Thomas Bulfinch (17961867). Age of Fable: Vol. IV: Legends of Charlemagne. 1913.
XVII. Rogero and Bradamante
AFTER the interruption of the combat with Rinaldo, as we have related, Rogero was perplexed with doubts what course to take. The terms of the treaty required him to abandon Agramant, who had broken it, and to transfer his allegiance to Charlemagne; and his love for Bradamante called him in the same direction; but unwillingness to desert his prince and leader in the hour of distress forbade this course. Embarking, therefore, for Africa, he took his way to rejoin the Saracen army; but was arrested midway by a storm which drove the vessel on a rock. The crew took to their boat, but that was quickly swamped in the waves, and Rogero with the rest were compelled to swim for their lives. Then while buffeting the waves Rogero bethought him of his sin in so long delaying his Christian profession, and vowed in his heart that, if he should live to reach the land, he would no longer delay to be baptized. His vows were heard and answered; he succeeded in reaching the shore, and was aided and relieved on landing by a pious hermit, whose cell overlooked the sea. From him he received baptism, having first passed some days with him, partaking his humble fare, and receiving instruction in the doctrines of the Christian faith.
While these things were going on, Rinaldo, who had set out on his way to seek Gradasso and recover Bayard from him, hearing on his way of the great things which were doing in Africa, repaired thither to bear his part in them. He arrived too late to do more than join his friends in lamenting the loss of Florismart, and to rejoice with them in their victory over the Pagan knights. On the death of their king the Africans gave up the contest, Biserta submitted, and the Christian knights had only to dismiss their forces, and return home. Astolpho took leave of his Abyssinian army, and sent them back laden with spoil to their own country, not forgetting to intrust to them the bag which held the winds, by means of which they were enabled to cross the sandy desert again without danger, and did not untie it till they reached their own country.
Orlando now, with Oliver, who much needed the surgeons care, and Sobrino, to whom equal attention was shown, sailed in a swift vessel to Sicily, bearing with him the body of Florismart, to be laid in Christian earth. Rinaldo accompanied them, as did Sansonnet and the other Christian leaders. Arrived at Sicily, the funeral was solemnized with all the rites of religion, and with the profound grief of those who had known Florismart, or had heard of his fame. Then they resumed their course, steering for Marseilles. But Olivers wound grew worse instead of better, and his sufferings so distressed his friends that they conferred together, not knowing what to do. Then said the pilot, We are not far from an isle where a holy hermit dwells alone in the midst of the sea. It is said none seek his counsel or his aid in vain. He hath wrought marvellous cures, and if you resort to that holy man without doubt he can heal the knight. Orlando bade him steer thither, and soon the bark was laid safely beside the lonely rock; the wounded man was lowered into their boat, and carried by the crew to the hermits cell. It was the same hermit with whom Rogero had taken refuge after his shipwreck, by whom he had been baptized, and with whom he was now staying, absorbed in sacred studies and meditations.
The holy man received Orlando and the rest with kindness, and inquired their errand; and being told that they had come for help for one who, warring for the Christian faith, was brought to perilous pass by a sad wound, he straightway undertook the cure. His applications were simple, but they were seconded by his prayers. The paladin was soon relieved from pain, and in a few days his foot was perfectly restored to soundness. Sobrino, as soon as he perceived the holy monk perform that wonder, cast aside his false prophet, and with contrite heart owned the true God, and demanded baptism at his hands. The hermit granted his request, and also by his prayers restored him to health, while all the Christian knights rejoiced in his conversion almost as much as at the restoration of Oliver. More than all Rogero felt joy and gratitude, and daily grew in grace and faith.
Rogero was known by fame to all the Christian knights, but not even Rinaldo knew him by sight, though he had proved his prowess in combat. Sobrino made him known to them, and great was the joy of all when they found one whose valor and courtesy were renowned through the world no longer an enemy and unbeliever, but a convert and champion of the true faith. All press about the knight; one grasps his hand, another locks him fast in his embrace; but more than all the rest, Rinaldo cherished him, for he more than any knew his worth.
It was not long before Rogero confided to his friend the hopes he entertained of a union with his sister, and Rinaldo frankly gave his sanction to the proposal. But causes unknown to the paladin were at that very time interposing obstacles to its success.
