To Tame a Tigress
Cesare’s escort, thirteen hundred strong, wondered how he would manage both new wife and mistress.
Of course, Charlotte D’Albret was none of her concern, but it was well known that the Lady Constanzia was both demanding and forthright. And beautiful. As lovely and as young as the new Duchess was, she would be no match for Cesare’s Spanish cousin. If he was smart, said a few, he would leave his wife in France lest she cross his mistress in Rome.
The Duke Valentino seemed to be unconcerned. Cesare was wondering if he dare push his cousin into an alcove and raise her skirts and have her just before he left. He did not know how long the campaign for Forli would be, and each time he was away from Constanzia, on his return, he would notice, as if for the first time, just how beautiful and desirable she was. Just standing in her embrace, as he was now, he could feel himself hardening and his lust growing so intense that he almost could not bear it.
She pushed him away as if she knew[MR1] his thoughts, which she often did. Cesare had matured with his new responsibilities and he was proving to the Pope that he was a leader of men. He was wearing black velvet, and it suited him more than the gaudier silks he had once favored. The collar of Saint Michael fastened around his neck was his only ornament, and the severity of his garments suited him.
She fingered his dark brown curls, so soft and silky to the touch. He was indeed the handsomest man in Italy, just as she was one of the most beautiful and desirable women in Rome. They made a beautiful pair, said Lucrezia, and confided to her that Cesare had told her that he was going to confront his father with the fact that he and Constanzia were lovers of long standing. He was tired of hiding, he said, it was time to come out into the open, and when he returned from his campaign in Forli he would do just that.
There was something, however, that he had been keeping from her. She had yet to learn that he was going to try to bring Charlotte to Rome. It was only natural that he should want his wife and daughter at his side. He had married royalty and that would add to his status, and maybe overcome the taint of being the pope’s bastard. If Charlotte did come to Rome and made the mistake of trying to banish Constanzia, it would not have the results she desired. She would fight for her rightful place and Charlotte would have to accept her. After all, men with beautiful wives still had mistresses, and Cesare was well known for his love of the fair sex.
Cesare did not know Constanzia had something different on her mind. News of the conduct of his troops had reached her ears.She had found out that the cities he had conquered had been subjected to looting, killing, and, worst of all. to her, rape.
“He says it is better that people learn to fear him, Madonna,” Giulio, the young lieutenant she had taken under her wing told her. “He says the violence is being done by the French troops anyway, and he has no authority over them, which is not true. It is horrible, Madonna, just horrible.”
She slipped five gold ducats into his gloved hand. “Never mind that, you are just doing as I wish. I cannot control him so I don’t try. You keep your eyes on him and make him trust you. Perhaps someday we could have you made a captain, yes? Think about it and when you return from the campaign you let me know.” He bowed and left.
She looked up at Cesare, kissed him, “Do you have to leave, my love? I know your men are waiting just outside the gate, but could you not tarry?
“I would rather remain here, my love, but you know I cannot. Tell me again, which city in the Romagna shall I make yours?”
“Forli, of course,” she laughed, “Instead of a tiger, they shall have a queen. But truly, my love, I shall be happy to be wherever you are, free from the yoke of Rome. I am so tired of hiding.”
“I understand, but you are safer in Rome, along with our son. And now I truly must leave. I will send a letter to you when I send dispatches to father.” He put his hand gently on her belly, “Maybe we’ve made a child this time, another girl to replace the one we lost.” He gave her one last kiss and summoning Micheletto, he disappeared through the gate.
Carmilla had her bath ready, and breakfast for when she was ready to eat it. Constanzia sank gratefully into the tub as Carmilla loosened her hair and began to pour warm water through it.
“How long will he be gone this time, my lady?” she asked.
“I don’t know, maybe months. I am grateful that Lucrezia and Alfonzo are here, it won’t be so lonely. And Marco will have Rodrigo to play with, instead of servant’s children. I know Cesare is a soldier, it is what he has wanted all his life, but I hate it when he leaves. He has had more luck on the battlefield than many, so I am not anxious for his return, it’s just that he is keeping so much from me.” She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, then opened them, “I am hearing rumors that he wants to bring Charlotte D’Albret here, and her daughter. That I would find unbearable.”
