Thomas Bulfinch (17961867). Age of Fable: Vol. IV: Legends of Charlemagne. 1913.
VI. The Invasion of France
AGRAMANT, King of Africa, convoked the kings, his vassals, to deliberate in council. He reminded them of the injuries he had sustained from France, that his father had fallen in battle with Charlemagne, and that his early years had hitherto not allowed him to wipe out the stain of former defeats. He now proposed to them to carry war into France.
Sobrino, his wisest councillor, opposed the project, representing the rashness of it; but Rodomont, the young and fiery king of Algiers, denounced Sobrinos counsel as base and cowardly, declaring himself impatient for the enterprise. The king of the Garamantes, venerable for his age and renowned for his prophetic lore, interposed, and assured the King that such an attempt would be sure to fail, unless he could first get on his side a youth marked out by destiny as the fitting compeer of the most puissant knights of France, the young Rogero, descended in direct line from Hector of Troy. This prince was now a dweller upon the mountain Carena, where Atlantes, his foster-father, a powerful magician, kept him in retirement, having discovered by his art that his pupil would be lost to him if allowed to mingle with the world. To break the spells of Atlantes, and draw Rogero from his retirement, one only means was to be found. It was a ring possessed by Angelica, Princess of Cathay, which was a talisman against all enchantments. If this ring could be procured all would go well; without it the enterprise was desperate.
Rodomont treated this declaration of the old prophet with scorn, and it would probably have been held of little weight by the council, had not the aged king, oppressed by the weight of years, expired in the very act of reaffirming his prediction. This made so deep an impression on the council that it was unanimously resolved to postpone the war until an effort should be made to win Rogero to the camp.
King Agramant thereupon proclaimed that the sovereignty of a kingdom should be the reward of whoever should succeed in obtaining the ring of Angelica. Brunello, the dwarf, the subtlest thief in all Africa, undertook to procure it.
In prosecution of this design, he made the best of his way to Angelicas kingdom, and arrived beneath the walls of Albracca while the besieging army was encamped before the fortress. While the attention of the garrison was absorbed by the battle that raged below he scaled the walls, approached the Princess unnoticed, slipped the ring from her finger, and escaped unobserved. He hastened to the seaside, and, finding a vessel ready to sail, embarked, and arrived at Biserta, in Africa. Here he found Agramant impatient for the talisman which was to foil the enchantments of Atlantes and to put Rogero into his hands. The dwarf, kneeling before the king, presented him with the ring, and Agramant, delighted at the success of his mission, crowned him in recompense King of Tingitana.
At the bottom of this was a fruitful and well-wooded plain, watered by a large river, and from this plain was descried a beautiful garden on the mountain-top, which contained the mansion of Atlantes; but the ring, which discovered what was before invisible, could not, though it revealed this paradise, enable Agramant or his followers to enter it. So steep and smooth was the rock by nature, that even Brunello failed in every attempt to scale it. He did not, for this, despair of accomplishing the object; but, having obtained Agramants consent, caused the assembled courtiers and knights to celebrate a tournament upon the plain below. This was done with the view of seducing Rogero from his fastness, and the stratagem was attended with success.
Rogero joined the tourney, and was presented by Agramant with a splendid horse, Frontino, and a magnificent sword. Having learned from Agramant his intended invasion of France, he gladly consented to join the expedition.
Rodomont, meanwhile, was too impatient to wait for Agramants arrangements, and embarked with all the forces he could raise, made good his landing on the coast of France, and routed the Christians in several encounters. Previously to this, however, Gano, or Ganelon (as he is sometimes called), the traitor, enemy of Orlando and the other nephews of Charlemagne, had entered into a traitorous correspondence with Marsilius, the Saracen king of Spain, whom he invited into France. Marsilius, thus encouraged, led an army across the frontiers, and joined Rodomont. This was the situation of things when Rinaldo and the other knights who had obeyed the summons of Dudon set forward on their return to France.
When they arrived at Buda in Hungary they found the king of that country about despatching his son, Ottachiero, with an army to the succor of Charlemagne. Delighted with the arrival of Rinaldo, he placed his son and troops under his command. In due time the army arrived on the frontiers of France, and, united with the troops of Desiderius, king of Lombardy, poured down into Provence. The confederate armies had not marched many days through this gay tract before they heard a crash of drums and trumpets behind the hills, which spoke the conflict between the paynims, led by Rodomont, and the Christian forces. Rinaldo, witnessing from a mountain the prowess of Rodomont, left his troops in charge of his friends, and galloped towards him with his lance in rest. The impulse was irresistible, and Rodomont was unhorsed. But Rinaldo, unwilling to avail himself of his advantage, galloped back to the hill, and having secured Bayard among the baggage, returned to finish the combat on foot.
During this interval the battle had become general, the Hungarians were routed, and Rinaldo, on his return, had the mortification to find that Ottachiero was wounded, and Dudon taken prisoner. While he sought Rodomont in order to renew the combat a new sound of drums and trumpets was heard, and Charlemagne, with the main body of his army, was descried advancing in battle array.
