An Inauspicious Beginning
Constanzia, feeling no shame at all, looked from one to the other. Alfonso’s face wore a look of open admiration, and she knew Lucrezia’s calculating look of old. I’ll leave them alone, she thought, Lucrezia can deal with whatever happens.
“Well,” she said aloud, “I know I should not leave the two of you unchaperoned, but you are officially man and wife, are you not? Alfonso, I will leave my cousin in your capable hands.” Hopefully, not literally, she wanted to add. She curtsied and all but scampered off.
She found a convenient alcove where she could spy on them, and come to Lucrezia’s rescue in the unlikely event that would happen.
“Madame,” Alfonso kissed Lucrezia’s hand again, admiring her long, be-jeweled fingers, “Would you perhaps consent to go to bed with me tonight?”
She had to choke back a laugh, “Sir,” she said coquettishly, “That would be most improper and disrespectful to your father. Come, the finalization to our nuptials is tomorrow, let us wait until then.” She smiled her most engaging smile.
Disappointment was plain on his face, but he smiled and said, “Madame, I am your servant,” bowed again, and left.
“Constanzia, you can come out from wherever you are hiding. Please tell me what you thought of that!”
She exited the alcove. “Well, Lucrezia, it is plain that he admires you. If he had any objections to the match you have clearly won him over. Win over his father, and maybe you can keep any mischief Isabella D’Este might make to a minimum.”
Lucrezia glanced over to a mirror on the wall, pleased with her image. “Do you really think she be a problem?”
“Yes, dearest, I do, her and the Urbino, both. You will never be forgiven for Cesare and the Malatesta. And just look at them! You are young and lovely, only twenty-one, and they are jealous of your youth.”
“But Constanzia, you are twenty-five, Isabella D’Este is only two years older than you. How can she be jealous?”
“Because Borgia women do not lose their beauty, we don’t fade like dying flowers. I’ll wager that both their husbands have mistresses—no doubt that is why the Urbino dresses in black, which doesn’t flatter her at all. Come, let us re-join the party, I see Alfonso looking our way. Just think, if you don’t like him, all you need do is give him an heir and a spare, then go your own way. You’ll do that admirably.”
The day, the ducal barge was awaiting them. They made the twenty-mile journey in comfort, disembarking at Ferrara’s walls. There, the cousins met Alphonso’s father, Duke Ercole, for the first time.
Ercole was clearly taken with Lucrezia. The Borgia girl was clearly more than a beauty, but gracious, intelligent, and obviously eager to put him at ease. He found her cousin equally beautiful, but in a different way with her dusky Spanish looks and magnificent dark amber eyes. He welcomed her, too, and kissed her hand.
They spent the night at the villa of his illegitimate brother, Alberto D’Este. The next morning found them rising early so that Lucrezia might take extra care in her preparations for her entrance into the city.
“Shall I wear my hair loose, or confine it in a net?” she asked Constanzia. Her maids were carefully brushing the long blond hair that fell past her knees.
“In a net, with your most costly jeweled coif, of course, to annoy Isabella D’Este, you can remove it once you are in the palace if you like. You’ll have to ride through the streets, and your hair might get in your way. You’ll be a spectacular site, riding that bay stallion they have for you, underneath that white canopy with the gold fringe. No one will be able to take their eyes off you, Lucrezia, you’ll be a vision. Just keep those damned dwarves away, for once.” It was no secret that she hated her cousin’s Spanish clowns.
Lucrezia looked again at the gown she would wear into the city, a gold brocade with purple striped satin. She gazed at herself in the mirror as her attendants carefully laced her into it, placing the ruby necklace around her neck that had belonged to the deceased duchess, Ercole’s wife. Her gold cloak was lined with ermine, and she arranged it to fall over one shoulder to show it off. The jewels that encrusted her gown sparkled in the candlelight, and she couldn’t help being pleased with the image she presented.
Constanzia wore gold brocade. Around her neck was the diamond necklace that the pope had given her as a wedding gift. Diamond clusters fell from her ears, and her hair had been confined to a net woven with rubies.
