Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato

Book III: Canto VII: The River of Laughter

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

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Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato: Book III, Canto VII

Book III: Canto VII: 1-2: Boiardo, on True Friendship

Of far more worth than power or treasure,

Or honour, or aught else that may delight,

Are true friends and companions, ever.

For to those whose mutual love burns bright,

The ill seems less, the good seems greater,

Since two such can reveal their hearts outright,

And every sudden, or familiar, care,

As with oneself, with the other, one can share.

What use are pearls or gold, in the end,

Noble station, or vast authority,

If they must be enjoyed without a friend?

Who loves not, nor is loved, sad is he,

Or she; scant happiness it doth portend.

I say this, with regard to Brandimarte,

One so firm, in his love for Count Orlando,

That he sailed the sea, to aid him in his woe.

Book III: Canto VII: 3-6: Mandricardo is obliged to withdraw, and heads for Paris

That cavalier had journeyed from Bizerte

To free Orlando from the magic river.

Mandricardo and Gradasso, lately,

Had both expressed their desire, moreover,

To share his quest. Ruggiero had simply

Declared: ‘In regard to this same matter,

I seek not the Count nor Durindana;

I yet would share in the quest, however.’

‘According to what I heard, the number

Of my friends, needs be odd, it would seem.’

The knight replied, ‘We’d all ride together,

But tis not within the enchantment’s scheme.

As to who should do so, there’s no better

Way of choosing than drawing lots, I deem.

In this bag I’ll place one black stone, two white;

Choose black, another quest claims you outright.’

With all three in the bag, each dipped his hand,

And so found whether he would go or no,

With Brandimarte, to the river, as he planned.

The second to try was Mandricardo,

And he lost the draw, you understand.

He drew black and went away, full of woe,

And rode like the devil, more than angry,

To Paris, now besieged by Agramante.  

There the warrior was welcomed, with honour,

By the Saracens King Agramante led.

I’ll not follow the events there, however,

At this time, but speak of the Count instead,

Who had found himself beneath the river,

Wandering, midst the Naiads, o’er its bed;

Deep, I say, in the River of Laughter.

Now listen to what occurred thereafter.

Book III: Canto VII: 7-13: The River of Laughter, and the walled grove  

The Naiads haunt, like fish, the depths below,

And there those fair maidens take their pleasure.

Weaving subtle enchantments, midst the flow,

To achieve their wishes in full measure.

Since many a maid, that lacks a man, feels woe,

They’re oft in love with some knight or other;

Full plenty in this world feel such an ache,

Though not all are at the bottom of a lake!

Neath that stream, called the River of Laughter,

They wrought a palace, of crystal and gold,

That was far fairer than any other,

And there they danced in that watery hold.

I told you how, dismounting from his charger,

Orlando sought the waves, clear and cold,

To quench his thirst, by that pleasant shore.

It’s how my last book ended; now hear more.

You’ll recall the maids welcomed him with joy,

To their wondrous mansion, there below,

Where their enchantments they did employ;

And enamoured, enthralled, amidst the flow,

Held by a love whose sweetness ne’er did cloy,

He wandered, beyond himself and all woe.

The Naiads, delighted beyond measure,

Cared but to gaze on their new-found treasure.

Above, beside the river, spread a wood,

Created by their magic, that contained

Every species of tree, in flower and bud.

Oak, beech, and ash were there, whose branches strained

Towards the sky, while, in their neighbourhood,

A pleasant shade and coolness they maintained,

For they grew, densely layered, broad and tall;

And, all about this garden, stood a wall.

That fence was wrought of marble, entirely,

Of white and yellow hues, red and azure,

And was surmounted by a gallery,

With columns formed of crystal and amber.

Let us return to those approaching, swiftly,

The soundless dance, unconscious however

Of the Naiads’ magic arts; Ruggiero,

I mean, Brandimarte and Gradasso,

And Fiordelisa, who of their enterprise,

Spoke further, and comforted them greatly.

At last, the high wall rose before their eyes,

Before whose metal gate stood a lady,

And she (twas a matter of much surmise)

Appeared to be placed there as a sentry.

