To Marry a Daughter
Chapter 4: To Marry a Daughter
She woke while it was still dark to find Cesare lying next to her. She traced the lines of his face, noticing that it did not wear the contented expression it usually had when he slept in her bed. There was a sadness, a resignation on his young face, and seeing it made her feel sad.
She entwined her fingers with his, and put her hand around his waist. His grip tightened, and without waking he wrapped her arm more tightly around him. The lines on his face seemed to relax, but she missed the smile he usually wore.
He woke her just before dawn, kissed her and rose from the bed. “I’ll see you at breakfast; I have to go to the Vatican this morning. If Father will free me, I will take you riding this afternoon.” He leaned over and kissed her.
“You should have waked me, Cesare, when you came to bed. This is the first time we haven’t made love when we had the chance.”
He laid his hand on her cheek. “You looked so peaceful—the way I wish I felt. Somehow waking you didn’t feel right.”
She put her arms around his neck. “Next time, do it anyway. We have no way of knowing how much time we have, Cesare. What happens if someone finds us out? What if you get tired of me? What if I get pregnant and I have to run away?”
He laughed, “If that happens, we’ll disguise ourselves and slip out of Rome unnoticed. We’ll go to Constantinople and find your mother’s Turkish family. I’ll offer my services to the Sultan, and we can convert to the Orthodox Church and live happily ever after.” There was a sadness in his voice that let her know that was not what he wanted to do. He kissed her again, and said, “Get some sleep,” and slipped out of her room.
She found him late in the afternoon, feeding the birds in the dovecote. He was still wearing the scarlet robes of his new office, and she wondered why he hadn’t changed. He looked handsome in his robes, but he looked unhappy to her, and distracted, until she realized that it was more than mere unhappiness—there was anger in his eyes, and helplessness.
“What’s wrong, Cesare?” With him she need not build up to the question, she always asked directly and received the same in turn. Sharing a bed had had opened them up to each other and brought a candor to their relationship. If she wanted to know something from him, she asked, and she could read him well enough to know when not to. He could talk to her, and did, though she tended to hold back a little when it came to herself.
“Lucrezia’s getting married.” He set down the seed basket and wiped off his hands. He looked around to see if anyone was watching, then took hers and began walking towards his mother’s house.
“No. What is wrong with Uncle, she’s only a child, barely fourteen. Who will it be?”
“I don’t know for sure, but I think he is leaning towards Giovanni Sforza. I believe his uncle the Cardinal put forth the match.”
“Why him?” She stopped and stared at Cesare. “We know nothing about him personally, how he will treat her. He’s so much older than she is, surely Uncle can see the sense of marrying her to someone closer to her age. I don’t care how advantageous this seems, does he think any of the Sforza’s will honor any promise they make? The Sforza’s are loyal only to themselves.”
He slipped an arm around her shoulders, “If you think you can talk sense into my father, then you are welcome to try. He’s paying a small fortune for her dowry, if you can change his mind, then he can find Lucrezia someone not quite so expensive.”
“I should ride to Pesaro and try to seduce him, then I can tell the Holy Father what kind of man Lucrezia is marrying. We wouldn’t want to wed her to someone who will be cruel to her.”
Cesare grabbed her arm, “You even think about doing that, and I’ll whip you and keep you shut up naked in your room until you’re ready to confess the error of your ways. I’d love to see your Sforza confessor’s face when you told him about what you planned on doing.” He shoved her against a wall, where they would be hidden from all eyes, “No one but me is going to have you, Querida.” He put his lips down on hers and kissed her, and she felt herself melting as she always did when he touched her.
“What about when Uncle finds a husband for me? You don’t want me to wait until I’m too old for anyone to want me, do you? Don’t you want me to be happy?”
“Don’t I make you happy?” he murmured, “Don’t I make you feel loved?”
“Yes, of course, but I want a child, Cesare, a child to replace the one God saw fit to take from me. And I want to be the mistress of my own house, I want to have a husband who loves me.”
“Be careful, you might find yourself in Lucrezia’s position. Marrying the niece of the Pope is not quite the same as marrying the daughter, but you’re an eligible pawn in the marriage market. And you’re not a bastard, your mother is Venetian…”
“And Turkish, don’t forget that. But your father is not going to want to bother with me for a while, I hope. After Lucrezia, there’s Juan and Gioffre to find brides for. That buys us a little time, doesn’t it?”
“If I was not Cardinal, and we were third cousins, I think Father might consent to our marrying, but that is not our fate. Let me come to our room tonight, sweetness; can I come, is the time of the month safe?” He wanted to pull up her skirts, but he would not dishonor her, instead he planted kisses over her face and neck.
