Consuelo de la Borja, soon to be known as Constanzia Borgia, was stealing one last tryst with her lover before her family sent her away to Rome to live with her uncle, Pope Alexander Sixtus. It’s so unfair, she thought, as she drifted off the sleep, Pablo is a worthy man, worthy enough to marry the niece of Valencia’s Borgia pope, even if he is only a humble sword maker. Besides, his swords are famous all over Spain, even the king and Queen, Ferdinand and Isabella, have both commissioned blades from him.
Pablo’s personal sword had worked its magic on Consuelo and she was drifting off to sleep in the heat of the afternoon. Surely she deserved her independence, she was a widow now, no longer the child who had married into a prominent family in Toledo. I ought to run away she thought, I have the money they returned to me from my dowry as my widow’s portion, I can go anywhere I like.
She nestled into Pablo’s comfortable bed, falling so gently asleep that she was not even aware when she began dreaming—the same dream she had since her family announced they were sending her to Rome. A simple dream, really, where all was dark but the bed was soft and warm, as was the body she could feel hovering above her. She put out her hand to touch his face, finding smooth skin and the soft hairs of a scant beard that covered part of his jaw and his chin.
“Querida, do you not remember me?” the voice whispered gently. She could feel his hands touching her breasts, now putting his mouth on them, driving her wild with desire. His hands stroked her silky thighs, then gently but insistently pushed them apart as he pushed himself into her and began to move, gently at first, then rougher, firmer.
“You’re mine little deer, all mine, have you forgotten? You said you would always love me, must I remind you?” His voice tickled her ears and he put his lips on hers, opening her mouth and teasing her with his tongue.
When he was about to bring her to her peak of passion, the thing happened that always happened with this dream. She opened her eyes and sat up, forgetting for a moment where she was. She was lost now without that dream and began to weep.
She looked over at Pablo snoring contentedly. She realized now what she thought had been love had only been a way to pass the time, to drive away the memory of her husband and the child that she had lost. It was not Pablo, handsome though he was and kindness itself. Pablo would never be enough; her dream had told her so. Rome, then, would be her fate.
She dressed quickly and threw a light shawl over her head and left him for the last time. Being in the heat did not bother her for was she not part Turkish from her mother and Spanish from her father? Her brown hair, “Borgia Brown” as her mother called it, showed hints of gold from the Valencian sunshine. Her eyes were a dark amber brown, so unlike the eyes of her other relatives, she had inherited her womanly curves from her mother. She knew she was lovely but would her cousin Cesare find her so?
She had not seen him since she was eight years old, and like her, he would have grown up. She remembered the tall boy with the warm ivory skin and dark brown hair like hers. He was taller than his brother Juan and better looking, though both Borgia boys were considered nothing less than handsome. Their sister Lucrezia was all white and gold with angelic blue eyes. When she stood next to Lucrezia she looked like the Moorish maid of a Renaissance angel but she’d never minded. She loved her cousins above all else, even God, though Cesare told her that was a sin.
Her father, Carlos, had come to Rome with his brother Rodrigo when he was made Cardinal. He had met and married the half Turkish maiden, Sofia, and had begun his family, as well as starting a merchant house under the name of “Borgia”. Like his brother, he found success, but not acceptance, and when his youngest daughter, Constanzia, was eight years old he had moved the family back to Spain where he found the favor of the queen and a much friendlier climate.
Consuelo ordered her bath, and when finished, changed into a fresh gown, her mind still not leaving her memories of her cousins. Lucrezia she had adored, Juan she had hated and the two fought like cats. Cesare would watch amused until it looked like blood would soon be shed, then with a threat to tell both their mothers, would send them off. None of them ever questioned Cesare’s authority, she was sure that much had not changed. Was Cesare not destined to take the cloth? How would that change him, for even at twelve he had begun to slip away with the servant girls, emerging with a smile on his face that let the younger two know he was on the brink of manhood.
She sighed, thinking about her dream. Was there a man alive who could make her feel the way her dream lover could? She did not think so. She had loved her husband and had found satisfaction in the arms of Pablo, but her dream lover made her feel as no one else did.
She made excuses even she did not believe about missing the afternoon meal. Did they expect that she had been with Pablo? Did they know? Did they have her followed? Surely they would know she would see him one last time.
She tried to play the dutiful daughter as she sat down for the light supper they took in the evening. She made one last futile attempt to avoid the inevitable. “Papa, there is so much fighting going on now in Italy; surely it would be safer for me to remain in Spain, yes?”
“Your cousin Juan is leading the Papal Armies, and Rome is protected by high walls. It has not been invaded in centuries. Besides, you need a change of scenery, verdad? There is no smile on your face anymore; you refuse any suitors who come to court you. Come, come, your uncle is now Pope; you will be able to attract a level of suitor you could not before. Lucrezia, Juan, and Cesare are bastards, while you are not. ”
“But I will still be nothing more than a dirty Spaniard, and one who is part Turkish at that. Sorry Mama,” she looked at her mother, who was unperturbed. “Besides, Lucrezia is probably so beautiful now that no one will be interested in me.”
“Now that is not true, Querida, your beauty has always been spoken of. You come from good families, and that counts for much in the marriage game as well as a good reputation. And you have no bastard child, have you?”
So they did know about Pablo. “No, no child, I wish there were. I lost my child so early in my pregnancy, and then my husband shortly after. We Spanish are too bloodthirsty; we don’t turn away from war if it’s offered. If we had, my husband might still be alive.”
Her mother, beautiful after seven pregnancies that resulted in seven healthy children, said, “But you are young, mija, there is still time for children. You are young, you are beautiful, you will have no problem finding a husband who will love you. It is too bad that you and Cesare are related so closely, we could have arranged a marriage for you with him and he need not have taken orders. You were always so fond of each other. He was devoted to you and so sad to lose you when we returned to Spain. He will make sure you are happy, do not worry.”
