Marjorie Bowen: The Sword Decides! (part eleven)
The Sword Decides!
The vice-chancellor paused, for the dying man had murmured. They heard him, in the silence: “Before the eyes of Heaven, I right myself… I do well.”
When, for straining his ears, Andreas slackened his grip, Giovanna jerked free her hand.
The official cleared his throat. “And he moreover names Maria d’Anjou, sister of the Duchess of Calabria, to be his heir in the county of Calabria, and of Grati, and of Giordano, these to be held in direct fief from the King and Queen. He wills also that the abovementioned Maria be contracted in marriage with the illustrious Ludovic, called the Triumphant, who reigns at this present date King of Hungary. I, Roberto, will that these things be done for the glory of God and the peace of the kingdom.”
Silence again, and the King’s voice faint. “Andreas, speak. Is this amends? Does my brother’s grandson commend me to Heaven?”
“God take you to Himself, Roberto of Anjou,” Andreas said. He felt this, moved to mercy by the awe of death, but lowering his voice, added: “For in part, and come tardy to it, you repair your wrongs.”
“Giovanna, serve and love as you have sworn. We shall have peace in Naples. Maria, your marriage binds our house the closer. Let all now take the oath to Andreas and Giovanna.” With little wind remaining, yet strength in the certainty of command, the King spoke these words.
One after another the magnificent nobles came to the bedside. Here was the Bishop of Cavaillon, vice-chancellor, here was Philip de Sanguineto, seneschal of Provence, and Godfrey of Marsan, the Count Squillace, admiral of the kingdom; here, Charles d’Artois, the Count d’Arie, and Carlo, Duke of Duras. Then came the barons and officers of the kingdoms, kneeling and taking their oaths of vassalage and fealty. Andreas and Giovanna stood motionless by the bed, near to each other and not touching.
Raymond de Cabane arrived at his turn. With ease he moved; and for him, the great men of Naples made haste to part. Andreas stared, San Severino’s taunts echoing in memory. Colour rushed to his face…but he, too, stepped aside, while telling himself he despised this upstart. A prickling at his nape warned Andreas to break away, flee into daylight, escape this chamber of gloom and death.
Raymond de Cabane put his back to the Prince, driving him further from Giovanna. Before her, he sank to one knee, and raised his voice: “To you alone, Madonna, do I declare my oath.”
At the other side of the bed, Maria shot to her feet. “Oh, insolence! A man’s soul so laboured over! Is the King to die in anguish with defiance ringing in his ears?”
But Giovanna bent over the bed. “Sister, peace. He that was father to us is dead indeed.”
The Franciscan then touched the neck and wrists, raised the heavy crucifix to the lips, and assented. “The King is dead.”
Giovanna turned and looked at Raymond de Cabane.
“Now,” she whispered.
“Long live Giovanna, Queen of Naples!” shouted Cabane, and the cry was echoed around the room. “Long live the Queen of Naples!”
The hush was broken into a riot of sound, all passions repressed by the dying, bursting forth in the presence of the dead. Maria d’Anjou from the shadows emerged. “My lords, can you forget the will of the King? You must say also, long live Andreas of Hungary!”
Cabane, at the window, tore aside the velvet cloth that draped it. A shaft of sun sliced the room and fell over the dead man on the bed. Andreas rubbed an eye; Giovanna stood revealed, upright in the centre of the chamber, brilliant in her vivid colours. Raymond de Cabane caught her hand and led her to the balcony. A sea of upturned faces packed the square below.
“Il re è morto! La regina Giovanna regna! Lunga vita alla regina Giovanna!” In a voice of thunder, Cabane shouted this.
He drew forth the slender figure, whose shadow cast itself on the white wall of the palace, while a breeze fluttered the auburn hair from her face. A thousand voices shouted: “La regina Giovanna! Giovanna di Napoli!”
Down she gazed on the dazzling town and the shouting people; then Giovanna shrank into the window’s recess.
“Take me from this chamber,” she said to Cabane. She laid her hand on his sleeve and he walked her through the door. The courtiers filed after, the sound of so many feet reverberating down the corridor.
Andreas and Maria were left alone with the dead man, and the monk.
She looked at the Prince with wide, frightened eyes. All had happened so suddenly; the Italians, passing the shaft of sunlight, sweeping out like a train of coloured fire. Andreas had only glimpsed his wife, with the man she chose for escort placed between them. He stared stupidly at the door.
“Now you have seen it for yourself,” Maria said. “The things they’ve planned together. You must have realized…
Andreas started alert; his glance fell on the dead King. He repeated Giovanna’s phrase: “He that was father to us. But…this is wickedness…sin! I pity the old man, to have died thinking himself loved…”
“His favourite,” Maria said. “But you have rights in Giovanna. She has not taken the measure of you…yet. If you would, you might show to her a king, a lord to be obeyed.”
“Where has she gone?” He made an irresolute half-turn.
“Oh! command yourself! You stand alone. Think how you must act.”
At this, she left abruptly, returning to the other room.
Andreas followed. “Princess, counsel me! I know almost nothing… Where are my rooms? Who is to be my chamberlain? Have I a priest of my own, a trustworthy man? How am I to address the people?”
Maria was at the window again, but looked at him over her shoulder. “For God’s sake, Andreas! Address them now! Take what’s yours! Act!”
(The Sword Decides!, 1908, Marjorie Bowen; edit, 2021, Stephanie Foster)