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.
“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.
“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.
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.
“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.”
“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.
“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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.