Family, Love, and Duty
“This Lord is very proud and, as a soldier, he is so enterprising that nothing is so great that it does not seem trivial to him. And, for the sake of glory and of acquiring lands, he does not rest, and acknowledges no fatigue or danger. He arrives at one place before his is known to have left the other; he endears himself to his soldiers, he had got hold of the best men in Italy, and these factors, together with continual good fortune, make him victorious and dangerous.”
Constanzia closed the letter she had just received from Machiavelli with a smile. She could listen to the Florentine sing Cesare’s praises all day long. Her cousin was turning out to be a very good leader of men, as well as a strategist. And his men did love him, for the confidence he instilled in them, the victories he won, as well as being allowed to help themselves liberally to the spoils.
Machiavelli was a delightful correspondent. Best of all, he did not edit his letters, letting her know just what was happening as Cesare campaigned with Louis XII. If she had any doubts as to why Alfonso has been killed, the reason was made plain when Louis announced his plans to claim the throne of Naples.
She did not regret relenting and forgiving Cesare. “Do not try to understand what I do, my darling,” he had said in one of their many letters, “This is war, it can be cruel and brutal and it is best to just accept it, as we accept any unpleasant thing in life. Know instead how much I love you, that I miss you every moment I spend away from you. “
“I will be back in Rome in early June, look for me then. I long to fold you and Lucrezia into my arms and kiss your sweet and lovely faces. Perhaps, my dear, as brief as the time will be that I spend there, we will be successful in conceiving another child, perhaps a girl who will be as lovely as her beautiful mother. I send you my love and kisses, your loving Cesare.”
She returned to Machiavelli’s letter. “You will be pleased to know that there is someone I wish to introduce your lord to. No doubt you have heard of Leonardo da Vinci, known as much for his skills as a painter as he is for not completing his commissions! But there is one thing you do not perhaps know, he is a master engineer, and is highly skilled as creating weapons of war. He may be older, but his skills, it seems, have only increased with age! I will introduce him to our lord,” here she smiled at his choice of words, for they seemed to border on heresy, “and I think he will be pleased to have the opportunity to put his talents to work.”
She sighed and put the letter away where she kept her correspondence. Her letters from Cesare she kept in a gilded box, decorated with tiny pearls and garnets. It was not always easy to love him. She had to accept his mistresses, she had no choice. Fiametta de Michelis was just one in a long string of women. The one time she had dared argue with him about it, he had become very angry, but even so, she did not back down.
It did not bother her when she was pregnant, especially in the last months. It was thought that to have intercourse was dangerous to the baby and the pregnancy—she and Cesare had proven that was not true. In the later months, though, it was almost a release to have him seek the attentions of other women. If they respected the other’s feelings, things seemed to be fine.
Except for the brutality, he allowed his army. All the murder, the rape, the pillaging, she did not understand. Even when he explained to her that it benefitted his men, and added to reputation as a leader that no one dared cross, she did not understand.
She wandered into the nursery for her morning visit to her son. Marco was now almost three, a sturdy boy tall for his age, and his temperament was sweetness itself. If she were to come to Ferrara with Lucrezia, she would not leave her son behind, she decided, after all, she was not the onemarrying into the D’Este family. Lucrezia was heartbroken at having to leave Rodrigo and Giovanni behind, but since she was agreeing to the terms of the marriage, her children would pay the price.
Lucrezia summoned her after luncheon, and they walked together in the Vatican’s gardens. The trees and bushes were bare, but soon spring would come, and the first buds would appear, then the fruit trees would start to blossom and the gardens would soon turn into a riot of color.
“Ferrara is balking at the marriage once again,” Lucrezia broke the silence they had been walking in. “They keep making more demands and their demands are getting more expensive. If they don’t want Alfonzo D’Este to marry me, why don’t they just break off negotiations? After all, he was engaged to a niece of Louis XII, why break it off in the first place?”
