To Love a Borgia

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Abduction and Outrage

Tears welled in Constanzia’s eyes as she watched Raffaello ride away with his retinue. She wanted to ride after him and beg him to forgive her. She knew he was angry with her but what else could she have done? Micheletto and his men outnumbered their party and though their guard included soldiers, Micheletto’s men were trained killers. She had done all she could to save their lives.

“Come, lady,” Micheletto was telling her, “We must leave now. We have a long ride before we halt for the night.”

“If I hear that one hair, even one hair, of his head was harmed, I will kill you and then I will deal with Cesare.”

In all the years he had known her, she had not changed.“I know,” he said patiently, “We must be going now.”

The sky overhead was growing ominous. As the clouds gathered it grew darker, and there were thunderheads amongst them. It was obvious that the rain would hit far sooner than anyone had expected, and Micheletto did not dare to take a chance and have Constanzia get soaked and become ill.

“We must find shelter,” he said and one of his men answered, “I am from here, sir, and there is an abandoned farm just two miles ahead of us. I don’t know how many of the buildings are still standing, and what shape they are in, but they might provide just enough shelter.”

“Show me then,” Micheletto replied and the young condottiere took the lead and in less than an hour had led them successfully to the old farm.

The buildings seemed to be barely holding together. The red tiles on the main house had slipped in places, but enough remained to constitute a roof. The stone barn and some of the outbuilding still contained much of their thatched roofs although it had collapsed in places.

It was not good, but it was adequate. The men took shelter in the house except for the few that remained with the animals in the old barn. There was enough tinder and branches lying about that someone was able to get a fire going in a fireplace that would help Constanzia stay warm. Ladies were not accustomed to the rough life of soldiers and great care must be taken of this lord’s lady.

The crackle of lightning could be heard even above the noise of the men’s voices, and a great boom of thunder followed. It seemed to echo on and on before it ended, only to be followed by yet another.

“Just overhead,” murmured one of the condottieres, “We were lucky you knew of this place, Fernando. I hope the barn can contain the horses for they will surely be frightened by the thunder.”

“The gods are angry,” said Constanzia, just within earshot of Micheletto, “there will be a reckoning for this.”

“Hush,” said Micheletto, but he was worried. He had been instructed by Cesare to get her to Forli or Cesena, or perhaps Imola, as quickly as he could, before a search party could be mounted to look for her. There was no telling how long this storm would last, or if the roads would suffer damage from a downpour. It was early in the day, but this storm could last for hours, even overnight.

Cesare’s orders had been explicit, Constanzia’s comfort must be seen to. She must suffer no harm on the road or be molested by the men. In spite of the purges, some of the men had been with Cesare long enough to recognize his lady and her importance to him.

“We will have only bread and wine for our repast,” Micheletto told her, putting aside his worries for the moment, “We can’t hunt in this weather and the country here is too sparsely populated to go from house to house to look for food. I had not foreseen this delay, but I am sure I will be able to provide you with better accommodations tomorrow.”

“Where are you taking me, wherever it is, it cannot be far, no more than a two or three-day ride at least. Cesena? Forli? Pesaro? How did you know that we were leaving anyway? Does Cesare have spies in Ercole’s house to look after the welfare of his sister? It would have been easy to know of my wedding and our departure for Genoa. How else would you have been able to track us so easily?”

A giant clap of thunder sounded overhead, shaking the house and causing dust to drift down onto their heads. Micheletto winced at the noise as did several of the men.

“Ah, I was right then, a spy or maybe more, no wonder it was so easy for you to find us. Tell me, Carmilla,” she addressed her maid, “did you suspect any of my ladies of treachery?”

The maid had been silent during all of this. She had kept her mule as close to Constanzia’s horse as she was allowed and did not take her eyes off her mistress. “No madam, I must confess I did not. I know your ladies from Rome would most likely be faithful, but perhaps the ones you acquired in Ferrara were bought with the Lord Valentino’s gold.”

“And to think that I thought I treated them well—and this is the thanks I was repaid. We must be more careful in the future, Carmilla.” She spoke lightly to try to mask the fear in her voice. She knew that at the end of the road she must face Cesare and dreaded it. He had seen her marriage to Raffaello as no less than a betrayal and he would make her pay. Her marriage to Calvino had been arranged but to him, this union was an outrage.

The rain broke and began to pound upon the old tile roof. The leakage did not spill through to the ground floor and though the shutters were old and rotten they did their job. Eventually, due to boredom and fatigue, Constanzia fell asleep and did not wake until streaks of sunlight came in through the shuttered windows.

The men were stirring, milling around. “It’s going to be muddy riding today, my lady, your pretty riding habit and cloak will be splashed, but at least we can get going. The Lord Valentino is anxiously awaiting you in Imola.” He grinned boldly, then stopped, wondering if he had gone too far.

