To Love a Borgia

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Blessed Connubial Bliss for Now

He joined his mother for breakfast the next day, an event that was occurring less and less frequently. The Pope took up much of his time and these days he saw little of his mother. He waited for his brother and Lucrezia to leave the table, then gave his mother his most winning smile.

She knew the smile from old. “Tell me, Cesare, is there something that I can do for you?”

“I wondered, Mother, if you could do me a favor. I wish to hire servants for my new house, but do not have the time to search for them myself. I was wondering if you could do it for me.”

“Why is this house so important to you, my son? Do you not have apartments at the Vatican so you can be close to your father in case he needs you? Just who is going to live in this house you bought?”

His look told her all. You are not so clever as you think, my son, no more so than your father. “Very well then, I will hire a cook, housekeeper, and major domo for you. You can have them finish hiring your household staff.”

“But will they not rob me? That is why I came to you.”

“Servants steal from you, Cesare, that is how they get by. They will hire those they trust, those they know they can count on, often family. You only need step in when they become careless and think you do not watch them.” Something dawned on her, “This is for Constanzia, isn’t it? That child, her child, it’s yours, isn’t it? Not her husband’s. Did you kill him—no, don’t tell me. Constanzia knows how to run a household and will keep your staff in line.” And good luck to her, she thought, if the Pope decides to marry her, she will have no choice.

He kissed his mother, and left. As soon as there were sufficient servants, and a larder full of food, he would move Constanzia, and himself, into his, no her, new house. He would have to spend at least half his nights in the Vatican to allay his father’s suspicions. The Pope had never concerned himself with Cesare’s lovers, why should he start now? Surely his mother would not…

He found Constanzia in her apartments holding their child. He stroked the baby’s dark curly hair, then kissed him. She smiled at him, having finally found a contentment after losing her husband and resigning herself to his attentions. She looked so fetching that he vowed to have Perugino paint her, holding her son. But not as a Madonna, she must wear one of her most fetching gowns and the baby his baptismal robes. He’d like to have her painted nude from the waist up while holding her son, but then he would have to hide the picture from critical eyes.

He kissed her, his lips lingering on hers. “I’m moving you in as soon as Mother can find some servants, and the pantries stocked with food. I don’t want to wait, I’m tired of having to leave you before the servants are awake. Get whatever you need, you women are far better at knowing what a household needs than I ever will. We’ll move in in a week. Have your servants start packing so you’ll be ready to leave.”

Not once had he asked her what she wanted, but suddenly she longed for her own household again, to be free of the Vatican, the servants with their sly, knowing smiles. “All right, Cesare, but I will choose exactly what I want and you will pay for it.”

She let him slip his arms around her, saying, “Whatever you say, Querida, simply give me the receipts and I will have them taken care of.”

He dismissed her maids and pulled off her clothes. Her hair had not yet been dressed and fell about her like a cloak, hiding her charms. “Do not cut your hair, my darling, it is too beautiful to lose.” He took her to her bed, removed his clothes and had her hurriedly. He wished there were more time, but once again he must play errand boy for the Pope, and he had to tell her what he had come to tell her in the first place.

“I’m going to Naples, to arrange Lucrezia’s dowry and marriage contract. I am afraid they will not accept the child, so I count on you and Sancia to take care of him in his mother’s absence.” At least our child isn’t a bastard, you will know no pain of being parted from him, he thought.

“Is that true, then, the king of Naples will separate her from her child? And she is so fond of Alfonso, I think she might be happy this time, but she will take this hard.”

“I know, my love, but I have something hard I must tell to you.” He looked into her brown eyes and gently touched her cheek. “Father has commanded me to take a wife in France. I want to reassure you, this will not touch us. This marriage is only for convenience, and an heir .”

Were I to believe that lie, I would indeed be a fool, she thought, but it is sweet of you to tell it to me. “Whatever happens, my dearest love, we will work it out. Your son will always be our son, only you and I know the truth. If I must be nice to your wife, I will. Who knows, when I am out of mourning your father may marry me again. Just don’t prefer her to me and I will be happy.” She thought for a moment, “Lucrezia marries Naples, while you are to marry France. What will happen if the king of France decides he wants to take back Naples?”

“We will worry about this later. Were I not to travel to France I would bring you with me. Perhaps I should bring you anyway, and we can find you a French husband.”

“Only if he’s wealthy.” She responded, the same old jest.

Cesare kissed her goodbye, tucked the blankets around his son. “We will make you a lord of the Romagna someday,” he promised, “And you will marry a princess so that you can take care of your mother.” He kissed Constanzia again, took a last look at himself in the mirror, then left her rooms to call for his horse.

