For a long while Bradamante waited quietly in Marseilles, thinking that every day Roger would come to her, but as time passed and he gave no sign she grew heart-sick and impatient. Some evil must surely have befallen him, she whispered to herself, yet where to seek him she did not know.
At length one morning, when hope had almost left her, the enchantress Melissa stood by her side and smiled at her.
‘Have no fear for Roger,’ said Melissa; ‘he is safe, and counts the hours to your meeting. But once more he has been taken captive by Atlantes, who ensnared him by putting on your form and face, and entering his palace, whither Roger followed eagerly. Never look so cast down, Bradamante, but listen to my counsel and abide by it, and all will be well.’
Then Bradamante sprang up, grasping tightly her sword and shield.
‘Whatever you tell me to do, I will do it,’ cried she; and Melissa went on:
‘This time Atlantes will change his shape for that of Roger, that you also may fall a victim to his wiles. Beware lest you be deceived, or instead of saving Roger you will find yourself also a prisoner in the castle. Harden your heart, and slay him as he stands before you, and Roger shall be free for evermore.’
So spoke Melissa not once, but many times, before they drew near the castle, where she bade farewell to Bradamante, dreading that the wizard should see her and take fright. The maiden rode on till she reached an open space, where two fierce giants were pressing Roger sore and well-nigh overcoming him. In a moment all the words of Melissa were forgotten, or rather she deemed that jealousy or revenge had prompted her words. And, as these thoughts ran swiftly through her, a cry for help sounded in her ears. Slay Roger? Melissa must have indeed been mad when she gave her this counsel, and, spurring her horse, she galloped after the wounded knight, who, pursued by his foes, was riding at full speed to the castle.
When they were all four inside the courtyard, the gate swung to and Bradamante was a prisoner.
Now it was written in the magic book carried by Astolfo, the knight who had been changed by Alcina into a myrtle tree and restored by Melissa, that if a stone on the threshold were raised, the whole palace would vanish into smoke as the other castle had done before. Though he knew it not, Melissa stood by his side as he rode through the wood, many weeks after Bradamante had entered the castle, and whispered to him that the time had come to prove the truth of the prophecy. First blowing a blast with the horn which affrighted all that dwelt within the walls, with a mighty heave he raised the magic stone. In an instant the earth rocked, and he was thrown flat upon the ground, while with a roar the castle crumbled into dust. The knights and ladies imprisoned therein ran forth in fear, and it was not until the ill-fated place was left far behind that they stopped to look about them.
It was then that Roger and Bradamante beheld each other once more, and in the joy of meeting forgot the pains they had endured since they had parted. But one promise Bradamante asked of Roger before she would be his wife. ‘I cannot wed an infidel,’ said she. ‘You must become a Christian first.’
‘Right willingly,’ answered Roger, and it was agreed between them that they should set out at once for a fair abbey, so that the rite might be delayed no longer.
Thus they talked; but not yet were they to be united. On their way a distressed damsel met them on the road imploring help, which both knight and lady readily granted. But, alas! in seeking to give the aid prayed of them they strayed unwittingly down various roads, and it was long before fortune again brought them together. For hardly had Roger brought to an end his adventure than he learned that his liege lord, Agramante king of Africa, was hard pressed by Charlemagne the emperor, and needed his vassal to fight by his side. So Roger turned his face to the west, first bidding his squire ride back to Bradamante and tell her that, once the war was finished, nothing further should delay his baptism.
The war went ill with Agramante, and many a time Roger was sore wounded and like to die. Far away, in the house of her father among the mountains, tales came now and then to Bradamante of Roger’s doings in the fight. Bitterly her soul chafed at not being by his side to help and tend him; but, if she could not fight against him, far less could she fight in the ranks of the infidels. Thus, weary at heart, she waited and sat still, or wandered about the forests, hoping to meet someone who could bring her tidings of Roger.
For long no one came through the thick dark woods, and Bradamante was almost sick with despair, when a Gascon knight rode by.
‘Are you from the war, brave sir?’ asked she, springing up from the bank where she had cast herself, and going eagerly to meet him. ‘Are you from the war, and have you news from one Roger?’
‘Alas! madam,’ he answered, ‘but a month since he was sore wounded in fight with one Mandricado, and has since lain in his bed, tended by the lady Marfisa, who wears a breast-plate as easily as she does a woman’s gown. Had it not been for her skill, Roger would long have been buried, and when he is able to bear arms again doubtless he will offer his hand to the damsel in marriage. At least, so say all in camp. But the sun is low and time presses. I must begone.’
He went on his way, and when he was out of sight Bradamante turned and loosed her horse from the tree to which she had tied him and rode back to the castle. Without a word she mounted the stairs to the tower where she dwelt, and, throwing herself on her bed, gave vent to the torrents of jealousy which possessed her soul. Then, rising up, she bade her maidens weave her with all speed a sad-coloured mantle, and when it was ready she took the lance of gold belonging to Astolfo, which had (though she knew it not) the gift of unhorsing every warrior whom it touched, and, going to the courtyard, led out and saddled her horse.
