Marjorie Bowen: The Sword Decides! (part twenty-four)
The Sword Decides!
The woman affected surprise. “Shall I not send a page ahead?” All this came fluent, but Andreas watched her eyes note what he carried under his arm. “It is kinder, Lord Andreas, to apprise a lady, ere you call.”
She is my wife, and I have the right. He thought it, but allowed he would not have burst upon his mother. And his mother was the only courtly lady he knew well. “I will follow you, and you may enter her chamber and speak first.”
Sancia laughed. Apologetic, though showing so by a manner he doubted, she said: “But, on such a day, she is not in her chamber. She and the others are just above, on the loggia.”
The porch was doubly shaded by greenery, tall cypress in living columns flanking carven ones, of marble; then potted orange trees, spaced with their branches joined, inside the arches. The light was green, the air fragrant. Such fruit as had come ripe was being idly peeled by the Queen’s gentlemen, who offered the flesh to her women. Preceding Andreas, Sancia moved to a scarlet cushion…
And there on another sat the Conte Raymond. The two had been playing chess.
Andreas knew he’d confided none of his secrets. He could not escape the notion that his victims taunted him. He stood knotted inside, half telling himself it could not be. He saw Maria, dressed in blue on a cushioned bench, stroking a white cat. And Luigi of Taranto, playing some role in Giovanna’s hierarchy, strolled in the sun beyond, wearing a striped mantle, and feigning—it was hard to think otherwise—an interest in the palace architecture.
Giovanna stood at centre as though just risen, and in her hand was a little arrow. Her light surcoat was pale green, her gown white. Her auburn hair hung in nets over her ears, and across her brow were rosebuds twisted in a silk ribbon.
Andreas began to feel they all were aware of him, all posed in tableau.
“Giovanna d’Anjou,” he said.
She was not wholly turned away; she raised her chin, swept her skirts round, and he saw her thread the knuckles of her fingers together, clenching them.
“His Holiness commands me King over Naples.”
From the chessboard came a small sound. Raymond de Cabane rose softly to his feet. Andreas glanced and saw a few men fallen…a rook, one… The larger was perhaps the white king. But he had not seen if Cabane jostled them by accident or purpose.
“I think it can be no trick,” said Giovanna.
Andreas strode to her, stood close enough to offend, searched her person with his eyes. The arrow must lie in a fold of her gown. The arrow, and her words, could have no great meaning…
“I have the proofs! The Pope’s man is here, have him summoned. Ask him!” He gestured with the pouch.
Giovanna’s glance sought Cabane.
“A king has power to imprison his enemies. I will.”
“Yes,” she said, as seemed her way. “Why not? If you see enemies in Naples. Who has been so unkind to you?”
She would have him name names, while Cabane hovered at his right, and others of her courtiers, Terlizzi and his wife among them, were almost at his back. No wise answer came to the mind of Andreas, though alone with her, he might have dared: “You.”
“I say it, that is all. I will have it proclaimed.”
Now amazement, almost fey—certainly acted, but with thin control—came over her face. “But…can you mean, proclaimed that you are king, that Avignon has recognized you? Give order to the Conte Raymond, who stands at your side.”
Andreas saw Cabane put his shoulders back, touch his heels together, a mockery of subservience. “Sire. At your word.”
“Ladies,” Giovanna said. “Come, we shall withdraw, and leave the King to dispose with his advisors.”
A thing intolerable was in the works. That Cabane could not be cut loose with a stroke, but had by insinuation reasserted his power already…
It made Andreas speechless.
“Maria, take my arm. Good lord, we will speak of this again in a little while.” His wife moved as though taken ill, burdening her sister, away into the sun. The courtiers oozed off at a matching pace; Sancia, whose arm ought to have been her lady’s support, gliding behind.
“Go, be with Giovanna. I don’t want you,” Andreas said at last, to his enemy.
Cabane bowed, and left him.
(The Sword Decides!, 1908, Marjorie Bowen; edit, 2021, Stephanie Foster)