A Borgia Wedding
Constanzia had stopped going to La Bella’s apartment and participating in Lucrezia’s wedding preparations. Her gown was finished, Julia would choose how to dress her hair, so there was no need of her. She did not tell anyone, but she was being reminded of the preparations for her own wedding and at times she was barely able to hold back the tears.
The dismay she had felt when she found out she would be married was still fresh in her mind. She liked her life at home, liked being the daughter of the household, and now she would no longer live her happy comfortable life. She did not even know who they had in mind for her. What would he be like? Would she and her husband live with her parents? His parents? Would they have their own house? Would she be close to home, or would she be sent far away, only able to visit her family on special occasions.
Let him be kind, let him be handsome, let me be happy, she’d pray. She almost caught herself trying to bargain with God and make promises she knew she could not keep, when suddenly her prayers seemed to be answered.
Gabriel Garcia was a handsome young soldier from a good family in Toledo. At first she had been disappointed to learn where he lived, but Gabriel was kind, and funny, and loved to ride as much as she did. Soon she found that she liked his parents as much as hers, and even better, Gabriel made her feel weak in the knees when he kissed her. The parents had made the match and the couple had fallen deeply in love.
It hadn’t hurt that he had reminded her of Cesare, she thought as she embroidered on a ribbon for Cesare to use for her favor in his next joust. Cesare had driven Gabriel from her mind, but now with Lucrezia’s wedding planning, memories of her own wedding had come flooding back.
She sighed noisily, brushing away tiny tears that had formed at the corners of her eyes. It was too late to ask if she could return to Spain, and permission would not have been forthcoming anyway. She would hold her head up and march in Lucrezia’s processional, and watch Cesare perform the ceremony. Of the two of them, she did not know who was being treated more unfairly.
“What are you embroidering, Cara?” Vanozza asked, and held out her hand. Constanzia handed her the ribbon.
“For Cesare, for a favor in his next joust. I know Uncle does not approve of him participating, but he will. He asked me for a favor, so I am embroidering one of my ribbons for him.”
“Why are you not with Lucrezia and La Bella?”
Finally the tears could not be held back. “I have been thinking about my own wedding. I miss my husband and the child we might have had. I know this is so silly…”
“It is not silly, my child,′ Vanozza held out her loving arms and enfolded Constanzia in her embrace, “It is only natural that you should have these feelings.” She took her own handkerchief and blotted Constanzia’s eyes. “Come, let us go and watch the guests arriving. You have been cooped up for days.
“All right.” It did seem like a good idea. Vanozza, as usual, knew just what she needed. It was funny how much of a mother she had become to her. Her parents had never approved of her, but Vanozza had been an asset to the Pope, and had been a good mother to their children. If she had been a courtesan once, that was long ago. As far she was concerned, she could not ask for a better or more loving aunt.
They made their way downstairs to the balcony that overlooked the entrance the guests would pass under to enter the Vatican. There was a crowd of people making their way in, being greeted by Cardinal Sforza. The Pope would make his entrance later, and greet the chosen few he felt worthy.
She watched Giovanni Sforza pass under the arch, and inwardly shivered. He had a cruel face and she did not believe he would make his young bride happy. Even worse, he seemed to wear a perpetual sneer. You have married my cousin to the wrong man, Holy Father, she thought.
Some more passed, then a small retinue came into view. One of the men, a young man dressed in a black velvet doublet looked up and smiled at her. She returned his smile, liking his handsome face. “Who is that, Aunt Vanozza?” she asked.
Vanozza smiled, “Calvino Pallavicini de Genoa”, she replied, “He’s very rich, owns a fleet of ships, and is in high favor with his uncle the Doge. I believe he’s here for more than the wedding, he’s interested in meeting you.”
“Was he one of the ones not good enough for Lucrezia?” She was still watching him. He had dark curly hair and was clean shaven, “He’s very handsome.”
Vanozza slapped her face playfully, “Probably, but then Rodrigo told him about you. I may have heard that he favors dark haired women over blonds. Just a rumor, you understand.” She gave Constanzia a conspiratorial grin, “Don’t worry, you’ll meet him tomorrow.”
They remained until the late comers came straggling in, then went to Vanozza’s rooms to oversee the evening meal. Lucrezia would not be joining them, but Cesare, Juan, and Gioffre would be there. She missed the old days before her uncle became pope, when her family and his would gather round Vanozza’s table. Now she wondered if those days had been a dream, and her uncle had always been the pontiff and the world had changed so much.
“Well, cousin,” Juan said, tactless as usual, “Are you ready to find yourself a suitor at the wedding tomorrow.”
“Eager for me to be gone, Juan?” she hissed at him, “Get rid of Gioffre and Cesare and you will have the attentions of the Holy Father and Aunt Vanozza all to yourself.”
Juan was about to reply, but Cesare interrupted him, “You two, you have not changed since you were children. Since I can no longer threaten to tell your mothers, you will just have to behave as adults, for a change.” He smiled and winked at Constanzia. Some things never change, his look said.
She was almost asleep when Cesare entered her room. He slid into bed next to her, and asked, “Did you finish my favor?”
“Almost. Aunt Vanozza decided I needed to get out of the apartments and we went and looked at the people arriving for the wedding. Cesare, has the Pope really invited some possible suitors? Why did he not tell me?”
Cesare laughed, “He thinks he is being tactful in his own way. Since he’s marrying off Lucrezia, I suppose that he thought it a good idea to marry you, too.”
“And what do you think about this? Could you not have tried to talk him out of it? I don’t want to marry just yet.”
“I did, but you know Father, he won’t be talked out of anything if he’s made up his mind.” He pulled her more closely to him, “I am just going to have to make sure that there is a Borgia baby in your belly when you leave here. Your first child is going to be mine, Querida.”