The fame of the beauty and worth of Bradamante had reached the ears of the Grecian Emperor, Constantine, and he had sent to Charlemagne to demand the hand of his niece for Leo, his son, and the heir to his dominions. Duke Aymon, her father, had only reserved his consent until he should first have spoken with his son Rinaldo, now absent.
The warriors now prepared to resume their voyage. Rogero took a tender farewell of the good hermit who had taught him the true faith. Orlando restored to him the horse and arms which were rightly his, not even asserting his claim to Balisarda, that sword which he himself had won from the enchantress.
Astolpho, when he had dismissed his troops, mounted the Hippogriff, and at one flight shot over to Sardinia, thence to Corsica, thence, turning slightly to the left, hovered over Provence, and alighted in the neighborhood of Marseilles. There he did what he had been commanded to do by the holy saint; he unbridled the Hippogriff, and turned him loose to seek his own retreats, never more to be galled with saddle or bit. The horn had lost its marvellous power ever since the visit to the moon.
Astolpho reached Marseilles the very day when Orlando, Rinaldo, Oliver, Sobrino, and Rogero arrived there. Charles had already heard the news of the defeat of the Saracen kings, and all the accompanying events. On learning the approach of the gallant knights, he sent forward some of his most illustrious nobles to receive them, and himself, with the rest of his court, kings, dukes, and peers, the queen, and a fair and gorgeous band of ladies, set forward from Arles to meet them.
No sooner were the mutual greetings interchanged, than Orlando and his friends led forward Rogero, and presented him to the Emperor. They vouch him son of Rogero, Duke of Risa, one of the most renowned of Christian warriors, by adverse fortune stolen in his infancy, and brought up by Saracens in the false faith, now by a kind Providence converted, and restored to fill the place his father once held among the foremost champions of the throne and Church.
Rogero had alighted from his horse, and stood respectfully before the Emperior. Charlemagne bade him remount and ride beside him; and omitted nothing which might do him honor in sight of his martial train. With pomp triumphal and with festive cheer the troop returned to the city; the streets were decorated with garlands, the houses hung with rich tapestry, and flowers fell like rain upon the conquering host from the hands of fair dames and damsels, from every balcony and window. So welcomed, the mighty Emperor passed on till he reached the royal palace, where many days he feasted, high in hall, with his lords, amid tourney, revel, dance, and song.
When Rinaldo told his father, Duke Aymon, how he had promised his sister to Rogero, his father heard him with indignation, having set his heart on seeing her united to the Grecian Emperors son. The Lady Beatrice, her mother, also appealed to Bradamante herself to reject a knight who had neither title nor lands, and give the preference to one who would make her Empress of the wide Levant. But Bradamante, though respect forbade her to refuse her mothers entreaty, would not promise to do what her heart repelled, and answered only with a sigh, until she was alone, and then gave a loose to tears.
Meanwhile Rogero, indignant that a stranger should presume to rob him of his bride, determined to seek the Prince of Greece, and defy him to mortal combat. With this design he donned his armor, but exchanged his crest and emblazonment, and bore instead a white unicorn upon a crimson field. He chose a trusty squire, and, commanding him not to address him as Rogero, rode on his quest. Having crossed the Rhine and the Austrian countries into Hungary, he followed the course of the Danube till he reached Belgrade. There he saw the imperial ensigns. spread, and white pavilions, thronged with troops, before the town. For the Emperor Constantine was laying siege to the city to recover it from the Bulgarians, who had taken it from him not long before.