When she was sure he could not hear her, she burst into tears. From the moment he discarded his cardinal’s robes, she knew this day was coming. The Pope needed an heir, and he depended on Cesare to provide him one. Charles VIII had died and his cousin Louis XII had ascended the throne. Louis’ wife was a hunchback and barren, and France would want an heir. Rumors abounded as to who he wished to marry, but the likely candidate seemed to be the widow of Charles, Anne of Brittany.

But to do this, he would need the marriage annulled by the Pope. This favor would not come cheap. Cesare wanted a wife and an army, but the army might prove to be easier to acquire than his choice of wife.

She dried her eyes and said, “You can come out now, Carmilla, we have our work cut out for us. I promised I would chaperone Lucrezia when she meets her betrothed for a luncheon, and we must find some merchants who will supply me with what I need. I’m not going to use gold and silver dishes, the Venetians have been importing fine porcelain from China and I am going to set a new trend. Silver flatware, and hand painted porcelain plates. I am going to buy crystal goblets from Ireland, and that will be expensive. If Cesare wants me at his beck and call, then he will have to pay for it.”

“Madame, I heard, are you all right? Does my lord Cesare truly intend to wed?”

“Yes, but I take some comfort in the fact that he might not be able to marry the bride of his choice. I have heard rumors that he wishes to marry Carlotta of Aragon, and it is said she will have none of him. If my lord hopes to woo her, I wish him good luck, for she has declared she will have nothing to do with him.”

“Carlotta of Aragon? Is she…”

“The sister of Lucrezia’s betrothed? Yes, she is, and unlike Cesare and our young Alfonso, she is not a bastard, but his only legitimate daughter. Cesare is reaching high, and I do not yet know how far his ambition will reach. Sometimes I think I should return to Spain, the lengths that my uncle and my beloved cousin will go to frighten me. I do not think things will end well for Cesare and I do not wish to be here to see him fall.”

Lucrezia looked sweetly pretty in her peach colored gown, as though she were eagerly waiting for her love to see just how beautiful she was. Just what went on behind her sweet expression, Constanzia wondered, Lucrezia was beginning to show signs of the Borgia penchant for ambition, Cesare and the Pope were greedy to build a Borgia empire, perhaps even to control all of the Italian peninsula. This could not happen unless the Pope lived a long, healthy life. Cesare had no allies, save the Vatican, and were he to lose the support of his father, he might lose all.

And where did Alfonso d’Aragona fit in with all of this? As a bastard his hope, if he had any, of inheriting Naples was slim. And what would an alliance with France bring the Pope? Louis wanted Milan, he also wanted the return of Naples. The Neapolitan royal family would be driven from their kingdom and Lucrezia’s ties to Naples would be useless. She would not give much for the chance of young Alfonso remaining alive for long, if that became the case.

She sat, next to her cousin, spreading the skirts of her pink and gold gown. “Where is your young man, cousin?” she asked.

“Oh, he’ll be here soon,” Lucrezia answered dreamily. The consummate hostess, she ordered that the wine be poured while they waited for Alfonso.

When he arrived, she saw the look on her cousin’s face, and was grateful that this time, at least, she was marrying for love, or at least the courtly love they all admired. Alfonso stood as if he were posing for a painting, the sheer beauty of his face heart melting. He kissed Lucrezia’s hand, then bowed to her, ever correct in his manners. He sat across from them, and his eyes never left Lucrezia’s face.

She felt like an intruder, but Lucrezia would require a chaperone until they were married. A pity, Constanzia thought, Lucrezia’s young man was so clearly a gentleman and would never attempt to pass the bounds of propriety. As had been Calvino, she allowed herself a brief thought of him. She had been allowed to love him for such a brief time, then he was gone. She hoped that Lucrezia would not suffer her fate. Had Cesare been the cause of his demise, she wondered?

Alfonso had dark curly hair and dark brown eyes, and the ivory skin of the Spaniard. She watched as Lucrezia gazed at him, her heart in her eyes. She hoped that she could be happy for a while, but the cousin she loved so passionately seemed to be turning into a stranger who manipulated all of their lives for his own ends. She did not know what Alfonso wanted for himself, besides providing a connection to Rome, but if he were not ambitious, Lucrezia would be enough for the both of them.

“Let them be married as quickly as possible,” she prayed, “and let her have another child to replace the one she will be separated from. Ah, Father, did you truly know what you were doing when you sent me to Rome?”

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