Agramant, accompanied by Rogero, had by this time made good his landing, and joined Rodomont with all his forces. Rogero eagerly embraced this first opportunity of distinguishing himself, and spread terror wherever he went, encountering in turn and overthrowing many of the bravest knights of France. At length he found himself opposite to Rinaldo, who, being interrupted, as we have said, in his combat with Rodomont, and unable to follow him, being on foot, was shouting to his late foe to return and finish their combat. Rogero also was on foot, and seeing the Christian knight so eager for a contest, proffered himself to supply the place of his late antagonist. Rinaldo saw at a glance that the Moorish prince was a champion worthy of his arm, and gladly accepted the defiance. The combat was stoutly maintained for a time; but now fortune declared decisively in favor of the infidel army, and Charlemagnes forces gave way at all points in irreparable confusion. The two combatants were separated by the crowd of fugitives and pursuers, and Rinaldo hastened to recover possession of his horse. But Bayard, in the confusion, had got loose, and Rinaldo followed him into a thick wood, thus becoming effectually separated from Rogero.
Rogero, also seeking his horse in the medley, came where two warriors were engaged in mortal combat. Though he knew not who they were, he could distinguish that one was a paynim and the other a Christian; and moved by the spirit of courtesy he approached them and exclaimed, Let him of the two who worships Christ pause, and hear what I have to say. The army of Charles is routed and in flight, so that if he wishes to follow his leader he has no time for delay. The Christian knight, who was none other than Bradamante, a female warrior, in prowess equal to the best of knights, was thunderstruck with the tidings, and would gladly leave the contest undecided, and retire from the field; but Rodomont, her antagonist, would by no means consent. Rogero, indignant at his discourtesy, insisted upon her departure, while he took up her quarrel with Rodomont.
The combat, obstinately maintained on both sides, was interrupted by the return of Bradamante. Finding herself unable to overtake the fugitives, and reluctant to leave to another the burden and risk of a contest which belonged to herself, she had returned to reclaim the combat. She arrived, however, when her champion had dealt his enemy such a blow as obliged him to drop both his sword and bridle. Rogero, disdaining to profit by his adversarys defenceless situation, sat apart upon his horse, while that of Rodomont bore his rider, stunned and stupefied, about the field.
Bradamante approached Rogero, conceiving a yet higher opinion of his valor on beholding such an instance of forbearance. She addressed him, excusing herself for leaving him exposed to an enemy from his interference in her cause; pleading her duty to her sovereign as the motive. While she spoke Rodomont, recovered from his confusion, rode up to them. His bearing was, however, changed; and he disclaimed all thoughts of further contest with one who, he said, had already conquered him by his courtesy. So saying, he quitted his antagonist, picked up his sword, and spurred out of sight.
As they pursued their way, she inquired the name and quality of her new associate; and Rogero informed her of his nation and family. He told her that Astyanax, the son of Hector of Troy, established the kingdom of Messina in Sicily. From him were derived two branches, which gave origin to two families of renown. From one sprang the royal race of Pepin and Charlemagne, and from the other, that of Reggio, in Italy. From that of Reggio am I derived, he continued. My mother, driven from her home by the chance of war, died in giving me life, and I was taken in charge by a sage enchanter, who trained me to feats of arms amidst the dangers of the desert and the chase.
Having thus ended his tale, Rogero entreated a similar return of courtesy from his companion, who replied, without disguise, that she was of the race of Clermont, and sister to Rinaldo, whose fame was perhaps known to him. Rogero, much moved by this intelligence, entreated her to take off her helmet, and at the discovery of her face remained transported with delight.
While absorbed in this contemplation, an unexpected danger assailed them. A party which was placed in a wood, in order to intercept the retreating Christians, broke from its ambush upon the pair, and Bradamante, who was uncasqued, was wounded in the head. Rogero was in a fury at this attack; and Bradamante, replacing her helmet, joined him in taking speedy vengeance on their enemies. They cleared the field of them, but became separated in the pursuit, and Rogero, quitting the chase, wandered by hill and vale in search of her whom he had no sooner found than lost.
While pursuing this quest he fell in with two knights, whom he joined, and engaged them to assist him in the search of his companion, describing her arms, but concealing, from a certain feeling of jealousy, her quality and sex.