Alone, without even a squire to help her, Bradamante began her journey to Arles, where the army of Agramante lay encamped. On the road thither she met with many an adventure, but by the aid of the golden lance always bore down her foe. After one of these fights she fell in with the Lady Flordelice, who was herself riding to Arles in the hope of gaining news of her husband, now a prisoner in the hands of the Moors. By her Bradamante sent a message challenging Roger to come forth to meet her in single combat.
‘And if he asks my name say it is unknown to you,’ she added, ‘but that the stranger knight had bidden you take this horse, and prayed that he might bestride it in battle.’
Flordelice was careful to fulfil the trust laid upon her, and no sooner was she within the gates of Arles than she sought out Roger and delivered him the message and the horse. The young man, perplexed at the defiance of the nameless knight, sought counsel of his father, who bade him accept the challenge and prepare for battle without delay. While he was making ready other knights were not slow to seize the chance of giving the haughty Christian a lesson, and went out to fight in the plain beyond the walls. But a single touch of the magic lance was enough to unhorse them all, and one by one Bradamante sent them to their lord.
‘Tell him I await a better man than you,’ said she.
‘And what is his name?’ asked Ferrau of Spain when he rode before her, having craved permission to try his strength against the stranger.
‘Roger,’ answered she, and, as her vizor was raised, Ferrau could not but see the red that flushed her face, though he feigned to notice nothing.
‘He shall come to you,’ replied Ferrau, ‘but first you must cross swords with me,’ and, spurring his horse, he rode to share the fate of the rest.
Right glad was Roger to hear that the peerless knight Ferrau had been borne down like those who had gone before him, and that it was he and no other whom the victor wished to fight. But the courtiers of King Agramante now thronged around Ferrau, asking if perchance he had seen the face of his foe, and knew it for having beheld it elsewhere.
‘Yes, I saw it,’ said Ferrau, ‘and it bore something of the semblance of Rinaldo. But since we know that it cannot be, and that the young Ricardo has neither the strength nor the skill to unhorse so many well-proved knights, it can be none other than their sister Bradamante. Truly she is mightier even than Rinaldo or her cousin Roland the Wrathful.’
At that Roger started, and his cheeks reddened even as those of Bradamante had done. He stood silent and awkward under the eyes of the whole court, for he feared to meet Bradamante and to read in her face that during the long months of his absence her love had given place to anger.
While Roger waited, uncertain whether to accept or refuse the challenge of Bradamante, Marfisa buckled on her coat of mail, and rode out in his stead to meet the foe. Bradamante felt in her heart who the knight was with the plume of blue and shining golden corselet, and hate burned in her soul as fiercely as in the breast of the other.
Thrice the magic lance stretched Marfisa on the ground, and thrice she rose and sought to avenge herself by a sword-thrust. At this point a body of knights, with Roger in their midst, arrived upon the field, while a band of pagan warriors approached from the opposite side. Blows were soon struck, and Bradamante, caring nothing for her own life, galloped wildly about seeking to catch sight of Roger.
The silver eagle on a blue shield was hard to find, but Bradamante found it at last, and crying, ‘Traitor, defend yourself!’ dashed wildly at him. Yet, in spite of herself, the arm which had been strong before was strangely weak now, and Roger could, with one thrust, have borne her off her horse, but instead his lance remained in air; she might slay him if so she chose; she had the right, but every hair of her head was safe from him.
So the day that began so badly ended happily for them all. Roger renewed his vow and became a Christian, but once more declared that by all the laws of honour and chivalry he could not desert Agramante in his dire straits. Fate again divided him from Bradamante, and sent him to join the army of Agramante, which had been worsted in many battles. The king had broken a truce with Charlemagne, and was trying to collect men and ships in Africa, and Roger felt that he was bound in honour to go to his aid. He put off in a small barque, but a violent tempest drove them up and down all night, and cast Roger at dawn upon a barren shore. But, so exhausted was he by his fight with the waves, that even yet he must have died from hunger and cold had not a hermit who dwelt in a cave close by come to his help. Here Roger rested till his strength came back to him, and before he bade farewell to the hermit he had been baptized a Christian.
No sooner was Roger healed from the hurts given him by the winds and waves, than he watched eagerly for a passing boat that might take him back to France. He waited and watched for long, but at length a ship put into the island, having on board both Rinaldo and Roland. Right welcome did they make Roger, whom both knew to be the flower of infidel chivalry, and when they heard that, Agramante being slain in battle, Roger was free to swear fealty to the emperor, and had besides been baptized a Christian, Rinaldo at once promised him the hand of his sister Bradamante.
And now it may well be thought that the time had come for the prophecy of Melissa to be fulfilled, and for Roger and Bradamante to receive the marriage blessing. But their happiness was to be delayed still further, for the old duke Aymon declared that he had chosen a husband for his daughter in the son of Constantine, emperor of the East, and not all the tears and prayers of Bradamante and Rinaldo would move him one whit. By the help of her brother, Bradamante contrived once more to see Roger, who bade her take heart, as he would himself go to Constantinople and fight the upstart prince and dethrone his father, then he would seize the crown for himself, and Bradamante should be empress after all. At these words Bradamante plucked up her courage and they embraced and parted.
