The Cardinal's Lady
Chapter 2: The Cardinal and the Lady
Cesare was watching Lucrezia and Constanzia play in the courtyard. “Try and catch me, Cesare,” little Constanzia called, and he took off after his niece, not too quickly, for she must think that she had led him on a merry chase before he caught her. What was it about little girls that was so unconsciously seductive, he thought. While he would never, ever do anything to harm either Constanzia or Lucrezia, he could understand how some men lusted after them. It was his responsibility, therefore, to watch over them, making sure that no one hurt them, not even himself.
“Caught you,” he laughed as he swept up Constanzia, “Now you must give me a kiss.” Trustingly, she put her arms his neck and kissed his mouth, then snuggled in his arms. It was too bad he and Constanzia were so closely related, if not, he would talk to his mother and see if she would be willing to help arrange a match between them. Constanzia would grow into a beauty, and he would hate to see her in the arms of another man. He wanted her all to himself, just as he wanted Lucrezia.
Now Cesare was watching an older Constanzia in the same courtyard. She was wearing nothing but her shift, with a shawl wrapped around her. He should take her back upstairs, but he could not keep his eyes from her as she stood in the moonlight, staring at the water in the fountain. “Catch me, Cesare," he murmered as he strode towards where she stood.
The tears were coming and she could not stop them, nor did she wish to. Her shoulders shook as she wept, and she had the wisdom to let them stop of their own accord. What had she done? She should not have given Pablo up so easily, she should have fought for him. Now she was in a strange country, surrounded by family she barely knew. The only thing that was familiar was the fat moon overhead, the same as must be shining in Valencia.
Someone came up behind her, and put his arms around her waist. She recognized his scent, the aroma of leather and cologne. “Cesare,” she said softly.
Carefully, not wanting to scare her, he put his lips on her cheek, then moved them down her neck, pulling the shawl away from her shoulders so his hands could find her breasts.
“No,” she said, and put her hand on his.
“No? What’s wrong, little cousin, are you still a little girl and not a woman after all?”
“You fool,” she twisted in his arms so she could face him, “Do you think I can afford to chance a pregnancy, especially your child? What man would not put me aside if he discovered I was carrying a child that was not his? I can’t afford a scandal, you know that, nor can I become your mistress.”
“Well, you are a woman born, after all.” She could see the white gleam of his teeth as he smiled in the moonlight. “You have learned a great deal of sense, but I think your pretty breasts will regret your not letting me caress them, as will your silky thighs. I can wait, they’ll marry off Lucrezia before they find a husband for you, so I can take my time. But remember,” he drew her into his arms and kissed her, hard, “I’ll wait only for so long. I can’t marry you, signora, but I intend to love you before I let any other man have you.” He let her go and disappeared into the shadows.
His kiss had left her breathless and she leaned against the fountain for support. Oh my, she thought, I had not known, I did not expect…I want him, but I won’t be Cesare Borgia’s toy. If he wants someone he can pick up and put down when he’s tired of her, he can hire a prostitute. You want him, he made you weak in the knees, but he’ll play with you. I want someone who will love me, not set me aside when he wants to move on to a new amusement.
She went back to her room, but she did not find sleep, nor did it find her. When she looked in her mirror the next morning, there were violet shadows under her eyes. If this is what you did to me, Cesare, she thought, I hope the same thing happened to you.
Vannozza and Lucrezia did not seem to notice the conversation seemed subdued as they sat around the breakfast table. They chatted carelessly, while Consuelo kept her gaze on her plate, only occasionally working up the courage to look at Cesare. He, too, at least, had shadows under his eyes, and if she contributed to that, then she was happy.
“Mother, if you have no objections, I would like to take the girls riding. I think Consuelo would benefit from the exercise after being cooped up on ship and the ride in the litter. If Lucrezia has any lessons, surely she can be spared from them. Consuelo is looking pale, and I think a ride would put color back in her cheeks.” He looked at Consuelo as he said this, and she thought to herself, say “no” Aunt Vannozza, please say no! But she was to be disappointed.
“Do you not have things to do, my son? You are being invested as Cardinal soon.” she asked innocently enough. If he wanted to take the girls riding, that was fine, but it would not be unescorted. He shook his head. Liar, she thought, then said out loud, “Then I have no objections, Cesare, I am sure the girls will enjoy it. I will send the servants along with a picnic lunch for you. You can show Consuelo that little ruin that you found, if she does not remember it.”
Trapped, thought Consuelo, but I won’t be alone with him, at least. Are you up to something, Cesare?
“Good,” he stood up, “Girls, go put on your riding habits and I will have the horses saddled. You still ride, do you not, Consuelo?” he asked, but he did not wait for her answer. He kissed his mother and left the room and she could not help watching him under her lashes.
She not only rode, she rode like a child of the desert. Moorish blood flowed in Borgia veins, no matter how they tried to deny it. Though her father was not as wealthy as his brother Rodrigo, they still kept nice horses for their family. She’d learned to ride in Italy, and had become an expert horsewoman in Spain. She’d had to leave her beautiful Arabian mare behind. Maybe her father could ship Hadba to her, or maybe Uncle Rodrigo…er his Holiness, would find another for her.
On horseback she forgot being tired. The three rode recklessly, the girls’ riding habits billowing around them. From where she sat, Italy seemed a lot like Spain, only greener. They rode past the ruins of aqueducts, and old temples, much like those in the Spanish countryside. This was something she had forgotten, the sheer beauty of Italy. She missed the Moorish architecture, but much of she saw reminded her of home.
They reached a shady little hollow, with green grass for the horses to graze. Cesare took the girls by their hands and led them to the ruins of a little temple, complete with the remains of an altar that had been ravaged by the Goths when they swept Italy.