“Yes, one more night, and then we must wait again. God must not frown on us, otherwise I would have had one scare.” She yielded to him, wondering why it was so easy; then pushed him gently away, one more moment of his hands on her and she’d be yielding to him like a whore in an alleyway. “I think I am going to ask my Sforza confessor what he knows about Giovanni Sforza. Maybe he can tell me what he’s like. Cesare,” she said conspiratorially, “I think my confessor has a fondness for me. He holds my hand whenever he gets the chance, and he’s assigned me far lighter penances than Uncle would assign me. Maybe I can take that soft spot and use it.”
“Be careful, I’ve seen the way he looks at you. Ascanio Sforza would have you in his bed in a heartbeat. All, or at least most, of the cardinals are corrupt. They’ve just not been so open as Father. Now, I must go, but I will see you at dinner. Say nothing to Lucrezia, Father has told me I am to tell her, to soften the blow, I suppose. Now, one last kiss sweet, and I will see you later,” and the kiss he gave her was soft and sweet, not at all like the ones he would give her in her bed chamber.
Was it too late for her to find Cardinal Sforza? She went and looked at the sun dial in the garden. Barely three o’clock, just enough time to find her confessor and confront him. She hurried to the Vatican, wanting to run to make sure she could catch him before he left. And, somehow, fortune was with her, for he was making his way down the steps of the Vatican, safely alone.
She ran up to meet him, “Cardinal,” she called and he smiled when he saw her. He always smiled when he saw her. She could see him smiling through the grill of the confessional when she made her confession, he would smile when he saw her in the Vatican, and if chance allowed, he would smile and take her arm and walk her to wherever she was going. Cardinal Sforza was too friendly for her comfort, but she did not dare discourage him. She was a Borgia and knew the value of accumulating allies whenever you could. He could be as bold as he liked, as far as she was concerned, so long as he did not exceed his boundaries.
And God help him if Cesare ever saw him take her hand and pat it, or lay a hand briefly on her shoulder.
She put on her friendliest false smile. “Cardinal, how fortuitous, I wished to speak to you. Do you have a moment for me?”
He touched her face, briefly. Ascanio Sforza was a handsome man, but not too handsome, with a pleasing manner that would put her at ease, were it not for the fact she knew enough to be wary of him. She measured every word she said, making sure he only heard what she wanted him to, and nothing more.
“Of course, my dear, I would be happy to speak to you. The chapel is empty, let us go in there.” He guided her in, his arm straying to her back, but not for long. This made her wonder, for he had just recently started doing this. “Is he hiding something?” she wondered, “He’s far too friendly.”
They genuflected, then he led her to one of the pews. “Now, my dear, what did you wish to discuss?” He gave her that smile, the one she called “the Sforza smile” and it made her uncomfortable.
“I hear that Lucrezia is to marry your cousin, Giovanni Sforza. I was wondering what you could tell me about him. She’s so young, and I’m concerned for her. Some men might be putty in the hands of someone so young and lovely, but not all. I’m worried about how he might treat her. I know you put forth the match, and politically advantageous it might be, but what does that matter if he mistreats her? I would never forgive him if he hurt her.” And I’d be even less likely to forgive you.
“The Sforzas are an old and noble family. With this match, your uncle the Holy Father would have the armies of the Romagna at his disposal. Daughters are often married for political gain, and love must come later, if it comes. Did your family not arrange your marriage?”
“Yes,” she answered impatiently, “Our parents made the match and we fell in love. We were close in age and liked the same things. My parents wanted to make sure I married someone who made me happy. My husband and I fell in love, and it broke my heart when I lost both him and my child.” She paused and took a breath, “Why do you think I am so concerned for Lucrezia? Maybe she must do her duty as a daughter, but she also deserves to be happy. And you know, as well as I, that your cousins cannot be counted upon to hold true to any alliance. The Tiger Lady will be her interests above all, you know that as well as I.”
He looked at her, was there pity in his eyes? “Well, you must hope and pray that your cousin will be happy. I don’t know how he will treat her, Constanzia, but know this, I am loyal to the Holy Father. If my cousin Caterina betrays him, she betrays me, too. Lucrezia must take her fate into her own hands. You Borgia women are fierce, and if she wants help, she must find a way to get it for herself. Do not worry, she has all of you, and that is saying a great deal.” He kissed her forehead and left the chapel.
She sat for a while longer, thinking. All right, he told me nothing, and I know when my hands are tied. I’ll make her promise that if she ever has any trouble, she will send word to us. I can’t do anymore than that. I just wish Uncle Rodrigo would have chosen a better match for her, I do not think this is going to work out well, and I wish I could make him understand.