The plot tidying continues!
Bradamante and Marfisa enter the camp of King Charles and everyone’s delighted to see Bradamante and they gawk at Marfisa. More than a few of the Christian knights fought her on the battlefield. Marfisa kneels to the King. She tells her backstory and asks to be baptized as a Christian. King Charles agrees and it’s set for the next day.
Then it’s back to the moon where Astolfo says good bye to Saint John and sets off back to Earth. He heals King Senapo/Prester John with a magic herb and in return Senapo musters his army of Nubians. Then Astolfo goes to a hill where he captures the wind in a bag. This in hand, he returns to the army where he prays and Saint John transforms an avalanche into camels for the army to mount. Off they ride to wage war on King Agramante’s North African holdings.
Word reaches King Agramante and he’s now torn. Does he continue to press the fight against King Charles and the Christians or does he return to Africa and defend his kingdom. King Marsilio says they should stay. King Sorbino says they should go. In the end it’s decided that they’ll approach King Charles and suggest the Christians pick a champion to fight their Muslim champion and end the war that way.
King Charles agrees to the suggestion. The Christians pick Rinaldo as their champion. The Muslims pick Ruggiero. Bradamante weeps at this. Rinaldo is her brother. Ruggiero is her betrothed. But Melissa the Sorceress shows up (remember her? Of course, you don’t!) and tells her not to worry. She has a plan.
The day comes. Solemn vows get made before priest and imam. Both kings agree to abide by the duel’s outcome. Both knights say they will serve the other king if their own bids them to cease fighting. It is agreed that the knights will fight on foot with axe and dagger.
Then the combat begins, but it is slow since neither knight really wants to harm the other… and that’s where things stop.
“The rest in the next canto you will hear,
If next time you desire to join me there.”
CANTO SCORE CARD
KNIGHT: Bradamante, Marfisa, Ruggiero, Astolfo, King Senapo, King Charles, King Agramante, King Marsilio, King Sorbino, Rinaldo, all the second stringers… (Guidon, Sansonetto, Viviano, Ricciardo, Riciardetto, Grifone, the sons of Oliver, etc.)
MAGES: Melissa, Saint John, Malagigi
MONSTERS: hippogriff the stone camels, man
MAGIC ITEMS: A bag of wind, camels made from stones, magic herb, the usual magic armor
This is one of those cantos where I wonder if I should be looking up all the Italian historical figures Ariosto name drops because maybe when he has one of his stories about some horrible kingdom he’s actually throwing shade at some 15th century contemporary he mentions. But I feel like looking every one up goes against the nature of this project, which is that people should pick up old books and read them because they’re entertaining af and not because they’ll give you culture.
On to our canto…
Ariosto starts by extolling the virtues of women and saying that we don’t know the whole of all their great deeds because men suppress their accomplishments. A notion Joanna Russ would agree with.
“For Woman’s merits many a man will not
Proclaim, though gladly ill of her he says.”
Ariosto then goes on to say how it’s impossible to pick one women to hold aloft as the greatest, since there are so many who could be called so. But if forced to pick, well, the answer would be obvious: his patrons wife!
“She is Vittoria and justly crowned, As one to victory and triumph born.
Where’er she walks, the laurel-leaves abound.”
This whole bit fills the first twenty plus stanzas of the canto. Once that’s done, it’s back to our story…
We pick up where we left off with Bradamante, Marfisa, Ruggiero reconciled and preparing to split up. They had heard a shout in the woods and gone off to investigate. And promptly came upon Ullania (handmaid of the Queen of Iceland) and maids. They’d been beaten, whipped, and had their skirts cut short up to the “umbilical”. Exposed, they try to cover up. Bradamante recognizes Ullania and wants to know what happened. And the tale is a familiar one: an awful kingdom ruled by a vicious tyrant with inhuman laws did this to them. Where’s the kingdom? Just over there.
And so, our heroes find some clothes for Ullania and her maids, and all set off for this awful kingdom. When they get close they reach a village full of sad women, and there they learn more about this vicious tyrant by the name of Marganor. Marganor HATES women and forbids any to come into his kingdom. Those who do arrive must be beaten or killed. Meanwhile the village men are forbidden to go near their wives and if Marganor learns of any who do it’s more beating and killing ensues.
Our heroes are like WTF? So the villagers give some backstory for Marganor because of course they do.
Marganor had two sons: Cilandro and Tanacro, who were really good boys until they met women and became rapists. Not that Ariosto calls them that, but that’s pretty much what they are.