It was open to the sky, and a ray of sunshine lit the altar. “Oh, Cesare, why did you not show me this when I lived here?” She wandered around, harboring girlish pictures of white clad priestesses sacrificing the first fruits of the harbor on the altar made of golden marble.
He took a risk, and put his hand on her shoulder. “When you were little, I could not take you here, but I told you about it. Then, Mama read you the story of Ceres and Persephone—do you not remember?”
She shook her head, “No, but my childhood memories are crowded with beautiful things. My first communion in Saint Peters, His Holiness playing tag with me, riding my pony, going to the market. We had such a happy childhood, didn’t we, Cesare? My only sad memory was leaving Italy for Spain, but then I fell in love with Spain, too.” She was silent for a moment, and he wondered what she was thinking. “I think the only bad thing that ever happened to me was the death of my husband.”
Lucrezia had wandered off, leaving the two alone. “What do you want, Cesare, I thought I made myself plain last night. I won’t be your toy and I won’t be your mistress. I was a wife once,” she held up the hand that still wore her wedding ring, “And I’d just as soon be a wife again.”
“You could, if that’s what you want, but I offer you something better. Be my mistress, my acknowledged mistress—you’ll have more freedom than a wife. I’ll find you a house and put it in your name so no one can take it from you. I’ll have our children legitimized, and they’ll be Roman citizens. Look at my mother—see how happy she is? When we’re over, if we ever are, I’ll settle an income on you, and make sure you are taken care of. You’re not made to be a wife, you have too much spirit. I won’t ever try to suppress that fire in you.”
She was about to say, “Are you so sure?” when Lucrezia returned. “Lunch is served,” she announced, “A veritable feast! Fresh bread, cheese, fruit, chicken, and a good red wine. I’m ravenous, let’s eat.”
She and Cesare were silent as they followed Lucrezia. Lucrezia could sense something was wrong, but said nothing. Plates were filled with food, goblets of wine filled and refilled, and they busied themselves with eating so they did not have to talk.
Consuelo put down her napkin, and stood up. She held out a hand to Cesare, “I want to look at the ruins again, will you come with me?” He took her proffered hand, and they made their way back to the little temple.
He was no less than surprised when she took him in her arms and kissed him. “Are you sure?” she asked him, “Are you sure you want me? I’m very demanding and will not settle for being treated badly. What makes you so sure you can give me what I want?”
He pressed her close to him. “I have more money than you think. In a few days I will be a Cardinal, a prince of the church, with an income that will go with it. And I found a house, a nice one, with plenty of room for the children we’ll have. I can take care of you, Consuelo, you don’t have to marry just because they want you to.” He did not have to say who “they” were.
She pulled away from him, gently, “A mistress gives up a lot, Cesare, and doesn’t have the protections that a wife has. And few men remain with their mistresses forever. And what happens to her then?”
“There’s a certain prestige attached to having been the paramour of a Pope, or even a Cardinal. And you won’t be left destitute, I’ll see to that.”
“Yes, so will my father and Uncle Rodrigo, you can be sure of that. How do you know that we would even be allowed to do this? My father wanted me to marry, not to become your mistress, I am sure. And Cesare,” she paused, “You have not said the one thing that would make me even consider it.”
“You mean, do I love you?” He picked her up by the waist and spun her around, “I love you to distraction. I cannot bear to even think of another man having you. If we were not cousins, and I not a Cardinal, I would marry you, but I can’t. Please, say yes, cousin, tell me you’ll say yes.”
She thought for a moment. “Go to the fountain tonight at midnight. If I am there, it means my answer is yes. If not, you must not ever ask me again. Do I have your word?”
He took a handful of her heavy brown hair and drew her to him. “Tonight, then, and you will say yes.” He kissed her, hungrily, and she held him tightly, afraid of his passion. She nodded and ran to find Lucrezia, not daring to trust herself, or him.
He laughed as she ran off. “Tonight, cousin, and a thousand nights to come. I’m not letting you go again, but you must find this out for yourself.”
He arrived at the fountain before midnight so he could walk around the courtyard and quiet his mind. He waited, impatiently, looking up at her window, not seeing a light—was that a good sign? Was she coming down, or had she only been playing with him.
To tell the truth, he did not know if he was reaching beyond himself. He could hear all the arguments his father would make against it. She had, after all, come here to find a husband. He was young, he was just starting out, it would be more judicious to wait to take a mistress. It would not look good for the family, and they must present a respectable front.
Where are you, woman, he thought. If she did not come down soon, he was going to go up to her room, and break down her damn door, making his apologies to his mother later. Wanting her, was it so unreasonable? And he’d known her for half her life, this wasn’t careless or impulsive, he loved this woman, he didn’t just want her, he loved her.
He was about to head up the stairs when he saw her, wrapped in her black shawl, walking slowly towards him. He went to her and swept her up in his arms, and began to murmur endearments to her in Spanish and Italian.
He carried her into her room, and locked the door behind them. “Your feet are like ice,” he said when he laid her on the bed, “Let me make them warm,” and took one small foot, then the other, into his hands.
He divested himself of his clothes as she pulled off her shift. “Will it be worth it, Cesare, they will be angry at us. They may try to stop us. I don’t know what they’ll do.”
“Let them try. I want more for myself than to wear the Cardinal’s skirts. Are you willing to help me fight for what I want?” He lay against her on the bed, her skin soft and smooth against his, the smell of her amber perfume in his nostrils driving him to distraction.
“We may only have tonight,” she replied, “Don’t waste time by too much talking—I may change my mind.”