He looked almost like a boy, but there was nothing adolescent in the sprawled beauty of his naked body. Then, asT watched, a crease of tension marred his smooth brow. His head moved restlessly, and he began to shift and murmur in the grip of some nightmare. Sweat started out on his forehead and little animal sounds began to come from his throat; then he began to talk, and I realized he was talking to his dream.

"You lie. . . . You are damned for what you did after. I only meant to silence you, to stop your eternal preaching. You said you loved me—why haunt me, then? It was a boy's trick, I tell you. . . . I did not mean you to be dead. . . . Let me alone. . . . Tell them. . . . For God's love, close your eyes!"

It was the scream of an animal, and the sheet ripped under his clawing fingers as he shuddered into wakefulness. His hand groped across the bed as though to assure himself that this and not his dream was reality.

"Felicia . . ."

First published in Great Britain by Futura Publications Limited in 1978 Copyright © 1978 by Teresa Denys This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

ISBN 0-345-28992-7 Manufactured in the United States of America CLS 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 First Ballantine Books Edition: June 1984

To Cyril and Alan without whom none of it would have been written

Author's Note

This book is set in the year 1605. The Dukedom of Cabria is, of course, fictitious, but it may be presumed to lie along the east coast of Italy, just north of the Kingdom of Naples, and to have formed part of the Papal States before the insurrection of 1555. At about this time the Papal Mint at Ancona was seized, and a member of the della Rovere family used it to produce his own coinage in defiance of the pope. This incident has been used as the starting point of the story that follows.

Lying flat on my back. torches had been burning for hours around the bed. The thin. I thought I was back in my room at the Eagle. I could scarcely breathe—no air penetrated the bed-curtains.Prologue The voice under my window was complaining of the heat. for in the moment before my eyes opened. clear sound rising from the courtyard outside made me forget the stuffy chamber and the whisperings around my bed. . musk and amber and civet to mask the rottenness. and I groaned and opened my eyes. and my hair clung to my wet forehead. and the heat was almost unbearable. . As the voices below died away. for an instant I was back in the little room over the inn sign. I could sense the eyes watching me. despite the sunshine outside. The scent of them. It was dark here. waiting for the child to come. At once reality came flooding back. . . The whispering all around me sounded like the mockery of a breeze. I lay listening—half-expecting to hear Celia bawl my name—then the tautening of my body disturbed the child so that it stirred again in my womb. I must have been half-asleep when I heard it. I closed my eyes to try to blot them from my mind—to think of anything but their presence and the unendurable heat. and the chatter of guests and servants was rising from below like flies disturbed in summer. and I longed for them to leave me alone. was stifling.

and their neighbors would not touch the bodies. even hauling her before the priest—but she never spoke of it to anyone. All Fidena stank. nothing would make her tell his name. She carried me uncom-plainingly. the keeper of an unkempt tavern under the city wall and a man too fond of his own wares to make a success of selling them. and after I was born she sheltered me as well as she could from the worst of her husband's animosity. They only united in two things—in their greed and in their dislike of me. Flies and maggots bred. and they squabbled more like ill-matched business partners than like husband and wife. no humiliation. Perhaps she never knew it. And because all they said held a kernel of truth. It was not until my mother died that I heard the word bastard for the first time. The priest had persuaded Battista to shelter the fruits of his wife's sin. The fetid smell from the bay. I thought his black looks were disappointment that I was not a boy. she quietly gave up hope of happiness. No drudgery of mine. It was the sort of heat that breeds discontent in men's minds. not even to drag them out of the all-consuming sun. married Celia Danoli and my life began to change. But I had scant leisure then to measure Fidena's temper. She was forever railing at me for my bastardy as though it were a witting crime. cursings.Chapter One It had been as hot as this the summer it began. that slows a man's blood and quickens his temper so that the city simmers like a pot close to boiling. She had matched beneath her in marrying an innkeeper. Battista tried all he knew to make her tell—beatings. and my very existence irked her like an open sore. they were as sharp with each other as they were with me. Antonio. could ever repay that kindness. like Antonio. . Antonio saw only the glory of being landlord of so fine an inn as the Eagle. There was little love in their marriage. I sensed it long before I knew why. I never knew who my father was. But however it was. Antonio had always been ashamed of me. Celia saw only the work and the money her labors might fetch her. and. mingled with human sweat and filth in the dust-laden air. she never wearied of telling me how lucky I was to have been given a home after the way my mother used my foster father. Her life with him had been a hard one. and while I was very young. when my father came and went in a single night and left her carrying a bastard child. and Celia loathed me from the instant she set eyes on me. At his coming. Men lay down in the streets and died. and I think that when Antonio was born after many fruitless births and showed every sign of growing up like his father. my mother had been long married to Battista Guardi. where ships lay beached and their cargoes rotted for want of men to unload them. I had to bear it in silence. and the wind was sickly with the expectation of plague. When I was a child. for that year my brother.

