Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato

Book II: Canto XXX: The Battle at Montalbano

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

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Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato: Book II, Canto XXX

Book II: Canto XXX: 1-7: Rinaldo, duelling, finds his squadron under attack

You, lords and ladies, that now lend an ear

To such illustrious deeds as gained a name

For many a brave and daring cavalier,

In times past and present, and brought them fame,

This day, I shall recount, and you shall hear,

The tale of the battle in which those same

Faced the fiercest fight, you may suppose,

That ever was spoken of, in verse or prose.

If you’ve listened closely, you’ll remember

Where, and between whom, the war was fought,

And how Rinaldo chose to deliver,

A blow that King Sobrino’s helmet caught.

But that old warrior, tough as ever,

Cared not a whit for it, but swiftly sought

To return the gift to Montalbano’s lord,

With a two-handed stroke of his sharp sword.

Prince Rinaldo replied at once, and so

The pair commenced duelling, until

The Christian ranks met those of the foe,

These on the plain, those higher on the hill;

And, though lesser in number blow for blow,

The Christians fought with a greater will.

Vast was the roar, as voices cried aloud,

And drums, and horns, urged on the martial crowd.

Banners and lances flew at one another,

As those armies crashed headlong on the field,

Where the foremost, as they met together,

Felt the fierce onslaught most, on helm and shield;

Where the Christian faced his pagan brother,

And neither party was inclined to yield.

Some drove their spears through plate and iron mail,

Some fell with their steeds, in that bloody vale.

They fought on, Sobrino and Rinaldo,

Although the Saracen king fared the worst,

Until, as I’ve explained, Martasino,

Joined the fight, and many a blow rehearsed.

Then Farurante and Bambirago,

Added their weight and prowess to the first;

While to their succour came Marbalusto,

And the bold Alzirdo, and Grifaldo,

Argosto of Marmonda, Puliano,

Tardoco, Mirabaldo, Barolango,

And Arugalte, and Gualciotto

Who much evil would do, Cardorano,

And that treacherous knight Dudrinasso.

Fifteen is their number, even so,

I promise you not five that join the fight,

Will crawl into their bed again this night.

Not if Fusberta and Durindana

Have their say; not unless I would maintain,

They are carried there, though tis likelier

They’ll be cut to little pieces on the plain.

Let us watch those bold kings of Africa,

And the rest, who would slay and not be slain,

Join the battle; midst the cries, they enter in,

While Heaven and Earth tremble at the din.

Book II: Canto XXX: 8-10: The Saracens make inroads

The first rank, that led by Prince Rinaldo,

(Seventy-thousand Gascons was the count)

Were overwhelmed, in a trice, by the foe,

As knights and soldiers fell in vast amount.

The Africans came on, an endless flow,

Like drops of water spraying from a fount,

Or brown ants swarming o’er an old oak tree,

Flies in hot weather, mackerel in the sea.

Every pagan king fought like a dragon,

Cutting and thrusting hard, amidst our men,

Though Martasino proved their champion,

Emptying saddles, with the strength of ten.

Marbalusto, Bambirago upon

His heels, followed the mighty Saracen,

Through the field, and those knights were merciless,

As their blades did our fearful ranks oppress.

Great was the lamentation, loud the cries,

Of the wounded and the dying on that field.

The swarm of Saracens increased in size,

While behind, on the hill, more were revealed.

Farurante’s strokes redoubled, likewise

Grifaldo’s, Alzirdo’s (men forced to yield),

Argosto’s Dudrinasso’s, Tardoco’s,

Bardarico’s, and King Puliano’s.

Book II: Canto XXX: 11-15: Rinaldo slays Mirabaldo and Argosto

Rinaldo fought on against Sobrino

(The king had the worst of the encounter),

But seeing his troops running from the foe,

A sorry sight that filled him with anger,

Grinding his teeth with fury, and with woe,

He then quit the fight he’d started earlier.

Stay, my lords, attend to me, for, I vow,

That the game will begin in earnest, now.

Gnashing his teeth, then, Prince Rinaldo went,

Carving himself a path on every side,

To where the fight burned with fiercest intent,

Commending himself to God, in his ride.

Spurring Baiardo, the foe’s ranks he rent,

And came to Mirabaldo, who swiftly died,

For Rinaldo sliced the man with a blow,

Severing, at the waist, his royal foe.

Argosto of Marmonda was watching

That fight, and his face turned cold as ice,

Amazed at that great warrior slicing

A man like a hair; he shuddered twice.

