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 Chapter II

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Cecilia Gallerani
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PostSubject: Chapter II   Sun Mar 13, 2011 5:38 am



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Clarice de' Medici

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PostSubject: The Marzipan Menagerie   Sun Mar 13, 2011 5:40 am

Never had so much money been lavished on such a prosaic marriage, thought Clarice de’ Medici, drinking thoughtfully. The spacious courtyard of the Palazzo di Orsini had been bedecked in the Medici colours, and the trestles themselves had been draped with silk. The scale of the banquet had astounded the relatively provincial Romans – her father’s Florentine chef had overseen a feast of staggering proportions. There had been whole calves’ heads, gilded and slivered, every game bird imaginable, from the plumpest capons to the tiniest pigeons, their delicate carcasses stuffed with dried fruits and costly spice. Quails and partridge, pheasants and figpeckers. Even the blameless aviary turtledoves had been roasted, for the wedding guests in their depraved carnality would gladly consume even the very symbols of faithful marriage. Clarice had discreetly watched her husband picking one apart with his knife, wincing slightly as he dismembered it, wing from breast, leg from thigh. She had imagined herself, like that poor dove, being dismembered, his teeth crushing her delicate bones.

But she was not at all afraid of him, despite what her mother might have thought of her constitution. He had showed some interest in her, as they had sat, side-by-side, through the ceremonial banquet; he had smiled at her whenever he’d caught her surreptitious, sidelong glances, and even if she had quickly averted her gaze, she had smiled in return, in that pretty, slightly coquettish way of hers. But she was cautious of seeming too openly provocative – she must be an irreproachably virtuous bride, without guile and knowledge. She must be Eve herself, before she knew the temptation of the apple.

Her husband’s eyes were now fixed on the dance. His bright gaze followed the undulations of the Volta, the spirited turns, the agile leaps. It was a dance of Clarice’s childhood, and she remembered how her brother would pick her up by the waist and quite carelessly throw her into the air as they turned, ignorant of the disapproving gaze of their dance master.

But these dancers were not the innocent children that they had been. They were velvet-clad courtiers, whose languid movements betrayed an intimate knowledge of the workings of their world. The women swayed their hips sensuously as they turned in half-circles around their partners. One of them, a tall and slender young woman, gazed at her unambiguously. Clarice’s delicate little nose twitched at the unmistakeable whiff of debauchery.

Her lord must have noticed her gaze, as he leaned a little nearer her ear.

“The minstrels play a good tune. Would you like to dance, little wife?”

Clarice first blushed at the surprising intimacy of this whisper; then thought of the stiff brocades that weighed her down as she’d walked up the aisle. She was wearing four-hundred ducats worth of seed pearls and at least one-thousand ducats in gold cloth. She looked at his tall, slender frame and wondered if he would be able to lift her. It could all end in embarrassment.

“No. No, thank you,” she replied with a sweet, quivering smile, as kindly as she could muster. It was not her desire for him to think her indifferent. She wished she could have removed her heavy cioppa without attracting the attention of every guest in the courtyard, but she would still have risked her mother’s displeasure, even if such a feat was possible. She fingered the heavy gold ring on her hand. “But you may dance, if you wish.”

He took her hand, and kissed her knuckles gently. “Perhaps later we can dance together?”

She looked uncertain for a moment, and withdrew her hand from his. It was baffling to her, to know what was proper and what wasn’t. “I will dance the pavane with my sisters,” she stated unequivocally.

He rose wordlessly and went to join the dance as the musicians picked up the next canto. Clarice watched him for a while as he approached the young woman who had caught her gaze earlier, and they made bows to each other. She averted her gaze with a light smile, and glanced down the long trestle table.

Isabetta Orsini sat near the very end, her soft, unseeing eyes gazing into an unfathomable distance. It was as though, like a virgin saint, she had transcended these worldly cares, and that her eyes saw a different truth to theirs. Clarice rose quietly and moved towards her, taking the adjacent empty seat.

“Clarice!” Betta smiled as her cousin took her hand. “You must tell me about everything. You must describe it all – down to the last grain of rice.”

Clarice told her about the magnificence of the courtyard, of the tangling vines and flowers that adorned the terraces, of the proud Medici colours unfurled, and the rich canopies of scarlet and gold above them. She described the rows of tables, and the clear, central space left for dancing. She described the multitudinous colours and materials that clothed the guests, and how the rich silks pulsed and gleamed in the afternoon sun.

Isabetta sighed. “And the groom? Is he much like his portrait?”

“Very much so, I’m afraid,” she replied with a little chuckle. “But he is very tall. He has warm, kind eyes. I think they are perhaps a little close together, but I like it. It makes him seem scholarly.”

“But he is a mariner,” Isabetta interjected. “He cannot be scholarly.”

“My brother said he was well-read. I think his eyes are intelligent. He has quite a regular nose, too, nothing at all objectionable about it.”

“That is a relief.”

“Yes! And what else...he has a square jaw, a little wider than his temples. His mouth is not too wide...he has a rather long and elegant neck, for a man, and he is moderately broad-shouldered. I think, overall, I don’t mind him.”

