Bulfinch’s Mythology:: Legends of Charlemagne or Romance of the Middle Ages

Author: Thomas Bulfinch  | Date: 1863



ORLANDO, on the loss of Angelica, laid aside his crest and arms, and arrayed himself in a suit of black armor, expressive of his despair. In this guise he carried such slaughter among the ranks of the infidels, that both armies were astonished at the achievements of the stranger knight. Mandricardo, who had been absent from the battle, heard the report of these achievements, and determined to test for himself the valor of the knight so extolled. He it was who broke in upon the conference of Zerbino and Isabella, and their benefactor Orlando, as they stood occupied in mutual felicitations, after the happy reunion of the lovers by the prowess of the paladin.

Mandricardo, after contemplating the group for a moment, addressed himself to Orlando in these words: "Thou must be the man I seek. For ten days and more I have been on thy track. The fame of thy exploits has brought me hither, that I may measure my strength with thine. Thy crest and shield prove thee the same who spread such slaughter among our troops. But these marks are superfluous, and if I saw thee among a hundred I should know thee by thy martial bearing to be the man I seek."

"I respect thy courage," said Orlando; "such a design could not have sprung up in any but a brave and generous mind. If the desire to see me has brought thee hither, I would, if it were possible, show thee my inmost soul. I will remove my visor, that you may satisfy your curiosity; but when you have done so, I hope that you will also try and see if my valor corresponds to my appearance."

"Come on," said the Saracen, "my first wish was to see and know thee; I will now gratify my second."

Orlando, observing Mandricardo, was surprised to see no sword at his side, nor mace at his saddle-bow. "And what weapon hast thou," said he, "if thy lance fail thee?"

"Do not concern yourself about that," said Mandricardo; "I have made many good knights give ground with no other weapon than you see. Know that I have sworn an oath never to bear a sword until I win back that famous Durindana that Orlando, the paladin, carries. That sword belongs to the suit of armor which I wear; that only is wanting. Without doubt it was stolen, but how it got into the hands of Orlando I know not. But I will make him pay dearly for it when I find him. I seek him the more anxiously that I may avenge with his blood the death of King Agrican, my father, whom he treacherously slew. I am sure he must have done it by treachery, for it was not in his power to subdue in fair fight such a warrior as my father."

"Thou liest," cried Orlando; "and all who say so lie. I am Orlando, whom you seek; yes, I am he who slew your father honorably. Hold, here is the sword: you shall have it if your courage avails to merit it. Though it belongs to me by right, I will not use it in this dispute. See, I hang it on this tree: you shall be master of it, if you bereave me of life; not else."

At these words, Orlando drew Durindana, and hung it on one of the branches of a tree near by.

Both knights, boiling with equal ardor, rode off in a semicircle; then rushed together with reins thrown loose, and struck one another with their lances. Both kept their seats, immovable. The splinters of their lances flew into the air, and no weapon remained for either but the fragment which he held in his hand. Then those two knights, covered with iron mail, were reduced to the necessity of fighting with staves, in the manner of two rustics, who dispute the boundary of a meadow, or the possession of a spring.

These clubs could not long keep whole in the hands of such sturdy smiters, who were soon reduced to fight with naked fists. Such warfare was more painful to him that gave than to him that received the blows. They next clasped, and strained each his adversary, as Hercules did Antaeus. Mandricardo, more enraged than Orlando, made violent efforts to unseat the paladin, and dropped the rein of his horse. Orlando, more calm, perceived it. With one hand he resisted Mandricardo, with the other he twitched the horse’s bridle over the ears of the animal. The Saracen dragged Orlando with all his might, but Orlando’s thighs held the saddle like a vise. At last the efforts of the Saracen broke the girths of Orlando’s horse; the saddle slipped; the knight, firm in his stirrups slipped with it, and came to the ground hardly conscious of his fall. The noise of his armor in falling startled Mandricardo’s horse, now without a bridle. He started off in full career, heeding neither trees nor rocks nor broken ground. Urged by fright, he ran with furious speed, carrying his master, who, almost distracted with rage, shouted and beat the animal with his fists, and thereby impelled his flight. After running thus three miles or more, a deep ditch opposed their progress. The horse and rider fell headlong into it, and did not find the bottom covered with feather-beds or roses. They got sadly bruised; but were lucky enough to escape without any broken limbs.

Mandricardo, as soon as he gained his feet, seized the horse by his mane with fury, but, having no bridle, could not hold him. He looked round in hopes of finding something that would do for a rein. Just then fortune, who seemed willing to help him at last, brought that way a peasant with a bridle in his hand, who was in search of his farm horse that had strayed away.

