Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato

Book III: Canto I: Mandricardo's Deeds

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

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Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato: Book III, Canto I

Book III: Canto I: 1-4: Boiardo recommences his tale

Just as the mariner finds it sweeter

When his vessel’s survived the roaring gale,

To view calm seas, midst tranquil weather,

And the star-studded skies above his sail;

Just as the pilgrim, journeying ever,

Sees, o’er the plain, the bright dawn-light prevail,

As he descends to safety from the hill,

Where shadows clothe the rugged mountain still,

So now, when all the hellish storm of war,

Has passed beyond us, and joy and delight

Fill the court that now flowers, as before;

When day returns after the dark of night;

I can, with greater pleasure, tell once more

The tale I’ve long pursued, embrace the light.

Come listen, lords and ladies, all the throng;

Of your courtesy, come listen to my song.

For I’ll tell of fierce battles, honours won

By Charlemagne, that noble king of France,

And the deeds performed by Milone’s son,

Count Orlando, his skill with sword and lance,

Deeds performed for love; and what was done

And how, in treacherous circumstance,

Such that chivalry’s flower, Ruggiero,

Was slain by that Maganzese, Gano.

I’ll pursue as ever, strange adventure,

And duels fought by lovers long ago,

When virtue flowered, and in bold manner

Knights and ladies proved that it was so,

Midst the woodland, or beside the river,

As Bishop Turpin ever seeks to show,

In his text, which I follow, and but pray

That his story may still delight today,

Book III: Canto I: 5-10: Of Mandricardo, Emperor of Tartary

In those days when Pipin’s son, Charlemagne

Maintained his high and happy state in France,

There came a pagan from the northern plain,

That almost ruined all, with sword and lance.

No more daring knight, in pride and disdain,

Battled here, none more valiant, perchance,

None fiercer, or more skilled, in all the world,

That, o’er our lands, his banner now unfurled.

That pagan lord’s name was Mandricardo,

The mighty ruler of wide Tartary,

Possessed of such courage gainst the foe,

And such strength, none was mightier than he.

Such pride, so little mercy, he did show,

That any man that showed less bravery,

Or was less skilled in war, than he desired,

He rejected, and slew, as was required.

And so, his realm was deserted and bare,

For his people abandoned house and home.

Now, one day, an old man was captured there,

And then bound with chains, as he sought to roam,

And not knowing what to do, in that affair,

Fell flat before the emperor (says my tome)

Loud were his cries, and lamentation,

Which drew all to hear his fierce oration.

‘Let me but speak!’ the old man begged his lord,

‘Then you may do with me whate’er you will.

Your father’s soul cannot pass the ford,

To join the souls condemned to Hell, for still

He remains unavenged; and, rest assured,

Through your neglect, he feels the bitter chill;

Head bowed he groans and weeps there, endlessly,

Though other shades beyond the dark shore flee.

Your father Agricane, as you know,

(Yet deign not to acknowledge, out of fear)

Was killed by a certain Count Orlando.

That you must now avenge the dead, tis clear.

Many a man you’ve slain that proved no foe,

Because your own proud rank you hold too dear;

Yet none win praise who only cause offence

To poor folk who lack the means for defence.

Go find a man that has the power to fight!

Go and reveal your fury to Orlando!

Such things can ne’er be hidden from the light;

For all that a lord does the world will know.

Base coward, are you not troubled outright,

By shame and dishonour, to linger so?

Are you so inured to baseness and disgrace;

You care not where you dare to show your face?’

Book III: Canto I: 11-14: Who sets out to wreak vengeance on Orlando

The old man screamed those scornful words aloud,

And might have continued, so tis said,

Had Mandricardo, ferocious and proud,

Been prepared to listen further, instead,

His bitter heart now aflame, his head bowed,

To his chamber, the emperor swiftly fled,

And there, alone, possessed by self-disdain,

Full of anger, he sought to drown the pain.

After a deal of thought, his decision

Was to quit the realm, so that no man there

Could point their finger at him, with reason.

He swore to avoid the court, and would fare

Like any exile, banished from the nation,

Till he’d avenged his father; twas his care

Not to hide that same bold plan in his breast,

But effect it; he so informed the rest.

Appointing the best of men to govern

In his absence; then sought the sacred shrine,

Wishing to consult the will of Heaven;

Next, to the fire, his crown he did consign.

He left at night, foregoing any weapon,

In pilgrim dress, and on foot, by design,

And with but the little he now possessed,

Took to the road that led towards the west.