“But you haven’t seen him without his clothes on yet. He could have warts all over.”

“Betta!”

“And your children could be born warty!”

“Oh stop!” she laughed, taking a swig of Isabetta’s wine. “You’re making me nervous.”

“Clarice?”

“Hmm?”

Isabetta’s voice was soft and hesitant. “You will tell me all about it, won’t you?”

“About what?”

“Your wedding night.” Isabetta paused, lowering her head and giving an inaudible sigh. “I may never have one myself.”

Frowning, Clarice snaked an arm around her friend’s waist. “Of course you will,” she asserted. She brightened as a servant approached, bearing a platter of marzipan sweets, shaped like tiny menagerie animals. She took a giraffe, its angular spots gilded with gold leaf. “But you know I’ll tell you everything anyway.”

Isabetta reached her hand and blindly picked an animal from the platter. She placed it on her plate – a little unicorn of pure white, its spiral horn picked out with silver. Her long, delicate fingers felt around it. “A unicorn,” she proclaimed triumphantly. “The most virtuous of beasts.”

“It befits you, as unicorns only show themselves to the most innocent maidens,” Clarice recalled. She gave a dry laugh. “I suppose as of tonight, I won’t be seeing any more unicorns.”

Her cousin was already examining the animal on Clarice’s plate. “And what does the giraffe mean?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. That I’m an oddity.”

“A rarity.” Isabetta kissed her hair. “And your mariner is so lucky to have a wife like you.”
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Bartolomeo Rossi

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PostSubject: Keeping An Eye On The Duchess   Mon Mar 14, 2011 3:21 am

The young valet would go unnoticed by those who passed by. Probably, the women would take long, deviating gazes from him, because of his exceptional beauty, but that would be all. He was merely a simple valet gazing at some bushes.

Appearances could be deceiving, however. It was not a bush but a rare plant that had happened to sprout miraculously here at the gardens of the Palazzo di Santa Maria. The valet leaned down, his hands carefully touching the leaves. It was not properly developed yet. Just a few more weeks and he would be able to extract the leaves, use it to fabricate some poison to…

“Bartolomeo!” a woman’s voice called. He stretched himself and turned around to face Bona, the silly little Milanese maid. Her eyes looked up at him with a strange glow that Bartolomeo was not able to read. But he sensed she was worried, otherwise she would not call for him. Bona liked to announce proudly she was the one who took care of the Duchessa, but when difficulties arose she would call for him.

“What is wrong?” he asked.

“Nothing is wrong. I came only to tell you there are duties to do.”

Bartolommeo nodded and walked with Bona back to the palace. It seemed his life was devoted to his duties, at least since he could recall it. He was the bastard son of Ludovico Sforza’s poisoner. He’d had an affair with a maid, someone like Bona, and Bartolomeo found himself stuck between two worlds. He had helped his father on his study as he made the most lethal poisons the world could see.

Bartolomeo was not welcome as his assistant but as he cleaned his father’s study and instruments, as his intelligent eyes watched and learned. Unfortunately his father found out about that too soon and Bartolomeo had to learn the valet duties in order to keep living at Master Sforza’s house.

But God had not created Bartolomeo to become a simple valet. His qualities were noticed, and soon enough Ludovico had chosen him to be his spy. What had started as a simple task had now become something of great importance, perhaps even risky. Reporting to his master all the Duchess’ actions was becoming a hard task as Bartolomeo grew more and more attached to her.

It was hard to see the Duchess so vulnerable and being able to do anything to help. Bartolomeo liked to call her Cecilia and in his mind he saw the moment he would do so and her beautiful eyes would open in surprise. Of course he knew he would not get away with it without a punishment. She would probably put him in his place.

Once inside the palace he noticed Bona’s eyes on him again.

“Bona, what is going on?” He approached her, and the maid stepped back. He was tall, and did not have a problem placing his hand on her shoulder. “You can tell me, you know you can trust me.”

She seemed to melt with his touch and his soft voice. He did not notice it; he was only pleased because the maid said in a whisper:

“Well, it’s the Duchessa…she spoke during her sleep. She had been suffering from nightmares and I am afraid she is not resting enough. The baby…”

Bartolomeo squeezed her shoulder and she got quiet. A servant, who was at the service of the Borgias, passed by them.

“Thank you Bona,” Bartolomeo said in a whisper. “I will see what I can do about the horses.”
The servant’s dark eyes stopped glancing at the pair and he left, obviously not interest in the conversation.

The valet exchanged a look with Bona and then he went upstairs check on the Duchess himself. ‘Keep an eye on her.’ Master Sforza had ordered. And that was what Bartolomeo planned to do.
He knocked the door, and without waiting for a reply, he entered.

“You must wait until I say you can come in, Rossi.”

“I apologize my lady.” He excused himself making a bow. It was good to see her sharp tongue was working. “I came to check if you need anything from me, my lady.”

