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.
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!”
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.”
“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?”
“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.”
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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 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.”
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.”