And in her hands the maiden held a sign,

Which, writ in large letters, read, line by line:

‘Desire for true renown, love, and disdain

All find this path lies open to their will.’

Such the text, on their side, written plain.

But the reverse a second text did fill:

‘Love, and disdain, and the desire to gain

Honour, when they control the mind, instil

The urge to drive onward with such force

The mind can ne’er retrace its former course.’

Book III: Canto VII: 14-16: Fiordelisa encourages the knights to enter the wood

The knights arriving there, as I have said,

The maiden at the gate held up her sign,

So that it might be clearly seen and read;

The reverse side yet concealed, by design.

Therefore, the cavaliers rode straight ahead,

With confidence, as all there seemed benign,

And, with Fiordelisa, be it understood,

Entered, but failed to penetrate the wood.

It was a veritable maze, the trees too dense,

And broad and tall, and the gate closed behind,

Rendering the gloom, there, the more intense.

But Fiordelisa, versed in every kind

Of magic (and possessed of common sense)

Called out. ‘Drive every fear from your mind!

Whate’er the danger, where’er we may stray,

True virtue, and the sword, will find a way.

Dismount from your steed, and use the blade,

To demolish these trees, and clear a trail.

And, if aught strange arises in the glade,

Be not troubled, and let brave thoughts prevail.

Courage will conquer all; be not afraid.

Though sound wisdom must guide it, or we fail.’

So spoke the maid and, being of like mind,

They dismounted, and left their steeds behind.

Book III: Canto VII: 17-23: Ruggiero fells a laurel, which transforms to a maiden

The three knights descended, as she’d asked,

And Ruggiero was the first to enter in.

A laurel blocked his path, thus he was tasked

With felling it ere he could pass within.

Its limbs were thick, its solid spread was vast;

But, sword in hand and eager to begin,

He attacked the laurel, the which is seen,

Through heat or cold, to flourish, ever green.

That lovely tree once severed, and brought low,

(The laurel, whence comes the triumphal wreath),

A female form from out the trunk did flow,

A maid with golden tresses and, beneath

Her long hair, a pair of bright eyes did glow,

Though she wept, now free of her leafy sheath,

And spoke sadly, and yet in so sweet a voice

That twould have made the harshest soul rejoice.

‘Sir knight, could you be so cruel,’ cried the maid,

As to delight in my mischance, and sad fate?

My legs from tangled roots must be remade,

If you should leave me in my present state,

My breast as a trunk of wood be displayed,

My arms long branches, as they were of late,

My face but bark, my tresses turned once more

To the twigs and leaves, that they were before.

So, the enchantment works; against our will,

Each fair maid is transformed into a tree,

And, there within, enclosed and bound, until

Some virtuous knight comes to set her free.

Yet I’ll remain possessed of freedom still,

If, of pity, you will but accompany me

To the stream and my liberty, thus, earn;

Else, to my former shape, I must return.’

Young Ruggiero, courteous as ever,

Swore he would not abandon one so fair,

Until he’d escorted her to the river,

So sweetly did the maid beguile him there.

She led him to the River of Laughter,

And you should wonder not if, in that affair,

The man was thus deceived; tis no surprise.

Such maids enthral the foolish and the wise.

Once the pair had reached the nearby river,

The lovely maiden took him by the hand,

And deprived him of his reason; thereafter,

A fierce urge gripped his heart, you understand,

To leap into the clear, sparkling water,

Nor did she his strong desire countermand,

But linked her arm in his, and swiftly leapt

Into the current, as onward it swept.

In the palace of crystal, neath the flow,

The pair of them were joyfully received.

Sacripante was there, with Orlando

And many a knight, equally deceived,

Now dancing with the Naiads, down below.

Tambourines and flutes sounded, where none grieved,

For those folk spent the whole of every day,

In singing, and in dancing, and in play.

Book III: Canto VII: 24-29: Gradasso, likewise, ends up in the river

Now, Gradasso had entered the dark glade,

Where he likewise had failed to find a trail,

And scant progress that valiant knight had made.

Gainst an ash tree he now pushed, to no avail,

So, he felled it with the edge of his blade.

Forth from the trunk, a valiant steed did sail,

Its coat was dappled grey, ne’er had Nature

Created so miraculous a creature.