Imola, she thought and panicked. She had not thought that he would take her to Imola though it was not far from his fortress at Forli. Surely someone would see their party while they were traveling and would recognize that they were Cesare’s men. Someone must be able to figure out their final destination.

Perhaps he would do as she had advised and go to Florence. The Florentines had no great love for Cesare and maybe even contact Machiavelli. Raffaello was no coward and she was sure that he would do all that he could to retrieve her from Cesare’s clutches.

She did not speak much during the next two days’ ride and no one attempted to speak to her, not even Carmilla. She knew exactly what awaited her at the end of their journey and dreaded it. He would claim her again, take her, remind her that as far as he was concerned she was his and no one else’s. If she fought him she knew he would be brutal but she knew that she could not bring herself to just submit. She no longer loved and that she knew he could not bear.

Imola’s castell was well lit and seemingly cheerful as if prepared for a party, but it was a party with no guests. Micheletto led them through the gateways, then reaching the entrance helped Constanzia from her horse, letting Carmilla dismount on her own.

He pounded twice on the heavy doors and they opened, then led the girls into a great hall with a huge fireplace. Waiting for them was a serving woman clad in gray with a young maid at her side.

“Carmilla will not be going with you,” he told her, “She will be in the servants’ quarters. My Master has made arrangements for you, you will be needing her.”

A manservant came and took Carmilla by the arm. She looked beseechingly at Constanzia, who shook her head slightly as if to say, “I will take care of this.”

“I hold you responsible for her safety, Micheletto, I will not take it kindly if she is mistreated.”

Micheletto sighed, “That I know, Madonna. I do not dare risk your wrath, I care for my life too much. Carmilla will be safe, I promise.”

Carmilla gave her a helpless look as she was led away. The serving woman turned to her, “This way, please, Madonna. Your rooms have been made ready for you.” She gave Constanzia a lamp with a small candle and proceeded up the staircase, the young girl trailing behind them.

The room was a suite with fine furnishings—and a large bed with silken curtains. The marble fireplace was finely carved and inside it was a roaring fire that warmed up the room. Thick Turkish carpets covered the floor in place of the usual rushes.

And best of all was a table set with a real meal, not the coarse rations she had been subjected to on the road. A decanter full of what she hoped was a good red wine sat with two goblets next to it. It was obvious that she would be expecting company.

“Noni will see to your needs until you are ready to retire, Madonna. In the meantime please make yourself comfortable.” She curtsied and left the room, shutting the door behind her.

The girl was standing behind her, trying to remove her cloak so Constanzia graciously assisted her. She felt sorry for her, she was little more than a child and had been pressed into service so young. Had her parents needed the money, or was she an orphan that the nuns decided to get off their hands?

“So, your name is Noni?” Constanzia asked, and look puzzled as the girl did not answer. “Tell me, are you from the village? Or somewhere else?”

The girl merely made a grunting sound then pointing at her mouth opened it wide for Constanzia to see.

She drew back in horror. The girl had had her tongue cut out and it looked as if it had just recently healed.

“Who did this to you, child?” she asked, though she knew the girl could not answer. “Was it soldiers? Were you captured? Can you tell me how old you are?”

The girl held up her ten fingers, then closed them and held up another two. Twelve! Such an age to have such a cruel thing inflicted on her! She wondered what her story was, what things she had seen that she now would never be able to reveal. And wondered if any of Cesare’s men had been responsible.

It felt good to sit and eat a hot meal and wash it down with good wine. When she finished, the girl began to pull at her riding habit and pointed at a lacy nightshift and robe that lay on the bed. She wanted to slap her away, the last thing she needed was to lose the protection of her layers of clothing, but perhaps the girl would be punished if she did not cooperate.

She allowed her to removed her clothes and assist her in putting on the nightgown and robe. Noni pulled the pins from Constanzia’s hair and loosened it, then began to brush it with long even strokes.

“You can go now,” Constanzia told her, “Please take the dishes but leave the wine. You have done all I am sure you were supposed to do. It is time for you to go to bed.”

Noni picked up the tray and went to the door and knocked. There was a sound of a key clicking and the door opened just wide enough to admit the girl and her burden, then closed behind her. The key turned once more and Constanzia was locked in for the night.

Perhaps it was the wine, or the meal, or the warmth of the fire, but Constanzia found herself beginning to feel sleepy. She took the coverlet from the top of the bed and wrapped it around her. She lay on top of the bed, and though she did not mean to, the minute her head touched the pillow she fell immediately asleep.

In the middle of the night, the sound of the door opening and closing woke her. She heard someone take a goblet from the table and pour wine into it. Then came the steps of feet clad in boots walking towards the bed.

She sat up and striking the flint was able to light the candle. Cesare stood next to the bed looking at her. She could smell the wine he had drunk and the smile he was giving her sent shivers up her spine.

“Hello, signora,” he said, his words only slightly slurred by the wine, “I believe we have a matter to discuss, do we not?”

She moaned and tried to move away from him, but in the end, it did her no good.

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