Marjorie Bowen: The Sword Decides! (part forty-nine)

Posted by ractrose on 1 Feb 2022 in Fiction, Novels

Creative Commons photo of knight in armor

Marjorie Bowen
The Sword Decides!
(part forty-nine)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

Chapter Thirteen
The Incursion

 

November 1347

 

 

The first disposition had been the division of thirty thousand armed men, most of them foot soldiers, into practical units. The fighting front of any army was a line; and if a king had a thousand men behind it or a hundred, the line must break or hold.

Ludovic did not choose to bottle himself in a hostile land. The bulk of territory to cross was no part of Naples, and he had not arrived on this peninsula, with his might, to look to the Italian people unfriendly, to drive allies to the arms of his enemy.

He could not regard Giovanna an enemy. His aim was to force conflict, if the woman would but start like a hare. If she would raise an army of her own to meet him…

Let all Europe reflect, then, where right of things lay. To seize what atonement alone had made his inheritance, struck Ludovic fair. It could be done militarily. It could not be done, quite, with confidence as to Avignon. Nor as to Majorca, and Marseille.

Marseille was Giovanna’s; Majorca allied to the old king’s second wife.

Konrad rubbed at his brow. “There is another Sancia, a waiting woman.”

I don’t pass chamber gossip, he might have said further. This confidante can be taken prisoner by bounty (Montferrat ought to make himself useful here); she will answer us some of the truth.

Ludovic, purse-mouthed, examined his map. “The westward vantage is too broad. It would need a pact with Spain, to blockade them. No, there’s not the least chance of that.”

To know Ludovic was to know whether his digressions were thoughts spoken aloud, questions without inflection, or mere rebukes. Konrad had watched him with Henryk, and knew him somewhat.

“Have they…” He began. He found he could not say it, without crossing himself.

“What do you mean to ask?”

“The pestilence. Has it arrived upon Spain?”

“Do you say, Konrad, that you imagine them starting the rumour there, the friends of Giovanna? I cannot see for what advantage.”

Terrible stories were spreading, and had in the last week or two, of ships come to Messina, crewed into port by corpses, dead men by demons made animate. Fallen, once anchored, en masse, their bodies were found blackened and riddled with boils. Ludovic refused it, the uneasy talk; he had doubled punishments on companies with deserters from their ranks. Half-rations had been the beginning, but decimation was in the air.

The tale would serve to the Queen’s convenience, if the Hungarian army were to flee…it was enough for Ludovic. He believed the Italians to be tricksters, and that this lie, with its lurid specifics, was a ruse he would not fall for.

 

 

The anniversary of his landing approached.

His present bête noire had taken much of Giovanna’s northern territory, her cities of Asti, Alessandria, Alba; when, after Roberto’s death, her kingdom had been in disarray, and Avignon slow, ever slow, with its verdict. All the weight Ludovic might have thrown against the upstart, if Andreas had been coronated, had waited, suspended.

Hungary’s dowager queen, making south, had camped in splendour for a time, summoning audiences, dispatching appeals.

She had dictated in a missive (one of dozens) to her eldest son:

 

Your cousin is arrogance itself, and will not meet with me. We advise Andreas to be so much more firm, as King, with his consort. Giovanna withdraws and holds court where her lord is not; and the King of Naples allows this. He preoccupies himself with the hunt, and with contests made for show, in some ancient form practiced by the Italians [a hand had scribbled gladiatori at the margin]; and he will not send Konrad, whom We trust, to impose on his wife his will; and to force her submission. We fear Our son has never been a serious boy.

 

Ludovic’s young brother, Istvan, had quipped that Rome now had her Pope again.

But Erzébet had returned to Hungary, more bored than emptyhanded. Behind, Ludovic had left her Henryk, whom she did not trust, to battle with over his kingdom’s rule.

He was mired here, near the Tuscan border, because he believed what his brother’s failed protector had warned, that the murderers would thrive in anonymity. That Giovanna would reward them, she must, with purses and titles. That she would assign them…she had…possessions within her lost cities, and that they would see gain in pledging their holdings to her strength.

No interest could remain to champion the cause of Andreas, unless the cause were forced to the palace gates.

 

Bearing a flag of neutrality, Ludovic had marched his troops through mountain passes, descending from the north. He was soon met by soldiers, expected; these were envoys of Giovanni, Marchese of Montferrat.

 

 

 

 

 


 

Creative Commons photo of knight in armorThe Sword Decides! (part fifty)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(The Sword Decides!, 1908, Marjorie Bowen; edit and original material, 2022, Stephanie Foster)

 

 

 

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