Marjorie Bowen: The Sword Decides! (part forty-one)
The Sword Decides!
“A killing…the woman of whom we speak must appreciate…cannot be refined to perfection. The place may be chosen, the hour—”
He thought, Giovanna supposed, of how he had not chosen either. “And the men?”
“The foresters were necessary. They did no wrong. D’Artois, I regret.”
“Malazzo.” She clamped her lips. She had almost said I… I find Terlizzi’s friend intemperate. Not to be admitted. No wound should there have been, to bleed a tainted trail, to stain her bed, which days yet she must sleep in. Giovanna fiercely had told Raymond, when the farce carried to her chamber had scarce begun, I can never have to do with it. I know nothing of it, do you understand me?
Now they must speak of a woman in theory; for all the life that remained to her, Giovanna must speak this way of Andreas, who was murdered…
But by brigands, drunkards. Through a fault of his own.
“Departure of the soul comes only once,” Raymond said. “And when the body has died, the problem to be solved is quite another. She may feel her grievances, but she will wisely set them aside.”
The woman could not do that. She had no words to impress her anger upon him; it was the anger of fear, that deepest and earliest fear, of walking spirits. Andreas had begged his life of her. Giovanna had met his eyes, tempted. Longing, in a way. To have that power, that godly sway, to stop events in motion. To grant mercy.
No. They called it as the pope was called. Clemency.
Why would Andreas not come to haunt her, when she had feigned not hearing, not grasping, and had let them seize him?
“But she had no choice.”
He gave her a quizzical look. “She has no choice,” he corrected for her. “She might remain cloistered. It is no inclination of hers, but to save herself she might. She might trust the King to honour those terms he had signed his name to; she might then retreat to Calabria, rule there in modesty, marry…”
“He signed that she might marry whom she would.”
“He would honour nothing of it. Think, he could…a King could…lay siege to your house, blockade you against escape, starve you until you married by his will. Then you would not have Calabria. He would have sought my death regardless. You would not have me.”
Giovanna let the silence grow. “Her good advisor would flee into exile, do you say?”
He smiled. “Yes, so I do. This woman would come to know that a rival to a throne cannot live.”
That, they had discussed much, in the early days of her flight.
“So, an arrow strikes him in the throat, while he hunts,” Malazzo had said.
“Feathered by whom?”
“You have seen them all, the fletchings?”
“You will make trouble,” d’Artois seconded Terlizzi. “The foresters know when a poacher is at work, however long it may take to flush him. A single arrow none can claim must look like an assassin’s. Malazzo!”
This stating of his name being synonymous with idiot!, Malazzo—in his lowering, humourless way—spat on the rectory floor.
“Begone, the lot of you,” Crispina said wearily.
Many accidents had been mooted…it seeming to Giovanna her followers would complicate themselves into disaster, and their Queen into the dungeon.
She had drawn aside Raymond. “Carlo?”
“Don’t speak to me of Carlo.”
“But Carlo is not stupid. He could deliver some sweetmeat very prettily, weave a tale of its donor to rend the heart, play madrigals on that boy’s foolish sympathies… Or the dwarf, with tricks and jugglings, confuse…”
“Madonna, no. We will have Andreas away by the simplest means. He is to be killed.”
“Oh, is he!”
“The world teems with villains. One will do the deed. The Hungarians must be delivered a thing they can make no crime of, beyond the commonplace.”
Now, after a day’s absence, Raymond sat with her on a bench Adamo had ordered carried out-of-doors, the burbling spring a minor irritation.
But it freshened the air, sultry this September day. “Why do we not have more trouble with Henryk? I’d expected he would run mad.”
“For that Adamo caught him unwell that day, the door to reason not firmly shut, and set him in mind of his soldiers, and his duty to Ludovic.”
“Maria,” she said, knowing madness, the mention of it, had conjured her. “You have never explained to me why you want her so badly. They have her wrists tied to the bedposts, for twice she would throw herself from the window. When first she escaped them, it was in the tower room they found her, wanting to follow Andreas, crying blood and murder, poor fool.”
Raymond made a mouth of disgust.
“No, not infatuation, not love. He would save her, he would save her, now there is none to save her… So she speaks. She will not take food. Go to her, can’t you? Tell her she is beneath marrying in this state, that you pity Ludovic. Else they must contrive feeding her, force her to swallow. Does my sister need to die for your pride?”
“She plays at these things, don’t you suppose?”
“I half suppose it. But put her to the test, that is the easier way.”
Adamo and Matteo, side by side, Matteo striking the ground with his stick, approached.
“A party of Hungarians are at the gate.”
(The Sword Decides!, 1908, Marjorie Bowen; edit and original material, 2021, Stephanie Foster)