Marjorie Bowen: The Sword Decides! (part five)
The Sword Decides!
This amused San Severino, who knew of no passion he could not control. “Raymond de Cabane is a great man…a very great man. Likely he will marry the Queen’s sister, the Madonna Maria.”
The face of Andreas reddened. “Maria? Why, you insult me! My cousin, wed to a negro’s son?”
“But…if he is a useful man to the Madonna Giovanna, and if he asks for this reward—all the reward he desires, perhaps—why shall she not dispose as she sees fit?”
“Maria is my brother’s betrothed! You…” Andreas drew breath. “You despise me, I read you well enough. Maybe you wish to goad me…and so be rid…”
“Prince, neither. You will take up this matter with a worthier man to speak for the Conte d’Eboli—Eboli himself.”
A hand resting on his dagger’s empty sheath, Andreas answered: “You had better leave me.”
San Severino shrugged, and noiselessly, a smile on his lips, slipped out. The Prince strode after, to catch the curtain…but only gazed at his enemy, seeing no one move to speak with him. On their plain above the starlit Adriatic, the Italian soldiers toasted: “Giovanna! Giovanna di Napoli!”
He stared at the floor. The untaught mind of Andreas, not understanding what it felt, still perceived something tragic in this circumstance, still pitied itself. The Prince did not reflect on things; his life had been short, and his world left philosophy to the clerics. Yet he had a fierce sense of being entrapped, netted. He felt that clever men made sport of him. A great bitterness arose in his soul.
Andreas told himself he abhorred the Italians, hated Italy. He thought of Hungary, of his adored brother, with longing…but clenched his hands and swore never to turn, only to advance, and be King yet.
Naples…his rightful inheritance. For his brother, in gaining the crown of Hungary, had forfeited his own claim. Andreas on this point was fixed and stubborn. He was king, even now, of Naples, Sicily, and Jerusalem; this Italian girl did not, could not, rule. He cursed Roberto for his schemes of appeasement. He cursed this dishonouring alliance. He wished he might have come to his kingdom by the sword, not by loathsome marriage.
Go back. Both friend and enemy had said so. Not from jealousy. Or for Konrad’s sake, Andreas allowed that it was not. Konrad warned him of danger; equally did San Severino.
Go back. Why should he remain, to be insulted and ill-used? But the Italian witch could have no sway over her master; San Severino, if he were hers, was then servant to Andreas. Andreas was king. Before God, he was king! He had set out upon a mission, to take possession of his throne—if all Naples stood against him, he would not return beaten to Hungary.
These vows made in his private heart afforded a rough comfort.
Roberto lived; the old king lived in lieu of a father to his successor. The woman’s minions had not dared a coup, for a father of course favours a son. Andreas could count on this much, then, that he was not without an ally. Troubled by anger yet, he paced to that part of his tent serving for an antechamber, and surprised Hippolyta, as she crept back to her familiar place.
She stooped and stood straight, tossed the lone orange in the air, catching it in a nimble hand, laughing to enchant.
“I have been singing to your soldiers,” she told him, “and now I must go home. But first I come for my money. I cannot be here tomorrow.”
Again, she tossed the orange. This time it struck the lamp, sending a shiver along the chain. Andreas drew a lock of hair from his face. “I will ask you of this man, Raymond de Cabane. Have you heard of him…or have you seen him?”
“But I have! In Naples there are always processions, and he is captain of the guard, so he rides with the Princesses.” She gestured a breadth of shoulder. “He is a large man, and his dress is very fine!”
Andreas would have asked about Giovanna, what the people felt for her. But even this peasant girl would see fear in his question. He thought it shamefully weak to doubt he might control his wife. Outside, some of his Hungarians played a native melody, and the low, sinuous music filled the tent.
“So sad,” said Hippolyta, listening.
Eagle feathers dancing at his brow, Andreas moved irresolute, troubled by pictures in his mind, of home. The singers conjured lowering clouds, a storm to come, and with this imagined rain Andreas would have wept, lonely for his own. Hippolyta, standing close, put a hand over her heart. “It’s terrible,” she whispered.
The Prince backed from her, reached a chair and sank into it, knuckling an eye.
The music now altered character, becoming a frenzied dance. The girl grew pale.
“Do not go to Naples,” Hippolyta breathed.
“What are you saying?”
“I don’t know. The music…if I understood…. But singing without words, do you see? It tells me something, something that sleeps there, that ordinary hearing must be deaf to. Something terrible! Do not go to Naples!”
Andreas pushed her aside, rising, and shouted for his page. “Curse the music!” he cried. “Why will they play tonight?”
No one arrived in answer. Hippolyta, by the chair cowering, repeated: “Do not go to Naples!
Andreas of Hungary laughed in a wild, unhappy way.
I’ve added original parts to this section, embellishing fairly freely. The fact is that Bowen has a repetitive tendency, as mentioned before. Andreas is angry and confused, but as she writes him, he gets in and out of his chair more often than the reader can keep up with; he paces and fumes in between every snatch of dialogue. Andreas needs to do other things. Since this passage features foreshadowing, I’ve played up the sinister import. Here are some samples of the original prose:
Angrily he rose to his feet and with hanging head went moodily back to the other part of the tent.
Andreas sank on to the couch.
Andreas rose like a goaded man and paced to and fro, the eagle feathers fluttering on his brow.
The Prince walked to and fro, unheeding, and his jewels flashed…
He sank into the chair under the lamp and put his hand over his eye.
He thought of Hungary and his adored brother with wild longing…
Outside some of his Hungarians were playing a wild native melody…
Thoughts of home and of a future wild and stormy…
The music rose into a wild dance measure…
At the very last of this passage, where Andreas laughs in a wild, unhappy way, the phrase has a fine effect. But Bowen hits on a word she likes, and uses it every few lines. My rewritings are to deepen the characters, make their feelings and speech more natural.
(The Sword Decides!, 1908, Marjorie Bowen; edit, 2020, Stephanie Foster)