Marjorie Bowen: The Sword Decides! (part seventeen)
The Sword Decides!
The winds that round Mount Ida blow
At his commands were still;
The wingèd gods all circled low
Round that dim Thracian hill.
Then, ever blue the tender sky,
And ever green the field;
Mars laid his scarlet armour by,
And rested on his shield.
Her head bent over the zither, a strand of hair falling loose to sweep the strings.
Rose-wreathed the smiling hours sped,
Rose-wreathed the evening died;
And never a blossom drooped its head
Save when young Orpheus sighed
My song to the stormy clouds laments
This age of cruel renown
I watch the silvery April rain
Adorn a sorrowing town.
Maria sighed. Her voice on the next notes trembled.
Too soon has Orpheus fallen dumb,
Too soon the gods are dead;
When shall another singer come
To say what Orpheus said?
The zither dropped from her hands. Her soft, mournful eyes looked without sight across the distant town. She was wrapped in her own dreaming thoughts. She sighed again, stirred, and was brought in an instant to reality, the colour risen to her cheeks.
He stood, holding back vines that impeded the path.
“I bid you good morrow, my lord,” she said to Cabane, motioning to gather herself.
“I have been hoping to find you alone, Madonna.” He came with his forceful stride to the marble seat. He was as always composed in manner, while his glances about him were watchful.
She sank, and turned her head away. “You need not speak to me…what have we to do with each other? Send a page to me, if…” She let her voice grow puzzled. “Some help that I am able to give…”
“Softly, Madonna. The Queen has told you that she will be crowned mid-September.” His eyes flashed at her averted face, while his fingers caressed a rose lying heavy-headed on the balustrade. “Scorn me, Maria,” he said quietly. “Our marriage contract will be signed then. I shall not wait for my reward.”
“Your presence is unendurable to me, and your talk wild.” With a heave of the shoulders, she swung to stare him down, pale with anger. “I will be wed to the King of Hungary or to no man.”
“You may waste the words to say so. But can you be freer to choose your husband than your sister was?”
At this, she rose so suddenly that he fell back a pace. “We have a king in Naples, have you forgot? I am an heiress of Anjou, a woman of worth. Even more than for his brother’s sake, he will keep our grandfather’s bargain.”
Cabane’s own anger fired at this echo of his argument to Giovanna. Still his tone was mild, courteous. “None of these things are for you to say. And if Naples has a king…”
She wished him to feel how unallied he was; how little the confidence of a great house could be shaken. “What, when the Pope decides in his favour? You will not wait your reward, for you will not have it.”
“You imagine you know what I count reward.” An extraordinary look darkened his eyes. Then he touched his velvet cap to her. “Amuse yourself with your songs and flowers, Madonna. September will come apace.” He was gone.
“When Andreas is King indeed,” said Maria under her breath. “And when Ludovic of Hungary arrives…”
But she knew that perhaps he wouldn’t. He might send for her, and Andreas dispatch her under guard. She must not, hating Cabane, make a hero of Ludovic. Nor even of Andreas.
“But Cabane…he will not come near me. The king will forbid him the court.”
Yet even as she spoke, she was afraid.
(The Sword Decides!, 1908, Marjorie Bowen; edit, 2021, Stephanie Foster)