To Love a Borgia

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Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday. Good Friday. Holy Saturday. Then, at last, Easter and freedom. Constanzia was counting them all down, eager for Lent to end and being able to wed Raffaello.


How long had she been in Ferrara anyway? She had only intended to stay a short time but she could not leave as long as Lucrezia needed her. And she had needed her. Between the malice of Isabella D’Este, losing some of her attendants, the quirky ways of her husband, and the dreadful miscarriage Constanzia had not dared to leave her alone. She was all Lucrezia had.


Lucrezia was performing the Maundy Thursday tradition of the washing of feet. She had tried to persuade her cousin to join her, but Constanzia demurred. She watched as the poor and destitute came forward, one by one, to have the daughter of the Pope lovingly wash their feet. As if this symbolic gesture actually meant something or would improve their wretched lives.


Cesare had rubbed off on her in more ways than one. She no longer believed so devoutly in the church, though she had not completely lost her faith. “Give us a child at five and we will have him for life,” the Church bragged and Constanzia did not doubt it.


She had promised to stay during the whole procedure, but grew bored and sought out the company of Raffaello. She found him in his room, reading a book of sermons Lucrezia had recommended to him.


He looked up when he saw her and smiled. “You should not be here unaccompanied,” he told her but stood up to take her in his arms. “Are you bored my little love?”


“Yes,” she said simply, “Lent has always been trying for me. The court is so solemn and quiet, I am not so mad for dancing as Lucrezia but it would be a welcome diversion. And the hours are passing so slowly it seems. I want it to be Easter when we can be gay again—and marry.”

They began to walk down the halls of the ducal palace. “Does it seem strange to you that we are marrying, Raffaello? She asked, “We became friends when I was married to your brother but I never dreamt that one day I would be married to you. Then it would have seemed unthinkable. I loved Calvino very much. I resented it when I was put into an arranged marriage when I was very young, but I fell in love with my husband, as I fell in love with Calvino. I have never had the freedom to marry whom I chose, until you.”


“It is a little strange for me too, my love, but I have found my Constanzia and I am determined that no one else should marry her.” He chastely kissed the top of her head.

Good Friday and Holy Saturday passed in appropriate gloom, but the sun came out for Easter Sunday, and the flowers that had lain dormant seemed to burst into bloom as if in celebration. The long fast ended and there was feasting and music. The court celebrated the end of the deprivation of Lent and appeared in new clothes, ready for the new beginnings that Easter heralded.


Easter night Constanzia found herself barely able to sleep. She kept waking Carmilla as she got up and down, lighting a candle to look again and again at her wedding dress.


“Madonna, you must sleep, you will have dark shadows under your eyes and you would not have your bridegroom see you that way. Come back to bed, I will give you a little opium so you can rest.” And so I can sleep, thought Carmilla to herself.


Her bathwater was scented with roses and orange, and the waters soothing her after her restless night’s sleep. Lucrezia stood by and supervised the arranging of her hair to and the delicate application of rouge to Constanzia’s lips and cheeks.

At last, the dress was brought out and Constanzia was laced into it. The veil and cap were pinned to her hair and the prayer book and rosary were placed in her hands.

“Come, look at yourself,” said Lucrezia and drew her over to the mirror so she could see her reflection.


Lucrezia’s attendants had done their work well. The shadows under her eyes were there but did not seem so prominent due to the makeup that they had applied to her face. The watery blue-grey of the silk brocade suited her and she turned, listening to the rustle of the fabric.


“Are you ready my dear?” Duke Ercole appeared at the door, “You look very lovely, your young man must consider himself lucky indeed.”

She took the arm he offered and allowed him to lead her to the chapel where the court of Ferrara was assembled, waiting for the ceremony to begin that would wed her at last to Raffaello.


Things went by in a blur. The wedding, the feasting, the sending of the bride and groom to their bedchamber. After enduring Lent the Ferrarans were ready for a party. The celebration may not have lasted as long as that for Lucrezia and Alfonso’s wedding, but it seemed like a long week before she and Raffaello could leave.


Although she was ready to go, she was finding it hard to leave Lucrezia. The girls held onto each other tightly, tears flowing down their cheeks.


“I will come and visit as soon as I can,” Constanzia promised, but both knew that may not be. It was a long journey from Ferrara to Genoa, and she would be lucky to make it once.


“You must come when I am expecting my next child,” said Lucrezia, “I want to have you there, no, I must have you there. I cannot do this without you at my side.”

“Come, my love,” said Raffaello, “We must be leaving. We have a long ride today and will ride late into the evening. Are you sure you do not wish to ride in the litter Ercole provided?”

“No,” she shook her head, “I find traveling in the litter more tiring than being on horseback. I would rather ride next to you. If I tire, I will use the litter, I promise. And besides, it is a lovely day for riding, is it not?”


It was a lovely day. The spring sky was a clear blue, dotted here and there with fluffy white clouds. It was neither too cold nor too warm, and the air seemed invigorating. With so lovely a day she could almost forget about the forebodings that had begun to haunt her dreams, even when she slept safely in Raffaello’s arms.


