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Chapter 6

CHAPTER 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 Sobrino's 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
fosterfather, 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
Angelica's 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.
All were now anxious to go in quest of Rogero. The cavalcade
accordingly departed, and in due time arrived at the mountain of
Carena.
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 Agramant's
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 Agramant's
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.
Rodomont, seeing this, mounted the horse of Dudon, left Rinaldo, who
was on foot, and galloped off to encounter this new enemy.
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 Charlemagne's 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 adversary's 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.
Bradamante was now again desirous of retiring from the field, and
Rogero insisted in accompanying her, though yet unaware of her sex.
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 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, be 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 their joined company, and having ridden together
through the night, the morning was beginning to break, when one of the
strangers, fixing his eyes upon Rogero's 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 Hector's arms were
saved and carried off by AEneas, 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.'"
Mandricardo went on to say that he eagerly embraced the proposal,
and being provided with horse and armor by the damsel, set forth on
his enterprise, the lady accompanying him.
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:-

"Let none with hand profane my buckler wrong
Unless he be himself as Hector strong."

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 Hector's, 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 Hector's arms.

Thomas Bulfinch

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