hunt commenced.

The glades were now surrounded entirely,

Such that scarce a rodent could win free.

Then many a knight, joined by his lady,

With much pomp, a glorious sight to see,

Were posted, on the plain, by Agramante.

To leave one’s place showed scant chivalry.

Fierce mastiffs, and swift greyhounds, waited, paired;

Not a word was said, not a horn now blared.

Nets were set in place, ere the drive began,

That would resist the force of tooth or claw;

And now the eager bloodhounds swiftly ran

Through the glades urging creatures on before.

The branches crashed; far taller than a man,

A giraffe emerged, which Turpin, to be sure,

Claims was thirty feet tall, from head to toe,

Though few who’ve seen such creatures, think twas so.

Out came that monstrous beast, in front so tall,

Yet so low in the haunches there, behind,

Travelling at such speed, that it trampled all

The trees and underbrush, and, running blind,

Was then attacked by the knights, at the call

Of their monarch; the ladies too I find,

Joined in the chase, until the creature fell,

And was slain, by hosts of spears, in a dell.

Book II: Canto XXVIII: 31-37: Ruggiero kills an elephant

Lions and leopards emerged on the plain,

And cheetahs too, I know not how many.

A few the hunters’ nets served to restrain,

While others passed by in some quantity,

But all of these big cats were swiftly slain.

Though the ladies had a fright; for suddenly,

An elephant charged out, which Turpin says

Was twenty feet high; tis not so nowadays!

Yet if here he erred, well, I understand,

And pardon his sad mistake, as one should,

For he repeats what he heard second-hand.

The huge beast, on emerging from the wood,

Tossed a knight in the air, who then did land,

After soaring thirty feet high, in the mud,

His every bone broken, and quickly died,

While the others veered swiftly to the side!

The creature, its bulk immeasurably vast,

Lumbered off; none could halt it in its stride,

The huntsmen having parted where it passed.

Though struck by many missiles, its thick hide

Protected it from harm, from first to last,

For the skin was tough and hard on the outside,

So strong that it resisted every blow,

Like a suit of armour, worn gainst the foe.

Yet the beast had not yet met Tranchera,

Or felt the weight of Ruggiero’s arm.

He had slipped from the saddle of his charger

For the horse had reared, on taking alarm

At the size, and fierce mood, of this creature,

Whose ears were huge, whose trunk could crush and harm,

And whose tusks, which were long and sharp indeed,

Were quite enough to frighten any steed.

When the elephant noticed Ruggiero,

Who was chasing it on foot o’er the plain,

It turned, raised its trunk, and charged the foe.

(Many a man that proboscis had slain)

Then, at the youth, the creature aimed a blow,

Though its fearsome attack proved all in vain

For Ruggiero leapt aside, and swung his blade,

Low and wide, which the beast failed to evade.

Turpin says each leg when measured around,

Was large as a man’s body at the waist,

Though I know not if his statement is sound,

Never having such a measurement traced;

But this I can say, the creature hit the ground,

After the single sword-stroke, that it faced,

Succeeded, as the valiant knight had planned,

In severing all four legs; nor could it stand.

Once the beast had fallen, the knights drew near,

And then ran in, to stab it here and there,

Since, by then, there was little left to fear,

And the king then concluded the affair.

Agramante blew his horn, loud and clear,

And the hunt was over; while, everywhere,

The shadows lengthened, for the day was done,

Soon twilight would replace the setting sun.

Book II: Canto XXVIII: 38-42: The hunt concludes

The knights and huntsmen gathered to the king,

And many displayed a blood-stained spear,

As proof of their valour in the hunting,

And that they’d not been overcome by fear.

The carcases of the creatures, though being

Too large to be retrieved, it would appear,

Were, by the cunning use of human strength,

Carried before them to the town, at length.

A number of the many hounds that sped

Towards the quarry were harmed in the chase,

Clawed by a lion, or wounded instead

By leopard or cheetah, in haunch or face.

But now the hunt was over, as I said,

And twas evening, and at a pleasant pace,

The knights, rejoicing, rode, as they desired,

Next their lady, by pride or love now fired.

For some vaunted their wondrous hunting skill,

Seeking to prove their sovereign worth, while some

Pled their cause, as, forever, lovers will,

Whispering, covertly, of delights to come.

Their conversation served six miles to fill

Ere they attained Bizerte, where the hum

Of the crowd, and the beacons’ flares amazed,

Bright torches lit the streets, and the heavens blazed.

They entered in, with great magnificence,

Almost in the guise of a procession,

While from their balconies, their joy immense,

Ladies and maids savoured the occasion.

Once at the castle, to the king’s presence

Sped Brandimarte, and sought permission

To return to his own lodging and, though

The king would have him stay, he watched him go.

