Marjorie Bowen: The Sword Decides! (part thirteen)
The Sword Decides!
At length, she said quietly: “I command a duchy. You have been only a prince at your brother’s court. Please don’t speak to me of allowing this or that.”
He wished to tell her that he was not a fool. As well, that he disbelieved what she implied… A girl could fancy herself seasoned at governance! It was Cabane who taught her, who acted for her, was it not?
“The saints know,” he said, “I came to this low place for no love of you or yours. I came for Anjou. I care for my heritage.”
She laughed a little, without looking up. “No doubt you do. Your branch of our house being rooted among northern brutes…the work must be unending. No, no man can suppose we are wedded for love. Only spare me your use for this day. Think of the King, who lies on his bed.”
To Andreas, her words seemed a profanation of a sacred thing, a thing unknown to him. Consummation…but a King might put his wife aside…it had been allowed…
“Perhaps I may never come to this chamber again.”
He spoke, measuring his thoughts, and she turned to look him up and down with cool eyes. “No? Why are you here now?” Her face dimpled into a contemptuous smile. Her beauty and self-possession were goads to Andreas.
Combat, he thought of, in the cleared piazza below, himself and Cabane. But victor, he would still be left to sham the marriage, until… Until the Pope’s ruling, which needed his envoy to Avignon’s petition. When his power was established, he would annul her, yes.
She laughed at his silence, and he said: “Then how will things be between us? Might the bishop be witness…”
“Witness? Shy boy! Will he stand behind the curtains?” She fixed two of the white roses into the bodice of her vest, and glanced up to catch his scandalized eye. “What do you want, my cousin?”
“My kingdom,” he answered.
“Ah, yes,” said Giovanna. “I am to be your footstool to the throne of Naples, I understand.”
“Your other fellow…how many you have! San Severino, he wrote to you.”
He saw her start. Then, she shrugged. “And so you know, cousin, that I call my holdings my own. I am Queen here, with no man’s hand over me.”
“Your own? A usurper’s rightful portion is none.”
Giovanna’s fingers played among the pearls in their casket. “You must say that to my council, cousin, and to the people of Naples.”
“A council of Cabanes and San Severinos? No, I will not go for justice to my…”
Enemies. Andreas had not framed the matter to himself so starkly. He protested: “There is justice in the world, madame. There is justice before the eyes of God! Nor will I tamely bear this wrong. The Pope at Avignon commands an army, and Ludovic my brother. It may be, even, that some pious of Naples will feel called to a righteous cause. Your household popinjays, then…”
At his naming of Ludovic the Triumphant, Giovanna gave him a quick look. Perhaps she did fear…that her sway could find its limit. That terror inflicted on the people of Naples would call to mind for them the wisdom of choosing right from wrong.
He felt less in awe of her, for this. He came up to the table, his height between her and the sun.
“I am Charles Martel’s grandson. And the son of Carobert of Hungary, and my house is not one to be ruled on a maiden’s whim.”
She sat very still, but her narrowed eyes gave him hate for hate.
“No, you are but a foolish woman,” Andreas spoke on. “Cabane finds you easy; he flatters you that he does your will. I am King in Naples, as God ordains it, and if you or your minions dispute it, I will bring the arms of Ludovic like a thunderbolt into your midst! I will make Naples pay a vassal’s tribute to Hungary, and I will cool your pride, madame, in the cloister.”
Giovanna, very pale, gave a bitter laugh. “This is gallant, is it not?” She was breathing hard; her fingers crushed the strings of pearls. “This is chivalry! This is the very picture of a man, to speak so…to me!”
“To you! You have set your household against me, you have come near to shutting your door against me…you, to chide me with chivalry? To speak to me at all, without humility, without the ways becoming to a wife…?”
“Leave that word alone,” she answered quietly. “Between Andreas and Giovanna it can have no meaning; no, nor ever will. Sweet Virgin! I will never put my head under your yoke. I do not need you…I can live alone, rule alone. Husband! That you will never be to me, cousin.”
He trembled in his utterance. “That I would never have! Shrew! You are not desirable to me!” He struck his hand fiercely against the bedpost. “I am not here to play wooing games! I have come only for my kingdom.”
Stung, she answered him: “Oh, I am fair enough to break your heart, if I cared to try.”
“I would not lift my hand to touch you, or walk so far as this chamber to see you… But if you thwart me, I will bring you to your knees!”
“It wearies you to enter this room? Leave it! I am Queen. If you had a thousand armies at your back, I am Queen.”
Andreas, making for the door, swung round to look at her. “Do you defy me?”
She rose; she had infinitely more control than he, and she exercised it now. “You, and all that you can do. I too have friends.”
“One or two, it appears. And for his friendship, you would pay your creature Cabane a shameful price.”
“Maria has drawn you aside, I know it. She sees a champion in you—nonetheless she will be the Conte Raymond’s wife.”
“She is my brother’s by the King’s disposition, and she will not marry another.”
“Let Ludovic come for her, then, in his good time,” returned Giovanna. “And you, cousin, leave me.”
(The Sword Decides!, 1908, Marjorie Bowen; edit, 2021, Stephanie Foster)