Their eyes met for a brief moment before he looked down waiting for her to reply. He could never see her as the Duchess. It had always been Cecilia for him and he knew no matter what, even acting against her, that wouldn’t change.
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Lucrezia Borgia
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PostSubject: All Will Be Well   Tue Mar 15, 2011 1:47 am

Eyes the color of ice stared into their reflection in the mirror. Broadening her attention to take in her whole appearance, Lucrezia Borgia first appraised the perfect composition of her face; her lips of roses placed delicately amidst her skin of lilies, all blossoming in their bloom. Then she appraised her crowning glory: a halo of hair so flaxen and long that it could only belong to an angel. Her halo flowed freely without any adornment onto her rose cioppa and the gold embroidered sleeves of her white giornea. Pleased so far, Lucrezia’s lips formed a smile. Only the accessories were left to decide on.

“Donna,” Lucrezia’s maid, a young woman lacking in appearance and personality, tried to gain the attention of the daughter of the Pope, “Donna Lucrezia.”

Still focusing on her reflection, she answered rather sharply, “Yes, Crestina, what is it?” She didn’t like being bothered by trifle matters when she decided her attire. It required all of her attention.

“His Holiness is here, Donna Lucrezia.” Only at Crestina’s words did she take her eyes away from the mirror. Lucrezia gazed at her maid in confusion. Wondering what could possibly be so important that he had come for a visit so early, she refocused her attention back to the mirror.

“I suppose this will have to do,” she tried to convince herself. “Show His Holiness in.”

As Crestina scurried off, Lucrezia tore herself away from the object of her vanity and tried to compose herself. She was the daughter of the Pope after all.

“My Lucrezia!” greeted Alexander VI once he was escorted in alone. Upon seeing him, she lost all the composure she had gained moments before.

“Papa!” she squealed excitedly, running into his arms.

“Oh, my Lucrezia,” he murmured into her hair while they embraced. After what seemed like an eternity, Alexander VI released his daughter from their embrace. He stepped back slightly to take a good look at her.

But standing before him was not the young woman of fourteen that the world saw but was the young girl of four that he saw in his mind’s eye.

Placing a kiss upon the corner of her lips, he spoke at last, “How beautiful you look.”

An exasperated sigh escaped Lucrezia’s lips. “Oh, Papa, don’t jest! How beautiful can I look when I’m unadorned as such? I must look absolutely atrocious!”

“Ah, such blasphemy you speak,” for the first time during his visit Alexander VI smiled, “you could never look ‘absolutely atrocious.’”

Lucrezia blushed, clearly pleased by the compliment, and focused her attention on the reason for her father’s unexpected visit. “Surely you’re not here to simply pay me a visit when there are so many important matters to attend to, Your Holiness.”

Alexander VI’s smile faded immediately.

“Papa?” she took her father’s giant hands in her own tiny ones, “Papa, tell me what has you so troubled?”

He didn’t speak, his brows only furrowing in contemplation. It sparked fear in her.

“Is it…is it Juan, Cesare, Jofre?” While Lucrezia began to blather almost incoherently, she started to tremble in her father’s arms.

“No, no,” Alexander VI cupped his daughter’s cheeks to calm her, “it’s nothing like that.”

She gazed into his eyes the color of caramel. It was only a whisper, “Then what?”

“The day I have long feared is coming,” his voice was grave, “the day where you must marry.”

“Marry?” Lucrezia’s voice rose, whether because excitement or trepidation it was unknown. Alexander VI decided on trepidation rather than excitement. My precious daughter isn’t ready to leave me, he thought.

“Yes, you must marry into the Sforzas.”

“Isn’t that the family Cecilia,” the name of her cousin felt strange upon her lips, “married into?”

“Yes, she’s now the widow of Gian Galeazzo.”

“Shall I marry the Duke of Milan too?”

“No, the new Duke is Ludovico, Gian Galeazzo’s uncle, who already has a wife.” Lucrezia listened intently to her father as he explained it all to her. “You, my precious, will marry Giovanni, Ludovico’s nephew.”

A frown threatened to ruin Lucrezia’s classic Italian beauty. “I shan’t marry a duke or some sort?”

“I’d prefer you shan’t marry anyone yet,” he grumbled, “but the Sforzas have been pressuring for it for the past two years.”

Two years? Marriage negotiations have been going on without my knowledge for two whole years?” Fighting to maintain control of her composure, rage flavored Lucrezia’s voice and disbelief colored Lucrezia’s face. She couldn’t quite grasp the knowledge her father just revealed.

“Negotiations grow stale all the time,” mused Alexander VI, “and I had hoped the birth of Cecilia’s son would appease them into forgetting their negotiations.”

“You…hoped…that this one would fail too?”

“As I continue to hope,” he confirmed her suspicions, hoping to dispel the fears that were surely plaguing his daughter’s mind. “Don’t fret, my precious, for all will be well.”

She reassured him, flashing a brilliant smile, “I trust you, Papa. All will be well.”
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Cesare Borgia

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PostSubject: Cesare   Tue Mar 15, 2011 1:52 am

The young man who even now advanced down the frescoed hallways of the Palazzo di Santa Maria wore the dark Cardinal’s cassock uneasily, kicking out its lengthy skirts as though they irritated him, and slowed his progress. The limpid eyes of painted saints and hallowed martyrs followed his journey, and the servants whose paths strayed across his hastened to make themselves invisible to his wrath.

