To Love a Borgia

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To Marry and Mean It

Despite the damp and chill of February Constanzia took to standing out on a balcony every day waiting for the first signs that Raffaello was arriving.

She knew it was foolish, Easter would not be until March twenty-second and they could not marry until after that. They were to be married March twenty-fifth and Lucrezia’s brother in law Cardinal Ippolito D’Este would marry them.

Lucrezia had insisted on picking out the fabric for her wedding dress, a watery blue satin that would be trimmed with white fur. She would wear a cap of blue and silver over the long blue veil that Lucrezia had introduced to the court. No matter how they felt about her the ladies of the imperial court adopted Lucrezia’s style of dressing, even down to the veil she habitually wore over her long blond hair.

Isabella D’Este was as unpleasant as ever. She complained about the time Lucrezia spent in her room, the time she spent in her bath, the amount of time she spent dressing. Her real crime, Constanzia thought, was the fact that Lucrezia enjoyed the risqué comedies that the D’Este and her ladies eschewed.

Cesare had managed to conquer most of the Romagna and had established her rule there. Now firmly in control, he proved to be a just ruler—until he met opposition. Orsini, Oliverotto, Vitelli, all former condottieri had rebelled against him and had met their ends at the tender mercies of Micheletto. Only Baglioni and Petrucci seemed to have escaped his clutches.

Thank god Genoa was allied with Spain and France that at least might afford Raffaello some protection. Cesare seemed to be busy elsewhere—for the moment.

Had the cost of her dowry resulted in the Pope’s desperate need for money? Cesare’s army was said to be costing one thousand ducats a day. Cesare had seemed to grow greedier by the day, he engaged in full-scale looting in the city states he conquered. She suspected that the gifts he sent her had not been purchased lawfully, but had been treasures that had belonged to some unfortunate victim who had fallen out of the good graces of Cesare Borgia.

“Any time now, Constanzia,” she told herself over and over again, “It will be Lent when he arrives, but that doesn’t matter. We’ll attend all of the services to please Lucrezia, then there will be the celebration of the Easter feast. Cardinal Ippolito will marry us the next day and in a week we will be on our way back to Genoa and our new life.”

It was going to be a cold Easter this year. The trees were starting to bud, yet the leaves had not begun to open. The snow was gone and the tips of the crocus leaves were poking through, but she would be gone before they finally flowered.

I’m afraid, she told herself, I don’t want to anticipate trouble but I am deathly afraid of what Cesare will do. I don’t think he will dare try to interfere with the wedding, but it will take an army for me to feel safe as Raffaello and I travel back to Genoa. I dare not tell Lucrezia of my fears, she loves him as I once did. She’ll only tell me I’m letting my imagination run away from me and maybe I am.

No, I’m not, I know it. He is furious that Uncle is allowing me to marry. If I marry he will no longer have me all to himself. And I remember Dorotea Malatesta. Cesare denied that he kidnapped her and I believed him, but now I think she told the truth.

I know just how it will happen, too. Cesare will send Micheletto to waylay us before we reach Genoa. He’ll have enough men with him to overpower us. Micheletto will threaten to kill Raffaello if I don’t cooperate and point out that he and his men will make sure that no one is left alive to get help.

And I’ll have to go with him, I’ll have no choice. I can only hope that Cesare will get tired of me and let me go when he discovers I don’t love him anymore.

Will he convince Uncle to revoke the bull so I can’t marry? He can’t marry me, can he, he’s married? He was married in the church and the marriage was consummated, he’s named his child his heir!

“Constanzia, dear, do come in, you’ll catch your death of cold standing out there!” Lucrezia put her arm around her shoulders, “You can’t will Raffaello to arrive, he will get here when he gets here. Come, your dress is ready to try on.”

She allowed Lucrezia to lead her back into her chambers. Her dress was lovely, the color of snow water flowing from the mountains and embroidered with silver threads. The white fur trim was an unusual touch but just right for the chill that remained from the winter.

Lucrezia’s maids removed her gown and slipped the dress over her and laced it up. They turned her so that she could see her reflection in the mirror.

Someone strange stared back at her, not the young woman who had married Calvino with such hope but a woman now with wisdom in her eyes. Can this truly be me she thought?

“My maids will arrange your hair,” Lucrezia was saying, “Or maybe we’ll just put it in a net. If we put a henna rinse in it your hair will glow red in the candlelight. Isabella D’Este will be green with envy. We are two most beautiful women in the court of Ferrara, I wonder what she would say if she knew that Alfonso insisted on paying for your wedding!”

“That it should only cost half as much and he can’t afford to pay for it.” It was only meant as half a jest. “Lucrezia, this is almost too much. When I married Calvino the church was filled with people I did not even know. Will this be a small wedding as you promised?”

“Yes, of course, why are you fussing? Remember, Genoa is a valuable trading partner and some of the guests will reflect that. The D’Este family—all of them—will attend, of course, along with Giofre and Sancia. There will be people from Spain and France—and a representative of Louis I am sure. The Doge of Genoa and members of Raffaello’s family will be attending, too.