After Roger had set forth the days hung heavily at duke Aymon’s court, till one night, as Bradamante was lying awake, wondering if the vision of Melissa would ever come to pass, she saw suddenly a way out of her distresses. So the next morning she rose early, and fastening on her armour, left her father’s castle for Charlemagne’s camp. Craving speedy audience of the emperor, she besought him as a boon that he would order proclamation to be made that no man should be given her for husband till he had first overcome her in battle. To this Charlemagne consented, although duke Aymon, who had followed his daughter, prayed the emperor to refuse her this grace, and the old man, waxing very wroth at his defeat, shut up the damsel in a strong tower between Perpignan and Carcassonne.
While these things were taking place at home, Roger had reached the shores of Constantinople, and learned that the emperor of the East was engaged in a fight with the Bulgars, and that his army was encamped in a field near Belgrade. Thither Roger rode with all the speed he might, and finding that the king of the Bulgars had just been slain by the hand of Leo, son of Constantine, he offered to be the leader of the army, and soon put the Greeks to flight. Indeed, such were his mighty deeds, that Leo himself, rival (though he knew it not) of Roger, could not fail to wonder at them. When the battle was over, the Bulgarian army begged him to be their king, so sure were they that victory would follow his banner; but he declined, for the secret reason that he purposed to follow the prince, and slay him in single combat.
But instead of killing each other these two brave knights ended in becoming friends and brothers, for Leo delivered Roger from prison, where he had unjustly been thrown by the sister of Constantine, and they both journeyed together to France, to enter the lists for the hand of Bradamante.
Although they travelled with all the speed they might, they only arrived at the appointed place outside Paris on the day of the combat, when Bradamante was arming herself for the struggle. The prince knew well by this time that it was hopeless for him to think of winning for himself the love that had so long been given to another, and he prayed Roger to do him the grace to wear his arms and to bear his name in the tourney. It cost Roger somewhat to lay aside the arms and the name that had stood him for many a year in such good stead, but he owed the prince too much to say him nay, although to bid farewell to Bradamante when he had won the prize in fair fight would be bitter indeed.
With a double-headed eagle on Leo’s crimson shield, and Leo’s velvet surcoat over his coat of mail, Roger did obeisance to the emperor and then walked into the lists. He had chosen to give battle on foot, since Bradamante was riding his horse Frontino.
All day long the combat lasted, and, as Bradamante had been unable to bear down her foe, she was proclaimed vanquished. But of what value was the victory to him, seeing that he had gained the reward for another? So, hastily stripping off the armour belonging to the Greek prince, he left the tent unseen, and, catching sight of Frontino grazing quietly among some trees, sprang quickly on his back and plunged into the forest.
‘Let death come soon,’ he said to himself, ‘since life is worthless.’
Meanwhile the court in Paris rang with the name of Leo the prince, and duke Aymon informed his daughter that the marriage feast need no longer be postponed. But to this Bradamante turned a deaf ear.
‘I will wed none but Roger,’ she cried, and though her parents taunted her with her broken vow, and threatened her with the wrath of the emperor, she would give no other answer.
‘I can always die,’ she thought to herself.
The court was all confusion and perplexity; the emperor loved Bradamante, but he did not wish to offend either her powerful father or the still more powerful Constantine. The test had been proposed by Bradamante herself, and how could he give permission that she should break her plighted word?
It was Melissa who once more set this tangle straight. She appeared to Leo, who was standing idly at his tent door, and told him that Roger was dying in the depths of the forest. The prince, who had grieved sorely for the loss of his friend, heard eagerly her tale, and consented gladly to go with her to seek him.
The Roger whom they found at last was very different from the Roger who had entered the lists but three days agone. His face was pale, his hair was damp, his clothes hung loosely on his body. Leo’s heart smote him as he gazed, and, sinking on his knees beside Roger, he pulled his hands gently down from his face.
It was not long before he had drawn out from the young knight the secret which Roger had hidden so carefully when he had thought that honour and gratitude demanded it. Leo listened in amaze and took shame to himself that he had never guessed it sooner.
‘Oh, Roger,’ he cried, when at length the tale was ended, ‘sooner would I give up a thousand Bradamantes and all I possess in the world than lose a friend so noble and generous as you. So rise quickly and let us hasten back to where Bradamante awaits us.’
And so the prophecy was fulfilled in the end, and everyone was made happy. Yes, even duke Aymon and his wife Beatrice; for before the wedding rejoicings were begun an embassy arrived from the Bulgarian people, begging leave from the emperor Charlemagne to offer their crown to his vassal Roger. And nobody grudged Roger and Bradamante their happiness, for they had waited so long for it, and worked so hard for it.
[From Orlando Furioso.]
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57