Slowing his furious pace, he came to the oldest bedchamber in the largely refurbished Palazzo di Santa Maria in Portico, and rapped sharply on the gilded double wooden doors.

“Cecilia!” he shouted. “What means this insult? What do you mean to say by ignoring your own family?” He followed up his words by persisting in his assault on the door, which now rattled on its iron hinges.

The staccato voice of her terrified maid answered from behind it.

“Your Eminence! You cannot come in. Madonna Cecilia is not expecting visitors.”

“I am Cesare Borgia,” he said forcefully, “and whether she expects me or not, whether she likes it or not, she will see me!”

These tactics of intimidation by due course had their desired effect. The maid, succumbing, narrowed the door open and scuttled aside, and Cesare shouldered in behind her.

His cousin lay on her side, unmoved by the raucous quarrel just outside her door. Upon seeing her recumbent figure, the soft, white sheets arranged lovingly around her, his anger stilled.

“Cecilia?”

Cesare laid a hand on the soft curve of her cheek – she was sensually warm. A tremor passed across her face at his touch; her sour-cherry mouth murmured imperceptibly.

“Cecilia? It is your cousin, Cesare. You must awake.”

He turned her face – it flopped across the pillow unsensingly. He grabbed her shoulders and shook her like a rattle. Her sleeping eyelids did not flutter apart.

“Why won’t she stir?” asked Cesare, with growing impatience.

“It is the effect of the sleeping draught I gave her,” spoke a valet he had not noticed before. He was standing by the window. He thought that he was just the sort of fair young man who might tickle the fancy of a man who shared Giuliano della Rovere’s peculiar taste in lovers.

Her maidservant flinched as he struck her lady's cheek. A warm, red blush spread to the surface of her skin, but she did not respond.

“You will not wake her,” spoke the valet again. “Please, Your Eminence, do not strike my mistress again unnecessarily.”

“And what, knave, are you? Her lover?”

“I am the Duchessa’s most humble servant,” he replied in a single breath. He complimented it with a tidy but tense bow.

“Did she ask willingly to be rendered unconscious for hours at end?”

“No. She was weary and ill, Your Eminence. I gave it to her to she could rest. Her unborn child is at risk whenever she is sick.”

“Damn you finicky Milanese, and damn that little brat! Send her to me the moment she is awake. I think something stinks of Ludovico Sforza’s meddling here, and I think it is you.”

The valet regarded him, unmoved.

Cesare strode up to him and seized him by the collar of his doublet. “If I find you have been trying to harm my cousin in any way, I promise you, I won’t wait for justice to take its course. I will kill you slowly. I will flay you alive. And then I’ll feed you, piece by piece, to my hounds. Are we clear?”

The young valet murmured his utter comprehension, and with a curt bow, left the room.
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Lucrezia Borgia
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PostSubject: The Vanity of Donna Lucrezia   Tue Mar 15, 2011 2:06 am

Once Alexander VI left his daughter to deal with other familial matters, such as the arrival of his granddaughter, Cecilia Gallerani, dowager Duchess of Milan, Lucrezia Borgia continued on with her day. The mirror was the object of her attention once more. Crestina, ever so silent, hovered nearby waiting for her lady to proclaim her wishes. Running her hands through her flaxen hair, Lucrezia imitated hair styles. Only once her hair was ready would she finally decide on accessories. As the leading trendsetter of feminine fashion in Rome, courtesy of being the acknowledged daughter of the Pope, Lucrezia knew how important it was to look perfect.

“Have you decided, Donna?” ventured Crestina after some time.

Lucrezia bit her lower lip slightly, causing it to take on a darker shade of rose, in concentration. Slowly, she removed her hands from her hair. Lucrezia looked at Crestina and smiled. “Yes, yes, I have.”

Without speaking, the maid pulled out a chair for her lady to sit in as her hair was being done. Lucrezia sat down happily, staring into the mirror. She began to describe her vision while Crestina did as she was bid. Going through her jewels in her mind’s eye, she sought to see which pieces would suit her attire and hair style best. Anything that accompanied the colors rose and white came into mind especially. Watching Crestina’s fingers work swiftly, completing a braid here and there, Lucrezia’s thoughts soon wondered to her father’s news. The Sforzas were pressuring for her marriage to Giovanni Sforza. She imagined that she was being prepared for her wedding and all that would follow.

First, there would be the agonizingly solemn ceremony. This would certainly be the least enjoyable part of the whole affair. Lucrezia twitched slightly in her chair at the thought of having to be still throughout the whole ceremony.

Second, there would be the comfortably frivolous banquet. This would certainly be more enjoyable than the preceding ceremony. Lucrezia’s twitching ceased at the thought of all the dancing to be had throughout the whole banquet.

Third, there would be the agonizingly exciting bedding. Now this…this would certainly be the most enjoyable part of the whole affair. Lucrezia twitch returned at the thought of learning the secrets of womanhood all throughout the whole night.

“Donna?” Crestina called. “Are you pleased, Donna Lucrezia?”

