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 Chapter I

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Cecilia Gallerani
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PostSubject: Chapter I   Sat Mar 05, 2011 4:19 pm

1494



Now we are in the power of a wolf, the most rapacious perhaps that this world has ever seen. And if we do not flee, he will inevitably devour us all.

Giovanni di Lorenzo de Medici



Last edited by Cecilia Gallerani on Sun Mar 27, 2011 7:32 am; edited 5 times in total
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PostSubject: The Blue Serpent of the House of Sforza    Sat Mar 05, 2011 4:21 pm


The Papal States, November 4, 1494

A litter caparisoned in black velvet sped on through the night, its bearers knowing little rest or respite, escorted by four mounted men-at-arms in the dark livery of the House of Visconti-Sforza. The road to Rome was long, and they travelled in near-secrecy, by the draping shadows of dusk, or under the cover of night. The lady within endured the jolts with lapsing patience, and laid a dark-gloved hand upon the imperceptible rise of her belly, within which all her hopes for the future rested.

Four years before, Cecilia Gallerani had come to Milan as a victorious young bride; she was fleeing it now as a widow at nineteen.

What had gone wrong in the interim? She had been raised out of obscurity by a marriage so far out of her reach that she had been sick with happiness for many weeks. She, daughter of a provincial Siennese official, whose estates yielded nothing but sour wine and skinny rabbits, had come to Milan burning with a feverous ambition: she had come to be the Duchess of the second most influential state in Italy, and marry into the singularly most ambitious family known the history of the Italian states.

Against the inky darkness of the velvet drapes, she could make out the embroidered emblem of the Duchy of Milan – a monstrous blue serpent devouring a child. This tugged a small, bitter smile from her; Ludovico Sforza had finally devoured every rival heir that stood between him and the Dukedom – all, except for this little seedling that grew within her. Il Moro had murdered her husband and her father-in-law, and, she suspected, had some hand to play in the stillbirth she had delivered two years before, but this one would be born in Rome, under the shadow of the Borgias.

She knew that her uncle-in-law’s agents could overtake the slow-moving litter easily at any point on its eleven days journey to Rome, that black-cloaked assassins could set upon her with jewelled stilettos, that her life was forfeit along with her child’s as long as she was within Ludovico Sforza’s reach. She thought of his Sforza face, with its heavy-lidded eyes and its waxen composure, and his self-satisfied smile. She thought of his wife, the formidable Beatrice d’Este, whose pretty brown head would soon be wearing the coronet of the Duchess of Milan. She indulged herself in a brief folly of crushing Beatrice’s delicate limbs, of taking those hands which had received so many compliments and burying them under heavy stones. She fancied she could snap that much-envied white neck with the merest exertion. Unlike the heavy Sforzas, the Estes were a grave, delicate family, with little white faces and small, pursed lips. She smiled – it was a wonder that a man such as Ludovico Sforza had not crushed her on their wedding night.

Her sleeping maid murmured in her sleep, and shifted in the seat opposite her. She, Cecilia, watched the countryside outside abstractly, her mind forming monstrous figures out of the dappled shadows among the hedges and low scrubs, seeking out hidden assassins from between the rows of distant poplars. She felt a sharp pain in her side as she leaned back.

She recalled that it had been nearly a full month since that night when she had swept aside the door to her husband’s chambers and found him sprawled naked on the sheets, a thick, reddish foam around his mouth. His whore had died first, alerting him to the imminent danger, but it had been too late. The poisoned powder that the courtesan had used was untraceable – nobody was certain how she had procured it. Cecilia had no doubts, however, about which venomous serpent had slipped it into the drawer of her vanity table. Neither did she harbour any doubt as to who was Ludovico il Moro’s next priority.

As soon as the court physician declared that he had seen manifest signs of poison, she had begun to plot her flight from Milan, with the assistance of those men-at-arms who were most easily bought, and only the help of the dullest and most impressionable maid in her service.