Rinaldo, swung again, limbs sent flying

Through the air, crests and pennants, in a trice,

Surcoats, and chunks of steel, made to rise,

Soaring upwards, like falcons, to the skies.

Heads, sliced from their bodies, lay all around,

Severed legs and arms littered o’er the field.

The routed pagans relinquished their ground,

And fled, abandoning both sword and shield;

Breathing hard, mouths open wide, yet no sound

Emerging, as their terror they revealed.

Mincing food for hounds, that blade fell again;

Ill fared the soldier choosing to remain!

Argosto proved such, and so Rinaldo

Cleft him from his head down to his waist,

Not three inches of flesh held him below,

While his fickle troops departed in haste.

Those sad wretches tossed away spear and bow,

Shield and cudgel, that bitter bile did taste,

And sped in confusion, o’er the plain,

Pursued by the prince’s cries of disdain.

Book II: Canto XXX: 16-20: He is attacked by Martasino and others, and slays Bardarico

Martasino was engaged elsewhere;

He bore a gryphon’s head as his bold crest,

Set on a splendid helm, a brave affair,

That protected him, proof gainst every test.

He now left his place, his sword in the air,

For he saw Argosto’s troops now hard-pressed

And slain, out of hand, in the ruin wrought

By that lord of Montalbano, as he fought.

He charged, from the left, against Rinaldo,

And dealt him a backhand blow to the head,

With such force he stunned his Christian foe,

And the prince almost toppled, stunned, half-dead.

Martasino was joined by Tardoco,

And Bardarico too who swiftly sped

To the fight, ahead of Marbalusto,

Large and weighty; each struck at Rinaldo.

Outnumbered, he yet fended off each blow.

They fell like bitter hail on his brow;

For those four kings swung hard at their foe,

At random, as mere chance did so allow.

Rinaldo swung in rage at Bardarico;

Fusberta struck the helm, and made him bow,

Split the casque, then the visor, then the shield,

Sliced his chest, and laid him dead on the field.

But his own helm was struck by Marbalusto,

Whose great club now descended, swung with might,

A cudgel, its shaft bound with iron though,

That landed true, on the helmet of our knight,

And, with such force, it nigh downed Rinaldo.

He, for an instant, lost hearing and sight,

And bent forwards, set to drop to the ground,

But Tardoco’s next fierce stroke brought him round;

Tardoco, King of Djerba, with that swing

Of his blade, kept the prince in his saddle,

As Martasino now made his helmet ring,

Tearing the crest away from the metal.

While Rinaldo was thus hammered in the ring,

The pagans proved themselves men of mettle:

Led by Dudrinasso, and Grifaldo,

They once more routed the Christian foe.

Book II: Canto XXX: 21-23: Charlemagne sends in Sigieri and Uberto

The Saracens had broken our first line,

Such that, though no soldier hid from the fight,

They made scant defence; and so, at a sign,

Our second brave squadron, in all their might,

Charged in, eager for the fray, their design

To turn the tide, aid our beleaguered knight,

And rout the foe in turn; their leaders’ heart

And strength, amidst the French set them apart.

I speak of the Duke of Arles, Sigieri,

And the bold Duke of Bayonne, Uberto,

Both exemplars of power and bravery,

And both experienced against the foe.

Those valiant knights came on swiftly,

And the sky echoed to the clash below,

While the earth beneath their steeds seemed to heave,

As the battle a fresh pattern now did weave.

Uberto sought to tackle Grifaldo,

While Dudrinasso fought Sigieri.

Both Saracens were quickly brought low,

Feet to the heavens, both falling loudly.

Rinaldo dealt fierce blows, nearby, although

As I’ve said, he was outnumbered greatly,

For Bardarico he’d slain and won free,

But twas now one warrior against three.

Book II: Canto XXX: 24-27: Sigieri kills Tardoco, but is slain by Martasino

For Oran’s mighty king, Marbalusto,

Constantly attacked our valiant knight,

Along with Martasino and Tardoco;

One with his club, two with swords did fight.

Sigieri now sped to aid Rinaldo,

Spurring his steed, anxious at the sight

Of their conflict, riding with loosened rein,

As he rode to his defence o’er the plain.

He dealt his fierce first stroke at Tardoco,

And then those two began a mortal dance,

Each man seeking to deal a winning blow,  

Though the prize went to the warrior of France.

