Chapter 10: The Betrothal
I’ve discovered that once again I’ve strayed from an intended timeline in my story. If you can find it, you’re better than me because I couldn’t. Oh well, I’m known for changing my mind.
If only Lucrezia were here, she thought, then realized that she did not wish for Lucrezia to know how cruel Cesare could be. She would never tarnish the image Lucrezia had of her brother. Let her think him kind, and noble, and loving. There was one, however, she could perhaps go to, not to talk of him, but to help her with something else.
Julia Farnese and the Pope were enjoying their breakfast and obviously had not expected company, but La Bella quietly requested a place be set for Constanzia. She allowed herself to be seated at the table, and then spoke to the Pope and La Bella of ordinary things, until Alexander left the table, kissing both the ladies fondly on the cheek.
“Now my dear,” said Julia, “Will you tell me why you have blessed me with your presence? I do not see much of you, though I would like that to change.”
“Will you do my hair? Not too elaborately, but as you might for a special occasion? And help me put on a little makeup?”
Farnese smiled, “Would you like to borrow one of my gowns, also? I think you might fit. I take it something special is in the air.”
Constanzia sighed. “I am to meet Calvino Pallavicini this afternoon, and I would like to take extra care with my hair and my dress. Not too much,” she added, “I just want to look especially pretty for him. I know Uncle has been talking about arranging a marriage between us, and now that Cesare is gone I would like to look—different.”
Ah, that was it, Farnese thought, Rodrigo thinks only of an advantageous match, not realizing at the same time that his son has controlled his cousin so completely that she thinks of escape.
“Do you think you would like to marry him, dear?” she asked her.
“Well, he seems kind. He is handsome, not as handsome as Cesare,” Constanzia stopped herself, she had not intended to mention her cousin, but it was too late. “We are to meet this afternoon, and if Uncle has approved the match, I think he will propose.”
“And if he does?” asked La Bella.
“I will accept. I want the safety of a marriage. I want children, I have always wanted them. I would like to fall in love with him, but if I can’t, I want to like him and be his partner as much as his wife. I do not know if he would let me…”
“But he might,” Julia replied reading her mind, “I think he will be in negotiations with your uncle this morning, and there might only be last minute arrangements to be made, such as finalizing your dowry. Your uncle intends to supplement the amount your father cannot pay, I am sure. This is a good match for both of you, he will have connections to Rome and Rome will have an interest in the Genoan trade. And you, my child, are as beautiful as Scheherazade herself. You will look irresistible when you meet your Genoan this afternoon, and I think I have just the gown for you to wear when you do.”
And irresistible was how she felt when Farnese finished with her. Her hair had been braided around her head, and fresh flowers tucked into the dark coils. The neckline of Julia’s dress revealed a hint of her breasts—neither too modest not too nor too unseemly for this meeting. She had worn this dress when she first met the pope, Julia assured her, and perhaps it would bring her luck when she met Calvino.
And the embroidered gold slippers that peeped from beneath her skirts were good for walking. Take him into the gardens, Farnese urged, there were places where they could escape their chaperones for just a moment. And if he kissed her, let it be briefly on the lips, not the lovers’ kiss, not yet, just to let him know she found him pleasing. A little modesty, but don’t be prudish, Calvino had seemed like a lusty young man when she met had him.
A message arrived, “Would the Signora Borgia meet him in the Vatican gardens?”
“Good luck, my dear,” Julia kissed her on the forehead, “I think you are doing very well for yourself, and don’t forget to let him know how lucky he is!”
Carmilla was there with a shawl in case she got cold. “You look beautiful,” her maid told her, “He cannot help but be pleased with what he sees.”
“Let us hope that negotiations have been successful and that he means to propose. I wish I could be married and gone before Cesare returns, but I know that is not possible. If I am to be married, my parents will want a proper marriage for me, even if uncle has to pay for it, and I am sure he will. If I am in Genoa, Carmilla, do you think I will be safe—from him?”
Calvino stood, a young man with bronze colored hair at his side whom he introduced as his brother, Raphaello. Normally she loved to walk in the gardens, but today she felt nervous, apprehensive. When Calvino offered her his arm and asked if she wish to accompany him, she agreed and offered him a tour of the gardens which she now knew well.
They paused only briefly at the magnificent Vatican coat of arms done in living flowers. They passed the fountains, statuary, and the clipped and shaped box hedges she especially loved for their cool greenness. What kind of gardens would there be in Genoa, she wondered?
She took him to her favorite place, the humble kitchen gardens, plain yet elegant in their simplicity and the orchards. Calvino picked a fresh, ripe peach for her, then laughed at her dismay as the juices began to run down her chin. He wiped them off with his own silk handkerchief, then took a bite out of the offending peach before tossing it aside.
They turned back to the box hedges and the little benches that were placed here and there in the garden, then sat as Rafaello and Carmilla placed themselves at a strategic distance.
She looked at him surreptitiously. If he was not as heartbreakingly handsome as Cesare, he had a very pleasing countenance nonetheless. His brown curls were darker than hers, and his eyes were true brown with thick black lashes. His skin was lighter than hers, the warm ivory color of the Spaniard where she was pale gold. Looking at his mouth she hoped that he broke propriety and kissed her, she would very much like to be kissed by that mouth, she decided.
