Marjorie Bowen: The Sword Decides! (part fourteen)
The Sword Decides!
Since she had raised no guard against him, Andreas lingered, today’s great lesson having taught already a wisdom he had not entered Naples possessing. He calmed his angry breathing; he watched her shoulders and back pretend him gone…an effort for her, that afforded him some amusement.
“Today,” he told her. “Today, my messengers ride to Avignon. Never doubt I’ll rouse the world! I will see Naples ashes and this palace without one stone upon the other before I forgo my rights.”
Giovanna whirled, breaking into a sudden passion: “Leave my presence! Must I have you put outside my doors!”
Andreas laughed. The look she had cast at the doors in speaking, showed him her thought. She was uncertain of this, that her men would obey. A man’s rights over his wife might be—even by Cabane, for remembrance of Maria—held in respect.
“And if I sport them, and appeal to the married ones, and bid them mind where their sympathies ought to lay…?” He did not go further, having some innocence in these matters. “You have no man who would dare touch me. But I have spoken to you, madame, and I will go. Wait for my summons. I will not come to your chambers again.”
Giovanna, at his leaving, sank on the chair, her body trembling. “Sancia!” she called. “Sancia!”
The waiting-woman, a golden-haired Italian with a lovely arch face, entered.
“Help me to finish my hair now. I must see the Conte Raymond.”
“Madonna, he sits in your antechamber.” Sancia began in a practiced way to arrange a white rose in each coil of hair she pinned. “That gentleman of Hungary passed him by.”
“Sweetheart!” said Giovanna, pleased with Sancia’s view of Andreas. “What do you think of him?” She picked up the mirror as she spoke and gazed into it.
“Madonna, I think he is splendid.”
“Taller than the Conte, did you note? He has beautiful hands. I should like to see him out of his armour.”
“Why does he wear a leopard’s skin?” asked Sancia curiously. “Are the creatures found in the north? It is a strange fashion.”
“A trophy,” Giovanna smiled. “What would he not wear if he conquered me? He is a fine knight, but he does not know women. He might have won me, despite them all, to be his friend at least, if he had been wise enough to be foolish and a little flattering.” She laid the mirror down. “But now he has made of me a very bitter enemy. Tell the Conte I am coming, Sancia.”
A little after, her face pale as the roses in her hair, she entered the antechamber. Raymond de Cabane, before the wide fireplace, stood arms crossed. Save for the restless glitter of his black eyes, his face was calm and passionless. Giovanna went to the table in the room’s centre and seated herself there.
“If we bring the matter to an open rupture, he will appeal to Avignon. That was the intent he left me with. Advise me.”
“We have more friends than has he at Avignon. He is a fool…from birth, I judge. He may be a useful fool.”
“I think he may,” she said quietly, and turned her heavy wedding band on her finger.
“And I have won the first move. You have been proclaimed throughout Naples.”
She answered him with a waiting nod.
“I come nearer my reward,” said Cabane.
Giovanna looked at him. “You are very steady in your desire. Are you so fond of her?”
“My feelings are no part of the bargain, Madonna. You are to give her to me, and Alba, and Giordano.”
“I was merely curious. One hears so much of love, the poets are so dire over it…sometimes I wonder.” She looked at him sideways. “Say that a boy loves a girl, or a girl loves a boy, can the heart be so wise? He marries her, and then he meets another…hmm?”
“Maybe Heaven will place a dire love in your own heart, Madonna.”
Unperturbed, she answered: “Ah! You touch upon it. Heaven errs greatly, I think. Given the laws of the church, this is hardly fair. My friend, it would be as impossible as the stars stooping to the meadows, for me to love any man I have ever seen. I will have my throne, the crown of Naples, and do glories for the people. I will be adored, not loved, and be content. But Maria! I risk something giving her to you. She is promised to Ludovic.”
Raymond de Cabane lifted his chin a little. “He is not eager for the alliance. Why, if he has sent his brother, would he not too have sent an escort, to claim his bride, when the will was to be read and she would be his? Why not come himself? No, Maria is mine.”
“My sister would rather be nobody’s. But she has grown to desire her Ludovic. Will you fight him?”
“The man alone, yes. If he will dare me honourably. He, or any man, king or commoner.” The black eyes flashed and a flush rose to Cabane’s cheek. “Stand you my friend, Madonna, as you have sworn.”
“When your promise is fulfilled. I am not yet safely Queen. The day I am crowned in Santa Chiara, you and Maria shall be contracted in marriage.”
“You will be crowned.”
“In despite of Andreas?”
(The Sword Decides!, 1908, Marjorie Bowen; edit, 2021, Stephanie Foster)