Marjorie Bowen: The Sword Decides! (part twelve)
The Sword Decides!
She dropped onto the chair and wrung her hands in her lap.
He might have acted, if his guard encircled him—but what this girl urged was beyond Andreas. He had not the freedom of this palace, though in name it was his own; he feared the Italian crowd…feared they would jeer him, shout him down, refuse him. Yet, so perplexed, he began to grasp what had occurred; and grasped that one small ally gained was not the sovereign strength needed. Andreas paced about fiercely. “I will appeal to the Pope at Avignon… I will send envoys…there, and to my brother.”
“But…will you not rule?” Maria entreated, her voice so despairing that his feet stalled, and he looked at her.
“How does it touch you, Madonna?”
“It is everything to me. Raymond de Cabane…”
“Ah, Cabane!” He caught at the name savagely. “I will have him throttled.”
“You don’t understand.” In anguish, she clenched the folds of her gown. “They bargain, don’t they? He is her faithful servitor; he will seat her on the throne she desires. He will earn his demand.”
“But not that…” Andreas flushed, recalling the fears she’d confided. “The King’s will has been read. You are given.”
“Giovanna has promised me to the Conte Raymond. And he has his house and his knights in Naples, and I am in Naples. Where is your brother? He will not want a wretched, despoiled prize. He will not save me; he will count himself free to choose another bride. On the day my sister is crowned Queen, alone, her servant takes his reward.”
“She will never be crowned Queen but as my wife.” Stirred to courage, Andreas felt this in his heart as a vow.
“God save me! Truly, I pray Him so every night, though my heart mocks at prayer.” She pressed her handkerchief to her lips. “Raymond has served the Queen well. They gossip that he is in thrall to her, and serves for love! He does not. I grant him wise, then, in that… Giovanna does not love. It was when I saw how powerless you would be here, that I grew afraid for you. I have so long been afraid for myself. Take warning, Andreas…go! Go home and warn your brother.”
“My wife!” cried Andreas. “I must see my wife!”
Maria watched him, and the weariness of her pallid face did not change. He said to her: “If…I were to go, only for a time… I would appeal to the Pope, beg an army of Ludovic… Giovanna, her man Cabane…they insult our house! Ludovic will understand. And you. You would ride with me, under my guard.”
“They won’t allow me to leave Naples. You saw how they scoff at the King’s will.”
“But Giovanna… Tell me, where is Giovanna?”
He felt in awe of Cabane, and striding to the door, wrenching it open, girded himself with arguments they could not afford to disrespect.
Maria said only, quietly: “She will not see you.”
“She will,” he muttered. “She will!”
Raymond de Cabane
Andreas strode through irreverent courtiers, telling himself, let the fools be so…in these few hours left them. He would know again the faces of the men who had followed Cabane. Each would beg mercy in time; each might not be granted it. He thrust aside milling servants, led by the boy who had guided him to Maria, and who, though looking all about him, had found none superior to his King to countermand the order.
The fist of Andreas struck Giovanna’s chamber door. A woman opened to him, and made to hedge him with her body. He pushed inside, pleased to tread her skirt.
“Where is the Queen?” he demanded.
From the next chamber came that known voice: “Who is it, Sancia?”
“Am I late introducing myself?” He flung back the door to the bedroom. “I am Andreas of Hungary, King here in Naples.”
Giovanna sat below a panelled footboard, the sun strong over her primrose gown. On her lap was an ivory mirror, a comb in her hand. A table drawn beside her bench bore an open casket of pearls, and a heap of white roses.
“Why, this is unmannerly!” She sought to outface him, a calm, injured maiden. That he had entered her sleeping chamber abashed Andreas for a moment, and he halted his steps not far from the threshold.
Giovanna laid down the comb. “If you had waited, I would have called for you presently… Now, as you see, I am dressing my hair.”
“I am your husband. If my welcome and your behaviour had been of another kind, I would be in my own chamber, which I have not been shown, waiting you.”
“You should have looked for your welcome, Lord Andreas, to those who invited you.”
She picked up the white roses and began twisting them together. His blood fired at meaning he read in this—she had found a thing to treat offhandedly. He crossed the room, and at her bedpost, said: “Before God and man, I am your husband.”
At the threat in these words, she bent her head; though Andreas had none so strong in mind. He could have little in mind of this duty. “You defied the King’s will. You insulted me before the court, which is only to show…” He paused, to gather this thought. “That, if you called Roberto father, you were to him no daughter. You had your minion declare you on the balcony…and then you thought of dressing your hair. You left the King to lie, to grow cold on his bed! You have ordered me a cur’s welcome to Naples. And I’ll have an end to it!”
She played with her roses; he saw only the white line of her neck and the waves shining with threads of gold. But her hair she left neglected, and he understood he had made disgrace of her game with him. He had won a toss at this Italian sport.
The Sword Decides! (part thirteen)
(The Sword Decides!, 1908, Marjorie Bowen; edit, 2021, Stephanie Foster)