Lucrezia blinked. The wedding festivities she was in the midst of vanished. In its place was the real world. She was alone, with the exception of Crestina, in her room at the Palazzo di Santa Maria in Portico. Taking a moment to realize her beautiful wedding was only a daydream, Lucrezia fought to quell the desolation that this realization brought.

“Yes, I’m pleased,” announced Lucrezia, admiring Crestina’s handiwork. The flaxen halo was woven elaborately with rose ribbons leading into a reta ornamented with seed pearls. “Very pleased,” Lucrezia iterated, her desolation all but forgotten. “And I know exactly which accessories I’m going to wear!”

Once they were described, Crestina scurried off to retrieve the pieces. Lucrezia admired her reflection in the meantime. She was enjoying her appearance more and more with each addition. With the accessories, she would be truly ready for the day.

“Donna, are these the ones you speak of?” Crestina asked, presenting the pieces to Lucrezia. Inspecting the necklace and the earrings of delicate pearls, she nodded. Crestina proceeded to adorn Lucrezia. Once she was done, the maid stood off to her lady’s side. Nothing obscured Lucrezia’s view of the mirror. Standing up, she appraised her whole appearance. Lucrezia positioned herself at every angle in front of the mirror.

Lucrezia smiled her approval at last. “It’s perfect, absolutely perfect.” This is how she should’ve appeared before the Pope.

“Thank you, Donna Lucrezia.” A crooked smile donned Crestina’s unfortunate face. “What would you like to do today?”
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Giulia Farnese

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PostSubject: Silks and Yarns   Tue Mar 15, 2011 12:29 pm

The sad lament of a Courtier could be heard someplace deep inside the castle’s thick walls, as Giulia Farnese sat on a chair by the fire with a small weaving loom she had made especially for her. Most people didn’t weave themselves anymore. That was what weavers were for, but Giulia still enjoyed the craft. She never made anything very big. Just small woven belts or a reticule now and then. Sometimes a hanging. Nothing major. It was just something for her to do when there was nothing else to do and on this day particular there was nothing to do.

No one had bothered to visit her with the expectation of the Courtier whom she was she was certain was lamenting over her. Was it her fault that she was mistress to a Pope and could not afford to be seen with anyone other than the Pope or her husband? No, twas not. She had to be very discreet and while she enjoyed spending time with Bartolo. Oh yes, she enjoyed spending time with him very much, she could not risk being seen. What if rumors started and those rumors reached Rodrigo’s ears? No, she would never allow that to happen. So she had sent poor Bartolo on his way. Besides, he was really Tessa’s lover and she would not deprive her maid of a true love.

She plucked gently at the yarn she had attached to her loom and leaned back to rub her sore eyes. The light was so poor when the sun went down and doing any kind of craft work was hard. No wonder why most of the night was spent idling away at parties thrown by the Pope or other important people.

Giulia placed the loom on the floor and picked up her small little dog, she kept nearby for company. The dog licked her face, making her giggle.

“Now then, we must look beautiful for dinner tonight, just in case Rodrigo shows up. And if you are good, I will bring you some scraps of meat back. Would you like that?” She asked the little white dog who yipped and tugged on her dress as she put him down.

“I have your new gown for you.” Tessa said suddenly walking into Giulia’s chambers with a elegantly made blue silk. Giulia smile and gently ran her hand down the silk.

“Oh it’s so beautiful.” She said. “Here, help me into it.” Tessa, gently turned her mistress around and undid her dress to put her into the new one.

“Did Bartolo treat you well last night?” She asked now tying Giulia’s hair up into a beautiful twist of braids and ribbons. Giulia smiled.

“He did. But really, Tessa, he must know that I cannot be seen with him all the time, or at all for that matter.”

“He knows My Lady. He was just taken with you. But then, why shouldn’t he be?” Tessa asked smiling sweetly at her mistress. “Especially if the Pope is.” Giulia laughed.

“Really Tessa, you are too kind. How do I look?” Giulia asked standing up, and smoothing down the new gown.

“Like a Queen.”

“Excellent. Tessa?”

“Yes Mistress?”

“Spend a little time with that boy tonight. Make him forget me. Here take these.” Giulia said handing Tessa a few coins. “Get him out of the castle for a little while and have fun.”

“Oh yes ma’am. Thank you Giulia.” Tessa said smiling at her as they both made their way down to the dining hall.
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Luisa Orsini

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PostSubject: Victory   Tue Mar 15, 2011 2:16 pm

Their hands touched, their eyes met once again. His hand was on her waist as he lifted her careful and Luisa pretended to be indifferent to everything, making him gaze more at her. She gave him a quick smile and then the pairs changed. But not for long.

Soon she was again in his arms.

“What is your name, my lady?” Afonso das Neves asked, in a fast whisper. Luisa made a turn, gave a step back and then one to the front and told him:
“I don’t think it’s wise to talk, my lord. I would lose my concentration, and step you.”

He laughed, and between another turn he said:
“I’m in disadvantage, my lady. You know my name for sure and I do not know yours. I think a hurt foot would be a low price to pay to know the name of my magnificent pair in this dance.”