Slowly, the footsteps of the litter bearers lulled her back to a light sleep. Even with her eyes closed, she could see the devouring Visconti-Sforza serpent, with a newborn infant in its fanged jaws.
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Ascanio Sforza

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PostSubject: The Duchess of Milan   Sat Mar 05, 2011 4:23 pm

Rome, November 16, 1494
It was evening as the cardinal emerged from Rodrigo Borgia’s grand palazzo, the spacious harem he kept for the benefit of his slew of illegitimate offspring. Nestled in between them was the beautiful Giulia Farnese, a cuckoo in the Pope’s idyllic nest. The girl was tireless, he thought – she had been Borgia’s mistress for years and showed no signs of disillusionment.

Complacence was a desirable quality in a mistress.

The Pope’s daughter, however, seemed more than ready to fledge. He had seen that look in the eyes of other young women who were desirous to escape the confines of the family home, to marry and be free.

He had been about to mount his horse to head back to the Apostolic Palace when a dark shape rounded the corner and drew up beside the palazzo. It was a litter swathed in funereal velvet; the footmen who bore it wore dark livery also, but even in the dim night, Ascanio could pick out the crest embroidered on their doublets. The serpent of Visconti-Sforza.

The woman who dismounted the litter moments later was resplendent in dark velvet. With the assistance of half a dozen footmen, she cut through the night like a dark breeze. A fine gauze of a veil draped and flowed like water over her pale face. He knew that face was not quite beautiful, but all the same he had a sudden, pressing longing to see it again.

The veil came off. She had a stark, deadly look on her face that he had seen before. It was a peculiarly Lombard expression, quite unique to its pale, battle-hardened women. It was a Visconti face, a Gonzaga face. In her four years as Duchess of Milan, she had acquired the lacquered sleekness of certain pampered, expensive cats. And yet that sensual red mouth had remained the same, since she had first arrived in Milan as a bride of fifteen. It reminded him that she was, and always would be, a Borgia woman.

“A fine evening to be arriving in Rome, my darling niece,” spoke the Cardinal. He had always addressed his nephew’s wife thus; though she had never called him Uncle in return.

Those dark eyes regarded him fatally. “Your Eminence,” she dropped a curtsey that swept her straight down, like a lodestone.

He held his breath.“How was the trip?”

“Tiring,” she replied flatly. As she moved forward, the velvet of her robe swished open, and he saw the slight protuberance of her belly under the brocades. He thought of her child’s father, that callow nephew of his, and reflected that it was a shame that she had not gained a better Duke of Milan for a husband. A woman of her qualities was wasted on a vain boy – a fact which, if Ascanio heeded the rumours circling around, had not passed unnoticed by Ludovico Sforza.

“How does your child?”

Her hand moved to her belly. “Kicking, I believe.”

“Not too uncomfortable, I hope.”

“I daresay I’ll be far less comfortable once the thing is out of me,” she replied swiftly. He did not quite know how to read that remark. Pregnancy had made her already cryptic moods quite impossible to pin down.

He fingered his ring of office gingerly. “You should know that you will never be uncomfortable as long as the Sforza name lives on. You are the mother of the next Duke; you will always be provided for.”

She gazed into the night tartly. “Lest the child be born a girl, or dead. Then I am nothing and no-one again.”

He was growing impatient with her refusal to accept his benevolence now. “You are quite correct on that point. So take a care, and do not disappoint.” He laughed dryly. “You’ve seen what the Sforzas do to those who make that mistake.”

She seemed to hesitate, and he knew the thoughts that crossed her mind in that instant.

“Would that God could spare the world of a cardinal such as you,” she said.

“And would that he’d spare us of a widow such as you,” he replied smoothly. “Duchess.”
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Clarice de' Medici

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PostSubject: The Medici Bride   Sat Mar 05, 2011 4:26 pm

Clarice de' Medici’s cool blue gaze was pinned to the stuccoed wall opposite her as her maid laced her into her gold brocade gown. Her mother stood at the casement, gazing through the open window at the street below. She had not been an avid supporter of this marriage, but she was forced by her inexhaustible sense of propriety to encourage her son’s wishes. The groom was too foreign and too obscure to present a good match for a daughter of Lorenzo il Magnifico.