Book III: Canto I: 15-19: Mandricardo reaches an enchanted pool

He’d denied himself armour or a steed,

Lest some subject in his empire might claim

That their aid and assistance he would need,

To perform his plan, and erase his shame.

He thought he could acquire them both; indeed,

A good horse, and a saddle to fit that same,

And armour, might be swiftly won, he thought,

By strength alone, his former power unsought.

He went alone, and slowly journeyed on

Through Armenia, and other countries,

And viewed, from a hill, a pavilion,

One day, beside a stream, midst the trees,

Which flowed into a pool; he mused upon

The sight, while descending, at his ease,

And vowed he’d not leave the place until

Force had satisfied his needs, or goodwill.

Having reached the plain, he entered the tent,

Quite unafraid, with none to tell him nay,

Near or far, nor to thwart his first intent,

(None guarded it, it seems, by night or day)

But a voice there, within the waters pent,

Issued gurgling forth, where the waves did play,

Saying: ‘Knight, too great a boldness you show;

You are a prisoner now, and may not go.’

He heard not, or he failed to understand,

And so, he gave the matter little thought,

But rifled through the tent as he had planned,

To see if he could gain the arms he sought.

There, on a rich carpet, he found, to hand,

All a knight might need, for war or court,

And, beyond the pavilion, saw a fine

Steed, equipped for war, tied to a pine.

So, without a qualm, he donned the armour,

But, on freeing the rope, about to mount,

He saw bright flames coursing near the charger.

From the pine-tree, tongues of fire beyond count

Had run to the ground, and spread to cover

All that was present, but the tent and fount.

Now, the trees, the grass, the stones ignited,

Till the beauty of the glade was blighted.

All was glare, and heat, and confusion,

While the conflagration grew, till the fire

Enclosed Mandricardo, no illusion,

For its flames scorched the knight, and waxed higher,

As the flickering tongues rose in profusion,

And covered armour, shield, and helm, entire,

Till the breastplate and iron mail he wore

Burned against his body, like dry straw.

Book III: Canto I: 20-21: He escapes a fiery death by plunging into the water

That wondrous happening had scant effect

On the proud monarch; boldly as ever,

That fierce spirit, swift escape his object,

Ran through the flames to attain the water,

Then plunged in the pool, where he sank, unchecked,

Through the cool depths; deeper, ever deeper.

He’d have surely burned to death, I surmise,

His clothes alight, had he done otherwise.

His shield, his plate and mail, as I have said,

Burned like dry straw, and fell from his body.

His tunic, and his other garb, he shed,

And naked as a new-born babe, gladly,

Cooled himself, as to the depths he sped.

As with delight he sank there, finally

Free, it appeared, from further dire alarms,

He found himself clasped in a woman’s arms.

Book III: Canto I: 22-32: A maiden tells him of Hector’s armour

The fount, and its surrounds, were of marble,

Tinged green and crimson, azure and yellow.

The cool depths shone, translucent as crystal;

And all was clear, bright, and tranquil below.

The liquid clothed the maid (scarcely mortal)

Yet her breasts, nipples, every hair, did show,

As if she were wrapped in a subtle veil,

Half-hid, yet half-seen, midst the waters pale.

Embracing him, she kissed the warrior

Several times on the mouth, then she said:

‘You are the Fountain Faery’s prisoner,

Though if you’re not yet overcome with dread,

And prove a champion, many another

Shall be freed, knights and ladies, nobly bred,

Such that your fame will rise above the stars,

Soaring high o’er this little world of ours.

Step by step, let me explain the matter.

By magic, the Faery made this fountain,

And, in its depths, holds many a warrior,

Far more than can be counted, I’d maintain.

Gradasso, the lord of Sericana,

Is one, whose vast tracts of hill and plain,

Beyond India, comprise that country;

Yet, despite that, here he’s at her mercy.  

With him is the noble Aquilante,

And Grifone, his valiant brother,

And many a fine knight and fair lady,

(Too many to name) beneath the water.

Beyond the cliff there, seen most clearly,

There is a castle and, within, the armour

Hector wore, the Faery keeps on display,

All except that warrior’s sword, I say.

For brave Hector of Troy earned fame indeed.

Proving himself an excellent knight.

None could equal him in word or deed,

The flower of courtesy, fair to the sight.

He was besieged for ten years, tis agreed,

By seventy kings, and warriors of might,

And throughout that war, so long and intense,

His prowess was the city’s sole defence.