Orlando, having speedily repaired his horse’s girths, remounted, and waited a good hour for the Saracen to return. Not seeing him, he concluded to go in search of him. He took an affectionate leave of Zerbino and Isabella, who would willingly have followed him; but this the brave paladin would by no means permit. He held it unknightly to go in search of an enemy accompanied by a friend, who might act as a defender. Therefore, desiring them to say to Mandricardo, if they should meet him, that his purpose was to tarry in the neighborhood three days, and then repair to the camp of Charlemagne, he took down Durindana from the tree, and proceeded in the direction which the Saracen’s horse had taken. But the animal, having no guide but its terror, had so doubled and confused its traces that Orlando, after two days spent in the search, gave up the attempt.

It was about the middle of the third day when the paladin arrived on the pleasant bank of a stream which wound through a meadow enamelled with flowers. High trees, whose tops met and formed an arbor, overshadowed the fountain; and the breeze which blew through their foliage tempered the heat. Hither the shepherds used to resort to quench their thirst, and to enjoy the shelter from the midday sun. The air, perfumed with the flowers, seemed to breathe fresh strength into their veins. Orlando felt the influence, though covered with his armor. He stopped in this delicious arbor, where everything seemed to invite to repose. But he could not have chosen a more fatal asylum. He there spent the most miserable moments of his life.

He looked around, and noted with pleasure all the charms of the spot. He saw that some of the trees were carved with inscriptions,- he drew near, and read them, and what was his surprise to find that they composed the name of Angelica. Farther on, he found the name of Medoro mixed with hers. The paladin thought he dreamed. He stood like one amazed,- like a bird that, rising to fly, finds its feet caught in a net.

Orlando followed the course of the stream, and came to one of its turns where the rocks of the mountain bent in such a way as to form a sort of grotto. The twisted stems of ivy and the wild vine draped the entrance of this recess, scooped by the hand of nature.

The unhappy paladin, on entering the grotto, saw letters which appeared to have been lately carved. They were verses which Medoro had written in honor of his happy nuptials with the beautiful queen. Orlando tried to persuade himself it must be some other Angelica whom those verses celebrated, and as for Medoro, he had never heard his name. The sun was now declining, and Orlando remounted his horse, and went on his way. He soon saw the roof of a cottage whence the smoke ascended; he heard the barking of dogs and the lowing of cattle, and arrived at a humble dwelling which seemed to offer an asylum for the night. The inmates, as soon as they saw him, hastened to render him service. One took his horse, another his shield and cuirass, another his golden spurs. This cottage was the very same where Medoro had been carried, deeply wounded,- where Angelica had tended him, and afterwards married him. The shepherd who lived in it loved to tell everybody the story of this marriage, and soon related it, with all its details, to the miserable Orlando.

Having finished it, he went away, and returned with the precious bracelet which Angelica, grateful for his services, had given him as a memorial. It was the one which Orlando had himself given her.

This last touch was the finishing stroke to the excited paladin. Frantic, exasperated, he exclaimed against the ungrateful and cruel princess who had disdained him, the most renowned, the most indomitable of all the paladins of France,- him, who had rescued her from the most alarming perils,- him, who had fought the most terrible battles for her sake,- she to prefer to him a young Saracen! The pride of the noble Count was deeply wounded. Indignant, frantic, a victim to ungovernable rage, he rushed into the forest, uttering the most frightful shrieks.

"No, no!" cried he, "I am not the man they take me for! Orlando is dead! I am only the wandering ghost of that unhappy Count, who is now suffering the torments of hell!

Orlando wandered all night, as chance directed, through the wood, and at sunrise his destiny led him to the fountain where Medoro had engraved the fatal inscription. The frantic paladin saw it a second time with fury, drew his sword, and hacked it from the rock.

Unlucky grotto! you shall no more attract by your shade and coolness, you shall no more shelter with your arch either shepherd or flock. And you, fresh and pure fountain, you may not escape the rage of the furious Orlando! He cast into the fountain branches, trunks of trees which he tore up, pieces of rocks which he broke off, plants uprooted, with the earth adhering, and turf and bushes, so as to choke the fountain, and destroy the purity of its waters. At length, exhausted by his violent exertions, bathed in sweat, breathless, Orlando sunk panting upon the earth, and lay there insensible three days and three nights.