She turned, her eyes settling on her beautiful niece, Isabetta Orsini, as she idly strummed her lute in a plain little chair in the corner. Isabetta had been very richly dressed for the occasion; far grander than the simple day dresses she ordinarily inhabited. Her eyes stared into the distance aloofly as she plucked the strings with practised deftness.

The older woman’s stony Orsini face watched her daughter as the blue cioppa was pulled over her head. The embroidered sleeves of the giornea were heavy with gold bullion work and encrusted with tiny seed pearls (which had placed a sizeable dint in her dowry); she could barely lift her arms, much less dance. She was as stately as a little padded dressmaker’s doll, sewn up for some sumptuous occasion to play the role of a Duchess. The gown’s long train weighed her light frame down, and she wondered how those narrow shoulders could carry the weight of all that gold brocade and embroidery.

The girl’s fine hair was brushed and left loose over her back, unadorned except for a garland of orange blossoms and rosemary. The maid stepped back and curtsied, and the young bride rotated slightly on the balls of her beaded slippers. The mirror caught the glint of her jewel-encrusted sleeves, of the rich silk threads of her overgown, and something of the pale fear in her eyes. Her hair was fine and almost indistinct against her brocaded shoulders. Her small, exquisite face seemed overwhelmed amidst all the finery.

Clarice Orsini smiled proudly. “You’ll be so much more beautiful than he bargained for.”

Her daughter gazed back at her weakly.

“But don’t forget to smile.”

The bride obeyed, but her eyes remained downcast, as though they were avoiding her reflection. She was innocent, but not naive; she knew what awaited her that evening, after she had been publicly tucked in beside her new husband. She had been instructed on the ways of the world, on matters concerning what takes place between men and women in their bridal chambers. And she had not been shocked or dismayed to learn what she had to do; she had simply taken it in that strange resolve of hers, that quiet strength that reminded her of Lorenzo de’ Medici more than anything else.

“I so want to know what you look like,” Isabetta spoke, her long fingers stilling the strings of the lute. “If I had only one wish, I’d wish to see only for today. Just for the wedding.”

Clarice Orsini smiled at her niece and kissed the crown of her dark head. “Sweet girl. I know you will be betrothed again, and very soon. Don’t mourn your fortune, for you are an only daughter, and an heiress. You are a prize for any man.”

Isabetta bit her lip slightly, and stroked the smooth contours of her instrument. “Clarice? You haven’t said a word since we came.”

The young bride was gazing intently at her reflection. She tilted her head slightly. “I have nothing to say.” She felt like a stranger, like a courtier dressed up for a masquerade. She was only wanting in the mask, a grotesque, gilded thing to hide the stoic pallor of her face.
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Afonso das Neves
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PostSubject: The Portuguese Groom    Sat Mar 05, 2011 4:29 pm


“We can still cut it, your Eminence,” the barber said to Cardinal Costa, referring to the groom’s hair.
Afonso was seated on a chair, trying to ignore the Cardinal’s disapproval look. He had only arrived today in Rome, on his wedding day, ignoring all his uncle’s warning that preparations should be made before he married Clarice de’ Medici. Afonso tried to contest his uncle saying it was a miracle he was still alive after that storm that took down three caravels of the Portuguese squad.

“We don’t have time for that. He needs to be in the church immediately.” Then he turned himself to Afonso and ordered in a harsh tone. “Finish dressing yourself!”

Afonso hurried himself, his mind still far away on his adventures at the high sea. He could not believe today was the day everything would end. But then again it could be a start of something new. His future wife’s dowry was waiting for him, and once he consummated the marriage, he would have access to a small fortune, something he could use on his own behalf to increase his profits at the games tables.

The groom’s clothes were rich and opulent picked by his uncle. Afonso looked at himself in the mirror, forgetting to remove the earring that rested in his ear. He was so used to wearing that small ornament at high sea, that he did not even think how improper it was to use it on his wedding day.

The Cardinal admired Afonso’s clothes, which he had picked himself, and they went to the church, where most of the guests were already gathered.

The Portuguese nobleman wasn’t nervous, or excited. This was nothing compared to his time at the sea.

