When Cesare came to Constanzia’s bed that night she did not fight him, she would not let him feed off the fight. Instead, she lay there, quiet and compliant as a housewife, the joy now gone from their coupling, the passion and the fire had burnt out. It was as if her love for him had never been—almost.
He said nothing, what could he say for he knew? He took his pleasure from her lovely body but knew he only had half of her and not the best half. Perhaps he knew he should not insist, not force himself on her but he could not help himself. He loved her, loved her in a way he would never love another, never could love another. They were made for each other, they always had been, no matter that she should deny it now.
In the morning when they woke he kissed her, then rose from the bed. He broke his fast while she bathed in rose-scented waters but did not try to join her. She was slowly slipping away from him and he wondered, as he watched her dry her rosy body, how he might win her back.
“I am leaving tomorrow,” he told her and she replied, “For how long?”
“It depends on how the campaign goes but I imagine I will be gone at least a month.”
“How am I to be cared for then? What steps have you taken to make sure I am provided for while you are gone?”
“There is a young captain, Giacomo Abruzzi, who will see to your needs. He is quite trustworthy as well as being an honest man, which I find quite amusing. He is also a gentleman and has promised me that he will see that you will come to no harm. I think he is quite enamored of you, he has praised your beauty to me more than once.” He came over and put his hand gently on her cheek, “Do not fear, I would not leave you abandoned and destitute.”
She didn’t care if this new keeper found her beautiful or not. “And he does not resent playing babysitter while his lord goes off to war?” she did not quite achieve the sarcasm that she had hoped she would, “Would he not rather be killing Orsini’s?”
To her chagrin, he found this funny. “Perhaps, but he also fancies protecting a princess.” His voice then grew serious, “I would have you see me off tomorrow morning, will you do this for me?”
“No!” she wanted to scream, but she nodded her head in acquiescence. She drew the bath sheet tightly around her as he kissed her, then watched dully as he left the room.He was almost tender that night when he came to her bed, more like her lover of old, not the rapist who had taken her so brutally that first night. When he finished, he’d drawn her into his arms. She had wanted to resist, but something made her wait until he fell asleep until she disengaged herself from him.
She slept as far away from him as she could, hoping he would not reach for her during the night. In this she was not disappointed, in the morning his side of the bed was empty and Noni was standing by her side of the bed, holding her robe. She slipped into the bath that had been prepared for her and soaked, letting the hot waters of the bath ease the tension from her shoulders.
Noni was putting the finishing touches to her hair when Cesare entered the room. “Are you almost ready? It is time for me to leave. Put on your cloak and come downstairs with me while I inspect my army before it is time to leave. I will introduce you to Captain Abruzzi, I do not believe you have met him before.”
She wrapped her cloak over her blue-grey taffeta dress and followed him silently down the steps and out the front door to the courtyard. He held up his sword and his troops began to chant his motto: “Aut Caesar, Aut Nihil!” They shouted it over and over again as he held up his sword and she wondered if it was as much for her benefit as it was in praise of their master.
A young man came forward and bowed. “Madonna Constanzia,” he said and looked at her with his great dark eyes, “I am Giacomo Abruzzi, Lord Valentino has entrusted you to my care. If there is anything you need, you will please let me know. I would keep you safe and happy until my lord returns.”
She gave him her hand to kiss. Captain Abruzzi was very handsome with his black hair and eyes so dark they were almost black. She had grown wary of handsome young men, though, she remembered how in the early days the beauty of Cesare’s countenance could almost overwhelm her.
“All I require Captain Abruzzi is to be treated with kindness.” And do not lock me in my room and treat me like a prisoner she wanted to say but did not for fear Cesare would hear. She smiled at him and won him over.
“Madame, if I am not kind, if I do not treat you as you deserve, then Captain Valentino must run me through with his sword when he returns.” His smile was so winsome that had she not been wary she would have melted.
Cesare’s horse was brought to him by his faithful Micheletto, who stood and waited patiently while Cesare took her into his arms and kissed her. The men cheered and bowed, in salute or ridicule, she did not know nor did she wish to.
He took her hands in his and kissed them. “I leave you in the best hands that I could, my love. If there is any trouble, he has been instructed to move you to safety. I will return as quickly as I can, but you are a soldier’s woman and you know that the tide can turn without warning. I am accustomed to winning battles, though, so do not fear for me.”
She kissed him swiftly on the lips. I wish you luck in your endeavors and God speed. I would not have anything happen to you, no matter how angry you have made me.”