She wanted to forget them, wanted to tell herself that she was only being foolish and Cesare was merely being petulant. His threats in his letters had seemed so real, too terrible to comprehend. Besides, wasn’t he in the north now? Didn’t he have a kingdom of his own to tend to? Surely she was no longer important, just another memory of his past. And he always had women.


“But you were always different,” she told herself, “He used to call you his common-law wife. You share a child together, that will always bind you to him even though you live a life separate from him.”


But will he leave me alone at last? She thought. I’m twenty-five now, we spent many years together and he never relinquished me willingly. He even killed my husband so he could bring me back to Rome to be with him. I can’t have that anymore, I want my life back, a life without him.


For two days the party rode undisturbed, but Constanzia never let down her guard, expecting a party of men led by Micheletto to descend upon them. They were in hill country and the hills could hide a party of men that could rush down upon them so unexpectedly.


But the weather was pleasant, the company was good, and she allowed herself to dismiss her apprehensions as folly. At night they stayed in castles of the various nobility who were delighted to entertain them.

She was married, she was happy, she was in love, so how could anything go wrong she asked herself? To be afraid was merely to let Cesare continue to maintain control over her, was it not? Very well, she would not be afraid, she would put Cesare out of her mind and not let him spoil her bliss.


On the third day, she woke up feeling afraid. She’d dreamt of Cesare standing before her saying, “If you want me to spare the life of your husband, you must do as I say.” Where had that come from? She began to cry quietly, hoping Raffaello would not notice and was determined that she would pull herself together and present a smiling countenance to her husband.


That morning they got an early start. They had broken their fast early, determined to put in as many miles as they could. It looked as if the weather would break, and if it rained they would be forced to take refuge with another host for as many days as it took the weather to clear.


I am afraid, she thought, and I don’t know why. Something is going to happen, something that I cannot stop. She looked around her as if she might see signs of horsemen, but heard and saw nothing.


Until a group of horsemen suddenly galloped down from the hills and surrounded their escort. They wore masks to disguise who they were, but she recognized their leader—Cesare’s assassin Don Corello.


The strangers drew their crossbows, demanding that their escort halt. Constanzia looked at Raffaello and said softly, “Do as they say, my love, I think these are Cesare’s men—I recognize Micheletto anyway. Please let me handle this—they outnumber us and if these men are who I suspect I think I can reason with them. I may know a few of them and they may be inclined to hear me out.”


“I do not like this Constanzia, I do not want you put in harm’s way.” He grasped her arm tightly as if he were in fear for her.

“Please, I am well acquainted with Micheletto, I can deal with him in a way you cannot. You must let me handle this.” She kissed him and he released her arm.


She rode towards Micheletto, ignoring the drawn crossbows. “What is this, Micheletto? Why are you so far from your master? Surely Cesare has need of you.”

His words were courteous, as he had always been with her. “I have been instructed to bring you to him.” He bowed his head, “If you cooperate no one in your party will be harmed, and they may continue on their way. On the other hand, if you will not cooperate…” He left the sentence unfinished, leaving her to speculate as to what their fate might be.


“Damn you and damn Cesare!” she said and rode back to Raffaello. She laid her hand on his arm, “Listen to me, beloved, they have us surrounded, we are trapped. I can save you if I go with him, he has promised all of you will be unharmed. If Micheletto even thinks about harming any of you I will slit his throat—and he knows I will do it.”


“What do you mean, of course you can’t go with him. You are my wife, I will not allow it.”


“My love,” she said sadly, “You have no choice. Listen to me, this is important. He will take me to Cesena, Forli, or Pesaro, I think. Ride to Florence and see if you can get word to Louis of France. Cesare has fallen from his favor and he may help you to get me back. I hear that he has repaired Forli and re-fortified it. If that is the case, you will need Louis’ army. Cesare will have instructed Micheletto that no harm is to come to me, so I am safe, safer now than you. Please do this for me.” Her great dark eyes were filled with tears.


“Madame, we have a long ride, we must be going now.”


“Shut up, Micheletto, at least allow me the courtesy of being able to say goodbye to my husband.” She shot a murderous look at him and he nodded his head.

“Please, Raffaello, go to Florence and seek out Machiavelli, he will do what he can to help. I do not want to do this, but I must. Please say you will do as I ask?” She leaned forward and kissed him hungrily. She did not want to leave him but knew that she had no choice.


She did not like the look on his face, his disapproval of what she was about to do too obvious. But he saw the wisdom of her words, bitter as they were to swallow.

“Micheletto, I am taking my maid Carmilla with me. I will not ride alone in a group of cutthroats. And I want to see my party ride off safely before I will consent to go with you. Harm one hair of my husband’s head and you’re a dead man.”


He knew she meant it. Cesare had been vague when it came to the fate of her escort but he had known Constanzia a long time. If she chose to lose her temper he would want to be as far away as possible from her. It was better to let them go, he decided, knowing that she would cooperate if she knew they were safe.


She was openly weeping as she watched the escort ride off. Of all the things in her life, she had had to do this was the hardest. When Micheletto told her it was time to leave she merely nodded, and refused to look back as they rode east, heading where she did not know. She would be Cesare’s prisoner soon, much sooner than she liked.


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