The bridle and the bit were of pure gold,

And it was richly furnished and adorned

With pearls and jewels wondrous to behold.

Gradasso who had scarcely been forewarned

Unconscious of the dangers it might hold,

Seized the reins, for all cowardice he scorned.

Since not a soul was there to tell him, nay,

He mounted, ere the precious steed could stray.

The charger made a sudden leap, and flew,

And never touched the solid ground again.

They soared through the air, then soared anew,

As high as in dream some folk maintain

They fly. No joust or battle, in his view,

Had ever frightened him, but it seems plain

He was terrified, all that realm in sight,

To find himself at such a fearsome height.

A hundred feet it bore him, in the air,

Or higher still; the river showed below,

As it descended, by that skyey stair,

For it travelled in an arc, to reach the flow;

And the steed plunged to the surface there,

(The speed of its fall was strangely slow)

Where that enchanted mount, as if in dream,

Sank, without a ripple, neath the stream.

Down to the very depths sank Gradasso,

Up to the surface sped the steed, once more,

Then through the woods at once did swiftly go,

As if its hooves were winged, to be sure.

The king, beneath the water, naught did know,

Of what had occurred the moment before;

He forgot everything he’d done and seen,

And danced there with the Naiads, all serene.

To the sound of trumpets, they dallied there,

In a festive dance, one not known to us,

For each would kiss the other, of a pair,

And parted were their lips; twas curious;

They e’en forgot themselves in that affair,

And the excuse I would make, is that, thus,

Planting a kiss on open lips, when meet,

Every spirit is transformed, tis so sweet.

Book III: Canto VII: 30-34: Brandimarte is instructed by Fiordelisa

In such festivities the knights immersed,

Midst, music, song, and dance, they interwove,

While Brandimarte struggled yet, and cursed,

As he laboured to penetrate the grove.

Many a stroke of his sword he rehearsed,

Felling the mighty trees, gainst which he strove,

Threatened by many an enchantment; though,

Fiordelisa on him counsel did bestow.

He chopped down a good twenty trees and more,

And from each one there issued something new;

Here, some large, brightly-feathered bird would soar,

There, shone palaces; mounds of treasure too.

But in vain those enchantments forth did pour,

For Brandimarte quitting them, ploughed on through

The grove of trees, seeking the flowing river,

And ceased not, till he approached the water.

When that valiant warrior reached the shore,

His face became quite crimson in colour.

Forgetting his intent, for, once he saw

Love’s fair stream, he hastened to the water,

Ready to leap (its spell pierced to the core)

All thought of Orlando gone forever,

And would have leapt, had not Fiordelisa

Been there to restrain him, who, earlier,

Had woven four fine garlands, skilfully,

Each shaped to form a verdant coronet,

From flowers and herbs of many a country,

To defeat the spell; on his brow she set

One of those flowery crowns, most gently,

And explained carefully, lest he forget,

The action that he needed to employ,

That Orlando might true liberty enjoy.

At once that most valiant knight effected

All that his fair lady had commanded.

Into the depths he leapt, as directed,

And sang, and danced, and played, when he landed.

Yet he kept his wits about him, as expected,

Unlike the rest; for those crowns she’d handed

To the knight, and that she’d set upon his brow,

Enchanted roses with power did endow.

Book III: Canto VII: 35-36: He frees Orlando and the others from the spell

Then, amidst the festivities below,

In that palace wrought of crystal and gold,

He set one garland upon Orlando,

One on each of the others, and, behold,

Their beguilement they now perceived, with woe;

The foolish scene before them left them cold.

They abandoned those nymphs, and false delight,

And issued forth, from the depths, to the light.

Like gourds, first their helmets topped the wave,

Gleaming wet (each showed a bedraggled crest)

Then their shoulders, as if from out the grave,

And then their chest, and waist, and all the rest,

And soon were o’er the bank the stream did lave,

Lifted on high, like moths that, in strange quest,

Are attracted to the flame; blown by the breeze,

In an instant, they’d crossed the surrounding trees.

Book III: Canto VII: 37-43: A dwarf appears who seeks aid from the four knights

If they’d been asked to say what had occurred

The three who’d been beguiled could not have said,

Like those who’ve dreamed, who not a single word

Can repeat of the speech that filled their head.