He saluted her with his sword and started to mount his horse when she said, “Cesare, wait,” and surprised him by throwing her arms around him. “Oh, be careful my love, please, I could not bear it if anything happened to you.”
She watched his army file slowly out of the courtyard. There was no fanfare, no ringing of church bells, no flower petals tossed before the feet of the horses. Juan had always been for display while Cesare was for substance, she mused.
She did not know what had come over her. She had intended to show him such affection, she had meant for her goodbye to be perfunctory. Perhaps it was because she intended to never see him again, or knew she would never see him again. How she knew, she did not know.
“Come, Madam,” Giacomo said, “It will be warmer inside than out here. The mornings are cold now, but that will be for the benefit of the army as they march.”
He gestured towards the door, indicating that she should go first, the very thing a gentleman would do for a lady.
As they entered the great hall she asked him, “Signor Abruzzi, must I stay locked in my room? Cesare is not here, surely he would not object to what he does not know.”
He pressed the key into her hand. “Madonna, I would not make you a prisoner. I would say only that you should lock yourself in your room at night for your own safety. Please feel free to wander the castell. I understand that you like to ride, would you permit me to take you riding when the opportunity presents itself?”
She smiled, trying to tell him with her smile how grateful she was. “I love to ride, but I have not been allowed to since Cesare brought me here. Anytime you have free, signor, I would love to go riding with you.”
“There is just one more thing,” her heart sank as she heard him say this, “Many of my comrades are now gone, so I would seek other company for dinner. I would like it very much if we could have dinner together every day. I would be grateful for the company and I would hope to keep your mind off unpleasant things while your lord is away. That is if you wouldn’t mind.
“I would be delighted to have dinner with you, Signor Abruzzi, and perhaps we could share supper also when we can. I will be very lonely now with my lord gone and I appreciate your gesture.” You liar, she told herself, you brazen liar, you have no more honor than a whore. All you intend to do is get into his good graces and find a way to escape here. I wonder if Noni was able to find Carmilla.
Giacomo had changed into a dark blue velvet doublet over a fresh white shirt. It’s too bad, she thought, it might have been worth her time to invite him into her bed but he would no doubt say no out of loyalty to Cesare. All she knew is that she must give him no hint at her plans to escape. She had no idea if he was having her watched but until she could find Carmilla she must play the model prisoner.
If there was one thing she knew how to do it was to put on a performance that seemed so real that her audience did not know she was acting. Therefore she was pleasant to Captain Abruzzi, entertaining, but not too entertaining. She made sure that she was the most congenial of dinner companions, open, if not welcoming, to further dinners to come.
She wanted to ask questions, leading questions that would alert her as to how best to plot her escape, but there were no opportunities to ask the right questions. Patience, Constanzia, patience she told herself. I must not try to leave too soon, indeed he may expect me to try just that.
After the meal, the maids came and cleared the table. One looked familiar for she was tall with light brown hair, and had lovely eyes of blue-grey. The maid looked up and smiled, then went about her business and left the room.
Carmilla! Cesare had at least kept his word. She had been no doubt staying in the servants’ quarters where he had sent her. She had been afraid that he had sent her away but he had kept his word.
Escape might be possible after all.
That night she sat in front of her fire reading. Her eyes grew tired and she put her book down and yawned. She rang for Noni to turn down her bed and lay out her bedclothes.
“I’ll do that for you, madam,” came a familiar voice and suddenly Carmilla was standing in front of her.
“Oh, I was so worried,” Constanzia cried, “I am so glad you are here—but how did you get into my bedroom.”
“It is here, madam,” Carlotta led her to the wall next to the bookcase and pushed a button in a carved panel. “There is a tunnel that leads from the kitchen to this bedroom. This must have been the chamber of the master of the castell. He may have had it constructed to act as an escape route. Cesare must have given you the master’s rooms. We must wait a few days until the half moon, but I am sure you can bribe the grooms into saddling horses for us. Is your purse still full?”
“Yes, I have taken great care to conceal it. We must take the road to Florence and hope that we can meet Raffaello on the way. If not we will seek out Messr Machiavelli and hope that he has word of him. Machiavelli will help us, I am sure, for friendship’s sake. And now, dear friend, I must say goodnight. There is a little mute girl named Noni who waits on me, have you met her?”
“Yes, poor thing! We will take her with us, yes? I must get back downstairs. Take heart, madam, I intend for us to be gone before Lord Valentino returns!”
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