For his surprise she did not blush. Instead she chuckled. As they separated once again, Luisa looked to the central table where Afonso’s wife was. Poor little thing, she had no clue what was between her and her new husband. Luisa had to admit she did not feel guilty at all to come between Afonso and Clarice de’ Medici. He was Cardinal Costa’s favorite nephew and protégé, so an enemy of her family, the Borgias.

Luisa was determinate to make this alliance between Afonso and the little de Medici to fail. It had been no secret how much effort the Cardinal had put in this alliance. He would fall in disgrace if this marriage did not work out. It was no secret that the de Medicis had let go the little princess Clarice with reluctance.

It would be beautiful if for some reason Clarice would be back to her family palace and her family would be feeling anger towards the Portuguese cardinal. Once again Portugal would make a poor figure of itself and the name of Spain and the Borgias would arise even more.

The dance moved on and she met again with him.
“I beg you my lady, I need to know your name.”
She made a petulant expression and asked in a sharp tone:
“Why, my lord? Isn’t the groom supposed to have only eyes to his wife?”

The venom was there and he got hit by it. He looked at Clarice and then back to Luisa. He seemed to measure both of them in a scale. Then he said:
“I already know my wife’s name. But I do not know yours.”
“There is a way to know my name, my lord. Tonight, come to the Palazzo di Orsini. There will be music, wine and a card game. I will tell you name then, my lord.”

The music was almost in the end, and they bow to each other.
“I will meet you tonight then.” Afonso assured her.

They both took different paths and Luisa smiled triumphantly to herself as she glanced one last time to Clarice. She had won.
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Clarice de' Medici

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PostSubject: Duty   Tue Mar 15, 2011 2:17 pm

The afternoon sun was bright, despite the rich canopies overhead, and as the Medici bride squinted across the busy courtyard, she thought that it was no longer her husband she saw dancing, but her own father. The tall, golden-haired woman was no longer some anonymous Orsini, but the famous Florentine beauty, Lucrezia Donati, and, just as in the Florence of her childhood, all eyes were upon her. She saw her mother’s cool expression as she watched them; her crisp eyes turned towards her daughter, and pronounced her silent judgement.

Clarice had seen her mother deal with her father’s mistresses; she recalled the distant look that her pale face would suddenly assume when La Donati came to their hereditary Palazzo. It was as though Lucrezia’s beauty was a mere spectre to her – she would waft through the room and her mother would not acknowledge her, not once raise her head from her needlework. If any of her children so much as mentioned her, she would gaze at them, perplexed. Madonna Donati? she would feign obliviousness, I do not know what brings her to visit us. If the children made the mistake of observing Madonna Donati again, Clarice Orsini would scold them sharply for not minding their own business.

But her youngest daughter recognised, by the strained look in her eyes, how difficult it was for her mother to overlook her husband’s most public mistake. But such was the lot of women whose marriages were born of mutual indifference, her mother explained; a sensible woman looks the other way, and bears her humiliation silently, when her husband chooses another. It is only an insensible woman who makes a fuss and shames herself, her husband, and her family. For, no matter what, he remains your husband, and you his wife, she explicated. At the end of the day, he will still come to your bed, no matter how much it might break your pride. You must never forget your duty. Whatever he is, whatever he does, he is still your husband, and you have sworn to love him and to be bound to him as long as you both live. If he desires another woman, that is between him and God and his conscience. If she accepts his advances, that is between her and her conscience. What you must never do is to make a fool of yourself by behaving anything less than what you are – a Medici bride.

Clarice turned her gaze back to the dance. The volta swirled around Afonso das Neves and the golden-haired woman. The bride watched wearily as, like dual tides, they parted and were re-united; as the groom easily spun her around, her cloth-of-gold skirts flying out behind her. She was like a ray of light, an artist’s creation of gold fibres and sunshine, amidst the dark silks and velvets of her fellow revellers. Clarice de’ Medici, in her stiff brocade gown, had never felt so upstaged.

The music ended mercifully soon, and the dancers made their bows and curtsies. She watched her husband’s gaze lingering on the Orsini girl as she melted back into the crowd, like an apparition.

He resumed his place on the table, but Clarice avoided his gaze. Absently, she felt Isabetta’s fingers trace over her own.

“Don’t you wish to dance?” her cousin asked, but Clarice shook her head.

“No,” she retorted petulantly. Her sulky expression blanked as she saw Clarice Orsini rise from her seat and approach them. “Sit up straight, my mother is coming.”

Her mother consulted the musicians, before walking purposefully towards her daughter and niece. “The next dance is for the Medici girls. Isabetta, you can dance too, if you feel up to it.”

“Of course, my lady Aunt.” Isabetta stood up promptly.

“Clarice? Stand up, child, and wipe that frown off your face. This is your own wedding. If I see you sulking like an indolent maid even once more, you’ll regret having such fine clothes on your back.”

At once, the bride was all smiles, and stood up, without even the quickest glance in her husband’s direction. Her sisters took her hands, and her brother Giuliano took Isabetta’s, and they were led to the floor. The minstrels picked up a slow pavane.

