Marjorie Bowen: The Sword Decides! (part twenty-six)
The Sword Decides!
The Convent Of Santo Pietro A Maiella
Upon his two advisors Andreas continued to rely.
He was the city’s sanctioned ruler, but no less ill-at-ease commanding his court’s Italians. Thus Carlo had come to play intermediary, rather than Luigi, of whose help Henryk and Konrad forbade the furtherance.
Yet Luigi’s conundrum remained unsolved, and at the outset had thwarted the new King’s revenges. Perhaps Giovanna rode out for pleasure; perhaps she would soon return. It could not be proven otherwise, unless he were to send a company to her arrest. He knew, without Henryk’s surmise, although Henryk twice or more had said it…
“Lay a hand on her, there will be a great cry of innocence and persecution. She is loved enough in Naples. And she will always be a woman.”
They had waited. She had not returned.
Andreas knew, then, that between his wife and Cabane, all possibilities had been parsed, all injuries he might do Giovanna anticipated, the countering of them prepared. He did not badly wish to injure her.
“Starve her,” was Konrad’s counsel. “She no longer controls the purse. She will humble herself in good time.”
But Henryk, motioning Andreas to a turret window, where their words could be most private, had said, “Do you think it?”
Andreas unhappily had stared, and the city had seemed empty of life, all movement on the streets hidden under eaves, all confidences exchanged on porches behind shutters. Empty of life, but by phantom feints and starts, quivering with it. If God had showed a sign to Clement that events unfolded according to His will, could he not show another to a poor sovereign, who prayed for only this?
The clouds would not form the shape of angels; no glint of light broke through them to touch the gold cross atop a cathedral dome. Insight came to Andreas only in the acknowledgment that he was becoming Italian, in his way. As was Henryk…more deep, more subtle than Konrad…so much so, he had ceased fully to trust Konrad.
Andreas said: “Poverty will harden her. If chance comes, if I can be toppled somehow, then were she the very image to me of adoration, she would…”
“Squeeze the belladonna fruit in your wine.”
“That, I have never heard.”
“I have come to hear it. The dwarf, the one they call Piccola Saggezza, the one Carlo would like you to allow at your side…”
“But he makes me laugh. Though I don’t well understand his speech.”
“Command him to slow himself, as I do. The suggestion was his… I believe it, because the clever make such pretence of joking, when they are serious. But of course, you will eat and drink nothing from the hand of Giovanna, if she crawls to you.”
Henryk had thought of a show for the masses, a dumb show designed for their interpretation. For in the first weeks of Andreas’s rule, where the hand weighing upon the treasonous ought to have been iron, he had found frustration. Other nobles, besides those gone with Giovanna, had been filtering off to their country estates.
And again, these men could not be hanged, until cause was furnished, a militia gathered… By now the well-married were in sanctuary, among in-laws, with borders to be crossed.
“Surely you wouldn’t,” Carlo had said, in his shrugging way. “Establish yourself first. If it does not occur to your Hungarians, let me counsel you, it is fitting in a new ruler to send tributes and felicitations to his fellows. It seems to me, at least, poor sense making enemies, where if you only befriend your neighbours, you may win the Queen’s lackeys boxed up for you as a gift, you see.”
San Severino had been caught, and dragged to his death the length of the city’s bisecting street, past the great cathedrals tolling their bells. The carnefice, the King’s executioner, had received his gold for extracting from the prisoner a bitter castigation of Cabane, his rival. Giovanna’s spy had been seized from an inn near the forest of Aversa, on the word of an informer. He had lain there disguised as a saddler…
Under his nails the needles were driven, his nose twisted with the fired tongs, but still he refused confession of his lady’s whereabouts. The spectacle had palled the city, the hot, bright summer quenched by a three-day rain. Superstitious women cried Heaven’s vengeance, pointing to the blood washing from the cobblestones…and the Italians cautiously friendly to Andreas had not admired him for this.
The proscription list grew longer, names read aloud on the streets, to strike fear. Naples grew the mien of a conquered city, for in a month’s time a company of Hungarians had reached the gates, soon to replace Italians in every office of the crown. A thousand mercenaries were hired from Verona, that when the standard of Anjou no longer floated above the castle, giving place to the arms of Hungary, the murmuring people would disperse themselves, cowed. But what they murmured is that fear is only fear, while gold is bread. A hundred secret ways from Naples led the listed to freedom, ushered by the cowed subjects of Andreas.
Thus, Henryk’s notion, that the gaols were crowded with useless men, that to hood them and tie their hands, and conduct a great public hanging, would relieve the city fathers of unwanted expense, while rumour, among the people, would furnish these corpses with identities.
“In time we may assign as we see fit the titles and estates. Then the traitors must prove themselves alive by coming forward, or be the losers.”
(The Sword Decides!, 1908, Marjorie Bowen; edit, 2021, Stephanie Foster)