Nonetheless, the monarch asked his nephew

And five others to escort the valiant knight;

And sent on a feast (with dishes strange and new,

Rare delicacies) ere the fall of night;

And clothes for the morrow, in gold and blue,

Quartered like his own, and gleaming bright

With pearls and gems, unadorned otherwise;

And fair robes for the ladies there, likewise.

Book II: Canto XXVIII: 43-48: The jester’s admonition

The monarch held a splendid feast, next day,

As was the custom, and Fiordelisa

Joined Brandimarte, midst the fine array,

Both invited at the monarch’s pleasure.

The king and Ruggiero made display

Of robes of a like blue and gold colour,

While all three, and they alone, midst the rest,

Sported a quartered gold and azure crest.

Now, as they were dancing, a jester flew

From the balcony, where musicians played,

Quitting his tambour, leaping wildly, through

The air, and a stumbling landing made,

Tripping over all, his headgear askew,

As if he were mad, or drunk on parade,

And then wove his way, all indiscreet,

To the king’s platform, and the royal seat.

The king, expecting to be entertained,

Welcomed the jester with a smiling face,

But the latter, his audience once obtained,

Clapped his hands, and feigned to weep for a space:

‘Allah be cursed, and Fortune, that ordained

This man be made our master, of their grace!

They care not whom we must endure as lord;

Nay, to us the worst of creatures they afford!

For this man, who rules o’er North Africa,

Who commands a third of all the region,

So immense an army here does gather,

That it terrifies both Earth and Heaven.

Yet behold him here, amidst the odour

Of musk and attar, seated by some maiden,

Not caring for the fierce hardships of war,

Though he boasts of his conquests to be sure.

No man should leave a great campaign to chance;

Begin it, and pursue it, as it may suit;

Nor furnish it with gold, with sword and lance,

But ere a cutting’s planted, count the fruit.  

For Allah may well prompt the King of France

His own invasion plan to execute,

And then you may learn if wars are best fought

In foreign lands, or at your own fair court.’

The jester spoke, but then was swiftly seized,

By the guardsmen who stood about the king,

That, deeming he was mad or drunk, were pleased

To free him, without a vicious beating.  

But Agramante’s conscience scarce was eased;

He was lost in melancholy musing.

He shook his head sadly, cast down his eyes,

Then left the feasting, prompting much surmise.

Book II: Canto XXVIII: 49-55: Agramante embarks on the invasion

The strange business much perturbed the court,

For the limbs feel it, when the head is sore.

The royal hall emptied, as the guests sought

Their own lodgings; while none danced as before.

The king wished to be alone, and said naught,

Having, silently, locked his chamber door.

He weighed the admonition he’d received;

His self-contempt scarcely to be believed.

But when the dawn broke, King Agramante,

Summoned to him his councillors of state,

And told them he’d resolved to move, swiftly,

To completion what he’d commenced of late.

Then he decreed who would govern, while he

Was campaigning, and buffeted by fate.

Bugia’s aged king, wise Branzardo,

Would rule Bizerte, while he fought the foe.

To him he said: ‘Attend to justice here,

Beware of the lawyer and the notary,

And the justices too, for, far and near,

Our people mistrust the judiciary.

Those are oft preferred who poor folk fear,

And the lawyers are the worst; hark to me;

They ever twist the law to win a fight;

Beware of them all, and uphold the right.

Folvo of Fez will guard our lands afar,

The desert towns, the oases, and more,

While King Bucifaro of Alcazar,

Will traverse the coasts, and defend the shore.

If the Christians should seek our realm to mar,

He and his troops will bring upon them war;

Likewise, if the Arab realms should attack,

His men will be the ones to drive them back.’

Then he announced the fate of brave Dudon,

(On whom the monarch turned his regal eye)

Ruled he should be confined while he was gone,

Could not be freed, nor play the Christian spy,

Yet should be treated like a lord, and none

Deprive him of aught but freedom, thereby.

And, lastly, he ordered Bucifaro,

And Folvo, to obey wise Branzardo.

Then, to give witness to the latter’s power,

He had Branzardo’s status proclaimed,

And handed him his sceptre that same hour,

His golden sceptre, and his generals named.

Then he gathered in his troops, the very flower

Of Africa, the unknown and the famed.

Who could describe that tumult, and the roar,

That shook the earth, and beat at Heaven’s floor?

Hearing the trumpets sound the embarkation,

The mighty host now pressed towards the shore.

Clambering aboard, men of many a nation,

Waited on the breeze; some were pleased, but more,

Were fearful of their fate. My vocation

Is here to delight those (their word is law)

Who would hear all the tale; my next canto,

Will sing of deeds as great, and greater show.

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

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