it was that of ingratitude—or so Antonio said. But he seemed happy enough with his choice. The Eagle stood in the Via Croce in the center of the city.Antonio took pains to explain to me. I agreed to Antonio's terms and set myself to be humble and grateful. and I understood why when he told me he had bought the Eagle with her marriage portion. and as I grew older. I might stay on in the house— otherwise he washed his hands of me. Celia was square and sturdy. I kept my bargain. dark women. sobbing. stepfather and half-brother. when the household came out of mourning. the injustice of it made me angry and frightened. It was generally held to be a good match—Celia's shrewish tongue was said to have frightened as many wooers as were drawn by her rich dowry. I knew his taste ran to plump. I thought. too. I demanded to know why he should hate me so. Once. he said roughly. the daughter of a prosperous vintner. smarting from an unexpected blow. The burden of his loathing was the hardest thing of all to bear. Antonio. fell to me. He himself. duly grateful for my good fortune. I think he would have killed me. that I could no longer expect to be treated as a daughter of the house. So. amply respecting the work. and I felt nothing but a great relief when I knew he was dead. At first Battista paid a woman to cook for us. and if I had not been fleeter footed than he. that Antonio married Celia. must have been more than willing to abide the gold of his wife's hair for the sake of the gold in her marriage chest. as I must learn to say. I never knew what arguments he used to persuade her that I should stay with them. I went with them. and that if God hated one sin above all others. Nevertheless I was amazed. and did all I could to keep the squalid inn as clean as my mother had done. I was taught swiftly that I could never expect to be the equal of those who called themselves legitimate. It was hard. with a face to turn milk sour and hair that was a bright. before my mother's funeral was well over. It seemed at times that all my life I was to be blamed for something that was not my fault. unlikely butter yellow. It was the next Christmas. but as he began to drink more and the money declined. There were nights when I dropped onto my straw pallet so worn out that not even his drunken snores could wake me. was my halfbrother and no more. But the change which spelled prosperity for the Guardi family fortunes was to have consequences for me that I did not dream of. and then the least fault was an excuse for him to use his belt on me. that task. . If I were humble and grateful and worked as hard as I could. He would watch me for hours at a time under scowling brows so that nervousness made me clumsy. between the marketplace and the Cathedral of San Domenico. but then Antonio was no Adonis. I was not ten years old then and had no idea what the words meant—I only knew that my mother was dead and now I stood to lose the only home I had ever known. With brutal simplicity he told me why I could claim no kinship with the man I called Father. but not so hard as learning to accept that my very presence was a shame to my father and brother—or. and it was one of the most prosperous businesses in Fidena. when the bridal couple left the old house and took possession of the Eagle. with his red fleshy face and drunkard's belly. My mother had been dead for seven years when Battista broke his neck in a drunken brawl. if I did not want to feel his hand I was not to call him Brother from that hour. like the apothecary's sister in the next street. unless he appealed to her thrift and won her consent with the bait of a servant who would work without wages.

