To Love a Borgia

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Retreat to Nepi

As if to hide their shameful act, Alfonso was buried at midnight in the church of Santa Maria Della Febbre. Lucrezia could not be dissuaded from attending; Constanzia and Sancia had to stand on either side of her, holding her up while she wept through the funeral mass. She knelt on the edge of the grave, calling his name while his coffin was lowered into the ground. Then she took to her bed while maids packed her luggage for her intended trip to Nepi.

“Will you go to Nepi with her?” Sancia asked, “I truly am worried for her. I am afraid she might harm herself if she is left on her own.”

“I have no intention of leaving her,” Constanzia answered, “I must get away from here, I am afraid my anger will cause me to do something foolish. “

She sat on the side of Lucrezia’s bed, holding her hand. “Let me go with you,” Constanzia begged, “I worry for you, you should have someone you know accompany you. Besides, I need to escape Rome, I cannot bear to look at Cesare, each time I do I am reminded of what he’s done.”

And she could not. Cesare had insisted that his acts were justified, had Alfonso not fired a bolt from a cross bow at him as he strolled in the gardens?

“Then it’s too bad he missed, I might have been a better shot. How could you, Cesare? You murder my husband, you murder Lucrezia’s. And all for ambition! You have broken your sister’s heart, and all you can say is you were justified? Tell me, cousin, now that she is free, who are you and uncle going to marry her to next?”

“Have I been away so long that you defy me?” Cesare took her by the shoulders and shook her, hard. “Perhaps you need a little lesson in obedience, yes?” She could smell the wine on his breath as he pushed her to the bed, and though she struggled as hard as she could, his strength overwhelmed her. He lay her down on the bed, and began to push her skirts up, slapping her face hard when she succeeded in kicking him.

“If you want to go to Nepi with Lucrezia, do not fight me.” He took her roughly, tearing her bodice, having her as hard as he could. He bit her breasts, making her cry out in pain, and at last she yielded to him and let him take whatever he wanted.

When he finished with her, she sat up. “I am going to Nepi, whatever you say. And you should be ashamed of what you’ve done,” though she knew he was not.

He bowed to her and blew her a kiss, his action making her careless. “Go see your new mistress, Fiametta De Michelis then, and listen to page after page of Ovid and Plutarch. At least I didn’t make my fortune laying on my back.” Cesare slammed the door.

Like his son, Alexander VI showed no sympathy towards his daughter,” She’s barely twenty years old and has everything to live for. This crying and moping needs to stop. And besides, Cesare was certainly justified in doing what he did—after all, Alfonso did try to kill him. She should leave if she can’t appreciate that.”

Carmilla packed her mistress’ trunk with things both she and Marco would need. If Lucrezia could no longer abide the Vatican, neither could she remain in the house Cesare had given to her. Like Lucrezia, she wanted to escape Rome, and Nepi would be the perfect escape.

Cesare gave Constanzia a parting gift—a ruby necklace. She knew it was not an apology, but an admonishment, and she resented it. But the necklace was particularly beautiful and Cesare knew her fondness for rubies. They would call this a draw, then. Neither would apologize, but both knew that Cesare would find his way back into her bed when she returned to Rome.

She not know until later that Cesare had received a letter from his wife saying Louis had refused her request to come to Rome. His excuse was that the roads were too treacherous for Charlotte and her infant daughter to travel. It was not hard to guess that Charlotte was being kept as a hostage lest his upstart Roman protégé step beyond accepted bounds. Louis, then, was taking no chances.

Their train was small. Lucrezia took only six retainers with her, Constanzia brought Carmilla and two other members of household. The babies travelled in a litter with their nurses, but Constanzia and Lucrezia chose to ride. Lucrezia was silent for most of the journey and Constanzia did not try to engage her. The atmosphere of the party was strained, and all breathed a sigh of relief when they reached Nepi.

The Pope had spent twenty four thousand ducats for the town of Sermoneta, and increased fortifications, ensuring that Lucrezia’s castle in Nepi would be safe. It had originally been given to Cardinal Sforza, but when he fled, his seat in the consistory given to another and the Pope had given Nepi to his daughter. It was Lucrezia’s now, and was providing her a refuge away from all her bad memories.

Lucrezia did not assume the administration of the town as she had in the past, she wanted only peace and quiet. She and Constanzia would sit with their children in the sunny courtyard and watch them play. Marco had learned to run, though his unsteady toddler’s legs often failed him, and he would fall on his bottom and wail for his nurse. Rodrigo would sit on his mother’s lap, playing with her necklace or the locks of her long, blond hair. All in all, it was exactly what both women wanted, a place where Rome did not exist, even though it was only twenty five miles away.

Two weeks after their arrival, Constanzia received a note from one of her spies. “My lady,” it read, “Baron de Trans arrived in Rome and stayed at an inn outside the city walls. A rider, wearing a leather mask, arrived at the inn and spoke to the Baron. They say it was the Duke Valentino.”

She sighed and crumpled the paper and was going to throw it on the ground when Lucrezia held out her hand. “May I?” she asked, and Constanzia handed it to her. She read it, and frowned, “What does this mean cousin?”

“It means, Cousin, that Louis is preparing to go to war. He re-took Milan and it is now safely in his hands. I fear that he has his eye on Naples, and worse, Cesare plans to help him in his endeavor.” And so Cesare goes off to war again, she sighed.

“And Naples will be in French hands, and they’ll marry one or both of us off to obtain alliances. I do not want to marry again, look at what happened to both my husbands! Giovanni Sforza was humiliated and had to flee Rome because Cesare planned to kill him. And he killed my Alfonso, I am bad luck for husbands. I will not marry, not if I can help it.”

“I would not feel so sorry for Giovanni Sforza if I were you. He did everything he could to ruin your reputation—where do you think these allegations of incest come from, anyway? For myself, I do not know how my relationship with Cesare has been kept quiet for so long—I wonder how many hidden bodies will never be found. I would like to separate Micheletto from him, but I don’t know how I could do it.”

“Well, dearest cousin, there will be no talk of husbands while we are here. I wish I could forbid news of Cesare’s campaign, I have had enough of bloodshed. I am sure that Father will send us news, he takes pleasure in such things. Let us just enjoy Nepi and our privacy for as long as it lasts.”

Their peace lasted for months. In December the pope sent an escort for them to bring them home so that they might be back in Rome for the Christmas festivities. Lucrezia was reluctant to return to Rome. Here she had been free to order prayers to be said for Alfonso, without incurring her father’s displeasure. The time she spent in Nepi had helped to assuage her grief.

Cesare had sent along a letter asking Constanzia to come to him in Cesena, one of his conquered cities in the Romagna, but she had refused. Instead she spent Christmas in Rome, as far away from him as she could. While in Nepi, she had been relieved to discover she was not pregnant again, for she could not bear the thought of having Cesare’s child. Let the time pass, she thought, let him stay where he is and play at soldier. I have not forgiven him for I cannot. When Lucrezia forgives him, then I will too.

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