Marjorie Bowen: The Sword Decides! (part fifty-four)
The Sword Decides!
Ludovic sat stymied. Deep in his mind washed thoughts of finding this man out. They went to lengths, he told himself, Giovanna’s propagandists. Lengths, to portray their plague in so witchcraftly a fashion.
Then…to what end, but that they believed him simpleminded?
Montferrat heaved a sigh. Mastracchio’s pet jumped to the table, her body spread over the paper, her snout moving avidly atrace the lines. She chattered as she worked, a noise of enk, enk, enk…
Her cold nose brushed Ludovic’s hand.
A squeak escaped; he had no power to stop it. The hand flew against one of the cups. The cup knocked over a second, and the priest’s drawing curled, shutting itself from their eyes. Montferrat slumped in laughter. Mastracchio clucked, inviting the mongoose to her perch…
And smiled at Ludovic with pity.
The getting to an upright stance crowded aside something of Ludovic’s rage. He shouted at Konrad to have Fiorina found. He swept the paper to the floor, the cloth left bunched and wine-splotched.
“Out with you! Do not cross this way when you ride back to Naples, or I’ll have you drawn and quartered for a spy!”
The messenger, idly placing himself where Fiorina could not enter without brushing her person against his, woke to this address—and stooped, his nervous hand groping for the paper.
“Let the creature leave your sight, he is not a spy,” Montferrat said. With a side nod, he gestured begone to the messenger, who crouched backwards from the room.
“And is that all your purpose, Montferrat? To bring your friends to my table and dine at my cost?”
Yet Ludovic felt pleased to dispatch them. The sun was setting, he might well go to his bed and sleep. He swayed and pressed a hand to the table. A part of his mind quibbled that he ought to remember why the irritating marshal of Aversa had been brought to him…
His guests stood. Bleary eyes fascinated by Mastracchio’s ministrations, the ginger cloaking of his beast, Ludovic ignored Montferrat. But a throat cleared, and the marquese, cloaking himself, said:
“You haven’t asked me about Giovanna. Do I take it you’ve heard the news?”
“How should he answer!” Konrad said. “What news?”
“That she is married.”
Broaching what his lord could not, Konrad carried on in the flattest voice: “The Queen of Naples has married. Who has she married? How does she do so without permission of Clement?”
“The Prince of Taranto!” Mastracchio, in good cheer. “Luigi.”
“And the rest…” Montferrat spoke. “Is her wise calculation. She marries today, and tomorrow His Holiness will not make a sinner of her, and a scandal to the realm, without very great cause. No less, I think you know it, than a charge of murder. And if you care for my opinion…” He ushered his friend to the screen. “She will never be charged with the murder of Andreas.”
Fiorina, a young girl well-schooled, caught Ludovic by the sleeve, pinching meaning into her words. “Signors, you will testify, if called to the court of Clement, to what was said in this room.”
“Child. My friend Mastracchio has taken an oath. He cannot lie before any court of law.”
(The Sword Decides!, 1908, Marjorie Bowen; edit and original material, 2022, Stephanie Foster)