There is no love story like an Italian love story. Among the narratives of Italian folklore recounted over the years is one of a bloodless duel fought between two knights seeking the hand of the same lady. The story takes place over five centuries ago, in the town of Marostica, located in the foothills of the Asiago plateau of Vicenza province in the Veneto region of Northeastern Italy. It was here that Taddeo Parisio, lord of the castle ruled. It seems that Lord Parisio had two daughters: Lionora, who was said to possess such beauty as to make angels envious, and Oldrada, who was not beautiful, just extremely pretty.
The knights in question were Rinaldo D’Angarano and Vieri da Vallonara who could not repress their declarations of love for Lionora. So intense was the rivalry between the two that there was talk of an impending duel between them to win Lionora’s hand in marriage.
Now it was said that Lord Parisio, who was known for his wisdom, frugality and good business sense, felt that to lose a warrior in a duel would be counterproductive. These were two of his most valued knights. Knights function best as warriors, he reasoned, and should not be engaged in peacetime squabbles. Consequently, he decreed that to avoid the spilling of blood and to preserve the honor of both knights the conflict between the two would be settled in a game of chess. The contest would test their reasoning abilities, talents and strategies as well as their ability to perform under the mental and emotional strain of adverse and demanding circumstances.
In keeping with his decree, Lord Parisio invoked an edict that the contest would involve a gigantic chessboard with human chess pieces, the grandeur of which would allow thousands of spectators to attend. The victor of the match would win the hand of the beautiful lady Lionora while the vanquished would be offered the hand of Oldrada. In that way, both the knights would enjoy the additional reward of becoming members of the royal family. Since there could be only one winner, both knights agreed to accept the outcome of the contest, win or lose.
Many foreign dignitaries, such as the Lords of Angarano and Vallarona, were invited along with the nobles of nearby cities and members of other royal families. Lord Parisio also ordered a parade of armed infantrymen, knights on horseback, heralds, nobleman, falconers, standard bearers, musicians, acrobats, fire eaters, farmhands and villagers: all in honor of this historic event.
The staging of a full scale chess board was organized in the piazza below the castle with a gigantic chess board consisting of sixty-four squares, each measuring approximately four feet by four feet. On opposite ends of the chess board were human chess “pieces” representing competing armies—an army in black consisting of a king, a queen, two bishops, two knights and two castles with their pawns to the front, all facing the army in white at the other end of the piazza.
On a high pedestal, overlooking the giant chess board below, sat the Knights Rinaldo and Vieri with a chess table between them. To one side stood Lord Parisio who would observe the moves between the knights and direct the identical movements of each human chess piece below. Those overtaken by an opponent’s piece would retire to the opponent’s side, captured and out of the match. Most importantly, each player would have to prevent the capture of his king: the loss of the king meant the loss of the match.
The human chess pieces moved from one square to another in a manner particular to its character. The king, of course moved on his own, unassisted, as did the bishop. But when the queen moved, it was with the assistance of two pages following dutifully behind keeping the train of her royal robe from touching the ground. The knight, on horseback, moved with the assistance of his squire whose job it was to lead the horse by the halter to the designated square and to keep the horse calm. The only non-human piece was the castle, a seven foot cylindrically-shaped object topped with a turret, moved from square to square by two pages. To the front of the royal entourage were eight pawns, also moving about unassisted.
As the two knights pitted their skills, one against the other, each was careful to protect his king from being captured. The Ladies Lionora and Oldrada watched the movements of the match intensely from high above. Both ladies hoped that Rinaldo would lose the match, but for different reasons, because each was harboring her own secret.
As the match progressed, chess pieces from both sides were captured and retired to the enemy’s camp. Rinaldo’s moves were ingenious, capturing many of Vieri’s pieces. Vieri retaliated as best he could by taking many of Rinaldo’s pieces. Then suddenly, Vieri began to move his pieces with such strategic skill as to place Rinaldo’s king in the tenuous position of being captured. Then, after several more moves, Vieri announced, “Check mate.” Rinaldo’s king had been captured and the match was over with Vieri declared the victor.
Unknown to anyone were the secrets harbored by each of the lord’s daughters. Oldrada, the younger of the two had been in love with Knight Rinaldo from the time she was a little girl but she was too shy to mention a word of it to anyone. She was a gracious, warmhearted and kindly young lady devoid of pride. So in love with Rinaldo was she that she would willingly accept him as her husband unconditionally.
Conveniently, Lionora’s secret serves to tie up any loose ends to this story. You see, long before the chess match, she and Vieri had been deeply involved in an ongoing love affair. So it was important to Lionora, as well as to her sister Oldrada, that Knight Vieri emerge victoriously.
Over five centuries have passed since the first human chess match. In memory of this ancient event, the people of Marostica prepare this special game with all its pomp and pageantry. The event lasts two hours with more than 500 characters including clowns, acrobats, townspeople and the like all dressed in renaissance costumes. It takes place during the second Friday, Saturday and Sunday in September during even numbered years.
Now's the time to plan for 2014, so what are you waiting for? Buon viaggio!
[Image at the Marostica website: