The Cruelty of War
Constanzia woke slowly, as if out of a dream, no, a nightmare. She looked around her, feeling terribly confused because nothing was as it should be. Where were her things, where was Carmilla sleeping in a corner on her cot? She pushed herself up, to take a better look, and then she understood.
She was in Cesare’s bed, not at all where she had intended to be. It came back to her now, and she understood why. She had hoped it was all a bad dream, but it wasn’t. She rubbed her sore bottom, not so bad now, but the indignity of what Cesare had done to her was still fresh.
She saw her clothes lying across the room where he had left them. She looked at Cesare, peacefully sleeping, then lifted the covers carefully, trying to make sure she would not disturb him. She tried to leave his bed as quietly as she could, but it was not enough, for she felt a strong arm around her waist, pulling her closer to him.
“No,” he said simply, “No” was all he ever said. He pulled her firmly against him, holding her tightly.
“Cesare, I have to go, Baby will be waking up soon. And I’m angry with you, and I do not feel inclined to be pliant and loving. You’ll have to earn my forgiveness for that. Until that time…”
“Until that time, I’ll try to forget that you, Lucrezia, and Sancia were trying to plot your way into D’Aubigny’s bed last night.”
She gave a little gasp. “How did you find out?”
“It wasn’t hard to guess, little cousin, especially after the four of you were seen walking around together. Jofre is so ignorant of the ways of his wife that he undoubtedly doesn’t and won’t know. I, however, am not so ignorant, my love.”
“But nothing happened, so what sin did I commit? It was Sancia who snared him, not Lucrezia or I. And what of your mistresses? Do I complain? (very often, at least, she thought) Why is it all right for you, yet if I…”
He leaned over, grabbing a handful of her hair, slowly bringing her face close to his. “I will not share you with anyone, not ever again. I Iived in agony when you were in Genoa, thinking of your being in his arms.” Cesare did not have to say who he was.
“I loved Calvino, Cesare, and you took him away from me. You even robbed me of having his child.” She sighed, and fell on her pillow.“What is this madness I feel for you? I should hate you, I tried to hate you, but I don’t.”
“Hate me all you wish, my darling, just keep on loving me. And I promise to think twice before my jealousy takes itself out on your charming little bottom. Love me now, then we will go to Marco.” He paused for a moment, “I have something else to tell you, but it must wait.”
“No,” she answered, but it did not do her any good. Did anyone else’s lips kiss her so exquisitely? Did anyone else’s hands how the right places to touch her? Could anyone use his fingers on her and bring her to such delights that she almost wanted to scream in her pleasure. She was helpless in his arms, all he had to do was touch her and she was lost. She did not forget her anger, but surrendered to him, knowing it was the path of least resistance.
Their lovemaking finished, he acted as her lady’s maid and helped her dress. He would have made a good one, for he was very adept when it came to lacing her corset and gown. Do you do this for anyone else? She wondered resentfully. She sat and watched him dress as she brushed her hair, then twisted it into a knot.
He borrowed her brush, and arranged his hair. He wore the clothes that had been set out for him the previous night, making her feel a little tawdry.
Then she remembered what he’s said. “What do you have to tell me Cesare—is it something important? Does it have anything to do with the Lord D’Aubigny?”
“Ah, yes. Father is going to tell him that he held a secret consistory and dispossessed Federico of Aragon of the kingdom of Naples. It has now been bestowed upon Louis. I suspect that D’Aubigny will now rejoin his troops on the road to Naples.”
“Is that all?” she asked, somehow it seemed that that would not be enough.
“Well, Caterina Sforza is being released from the dungeon of the Castel, and will be exiled to Florence.Since she won’t be needing them now, I am going to secure Imola and Forli for myself. Congratulate me, cousin, I am on my way to establishing my kingdom in the Romagna.”
“Caterina was in the dungeons? I thought…”
“She tried to escape and was caught--that is a cardinal sin. If you attempt to escape, you must be sure you do not get caught.”
“Are saying that to me, or to you, Cesare? Sometimes I think that you will not see old bones. Didn’t you tell me once that you expected to die in battle?”
“Yes, I did, and I do. There is something else. I am waiting on Vitellozzo Vitelli. When he comes, I must join Louis. Do not fear, I will be back in time for Lucrezia’s wedding. I will escort the two of you on the road to Ferrara, but I will rejoin my troops after that. I am hoping that while you are gone you will find it possible to forgive me.”
“As if you think you need to be forgiven. Come, let us go see our child, he asks for his father every morning.”
“There is one more thing I forgot to tell you,” he said, “You will have to leave Marco behind. The weather will be severe, and cold, perhaps even snowing. He is too young and delicate for such a journey. Do not cry,” he said, as she wiped a tear from her eye, “You won’t be gone longer than a few months. As soon as Lucrezia is settled you must come home. Sancia is taking care of Giovanni and Rodrigo, she will not mind looking after Marco, too. At least Marco is only losing his mother for a short while, let that comfort you.”