The fourth day he started up and seized his arms. His helmet, his buckler, he cast far from him; his hauberk and his clothes he rent asunder; the fragments were scattered through the wood. In fine, he became a furious madman. His insanity was such that he cared not to retain even his sword. But he had no need of Durindana, nor of other arms, to do wonderful things. His prodigious strength sufficed. At the first wrench of his mighty arm, he tore up a pine-tree by the roots. Oaks, beeches, maples, whatever he met in his path, yielded in like manner. The ancient forest soon became as bare as the borders of a morass, where the fowler has cleared away the bushes to spread his nets. The shepherds, hearing the horrible crashing in the forest, abandoned their flocks to run and see the cause of this unwonted uproar. By their evil star, or for their sins, they were led thither. When they saw the furious state the Count was in, and his incredible force, they would fain have fled out of his reach, but in their fears lost their presence of mind. The madman pursued them, seized one and rent him limb from limb, as easily as one would pull ripe apples from a tree. He took another by the feet, and used him as a club to knock down a third. The shepherds fled; but it would have been hard for any to escape, if he had not at that moment left them to throw himself with the same fury upon their flocks. The peasants, abandoning their ploughs and harrows, mounted on the roofs of buildings and pinnacles of the rocks, afraid to trust themselves even to the oaks and pines. From such heights they looked on, trembling at the raging fury of the unhappy Orlando. His fists, his teeth, his nails, his feet, seize, break, and tear cattle, sheep, and swine, the most swift in flight alone being able to escape him.

When at last terror had scattered everything before him, he entered a cottage which was abandoned by its inhabitants, and there found that which served for food. His long fast had caused him to feel the most ravenous hunger. Seizing whatever he found that was eatable, whether roots, acorns, or bread, raw meat or cooked, he gorged it indiscriminately.

Issuing thence again, the frantic Orlando gave chase to whatever living thing he saw, whether men or animals. Sometimes he pursued the deer and hind, sometimes he attacked bears and wolves, and with his naked hands killed and tore them, and devoured their flesh.

Thus he wandered, from place to place, through France, imperilling his life a thousand ways, yet always preserved by some mysterious providence from a fatal result. But here we leave Orlando for a time, that we may record what befell Zerbino and Isabella after their parting with him.

The prince and his fair bride waited, by Orlando’s request, near the scene of the battle for three days, that, if Mandricardo should return, they might inform him where Orlando would give him another meeting. At the end of that time, their anxiety to know the issue led them to follow Orlando’s traces, which led them at last to the wood where the trees were inscribed with the names of Angelica and Medoro. They remarked how all these inscriptions were defaced, and how the grotto was disordered, and the fountain clogged with rubbish. But that which surprised them and distressed them most of all was to find on the grass the cuirass of Orlando, and not far from it his helmet, the same which the renowned Almontes once wore.

Hearing a horse neigh in the forest, Zerbino turned his eyes in that direction, and saw Brigliadoro, with the bridle yet hanging at the saddle-bow. He looked round for Durindana, and found that famous sword, without the scabbard, lying on the grass. He saw also the fragments of Orlando’s other arms and clothing scattered on all sides over the plain.

Zerbino and Isabella stood in astonishment and grief, not knowing what to think, but little imagining the true cause. If they had found any marks of blood on the arms or on the fragments of the clothing, they would have supposed him slain, but there were none. While they were in this painful uncertainty, they saw a young peasant approach. He, not yet recovered from the terror of the scene which he had witnessed from the top of a rock, told them the whole of the sad events.

Zerbino, with his eyes full of tears, carefully collected all the scattered arms. Isabella also dismounted to aid him in the sad duty. When they had collected all the pieces of that rich armor, they hung them like a trophy on a pine; and to prevent their being violated by any passers-by, Zerbino inscribed on the bark this caution: "These are the arms of the Paladin Orlando."

Having finished this pious work, he remounted his horse, and just then a knight rode up, and requested Zerbino to tell him the meaning of the trophy. The prince related the facts as they had happened; and Mandricardo, for it was that Saracen knight, full of joy, rushed forward, and seized the sword, saying, "No one can censure me for what I do; this sword is mine; I can take my own wherever I find it. It is plain that Orlando, not daring to defend it against me, has counterfeited madness to excuse him in surrendering it."

Zerbino vehemently exclaimed, "Touch not that sword. Think not to possess it without a contest. If it be true that the arms you wear are those of Hector, you must have got them by theft, and not by prowess."

Immediately they attacked one another with the utmost fury. The air resounded with thick-falling blows. Zerbino, skilful and alert, evaded for a time with good success the strokes of Durindana; but at length a terrible blow struck him on the neck. He fell from his horse, and the Tartar king, possessed of the spoils of his victory, rode away.


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Chicago: Thomas Bulfinch, "Chapter XIII.," Bulfinch’s Mythology:: Legends of Charlemagne or Romance of the Middle Ages Original Sources, accessed July 20, 2024, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CPP3I7MGM8MTNFI.

MLA: Bulfinch, Thomas. "Chapter XIII." Bulfinch’s Mythology:: Legends of Charlemagne or Romance of the Middle Ages, Original Sources. 20 Jul. 2024. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CPP3I7MGM8MTNFI.

Harvard: Bulfinch, T, 'Chapter XIII.' in Bulfinch’s Mythology:: Legends of Charlemagne or Romance of the Middle Ages. Original Sources, retrieved 20 July 2024, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CPP3I7MGM8MTNFI.