A river flowed between the camp of the Emperor and the Bulgarians, and at the moment when Rogero approached, a skirmish had begun between the parties from either camp, who had approached the stream for the purpose of watering. The Greeks in that affray were four to one, and drove back the Bulgarians in precipitate rout. Rogero, seeing this, and animated only by his hatred of the Grecian prince, dashed into the middle of the flying mass, calling aloud on the fugitives to turn. He encountered first a leader of the Grecian host in splendid armor, a nephew of the Emperor, as dear to him as a son. Rogeros lance pierced shield and armor, and stretched the warrior breathless on the plain. Another and another fell before him, and astonishment and terror arrested the advance of the Greeks, while the Bulgarians, catching courage from the cavalier, rally, change front, and chase the Grecian troops, who fly in their turn. Leo, the prince, was at a distance when this sudden skirmish rose, but not so far but that he could see distinctly, from an elevated position which he held, how the changed battle was all the work of one man, and could not choose but admire the bravery and prowess with which it was done. He knew by the blazonry displayed that the champion was not of the Bulgarian army, though he furnished aid to them. Although he suffered by his valor, the prince could not wish him ill, for his admiration surpassed his resentment. By this time the Greeks had regained the river, and crossing it by fording or swimming, some made their escape, leaving many more prisoners in the hands of the Bulgarians. Rogero, learning from some of the captives that Leo was at a point some distance down the river, rode thither with a view to meet him, but arrived not before the Greek prince had retired beyond the stream, and broken up the bridge. Day was spent, and Rogero, wearied, looked round for a shelter for the night. He found it in a cottage, where he soon yielded himself to repose. It so happened, a knight who had narrowly escaped Rogeros sword in the late battle also found shelter in the same cottage, and, recognizing the armor of the unknown knight, easily found means of securing him as he slept, and next morning carried him in chains and delivered him to the Emperor. By him he was in turn delivered to his sister Theodoro, mother of the young knight, the first victim of Rogeros spear. By her he was cast into a dungeon, till her ingenuity could devise a death sufficiently painful to satiate her revenge.
Bradamante, meanwhile, to escape her fathers and mothers importunity, had begged a boon of Charlemagne, which the monarch pledged his royal word to grant; it was that she should not be compelled to marry any one unless he should first vanquish her in single combat. The Emperor therefore proclaimed a tournament in these words: He that would wed Duke Aymons daughter must contend with the sword against that dame, from the suns rise to his setting; and if, in that time, he is not overcome the lady shall be his.
Duke Aymon and the Lady Beatrice, though much incensed at the course things had taken, brought their daughter to court, to await the day appointed for the tournament. Bradamante, not finding there him whom her heart required, distressed herself with doubts what could be the cause of his absence. Of all fancies, the most painful one was that he had gone away to learn to forget her, knowing her fathers and her mothers opposition to their union, and despairing to contend against them. But oh, how much worse would be the maidens woe, if it were known to her what her betrothed was then enduring!
He was plunged in a dungeon where no ray of day-light ever penetrated, loaded with chains, and scantily supplied with the coarsest food. No wonder despair took possession of his heart, and he longed for death as a relief, when one night (or one day, for both were equally dark to him) he was roused with the glare of a torch and saw two men enter his cell. It was the Prince Leo, with an attendant, who had come as soon as he had learned the wretched fate of the brave knight whose valor he had seen and admired on the field of battle. Cavalier, said he, I am one whom thy valor hath so bound to thee, that I willingly peril my own safety to lend thee aid. Infinite thanks I owe you, replied Rogero, and the life you give me I promise faithfully to render back upon your call, and promptly to stake it at all times for your service. The prince then told Rogero his name and rank, at hearing which a tide of contending emotions almost overwhelmed Rogero. He was set at liberty, and had his horse and arms restored to him.
Meanwhile, tidings arrived of King Charles decree that whoever aspired to the hand of Bradamante must first encounter her with sword and lance. This news made the Grecian prince turn pale, for he knew he was no match for her in fight. Communing with himself, he sees how he may make his wit supply the place of valor, and employ the French knight, whose name was still unknown to him, to fight the battle for him. Rogero heard the proposal with extreme distress; yet it seemed worse than death to deny the first request of one to whom he owed his life. Hastily he gave his assent to do in all things that which Leo should command. Afterward, bitter repentance came over him; yet, rather than confess his change of mind, death itself would be welcome. Death seems his only remedy; but how to die? Sometimes he thinks to make none but a feigned resistance, and allow her sword a ready access, for never can death come more happily than if her hand guide the weapon. Yet this will not avail, for, unless he wins the maid for the Greek prince, his debt remains unpaid. He had promised to maintain a real, not a feigned encounter. He will then keep his word, and banish every thought from his bosom except that which moved him to maintain his truth.
The young prince, richly attended, set out, and with him Rogero. They arrived at Paris, but Leo preferred not to enter the city, and pitched his tents without the walls, making known his arrival to Charlemagne by an embassy. The monarch was pleased, and testified his courtesy by visits and gifts. The prince set forth the purpose of his coming, and prayed the Emperor to dispatch his suitto send forth the damsel who refused ever to take in wedlock any lord inferior to herself in fight; for she should be his bride, or he would perish beneath her sword.