“Because in the long run, Louis needs your father’s support. Ferrara is rich, and though smaller than Milan and Naples, very influential. If you marry Alfonzo, it will give him a foot hold in the north. But tell me, Lucrezia, how do you feel about it?”
“It’s as I’ve told you, I’ve decided not to fight it. How much unhappiness have we endured, you and I? Ferrara is wealthy, they support the arts, and it will take me away from here. I can bear no more unhappiness, cousin. I could not believe it when Cesare…” here she trailed off and began crying quietly into a handkerchief.
Constanzia took her in her arms, “How well I know of what you speak, dearest Lucrezia. But it is as you said, if you do marry, it will take you far away from your unhappy memories in Rome. And Duke Ercole is old, he will not live for much longer, and then you will become Duchess of Ferrara and preside over your own court. Perhaps I will stay for longer than a short visit. If you can persuade the Duke to find me a villa, then I can set up my own household and I will always be there for you.”
“Do you know that they are sending two envoys to see if I am ‘worthy’ of being admitted into the noble house of D’Este? I cannot believe it myself.”
“Well, Lucrezia my love, one had best have their wits about them when talking to you! And, my god, you’ve born not one but two healthy sons! Ferrara will be wanting heirs—you will be able to provide them, that is plain. If only there were a way to make them see that all the rumors they have heard about you are just that—rumors.
“Well, perhaps not quite,” said Lucrezia under her breath, not quite able to meet her cousin’s eyes.
No, Lucrezia, thought Constanzia, do not tell me anything, not if it’s true, not if it’s just innuendo. Cesare has protected me from this all these years, I could not bear to hear it now.
What? She was tempted to ask, is there any truth, but voicing it would do no good. Whatever had happened between Lucrezia and Cesare was in the past, a past left forgotten.
Lucrezia took her hand, “I have a treat for you, a new sweetmeat from Turkey, plus coffee. Mama will be joining us, she asks about you all the time.” And there they decided to leave the unsaid, unsaid.
“Is Cesare coming home soon?” she asked her casually, almost too casually.
“The beginning of June, I cannot wait. I must have some new gowns made, even if he will be here barely a week. And some clothes for Marco—he has not seen him in over six months, he will not believe how much he has grown! And I have a bolt or two for you, if you’d like some new dresses, too.”
“Thank you, but that won’t be necessary, I’ve started having garments made for my wedding and trousseau, even if Ferrara has yet to give in. Father is so determined, I doubt that he will allow anything to go wrong.”
“And you’re still determined to go?”
“Yes, yes I am. There is nothing holding me here but bad memories. I’ve reconciled with Cesare, after all, we do love each other, and he would do anything for me.” Except to prevent him killing my husband. And I can’t bear the way he looks at you, and the thought of his having a wife and child breaks my heart. I am not so reconciled to that as you might think, but hardest of all is you.
“Well, then, my dearest, I will go with you. Who knows, even though your husband to be may prefer the low life, he may soon come to find that he prefers your company to the sewers. It is not a bad thing to have a husband adore you. Who knows, he may even come to respect your intelligence. If he should go off to war, who better to rule in his place? You’d like that, I know you, and you’d be good at it.
When he returned to Rome, Cesare entered by one of the lesser used side gates, and rode straight to his house to see Constanzia. He entered, still in his armor, to find Constanzia supervising Marco’s bath. He picked her up and spun her around until she felt dizzy.
He set her down and held her close. “My God, I have missed you. Why is it that every time we are separated, I find you even more beautiful when I return?” Headless of the presence of the nurse and her maid, he took her in is arms and kissed her deeply.
She pushed him gently, “You must greet your son. Cesare, I am sure he has missed you.”
“You little rapscallion,” he lifted his son in his arms, holding him high overhead. Marco crowed and laughed. Carmilla handed him a towel and he wrapped his wet baby bow snugly. “God, he grows each time I am away. Such a handsome boy, too, Constanzia. I swear, he resembled each of us so much that I don’t see how the Pallavicinis can possible claim him.”
