Da Vida Nuova
Cesare was feigning sleep, Constanzia could always tell. Though his face was still and his breathing even, she knew without a doubt that he was awake. His arms were around hers, pinning her, and whenever she tried to move his grip tightened, a game he liked to play. If it weren’t so close to sunrise, she might have enjoyed the game.
She would like to have remained in bed, safe and loved in the circle of his arms, but she had heard the guard outside walk by, which meant Cesare must leave before they were discovered.
What am I? she thought, to be in bed with my old lover and my husband freshly in his grave. She should feel remorseful, guilty even, but it had been a joy to have Cesare back in her bed. I guess it’s because we fit, because we understand each other. We’re not like any other, we can handle whatever comes and keep our love strong. Even if he marries…what if he does marry? She suddenly thought in a panic.
She knew he must. Just as there were other mistresses, there would be a wife. Cesare was no longer a cardinal and the Pope would seek a political alliance through a marriage for him, just as it was possible, for the sake of another of the Pope’s alliances, she most likely would find herself being married after her period of mourning was up.
She could see sunlight reflected on the floor, it was time Master Cesare left whether he wished it or not. She turned her head and bit him hard on his right pectoral muscle, which had the effect she desired.
He cuffed her playfully, “Little minx,” he said, “Are you forcing me out of your most comfortable bed.”
“You know you need to leave before the household wakes, and now that I’m a widow…”
“I know,” he said, and began to dress, “Constanzia, do you remember when I told you about a house I’d found that I thought would be perfect for us?”
“Well, I’ve purchased it and put it in your name. Mother helped me furnish it, and I could have it ready in a month for you to move in—if you wanted.”
It sounded wonderful, her own home, but was not possible, was it? “I couldn’t afford to maintain a household, not to mention a coach, and horses, and servants.”
He took her in his arms, his chest bare and tempting. She wanted very badly to return to her bed with him. “You are a very wealthy young widow now. Your husband left you five hundred thousand ducats.”
Her eyes lit up. “Five hundred thousand ducats? I could live on the interest and not have to touch the principal. Five hundred thousand ducats, really!”
“So, you’re a greedy, grasping Borgia just like the rest of us. Yes, my dear, you are at last a very wealthy young woman . When it’s time for you to marry again, assuming you wish to, you will have your pick of suitors. Better still, you don’t need to marry again, at all. I have business to take care of this morning, but I will show it to you after lunch.” He kissed her, a long, lingering kiss, finished dressing then left her rooms.
A house. A house of her own would mean freedom. Cesare could come and go as he liked, and no one would be the wiser. She could entertain for him, for she was sure the house he’d picked was suitable. It would be all hers, no husband, no family, a place of retreat. She had loved Calvino, loved her duties as his wife, but she’d found it tiresome at times. She wished she could have another child, but as a single woman she would face the consequences. She wasn’t Lucrezia, she was not bold enough for that. Maybe, if they decided they wanted more children, Cesare would find someone for her to marry who would not object to sharing his wife.
There was a litter waiting for her after lunch, thoughtfully provided by Cesare so she would not have to ride. There was room enough for her and Carmilla to ride comfortably while Cesare and Micheletto rode slowly beside them, so they could talk as they made their way through the streets of the fashionable section of Rome.
Please, not a palace, she prayed, but they stopped in front of a large villa with an iron gate set into its walls. Micheletto got out and unlocked the gate, and handed the key to his master. Cesare helped her out of the litter, instructing Carmilla to stay until called for. He then had the litter taken through the side entrance which had clearly built to allow carriages to pass through its gates.
The villa was large, with a circular Greek style portico. The porch was roomy enough to receive visitors, and led to a large reception area. The indoor decorations bore Vanozza’s stamp, both tasteful and elegant. Was Vanozza aware that Cesare had chosen this house with his cousin in mind? Or had she seen it as bachelor’s quarters aware from the eyes and ears of the Vatican.
Cesare led her though the house room by room. The dining, reception and family sitting room were all on the lower story, along with an office for him. Upstairs were five bedrooms, along with a guest room and a nursery for Marco, and any children who followed. The upstairs stories were full of windows, just as she liked, for she hated dark shadowy rooms and loved natural light.
He watched her face closely as he gave her a tour. “You could move in within the month,” he told her, “All that remains is to hire servants we can trust, but we could borrow from Mother and the Vatican until we find ones of our own. And we will need grooms, there is a very fine stable where we could house our horses, no more trusting others with their well being.”