For as Bishop Turpin tells us (true, or no)

Sigieri conquered with a swift advance,

His sword passing through the pagan’s gut,

His back, and the saddle, at least a foot.

Sigieri was now without his blade,

Stuck fast in the leather. Martasino

Turned the former’s way, as he was bringing aid,

Or such he’d intended, to Tardoco.

When he saw Sigieri, thus delayed

In re-arming and a weapon-less foe,

Martasino struck hard at the warrior,

Cracking his helm, shattering his visor.  

That mighty blow had landed with such force,

That it opened up Sigieri’s face,

Sliding down his neck, in its evil course,

And piercing his chest, at lightning pace;

Naught could keep Sigieri on his horse.

Rinaldo, in his anger, now gave chase

To Martasino, seeking to overwhelm

That king, and dealt a fierce blow to his helm.

Book II: Canto XXX: 28-31: Rinaldo wounds Martasino and Marbalusto

The casque was good and strong, as you have heard,

And the blow did little damage within,

Though Martasino could not speak a word,

Being stunned when the visor struck his chin.

Twas a quarter of an hour, lest I’ve erred,

Ere he knew which world it was he was in.

Rinaldo meanwhile had scarce dealt his blow

Ere he was struck by King Marbalusto.

With both hands he’d raised his huge cudgel,

And had dealt Rinaldo a stroke indeed,

Which failed to harm him, in no way mortal,

While he replied, with a blow dealt at speed.

It shaved off half the beard, that sharp metal,

And then wounded the jaw, so fate decreed,

Neither helm nor beard deflecting the blade,

That shaved the king’s whiskers, and thus repaid

His majesty for the previous blow.

Shocked by the pain, the Saracen retired,

And upon the plain met with Sobrino.

He saw the king’s suffering, and enquired

As to the whereabouts of Martasino.

‘And where’s Bardarico, so oft inspired

To bold deeds, and that firebrand Tardoco?’

He cried, ‘Have they fallen to Rinaldo?

At Bizerte, none of you believed me,

Nor defended me gainst Rodomonte,

When I told you of the power, you would see

Charlemagne wielding, in his own country.

Yet I was right, as you know now, for we

Are face to face with cruel reality.

You may retreat, for I see you suffer,

But I choose death rather than dishonour.’

Book II: Canto XXX: 32-34: Sobrino admonishes Martasino

With that speech, the forthright old warrior,

Parted from Marbalusto, at full speed,

Swinging his blade, urging on his charger,

Striking our men as chance or fate decreed.

That brave pagan put us to the slaughter,

Downing many a knight, many a steed,

And as he rode, he came upon Rinaldo

Facing an attack from Martasino,

Who had recovered consciousness, at last,

And was battling Rinaldo, once again,

Wanting aid, for the latter’s strength surpassed

His own, his fierce blows seeming dealt in vain.

When Sobrino, drawing nigh, saw what passed,

He shouted, from a distance, o’er the plain:

‘Where now the bravado and arrogance,

You’ve shown in Africa, yet not in France?

Where the proud looks, and the bravery

You seemed to own, as you boldly applied

The spur, descending in such a hurry,

Scorning Orlando, from the mountainside?

Tis not even the Count you fight! Twas he,

That, in your dreams, fell before you and died,

Was it not? That blade’s not Durindana,

And yet a slave’s thrashed thus by his master.’

Book II: Canto XXX: 35-39: Rinaldo is beleaguered but fights on

Martasino heard not a word he said,

For he was being harried by Rinaldo,

And had much to do to attend, instead,

To his defences, turned at every blow.

So Sobrino, his sword above his head,

Pausing no further, struck at Rinaldo,

And thereby sliced away his lion crest;

Twas his emblem, a lion’s head and chest.

That stroke of Sobrino’s cut it cleanly,

Which pleased Amone’s proud son not at all,

For he felt the blade whistle by him closely,

And then saw the severed crest’s sudden fall.

He turned towards the pagan king fiercely,

Angered by his effrontery and gall,

But as he twisted round, Martasino

Struck that helm once owned by King Mambrino.

As a bear, when the hunters form a ring,

In the Alps, midst a scattering of trees,

Closing in on the creature, then, to fling

Their spears and stones, charges all it sees,

Strikes one then another, a beaten thing,

Seeking revenge, wheeling in its unease,

And yet the more it turns about, the more

The weary beast fails to even the score,

Just so Rinaldo seemed in that affray,

Belaboured by many a Saracen,

Struck by harsh blows, that he sought to repay,

While they worked their evil as and when.