First Cilandro falls for a Greek lady and tries to assault her, but gets killed by her knight protector. Marganor falls sad, but at least he has another son. But soon Tanacro falls for a Byzantine lady, Drusilla. She’s already married to a knight named Olindro, but Tanacro doesn’t care. He figures that Cilandro failed because of a lack of planning, so he decides to smarter in his assualt attempt. He sets up an ambush, kills Olindro, and would do the deed with Drusilla there except she pitches herself off a cliff. Only she doesn’t die, but survives. Tanacro brings her back to the castle where he pays to have her treated. In time she heals, and Tanacro presses for marriage. Drusilla agrees, but only as it suits her desire for revenge. She gets some poison and concocts a ritual where she and Tanacro need to drink before her late husband’s tomb. Tanacro agrees and this gets worked into the wedding ceremony. They drink their cup in front of everyone. Drusilla reveals the cup was poisoned. Tanacro dies. Drusilla dies. Marganor does a misogyny and starts killing every women in the church. (He even assaults Drusilla’s dead body.) After that he starts making his decrees banishing women from the kingdom and saying he’ll kill any knight who comes here with one.
Well, our heroes hear all this and think, yeah, we need to stop this. So when morning comes off they ride straight for Marganor’s castle. On the way they come upon a bunch of soldiers escorting an old woman under guard. Turns out that’s Drusilla’s maid (and the one who brewed the poison) and they’re bringing her back to be tortured. Our heroes ride straight into the soldiers and start killing. They free the old woman, then continue on to the castle. Where by now Marganor has had time to march out with his troops.
But, c’mon, this is Bradamante, Marfisa, and Ruggiero.
First, Marfisa charges straight at Marganor and punches him straight in the face. Then Bradamante and Ruggiero charge and clean up all the soldiers. That done, they don’t kill Marganor but strip him naked and have every in the kingdom come around and abuse him. Kids throw rocks at him. Maidens heap garbage in his face. The old women poke him with sharp sticks and Ullania kills him by making him jump from a high tower. After all this Marfisa writes some new laws that put wives in charge of husbands. She says she’ll be back to check if they’re followed. We’ll see if that ever happens. Deeds done the heroes ride forth, making haste to the crossroads where they part and the canto ends.
See you next time! Until then enjoy this knight riding a wolf. A whole nickel to anyone who can guess what canto it’s an illustration from.
CANTO SCORE CARD
KNIGHTS: Bradamante, Marifisa, Ruggiero, Marganor (Cruel Tyrant), Cilandro and Tanacro (Marganor’s rapist sons), Olindro
DAMSELS: Ullania, Drusilla,
HORSES: Frontino (Ruggiero’s horse)
MONSTERS: King Marganor and his rapey sons Cilandro and Tanacro
MAGIC ITEMS: Bradamante’s golden lance, Ruggiero’s everything
We only have ten cantos left!
Ariosto is in full on tie loose ends together mode. Or sort of. Narrative conclusion is not something he’s worried about. A few characters have simply walked out of the story because he might have been sick of writing them.
Honestly, I feel like they’re the true winners here.
But on to our canto…
Ariosto starts with more of that D’Este hagiography. Except it’s not really fun stuff. It’s a pretty grisly retelling of how his patron’s son was captured by Slavic mercenaries and killed by having his head chopped off. It made me think what it must have been like to live at a time when capital punishment was done on the regular in front of audiences. So many people must have walked around with PTSD simply from stopping by the marketplace. This also helps Ariosto highlight his own chivalric fairy tale and say how knights of old weren’t like the thugs with swords now a days.
Back to the tale…
Serpentino, Grandonio, and Ferrau all gather together and wonder at who the knight might be that defeated them. Ferrau figures out it must be Bradamante, and at this love once more rekindles in Ruggiero’s breast. But why has she come to challenge me? This makes him pause as he ponders what to do, and gives Marfisa the chance to get out there and try her hand against this unbeatable Christian knight.
Bradamante welcomes her and asks her name. Marfisa tells her. Bradamante gets filled with hate. Here’s the very woman who stole Ruggiero’s heart. And BANG! Marfisa is knocked from the saddle, but it’s not enough to stop her. It’s another slam bang duel between named characters. And now a crowd’s starting to gather because these two aren’t dueling any more as waging one-person war upon each other. Which makes all the gathered knights decide it’s time the war resumed, and so trumpets sound.
Ruggiero’s watched all this and realizes he loves both women, if not in the same way, and he would give anything for them to stop fighting – but honor dictates the duel continues. Except once the mass battle begins there are too many people on the field for Marfisa and Bradamante to continue their fight. Ruggiero rides out with the rest of the soldiers, and Bradamante sees him and charges. Words get spoken. Accusations made. But when the time comes to attack, she can’t do it. Ruggiero wants an explanation and Bradamante can’t answer him. She rides off. He pursues. They end up in a grove beside a tomb.
