Thomas Bulfinch (17961867). Age of Fable: Vol. IV: Legends of Charlemagne. 1913.
FRANCE was at this time the theatre of dreadful events. The Saracens and the Christians, in numerous encounters, slew one another. On one occasion Rinaldo led an attack on the infidel columns, broke and scattered them, till he found himself opposite to a knight whose armor (whether by accident or by choice, it matters not) bore the blazon of Orlando. It was Dardinel, the young and brave prince of Zumara, and Rinaldo remarked him by the slaughter he spread all around. Ah, said he to himself, let us pluck up this dangerous plant before it has grown to its full height.
As Rinaldo advanced, the crowd opened before him, the Christians to let his sword have free course, the Pagans to escape its sweep. Dardinel and he stood face to face. Rinaldo exclaimed, fiercely, Young man, whoever gave you that noble buckler to bear made you a dangerous gift; I should like to see how you are able to defend those quarterings, red and white. If you cannot defend them against me, how pray will you do so when Orlando challenges them? Dardinel replied: Thou shalt learn that I can defend the arms I bear, and shed new glory upon them. No one shall rend them from me but with life. Saying these words, Dardinel rushed upon Rinaldo with sword uplifted.
The chill of mortal terror filled the souls of the Saracens when they beheld Rinaldo advance to attack the prince, like a lion against a young bull. The first blow came from the hand of Dardinel, and the weapon rebounded from Mambrinos helmet without effect. Rinaldo smiled, and said, I will now show you if my strokes are more effectual. At these words he thrust the unfortunate Dardinel in the middle of his breast. The blow was so violent that the cruel weapon pierced the body, and came out a palm-breadth behind his back. Through this wound the life of Dardinel issued with his blood, and his body fell helpless to the ground.
As a flower which the passing plough has uprooted languishes, and droops its head, so Dardinel, his visage covered with the paleness of death, expires, and the hopes of an illustrious race perish with him.
Like waters kept back by a dike, which, when the dike is broken, spread abroad through all the country, so the Moors, no longer kept in column by the example of Dardinel, fled in all directions. Rinaldo despised too much such easy victories to pursue them; he wished for no combats but with brave men. At the same time, the other paladins made terrible slaughter of the Moors. Charles himself, Oliver, Guido, and Ogier the Dane, carried death into their ranks on all sides.
The infidels seemed doomed to perish to a man on that dreadful day; but the wise king, Marsilius, at last put some slight degree of method into the general rout. He collected the remnant of the troops, formed them into a battalion, and retreated in tolerable order to his camp. That camp was well fortified by intrenchments and a broad ditch. Thither the fugitives hastened, and by degrees all that remained of the Moorish army was brought together there.
The Emperor might perhaps that night have crushed his enemy entirely; but not thinking it prudent to expose his troops, fatigued as they were, to an attack upon a camp so well fortified, he contented himself with encompassing the enemy with his troops, prepared to make a regular siege. During the night the Moors had time to see the extent of their loss. Their tents resounded with lamentations. This warrior had to mourn a brother, that a friend; many suffered with grievous wounds, all trembled at the fate in store for them.
There were two young Moors, both of humble rank, who gave proof at that time of attachment and fidelity rare in the history of man. Cloridan and Medoro had followed their prince, Dardinel, to the wars of France. Cloridan, a bold huntsman, combined strength with activity. Medoro was a mere youth, his cheeks yet fair and blooming. Of all the Saracens, no one united so much grace and beauty. His light hair was set off by his black and sparkling eyes. The two friends were together on guard at the rampart. About midnight they gazed on the scene in deep dejection. Medoro, with tears in his eyes, spoke of the good prince Dardinel, and could not endure the thought that his body should be cast out on the plain, deprived of funeral honors. O my friend, said he, must then the body of our prince be the prey of wolves and ravens? Alas! when I remember how he loved me, I feel that if I should sacrifice my life to do him honor, I should not do more than my duty. I wish, dear friend, to seek out his body on the battlefield, and give it burial, and I hope to be able to pass through King Charless camp without discovery, as they are probably all asleep. You, Cloridan, will be able to say for me, if I should die in the adventure, that gratitude and fidelity to my prince were my inducements.
Cloridan was both surprised and touched with this proof of the young mans devotion. He loved him tenderly, and tried for a long time every effort to dissuade him from his design; but he found Medoro determined to accomplish his object or die in the endeavor.