It was a stolid and stately tune, hardly one to inspire passion in the six young women as they turned on their heels, taking measured, rhythmic steps. Clarice watched Isabetta carefully – it was only she who danced as though the music moved her, her eyes closed, her feet light and her turns graceful. Clarice felt awkward and heavy, encumbered by her beaded train; but she remembered her mother’s words and managed, barely, to maintain a pale smile. And not once did she search the crowd for a glimpse of the fair-haired creature who had commanded her husband’s attention.
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Afonso das Neves
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PostSubject: Curiosity   Wed Mar 16, 2011 2:11 am

After the dance Afonso sat again by the table. His wife was not there, she was sat by the point of the table, talking with another lady.

“Isabetta Orsini.” His uncle said, guessing to where Afonso’s eyes were. “She is blind and a very good friend of your wife.” Afonso nodded in confirmation, letting a servant serving his glass with more wine.

Soon Clarice was rounded by young women, his sisters, like the Cardinal had informed and then they were all dancing the pavane together. He watched his wife’s movements and not once she looked at him, so concentrated she was on the steps. Somehow it seemed her movements were limited and he wondered what happened to the energetic child he saw two years ago.

“I should go dance with her.” Afonso said to his uncle, in Portuguese. “I don’t understand why she refused to dance with me early.” He complained.
“Leave her alone. Besides I would not be surprised if she would not accept your request to dance now.”
“How come uncle? She can’t excuse herself she is indispose or tired. She is dancing now!”

“Moments ago you were dancing the Volta with a lady. Those gazes were not very discrete Afonso. We need to work on that. You are just like your father, when you see something you like, your eyes look hungry. “ Cardinal Costa was not please and that was obvious. Otherwise he would not mention his brother in law whom he hated above all. Only Rodrigo Borgia was above this hate. “Who is she anyway? For sure you can’t compare her to your new Medici wife.”

“That is exactly what I was trying to learn, uncle. I do not know her identity. I was just curious.”
His mind went to the lady’s invitation. Afonso was already planning using the sack of coins his uncle had gave him tonight. He would drink, he would dance, and he would win on the card’s table. He would surprise the mysterious lady and she would reveal her identity to him. His lips smiled with that perspective, already tasting the victory.

Afonso’s eyes searched in the crowd for his dance pair but there was no sign of her.
“A curiosidade matou o gato.*” Costa recited. “You should be careful Afonso. You are still new in Rome and there is a lot you will need to learn.”

“Relax uncle. It’s not as if she is some Borgia spy and is here to hurt me. She’s just a woman.” Afonso, told, finishing his drink with a laugh. Moreover why would someone spy on him? For a moment he froze thinking on the game debts he owed. Tensed he looked at his wife dancing. She had the money, she could help him.

More relaxed he kept the conversation with his uncle, like always the Cardinal trying to put some wisdom into his nephew’s head, reminding him he was married man and what were his duties from now on. Afonso only half listened to him. He just could think about the night that awaited him at the Palazzo Di Orsini.

*Curiosity killed the cat.
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Ascanio Sforza

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PostSubject: Il Volpone   Wed Mar 16, 2011 4:01 am

Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere smiled, sipped at his wine, and watched through one sharp, black eye the movements of his nearest and dearest enemy. Cardinal Sforza, it so happened, had taken the seat next to him amongst many others on this long banquet table, proceeding to engage him in polite conversation and finely-veiled threats. The Genoese Cardinal was well-inclined to mistrust his Milanese colleague, whom he often referred to as il Volpone, ‘the Fox’. He had been accustomed to ruling the Vatican during the reign of Cardinal Cibo as Pope Innocent VIII – he might easily have called himself Pontifex were it not for the machinations of the man sitting next to him, blandly watching the pavane as though no worldly matters interested him except for these delicate, dancing ladies.

Della Rovere, in the days preceding that ill-fated conclave of 1492, had been so certain of his impending victory that he had even chosen his Papal name, Julius II – a touch of vanity perhaps, for his own given name was Giuliano. But he had lost to the elegant, Pavian-born Ascanio Sforza, and it had been that feckless sprig of a Spaniard, Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, who ascended the papal throne as Alexander. There were no doubts as to the significance of the choice of name – he had conquered the Vatican as swiftly and unexpectedly as that Greek king of antiquity – only jealous old prigs like della Rovere hoped that his star would burn out just as fast.

There had been no doubts that Sforza was to be the man behind the new Pope, just as he had been behind the old one. Everyone had considered Rodrigo Borgia to be too luxuriant and profligate to take a mind to the serious business of being the Pontiff, and had judged the sly, ambitious and much too young Cardinal Sforza to be the puppet-master. As far as della Rovere knew, he might still have been tugging the invisible strings in the Apostolic Palace, but nobody was certain what might come of him next. That he would someday be Pope was almost unanimously undoubted – it had been only his age, just shy of thirty-five years, that had prevented him from gaining office himself at the last conclave. The inevitability of a Sforza pope deeply disturbed Cardinal della Rovere.

The dance was not a particularly spirited one, but the crowd seemed well-pleased by the young bride, and raised an impolite clamour. The music changed at a prompt from a male relative, and the women paused to reassess their steps. The bride looked around her nervously for a cue, but the girl to her left stepped forward with assurance, and began a vigorous Moresca.