Marfisa sees all this and follows. The three meet in the woods. Bradamante sees Marfisa and makes more accusations. Marfisa won’t stand for it. The duel once more ensues. Ruggiero tries shouting, “Ladies! Ladies!” but there’s nothing for it. The women are going to kill each other. Ruggiero can’t let that happen. He gets between them and pulls them apart. Marfisa can’t believe he would do such a thing and turns on him. “You are discourteous, you are uncouth,” she says. And then she attacks him. This makes Ruggiero angry and he counter attacks. He would have killed Marfisa but his sword strikes a tree.
And that’s when things get crazy.
The ground shakes. A voice cries out. It is the inhabitant of the nameless tomb. They command Ruggiero and Marfisa to cease their fighting. Why? Because the tomb is their mom’s and they’re actually brother and sister!
Back story ensues and it’s cribbed from classical sources, but instead of being about Theseus or Perseus it’s about Ruggiero and Marfisa. And the truth about King Agramante’s involvement in killing their dad is revealed. And there’s a prophecy! Ruggiero will die if he becomes a Christian and that’s why she had the wizard Atalante put him in the Knight Motel (remember that?) Back story finished everyone is happy. Marfisa and Ruggiero cease their fight. Bradamante forgives Ruggiero. The mom ghost disappears her duty done, but the matter of whether Ruggiero should abandon King Agramante or not remains. Honor dictates he can’t despite everything. But he’ll keep his eye out for a loop-hole by which he can abandon the cause without any slight to his honor. Bradamante’s sad. Marfisa tells her not to worry. Ruggiero gets ready to ride back to the army. And then a woman’s voice cries out from deeper inside the wood.
Who can it be?
Maybe we’ll find out in the next canto.
Ten more to go!
CANTO SCORE CARD
KNIGHTS: Ferrufino and Cantelmo (real life sons of the duke, Cantelmo was the one beheaded), Serpentino, Grandonio, Ferrau, Ruggiero, Marfisa, Bradamante, a bunch of people in Ruggiero’s mom’s back story
HORSES: Rabicano (still Bradamante’s)
MONSTERS: Mom Ghost
MAGIC ITEMS: Bradamate’s Golden Lance, Ruggiero’s sword
“Who will ascend for me into the skies
And bring me back the wits which I
Ariosto starts us on the moon with an allegory about fame and glory. Astolfo sees an old man collecting name cards and dumping them into the river Lethe. There birds tear the cards apart. Except for a very few which get saved by swans and taken to some temple full of nymphs where the names can shine forth and impress the world. The whole thing gives Ariosto a chance to further kiss the butts of his D’Este patrons. That done he returns to earth and Bradamante.
Bradamante is riding along looking for people to fight when she encounters Fiordiligi wailing on about how her husband has been captured by Rodomonte. Bradamante agrees to help and sets off for the bridge and tower. When she gets there she sees Isabella’s mausoleum and becomes enraged. Words get spoken. Challenges made. Rodomonte charges. Bradamante charges. And KLONK. Down goes Rodomonte and possibly out of the story.
“He went; and nothing more of him was heard,
Except that he took refuge in a cave.”
She frees everyone in the castle* but doesn’t stick around long. Once the door’s are open she and Fiordiligi are off for Arles where the Saracen army is encamped. Bradamante sends Fiordiligi into the city with a message for Ruggiero attacking his honor and saying come fight me. Of course she doesn’t sign her name.. Message given Ruggiero is like “What did I do?” and goes to seek counsel with King Agramante.
And so begins a long list of knights saying ‘Don’t worry, bruh. I got this” before riding off to get their butts whooped by Bradamante. And after each one Bradamante says the same thing, “Go back and tell Ruggiero I am still waiting for him.”
And so Ruggiero dons his armor and gets ready to do battle unknowingly against the woman he loves.
Until next time!
* Rodomonte had already sent many of the captives to Africa including Brandimarte, Fiordiligi’s husband. Sorry sister.
CANTO SCORE CARD
KNIGHTS: Astolfo, Bradamante, Rodomonte, a bunch of knights stuck in Rodomonte’s tower, Ruggiero, King Agramante, a bunch of Saracen knights who get whooped by Bradamante (Serpentino, Grandonio, Ferrau)
HORSES: Rabicano, Frontalatte
MONSTERS: Christian saints, Fates, Allegorical figures