“I hope you haven’t forgotten your vows and all the procedures,” Costa muttered. Afonso assured him he knew what he was supposed to do. The Cardinal had explained him everything in a rush; in Afonso’s opinion, he must have been even more nervous than the bride, Clarice.

As he waited by the aisle, ignoring the whispers and the eyes of the Medicis and other illustrious guests, which included the one and only Cardinal Sforza, Afonso hoped that his future wife would be pretty and interesting. He prayed God for the strength to survive this day, and then he even glanced at the pagan figures of the church, asking them for help as well.

Finally the time had come and Clarice de’ Medici started to walk down the aisle. The first thing that came to Afonso’s mind was how luxurious her dress was and what he would do once he got his hands on the young’s bride dowry. Poisoned by his gambling addiction and the fortune he would win on the game, the Portuguese sailor smiled, blessing this glorious day.
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Clarice de' Medici

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PostSubject: To the Altar   Sat Mar 05, 2011 4:33 pm

The young bride rode to the Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere mounted on a milky white gelding, in a procession of her closest relatives who had traversed Rome’s uneven cobbles all the way from the Palazzo di Orsini. The bells in the Basilica’s campanile were still and silent as her eldest brother, Piero, took her hand as she dismounted before the church’s narrow portico. Five humble arches stood before her, laid in place by stonemasons of the Duecento, behind which a narrow door opened into the church’s nave. It was hardly the grandest Basilica in Rome, but it was one of the oldest, as the eclecticism of its architecture suggested.

Clarice de’ Medici was led inside, into the nave crowded with Medicis and Orsinis, their faces both encouraging and curious, sceptical and mocking. The columns arrayed along the sides of the nave were ancient, raided from some antique monument. She noticed the leering figures that decorated their ornate capitals: satyrs and nymphs in debauches filled with grapes and vine leaves gazed down at her as she moved in slow, processional steps down the aisle, her hand on her brother’s proffered arm. She felt like a statue of Santa Maria being led through a feast day parade, rigid and wooden, with a cool, aloof little smile on her lips. She raised her gaze tentatively to the altar where Cardinal Costa stood with his nephew, her husband-to-be.

She felt a sudden pang of trepidation, a feeling entirely unlike her.

She thought at once of the little miniature set in a gold locket that Cardinal Costa had presented her with at the betrothal ceremony, where she had been pledged to her future husband by proxy, receiving the ceremonial gifts from his uncle. It had showed a dark haired man, with a slightly quizzical gaze; she had critiqued the tiny portrait at length, found exactly which qualities pleased her and gave her hope of liking him, and doing her best to ignore those that didn’t. But a few deft brushstrokes on a little piece of ivory could hardly do justice to a man’s appearance as he stood at the altar and gazed openly, with no shame, at his approaching bride. She began to wish that he would not stare so, for his gaze unsettled her; she resolved to keep her eyes lowered for the remainder of the ceremony, to avoid the embarrassment of locking gazes with him.

Still, she noted that he was not as grandly dressed as a groom should be at his own wedding, and it only made her own overwrought grandeur seem even more excessive. His hair was barbarically long, even unkempt, and his skin was deeply tanned. He looked outrageously foreign amidst the well-groomed and fashionable men of Rome.

Through her fair lashes, she saw the faces of the guests, all her kinsfolk, the Tornabuoni, the Medici, the Orsinis. She felt oddly detached and out of step with the minstrels’ tune, and Piero’s pace was a little too much on the ceremonial side. She scanned the faces of the crowd, wishing she could catch a glimpse of her father’s dark, serious gaze somewhere amongst the pale, limpid ocean of blue and grey ones. She wished it had been he, and not her good-for-nothing brother, to whose arm she was now clinging.

It was impossible to judge by those intent faces on whether it was appropriate to smile or be solemn; in the back of her mind, she heard her mother’s caution to be neither too gay nor too sombre, so she tried to smile as gently as she could, emulating the virginal half-smile of a painted Madonna, while keeping her eyes downcast. She hoped this would appear virtuous enough, and that she would be spared her mother’s words afterwards for seeming immodest.

