To Love a Borgia

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Bonfires


I am taking poetic license again, and borrowing from “The Borgias” and having Savonarola burned at the stake in Rome, as opposed to Florence where it really took place. Also, two other friars were executed with him, and I am leaving that out for the sake of the story


The Piagnoni were marching again. Standing on Machiavelli's balcony Cesare could hear the Savonarola’s “angels” singing in their boys’ soprano voices yet another hymn of praise. Praise of the monk, no doubt. His followers had driven the Medicis out of Florence, yet this newly established republic seemed to be doing no one any good.

Machiavelli came and stood next to him as they watched the procession march down the street. “So, I take it you’re here to do something about this. The Pope did not take kindly to Florence’s not joining his Holy League.”

“Yes, I am authorized to use any means necessary to bring this monk to Rome to face trial. The Holy Father seems to think that if he can be discredited, that will bring about the end of his influence. And I will use whatever means I can to put an end to this. He has been far too much trouble.” He held out his glass for the patient servant to refill with Machiavelli’s excellent wine.

“Well, that will certainly be welcome. Perhaps life will slowly return to normal here. I know Piero De Medici is anxious to return and take back his city—and control of his banks. Tell me, have you any idea what means you have in store for our preacher?”

“I thought a trial by fire might do it. I’m counting on his vanity to assure himself that he will pass through the flames unscathed. He’s ignited enough fires here, let him make one for himself.”

“I think if you can show him for the charade that he is, then I am sure Florence will be grateful.” Machiavelli paused, waiting for an answer. Something was clearly bothering his young friend, his cousin’s marriage perhaps? He had never stated it openly, but Machiavelli suspected that his feelings for his cousin went beyond that of family. “And how is your cousin?” he ventured carefully, “I have some books she may be interested in.”

“My cousin, my friend, is married to Calvino Pallavicini de Genoa and pregnant with my child.” He drained his glass and held it out for the servant to refill.

“Well, that is certainly inconvenient. One of your father’s strategic marriages, I take it?”

“Yes, most definitely a marriage of convenience. I do not intend that my child be raised by someone else, I suspect Calvino Pallavicini may meet with some sort of inconvenient accident, or perhaps, if God is good, will contract an illness shortly after the birth. And then I will bring my cousin back home to Rome where she belongs.”

Cesare had been right about one thing, Savonarola’s pride was so great that he was eager for the chance to prove himself in the trial by fire. And, as he had expected, Savonarola was not the chosen one of God that he claimed, he emerged from the ordeal badly burned, but no so much that he could not be transported to Rome. And, best of all, when the people saw that their beloved preacher did not have the divine protection that he claimed, they began to turn from him, the first step in Florence returning back to the new normal that they faced.

“He was a fool, Micheletto,” Cesare said as they watched him being loaded onto a cart, “He became greedy, he wanted it all. Had he chosen to be a simple preacher instead of designating himself the liberator of Florence, no one would even have cared. He forgot the cardinal rule, do not defy Rome. He could have saved himself, now he’s facing the stake.” He shook his head, “We must return and see this finished.”

He left Micheletto in charge of seeing the friar back to Rome, and galloped ahead to speak with his father. All in all it was a nasty business. Piero de Medici was a weakling who deserved whatever happened to him, so it didn’t bother him that he was driven from Florence. Neither did the re-establishment of the Florentine Republic matter much, what did concern him was the state of the banks. The Medicis were the leading banking families and much of the wealth of the Romagna passed through their hands. Medici was seeking refuge in Rome, so he hoped his father would make him pay dearly for it.

And he was concerned for Lucrezia, he loved his sister dearly, but what she wanted from him was something he would not and could not give. She was wrong when she said she was not important to him, she was his world. It had not been so long since she had her child, her world had been turned upside down, he would have to make her see that he was not the key to her happiness.

What if you’re wrong, a voice told him, maybe she sees you as her savior, maybe you feel more than you admit. But that was wrong, out of all the women he would ever have, Constanzia was the one he would love the most. Maybe their love was fated to fail, but he would not let go so easily. He wanted his child here, in Rome, not Genoa. He wanted Constanzia back in his arms.

He knew what people said about him. He was known for the beauty of his person, his beautiful clothes, and the beauty of his women. So what? What they did not know was that the love of his life was the most beautiful of all, her doe like dark eyes, the river of brown hair that fell past her hips, and the sweetness of her person that was ever a source of delight. He had let her go too easily, something must be done about that.