“There’s no paddock, though, I like to turn them out and let them graze. But I do like this place, Cesare. I would like to be my own mistress, I am tired of being the Pope’s niece. And to have privacy, with no danger of someone watching our comings and goings. We have been lucky that no one has suspected us. We could even have another child if we could find someone to take the role of the father.”
He put his arms around her waist, “I would like to have another child, a girl this time that we could name ‘Lucrezia the Younger’. But it will be harder, my love, do you wish to be married again?”
“No, I don’t, and if I do I want it to be someone who is willing to do our bidding. So what if I bear his children and yours? There is no one I trust, though, and little Marco is just a baby, I’m not ready to have another child.”
When they locked the gates, he handed the keys to her. “The house is in your name,” he said, “Yours in perpetuity. This is our refuge, a place where we can belong, a place where we can relax without being under the watchful eyes of the Vatican. I wanted to provide you a refuge, away from prying eyes.”
“And so you have,” she replied, feeling guilty that she had given Calvino little thought throughout the afternoon. Had she loved him as she thought she had, or had he merely been a means of escaping Rome.
When she returned, Lucrezia was waiting in her suite. “Where have you been?” she demanded, “I’ve been waiting for you. The first of the suitors arrive today, I would have you there with me to give me your opinion.”
“Let me change my gown then, this one has grass stains on the hem. Carmilla, I wish to wear the pink and gold.”
“How did you dress acquire grass stains?”
“You must tell no one, not yet, but Cesare has bought me a house, he’s even put it in my name. I’m too move in as soon as the final arrangements are made. Just think, you can bring little Giovanni to play where there will be nothing but trees to watch over him. And Cesare and I can finally have some privacy, no hidden eyes watching to see what we do.”
“Well, come then, we have suitors to meet.” Lucrezia hid her displease under happiness for her cousin’s new home. This was not what she had imagined, Cesare being taken away from her when she had just begun to experience the delights of his embraces.
The girls crept downstairs to the hidden balcony where Constanzia had first laid eyes on Calvino Pallavicini. A parade of men passed through, none clearly worth the while of either girl, until a young Spaniard came into the entryway.
He was not too tall, but his bearing was elegant. He rested his hand on his sword, and in his black and scarlet doublet set a dashing picture. He smiled up at the girls as they gave up all pretense of hiding, and bowed.
“If his temperament is sweet as his bearing is noble, I think you have found your husband, Lucrezia. He looks young, but I’ll wager he’s a little older than you. If my house were ready, I would give a dinner for him, and we could invite Sancia, Gioffre, and Cesare—if he will deign to come. Now tell the truth, he has caught your eye, has he not? And he’s not only young and handsome, he’s rich-he’s the illegitimate son of the king of Naples.”
“A bastard like me, I find that comforting somehow. And it’s no disgrace to be the bastard of a king. Should someone who seems so perfect not have flaws?”
“If you want flaws, look to your brothers. Look at Cesare and me. We have a bastard son that we passed off as my husband’s, can you get more flawed than that? Though I know it’s done all the time. Go ask your father if you may talk to him, ask if I can be your chaperone. If I were you, I would have taken Calvino when he was offered to you, this one looks to be the next best thing.”
Lucrezia crept into Cesare’s bed again that night, startling him into wakefulness. “Is something wrong? Why are you here?” he said.
“You bought Constanzia a houses? When shall I be able to see you on our own? I am to be married to Alfonso de Aragona. Please brother, please, love me one more time. I shall never know the delights of your embraces again. If I am to spend the rest of my life in the arms of another man, I would at least know the embrace of the one I love most one last time.”
He wanted to turn her away, but she was slipping her robe and night shift from her shoulders, revealing her snow white breasts—and he was only a man. He could feel himself hardening again and knew he must spare Constanzia a little longer. Why did his other mistresses not tempt him the way his sister and his cousin did? He knew he should tell her to go away, but he reached for her this one last time. If Constanzia found out she would not forgive him, but as Lucrezia had said, Borgias had many secrets.
He put his mouth on her breast and slid his hands between her silky thighs. “You drive me to madness, sis, but truly this must be the last time. I will not have you while I am bedding Constanzia.” He was utterly last as he slipped into her, wondering if he would ever find the pleasure he found in the beds of his cousin and sister.
When at least they finished, she got up and dressed, then kissed him. “I do not care about your mistresses, but I promise I will never betray my cousin again. I love you, and Constanzia, Cesare,” she said and slipped out of his room.
“I do not need this,” he thought. He would move Constanzia into the house now, before Lucrezia caused more trouble. She needed to get married and lose her obsession with him. If she married young Aragona she would have someone else to think about—he hoped. It was time he and Constanzia left the Vatican before Lucrezia decided to make to make mischief.