But now, behold! A dwarf, that onward spurred,

Appeared, nearby; and he towards them sped,

Crying: ‘My lords, if you love chivalry,

Then draw nearer, and hearken unto me!

If you’d defend all that is just and right,

Come, avenge the strangest act of villainy

That e’er there was, that e’er the earth did blight!’

Gradasso, cried: ‘By my faith, assuredly,

If I were not concerned enchantment might

Be concealed here, or some such trickery,

Why, I would be the first to lend my aid,

For of naught that is real am I afraid!’

The dwarf swore that such was not the case,

That the adventure involved no deceit.

Said the Count: ‘Who’ll assure me that I’ll face

An honest task, and not with magic meet?

I’ve been beguiled; the bird will not retrace

Its flight to the snare, its escape complete,

And fears every branch stirring in the breeze.

My own self-mistrust causes me unease.’

Ruggiero replied: ‘Opinions vary;

And every man it seems commends his own.

Some say one should fear the realm of faery,

And magic arts, and leave such things alone,

But if an honest knight upholds his duty,

He cannot but accept the task he’s shown,

And face every strange adventure here,

Prove himself gainst all foes, and never fear.

So, lead me, O dwarf, through water, flame,

Or through the air, if you would have me fly.

I’ll accept any task that you might name;

Naught on earth do I dread, nor in the sky.’

Orlando and Gradasso blushed with shame,

Somewhat, and looked each other in the eye,

While Brandimarte told the dwarf: ‘Lead on;

We will follow.’ The dwarf left, whereupon,

As they watched him depart on his palfrey,

And then amble across the open plain,

Gradasso turned to the Count and, boldly,

Declared: ‘Since this strange quest we entertain,

And tis my lot to follow Brandimarte,

Then your sword Durindana I now deign

To ask of you, although in truth tis mine;

Such was captive Charlemagne’s design.’

‘He promised it to you?’ cried Orlando,

Roused to anger, ‘Then ask him for that same!

I’ll say it more than clearly, so you know,

There’s not a cavalier, that dares to claim

My good sword, that I treat not as a foe.

If you would gain it, and be known to fame,

By force, then here it is, and you may try,

But I’d watch your skin. Come now, don’t be shy!’

Book III: Canto VII: 44-52: Gradasso and Orlando quarrel over Durindana

While speaking thus, Orlando drew his blade,

Which neither plate nor mail could e’er withstand.

Gradasso fumed, and many a feint essayed

With the scimitar he grasped in his hand.

They lacked a herald, and a king, arrayed

In royal robes, to issue his command,

And bar the lists; so, unceremoniously,

They fought, without trumpets or pageantry.

They began their contest in furious haste,

Both displaying much contempt and anger,

And struck together as their foe they faced,

Blows ringing on their helms; every other

Mighty stroke the air with sparks of fire graced,

As if drawn from an anvil, neath the hammer.

As a tempest sways the trees to and fro,

So those warriors swayed at every blow.

The Count despatched a mighty stroke indeed,

Such that it seemed earth trembled at the sight.

Seeing it descend, with his shield, Gradasso

Tried to thwart it, while exerting all his might.

He failed; the targe fell to the ground below,

Shattered like his hauberk; bare flesh the knight

Revealed; his gorget and collar did yield,

Struck with such force they fell upon the field.

Gradasso ground his teeth, and swung once more,

Two-handedly, and cut away steel armour

Down to the Count’s bare flesh; he gave a roar,

As that clash of metal raised a clamour.

Then he laughed aloud, and cried: ‘To be sure,

I’ve shaved your neatly, upon my honour.

I’ll take no more, my friend, from your chin,

Since little, there, remains except the skin!’

The Count replied: ‘What, you malcontent,

What’s that you say? Know, ere I let you go,

I’ll beat and bruise you to my heart’s content,

You’ll learn to laugh the other side of woe!’

‘By my faith, that may be your fond intent,

And if any could so do,’ cried Gradasso,

‘Twould be you, but, in truth, none I fear;

None indeed that I see duelling here.

And even if you seized me by the belt,

I’d still go where I pleased. Try your skill!