not yet. It never entered my thoughts that I did not go among the guests as they did. All day I was cleaning and scrubbing. My skin had grown as white as a cloistered nun's. "The only time I leave the house is to go to Mass—I never thought of it before!" "And what makes you think of it now?" Celia's mouth was hard. only a kind of wary hostility. "Celia. I ran errands for our neighbors—fetched wine to old man Fracci . In answer I held out my hands. I was in the kitchen. When at last she paused. polishing Antonio's best platter and peering curiously at my reflection. bent and wavering in the hammered metal. It was a vague. One morning in spring. I asked. with long black hair and queer gray eyes—like and yet unlike the image I remembered. she was watching me as though I were an enemy. a thing that neither of us could help. . but now my tasks multiplied past count. the platter held in front of me like a shield." Her voice was toneless. I was so grateful to rest at the end of the day's labors that I paid no heed to the way the other servants looked at me. for no reason. Before we lived here. decisive movements. why do I never go out?" She had been chopping meat with quick. it was not at me she looked but at the platter in my hands. . "You must know. red and raw but without a trace of sunburning. or at work in the stillroom. scouring pans amid the stink of rancid cooking oil. and she tormented me as a cat will chase a bird. I had thought I worked hard in the old house. In that moment I saw she had been half expecting the question. . "I do not know what you mean." I stood stubbornly still. that I was shut away from the general world like a leper. . I am not dreaming it!" I was almost stammering. I had never defied her before. and the rhythmic clack of the knife hardly faltered when I spoke. out of sight of the Eagle's guests.The changes came thick and fast. "My skin was as brown as yours when we first came here—I have not gone freely into the sun since you wedded Antonio. I . there was no trace of surprise in her face." "Then stop chattering and do not waste my time!" "I want to know why I do not go out. At first I did not realize what was happening. Celia's hatred of me was causeless. "Have you finished? You have been long enough about it!" "No. nor did I notice that they seldom spoke to me. pale shadow. and my heart was beating fast as she put down the knife and turned to face me." . Without thinking. We were barely installed in the Via Croce when the pattern of my days began to alter. but I struggled to speak steadily. I could not think what was different until my gaze dropped and I saw my bare arm next to Celia's at my elbow.

"No. but here I do not know who our neighbors are." "So you say. and if any in the Via Croce know me."That old sot!" "." "The best place for you!" Celia spoke with sudden venom." "You do not leave this house!" Her hand caught my cheek in a stinging slap. I know you—you are itching for a man. . We do our best. . so here you stay until you find your way to the other sort! And that will be soon enough. . Fine talking that would be. her light eyes hard and bright. Well. "And you would go straight to the brothel. I did not mean that. . and ply your trade in the stews. You would go soon enough if I let you. . "Do you think I do not hear the questions? 'Doesn't Mistress Guardi care . so soon after the wedding . . I warrant. I and Antonio. and thank God that I give you a roof over your head—I will not let the rich folk know that we lodge a by-blow in the house!" "I will not stay here if you do not want me. half-blinded with tears. . and God in heaven knows who your fine father may be. faithful and loving to her husband—that is why you look so much like Antonio that strangers think he keeps a drab!" The hatred in her eyes was terrifying. she was a priceless piece of virtue." "Oh. but she did not heed me. . go out if you are so hot to go—go and stay out. . But we cannot squander good money on paying the nuns to take you. for I never set eyes upon them." "Not three months yet. it is a wonder. I was trembling with anger. but blood will tell. Your mother was a whore. to keep you out of the bawdy house and get nothing but abuse for our pains. and I was startled by the spite on her face. . I cry you mercy!" Celia put her hands on her ample hips. "My mother was not a whore. Antonio Guardi's sister selling herself in a whorehouse. ?' I tell you. . if that is what you mean. "Do I wrong her spotless memory? For sure. We have lived here for months and . But I never go outside for all that." "Half-sister. and she slapped me again. . where you belong! Never say I mewed you up against your will!" I hardly heard the last of what she said. be quiet! What should we do then? Hold a grand feast and invite the rich merchants in the Via Croce to come and pay court to our precious bastard sister?" The blood stung my cheeks with the humiliation I could never control." I corrected bitterly. . I might as well be in a nunnery. "Lazy slut you may be. ?' 'Is it true. my fine madam." I shook my head. but I cannot spare a pair of hands. and the platter fell to the ground. . I have borne it long enough! You keep out of sight as long as I bid you." My voice was a dry whisper. . you would have been chanting hymns by now. "Rest assured that if one of the sisterhoods would have taken you without a fat dowry. "I will find a place." "I would not go to a brothel. and leave me and your poor brother all unprovided.