“Isn’t that rather deceitful of us? Do you really want to do that to my future husband?”
“Yes, I do, and I intend to. You’ll always belong to me, you and Lucrezia. And if something happens and you’re widowed again, you’ll return here, along with our child and your other children, and I’ll take care of you, I promise.”
Constanzia stood in front of Vanozza’s mirror, staring at the stranger in the mirror. “You look lovely,” Vanozza told her, “Go now, and let people see just how lovely you are. Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine.” She put her arms around her, and squeezed her tightly.
“It’s not fair, you’re her mother,” Constanzia whispered, and would have said more, but Cesare stood in the door way, holding out his arm. She kissed Vanozza, and went to him, holding him tightly.
“If I can get through this, so can you,” he told her.
She turned on him, “But you’re not getting through it, anyone else might believe you, but I don’t. You don’t think I see how you look at her? When she became a woman you had to face how you felt about her, didn’t you? Sometimes I wonder if I am just a diversion for you because you can’t have her.”
“That is not fair, you know that’s not true. Have I ever, ever, given you a reason to doubt my love for you?” He tightened the grip he had on her arm, “Do you not know that I love you?” Tears were forming at the corners of his eyes.
She brushed them away with her fingers, “No, I suppose not, but I don’t know if I can bear knowing that I share you with her. We love each other, the three of us. Lucrezia is the only sister I have ever known. I have shared my deepest secrets with her, secrets only sisters share. I think…” she broke away from him, “I think I should leave. I don’t want to, but I should. Maybe if I do, you’ll do what you haven’t done all along, save my sister for me. And I can have the husband and family that I want, all those things that we can’t have.”
Cesare jerked his head at her, “We have to go, we’re going to be late.” Nothing, as usual, had been solved.
The processional was very grand. The lords and ladies of the Papal Court paraded behind a radiantly beautiful Lucrezia. Constanzia had been placed strategically behind La Bella, forming a contrast that the men sitting in Saint Peter’s pleasantly contemplated as they walked by. For a brief moment she saw Calvino smiling at her and that gave her courage.
How cold this wedding is, she thought, so unlike my own. Lucrezia’s groom stands at the altar so arrogant and superior in his opinion of himself. You won’t keep faith for long, will you, Sforza, you probably won’t keep faith at all. And if you are not good to my Lucrezia, I will kill you myself if Cesare fails me.
She was relieved when it was over, and wanted to follow Cesare out, but La Bella took her arm and steered her in the direction of the guests. She forced herself to smile as she entered the great hall, and even consented when Juan took her arm to begin the dance.
“Calvino Pallavicini has been looking at you. When the bride walked by, he had eyes for no one but you. Funny, but I never really considered you one way or another until I saw the look on his face.”
She was whirled away into the arms of another dancer, Giovanni Sforza. “I had not known there were such beauties in the Borgia family,” he said as he twirled her around, "But I think you might almost surpass your cousin, signorina.”
“It’s ‘Signora’, my lord, I am a widow.” She paid little attention to him, for she could see Cesare flirting with a blond nymph out of the corner of her eyes.
When Cesare took her in his arms, she found it hard to hold back her temper. “How could you flirt with her in front of me?” she demanded, “You’ve always had the consideration to keep your mistresses out of my sight. What is so different about her?”
And thankfully, she found herself now in the arms of Calvino Pallavicini, “My lady, you look so beautiful that you outshine the bride.” He gave her his dazzling smile.
“That is kind, my lord, but no one can outshine my cousin Lucrezia, especially on her wedding day. I am but a poor shadow.”
He would have answered her, but she was swept away from him, and now Juan had her again. “Be nice to him, his heart was quite broken when I took you away. You’re to marry him, didn’t you know? Didn’t my brother the cardinal tell you?”
When Calvino claimed her again, he asked softly, “May I see you tomorrow? I will not be free until the afternoon, but I would talk to you, if you would allow.”
She gave him the brilliant smile she used to bedazzle those she wished to confuse. “Yes, I would like that.” And another whisked her out of his arms.
During the banquet she could see that Lucrezia struggled to put up a brave front. She would have to see her to her bridal bed, and she wanted desperately to be excused. Sforza would have to restrain himself while consummating the marriage, Uncle Rodrigo would brook no cruelty. There would be plenty of time for that later. She was finding strange comfort in the looks Calvino was giving her. If he was the Pope’s choice, she would at least find herself married to someone young and handsome—and maybe even kind and considerate.
She whispered in Lucrezia’s ear as she helped prepare her for her coming ordeal. “When you leave here, if he is any way cruel to you at all, you tell me, do you hear? Do not try to be noble, Cesare and I will fetch you home.”
She looked around and saw the girl she had planted among her cousin’s chambermaids. She nodded at her, safe in the knowledge that even if Lucrezia became hesitant or afraid, there was someone there who would let her know.
She was so tired when she finally retired to her bed that she did not have her maid take down her hair and remove her makeup. She was asleep almost as soon as her head hit the pillow, finding strange relief in the knowledge that Cesare was probably in the arms of what would be yet another new mistress.
Only he wasn’t. He stripped off his clothes, and climbed into her bed, waking her. She could smell the wine on his breath and knew he was upset. Did the mistress have a jealous husband, or was it the loss of Lucrezia? She was too tired to care, until he took her in his arms and started to caress her.
“No, Cesare,” she said, trying to fight him off, “Don’t!” He had never truly forced himself on her before, but she read the look in his eyes and knew that no matter how hard she fought him, he would not care. I won’t give in, she thought, I won’t I won’t, but it made little difference, and soon he had her, whether she willed it or not.