Come, prove your worth, for scarce a blow I’ve felt,

Come, do your worst, and lay on with a will!

Orlando’s face was hot enough to melt;

He cried: ‘Words are not deeds! The air they fill,

Your threats, yet are but worthless in the end,

As you’ll find, by experience, my friend.’

And with that, he swung fierce Durindana

With both hands, and dealt a mighty blow,

Knocking the helmet crest from the other,

Sending the fragments to the ground below,

And, so denting the steel casque in his anger

It echoed like a bell. King Gradasso,

Bent low towards the floor, bright blood did drain

From out his nose and mouth; he dropped the rein.

And yet that proud knight, more fiercely yet

Contested the battle, his face aflame,

And with insolent power, drenched in sweat,

Struck Orlando’s crest, and despatched that same,  

With the cap and mount on which it was set,

Along the ground, like a ball in some game.

Bishop Turpin says the echoes, as before,

Of that helm, travelled for a mile or more.

Orlando nearly fell from his saddle,

From the force and direction of that blow;

Like a dying man, his teeth did rattle,

His stirrups loosened, the reins hung below,

While his steed departed from the battle,

And ran about the flatlands, to and fro.

On his Arabian, chasing after,

Came Gradasso, seeking Durindana.  

Book III: Canto VII: 53-54: Brandimarte intervenes

If truth be told, Gradasso might have won,

But Brandimarte could not bear to see

Orlando in danger, for there was none

Loved him so, and, thus, furiously,

He followed, where’er their chargers did run.

Gradasso looked back, and cried, archly,

‘Are you seeking trouble too? Come this way,

There’s plenty of space for three to play!’

But, as he was speaking, the Count awoke,

And sword in hand charged at Gradasso.

At that (ere either man could land a stroke)

With soft and civil speech came Ruggiero,

And the dwarf, whom they’d neared, also spoke,

In like manner, and prayed them now to go

On the quest he’d named, and cease their rivalry

For pity’s sake, and of true chivalry.

Book III: Canto VII: 55-56: The company divides in two

And so persuasive were they, those two,

They calmed the pair, ending the duel so;

Then the knights agreed to divide anew,

And pursue separate paths. Ruggiero

And Gradasso, to a tower, in full view,

Rode with the dwarf, yet warily did go;

While Brandimarte, and the Count, that day,

Along the road to Paris, made their way.

Of Ruggiero’s and Gradasso’s quest

I’ll say no more, but speak of it elsewhere.

To follow Brandimarte, I think best,

And Orlando, for that most valiant pair,

Journeyed through France, scarce halting to rest,

With Fiordelisa (wise beyond compare

Regarding enchantments) till, one morn,  

They found Paris, ringed by foes in the dawn.

Book III: Canto VII: 57-60: Brandimarte, Orlando, and Fiordelisa reach Paris

Agramante, as I’ve described before,

Had routed Charlemagne in the field.

And slain, or captured, score upon score.

Now, having chased a foe that failed to yield,

He was besieging Paris, as they saw.

Such a host, its vast numbers there revealed,

Was rarely seen; for quite seven leagues it spread,

O’er hill, vale, and plain, viewed now with dread.

Those within, in defence of the city

Manned the walls, and stood guard, both night and day,

Commanded by the Dane, his chivalry

Renowned, who sought to strengthen them alway.

When Orlando gathered the enormity

Of the defeat they’d suffered, his dismay

Was such that his heart ached; filled with woe

He lamented the transience mortals know.

‘He that places his trust in this life, so frail,’

He cried, ‘and in this world, of little worth,

Should fold his wings, noble thoughts curtail,

And muse on Charlemagne, a king on Earth,

Who in battle was e’er seen to prevail,

Such that he made men tremble, of high birth

Or low, near or far, and yet, in a trice,

All is wasted, where Fortune rolls the dice;

And perchance he is slain.’ Yet, as Orlando,

Uttered these sad words, a most mighty roar

Rose from the pagan camp, and its echo

Seemed to fall from the sun, then rise the more.

And now, my dear friends, I’m troubled so,

I can speak no further, pained to the core;

And, hence, you must await my next canto,

To hear of the battle that must follow.

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