To Love a Borgia

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Finishing an Unfinished Business

Chapter 16: Finishing an Unfinished Business

Lucrezia was more dismayed than surprised when the Pope announced he would soon be seeking suitors for her again. She did not understand his eagerness, it had cost thirty one thousand ducats to annul her marriage to Giovanni Sforza; for her to marry again would mean coming up with yet another dowry, and she was not sure if the Vatican treasury had the funds.

Little Giovanni was growing and she now shared his nursing with a wet nurse, though she preferred to feed him at her own breast. Her baby might help complicate any possible marriage arrangement. A bastard son might be acceptable if he was of noble blood, but she was not sure who Giovanni’s father was, so she did not know if he was of noble blood or not. She preferred that Giovanni Sforza have no claim on him, she would rather claim that little Giovanni was the son of a stable boy. Still, he bore the name of her ex-husband, what had possessed her father to do that?

The marital constract would take a while to negotiate and complete. Whoever she married would have to understand that Giovanni was her so, and she would not be separated from him. If she and her husband must live in the Vatican, so be it. Giovanni came above all else.

And she would not marry another man like Giovanni Sforza, no matter how her father pressed. She might have to choose, but the choice would be hers to make, and would be final.

If she could choose someone she liked, she was not so sure she would truly mind getting married again. The one true love of her life was her brother, but Cesare always seemed to pull back from her. He would draw tantalizingly close, then push her gently away. He loved her, she knew he loved her, but he would seek out Sancia, or any other woman but her. She wanted to be the one who consoled him for the loss of his Constanzia, but he would shake his head saying, “No, sis, we cannot.” Was that how it would stand with him forever?

No one had yet to hear of Juan and his fate. Cesare was uncomfortably aware of the rumors that were circulating. “He had coveted command of the Vatican armies,” “he and Juan were rivals for Sancia’s affections.” The latter was partially true, but now he had begun to grow tired of his youngest brother’s wife, and if Juan desired her, he was more than welcome to her. If he were alive, that is.

Which Cesare suspected he was not. He questioned his brother’s servants, but they were loyal and close mouthed to a man, which he did not understand. If he had fallen victim to a jealous husband, his brother’s body might now be floating in the Tiber. Perhaps it had been discarded in an alley, falling victim to vermin like rats, or stray cats or dogs. That would not be a desirable end for the son of the Pope, so Cesare decided it was time to talk to his father, however unpleasant the prospect. He did not relish telling his father that his second son quite possibly was dead.

He made his way, albeit reluctantly, to the audience room. Fortunately, it was mostly empty, save for a few cardinals, and the vice chancellor, Ascanio Sforza. Cesare wondered how much the canny Sforza knew. There was not much that the wily cardinal did not know about what went on within the Vatican walls. Perhaps he should have consulted with the vice chancellor first, but it was too late now.

“Leave us,” he told cardinals, “Sforza you may stay.” The remaining cardinals bowed and left. He sometimes surprised himself with the authority he had acquired since he first took the cloth. The fifteen year old Bishop of Valencia had certainly grown and matured, he thought wryly, or was he obeyed simply because of the Holy Father’s will?

“Holy Father,” he said, then knelt and kissed the gold ring that was held out to him. “It is time to discuss the matter of my brother.”

“I have been wishing to bring up the same matter, Holy Father,” said Sforza, “It is all too obvious that something has befallen him. I fear we will not have a happy outcome. Something has clearly befallen the Gonfalonier. I believe it is time we start searching the morgues for his body—it may already have been recovered.”

The Gonfalonier would have been better off remaining in Spain with this wife he claims to love so much, thought Cesare. His Spanish bride, Maria de Luna, was beautiful, but that did not stop Juan from continuing his dalliances in Rome. Perhaps he should have brought her to Rome, instead of leaving her in Spain. Better still, the Gonfalonier should have returned to Spain after his visit. Too late for that now, thought Cesare, his ways have caught up to him.

He could see the pain in his father’s face, but it could not be helped. As soon as his brother’s body was recovered, he was going to shed his cardinal’s robes, even if it meant defying his father. Someone would have to assume command of the Papal Army, and he was the best and most logical choice. There would only be the Great God Rumor, to quiet.

“Leave us,” the pope told Sforza, who bowed and left the room. He turned to Cesare and asked him, “Did you have anything to do with this?”

“I swear, by all that is holy, I did not. I have heard the rumors, you have too. Yes, we did not get along; yes, we were rivals for the affections of our brother’s wife, but she did not discourage it. Yes, I feel like I am the better candidate for command of the armies, but I would not commit fratricide to obtain it. You know as well as I that Juan is his own worst enemy.”

“So, Cardinal, what do you think?”

Cesare told him the truth as he knew it.

“He probably met his death by misadventure, either of his own doing, or another’s. Perhaps he was caught by a jealous lover or husband, or he was intoxicated and fell into the Tiber and drowned. This is going to dog me, Holy Father. I am already suspected of his death, and I had nothing to do with it! You should have sent him back to Spain to his wife. Now, no matter what the outcome, the gossip will not be stopped, and I will be said to be the villain. The mob always prefer speculation to the truth.”

“And it is true then, that both you and Juan were Sancia’s lovers? What possessed you? Now must we expect that our youngest son is the author of his brother’s demise?” Rodrigo’s black eyes snapped.

He chose his words carefully, “Perhaps, Holy Father, but I would not want to think Gioffre capable of it. Maybe you should have been quicker to find out what you could about Sancia’s character, before you married her to someone so young and tender as my brother.”