It was evening when they joined company, and having ridden together through the night the morning was beginning to break, when one of the strangers, fixing his eyes upon Rogeros shield, demanded of him by what right he bore the Trojan arms. Rogero declared his origin and race, and then, in his turn, interrogated the inquirer as to his pretensions to the cognizance of Hector, which he bore. The stranger replied, My name is Mandricardo, son of Agrican, the Tartar king, whom Orlando treacherously slew. I say treacherously, for in fair fight he could not have done it. It is in search of him that I have come to France, to take vengeance for my father, and to wrest from him Durindana, that famous sword, which belongs to me, and not to him. When the knights demanded to know by what right he claimed Durindana, Mandricardo thus related his history:
I had been, before the death of my father, a wild and reckless youth. That event awakened my energies, and drove me forth to seek for vengeance. Determined to owe success to nothing but my own exertions, I departed without attendants or horse or arms. Travelling thus alone, and on foot, I espied one day a pavilion, pitched near a fountain, and entered it, intent on adventure. I found therein a damsel of gracious aspect, who replied to my inquiries that the fountain was the work of a fairy, whose castle stood beyond a neighboring hill, where she kept watch over a treasure which many knights had tried to win, but fruitlessly, having lost their life or liberty in the attempt. This treasure was the armor of Hector, prince of Troy, whom Achilles treacherously slew. Nothing was wanting but his sword, Durindana, and this had fallen into the possession of a queen named Penthesilea, from whom it passed through her descendants to Almontes, whom Orlando slew, and thus became possessed of the sword. The rest of Hectors arms were saved and carried off by Æneas, from whom this fairy received them in recompense of service rendered. If you have the courage to attempt their acquisition, said the damsel, I will be your guide.
As they rode she explained the dangers of the quest. The armor was defended by a champion, one of the numerous unsuccessful adventurers for the prize, all of whom had been made prisoners by the fairy, and compelled to take their turn, day by day, in defending the arms against all comers. Thus speaking they arrived at the castle, which was of alabaster, overlaid with gold. Before it, on a lawn, sat an armed knight on horseback, who was none other than Gradasso, king of Sericane, who, in his return home from his unsuccessful inroad into France, had fallen into the power of the fairy, and was held to do her bidding. Mandricardo, upon seeing him, dropt his visor, and laid his lance in rest. The champion of the castle was equally ready, and each spurred towards his opponent. They met one another with equal force, splintered their spears, and, returning to the charge, encountered with their swords. The contest was long and doubtful, when Mandricardo, determined to bring it to an end, threw his arms about Gradasso, grappled with him, and both fell to the ground. Mandricardo, however, fell uppermost, and, preserving his advantage, compelled Gradasso to yield himself conquered. The damsel now interfered, congratulating the victor, and consoling the vanquished as well as she might.
Mandricardo and the damsel proceeded to the gate of the castle, which they found undefended. As they entered they beheld a shield suspended from a pilaster of gold. The device was a white eagle on an azure field, in memory of the bird of Jove, which bore away Ganymede, the flower of the Phrygian race. Beneath was engraved the following couplet:
The damsel, alighting from her palfrey, made obeisance to the arms, bending herself to the ground. The Tartar king bowed his head with equal reverence; then advancing towards the shield, touched it with his sword. Thereupon an earthquake shook the ground, and the way by which he had entered closed. Another and an opposite gate opened, and displayed a field bristling with stalks and grain of gold. The damsel, upon this, told him that he had no means of retreat but by cutting down the harvest which was before him, and by uprooting a tree which grew in the middle of the field. Mandricardo, without replying, began to mow the harvest with his sword, but had scarce smitten thrice when he perceived that every stalk that fell was instantly transformed into some poisonous or ravenous animal, which prepared to assail him. Instructed by the damsel, he snatched up a stone and cast it among the pack. A strange wonder followed; for no sooner had the stone fallen among the beasts, than they turned their rage against one another, and rent each other to pieces. Mandricardo did not stop to marvel at the miracle, but proceeded to fulfil his task, and uproot the tree. He clasped it round the trunk, and made vigorous efforts to tear it up by the roots. At each effort fell a shower of leaves, that were instantly changed into birds of prey, which attacked the knight, flapping their wings in his face, with horrid screeching. But undismayed by this new annoyance, he continued to tug at the trunk till it yielded to his efforts. A burst of wind and thunder followed, and the hawks and vultures flew screaming away.
But these only gave place to a new foe; for from the hole made by tearing up the tree issued a furious serpent, and, darting at Mandricardo, wound herself about his limbs with a strain that almost crushed him. Fortune, however, again stood his friend, for, writhing under the folds of the monster, he fell backwards into the hole, and his enemy was crushed beneath his weight.
Mandricardo, when he was somewhat recovered, and assured himself of the destruction of the serpent, began to contemplate the place into which he had fallen, and saw that he was in a vault, incrusted with costly metals, and illuminated by a live coal. In the middle was a sort of ivory bier, and upon this was extended what appeared to be a knight in armor, but was in truth an empty trophy, composed of the rich and precious arms once Hectors, to which nothing was wanting but the sword. While Mandricardo stood contemplating the prize a door opened behind him, and a bevy of fair damsels entered, dancing, who, taking up the armor piece by piece, led him away to the place where the shield was suspended; where he found the fairy of the castle seated in state. By her he was invested with the arms he had won, first pledging his solemn oath to wear no other blade but Durindana, which he was to wrest from Orlando, and thus complete the conquest of Hectors arms.