“That is because he is a Borgia on both sides, brother. You and Constanzia are alike enough to be twins, and your baby shows it.” Lucrezia smiled, her love for him in her eyes. And the baby did resemble Cesare, she thought resentfully, her sons were handsome, but they did not bear a resemblance to her beloved brother.
“Will you not kiss your sister? She has missed you sorely?”
“Gladly,” he said and handed Marco to his nurse. Taking Lucrezia in his arms he stroked her long golden hair, the kissed her. “You are looking so beautiful. Unlike that brute Giovanni Sforza, I am sure this one will fall in love with you. Lucrezia Borgia, I predict happiness for you.”
“And, we will make sure Giovanni Sforza will not be allowed anywhere near Ferrara, at least during your wedding festivities. And if he has business there after that, you are free to ignore him and exclude him from your circle. You will, after all, be the duchess someday.” Constanzia smiled, hoping that she was right.
“Lucrezia, let me talk to Constanzia alone for a moment, then I will escort you to the Vatican. I must get out of this armor, and bathe and change. We will all be together tonight at dinner, for a change.
It was like old times, almost.Jofre, Sancia, Lucrezia, iConstanzia, the pope, and him were gathered around the dinner table. Vanozza was entertaining friends and La Bella was no long the pope’s mistress, so it was only family. Constanzia wore a gown of deep rose, and Lucrezia shown in a gown of aqua, leaving Cesare with the pleasant task of trying to decide which of the two was more beautiful.
They did not talk of family business, they did not talk of war and politics, but only about themselves. Jofre teased Lucrezia about her coming marriage and asked how long she thought it would take for her to get pregnant. After all, he reminded her, Borgia women were fertile, and got pregnant soon after they took to their marriage bed—which the pontiff would be sure to bless, even if it was at proxy like her marriage.
“That would be to my advantage,” she answered him, “The sooner I can give him children, the sooner he might let me go my own way.”
“But you might like him, Lucrezia, he loves music, he is a patron of the arts like the rest of his family. Just think how many artists and musicians you might be able to sponsor. You never know, the two of you might suit each other.”
“All this talk of marriage is boring me,” Cesare stood up and held out his hand, “Come, cousin, I will see you home.” And I can’t wait to get you into bed, and I’m starting to lose my patience.
The bedroom was lit by candles and the window had been opened to allow in fresh air. Carmilla took one look at them and left the room, closing the door behind her.
“No, let me,” Cesare said and began to undo her laces. When her gown lay in a pool around her feet he stripped off his clothes and took her into their bed.
When their lovemaking had tired her, she fell asleep and Cesare quietly dressed and left the villa. Fiametta was waiting for him, though he had given her no assurances. When he reached the Vatican, he went to his rooms, and began to change into the outfit he’d had laid out for him.
“Brother.” He turned around and saw Lucrezia, “Brother,” she said, “If I must be sent off to Ferrara, will you not love me? You owe me, you know, you took away my husband, so you owe me a lover—and I want it to be you.”
She came to his side and let her robe slip from her shoulders. “I cannot be the fact that Constanzia has someone so beautiful as you, while I must tolerate that Ferrarese brute. Love me, brother, love me just for tonight, but the time you come back I will be his wife and will have to make the journey north.”
“Lucrezia, no,” he said weakly, but he knew he was lost. He took her into his arms and felt her plum breasts push against him. He lifted her up onto his bed and stripped away his clothes, groaning softly as her hands reached out to feel him. He felt himself groan as he grew hard. Well, he had committed so many sins anyway where women were concerned, that it was not hard to be responsive to his sister’s hands and lips. Fiametta would have to do without him at least one night he thought as he slipped into her. But, he promised himself, this must not happen again—or had he said this once before?