Cloridan, unable to change his purpose, said, I will go with you, Medoro, and help you in this generous enterprise. I value not life compared with honor, and if I did, do you suppose, dear friend, that I could live without you? I would rather fall by the arms of our enemies than die of grief for the loss of you.
When the two friends were relieved from their guard duty they went without any followers into the camp of the Christians. All there was still; the fires were dying out; there was no fear of any attempt on the part of the Saracens, and the soldiers, overcome by fatigue or wine, slept secure, lying upon the ground in the midst of their arms and equipage. Cloridan stopped, and said, Medoro, I am not going to quit this camp without taking vengeance for the death of our prince. Keep watch, be on your guard that no one shall surprise us; I mean to mark a road with my sword through the ranks of our enemies. So saying, he entered the tent where Alpheus slept, who a year before had joined the camp of Charles, and pretended to be a great physician and astrologer. But his science had deceived him, if it gave him hope of dying peacefully in his bed at a good old age; his lot was to die with little warning. Cloridan ran his sword through his heart. A Greek and a German followed, who had been playing late at dice: fortunate if they had continued their game a little longer; but they never reckoned a throw like this among their chances. Cloridan next came to the unlucky Grillon, whose head lay softly on his pillow. He dreamed probably of the feast from which he had but just retired; for when Cloridan cut off his head wine flowed forth with the blood.
The two young Moors might have penetrated even to the tent of Charlemagne; but knowing that the paladins encamped around him kept watch by turns, and judging that it was impossible they should all be asleep, they were afraid to go too near. They might also have obtained rich booty; but, intent only on their object, they crossed the camp, and arrived at length at the bloody field, where bucklers, lances, and swords lay scattered in the midst of corpses of poor and rich, common soldier and prince, horses and pools of blood. This terrible scene of carnage would have destroyed all hope of finding what they were in search of until dawn of day, were it not that the moon lent the aid of her uncertain rays.
Medoro raised his eyes to the planet, and exclaimed, O holy goddess, whom our fathers have adored under three different forms,thou who displayest thy power in heaven, on earth, and in the underworld,thou who art seen foremost among the nymphs chasing the beasts of the forest,cause me to see, I implore thee, the spot where my dear master lies, and make me all my life long follow the example which thou dost exhibit of works of charity and love.
Either by accident, or that the moon was sensible of the prayer of Medoro, the cloud broke away, and the moonlight burst forth as bright as day. The rays seemed especially to gild the spot where lay the body of Prince Dardinel; and Medoro, bathed in tears and with bleeding heart, recognized him by the quarterings of red and white on his shield.
With groans stifled by his tears, and lamentations in accents suppressed, not from any fear for himself, for he cared not for life, but lest any one should be roused to interrupt their pious duty while yet incomplete, he proposed to his companion that they should together bear Dardinel on their shoulders, sharing the burden of the beloved remains.
Marching with rapid strides under their precious load, they perceived that the stars began to grow pale, and that the shades of night would soon be dispersed by the dawn. Just then Zerbino, whose extreme valor had urged him far from the camp in pursuit of the fugitives, returning, entered the wood in which they were. Some knights in his train perceived at a distance the two brothers-in-arms. Cloridan saw the troop, and, observing that they dispersed themselves over the plain as if in search of booty, told Medoro to lay down the body, and let each save himself by flight. He dropped his part, thinking that Medoro would do the same; but the good youth loved his prince too well to abandon him, and continued to carry his load singly as well as he might, while Cloridan made his escape. Near by there was a part of the wood tufted as if nothing but wild animals had ever penetrated it. The unfortunate youth, loaded with the weight of his dead master, plunged into its recesses.
Cloridan, when he perceived that he had evaded his foes, discovered that Medoro was not with him. Ah! exclaimed he, how could I, dear Medoro, so forget myself as to consult my own safety without heeding yours? So saying, he retraced the tangled passes of the wood toward the place from whence he had fled. As he approached he heard the noise of horses, and the menacing voices of armed men. Soon he perceived Medoro, on foot, with the cavaliers surrounding him. Zerbino, their commander, bade them seize him. The unhappy Medoro turned now this way, now that, trying to conceal himself behind an oak or a rock, still bearing the body, which he would by no means leave. Cloridan not knowing how to help him, but resolved to perish with him, if he must perish, takes an arrow, fits it to his bow, discharges it, and pierces the breast of a Christian knight, who falls helpless from his horse. The others look this way and that, to discover whence the fatal bolt was sped. One, while demanding of his comrades in what direction the arrow came, received a second in his throat, which stopped his words, and soon closed his eyes to the scene.