Bishop Turpin, in his text, chose to say

That they seemed like fierce desert hawks, those men,

And, I could not, in verse, had I the will,

Convey their speed as they swooped to the kill.

They struck at the prince, from front and back,

Yet, riding Baiardo, our valiant knight

Defended himself from their attack

And wrought many a fine deed in that fight.

But twas as those kings held him on the rack,

That Agramante on the plain did alight,

And filled that space with so mighty a host,

When they roared, the earth split apart almost.

Book II: Canto XXX: 40-42: Agramante’s host fills the plain

There, in the vanguard rode Ruggiero,

Not far in advance of Daniforte;

Then Barigano, with Mulabuferso

King of Fizano, and wise Atlante;

Next the treacherous dwarf King Brunello,

Dardinello, Sorridano, Mordante;

Then Manilardo, and Prusione,

And that faithless old man, Balifronte.

King Tanfirone of Almasilla,

He was there. Who can call them all to mind?

Forget not Dorilone of Ceuta;

He, with Pinadoro, trailed far behind.

The first had fought the Count, the other

Possessed a deal of treasure you will find,

And such folk always tarry in a fight,

Sending on some bolder, and braver knight.

Dorilone, then, lingered at the back,

Not seeking to revisit that affair;

With Constantina’s lord, who had the knack

Of inspiring more valiant men to share

The dangers of some perilous attack.

Come, fair Nymph of Parnassus, let us share

The burden, speak the verse; your aid I need

To tell this tale, replete with many a deed.

Book II: Canto XXX: 43-49: The armies clash, attacking and retreating in turn

King Charlemagne now recognised their plight,

And the emperor, again, addressed his force,

Saying: ‘My sons, the day has come, the fight

Through which we’ll win renown in due course.

We must trust in God’s aid, and every knight,

Must stake his life upon God’s love, the source

Of our help; whate’er fate we must abide,

We’ll not lose, I say, with God on our side.

The host darkening the field, fear not that same.

Howe’er great it seems; though it fills the plain,

Much straw is burnt away by one small flame,

And a light wind oft brings a flood of rain.

If we fight hard, and take to them the game,

They’ll not stifle our assault; theirs the pain.

Charge, with loose reins! On, attack the foe!

I see them routed! Now, go prove it so!’

With that, he lowered his lance, that noble knight,

And galloped forth. Show me the base traitor

That would see his sovereign ride to the fight

Gainst some fierce foe, and not follow after?

There rose a mighty roar that reached the height

Of Heaven, as he rode forth on his charger.

The trumpets blared; the war-horns, and the cries,

Shook the earth beneath, and rose to the skies;

While, on the other side, the pagan foe

Shouted as one, and the ground shook again,

The wide space between them soon to narrow,

As the hostile forces charged o’er the plain,  

For no river or stream discharged its flow

Between those ardent spirits, once in train.

They spurred o’er the field so fast indeed

No armies e’er engaged at greater speed.

Up to the heavens, the lance splinters flew,

Sounding like hail as they met the ground.

Shield met shield, sword met sword anew,

As armour clashed with armour, all around.

I consign the chaos that did ensue,

To God alone, kings, knights, and steeds all bound

In one great mass, so gripped by war’s dark spell;

Nor know which were of heaven, which of hell.

Think not that those who fell escaped their fate,

For the armies passed o’er them in the fight,

And they were thus destroyed, or soon or late,

Be they a common soldier, or great knight.

The Saracens did now the field vacate,

Their pagan army surely put to flight,

Their ranks in ruin, scattering o’er the ground.

The Christians new strength and courage found.

Yet scarce two arrow-flights away they’d sped,

Ere Agramante stopped them in their flight,

And then our ranks, in turn, took fright and fled,

Deserting the field, before such pagan might,

Running from those they’d chased, now filled with dread,

As the waters, midst a storm, confounded quite

Thrust, by a north-easterly, from the shore,

Are thrust back, by a southerly, once more.

Book II: Canto XXX: 50-55: The battle sways to and fro

Thus, the Christians and Saracens swayed

Back and forth, as they fought, o’er the field.

Now they fled, now a swift pursuit they made,

Changing places, as they thought to charge or yield.

And, though the sovereign lords and knights displayed

Their reluctance to move, with sword and shield,

The common soldiers were blown to and fro

Leaves in the wind, urged on by friend or foe.

