Marjorie Bowen: The Sword Decides! (part three)
The Sword Decides!
Resuming his seat, Konrad spread the letter under the red light of the lamp, and went on:
“Madonna, as the Prince will enter Naples so soon, this is the last of the letters I shall write to you. I have told you all I could gather of the Prince, and my first verdict needs no amending. He is rough, rude, cold, and brutal. He may, I think, give trouble. For all the pains that have been taken to educate him befitting his destiny, teaching him the Italian and the polite arts, he remains uncouth and sullen; and though you dislike him upon report, you will dislike him more upon acquaintance. Believe me, Madonna, far from being fit to be your lord and the sharer of your throne, he is hardly worthy to be your lackey…”
A fierce exclamation from Andreas interrupted Konrad.
“Hear the rest!” Grimly, he continued:
“In your last letter you say that you already despise him, but you should fear him also. He comes with full intent to seize your throne; both he and his Hungarians boast of his greater right, and make much of the fact that he is of the elder branch, and his grandfather rightful heir to the throne held by yours. The act of King Roberto in bringing about this marriage has in no way pacified him; he intends to make himself sole and undisputed master of Sicily and Naples. This is the temper of the Prince, and he is supported and upheld by his brother, Louis. You ask me how the matter lies with regard to Roberto’s wishes as to your sister Maria’s marriage with this same Louis. I think neither the King nor his subjects are desirous of it, though he pretends to consider it. I can but say that Andreas, your husband, comes to rob you of your rights; that on the death of the King, he and his faction will hasten to make themselves supreme in the kingdom and consign you to obscurity or the convent. But, Madonna, you have what he can never gain, the love of the people.
Be of good cheer, and have faith in Raymond de Cabane.
“Your servant, OCTAVIO SAN SEVERINO.”
Konrad dropped the sheet and stared at the Prince. “What do you make of that?”
The face was flushed, the veins on the forehead stood out. A hand bunched the bearskin on the couch; Andreas was otherwise motionless.
“Will you go?” said Konrad. “Will you not, even now, turn back to Hungary?”
“Yes, back! You walk into a trap. You see the nature of this woman and the mood of her friends.”
Andreas tossed the golden plumes on his brow. “Do you think I fear these Italians? I…?”
“I think, Andreas, you will be a fool to go to Naples.”
From the surly face nothing could be gathered. Konrad said: “You have with you three hundred men. You are a foreigner. Giovanna is in her own land…every man there will be against you. When the King dies, you will stand unprotected. You will sink to the position of her subject.”
“Silence!” cried Andreas. “I am going to Naples.”
“Then you go to play a game against odds too steep for victory.”
“No Neapolitan witch will keep me from my kingdom,” Andreas said thickly.
“She has all Naples behind her.”
The Prince rose from his couch. He began to pace the room with slow, heavy strides, and in the lamplight his hair glistened gold. Under breath, he vented his wrath. “By God’s heaven!” His chest heaved with rage, the words came unsteady. “By Christ! They write so of me! She sets her spies on me, she of the usurper’s brood! But I will win my crown in spite of…of a sly Italian wench!”
He stopped suddenly before Konrad. “Who is Raymond de Cabane?”
“Plainly your enemy. More I do not know.”
“I will sweep him from Naples. I will clear the land of enemies.” He lifted hard angry eyes. “I will be King, and she will know it.” He struggled with the utterance of words that came slowly, then flung himself once more along the couch. “Where is San Severino?”
“Somewhere in the camp, Prince.”
Andreas drew his dagger and laid it aside his thigh. “Send him to me.”
“To what purpose?” Konrad eyed him and made no move to obey.
“To prove I am master. Send him to me.”
“Andreas. You are violent and headstrong. Think, before you see this man just now.”
“Am I your Prince? Are you not bound to my will?” Swearing, Andreas sat up. “Send this Italian to me and bring my guard to stand without my tent!”
“You are resolved?” Konrad’s eyes dwelt with a curious half-tenderness on the youth.
“Resolved on what?”
“On going on to Naples, to that awaiting you.”
“If it were hell’s mouth.”
Konrad folded the letter and put it in his doublet. “To each his fate.” He shrugged.
“Send me San Severino!” cried Andreas violently, “or, by God’s heaven, Konrad! I will find him!”
Andreas and Giovanna are true historical personages.
They were cousins, of the Capetian line, Anjou their royal house. Sources identify them by their English names, Andrew and Joanna. Andrew’s father was seven years old when the throne of Naples first was vacated on the death of Charles Martel, his grandfather. For administrative considerations, this was given to an uncle, Joanna’s grandfather, and Andrew’s father received the throne of Hungary.
Joanna was born in 1325; Andrew in 1327. She was older, but both were teenagers at the time of their marriage, and Andrew at the time of his death—a controversy in the career of this Queen of Naples. Joanna was married three more times, assassinated at the age of 56. Her life was a notable one among medieval rulers. She survived the period of the Black Death; she was an Avignon supporter during the Great Schism. At the time of her first marriage, she reportedly did not allow the 15-year-old Andrew “to enter her bedchamber without her permission.” [Wikipedia]
Marjorie Bowen (pseudonym of Margaret Gabrielle Vere Long, 1885-1952) seems to have elevated her character Andreas’s age closer to manhood, and operates on the (untrue) assumption that a royal household would alter anything of court manners and protocols in establishing itself in Hungary, or Naples, or Anjou.
As a well-known example, the Hanoverian George the 1st of England, Bowen’s home, maintained his native German during his reign.
The excerpts below show some of what I took out. Much, as mentioned last time, is excess business, without which dialogue passages grow appreciably more dramatic. Bowen had a bad habit of using the same word she’d just used. Splendid, splendid, heavily, heavily…
Andreas of Hungary rose from his couch, showing the splendid make and strength of his great figure; he began pacing the room with something of the slow, heavy movements of the tiger; his head hung forward on his breast, and in the lamplight his hair glistened like threads of gold.
“To prove I am the master,” answered Andreas heavily. “Send him to me.”
Andreas,” said Konrad, “you are violent and headstrong. Think a moment before you see this man now.”
Andreas swore heavily. “Am I your Prince? Are you not bound to obey me?” He raised himself, thundering wrath. “Send this Italian to me, and bring my guards up without my tent.”
Konrad lifted his shoulders. “You are resolved?” he asked, and his eyes dwelt with a curious half tenderness on the splendid youth.
And her descriptive way with Andreas is a little queasy-making. Books of the past tended to have phrases like “make and strength of his great figure” (I left out the tiger, because after reviewing on YouTube vids of tigers taking prey…well, they aren’t slow, and comparing people to tigers is a little hackneyed); but since such ogle-y descriptions have fallen out of favor—and began to around the mid-20th century—I assume the style justifiably lacked partisans, a caution as to what the omniscient narrator can comfortably invite readers to join in picturing.
(The Sword Decides!, 1908, Marjorie Bowen; edit, 2020, Stephanie Foster)