The daughter of Lorenzo stepped up to the altar and kneeled on the gold cushions. Her eyes were still lowered, and nothing of husband but the edge of his knee as he knelt beside her.
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Catarina de' Medici

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PostSubject: A Sister with a Purpose   Sun Mar 06, 2011 3:48 am

Catarina rolled her eyes in a most un lady like manner, as she watched her half sister kneel at the altar. Her sister took a nervous step before she knelt down and Catarina was certain that her sister was nervous. It wasn’t like Clarice was approaching a battle or something. It was marriage Catarina herself wasn’t nervous about getting married. In fact she didn’t think she ever would. Unless of course it was someone she wanted to married. She certainly wasn’t going to let her family tell her who to marry. No, she didn’t even consider them her family.Her family was her late father.

At the thought of her dead father, Catarina felt tears sting at the corner of her eyes. She dashed them away and leaned up against the wall. She did not notice a figure approach her.

“Tears on your sister’s wedding?”

“She isn’t my sister.” Catarina snapped turning to face one of her few friends. Cardinal Perio shook his head. He had not wanted to be a Cardinal, however, his father and his father’s father had all been in the church and as a result. Perio had been forced into the church as well.

“She is your half sister by blood.” He said in his soft spoken manner.

“She may be my half sister by blood, but that does not make me her sister.” Catarina responded softly.

“I have a letter for you.” Perio finally said taking a piece of parchment out of his sleeves.

“From---“ Catarina was about to say the Pope, but Perio held hi his two fingers and nodded his head. She wasn’t supposed to have letters from the Pope, and apparently the Pope himself did not want anyone to know he was writing to a Medici. Not that it mattered. He could just have her killed if anyone found out. Or say he didn’t write to her. This was something that she could see him doing.

“Do not read it here.” Perio warned and Catarina sighed, and then rolled her eyes again. “You will never get a husband if you keep rolling those eyes.

“Apparently I caught you by rolling my eyes.” Catarina giggled, referring to an ongoing affair she currently had with him and playfully nudged him. Perio glared at her. “Alright, alright, Mr. Serious.” She said still giggling but trying not to.

“ I will see you tonight?”

“After the dance. Unless of course you care to join us.”

“I may take you up on that offer.” Perio said then, bowed behind the door leaving Catarina alone to watch her sister’s wedding while pretending to not be a part of the family she so despised.
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Afonso das Neves
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PostSubject: Cla-ri-ce   Sun Mar 06, 2011 3:55 am

The better definition for Clarice de’ Medici right now was the one of a frightened rabbit. Every time Afonso tried to look her in the eyes, she would put her head down. He could not tell if this was a sign of respect or fear.

They were sat together at the main banquet table, now husband and wife. The food was delicious, and Afonso’s appetite grew as the dishes came. At the sea such elaborated dishes did not exist and so he had developed a hunger for real food since he had set his feet on Rome.

Cardinal Costa, who was seated at the other side of Afonso, gave him a suggestive look, telling his nephew with the eyes he should talk with his new wife. So instead of focusing on the food, Afonso turned himself to Clarice and smiled with delicacy.

She did not smile back; instead she looked down to her plate.
“You are much more beautiful here, than in the portrait they sent me.” He lied. He had left the locket with her portrait at Costa’s residence two years ago and he had never opened it once. However he had seen her before, that day at the balcony. That vision was hard to forget and although it may have seemed impossible, she really looked more beautiful now. If only she would raise her head so he could look at her properly. ..

“Thank you my lord.”
“No, not my lord. We are married now.”
“Thank you…husband.” She tried. Afonso could not avoid laughing.

Husband was such a strong word and he remembered he once made a bet with a friend during his teenage times that he would never have a woman calling him husband. ‘The sea will be my only spouse’ he told with confidence. How such a dreamy child he had been!

“Please call me Afonso.” He told, his hand touching hers. The contrast between both skins was enormous. She had such a fair complexion and he on the other hand had a very tanned skin due to the exposition to the sun. Also her hand was very small and delicate and it seemed to fit well in his.
“Afonso.” She said, and he laughed once again, teasing her accent. She removed her hand, probably offended.
“A-fon-so.” He tried but she did not answer. “I hope I can make you happy Clarice.” He muttered with a sigh.

