To Love a Borgia

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Battles and Betrothals

Lucrezia’s maids were brushing the long blond hair that fell to her knees when Constanzia burst unannounced into her room. She looked at her cousin, then waved her attendants inside, dismissing them.

“Constanzia, dear, what is it?” she asked. Her cousin only shook her head, waiting until the last of Lucrezia’s maidens had left the room.

She climbed onto Lucrezia’s bed and held out the hand wearing the diamond ring. She did not speak, only handed the letter to her, saying, “Read it, Lucrezia, read it please!”

Lucrezia read the letter, then read it again. “Oh, my dearest, this is such good news. You can be married now—I must start planning your wedding! Alfonso will be so happy for you, he may even play his viol for you at the ceremony.”

Constanzia stretched out on the bed, “Well, that I can’t imagine, but I imagine he will be happy for me. He is odd, this husband of yours, but not half so bad as we thought he might be. Only, you must do one thing for me, you must promise me you will not tell Cesare.”

“Yes,” she answered slowly, “I think you are right. He will be angry, won’t he? But it’s not right of him to expect you to be his mistress forever, he should be happy that you have found someone who will take care of you, and love you.”

“Cesare’s love frightens me a little, look at what he’s been capable of. He murdered Calvino in cold blood, he murdered Alfonso Aragona because he no longer served a useful purpose for him and Uncle. And he murdered Perotto too, didn’t he? Tell me, Lucrezia, I have always wanted to ask you this, was he Giovanni’s father?”

“Yes, I think so, but you must tell no one of this. I had two miscarriages, and Giovanni was the father of both. He was disappointed that I didn’t seem to be able to carry a child full term, but he couldn’t blame me, now could he? I was very young, after all, and these things happen. But it made him lose interest in trying and lose interest in me, for which I was grateful. Papa had sent Perotto to be a sort of family retainer, and it wasn’t hard to take him into my bed. I was furious when Cesare killed him, especially since I knew I was pregnant.”

“I can imagine Cesare would not treat such a thing lightly, but killing him was not only cruel, but it was also undeserved. Your brothers and their sense of honor! I am glad I was not raised in the Vatican.”

“I understand that I do, but Cesare is Cesare, is he not? You loved him in spite of his flaws.” Lucrezia squeezed the hand that now wore Raffaello’s ring. “We must keep him from knowing your secret until it is too late to do anything about it. He is busy campaigning now and as much as I would dearly love to see him, let us hope that he does not find time to come to Ferrara. I could not live with myself if he killed Raffaello the way he killed Calvino.”

“And maybe you will be pregnant again, and you can carry it to full term. We must not give up hope, Lucrezia.”

“No, we must not,” she answered, “But you must come to Corpus Domini with Alfonso and me, and give thanksgiving and pray that all will be well. You can be married after Easter. Lent will be over and the fasting will be ended so we can hold a real feast. We must ask Ercole to give you away, or at the very least Alfonso must walk you down the aisle. It will be so nice to have something to look forward to.”

Is it that bad, Lucrezia, thought her cousin, Raffaello and I could be married earlier, but I can’t bear to leave you until I know you will be all right? I am sorry you are so unhappy, even sorrier that your position and wealth cannot make you happy. I am lucky, I suppose, to be married to someone I am genuinely fond of, and who was rich enough to afford uncle’s terms.”

Cesare, I no longer wish to be your consort. Do you truly love me, or am a precious possession that you want no one else to have? Do you even truly know how to love? I love Uncle but he seems a twisted man to me, he’s corrupt and greedy and does not care that he is. I have letters from Sancia that I do not want Lucrezia to ever see that tells of her father’s lasciviousness—he has even propositioned her, his son’s wife. I am glad that Papa left Rome, and Uncle’s court.

Constanzia did not look forward to the retreat at Corpus Domini but now that she was there the quiet and peace the convent provided proved more welcome than she had thought. The hours she was spending in prayer and meditation were helping to ease the anxiety she was feeling over the safety of Raffaello if Cesare chose to kill him.

It was also giving her a chance to observe the relationship between her cousin and her husband. Alfonso had pledged to walk the one-hundred-seventy miles, he chose to travel instead by boat. It didn’t matter, Constanzia was happy that he was grateful that the life of his wife had been spared. Perhaps the two of them suited each other, she didn’t see it as a relationship of fidelity, but there was a contentment between the two that was touching.