Remember, you are not a nobody though you like to pretend to be, you are the Pope’s niece.”

“I suppose you are right, Lucrezia, though I truly don’t think I am anyone special. I like my little household and the house Cesare bought me. I have enjoyed living in the Ferrarese court, but I will be happy to live a quiet life in Genoa. I want to have babies and watch them grow up. I want to grow old with Raffaello and lead a peaceful happy life. I only hope that Cesare lets me.” She burst into tears she did not mean to shed and Lucrezia took her in her arms.

“There there, my love, do not worry, God and our Lady will watch over you. I have ordered prayers be said for you, and I am saying a Novena for your happiness. You must not worry, you must trust in God. After all, did he not give his guidance to Papa to grant your bull so that you can marry? This marriage will be blessed, I promise you.”

Constanzia smiled through her tears, “I wish I had your piety and your faith. We have both been tested, haven’t we? I admire your determination to make the best of what you’ve been given. I should be grateful that I am marrying the man that I love. I will be free of Cesare, at last. Forever.”

Lucrezia hugged her and whispered, “I am so happy for you.”

At last, came the day she had waited so long for. On the Wednesday before Good Friday, a party was spotted traveling along the road to Bologna. Soon came reports that it was a party traveling from Genoa.

“Come, come, Constanzia,” urged Lucrezia, “We have just enough time to bathe and dress you before they arrive.” She would brook no refusal, but ordered a bath for her cousin and selected a dress of spring green from her own wardrobe for Constanzia to wear.

While Constanzia soaked in the perfumed waters of her bath Lucrezia supervised her maids as they arranged her hair. She stepped out of the bath and was carefully dried with warmed bath sheets, then dressed in layers of silk petticoats. The dress was slid carefully over her head to avoid disturbing her elaborately braided hair.

Lucrezia herself placed the green veil shot with silver threads over her hair. A necklace of emeralds and diamonds was placed around her throat with matching earrings fastened in her ears.

She was guided to the front of the mirror and held her breath. She looked lovely, breathtakingly lovely and all she wanted now was to have Raffaello see her—and take her in his strong arms and kiss her.

She and Lucrezia left her chambers and went down the stairs hand in hand. “Charming, charming,” said Alfonso and kissed her hand. Constanzia curtsied to Ercole who smiled and said, “Your young man will truly be enchanted, my dear. I hope he knows he is a very lucky fellow.”

At this Constanzia smiled.

It seemed like forever before the arrival of the Genoan party was announced. Ercole and Alfonso stood in front to greet Raffaello who bowed low and swept off his hat. He greeted Lucrezia with an even lower bow and a kiss on the hand.

Then he saw Constanzia and all formalities were forgotten. He walked over to her and took her in his arms and kissed her. The room burst into applause—perhaps at the sight of the lovers or perhaps in happiness for the two being reunited at long last.

Ercole led the party into the dining hall, Lucrezia on Alfonso’s arm followed by Raffaello with his arm protectively around Constanzia’s waist.

The Lenten meal of fish became a feast of various kinds of fish and shellfish at Lucrezia’s table. Sturgeon, crab, lobster, shrimp enlivened the usual Lenten fare. The atmosphere was supposed to be somber, but around Lucrezia, there could be no gloom, only lively conversation.

Raffaello held her hand under the table—until the end of Lent, there could be no intercourse between men and women, even husbands and wives. Many children were born towards the end of the year by couples celebrating the end of the ban on sex.

The musical entertainment by necessity was religious music, but it was played beautifully by Lucrezia’s orchestra. She soloed on her harp and Alfonso on his viol. He played so beautifully that the mournful tones brought tears to many eyes, and thunderous applause when it was finished.

Raffaello and Constanzia slipped away to an empty room and exchanged a passionate embrace. His kisses left her breathless, leaving her hungering for more.

“Touch me, my darling, touch me,” she breathed, “I know that it is Lent but I ache for your caresses. Do not leave me feeling so unsatisfied!”

He laughed softly, “But it is only five days, my darling, and then we will be wed. I could not come to your bed if we were not man and wife, I would not dishonor you so.”

But I’ve been dishonored before, I’ve had what seems a lifetime of it. “But five days seems like an eternity. Please,” she whispered huskily, “Just touch me that is all I ask, no one need know but us. Let me feel your hands on me, after all, am I not to be your wife till death do us part?”

“You are a little minx,” he smiled at her, “I should take you over my knee and spank you for daring to dishonor us, but I won’t, I will do this instead.”

He slipped his hand under her skirts and began to caress her privates with his fingers. Just as she was about to reach the point of ecstasy he stopped.

“There,” he said, “That is all you shall have until we are married. My brother never spoke of how passionate you were, and how lustful, but married to you he was the most happy of men.” He kissed her tenderly on the lips, “Dream of me tonight, my sweet bride, for I shall be dreaming of you.”
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