Rogero passed the night before the day assigned for the battle like that which the felon spends, condemned to pay the forfeit of his life on the ensuing day. He chose to fight with sword only, and on foot, for he would not let her see Frontino, knowing that she would recognize the steed. Nor would he use Balisarda, for against that enchanted blade all armor would be of no avail, and the sword that he did take he hammered well upon the edge to abate its sharpness. He wore the surcoat of Prince Leo, and his shield, emblazoned with a golden, double-headed eagle. The prince took care to let himself be seen by none.
Bradamante, meanwhile, prepared herself for the combat far differently. Instead of blunting the edge of her falchion she whets the steel, and would fain infuse into it her own acerbity. As the moment approached she seemed to have fire within her veins, and waited impatiently for the trumpets sound. At the signal she drew her sword, and fell with fury upon her Rogero. But as a well-built wall or aged rock stands unmoved the fury of the storm, so Rogero, clad in those arms which Trojan Hector once wore, withstood the strokes which stormed about his head and breast and flank. Sparks flew from his shield, his helm, his cuirass; from direct and back strokes, aimed now high, now low, falling thick and fast, like hailstones on a cottage roof; but Rogero, with skilful ward, turns them aside, or receives them where his armor is a sure protection, careful only to protect himself, and with no thought of striking in return. Thus the hours passed away, and, as the sun approached the west, the damsel began to despair. But so much the more her anger increases, and she redoubles her efforts, like the craftsman who sees his work unfinished while the day is wellnigh spent. O miserable damsel! didst thou know whom thou wouldst kill,if, in that cavalier matched against thee thou didst but know Rogero, on whom thy very life-threads hang, rather than kill him thou wouldst kill thyself, for he is dearer to thee than life.
King Charles and the peers, who thought the cavalier to be the Grecian prince, viewing such force and skill exhibited, and how without assaulting her the knight defended himself, were filled with admiration, and declared the champions well matched, and worthy of each other.
When the sun was set Charlemagne gave the signal for terminating the contest, and Bradamante was awarded to Prince Leo as a bride. Rogero, in deep distress, returned to his tent. There Leo unlaced his helmet, and kissed him on both cheeks. Henceforth, said he, do with me as you please, for you cannot exhaust my gratitude. Rogero replied little, laid aside the ensigns he had worn, and resumed the unicorn, then hasted to withdraw himself from all eyes. When it was midnight he rose, saddled Frontino, and sallied from his tent, taking that direction which pleased his steed. All night he rode absorbed in bitter woe, and called on Death as alone capable of relieving his sufferings. At last he entered a forest, and penetrated into its deepest recesses. There he unharnessed Frontino, and suffered him to wander where he would. Then he threw himself down on the ground, and poured forth such bitter wailings that the birds and beasts, for none else heard him, were moved to pity with his cries.
Not less was the distress of the lady Bradamante, who, rather than wed any one but Rogero, resolved to break her word, and defy kindred, court, and Charlemagne himself; and, if nothing else would do, to die. But relief came from an unexpected quarter. Marphisa, sister of Rogero, was a heroine of warlike prowess equal to Bradamante. She had been the confidante of their loves, and felt hardly less distress than themselves at seeing the perils which threatened their union. They are already united by mutual vows, she said, and in the sight of Heaven what more is necessary? Full of this thought she presented herself before Charlemagne, and declared that she herself was witness that the maiden had spoken to Rogero those words which they who marry swear; and that the compact was so sealed between the pair that they were no longer free, nor could forsake the one the other to take another spouse. This her assertion she offered to prove, in single combat, against Prince Leo, or any one else.
Charlemagne, sadly perplexed at this, commanded Bradamante to be called, and told her what the bold Marphisa had declared. Bradamante neither denied nor confirmed the statement, but hung her head, and kept silence. Duke Aymon was enraged, and would fain have set aside the pretended contract on the ground that, if made at all, it must have been made before Rogero was baptized, and therefore void. But not so thought Rinaldo, nor the good Orlando, and Charlemagne knew not which way to decide, when Marphisa spoke thus:
This saying pleased the Emperor, and was accepted by the prince, for he thought that, by the aid of his unknown champion, he should surely triumph in the fight. Proclamation was therefore made for Rogero to appear and defend his suit; and Leo, on his part, caused search to be made on all sides for the knight of the Unicorn.