“It’s Clarice. Cla-ri-ce.” He gazed at her surprised not really sure if he had heard her well. She had corrected him, teased him as well. That did not offend him. In fact it amused Afonso. He was about to reply but he noticed his wife had turned her attention to her brother, who was sat next to her.

Afonso’s attention then turned to other guests and to the food. Music had started, and right away his foot was tapping on the ground, with the rhythm. Then he saw her. Slim and tall, she was the best dancer in the crowd. Afonso got trapped in her dance, in the way her body moved, with such ease. It seemed the music and her were one single element. Finally their eyes met. She gave him a smile and made a short bow with her head and kept dancing.

Afonso picked up his glass and drink all the wine there was inside in a row. He did not notice that this time his new wife was looking at him, her head fully up.
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Cecilia Gallerani
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PostSubject: My Last Duchess   Sun Mar 06, 2011 3:57 am

Cecilia Gallerani awoke to a clear morning, with the sun falling upon her face. It was so bright that she couldn’t quite make out the details of the room around her – the plastered walls swam in tints of white and gold. The geometry of the ceiling coffers seemed to melt and warp before her eyes, and she had the curious sensation that the bedchamber stretched out for leagues in every direction.

She attempted to sit up, but was prevented by a strange weight pressing down the length of her body. She struggled against it, but it was of no use – she was trapped.

A cold, dead arm across flopped across her breast, and she turned her head with dread. Beside her lay a white body with limbs splayed, a mouth choked with bloody foam, and eyes that were cloudy and stared right through her.

Cecilia’s husband moved his head. Behind the white film of death, his eyes were still blue. They turned to her, glimmering with sudden recognition. You were my last duchess, he said.

Not your first, she added. She could not resist reaching a hand to touch his bare, white chest. His skin was still warm. There was Isabella of Aragon before me.

She was a sickly, Sicilian thing. I had no desire for her. He turned aside the bedcovers, and slid between them. She was a cold princess – there was no fire in her.

He was more beautiful than she remembered, with his cool Sforza composure, his grave Sforza face, his heavy Sforza jaw and his sultry Sforza mouth. Mirrored in his face were those of his uncles, each with their dark, curling hair and blue eyes. She wasn't sure which of them she was looking at anymore: Gian Galeazzo, Ludovico, or Ascanio. She gasped as he moved between her legs. You left me here, she said, tears filling her eyes. You left me alone, with nobody to protect me and our child...

No, he sighed, rising above her. I have never left you. You were my last duchess, and I will take you with me to my grave...

She awoke in a room in the Palazzo di Santa Maria in Portico, with broad windows overlooking a sunny, private garden, trellices of delicate stone tracery protecting the interior from the unwelcome gazes of prying outsiders. She was lying in a vast bed dressed in fine linen, with a silver dish of quartered Valencia oranges placed on the sidetable. Painted cherubs with round limbs and plump little fingers jeered at her from between the clouds that adorned the ceiling. For a moment as she puzzled to make sense of their fat, hostile faces, she wondered if she was still dreaming.

A wave of nausea swept through her, and with inhuman haste she leaned over the edge of the bed and vomited into the chamber pot.

“Duchessa!” Bona, her small-minded Milanese maid, was upon her in a moment, holding a towel and a washbasin. She helped Cecilia lie back, and wiped her damp brow with the washcloth. “Your family have been asking about you. You slept most of the day away. I had to stop the Cardinal Borgia from entering your chamber.”

“Cesare was here? Why did you not wake me, stupid girl!”

“You seemed very weary, Donna...” The maid hesitated slightly. “You were talking in your sleep.”

“What was I saying?” Cecilia asked swiftly.

Bona seemed reluctant to say. “It was nothing, Madonna. Just the nonsense we speak when we dream. You were speaking about a serpent, and saying the Duke’s name.”

“Gian Galeazzo?”

“No, Duchessa. The new Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza.”