Three times, indeed, each army failed to hold

The ground it won, retreating o’er the plain.

When a fourth time they met, they sought to hold

Every inch of that field they could gain.

Standing firm, chest to chest, their efforts told,

Fierce blows, and cruel wounds, each did sustain.

Naked swords flailing, savage was that fight,

While, amidst the chaos, knight felled bold knight.

Here, sharp sword in hand, King Puliano

Charged an English warrior, Ottone;

Count Gano’s cousin met Ruggiero,

And was unseated; I mean the brave Grifone.

While a Christian, the knight Ricardo,

Fought for a while gainst King Agramante,

Until the latter brought the former low,

Then charged Monleone’s Gualtiero.

The Duke of Bayonne, Barigano,

With William the Scot, faced Daniforte;

While Charlemagne dealt a mortal blow

To that mighty warrior Balifronte.

Elsewhere the Saracen king Moridano

Fought Sinibaldo, and no less fiercely;

Sinibaldo, Count of Holland, could hold

His own against that giant, big and bold.

Nearby, Daniberto the Frisian

Fought Noritia’s king, Manilardo,

While Brunello, the little African,

Stood to one side, watching every blow;

While King Tanfirone fought, for a span,

With Picardy’s Sansone, midst the foe,

As a host of others, beyond number,

Battled, everywhere, gainst one another.

The battle lines were much confused, I say,

In that fierce fight, and firm news only came

To Oliviero, after much delay,

Of the latest situation; that same

Had been fighting Grandonio all day,

The proud Saracen, whom he knew by name.

Each had inflicted damage on the other,

While gaining scant advantage, however.

Book II: Canto XXX: 56-59: The knights gather to the aid of their monarchs

As soon as Oliviero had learned

Of Charlemagne’s labours in the field,

The noble marquis, now greatly concerned,

Quit Grandonio and with sword and shield

Sped to his aid. News reached the Dane who’d earned

Much honour, for he fought, and ne’er would yield,

Gainst Serpentino, champion on his side.

Which was the finer knight, who could decide?

But Uggiero, on hearing Charlemagne

Was encountering many a reckless foe,

Swiftly broke off his duel on the plain,

I mean that gainst the fierce Serpentino,

And galloping, the further slopes to gain,

Crossed wooded hills and vales, hastening so,

Until he reached the place where his king

Fought Balifronte, seeking help to bring.

In like manner, Christians in the field,

Now learned about this other bitter fight,

Where Agramante all his skill revealed

Gainst Charlemagne, with many another knight.

And swiftly, their concern now unconcealed,

With loose reins, spurring with all their might,

They rode, as one, to reach the upper plain,

To fight nowhere but with King Charlemagne.

And when Balugante, and Marsilio,

And Grandonio, King of Volterna,

And that brave Saracen, Serpentino,

Likewise saw the dust-cloud whirling ever,

From the slope where their monarch fought the foe,

They sought to bring aid to Agramante,

Recognising his host had reached the field,

Though Ferrau to that impulse failed to yield,

Book II: Canto XXX: 60-63: Ferrau retires to the woods, where Orlando is also resting

He had been hammered in such a manner

By Prince Rinaldo, that he chose to retire,

And amidst the woods seek the cool water

Of a fount, far from the heat of the fire.

He found a fair glade, its trees in flower,

Filled with little birds, whose notes rose higher,

In their joy; and yet that solitary place

Was that in which Orlando hid his face.  

The Count, when he had left Pinadoro

(I know not if you now recall the scene)

Dismounted in those same woods, also,

Loosing Brigliador and, midst the green,

Praying that the sacred ensigns on show

And France’s fleurs-de-lys might yet be seen

To fail, and he might prove their saviour there.

Ferrau was to find him thus in prayer.

Neither knight as yet suspected aught,

That they, I mean, were nigh to each other,

But what passed between them, and if they fought,

That I shall narrate a little later.

Meanwhile the battlefield, I may report,

Which brought so many warriors together,

Was the site of such fierce conflict once more,

I fear my voice must fail, that sings but war.

So, I will rest awhile, ere I return,

To continue the fight of which I speak,

Where of Ruggiero’s deeds you may learn,

And marks of his high valour you may seek.

Grant me, then, an ear, that I might earn

Your good favour (or face your fierce critique!)

My fair lady, and my courteous knight,

Whom, from the first, I’ve but sought to delight.

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

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