Marjorie Bowen: The Sword Decides! (part twenty-nine)
The Sword Decides!
Affected by this humour, Andreas put his back to them and leaned on the railing. Below was the palace square, where to the people Cabane had declared Giovanna.
Konrad, on the verge of a remark come late to him, closed his mouth. It was early days, early days… To say so much was to say enough. The resolution of the marriage, what price to end it; these were matters of state, and Henryk was the man for them.
Andreas straightened; faced them: “I am going to Samson. I won’t come back…you will meet me at the stables.”
His horse, he had named from his small store of mythic heroes, the Biblical lesson forgotten. The animal was large-boned, hampered somewhat in speed, yet having strength to bear iron and steel; he was close-cropped of mane…but showed by this no ill effect.
Their King passed with a hunch of the shoulders, edging among them, then a sudden jog of youthful freedom, as though the three watchers had become invisible.
“Durazzo,” Henryk said.
Carlo drew the corners of his mouth. In the space of this lunch, he had decided Henryk of Belgrade an enemy.
“If there is more you would wish, command it.” The hand spread an arc over the table, suggesting it was of the midday meal they spoke. “Else we will all go to the stable and be mounted.”
“No…in fact… Something in this joint disagrees with me, I find.” Carlo allowed a weak two fingers and a ruched shirtcuff to point the beading fat on some spoil of yesterday’s hunt, a boar’s leg. He preferred small game, and would not have touched swine, but that the Hungarians sneered at his use of implements, and a pie was a difficult thing to eat without a knife.
“But the hunt, if I understand you, is only a ruse. You mean to camp tonight at Aversa. You won’t like having me, then, if I’m to be ill.”
Henryk’s face grew blatant, as though Carlo had offered to puke on the spot.
“Go home. It would be well if you did.”
The afternoon was all promise of autumn, thin rushing clouds tempering the sun, and the clean, vaguely sad, odour of drying leaves. But a gusting breeze, and a humidity, had risen.
“Already the wind smells of rain,” Konrad said, having them appreciate it.
As ever with these escapes, the King’s spirits were up. His life’s pleasure was to spend his hours at things he understood, in company with Hungarian brothers…like to Ludovic in being elder; trusted, for those years lived when he had not shared the world with them.
Konrad and Henryk spoke the court French. He knew his Anjou cousins ought as well, and from the cradle—but they did not. It was nothing he could prove about Carlo—that his halting search for words was acted, his over-fluent Italian meant to glide gibes past a gull (he met eyes with a certain alertness at times, that made this to Andreas seem very possible)—but then, Carlo played the younger brother, too, wanting Andreas to choose and direct.
He was anxiety-making; Andreas was glad of Konrad at his side.
The entourage rode with the music of bridle and spear, and the balconies of the town were hung with coronation blues and golds, dotted yet with mourning black, for Roberto had not been gone a year. The chatter, flying in syllables to ears, the shouts and waves, seemed good natured, his people content with their King. Content to have discord resolved, which redounded upon the least of society; and only the nobles missed their sport.
“I remember a circlet my mother had for her hair, that had a jewel in it… Here, look!”
Konrad kept the head of his horse tight-reined, until they were outside the gates, and no human obstacle loitered. The merchants of the town were slow to draw in their wares; the urchins impossible of scattering with any sense.
“You have a jewel of your mother’s…”
“No. I wonder if she will send it, I said…as a gift to Maria.”
“If she cares to, no doubt she will.” Konrad could not find within himself an opinion, as to queens and their baubles.
“No, look. You’re not looking!” Cap off and tucked under his thigh, his plaited hair bouncing, Andreas had drawn a ribbon from the neck of his shirt, that dangled a small wooden cross.
“Ah. Well, that is plain and homely. The Duchess seems a pious lady. She may prefer it.”
Andreas laughed. “Konrad! The peasant girl, do you recall her? She brought oranges to our camp? This amulet was for my protection, the girl insisted it on me.”
His gesturing hand had shifted his weight, and in his preoccupation with talk the knees of Andreas relaxed. The hunters had departed the road for a narrower way into the woods, one to narrow further until each horseman moved by himself, keeping no longer apace or within touch of the others. Samson, confused by such cues, misstepped.
The ribbon slipped from Andreas’s fingers, and the amulet vanished under hooves.
“We may send a boy back,” Konrad said.
“No.” Andreas swallowed. “It’s witchcraft, isn’t it? She told me… Hippolyta, the girl’s name was… She told me her grandmother had made it. A good one would have been blessed by a priest. No, never mind it, Konrad. I shan’t miss a peasant girl’s trinket.”
(The Sword Decides!, 1908, Marjorie Bowen; edit and original material, 2021, Stephanie Foster)