There were letters waiting for her when she returned to Ferrara. Two were from Raffaello and she recognized the handwriting of the other—Cesare had written to her! Her hands trembled as she opened the letter, fearful that he had heard from his father that she was marrying Raffaello.

The tone of his letter was no less than she expected. “You seek to be rid of me? Have I not been your faithful lover as well as the father of your child? You tried to escape me once, do you not remember what happened? If you wish your Genovan to be safe, you must give him up, or face the consequences. You are mine, no one’s but mine, and I will not relinquish you. I will not hesitate to act if you insist upon acting on this folly. I was too late to prevent Father from issuing the bull that will permit you to marry him, but I will not stand idly by and let it happen.”

She crumpled the letter and threw it into the fire. No, Cesare, she thought, I will not let you control me, or intimidate me. You have held me in thrall long enough, now I am declaring myself free from you. I will do all I can to protect Raffaello from you. I am going to marry him and there is nothing you can do to stop me.

Lucrezia was growing healthier by the day, but Constanzia watched her carefully, knowing that except for a very few of her ladies, she was her only confidante. When, now not if, when she left, she worried that the homesickness that had plagued her cousin so badly would return.

Fortunately, the court of Ferrara was a lively one. As Lucrezia’s health returned she started taking up her duties as the future duchess. And while her husband like to occupy his time with visiting universities and his munitions factories, Lucrezia took part in the dancing, and musical perfomances to amuse herself, especially the dancing which she loved. She employed a dancing master, a music teacher, and hired musicians for a small orchestra. Alfonso would sometimes sit in and play the viol while she played her beloved harp—if they had little else in common at least they both loved music.

For Constanzia these were days of fear. Cesare was at the height of his power, it seemed, and his conquests were spreading beyond the Romagna. Though the Spanish or the French were occasionally to be seen in Genoa, Cesare had so far shown no signs of entering her beloved’s city.

She was hearing rumors about him, and some were not good. His relations with Louis, on whom he was still dependent on men for his army, was growing tenuous at times. Cesare was forgetting himself and who he owed much of his success and Louis was growing tired of him. He had also forbidden Charlotte D’Albret and her small daughter to join her husband, keeping them essentially hostage at the French court.

One cold winter afternoon she sat with Lucrezia in her luxurious chambers. They were working on an altar cloth for the chapel, both she and Lucrezia were skilled at needlework and on during that blizzard that was blowing mercilessly, it was pleasant to sit in front of the fire and gossip idly about goings-on at court.

Constanzia put her needle down. “My dearest, I have not had a letter from Cesare in a while, have you heard anything from him. I’ve been told he’s campaigning through the winter, it seems he is not willing to allow himself or his men any relief.”

“No,” said Lucrezia slowly, “Now that you mention it, I haven’t. Papa receives dispatches from him, but even he complains that he does not know of his whereabouts. He hasn’t visited Rome in quite a while and Papa wants him to come home for the Christmas season if it is possible.”

“Lucrezia, do you know that Uncle told him of my betrothal to Raffaello? You know Uncle, he has an idle tongue and says whatever comes to his mind, whether it is prudent or not.”

“Constanzia, are you afraid of what he will do? He would have found out, you know, sooner or later. You are to be married in the spring, you could hardly expect to keep it secret for long.” She took a sip of wine and noticed the look of worry on her cousin’s face.

Constanzia drew a deep breath. “I am deathly afraid of what he might do. He did not hesitate to kill Calvino, what would stop him from having Raffaello killed if he makes up his mind to?

It’s as if he thinks he owns us, you and me. Alfonso is safe because the northern border of the Romagna is secured through your marriage. Genoa is rich and prosperous—what if he fancies taking control of all the Italian peninsula and establishing himself as king? Who would stop him? Certainly not your father, he is as power hungry as Cesare. As long as he has the support of the papacy there is nothing tSpo stop him. God help him if anything ever happens to your father.”

“Hush, Constanzia, don’t say that, don’t even dare to think it. Papa is barely sixty-five, surely he will live long enough to see Cesare achieve his dreams. I do not blame you for being afraid, but you must not give in to your fears. Calvino’s death is in the past, you must look forward to a future of happiness with your Raffaello. It is only the darkness of winter playing on your nerves, that’s all. When this blizzard lets up we will have sleigh rides and parties, you’ll feel better then, you’ll see.”

Constanzia resumed her needlework, but her mind did not rest. she remembered something Cesare had told her:

“I expect my love that I will die on the battlefield. You must promise me that you will be brave if that happens. I promise you, I will die with your name on my lips.”
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