While the armies raged all about the wall,

He claimed an act unique midst fighting men,

Defeating thirty kings who there did fall,

Whom the knight had challenged; and then again,

He was gifted with virtues, beloved of all,

And in war he possessed the strength of ten.

None was nobler, or gained more victories,  

Till he was slain by mighty Achilles.

When Hector died, Troy met destruction too,

For all that city was destroyed by fire.

And how the armour came here, I’ll review,

That armour to which champions aspire.

Penthesilea, whom Achilles slew,

The Amazon queen, did the sword acquire,

Ere she died; long the list of its dead foes.

Brave Almonte’s once, tis now Orlando’s.

That mighty sword is called Durindana

(I know not if you’ve ever heard the name)

And perchance far more than any other

That weapon has earned its claim to fame.

The queen was killed, Troy ruined thereafter,

The Trojan fugitives to Europe came,

Led by Prince Aeneas, who here conveyed

Hector’s arms and armour (all but the blade),

Left to that noble knight, Hector’s brother.

Now, by a strange chance, the Fountain Fay

From grave misfortune rescued the latter,

When within a dark sepulchre he lay,

Where the prince had been kept a prisoner

By one who held him there many a day,

A time that seemed long beyond measure,

Seeking to extort from him his treasure.

The Fay, by means of magic, set him free,

Her secret arts drew him forth from the tomb,

And, on doing so, she sought, as her fee,

The armour he had saved from Troy’s past doom.  

Later she came here, to the place you see,

And wrought a palace with many a room,

To which I shall lead you, when you please,

And test your valour there, and expertise.

But if it pleases you not so to do;

If I find you consumed by cowardice,

Then, counter to my wish, I say to you,

There can be, truly, but one end to this.

You will die here, in the deep, as no few

Have done before, fated thus to perish,

Of whom memory no trace shall keep,

Their souls in Hell, their bodies in the deep.’

Book III: Canto I: 33-37: She makes love to, then arms, the knight

This adventure seemed to Mandricardo,

As in a dream, both real and unreal,

Yet he answered: ‘Where you wish, I will go;

And where I must, it seems, yet I appeal

To Modesty herself; I would not show

Myself all naked, but would now conceal

What should be hidden; what then can I do?’

‘Fear not,’ she replied, ‘for I’ll clothe you too.’

And then she let her tresses flow freely,

Of which the happy maid a wealth possessed,

And covered him with her hair, completely,

As she eagerly clasped him to her breast.

Hidden by that veil, they issued swiftly

From out the depths and to her tent progressed,

Nor spent further time in conversation,

But, arm in arm, entered that pavilion.

The flames had left it untouched, as I’ve said,

And twas filled with flowers, the damask rose

Amongst others sweet and rare; to her bed,

All adorned, where a Faery might repose,

To sport with him a while, the maiden led

The monarch; what they did, there, Heaven knows!

But Bishop Turpin, who’s an honest soul,

Says the silk collapsed all about the pole.

Now, after they’d frolicked, in this manner,

Among the flowers, the roses, April bore,

A tunic, dyed with many a colour,

And a snow-white shirt, such as fine knights wore,

She found; then dressed him; and strong armour

She sought, and adorned the knight the more,

Adding golden spurs, and crimson hose,

To complement what plate and mail she chose.

A strong burnished breastplate o’er his harness

She now laid, and strapped his sword to his side,

And he donned a helm, set with gems no less.

A surcoat, and a white shield, she supplied;

Then the steed (he’d fled the fire, I confess)

She led forward, that the monarch might ride;

And Mandricardo, not tired, or weighed down

By his armour, mounted, with ne’er a frown.

Book III: Canto I: 38-42: She tasks him with defeating King Gradasso

She untied her palfrey from a juniper,

And rode beside him for a mile or so,

Passing by a hill, a little further,

Until they came, at last, to a meadow.

There the maid said: ‘List to me, warrior,

While I tell you of all that you must know.

With Gradasso you must joust, tis your task.

I trust you’ll understand all that I ask.

He’s the palace champion, that high king,

And he defends himself with all his might.

Grifone held that post, before conceding

It, some little while ago, in fair fight.

If he defeats you, you’ll be mouldering

In prison till there comes a better knight,

To aid you; yet, down him from his horse,

And a last adventure’s yours, in due course.

For glory, there, you must attempt to gain,

By winning the armour that Hector bore.

Bound by no stronger spell, I maintain,

Was any known of, in this world, before.

Till now, those brave knights seeking to attain

That prize met their defeat, and, to be sure,

Unattainable it seems, yet you must try:

Fortune will aid you, or your skill, say I.’

