Marjorie Bowen: The Sword Decides! (part eighteen)
The Sword Decides!
The Queen Moves
Sancia di Renato, the Queen’s waiting-woman, held up a corner of the crimson canopy to shade her face from the sun. Her white dress glowed with a rosy reflection, and she laughed, whispering to one of the attending squires. The view before her was of the clean sanded lists. At either end of the jousting field stood snowy tents, flaunting their emblazonments to the blue sky. Benches were arranged in tiers, filled with the Queen’s noble guests; while a line of halberdiers checked the crowd that thronged behind a red rope.
Giovanna sat enthroned, her chair draped and skirted with embroidered Angevin lilies. She made a gracious picture, and to those of her subjects who had known only the rumour of their queen, showed herself all the fashion in fair colouring. Her posture, as she bent, catching her heels on a small footstool, seemed to her public’s eyes acceding, girlishly eager. Her gown’s stiff brocade swept outwards from the warm shadow that enveloped her, and its silken threads glittered on the sunlit steps of the dais. At her feet sat the dwarf, clothed for display in scarlet. Couched beside him, and much of his size, lay a white hound wearing a collar of gold links.
Beside Giovanna, Maria leant on the arm of her chair. She was gowned in opulent gold and green, but her eyes were dulled and her mouth, behind the fluttering fan of peacock feathers, fell again and again into tragic lines. Arrayed to the Queen’s right and left, were the court ladies, gossiping in low voices; at their feet were the pages. The Queen’s gentlemen stood matched to the women, and at the farthest reaches of the dais were seated the nobles, in such splendour as they furnished for themselves.
Pageants had not been common in the old King’s time, and Giovanna made note of the crowd’s pleasure, the tenor of their talk, the spurts of unbridled laughter, and snatches of song. She wanted the people’s goodwill, even to the scullion wreathed in his smells of garlic and fat, the stableboy carrying manure on his boots, the household friar reeling in his cups. Those beyond the rope, she wanted on her side, in the coming struggle with her husband.
When she was crowned alone in Santa Chiara she must have loyalty. For when Andreas of Hungary, though willed King by his grandfather, and justly heir in the eyes of some few, who would have Naples reigned over, rather than ruled—
When Andreas was discarded, he must evoke no sympathy. Naples must look to, and demand, her Queen.
And so she gave them their jousts and tourneys, whether or no Raymond de Cabane complained of the lavish expense. She found it wearisome to sit for hours with the noise in her ears, the glare in her eyes, the danger of loosed weapons flying, the winds carrying odours of exerting men and beasts. Even, she despised the crown of state that pressed an ache unmercifully into her neck and temples.
She looked down at Sancia’s smiling face. It was evident the fair Paduan did not find the mock-battles wearisome.
“A ducat on the Prince of Taranto!” Sancia swung a velvet purse tasselled in steel, and her blue eyes sparkled with merriment.
“Small odds, my lady. Many have their money on him,” smiled the squire.
“Then you won’t take mine?”
Accepting the ducat, the squire added, “But Carlo di Durazzo goes begging.”
Sancia dropped the canopy, shutting out the squire; the Queen stirred in her heavy dress and rested her chin on her hand. She thought of how Andreas absented himself and his friends from these sports. He was forever hunting…in a narrow and highly cultivated land, riders at hounds found a thousand chances to make themselves unpopular. A wary pride at her rival’s ignorance filled her heart.
Now movement animated the crowd. A shout, a flash of jewelled brilliance from the stands as heads were turned and fingers pointed. The halberdiers put back the people; the petticoated heralds entered the lists with a blast of trumpets. They rode a slow circuit, then took up their stations at either end, opposite the tents of their masters. One wore bronze and azure for Luigi of Taranto, the other violet and vair for Carlo di Durazzo.
(The Sword Decides!, 1908, Marjorie Bowen; edit, 2021, Stephanie Foster)