“I understand, but perhaps Louis will not be so willing to comply?Think of it, he likes the Lord Valentino, but maybe he does not trust him. Perhaps he will keep them in France as hostages, though he will not put it like that. Do not fear, perhaps Charlotte D’Albret will never see the shores of Italy, and you can concentrate on his next mistress, instead.”
“Oh, that. It will be some courtesan, I am sure.I have been thinking, Carmilla, maybe it is time for me to marry again. What would you say to that?”
“Who would it be, my lady?” Carmilla poured more hot water into the tub. The right marriage would be perfect. Constanzia would be out of Cesare’s reach, and have the children she longed to have. She was still beautiful, and would be more than eligible in the marriage market.If Cesare would be willing to let her go, that is.
“I don’t know, maybe Cesare can find someone in the Romagna, as long as it is not someone from his ragged band of condottieri. No, I want someone who is stable, who will not one day be suspected as a traitor. He must have a secure position and wealth, and be as far from the fighting as possible. I long for peace, I don’t want a husband I must constantly send off to war[MR2].”
“And be young and handsome?” Carmilla teased.
“Well, that would not hurt.” Constanzia agreed, “And keep the number of his mistresses to a minimum. I am not inclined to stray, but if Cesare takes one more new mistress, I may change my mind.”
The Pope had decided that it was time to bring down Caterina Riario. The “Tigress of Forli” was a formidable character, tall, strong, and strikingly beautiful. And bold. Anticipating action from Rome she had sent the Pope a letter infected with the plague and hidden in a cane tube. Her gambit failed, but as the villages of Imola and Forli fell, she retreated to the fortress with its ten-foot-thick walls. She could be seen on the battlements, dressed in armor, her red hair shining like fire in the sun. This was a woman who would not easily give up.
This was Cesare’s first campaign on his own, but he had experienced commanders on his side, such as Vitellozzo Vitelli, who was eager to avenge the death of his brother Paolo. The Sforza was an ally of Florence, he told Cesare, and Florence was not to be trusted.
“She’s playing for time, my lord,” Vitelli told him, “She’s up to something, maybe she hopes that the letter she sent to His Holiness will have had its desired effect.”
“I’m going to give her one chance, and if she will not surrender, blow this place to hell, Vitellozzo.”
He rode up to the castle walls in full armor, and offered her compensation for the lands she would lose, and safe passage, in the name of the pope.
“I don’t trust you, any more than I trust the Spanish Pope your father. I’ll take my chance behind my walls.”
“Have it your way, then,” he told her, and turned his horse around. It had to be this way, but looking at her, tall, brave, beautiful, and defiant, he almost wished it could be different. He rode away to where Vitelli awaited him.
“Do it,” he said, and the shelling began. The cannons bombarded the castle walls day and night, until on January 12, 1500 a breach was opened in the walls large enough to admit Cesare’s Swiss and German troops. What ensued was nothing left than a slaughter, Caterina Sforza, the Tigress of Forli herself, was captured by Yves D’Alegre, who argued with Cesare over whose charge she should be in.
A game of dice decided the outcome, and Cesare took his unwilling captive, struggling and fighting all the way to his tent.
Cesare and D’Alegre watched the spectacle with amusement. Louis XII’s general, the Milanese Gian Jacopo Trivulzio called out roguishly. “Madame, now you will not lack for fucking!” And they burst into laughter.
“Go to hell, all of you,” growled Cesare and followed as Caterina was led to his tent.
She was shackled to the bed, the fight gone out of her, but no less defiant. He took the key from his pocket, and unlocked the cuffs that held her wrists. She looked up at him as she rubbed her wrists, fearful because he was saying nothing.
Suddenly he grabbed her shoulders and pushed her over to his bed. She found herself easily lifted onto his silk curtained bed, although she was no small woman. And, despite her good intentions to thwart him, she could not stop him when he had his way with her.
When he had his fill of her, he lay back down, and she in turned looked closely at him. She looked closely at him, noting how handsome he was. She’d heard rumors of a cousin he was supposedly having an affair with, and wondered what she was like, and how she managed to hold onto him.
He sat up, and dressed, warning her that even though he was leaving there were guards placed outside the door. She shrugged her shoulders, she was a warrior and this was the way of war. She, of course, would attempt to escape at the soonest opportunity. “Or not,” she thought grimly, Cesare was turning out to be more formidable than she might think him.