Marjorie Bowen: The Sword Decides! (part thirty-three)
The Sword Decides!
“What, so far?” Henryk said, seating himself.
“We have established that the Queen’s sister lies in her room, unwell.”
In the embarrassment of his counsellor’s discourtesy, Andreas overlooked this, that such news had not been established; that he was the only witness who might contradict Brother Matteo.
Konrad said: “Ill? So ill as to bear upon her marriage?”
“She is not well,” said Mother Crispina. “We pray for her recovery.”
“You will not have a handful of religious to deem the King’s mind, Monsieur de Gottif?” Matteo said. “Maria will go to her husband when her going is arranged.”
“But, then, not dying?”
“He has not willed it so.” Mother Crispina gazed heavenwards.
“This matter of Cabane must end,” said Andreas.
“Raymond does not suppose while you are King it shall be other.” Giovanna said this.
“But of demands?” said Henryk. “I do not like to be so frank in the presence of women. But I see only one hold she has over him.”
He saw what the rest did not, while rudely he angled his head to indicate Giovanna and Andreas.
“Henryk of Belgrade, you must be frank as nature moves you. What hold have I?”
The cheeks flamed, anger part of it, and Henryk would not look at Giovanna now. He seemed to struggle with this task he had given himself, to speak to the woman’s face.
He addressed Matteo. “She is his wife. The marriage is accomplished.”
“I wish to be very clear, monsieur, if you are going to bandy my name.”
The pallor, implying a bout with illness for Giovanna as well as her sister, warmed; the passivity she had evinced at first, she put aside. “I wish you would tell me, tell Brother Matteo and Mother Crispina, tell God, who hears us, what you mean when you say accomplished. I am a virgin.”
Henryk shrank. Konrad said: “No, we understand that!” He too, looked torturedly abashed.
“Andreas, you will not deny the truth?”
Andreas was white. “No. No, it has been no marriage.”
Brother Matteo spoke: “Then Monsieur de Belgrade refers to the formality of this wedded state. You, my Lord King, who may confer at will with high men of the church, will ask the Bishop how best to appeal to Clement. The Father may feel tried that his children of Naples squabble so, and will not settle themselves on things decided, and cannot choose to forbear, as even the peasant, if the weather be evil, must do. But it is for you to beg the marriage annulled.”
“Yes… Yes, I know, Brother. It’s what I intend.”
“Marriage is sacred in the eyes of God.” Brother Matteo crossed himself; the other holy parties did likewise. “And often the promise of marriage has been considered equal to the ceremony. For God is not to be trifled with. Over that which He blesses and holds as eternal and unbreakable bond, He does not split hairs. He does not allow that what was done in words, can be greater than what is in the heart. You, Andreas, must revere this oath you have sworn before Him; you must not find it convenient to sunder yourself from the woman you are bound to in promise.”
“You must allow Giovanna her dignity and the plain means to live,” said Mother Crispina.
Konrad gazed at Henryk, who slumped under a cloud of defeat, his lips set in stony distaste. No, this parley was not at all the mission, as Ludovic had set them to it—that of advising Andreas in arms, standing as his right and left pillars against machinations. The machinations were something of legend, but those encountered here had been…
A stubbornness, he decided. A disinclination to change their court for a Hungarian one, that subtly coloured all dealings. Matteo, the others… Amadeo…? No, Brother Adamo. The woman, the prioress… But she was not important. Their faces were serene and gentle, as though prayer came over them in course of nature, when speech had ended.
As his mind chewed on this dilemma, a sudden light shone, and Konrad said: “Brother Matteo, you have your demands determined. You have sorted all this with Giovanna.”
“I shall retake my old title, of Duchess of Calabria, and all revenues due to the estates are mine, but also, for my retirement and withdrawal, and does your suit to the Pope succeed, for that I do surrender all rights as wife… That therefore you, Andreas, being free to marry to your advantage, I must be free in the same wise to marry, and you must relinquish your right as King to pledge me whatsoever, but give weight of law to my own preference. Further, you will secure to me a sum of three thousand florins per annum…”
Giovanna gave Andreas a hard look, and a harder one to Henryk, who had stirred at the naming of this sum.
Brother Matteo cleared his throat. This was the sort of noise meant to call a thing to mind, and Andreas guessed what his wife’s counsellor would say.
“As Giovanna is a princess of the blood, and as she has not wronged but is herself wronged, you will not harm her with even the whisper of calumny. You will guard her against the ignominy of a life unsuited to her stature.”
“And you will pardon, and proclaim such on every street, and to the four corners of the kingdom, the men of my household.”
“I will never pardon Cabane! You will give me Cabane in exchange for these things.”
Andreas, for blurting his emotion, knew at once a doubt…that the gravity of parsing terms was anywhere within his grasp. Giovanna lowered her head and raised it.
Brother Matteo ordered the scribe to read what had been said among the persons present, hereafter to be named, on this day, the seventeenth of September, in the Lord’s year of 1344, the first of talks to settle matters of disunion between Andreas of Hungary, enthroned King of Naples, and Giovanna d’Anjou, in law regarded as wife to him…
She had meant him to suffer. Giovanna could speak this legal language; and coldly she had laid her cards…
Here I am too wise for you. Here I am too virtuous for you. Here I am too lofty for you.
Unease made Andreas lie on his hard bed hating her, where he had pitied her for a time.
(The Sword Decides!, 1908, Marjorie Bowen; edit and original material, 2021, Stephanie Foster)