She wanted to say, “No, you can’t make me leave my son in Rome,” but she knew the truth in what he said. “Yes, Cesare, I agree with you, only it will be hard to bear. It is going to be hard when I must leave Lucrezia, I worry for her. Not that she won’t be treated well, but she will be homesick. I loved Calvino and his family, and Genoa, but I was dreadfully homesick.” She wanted to add, “And being pregnant made it worse,” but didn’t.
If there was one thing good she could say about Cesare Borgia, it was that he doted on his son. The Borgias loved their children. He wanted her to get pregnant again, and had been disheartened when she had lost their daughter. Even if Charlotte D’Albret had born his daughter, Constanzia’s were the children of his heart. He loved her in his own way. Cesare Borgia had to be accepted on his own terms. Constanzia was finding that was easier to do than she thought, for she knew him, and his ways, well. And no matter what, there was never any doubt in her mind that he loved her.
D’Aubigny left after he met with the Pope. He was joining his army on their way to the Romagna, and Naples. She stood with Sancia and Lucrezia on the balcony, watching as the crowd cheered him on. Somehow the crowd only saw the splendors of the army, not what they really did. Did they even think about the killing, the rape, the destruction? And after that would come the starvation and the deprivation. The army would leave the countryside barren, and starvation would follow. Why did people glory in war, anyway? In her eyes it was not glorious, it was a waste, no, a sin.
Finally, Vitellozzo Vitelli arrived with his men, and Cesare finalized his preparations. He and his men would ride out to meet up with Louis and D’Aubigny, and join his campaign to take Naples, giving the French king control in the north.
The night before he left, Cesare cut a long lock of Constanzia’s hair, and braided it with one of her ribbons. He had wanted to include a lock of Marco’s hair but it was too short. In the morning, he tucked it into his doublet, saying, “Now I will have you with me even when I am away. Your angel will watch over me, I am sure.”
She sat up in their bed, wrapping the sheets around her. “Do you have to go? Can you not send your condottiere and stay with me?”
He sat down beside her. “What is this, my love? Why do you say this to me? I have a treaty with Louis, in exchange for the loan of his men, I agree to fight for him. Would you have me break my word?”
“No, of course not, you are a man of honor, after all. It’s just that I hate all that goes with the wars you fight. It’s so…” she sought for a word, “Cruel, and it seems unnecessary. I hate war.”
“That is one of the things I love about you, your tender heart. But, I would have a kingdom to leave for our son. Charlotte’s daughter is my heir, but I will set up a kingdom for our Marco.Someday, he will have to go to war, unless you would see him in a cardinal’s skirts.”
“Never! It’s just that I won’t see you until the festivities for Lucrezia’s wedding. That’s three months. I think sometimes it was easier to be the mistress of a cardinal—you were home far more often.
“And I hated it, remember? Never fear, the time will go more swiftly than you think, then it is I who will miss you, for Ferrara is a long journey from here. “
At first, it seemed all right. She threw herself into helping Lucrezia prepare her trousseau, and the Pope kindly provided money so she would have more gowns, and fur cloaks, and anything else she would need for the journey to Ferrara.
“I want to make sure you have all that you need and lack for nothing,” Alexander told her kindly, “She takes comfort in the fact that you will be beside her in the first few months of her marriage. She will be homesick for Rome and her family, which is no easy thing, as you know.”
She put her arms around her uncle, and held him tightly. Alexander had his faults, but if you were family he would make sure you were well looked after. Had he not arranged a marriage for her that was not only politically advantageous, but was a love match as well?
At first the messengers that the pope sent out did not have much news, then the armies joined each other and the fighting began in earnest.
Little resistance was being offered in towns like Aversa and Nola in the Kingdom of Naples. They knew better than to challenge the French king and his army.
Capua was not so fortunate, they put up a fight. The army was ruthless, and in their determination to take the city they killed everyone—men, women, children, the old, priests, monks, nuns—no one was spared. In the end six thousand people were killed, in effect wiping out the city.
Constanzia gave her messenger a glass of wine as she read the dispatch again. She could not believe it, how could they? How could Cesare?
“Is it true then,” she asked the young soldier who had brought her the news, “Is the entire city gone, and no one is left?”
“For all intents and purposes, yes, my lady, it is true. The army was ruthless, they intended to fight and not quit until the city was taken. There may have been some who fled, but they destroyed the city as well as its inhabitants.”
She shook out twenty ducats from her purse. “Here, this is for you. Let no one know that we have spoken, or that you were within Rome’s walls. The news will be coming soon, I am sure. Rejoin the army, but if you do not wish to, I can give you more to begin a new life.”
He bowed and left the room, thinking that the news had greatly upset her. But he would not quit the army, he was exactly where he wanted to be.
That afternoon, the pope entered the gallery and found the three girls sitting in an alcove.
“Naples has been taken!” he declared, “Is that not wonderful news.”
Constanzia stood up. “It is indeed, if you approve of murder and rapine. The inhabitants of the city have been wiped out. They spared no one, no one, including nuns, monks, and priests. Do you find that good news, uncle?” She ran out of the room, sobbing.