Speaking so, they reached the faery’s hall.

A richer work of art was never seen.

Of alabaster was each gleaming wall,

Of gold the capitals. A field, pure green,

And fenced with laurel, lay before it all,

Laurel twined with myrtle; such the scene.

And, within that list, stood an armoured knight,

Equipped to face all-comers, day or night.  

‘Behind the barrier stands King Gradasso,’

The maiden said, ‘with whom you must contend.

For no more shall you seek to joust with me,

That, to the depths beneath, must e’er descend.’

Mandricardo, at her words, full swiftly

Closed his visor, and forth his steed did send.

Full tilt against the king he made advance,

And, when halfway towards him, couched his lance.

Book III: Canto I: 43-47: Both knights fall, but Gradasso is forced to yield

From the other side rode King Gradasso,

Galloping to the encounter, at speed,

If the emperor’s mount flew like an arrow,

Like a lightning bolt sped the other’s steed.

They crashed together, twas a mighty blow,

Greater than Mars himself e’er decreed,

So loud it seemed the very Heavens fell,

And land and sea sank suddenly to Hell.

Neither man was unhorsed in that advance,  

Though a shower of splinters rose on high;

Each had shattered the other warrior’s lance,

Which, in broken fragments, soared to the sky.

Now came the final test, of skill not chance,

Between two paragons, prepared to die,  

Who swiftly clashed together, blade on blade;

In chivalric manner, their powers displayed.

Then commenced a dark and dreadful fight,

No jest indeed was that most brutal game.

Merely watching, the maiden did affright,

For sparks flew at each stroke, as on they came.

Their armour cracked; whole pieces torn outright

From plate and mail, the field beneath did claim.

Though neither gave their armature a thought,

As, with great hammer-blows, they wheeled, and fought.

Two well-born warriors were they, as was seen

In their aspect, and their martial attitude.  

Five hours or more they occupied the scene,

But list now to the outcome that ensued.

Mandricardo grasped Gradasso, I ween

To drag him from his steed as, with rude

Force, the king clasped the emperor in turn

And both fell to the ground, the mud to churn.

By chance or fate, I know not which, the pair

Landed with King Gradasso on the floor,

Mandricardo on top, with breath to spare,

So, the former yielded; he could fight no more.

The sun towards the west did now repair,

And looked to sink beneath the ocean floor,

As they agreed to cease; the maiden mild,

Pleased it seemed, approached the knights, and smiled.

Book III: Canto I: 48-52: The maiden tells Mandricardo of the giant Malapresa

To Gradasso, she said: ‘O cavalier,

What Fortune wishes, no man can deny.

You must cease, and quit the battle here,

For night is falling, darkened is the sky.

Yet to him that has won, new cares appear,

For ne’er beneath the rising moon, say I,

Have land or sea beheld so strange as foe

As that which awaits you, Mandricardo.

When the new morn is here, you shall see

Famed Hector’s armour, and its guardian.

But now, in the west, the sun sets redly,

And tis too late to enter thereupon;

So, seize the moment, and rest your body,

Come now, and lay yourself down upon

The sweet turf here, and, gently, take your ease,

Till the sun lifts, once more, above the trees.

You cannot enter that fine palace now.

(For at night no man may open the door)

Yet I’ll watch over you, if you’ll allow,

As you sleep amidst the roses once more.

Or, if you prefer, I can show you how

To find a shrewd and gracious lady, who’s sure

To honour those who enter her domain,

Though danger you may face, and shame, and pain;

For a thief, on whom God has laid a curse,

A giant of a man, named Malapresa,

Harms, and outrages, and offends, and worse,

The maid, and proves her enemy ever.

Therefore, twould be foolish to rehearse

Such a visit, as you must fight that other;

Nor should you look to battle here anew,

When, on the morrow, there is much to do.’

‘By my faith,’ said Mandricardo, swiftly,

‘The time is lost that serves not to advance

Affairs of love, or deeds of chivalry,

As revealed by the use of sword and lance.

I ask you therefore, of your courtesy,

To lead me to the place; there, perchance

For good or ill, despite the fall of night,

This Malapresa will show his face, and fight.’

Book III: Canto I: 53-58: He enters a castle and encounters the giant

The maid, to please her brave warrior,

Set out, that moment, for the place she’d said;

She on her palfrey, he on his charger,

Till they saw a brightly-lit keep ahead.