She and Lucrezia made a spectacular pair. With her cousin behind her, Lucrezia would not feel so lonely riding through the streets. She was being given a queen’s welcome, and that is what she planned to give to them, a queen. All her life she had dreamed of something like this, only Alphonso was not the prince that she had had in mind. Lowly Pesaro and that weakling Giovanni Sforza could never have given her an opportunity like this. She would one day rule over the grandest kingdom in Italy, and if Alphonso would give her her way, she would make the most of it.
Her long train wove its way through the streets of Ferrara. The city had turned out in force and cheered its new duchess as she made her way to the ducal palace. Suddenly, a roar of artillery from Castel Tedaldo, causing her horse to rear. Expert horsewoman that she was, she fell from her mount, then started laughing.
“Are you all right?” Constanzia slid from her horse and ran to her side.
“I’m fine, really, I’m fine. It just seems so absurd, how funny it must have looked.” She looked nonplussed, irritating Constanzia who had been truly concerned.
“Well, laugh if you must, I don’t think it’s so funny myself. They might have made sure they gave you a horse that was not gun shy. They’re bringing you a mule, so let’s get you up and let people see their future duchess is unharmed.”
Lucrezia rode into the courtyard, dismounted and made her way up the marble staircase where Isabella D’Este and the female members of the ducal family awaited her. Ercole D’Este placed her little hand in that of her bridegroom, and the room burst into applause.
The entertainment that night was everything the young bride could have wanted. Gone was the simple Roman girl who had thought the Vatican so majestic and elegant. Now, as she gazed around her, she felt surrounded by the luxuries she felt were her just due.
Her bridegroom proved to be lighter on his feet than she expected. Alfonso consented to join her in the dancing, and when he tired of it, allowed her to dance with a courtier.
Constanzia threw herself into the festivities and found herself dancing with one young courtier after another. Though she felt just a pale shadow of her cousin, she heard her beauty and grace praised over and over, and she was surprised to find herself pleased. A shadow had been lifted, the shadow of Cesare, and she felt herself feeling truly free.
“My lady,” came a familiar voice, and she found herself on the arm of Raphaello Pallavicini. “Raphaello,” she cried, and forgetting herself, threw her arms around him and hugged him. “I am so pleased to see you, I thought I would be surrounded by nothing but strangers here!”
“Come,” he said and held out his arm, “Let us abandon the dancing for a moment so we can talk. I have missed you, you look lovely. How is young Marco?”
They sat, servants appearing out of nowhere to offer them drinks and sherbet. “Marco is thriving. I would have brought him with me but did not wish to subject him to the journey. He is with his Roman cousins under the care of my sister in law, Sancia. I miss him terribly.”
“Do you plan on bringing him to Ferrara then?” Raphaello took a sip of his wine.
“No!” she said emphatically, then again, “No. As soon as Lucrezia has her first child, I am returning to Rome. I hoped,” she said shyly, “That I could return with him to Genoa. I am like Lucrezia, I want to leave my unhappy memories of Rome behind me. I was happy in Genoa, I did not want to leave but it was not my decision.” At least then, she thought, now I am no longer under Cesare’s shadow.
Raphaello took her hand, “I would love to have you come back to Genoa. I am sure that Calvino would not have wanted his child to be raised in Rome. And you are a young woman, you could marry again if you wished.”
Was it the wine she’d drunk, or did Raphaello seem to be drawing closer? He was giving her a smile that he never would have dreamed of when Calvino was alive. She’d always thought him handsome but was so in love with her Calvino that she never considered him as anything other than a brother.
Now, however, she was a young widow and a wealthy one at that. Cesare had so dominated her life that she had never considered the thought of marrying again, though the shadow of yet another arranged marriage was never far away. Now, however, she was far enough away that perhaps she did not need to worry about another alliance that her uncle the pope was concocting. Cesare was away, campaigning in the Romagna, so for the first time in many years she felt free of him. He was the father, not even the legal father, of her child, but no more than that.
She was feeling a sense of discomfort, Raphaello’s nearness suddenly felt threatening. She stood up, saying, “Raphaello, I must see to Lucrezia. She will be brought to her marriage bed very soon, and she will want me to help attend her.”
