Marjorie Bowen: The Sword Decides! (part fifteen)
The Sword Decides!
“How odd!” Giovanna laughed. “I do think you love her.”
He gave her no pleasant glance. “Love her? She has Alba and Giordano.”
“But you made this bargain with me before the King’s will was known. And always the grail of your rewards been, Maria, Maria.”
He met her eyes as he had not before, under the light mockery of her tone. “She has always been an heiress of Anjou.”
“Maria hates you.” Giovanna said this, after seeming to study the fabric of her skirt.
Raymond de Cabane stood very still. “She believes she does…I know that.”
“It makes no difference to you?”
“Madonna! Have we come to talk of these things? I serve for my reward, like every man. Let it end at that.”
She stood, ready herself to end their talk. “Very well. It is a question of how we proceed, is it not? You will manage the council, my cousin Carlo, the people, this Hungarian faction.”
“My husband.” She allowed him to hear only steadiness in her voice. “And you will send an ambassador to Avignon to win the Pope.”
“I will do as my Queen requires. But understand. We agree to these things, here and now. There will be no more. These demands and no further,” Raymond said to her, “for the hand of Maria d’Anjou.”
Her look was one of mingled contempt and half-admiring wonder; she crossed slowly to her chamber door. “There is no more, Conte. I have trust in you.”
“I will see you crowned within a month, Madonna.” Resolute, and with the veiled fierceness that was his usual bearing, he left the room.
She stood with her hand on the door handle, staring after him with weighing eyes.
“There is a moral in everything,” said the dwarf. “And the moral of a garden is, don’t build a house.”
He blinked up at the blue sky, tempered by the thousand blossoms of an acacia tree. The gardens of the Castel del Nuovo in mid-August flowered from end to end; everywhere lilies, gladiolus, myrtle, citron, chestnuts, the dark lines of cedars and the grey-green of poplars. Under a trellis covered with vines and roses, white and magenta, was a marble seat, set against the low wall that looked over the town and the bay of Naples. Underfoot was a marble pavement, beautifully mantled in delicate shadows and strong flecks of pure sunlight. The dwarf, dressed in becoming purple, sat cross-legged and ate red plums, relishing them.
Carlo di Durazzo lounged on the marble seat, gazing from shade into sunlight. His own clothes were of golden satin, his shoes red as rubies. It was Naples he looked at, the tiled roofs of white houses, palms shooting from their courtyards. The bay, from a shadowed blue violet, where boats were drawn along the spiaggia, to bright opal at the distant line of Sorrento, shimmered. He said, without turning his head: “By your leave, if there be a moral in everything, what is the moral of this marriage of Giovanna’s?”
“That the man who marries without seeing his wife will die without seeing his funeral,” answered the dwarf.
The Duke turned his pretty face. “Certainly, Andreas is a fool. This strange insistence he has, of being here! He will put himself in danger. And why…why even live in Naples? Why not among his own, to collect that portion of the kingdom’s revenues the sword persuades of? What will the Queen do with him?”
A little breeze wafted some of the acacia blossoms onto the dwarf’s lap; he played with them as he answered. “Our Queen, Heaven preserve her, cannot make something of nothing. The lad is a cipher, a naught.” He sucked a plum, and made a face of gravity.
“But he has his envoys at Avignon, and his brother in that northern land, where…true, I would not go.”
The dwarf’s eyes twinkled. “The illustrious and mighty Conte Raymond has also his envoys at Avignon. I have a presentiment his Holiness will decide for the cause that is uppermost.”
“You are a man of nobility and exceeding wisdom,” said the Duke. “I pray you, do not eat so many plums! They will spoil your stomach.”
The dwarf selected another. “They are really very nice. Will not your magnificence try one? But, as I was saying, the Pope…”
“The Pope? Why, the village curato would tell you this is gluttony, one of the seven deadly sins. It cannot go unreformed, for the wrath of God.”
“Well,” answered the dwarf. “When my stomach has spoiled, and I am sick to my death, I will practise temperance, which is one of the seven deadly virtues, and thus my sins be well balanced, my appointed demon and the angels to contend upon them. The Pope is not likely to decide for Andreas.”
The Duke laid an elegant hand on the warm marble wall, studying how the sun struck fire from the emerald ring he wore. “I am sorry for Andreas. My cousin Giovanna humiliates him very cruelly.”
(The Sword Decides!, 1908, Marjorie Bowen; edit, 2021, Stephanie Foster)