Zerbino, furious at the death of his two comrades, ran upon Medoro, seized his golden hair, and dragged him forward to slay him. But the sight of so much youth and beauty commanded pity. He stayed his arm. The young man spoke in suppliant tones. Ah! signor, said he, I conjure you by the God whom you serve, deprive me not of life until I shall have buried the body of the prince, my master. Fear not that I will ask you any other favor; life is not dear to me; I desire death as soon as I shall have performed this sacred duty. Do with me then as you please. Give my limbs a prey to the birds and beasts; only let me first bury my prince. Medoro pronounced these words with an air so sweet and tender that a heart of stone would have been moved by them. Zerbino was so to the bottom of his soul. He was on the point of uttering words of mercy, when a cruel subaltern, forgetting all respect to his commander, plunged his lance into the breast of the young Moor. Zerbino, enraged at his brutality, turned upon the wretch to take vengeance, but he saved himself by a precipitate flight.
Cloridan, who saw Medoro fall, could contain himself no longer. He rushed from his concealment, threw down his bow, and, sword in hand, seemed only desirous of vengeance for Medoro, and to die with him. In a moment, pierced through and through with many wounds, he exerts the last remnant of his strength in dragging himself to Medoro, to die embracing him. The cavaliers left them thus to rejoin Zerbino, whose rage against the murderer of Medoro had drawn him away from the spot.
A young maiden approached the fallen knights at this critical moment. Her dress was that of a peasant-girl, but her air was noble, and her beauty celestial; sweetness and goodness reigned in her lovely countenance. It was no other than Angelica, the Princess of Cathay.
When she had recovered that precious ring, as we have before related, Angelica, knowing its value, felt proud in the power it conferred, travelled alone without fear, not without a secret shame that she had ever been obliged to seek protection in her wanderings of the Count Orlando and of Sacripant. She reproached herself too as with a weakness that she had ever thought of marrying Rinaldo; in fine, her pride grew so high as to persuade her that no man living was worthy to aspire to her hand.
Moved with pity at the sight of the young man wounded, and melted to tears at hearing the cause, she quickly recalled to remembrance the knowledge she had acquired in India, where the virtues of plants and the art of healing formed part of the education even of princesses. The beautiful queen ran into the adjoining meadow to gather plants of virtue to staunch the flow of blood. Meeting on her way a countryman on horseback seeking a strayed heifer, she begged him to come to her assistance, and endeavor to remove the wounded man to a more secure asylum.
Angelica, having prepared the plants by bruising them between two stones, laid them with her fair hand on Medoros wound. The remedy soon restored in some degree the strength of the wounded man, who, before he would quit the spot, made them cover with earth and turf the bodies of his friend and of the prince. Then surrendering himself to the pity of his deliverers, he allowed them to place him on the horse of the shepherd, and conduct him to his cottage. It was a pleasant farmhouse on the borders of the wood, bearing marks of comfort and competency. There the shepherd lived with his wife and children. There Angelica tended Medoro, and there, by the devoted care of the beautiful queen, his sad wound closed over, and he recovered his perfect health.
O Count Rinaldo, O King Sacripant! what availed it you to possess so many virtues and such fame? What advantage have you derived from all your high deserts? O hapless king, great Agrican! if you could return to life, how would you endure to see yourself rejected by one who will bow to the yoke of Hymen in favor of a young soldier of humble birth? And thou, Ferrau, and ye numerous others who a hundred times have put your lives at hazard for this cruel beauty, how bitter will it be to you to see her sacrifice you all to the claims of the humble Medoro!
There, under the low roof of a shepherd, the flame of Hymen was lighted for this haughty queen. She takes the shepherds wife to serve in place of mother, the shepherd and his children for witnesses, and marries the happy Medoro.
Angelica, after her marriage, wishing to endow Medoro with the sovereignty of the countries which yet remained to her, took with him the road to the East. She had preserved through all her adventures a bracelet of gold enriched with precious stones, the present of the Count Orlando. Having nothing else wherewith to reward the good shepherd and his wife, who had served her with so much care and fidelity, she took the bracelet from her arm and gave it to them, and then the newly-married couple directed their steps toward those mountains which separate France and Spain, intending to wait at Barcelona a vessel which should take them on their way to the East.