Cesare! How she had loved him. Would he approve of her now that she was no longer his little pet? He was her handsome prince from the fairy tales Vannozza and Sofia would read them. She had been so happy in Rome, once. Maybe her father was right, her happiness no longer resided in Spain, so she must find it there in Rome.
They sent her by ship; feeling it was the lesser of two evils. Bandits overland, pirates at sea, it made little difference, but the trip had been easier over the water. Fortunately, she was not prone to seasickness but had helped nurse other passengers who were not so fortunate.
The Pope had sent an armed guard to meet her, along with a litter and wagons for her baggage. She wished that she could have ridden, but was told that would not be seemly for a young lady. She shook her head, seemly. If only they knew the young lady had been carrying on an affair with a swordsmith—would that have made her less “seemly”.
She arrived in Rome late in the afternoon. “We will be taking you to the Lady Vannozza’s house,” a captain told her, and she had to suppress a giggle. Vannozza had been a courtesan before she met Rodrigo Borgia, but it had worked out very well for her. She was devoted to the Pope, who loved her and her children dearly in return. Her uncle, no, “The Holy Father”, as she must now accustom herself to thinking of him, had loved his younger brother and his family almost unreservedly. He had been upset when the family returned to Spain but had understood why.
The litter pulled up in front of a beautiful house, more like a palace than her parents’ simple house on their estate in the Valencia countryside. There stood the Borgias, all of them, plus Vannozza, to greet her.
How Uncle Rodrigo had changed! She curtseyed low and knelt before him to kiss his ring. “Holy Father,” she murmured softly.
He raised her up and took her in his strong arms and hugged her. “My, how you have grown, and into such a beauty, though I never doubted it. You may greet your Aunt Vannozza now; she has been eagerly awaiting your arrival, along with the rest of us.” He sounded more than a little pompous, but he had always had that air.
Perhaps her golden hair had faded a little, and there were a few wrinkles in her face that Consuelo did not remember, but Vannozza dei Cantanei was still beautiful and formidable. She had always liked that about her. Vannozza drew her into her loving arms and kissed her on both cheeks, “You are such a young lady now, I will have to get used to it,” she said and laughed.
Lucrezia could be held back no longer. “Cousin!” she cried delightedly, “You look more like a Moorish princess than ever! I am so glad to have you here; it is like having a long lost sister return.” She hugged and kissed her with all the enthusiasm of her fourteen years, and Consuelo could not help responding in kind.
Juan stood stiffly, kissed her cheek dutifully, but it was clear he was no less hostile than he had been as a boy. Thank goodness you are my cousin, she thought, if they tried to marry us we would attempt to tear the other to pieces. She still did not like Juan Borgia, nor did she trust him, nor was it likely she ever would.
She turned and looked at Cesare—when had he grown so tall? And; well, manly? His eyes, as blue as Lucrezia’s, looked at her fondly as he held out his arms. She rushed into them, forgetting that she was no longer the eight-year-old girl who had cried when they had separated her from him, but now a woman grown and a widow as well.
He held her close to him, perhaps too closely, but she didn’t mind. She had always felt safe in his arms and that had not changed, but there was a gleam in his eye that she did not quite recognize. He was so handsome that he took her breath away, unaware all the while of the look he was giving her.
“Bella,” he whispered and squeezed her tightly, “I will not let you get away this time, I promise.”
Vannozza put a hand on her shoulder, “Come, pet, we will prepare you a bath, you must be tired from your journey. You can wear one of my gowns, though you have grown so tall, I hope it fits. Cesare,” she said with meaning, “Make sure that her luggage is put in her room.” She swept her niece away from him, not revealing her alarm over the exchange that had gone on between them. She took her upstairs where the maids were pouring hot water into the tub, then helped remove the blue traveling dress she had worn since landing in Ostia.
The Pope did not join them for dinner that night, but they spent the evening as they had so many times before she returned to Spain. She and Juan were now old enough to eat at the grown up’s table, as she had always called it. It was good to be with her cousins again, but she already missed her parents and her brothers as they conducted lively arguments at the dinner table, drawing the disapproval of her mother.
She tried not to look at Cesare, but it was hard not to. When he caught her eye he would give her a little secret smile that made her glad her ivory tinted skin was not so prone to blushes as Lucrezia’s roses and cream complexion. She was accustomed to the frank, open stare of Pablo, or the looks of affection her husband would give her, but this was something different. And she was feeling something that she could not quite put a name to, somehow she wanted Cesare to kiss her, and not just the affectionate kiss of a cousin—and that was a sin. Cesare was a member of the clergy, however much his elegant black clothes might deny it.
The wine, the journey, the company, the fatigue were all contributing to overwhelming tiredness that she could not fight. Vannozza saw this and ordered the maids to put her to bed. Juan gave her a chaste kiss on the cheek, but Cesare chose to kiss her lips, a kiss that lingered a fraction too long without drawing the attention of his mother.
She was swept up to her room, undressed and put into bed, falling asleep almost before her head hit the pillow. She slept the sleep of the exhausted, deep and dreamless until something woke her up. She stared around her shadowy room. Even the drawn shutters could not completely shut out the light from the full moon that shone without.
She could not go back to sleep, even worse, she suddenly felt homesick and she found herself missing Pablo, her family, her lost baby, and her husband. The tears fell unbidden, and as she wiped them aside, she decided not to remain in her room, but to go outside to the little fountain in the courtyard. She wrapped a shawl around her shoulders and unlocked her door, walking softly down the hall until she found the great door that led outside.