Sforza laughed, and clapped at the dancing women – all young ladies of the Medici clan, save for one. Della Rovere scowled at this behaviour from a cardinal in his choir robes. The dark-haired girl who had led the Moresca turned at the direction of the cardinal’s laughter. There was one, fatal glance from her pale eyes.

“Who is she?” asked Sforza, watching the other girls fall into step behind her.

Della Rovere arched his brow. “She is Orsini’s only daughter. She was raised in seclusion in Florence. She has...a curious infirmity.”

Sforza chuckled. “She does not look infirm to me.”

The Genoese cardinal narrowed his eyes. If Isabetta Orsini had been a dish, then il Volpone would have licked the plate.

“She was born without sight.”

“That cannot be. She looked straight at me.”

“Refreshing to see the Vice Chancellor of the Church behaving like a boy of thirteen,” Della Rovere muttered. Each to his own, he thought. If Sforza chose to expend his valuable energy chasing unobtainable, well-born virgins, so be it.

As it happened, della Rovere had no concept of what bizarre thoughts actually swirled through Ascanio Sforza’s mind as he watched the Orsini girl dance.

He, himself, was not entirely certain.

He knew himself well enough to know he had a peculiar weakness for a challenge. The Orsini girl presented a rare opportunity to bruise the pride of her arrogant father, and teach his faction a lesson.

“Is she under contract?” he asked, without removing his gaze from her.

Della Rovere emitted a forbearing sigh. “She was betrothed of late to a Strozzi, but that fell apart along with the Medici’s fortunes in Florence.”

No doubt new suitors were being lined up as they spoke, thought Ascanio, smiling to himself. He ignored his rival’s suspicious gaze.

He needed a decoy, lest della Rovere suspected his true intentions. “I pity the poor girl. I will speak with her father. I am certain we can find an appropriate match for her.”

Della Rovere made as bitter a face as though he’d found poison in his cup. “I hope you’re not thinking of a Borgia marriage.”

“Why not? Is it not time we let bygones be bygones, old friend?”

“Not when we two are concerned,” muttered the older cardinal.

Ascanio gave a sprightly smile, and rose from his seat. “I trust you’ll have no difficulty in excusing me for a few moments.”

Giuliano della Rovere watched him disappear amongst the rows of heads, and wondered what new plot il Volpone had hatched.
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Bartolomeo Rossi

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PostSubject: In the Duchess' Chambers   Wed Mar 16, 2011 2:00 pm

The Duchess’ chambers were empty. Bartolomeo smiled. Perfect.

“Shouldn’t you be at the stables?”

The valet looked to the corner of the room, surprised. Bona, the maid, was adjusting her lady’s belongings on a small table. The precious flasks of perfumes, the brushes, the powders, the hair pins. Her hands moved with delicacy, trying to set the objects in the perfect tidy way the Duchess liked, and demanded.

There was no chance for the valet to search his lady’s chambers now for secrets drawers and possible hideouts. He knew some ladies had those filled with antidotes and other types of medicines, sometimes even poisons, so they could defend themselves against possible threats. He needed to know what the Duchess was hiding.

But Bona was looking at him with her dark inquisitive eyes, trying to figure Bartolomeo out.

“I am already done with the stables. I came to ask if you need help,” he lied. The valet did not see the maid’s face light up, nor her shy smile.

“Thank you for your concern, Bartolomeo, but I don’t need anything. Don’t you have anything else to do? Maybe you should brush the horses again. You know how greatly the Duchess values them.”

“The horses are fine, Bona,” he told her, with a slight tone of irritation in his voice that passed by the maid, unnoticed. She kept doing her work and he took the opportunity to look around the room, studying the texture of the walls, the windows and the heavy curtains.”Where is the Duchess?” he asked Bona.

“She had been summoned to talk to her relatives,” the maid informed him.

Bartolomeo could picture the Duchess surrounded by those wolves and serpents. Those Borgias were nothing but vile animals who liked to gorge themselves on their enemies’ corpses. The Duchess was a Borgia herself, but sometimes it was hard for the valet to make that connection. She would be always Duke Gian Galeazzo’s widow, someone he felt obligated to keep an eye and protect if he had to. It had been hard to send Cesare away the other day, but Bartolomeo had succeeded. He came to spy as well. The valet knew it and he should be alert.

“My sister recently got married you know? She was very happy. My parents now are insisting on me to find a husband as well. They say they would feel better if they knew there would be someone to take care of me, a good man.” Bona started to talk, but Bartolomeo didn’t give him any kind of attention. There was something that caught his eyes, a golden chandelier. His fingers passed by the cold metal, trying to evaluate the value of the piece.

“Do you consider yourself a good man Bartolomeo?” His name called him back to the reality, and he stepped back from the chandelier.

“I’m sorry Bona, what did you say? I was distracted.”

But it was too late; the maid realized how he had been ignoring her. She stood up, and with an authoritarian tone, a perfect imitation of the Duchess herself, told him to leave the chambers and go busy himself with his other duties.

He could have refused to vacate the room; he could have used force. Instead he obeyed the little maid, wondering when he would have the chance to spy the Duchess’ chamber again, but this time alone.
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Chapter II
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