Marjorie Bowen: The Sword Decides! (part twenty-eight)
The Sword Decides!
They ate their lunch on the open porch outside Andreas’s bedchamber. This was now the grand suite once Roberto’s, used after his death by Queen Giovanna. Many things she had left behind in trunks, and Andreas, finding honour in it, did not probe them. The young men present, King and Duke, were for their separate reasons bored and uneasy, both. The elder pair, Konrad and Henryk, sat each in a sombre frame of mind, and this too, took each in its own way.
Henryk weighed fifteen names. Fifteen Italian tangles, of families linked and linked again through fifteen marriages…
Well, of this he had imperfect intelligence. Some of these men might traverse the world unshackled. Andreas having shared his chessmen, the small council had placed a ring of pawns, eight white and seven black (significance not invested in the colours), at the table’s centre.
Without exposing his thoughts by arranging them, but itching to do so, Henryk mulled these alliances, what promises Cabane could make at all, when his fortunes had been sheltered by the old king’s hand, and his holdings were less than anticipated, shy the young duchess he hoped to marry. Yet Cabane’s sister had made Terlizzi his brother. Two houses there, to offer arms, bribes, asylum for prisoners, or surrender of them…
Land itself, the space on the map it occupied, made avenues to obstruct and delay. And what threads in this web knotted themselves among the houses of Squillace, Marsan, d’Artois…?
Morcane, Mileto, Cantangero, Melazzo, Fondi, d’Aquila…?
His thoughts were interrupted by Andreas. “They are traitors, every one.”
“I think we should not seek battle.” Konrad spoke. “A convent must always be a bastion against attack. They will not come out in array… They will not come out at all, I think. And then, by what means can we stage warfare?”
“I want to command the release of Maria,” Andreas said.
Even Konrad seemed inclined to thwart his wishes, though perhaps Henryk was right…that to chop off fifteen heads at once sent a weaker message than to chop off one. That men are not equal in the hearts of their countrymen, and that talk would rise—who deserved this most, who deserved it not at all? Sympathies would fall into their camps, and be exploited.
While if only Cabane were captured, still he was leader to the others. His death would suffice; he could gain no false martyrdom by comparison to the less admired. Though Andreas knew Cabane was not greatly admired.
“Why,” he persisted, “will the Mother Superior not…not give her over… Maria is married already in promise, in God’s eyes. That must seem a heavy sin, to suppose she could be taken, outside this bargain struck…”
As to Carlo he seemed to appeal…to worldliness, to some convoluted notion that an expert sinner must see his point, Carlo sighed reply: “Why not Avignon again?”
“As the Pope, if he is displeased by this mewling, may at last give no answer at all. You saw the quality of messenger Giovanna employs. These holy sisters, these harmless friars, what door will be closed against them? D’Artois will furnish her the means to Provence, he will raise the beloved name, have them think Giovanna a second Eleanor…”
“I suppose those things also take time.” Carlo gave Henryk a shrug of equanimity. He liked the mewling, in fact; and that Andreas could not detect, among so many phrases, insult against himself.
“They will spirit her away,” Andreas said, desultory, as he had been.
“Maria? No, Henryk, I think we might.” Konrad’s fingers drummed the table. “The Mother Superior is rightly to be asked. Giovanna does not rule the house. Get the girl sequestered elsewhere. They will not use her to bargain, then.”
His eyes, while the King played at moving chess pieces, rolled in that direction. Henryk guessed that in his lummoxly way, Konrad offered a subtlety. A suggestion, that Andreas would be settled in mind if Maria… Lord, the youth was sweet on her, so it seemed… If Maria could be called safe.
Andreas said: “But I hunt today. I will be in the forest…with twenty others, at least. I might bring soldiers, dressed as huntsmen…”
His eyes questioned Henryk.
“Yes, it’s possible.”
“How is the gatehouse situated?” asked Konrad. “Is there any means of placing an encampment, between the gatehouse and the convent?”
“Inside the wall, do you mean? Trampling of their gardens? The sisters will find themselves fed up with male company.”
Carlo laughed at his own joke.
“But why not? The clouds bode a storm.”
“Hmm,” Henryk said. “Why not, Konrad?”
Konrad, who had some pride in his weather eye, said: “Then, Henryk, stay behind and rule in the name of Andreas. I will ride with him to the convent. We will demand the Lady permit us escort away Maria. And we will treat with Giovanna, who begs it.”
“What can she want?” Henryk eyed Carlo.
This one, Carlo thought, was a danger. The flush at Konrad’s import remained on Henryk’s neck. But he held himself cold, and would be deaf to it.
“Her own portion,” he tried.
“The Pope will annul the marriage, don’t you think, Henryk? We are first cousins,” Andreas said.
“Because,” Carlo said, correcting, “it has not been consummated.” Why his cousin king should hope anyone to suppose what scarcely could… But he added, from the malice boredom induced in him: “For, if it were the other matter, he would have forbidden the match. And if he felt himself to have erred, we must all become heathen. But also, Ludovic is Maria’s first cousin. Then Cabane shall have her.”
(The Sword Decides!, 1908, Marjorie Bowen; edit and original material, 2021, Stephanie Foster)