The look the Pope gave him was not one of indulgence, but Cesare had ceased to be afraid of his father for a long time now. If I had thought it would do any good, I would have asked you to let me make Constanzia my mistress he thought, then Sancia would not had the allure that she did. Had you sent Juan back to Valencia to be with his wife and children, he would not have found Sancia such a temptation. Had you not married a twelve year old boy to a lusty sixteen year old girl, perhaps your son would be alive. Cesare stood and looked at his father, wondering must how much he should say.

“Juan’s horse was found, with the stirrup cut, but no there was no trace of our brother. We will not know what happened to him until we find his body. As for Gioffre, he is a Borgia, what are we not capable of? Either way, once we find his body, I will no longer be a cardinal. There has been enough talk since I was made one, and now with this hanging over my head, it is not prudent for me to remain one any longer. It may take a papal bull for my innocence to be proclaimed, but I fear this will always hang over my head. And, in the meantime, you may wish to talk to Gioffre about curbing the activities of his wife.” He bowed and left the room.

Part of the puzzle was solved the next day, except for the “who”. Juan’s body was found in the Tiber, his clothes and the thirty ducats in his purse intact. When his body was examined, it was found that he had been stabbed nine times and his throat slit. Whoever was responsible had not just killed him, they had “over” killed him, said the mortician, who shook his head at the brutality of the murder of one so young.

Cesare and Sforza left the morgue. “It would be best,” said the cardinal, “for me to be the one to tell the Holy Father what has happened.” He held up his hand as Cesare started to object. “Normally, it would be for you to tell him, but under the circumstances it would not be wise. It would also be advisable for you to leave Rome after the funeral. Your father will be much grieved to learn the manner of his son’s death. I am not so sure that he does not think you responsible, or at least the instigator, of this crime.”

“For once, Sforza, I am in agreement with you. I will tell Lucrezia and Mother. Believe me when I tell you I did not do this, but I am sure that there are several who could. It would be no small thing for me to leave the Council of Cardinals, but I could, even if it meant defying my father. I suspect my father will be in deep mourning for longer than he should, Juan was always his favorite, though I do not know why. I worry only for Mother and Lucrezia, this will be hard on them.”

“Why don’t you go to Genoa?” suggested Sforza, “Your cousin’s baby is due to be christened and I am sure Constanzia will be glad to see you.”

“Yes,” he replied slowly, “I have not seen her since she came to Rome for Giovanni’s birth. I miss her, and Genoa would be a good place to retreat.”

He told Lucrezia and his mother together what had befallen Juan. Vanozza ran from the room, sobbing. She had held a banquet that night in honor of her son, and all of the family had attended. Now what should have been a happy memory had turned to one of sadness and horror.

Lucrezia took her brother’s hand and pulled him down on the settee next to her. She lay her golden head on his shoulder, and held his hand tightly. “Poor brother,” she said, “Now you will get your wish, but not in the way you supposed. I believe you did not kill Juan, but any of us could have desired it. If he’d had an ounce of humility in his character, he may have been more bearable, but I was always happier when he was away. He should have stayed in Spain.”

“Yes, sis, I agree, he should have. Our brother tends to think he could do whatever he wants with impunity. Discretion was not part of his character. And now, because of this, I must leave Rome after the funeral and stay away for a while.”

She rose up, looked at him, “Where would you go?”

“Genoa. Constanzia’s son is due to be christened, I was going to perform it, but now I will be the godfather instead. On my return home I may stop and visit Machiavelli and see how Florence is faring. Perhaps I will go further north and visit Forli, or maybe I will save that for another time. At last I am free to manage Rome’s affairs in the way I want. Juan was not a competent military commander, but Father never would listen to me. Now I have a chance to make things right.

Micheletto was helping Cesare dress, something that had become routine. For Micheletto, he only felt secure of Cesare’s safety only when he was able to see to it personally. If Cesare was amused or annoyed by this, he would never let Micheletto know. Loyalty was a commodity he valued highly and Micheletto was loyalty personified.

“Constanzia’s baby is now almost two months old and we will be attending his baptism in Genoa. The baptism should be performed by the Pope, but Constanzia does not yet wish to travel.” He paused for a moment, “Constanzia and I have a son, Micheletto!” There was a look of pride on his face.

“It is good for a man to have a son, master,” he replied, “I am sure you are very proud.”

“Well, then, Micheletto, I have a task for you. I want you to travel to Florence and seek out an apothecary. You will obtain from him a poison, one that will act fairly quickly, and will not cause too much obvious pain and will mimic the symptoms of an illness. You will have one of his servants put it in Calvino’s wine, and then we will let things take its course. We will negotiate terms for Constanzia’s widowhood settlement, and leave young Raphaello Pallavicini a very rich and happy man. The younger brother will get to take the place of the elder, and he will no longer be a penniless second son.”

“And we will bring back the Lady Constanzia to Rome?”

“Yes, Micheletto, we will bring Constanzia, and my son, back to Rome. I have decided that I do not want Calvino Pallavicini raising him. We must be careful, his death must look like he contracted a deadly illness. At all costs, we must not arouse suspicions, especially Constanzia’s. I never should have let her get married, or leave Rome, so now I am paying for my mistakes. We must take care lest Constanzia lays blame on me for her husband’s death. She will see it is for the best, but all the same, be very careful what you choose, and spare no expense.”

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