Marjorie Bowen: The Sword Decides! (part forty-eight)
The Sword Decides!
It was of some use, to know how they spoke of you.
But should Sancia send gossip winging to Sicily, Maria wished for none of this when. Tell them, Whore, that I am mad and pleased to remain so. Her sister’s lady despised the outdoors, was frightened of bees, and had no map in her head of the Palace gardens. Else she would not have laid in the lap of an enemy, all her painstaking intrigues.
Escape…true escape, Maria had not trialed. Dream it now, she told herself. Walk free of the grounds, find the road…by night, it can be done…
But you must be a cat, not a cloud. Wait, plan. Weave among the orchards, skirt the woodlands. When you spot a traveling party, come down to them and offer gold. Yet a cat cannot dress itself in a heavy shift, hemmed in coins and jewels.
Scheming her costume, thinking tall boots might serve, greens and browns as worn by the foresters, and a hat to pull low…but a weapon…a knife to be stolen…
Maria crossed the open lawn. Here was a cloth stretched, a debauched meal’s remains, and two spent humans, asleep in their foolish disguises. They were Carlo and Giulia. But Carlo’s man stood by in sobriety.
She eyed his boots.
He woke, from reverie only, and bowed. “Signora Principessa, I apologize. What is it I can do to be of help to you?”
“Tonio, walk with me.”
His face was bedazed, but he fell into step behind.
“No.” She took his hand and drew him to her side. Now he was more a frightened soldier, determined upon his orders, still amazed the task should be his.
“Tonio, I want a spy. One who goes about the town, who can bring me news of value. He is mine, and I will pay him well, and he must sell himself to no other, not even Carlo.”
“I…” Tonio swallowed. “I can keep secrets.”
“Yes. I thought it might be you. But tell me what you know today. Is there an army on the move?”
“They rumour it. Hungarians.”
“And they do not send an envoy to Giovanna? What are these rumours, Tonio?” She seized his arm. “Surely they don’t make war on us!”
“I have not heard it said…” He abandoned this false start. “Signora, your servant will learn what he can. But…”
“Where will we meet? It must be here in the garden. Come.”
Maria led him, down steps that carried to a laurel hedge flanking a low wall. Palace guards did not patrol these perimeters; no danger was imagined, to forfend, though why…? Only, she thought, because it had not happened. No assassin had ever mounted the wall.
A niche held a fragment, a frieze salvaged from the waters, a Roman portrayal that was called the Flight from Troy. Embedded in the paving was a sundial.
“When will he send you tomorrow?”
“He does not always. But often he wishes news from the town, the names of ships safely home, ones embarking. You know… Or you may not. They like to gamble on it, who will founder, who will see fair winds and return first.”
“Founder? Does Carlo bet on death?”
Tonio ducked his head. “But I find what I am asked for and give it. I don’t…”
“Where is Carlo learning the rest? Of the Hungarians? Does Raymond de Cabane advise him? Tonio!”
She held the silence.
At last: “He sees Giulia many days, never her brother.”
A circle…a sort of halo, in that it shone…showed itself to Maria’s mind. Yes. Let Tonio deliver her anything, and she would pass it, make it sweeter with embellishments, to Raymond. She would in a day or two find it out again from Carlo, and that would be proof.
(The Sword Decides!, 1908, Marjorie Bowen; edit and original material, 2022, Stephanie Foster)