Meanwhile Rogero, overwhelmed with despair, lay stretched on the ground in the forest night and day without food, courting death. Here he was discovered by one of Leos people, who, finding him resist all attempts to remove him, hastened to his master, who was not far off, and brought him to the spot. As he approached he heard words which convinced him that love was the cause of the knights despair; but no clew was given to guide him to the object of that love. Stooping down, the prince embraced the weeping warrior, and, in the tenderest accents, said: Spare not, I entreat you, to disclose the cause of your distress, for few such desperate evils betide mankind as are wholly past cure. It grieves me much that you would hide your grief from me, for I am bound to you by ties that nothing can undo. Tell me, then, your grief, and leave me to try if wealth, art, cunning, force, or persuasion cannot relieve you. If not, it will be time enough after all has been tried in vain to die.
He spoke in such moving accents that Rogero could not choose but yield. It was some time before he could command utterance; at last he said, My lord, when you shall know me for what I am, I doubt not you, like myself, will be content that I should die. Know, then, I am that Rogero whom you have so much cause to hate, and who so hated you that, intent on putting you to death, he went to seek you at your fathers court. This I did because I could not submit to see my promised bride borne off by you. But, as man proposes and God disposes, your great courtesy, well tried in time of sore need, so moved my fixed resolve, that I not only laid aside the hate I bore, but purposed to be your friend forever. You then asked of me to win for you the lady Bradamante, which was all one as to demand of me my heart and soul. You know whether I served you faithfully or not. Yours is the lady; possess her in peace; but ask me not to live to see it. Be content rather that I die; for vows have passed between myself and her which forbid that while I live she can lawfully wive with another.
So filled was gentle Leo with astonishment at these words that for a while he stood silent, with lips unmoved and steadfast gaze, like a statue. And the discovery that the stranger was Rogero not only abated not the good will he bore him, but increased it, so that his distress for what Rogero suffered seemed equal to his own. For this, and because he would appear deservedly an Emperors son, and, though in other things outdone, would not be surpassed in courtesy, he says: Rogero, had I known that day when your matchless valor routed my troops that you were Rogero, your virtue would have made me your own, as then it made me while I knew not my foe, and I should have no less gladly rescued you from Theodoras dungeon. And if I would willingly have done so then, how much more gladly will I now restore the gift of which you would rob yourself to confer it upon me. The damsel is more due to you than to me, and though I know her worth, I would forego not only her, but life itself, rather than distress a knight like you.
But several days elapsed before Rogero was so far restored as to return to the royal residence, where an embassy had arrived from the Bulgarian princes to seek the knight of the unicorn, and tender to him the crown of that country, in place of their king, fallen in battle.
Thus were things situated when Prince Leo, leading by the hand Rogero, clad in the battered armor in which he had sustained the conflict with Bradamante, presented himself before the king. Behold, he said the champion who maintained from dawn to setting sun the arduous contest; he comes to claim the guerdon of the fight. King Charlemagne, with all his peerage, stood amazed; for all believed that the Grecian prince himself had fought with Bradamante. Then stepped forth Marphisa, and said, Since Rogero is not here to assert his rights, I, his sister, undertake his cause, and will maintain it against whoever shall dare dispute his claim. She said this with so much anger and disdain that the prince deemed it no longer wise to feign, and withdrew Rogeros helmet from his brow, saying, Behold him here! Who can describe the astonishment and joy of Marphisa! She ran and threw her arms about her brothers neck, nor would give way to let Charlemagne and Rinaldo, Orlando, Dudon, and the rest, who crowded round, embrace him, and press friendly kisses on his brow. The joyful tidings flew fast by many a messenger to Bradamante, who in her secret chamber lay lamenting. The blood that stagnated about her heart flowed at that notice so fast, that she had wellnigh died for joy. Duke Aymon and the Lady Beatrice no longer withheld their consent, and pledged their daughter to the brave Rogero before all that gallant company.
Now came the Bulgarian ambassadors, and, kneeling at the feet of Rogero, besought him to return with them to their country, where, in Adrianople, the crown and sceptre were awaiting his acceptance. Prince Leo united his persuasions to theirs, and promised, in his royal fathers name, that peace should be restored on their part. Rogero gave his consent, and it was surmised that none of the virtues which shone so conspicuously in him so availed to recommend Rogero to the Lady Beatrice as the hearing her future son-in-law saluted as a sovereign prince.