As, through the parkland, they rode on further,

Upon which the glow from the castle shed

Clear light for there so many torches flared,

They could see, as if the daylight they shared.

A dwarf stood, as guardian, day and night

On a wondrously ornate balcony,

That was set above the gate, and had sight

Of all who might come there, to seek entry.

If he sounded his great horn, all took fright,

And ran within, and then if they could see

It was Malapresa they’d mount on high,

And rain stones upon him, from the sky.

But if twas a knight-errant or a lord,

Full ten gracious maidens, full of honour,

Would open wide the doors, and so afford

Him passage, their faces showing pleasure,

And embrace him, en masse, in sweet accord,

Day and night, and serve him, in full measure

With such kind looks, such obvious delight,

None would e’er wish to leave so fair a sight.

Amidst those maidens, Mandricardo

Was welcomed so, his face was all serene.

The mistress of the castle walked below,

In the garden with the knight, a faery queen.

And they strolled in the loggia, to and fro,

Until a meal was set amidst the scene,

And there they sat and dined; every course

Revealed things rich and fine, from some rare source.

A maiden, from a lyre, sweet harmonies

Drew gently forth, that their ears did approve,

Singing of famous deeds, the centuries

Had seen, and many a sweet tale of love.

But just as they were seeking, now at ease,

Another melody, her skill to prove,

Sounds, from the court beyond, to them were borne,

And a cry: ‘Why does the dwarf sound his horn?’

All the ladies, in fear, took up that cry

(They looked half-dead, so pale was every face)

But Mandricardo never blinked an eye,

Since, to defend them, he’d entered that place.

The giant had shattered the doors, and thereby

Gained passage to the hall, and came apace,

And he was the source of more violent cries,  

Though the knight experienced scant surprise.

Book III: Canto I: 59-62: Whom he quickly defeats

The giant was shouting as he entered in;

Loudly enough to shake the walls indeed.

He was protected by a serpent’s skin

Invulnerable to every hostile deed,

While the wretch any challenge thought to win

With an iron mace, to be used at need.

An iron helm upon his head was pressed;

A long black beard hung to the villain’s chest.

He reached the loggia. Mandricardo,

Without a thought to the cost, drew his blade,

And attacked, the moment he saw the foe.

A blow upon that iron mace he laid,

And cut away the ball and chain below.

Then, swung again instantly, and flayed

The giant’s wooden shield, which he cracked and tore,

Sending the fragments to the solid floor.

Now the giant, Malapresa, in anger,

Swung his weapon with both hands, but his foe

Leapt aside, avoiding every danger,

And, unharmed, replied with a fiercer blow

That landed exactly where the emperor,

Had intended, such that Mandricardo

Struck below the serpent skin; with that slice,

He severed both the giant’s legs, in a trice.

Malapresa fell. The monster was dead.

Conceive the ladies’ relief and delight!

The servants cut away the giant’s head,

Once they were sure twas the end of the fight,

Then dragged the corpse, despite lingering dread,

To the forest, where they hid it out of sight,

In a deep pit, far beyond the palace gate.

Thereafter, none there named him, or his fate.

Book III: Canto I: 63-66: Mandricardo spends the night in the castle

Not a word was spoken of that giant again,

As if there’d ne’er been a Malapresa.

The maidens danced in a ring, to a strain

Sounded by shrill pipes and lutes, together,

Raising their voices in a sweet refrain,

So brightly, with so happy a measure,

That any that heard, and feasted their eyes,

Would have sworn there within lay paradise.

Thus, they prolonged their glad revelry

Till a good part of the night had gone by,

When maidens entered, ceremoniously,

Bearing sweetmeats, fruit, golden cups, held high,

And, before Mandricardo, bent the knee.

Then he and the castle’s mistress, eye to eye,

Refreshed themselves, and a draught did share,

Joying with that company, free from care.

By the light of torches, borne in splendour,

They went off to their beds, the keep secure.

With snow-white sheets, and silken cover,

Mandricardo’s was made, sweet and pure;

And orange branches perfumed the chamber,

While, from midst the leaves, little birds did soar,

When the emperor to his room was shown

And the torches flared. He was not alone,

For a maiden stayed to serve him as required,

Though he’d had quite enough to do and say,

Her tasks no more nor less than he desired;

He’d have much more to do at dawn of day.

If you, by curiosity inspired,

Care to return, you’ll hear of an affray,

Deeds, strange and terrible, arousing fear.

Adieu, my lords; for this canto ends here.

The End of Book III: Canto I of ‘Orlando Innamorato’