Marjorie Bowen: The Sword Decides! (part fifty-five)

Creative Commons photo of knight in armor

Marjorie Bowen
The Sword Decides!
(part fifty-five)










Her day had left Simona restless. While, this role she played required less…

Less (a sigh) of standing by in readiness. Fiorina in her simple dress, sweating when the sun was hot, no perfumed waters, no cloth teased from her bodice to tamp her brow. The relief was saddening, in its way. Simona could not be a wife; she could not know what it was to be more to a man than embodied shame, often—and to take his abuses.

But Ludovic enjoyed sheltering the child Fiorina. He took pleasure to think of her in a corner stitching, or wandering the villa’s garden after posies (recently the sumpy water of the fountain had vanished before her eyes, a crack from end to end seeming to chuckle a bit in widening itself). Simona thought Ludovic lonely and bewildered, accustomed to his mother’s henpecking. Nothing maternal stirred in her, that she felt this vague sympathy, but her lover’s bent gave minor depth to their lives together.

She had cossetted him into bed, where he lay in a doze, waking to mumble complaint, a rondelet that had carried on for above an hour. So she judged—and her days of living a prisoner in a shuttered brothel room had taught her to count time well.

I wish you would pay attention. A little flower can draw an ass’s head only so far.

Ludovic mumbled, “Proserpina…”

“How funny it will be,” Simona tried aloud, making her voice light and naïve, “when he introduces that animal to the Pope at Avignon.”

This time, Ludovic’s answer was an odorous belch, finally a snore. Using her own voice, low, just louder than a whisper, Simona said, “I watched you sit and say all that Montferrat wanted you to. The marshal will say it too, you were content the murderer of Andreas had been found, you ate and drank and showed all courtesies, and took no opportunity to disagree. And the advocate will say, I find it strange. Strange, that a man who is king in his own land, who brings an army to lay siege to a strong city, who is feared by his soldiers…” She drew breath. “And Theobaldus of Palermo’s messenger attests the same, that he felt terror in the presence of Ludovic…”

She shut her lips. Guido’s insinuating manner had taken control of her imaginary advocate, and the reminder stung. Grace of God, Saint Magdalene, I am not old and spent, not yet, let me not die of the pox…

The pox. The pestilence, Palermo. They took her mind to Sicily, and Pio. If he would come…he ought to come… And if Ludovic moved his army to the walls of Naples, as he claimed he would in defiance of Montferrat…

The child’s protector could not command her to a war camp. How precious, then, to a king’s mind, this false charity? A whore, any man could rut with.

She was in the dark, and unseen. Simona staged her performance, sitting up to fall kneeling, an arm thrown across her eyes, a pitiful wail, unvoiced. Please, please. My cousin Pio will take me away. I’m so frightened.

No, but say it brokenly.

I’m so…I’m so…


Perhaps she dozed in turn. She was afoot, on a road, under a glowering cloud. She followed a man on horseback. Gnats, swarms of them, fogged the horizon. In lowering her eyes to rub the speckling from her skin, she missed the messenger’s vanishing.

Things seen far off surrounded her, in the sudden way of dreams. They were bundles, black bundles.

She had no mind to disturb them, but they lay in such numbers…

The fields around her were massed with bundles, the road affording barely a shoe’s-width…

But her feet were bare. Her ankle twisted when a hand seized it, livid with pustules, about its fingers twining a chain… A medal, a medal of the House of Anjou, ringing a noise that was like the skittering fear of rats.

Simona convulsed and woke.

Ludovic, too, was awake. “What was it?”







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

















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




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