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Chapter 17

CHAPTER 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 entrust 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 surgeon's 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 Oliver's 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 hermit's 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 Balisardo, that sword which he
himself had won from the enchantress.
The hermit gave his blessing to the band, and they re-embarked.
The passage was speedy, and very soon they arrived in the harbor of
Marseilles.
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 Emperor. 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 Emperor's 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 mother's
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. Rogero's 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
Rogero's 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 Theodora, mother of the young knight, the
first victim of Rogero's 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 father's and mother's
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 Aymon's daughter must contend
with the sword against that dame, from the sun's 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 father's and her
mother's opposition to their union, and despairing to contend
against them. But O how much worse would be the maiden's woe, if it
were known to her what her betrothed was then enduring!
He was plunged in a dungeon where no ray of daylight 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's 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 suit,- "to
send for 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 Balisardo, 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 trumpet's 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 by 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:-
"Since no one else can marry the maiden while my brother lives,
let the prince meet Rogero in mortal combat, and let him who
survives take her for his bride."
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 Leo's 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 knight's 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 father's 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 Emperor's 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 Theodora's 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."
This and much more he said to the same intent; till at last Rogero
replied, "I yield, and am content to live, and thus a second time
owe my life to 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; be 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 Rogero's 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 brother's 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
father's 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.

Thomas Bulfinch

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