He was silent for a moment, then began to speak. “I know it is hard, signora, to be expected to make up your mind to marry someone you hardly know, but that is how it is with arranged marriages. I have spoken to the pope who has the voice of your father in this matter, and he has given his consent. I would be very pleased, very pleased, if you would agree to marry me. I know it will be hard, I understand you have not been a widow for very long and were very fond of your husband…”
“Stop right there. Yes, I will marry you and live with you in Genoa if it pleases you. If you promise to treat me kindly and try to make me happy, that will be a good enough start. If we can start by liking each other, maybe liking can grow into love.”
Calvino took her hands in his, “I like you very much, signora. I have liked you since I saw you at your cousin’s wedding,” then surprised her by kissing her with more enthusiasm than perhaps he should have, but there was a promise in that kiss that she could look forward to more.
She pulled away gently, her cheeks hot, then looked at him with her great dark eyes. “Shall we tell the Holy Father what he is no doubt hoping to hear?”
He looked at her, smiling, “It is what I was hoping to hear myself, but yes, let us go to the Holy Father and ask for his blessing.” His kiss was gentler this time, but his lips lingered and his fingers caressed her cheek.
Being the niece of the pope had its advantages, she thought, for as soon as Cardinal Sforza saw her, she and Calvino were announced to the Holy Father. Rodrigo beamed as they gave him their news, and blessed a beautiful diamond and ruby ring that Raphaello handed to him, then watched as Calvino slid it onto her finger.
All those observing applauded, perhaps more of self-interest than in congratulations to the new couple, but it was plain to all that Genoa would now be aligned in its interests with Rome. Constanzia had done very well for herself, and everyone in the room knew it.
She wore another of La Bella’s gowns that night, feeling like a princess as she stood before the mirror. The pope gave her a magnificent diamond necklace with matching earrings that must have cost a small fortune, and she wondered where it had come from.
At the banquet that night she whispered in Calvino’s ear, “I wish we could run away to a hermit’s cell and have him marry us so we could be married now. Two months seems like an eternity.”
He toasted her, then took a sip of the pope’s excellent wine, “So do I, my darling. It is taking all my self-control not slip into your bedchamber tonight and celebrate our marriage bed. But you would not do that to your parents, yes? I also hear that your uncle is very fond of weddings, so we must not deprive him of ours.” He leaned over and kissed her, “Do not doubt that I would sweep you out of here and have you right now if I could.”
“Even if I said yes?” she said wistfully.
“Especially if you said yes. I will save you from both of us. It won’t be so long, me amor, I will be here a week before the wedding. Time will fly, you will see.”
She wasn’t so sure. She saw him off the next day, holding back her tears. While he was there, she felt like she had a shield against Cesare, but Cesare would be back soon, far sooner than she would be ready.
Even the gift that Calvino sent her two weeks later did not allay her fears, for Cesare had returned home. Her Genoan had sent a number of bolts of beautiful material, silks, satins, and brocades of many colors that were now displayed in the pope’s audience room. There was a small fortune in fabrics lying around, and the most beautiful and costly of all was a bolt of cloth of gold, and a white and gold brocade that was intended for her wedding dress.
“Your Genoan is a wealthy man,” Cesare said to her, and she reflected on how she hadn’t realized just how rich Calvino was.
“He would not have won my hand if he wasn’t. Juan has taken to him for just that reason, I am sure.” She watched as the fabric was taken to Farnese’s chambers. “I had not thought to be one of the Borgia marriage pawns. Lucrezia has been married to the Papal States, I am to be married to Genoa, Juan or Gioffre will be married to Naples, for I know the Holy Father wishes for an alliance there. If you ever succeed in shedding your cardinal’s robes, where will he marry you? France, perhaps?”
“Hush,” he said and squeezed her arm until it hurt. She tried to pull away, but he did not release her until the expression on her face let her know he had made his point. “I am coming to see you tonight, I have not been in your bed since before I went to Florence. Fiancé or not, you are mine until your wedding day, and don’t worry, your Genoan will not know unless you tell him, and that would not be a very good idea.”
The next day Vanozza made a rare visit to La Bella’s chambers. There the two ladies picked out a bolt of fabric that suited them. La Bella chose a sapphire blue and Vanozza an emerald green that suited her coloring wonderfully.
Constanzia watched, tears in her eyes. “I wish Lucrezia were here, there are too many beautiful colors that would suit her, and I can’t imagine which one she would pick.”
Vanozza put her arm around her shoulders, “She will be here for your wedding, or perhaps sooner, she can pick then and will be happy to choose anything you still have. You have a very kind and generous fiancé, my dear, I am sure he will make you very happy.”
“Yes, I am sure he will,” she agreed, but could not stop thinking of Cesare’s slow, deliberate lovemaking of the night before.
“Little deer,” he had called her, like the lover of her dreams. He had not forced her this time, she had practically begged him to take her as he teased her with tongue, hands, and fingers. “I am going to make you remember this,” He’d said, “Every time your Genoan touches you, you are going to remember my hands on you, what they felt like. Ah, I can feel you trembling beneath my touch, but I am not going to give you release, not yet, not yet. Who, now, do you truly belong to, little deer?”
“You,” she cried, not able to help herself, “Only you, now and forever.”