Marjorie Bowen: The Sword Decides! (part fifty-seven)
The Sword Decides!
Council of War
“You may stay in your rooms, if you like.”
At her husband’s side, the two of them unfollowed by servants and competing over pace, Giovanna thought of retorts. She chose none.
“They say the fathers of Marseille have sent a messenger, too.”
“I hope they have. They have not sent my governor.”
A few cowed men of the court had sworn allegiance to Luigi as ruler of Naples, but Giovanna alone held the throne by decree. If she had said the customary “our”, she might laugh in secret, leaving her husband mollified. She wanted to laugh openly.
She found herself, for all the risks, gibing at Taranto, who could not be put off as Andreas had been. He would come to her bed, fling the curtains, use his hands with a will to punish.
Sancia, she had set collecting cicoria, ginger, parsley, hawthorn, cypress, all herbs to bring on impotence. She tied them in a square of linen, and steeped them in a jug of Apulia wine. The palace cellarer, on Giovanna’s assurance it pleased him best, lavished this on Luigi.
Certainly he went often to the balcony while they dined. She could not consider him cured.
November was lovely on the Campania, and the porch that overlooked the city and bay, though half-shuttered and netted…for reasons each who noticed digested privately, allowed inside a keen autumn scent; outwards, glimpses of blue sky.
Her cousin Carlo rose to his feet. Her bishop rose. Brother Matteo rose. Her chancellor rose, and she told him, as expected: “Begone, keep my court. Luigi and I both attend.” She swept to the high-backed chair at the table’s head.
Luigi glared at the chancellor bowing himself rearwards. Giovanna said: “Luigi, don’t give me your arm. I can manage.”
Carlo, smiling, caught her skirts and placed them. The stranger of Marseille quivered on his feet. Raymond de Cabane had not shown his Queen this reverence, of rising. The Prince of Taranto refused lowering, still in a struggle of emotion. His place at the table’s foot waited; his hand feinted at Cabane’s collar, to displace him from Giovanna’s right.
“What is your name?” she called to the room’s end.
“Jean-Marie de Génes, madame. The merchant…”
“You are not of the household of Baux?”
“No, madame. The merchant fathers…”
“Have you a wife?”
“No, madame,” the messenger said, his intonation the same. He anticipated the line his Queen was taking. “I am captain of the ship Vents Doux. I have carried here a cargo of excellent fleeces, and the wines of Provence. And,” he patted a pouch at his side, “letters from the governor, the guild masters…”
“Have you read them?”
“They are sealed, madame.”
“Well, Raymond,” Giovanna said. “You advise me. Decide.”
Cabane sat taller, coughed, and eyed the captain. “At the time of Madame’s marriage, you…by you, I mean her governor of Marseille, Monsieur Bertrand…for courtesy…”
He spoke without the smooth show of long thought, of all argument fruitless, refuted beforehand… A stranger to Cabane could know this on sight, to be quiet and accept his fate.
But Cabane shook ennui, clarified:
“For courtesy, she sent her greetings to your lord, because, you know this much, it is the guild masters, and the merchants from whom Giovanna…from whom the crown of Naples, seeks money. Money to fight this war unjustly made upon us.”
“Monsieur le chevalier, I am not one to be…party to such…”
Plainly, he did not know who addressed him.
“The Chevalier is only probing after your value to us,” Luigi said. “There are messengers, and there are envoys. You seem of the former. Madame!”
Giovanna gazed at her husband.
“You don’t suppose they will yield a florin, a livre, unless the two of us are in their presence, begging.”
“Monsieur. I wish my advisor to tell me whether the captain stays with us, hears our counsel. Do you see use in it?” she asked Cabane.
And she studied de Génes; Cabane studied him. De Génes held his face expressionless.
That alone was his error. He fumbled well, but he was not nervous, not awed to see a Queen and her consort.
“Stay,” Cabane said.
(The Sword Decides!, 1908, Marjorie Bowen; edit and original material, 2022, Stephanie Foster)