Marjorie Bowen: The Sword Decides! (part fifty-eight)
The Sword Decides!
The messenger took a bench under a shutter. His shoulders heaved with a long-drawn breath.
“Matteo,” Giovanna said.
“We begin with an invocation,” murmured Jean, archbishop of Naples.
The bishop spoke the names of all the city’s saints, of the Blessed Mother, of the Lamb of God and Salvation of Mankind, of the Father, Thrice-Blessed Deity; he wished health and long life to Clement, health and long rule upon the great house of Anjou…
He allowed then, strengthened by this soft-footed approach, the blessing of health and long rule to Queen Giovanna, and to her esteemed consort; at last, he sought mercy on Naples—a pious city, and truly God’s own. He did not openly compare the piety of Naples to that of plagued Palermo, but begged God show the Light of His Will, should the people of Naples fall short in worship.
“Father, we pray of you,” Giovanna said, before her amen, “to remove from our walls this scourge of Hungary, and to grant upon our realm and people a rightful victory.”
The table observed silence.
Brother Matteo now took up the work of a secretary. “Before other business, we will have the state of war given us by Signor de Cabane, who also will offer his recommendations. And I state to all parties present, for I have permission of Giovanna to impart these things, that the Queen and Prince Luigi will take ship soon for Marseille, and that the Duke of Durazzo, her cousin and brother in marriage, will reign as regent, and that Signor de Cabane will direct the army of Naples in her defences.”
Cabane stood and rounded the table, crossing to a window that gave view of the bay. “My Excellent Lord Jean,” he said, unturning. “Does the church give no thought to this plague? We hear rumours from the low districts… My order has been that the sick must be flung from the city walls, where the vanguard of Ludovic’s army may discover them. Perhaps by that means Naples will keep it off.”
“The sick…though living?”
“What else? What better?”
With care, the archbishop said: “When Madame meets with Clement, she may by missive or messenger return to us his will in this matter. He has issued nothing yet of Avignon’s acknowledgment, as to the recent distress… Even here, I err, no doubt, in my choice of words. May God forgive me. The orders of charity must succour the bedridden and the dying. I would be sorry to learn of such practices as you describe.”
“You won’t. Perhaps the army of Naples must also serve as her plague wardens.” Cabane turned now, and stared at Giovanna. She held her profile to him. He looked at Luigi, long enough only to make his dismissal of Luigi’s authority plain.
Carlo shifted and sighed. “But, Cousin…”
“Carlo, when I leave, I shall by decree leave the rule wholly in your hands. By your own wisdom you will decide…as to the pestilence, as to the Invader, as to the levies and the tradesmen, the tributes and the nobles, when to show yourself to the people, when to mollify, when to be iron with them.”
“A Queen’s lot.” He teased, still. “But we are all pretending. I don’t want…”
And since he broke, poor Carlo, thinking to say, I don’t want the responsibility, Giovanna added: “You persuaded my sister to marry you. You are doubly chief of the heirs of Anjou. The kingdom of Naples must be yours to rule. Until I return.”
Cabane’s slump into his seat was her first awareness he had come back. It crossed Giovanna’s mind that if this man were to tell the history of a Queen, he would have her sly and cruel. His face said it—he thought this talk of Maria was the twist of a knife.
(The Sword Decides!, 1908, Marjorie Bowen; edit and original material, 2022, Stephanie Foster)