He stood and took her arm. “Of course she will, you are her cousin and she will want you there. I must not distract you, I am sure this is not easy for both of you, you are far from home and away from your family.” He led her back to the main room, released her arm, and bowed, “I hope I shall see more of you before I return to Genoa. I have missed you, truly.”
Lucrezia had been waiting for her, but not alone. Alfonso resembled a giant bear standing next to his wife, but Constanzia approved of the deference he gave her. Lucrezia had not married the husband she wanted, but she seemed serenely contented. Perhaps the two of them would suit each other, just let Lucrezia get pregnant and have her baby soon, she thought, I want to go home.
She supervised Lucrezia’s ladies as they prepared her for bed. The white silk nightgown, heavy with lace and embroidered seed pearls made her resemble an angel. Her pale blond hair was loosely braided and tied with a ribbon.
Constanzia dabbed perfume on her cousin’s throat, then pulled her in front of the mirror. “If you need courage, cousin, just remember your image in the mirror. Surely this will be better than bedding Giovanni Sforza! And I think Alfonso has taken to you, and we both know you know how to use that to your advantage.”
“Oh, thank you for mentioning him,” Lucrezia said icily, “I’d much prefer to forget he even exits—I do pity Sforza's current wife, however. Let us drink a toast to my new life, no father, no brother, just me. And I have no worries regarding Alfonso, just that nagging bitch his sister. You are right, I think, she means to make my life miserable if she can.”
“But cousin, she has not only you to contend with, she also has me. She underestimates the both of us, and she will be sorry that she does.”
Why does my heart feel like it’s in my throat? Thought Constanzia as she helped escort Lucrezia to her marriage chamber. I feel the way I felt when I was fifteen, and they put me to bed with my husband. Lucrezia will be all right, I am sure, Alfonso seems like a decent sort, even if he has questionable habits.
She herself went to bed as soon as she could after Lucrezia joined Alfonso. She was fatigued from the journey, and it was difficult to stay and mingle among the guests, who seemed to have an endless supply of questions about Cesare and her uncle. She made her goodnights as quickly as courtesy would allow. She no more than laid her head on her pillow than she fell asleep, and was deep in a dream about her girlhood in Spain when a tapping at her door woke her.
It was Carmen, one of Lucrezia’s Valencian attendants. “Madame, I do not wish to disturb you, but the senora requests that you come at once.”
“Of course,” she replied as a maid helped her on with her robe. What could have gone wrong, why was Lucrezia summoning her?
She walked into her chamber and saw her cousin sitting up and drinking a glass of wine. She motioned for her maid to pour one for Constanzia, then patted the bed, indicating that she should join her.
Constanzia joined her in bed, much as she had done when they were young. She could tell Lucrezia was slightly drunk, but she did not seem upset—or did she?
“Lucrezia, tell me, what has happened? Where is Alfonso? Is everything all right?”
“Well, my dear, you must tell me what you think. Alfonso and I made love, then after a little while he sat up and got dressed. He then bade me goodnight and kissed my hand and told me he hoped I would sleep well--and left. What do you think of that?”
Constanzia took a long drink out of her glass. “My goodness, I don’t know. I have never heard of the like, but remember, cousin, we knew he was strange. I wonder where he has gone.”
“Well, one of my Ferrarese ladies told me that he has a mistress, so maybe he has gone to join her. Or maybe he’s gone out to walk the streets holding his penis. I swear, this is the oddest thing, I have never had a man leave my bed like that before.”
Constanzia leaned back against the pillows. “Yes, this is very strange. How was his lovemaking?”
Lucrezia shrugged her shoulders. “Perfunctory, a little coarse but not discourteous. I wonder if my father knew what a strange man he was marrying me to?”
If he did, he wouldn’t have cared, she thought, then said out loud, “Well, you didn’t foresee loving him, so is this so bad a thing? All you need to do is have children, Lucrezia, give him those and enjoy what being the duchess has to offer. I can’t offer you any more advice than that.”