The first thing he did when he arrived in Rome was to apprise the Holy Father of the situation. The send off that Florence had given to its preacher had been less than friendly. No praise, no words of encouragement for the trials he was about to face, instead he was met with stones and refuse thrown by an angry crowd. The trial by fire had shown most Florentines that their preacher had been nothing more than yet another fanatic. His urchins who had prowled the streets, demanding the “vanities” of its residents, had gone into hiding. Unless they showed signs of repentance they would were no longer welcome, even in their own families.

Pope Alexander shook his head. “A man of God, yet full of so much hatred, perhaps most of all for himself. There is no reasoning with fanatics, my son, you must get rid of them as soon as you can. Piero de Medici had the chance, yet he chose to do nothing. Now he will never be able to return to Florence. He’ll find no welcome in Rome, either, if he expects protection from me he will be disappointed. And he will have to answer for the state of the Florentine banks, where we had a not inconsiderable amount of money—which I expect to have returned to me.”

Cesare did not disagree. Machiavelli had warned him, though not directly. He wondered how the Florentine Republic would fare now that the two greatest thorns in its sides were gone. He took his leave of the Holy Father and went to his rooms. He tore off his cardinal robes and stretched out on the bed, weary from the hours he had spent in the saddle.

He was asleep, or was he, when he began to dream of two petal soft lips caressing his, silky hands sliding themselves over his chest, the fingertips playfully squeezing his nipples. “No, Lucrezia, you must not,” he murmured, then opened his eyes.

“Well, do I have yet another rival for your attentions? But Cesare, your sister of all people.” Sancia lay next to him on his bed, her translucent white peignoir slipping off her shoulders, her red lips curled into a smile.

He turned her on her back, his mouth finding hers. Of all his lovers, Sancia was his second favorite. Perhaps his deep emotional bond with Constanzia made her his favorite, but he loved the earthy enthusiasm of Gioffre’s wife.

He pulled off her robe, putting his mouth on one erect breast, then the other. He moved his mouth up to find hers, kissing her deeply and greedily before looking at her, saying, “What, is my brother Juan not here to keep you from feeling unloved?”

“I have not seen Juan since you left for Florence,” she said gravely, “No one has. Did the Holy Father not speak of it to you?”

“No,” he answered, “Though that comes as a surprise. Perhaps the matter of Florence, the Medicis, and Savonarola drove it from him mind.”

“Surely he’s alive, isn’t he? Don’t you think so? It just seems so strange. The Papal Army is here, so he cannot be out on maneuvers. What could have happened to him?”

“Well,” he kissed her, and when she did not at first respond, he smiled and kissed her again, “He could be at his favorite brothel—any one of them. He could have found someone new to bed, he is fickle, my brother. I feel sorry for his faithful wife. Do not worry, Sancia, as soon as the matter of Savonarola is taken care of, I will search for my brother. But first I must try to obtain a confession from the preacher so that we can put him to the flames and have all taken care of. If you hear anything, give a message to one of my servants. And now, my love, do we wish to continue talking or shall we indulge in more pleasurable pursuits?”

If the Friar was slow to cooperate, in the end it did not matter for Cesare obtained what he needed. He did not enjoy burning a man at the stake, but sometimes it was necessary as an act of justice or an example. As he told Machiavelli, he did not feel sorry for Savonarola. The man had torn Florence apart, he preached a particularly vicious version of Catholicism, and he was ruthless to those who would not prescribe to his dictates. He had succeeded in driving Piero de Medici out, and had convinced the Florentines to burn their treasures. The Florentine Republic would take a while to build itself, but Florence would somehow manage.

He faced a bigger problem, telling His Holiness what had happened to his brother. He might have been walking home very drunk one night, and tumbled into the river. No body had turned up, if he were dead and his body in the Tiber, it might take a while for the river to yield it.

Juan might have found a new lover, a pretty married woman who was bored by her husband and had taken a fancy to the handsome Ganfolonier. All it would take would be for a jealous husband to find out and run a sword through him, pope’s son or not.

What kind of trouble have you made for me now, brother? Cesare thought, as if I don’t have enough on my mind as it is. If it were not for the fact that I know that you are fond of your life and would not commit the sin of suicide, I would swear you have done this just to cause me grief. There is enough rumor going round saying that I covet the command of the Papal Armies, which I do, but I would not stoop to killing you to obtain it. I am more than ready to shed my cardinal’s skirts, but this is not the way I would do it. And now I have to tell father that his favorite son is missing and I do not know if he is alive.

I’ll wait until Savonarola is taken care of. I’ll send Micheletto out to try to hunt him down, along with a member of the Vatican Guard. No matter the outcome, I will no longer be a cardinal. I have waited too long to have what I want. If Juan is truly gone, then the command of the armies will be mine. I never chose to be a cleric, Father chose it for me, now I will choose for myself.

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