When Antonio cursed. and still the invasion was only a subject for idle gossip. a Raffaelle stronghold long before there were dukes in Cabria. the danger did not seem real. and the goods they brought up from the harbor grew poorer and more expensive. It was unthinkable that it should fall while the della Raffaelle themselves were at the palazzo. and still the city seemed not to care whether they were true or false. From that high. The duke had so many enemies that nearly every summer there was some warlike flurry that had to be put down. I picked up the platter and fled. I did not trust myself to speak. The other servants in the place saw well enough the dislike Celia bore me and would not risk her wrath by appearing friendly—there were days when no one spoke a word to me save Antonio and Celia. "And clean it properly. and at last the danger was more than an unlikely rumor. only a few days' march distant. What did he expect? A hot summer. After that I knew better than to complain for my liberty. . I heard it time out of mind in those fear-filled days—from passersby in the street. with coaches and horsemen rattling by under my very feet. and farmers abandoned their crops for the safety of its grim walls. It was not until I was safe in my bed at night that the tears came. . the men said simply that there were fewer ships in the bay. In winter. and the endless sweeping and scrubbing. The days went by and the rumors took shape. with the rivers in spate holding off Romagna in the northwest and Naples in the south and western mountains curbing the pope. pillaging and burning. . trying to banter with me when they came with the Eagle's provisions. and Naples rumored to be preparing for war . Cabria's people felt secure. and the tides surging against the Turkish pirates who haunted the eastern coast. Fidena became a city in terror—soldiers and condottieri crowded its streets. I ceased to remember the lack of it. narrow room above the gateway. the plucking of fowls and the curing of fish. they could not bring stuff that was not there. and quickly! Pick that up. The citizens clustered in apprehension on street corners and under inn signs. Almost overnight. and after one look at my face the chattering servingmaids fell silent and went diligently to work. tradesmen neglected their work. at the height of summer. Fresh food became more and more scarce. of more concern was the fact that the marches were burned brown and the wine harvest in grave danger. I will not have you whining to be let into the street like a bitch in heat— thank the saints I do not tell Antonio. Even now. I fled into the scullery. Antonio's scowl grew blacker as trade declined. There was too much else to be done: the bleaching of linen to be laid up in the big presses. Then."Get out of my sight. News came that they had taken the town of Arriccio. Then suddenly. who had once ruled Cabria and still gaped to retain it. Even the carriers. so gradually that I did not notice it at first. this city." She pointed with her foot at the fallen platter. from the topers who stayed talking in the innyard and never thought to look up. for my silence was not Christian meekness but a temper so violent that if I opened my lips I might say something I would regret eternally. had her sharp rebuke for their pains. Fidena's citizens were at first no more concerned than that. the talk ceased. It had been a fortress for close on three hundred years. unrest throughout the land. or he would flog your backside raw!" Shaking more with anger than with fright. and as the days wore on. the Neapolitan forces had surged northward in one dreadful sweep. the carriers came less often. when the rivers were fast shrinking to a sun-dried trickle and Fidena made a fair mark for the king of Naples. I heard all the bustling sounds of the world thrown into confusion.

grating. or if all else failed. but it was out of fear. she would shut me in my room to do the sewing I hated. All I ever really knew about him was the sound of his voice. wine-soaked drawl rising out of the night. And my eyes. and certainly the streets were spilling over with soldiers. Well. she took greater pains than ever to keep me out of sight. brawling. In their care not to be overheard in the taproom." His companion sounded uneasy. It was an odd voice—husky. for God's sake! We will both hang!" "As well hang as have to die in such a cause. but by day harsh guardians of the duke's peace who had orders to disperse any crowd and could hang any man they chose. listening to the creak of the Eagle sign as it swung to and fro outside my window. and see where his lust has brought him!" "Peace. every hour of those days of uncertainty was crowded. I never knew his right name—only that he was Beniamino. that my thoughts could run free. filling the taverns by night. It was only at night as I tossed restlessly in the stuffy little attic room. Beniamino was a captain in the duke's army and came every night to the Eagle. and his companion was trying to hush him. I say. as though such free speech made him nervous. piecing together the meaningless scraps of conversation I heard and fighting the wall of despair which threatened to imprison me more surely than all Celia's stratagems. welcoming their custom. There was talk that the duke had called for troops to send against the invader. "I know—the duke will have my tongue. rioting. He was talking fluently of what he would do if he had command of the Cabrian army. I strained my ears to the slurring." There was a tinge of recklessness in Beniamino's tone. he is so tender of the duchess's reputation. and at last I stole out of bed and across to the shuttered window to hear him better. they will stagger out into the night air and talk of state and politics in voices that anyone might hear. not even for the prospect of war would she relax her vigilance over me. and in a way I was grateful. for always the old dread of the duke's men hushed men's voices and quickened their steps when the black-clad riders passed. belike. and everything else too. It was on one such night that I first heard Beniamino's voice. for among the plans of greater and more glorious battles to come jostled scraps of information about the wars now in hand. Antonio fawned to them. For me.As for Celia. because that was what they shouted to bring him in again. be killed in resolving old Carlo's household strifes—because Madam Gratiana seeks in other men's beds what the old lecher can no longer give her himself?" . with a slight lisping accent—and at first I could not understand what he was saying. No one who has not heard it will believe how often drinking companions will choose an innyard to talk secrets. he would have a hot wife after those two cold cows he wedded first. when she saw how people were beginning to throng the inn. "Old Carlo wants us to think we're fighting Naples. Now my tasks were in the scullery or in the stillroom. "As if s not common knowledge that Naples is King Philip's footboy and will stab at his bidding!" "Quiet! 'Snot safe to talk of it. for it left me little time to think." Beniamino said and giggled. Beniamino's words came to me clearly as I knelt in the dark with my cheek pressed against the rough wooden shutter. Small wonder. "What.