This gave Cecilia pause. She thought of Ludovico in Milan, plotting her demise. She thought of his hard, condottieri hands around her little blue neck. “You must stop calling me Duchessa. Beatrice d’Este is Duchess now. I am only Madonna Cecilia. I have nothing left to my name.”

“You still have the child...” Bona ventured her hand to the swell of her mistress’ belly. “He will one day be Duke.”

“If he is born a boy. And if Ludovico doesn’t poison him in my womb.”

Bona smiled. “He is a boy. Boys make you sick in the mornings, and look how high you’re carrying him.”

She was right, Cecilia thought. Her belly was huge; much larger than she’d expected for her fourth month of pregnancy. She felt as ungainly as the huge Carnevale floats that were manoeuvred through the streets of Milan on the parade of Martedí Grasso each year, the poor mules straining against their harnesses to drag it up the slopes. Once, a float had come loose, and had raced down the hill, the players enacting the Nativity upon it clutching onto their costumes and their dear lives.

“All I want in the world is to deliver this child,” she said wearily. “And for Ludovico Sforza to choke on his own poison.”

As she spoke, the world seemed to shrink around her – it was like the edges of the map of Marco Polo were pulled back, the waters of the oceans drained. Milan, the Papal States, and Naples all fitted neatly into this spacious bedchamber, only a few steps away. She could not help but feel that the fate of Italy rested on the tiny, fragile life that quickened in her womb.
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Isabetta Orsini

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PostSubject: An Unfortunate Affliction   Sun Mar 13, 2011 5:33 am

Today is the wedding of my cousin. Clarice de’ Medici, whose mother is an Orsini like myself, is now the wife of Afonso das Neves, an obscure Portuguese nobleman. Despite the bridegroom’s noted obscurity, the wedding is lavish beyond reason. He has married a Medici after all. Whereas weddings are usually held in apartments, this one is not. It’s held in one of the oldest churches. The setting, Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere, is only the beginning. Even with my lack of clarity in sight, I know all the intimate details that had gone into the wedding of the daughter of Lorenzo il Magnifico. I know that the bride wears blue and gold accented with pearls. I know that the bride wears a garland of orange blossoms and rosemary upon her loose, auburn locks. I know all of this but it’s not what I see.

Because of my affliction, I live in neither complete lightness nor complete darkness. It’s most peculiar. Instead of distinction, my world consists of similarity. Colours and shapes blur together, perhaps creating colours and shapes others, who don’t have my affliction, don’t see. Perhaps… I don’t know what they see. I only know what I see. I see that the bride wears the darkest of turquoise, not the lightest of sea-foam. I see the bride wears the most tarnished of gold, not the most polished of gold. I see not the tiniest of seed pearls the bride wears for they’re too tiny. I see that the bride wears a garland of so pure of white and blue that they blur as one upon the darkest of burgundy, not the lightest of auburn.

It’s a most peculiar affliction indeed.

Today is the wedding of my cousin who is two years my junior. Even though she has married an obscure nobleman, I’m jealous. She has all I’ve wanted since I passed from girlhood to womanhood: a husband. A husband, I sigh. I turned thirteen, the common age for noblewomen to be married, four years ago. For years, my father has struggled to arrange any betrothal for me because of my unfortunate affliction. Most men don’t want a blind wife even if she’s an Orsini heiress. Then, a betrothal appeared from the Strozzi family, a longstanding rival family of ours. Not only were my prayers going to be answered, I had a purpose. I was going to be a gesture of peace between the Orisinis and the Strozzis.

As a result of the Florentine uprising against the Medicis, we have fled to Rome. My betrothal, my perfect betrothal, was broken. There wouldn’t be any peace between the Orsinis and the Strozzis. As always, I’m betrothal-less, husbandless, childless. Yet, my cousin has sealed her betrothal by making him her husband today, and will no doubt be a mother soon. My father must continue to struggle in his quest to arrange another betrothal for me. How long will it take this time? Instead of safety, my world consists of danger. The strong embrace of a husband isn’t here to protect me. I’m drowning in this sea of uncertainty. Will I ever be married? Will I ever be a wife, a mother?

It’s a most unfortunate affliction indeed.
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Chapter I
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