That night Beniamino was back with a new drinking companion and a fresh piece of news. you know as well as I! Gratiana wants her widowhood and treasure to pay for her foining—she could never come by it else. and in public too." Beniamino's friend was nearly as drunk as he was. The next day I hardly noticed how hard I worked or what was said to me. my own disquiet forgotten." "Ssh!" 'S Domenico that's heir to the throne. My mind was too full of what I had learned. "He's a bastard. and to fear any battle was a sign of a want of faith. for I moved through the day's tasks with a stolid patience that no gibe of hers could spark into retort. "Taking his sons. Dukes and little dukes all over the battlefield. What revenge could sh'have by setting Naples at our throats?" Beniamino giggled again. ." "You are raving." "He's a glorious bastard. with a sigh. I swear he only agreed to come so's he'd be near the handsome soldiers. 'Sworth ten of his fancy brother. That a war could be rooted in men's own actions and fought for selfish and petty ends not worth a drop of any soldier's blood seemed to me then like a glimpse into an undreamed-of abyss. I stayed still in the dark. Celia must have thought me blockish.There was a scuffle. "Both sons. And when he found out what tricks she was playing him. and all day I lived with the desperate hope that somehow I might learn more. . Beniamino chuckled and then. The duke was preparing to go with his troops to drive out the invaders." "Sandra's not a duke." "What's there to fear? I speak what you know already— Duke Carlo took a Spanish bride with the face of a parrot and the habits of a goat to comfort his royal bed. In my inmost heart I had always believed the teachings of the Church. A real experienced soldier. I love him." "—he scolded her so roundly. I will—will not hear you. as though the other man jerked away. as half Cabria knew long since—" "Speak softer! The guards . Two." . It takes a plain wench to cool old Carlo." With a noise like a grunt of fear Luigi pulled himself from Beniamino's grasp. he's hot enough for any woman who is but young and fresh. followed him slowly and carefully." Beniamino said. that she set her kinsman Philip's lapdog of Naples to get her revenge with this war. Luigi! Luigi. " 'M going—going in. Show him an enemy—just one—and you won't see him for dust." "He got it because he's a della Raffaelle. "Oh. and I heard his unsteady footsteps pattering back towards the taproom. the deaths that followed in its train were part of His will. that war was the instrument of God. And got command of the right flank.

In the street Antonio was fighting his way through the crowd. Those who were left went about their business with heavy hearts. and he's afraid of nothing. All we heard was the noise of hooves and a confused shouting." "That's treasonous talk. and Antonio went running out of doors like a madman. I served under him in Genoa when old Carlo sent us out against the Hapsburgs. Thank the saints I serve on the left." his friend observed wisely." Two days after that. In the guardroom they say any woman is good enough for him—once—same as his father and brother. It was a week later that news came. "He does not run. under good old Sandro! He'll see his soldiers through. Celia and I ran after him to the door. the couriers came galloping in at the southern gates of the city and cried the news through the streets. I want to drink bad luck to Domenico. It's a crime he's not the heir when he's five years older than that . Those were the waiting days." There was a sudden note of fear in the other man's voice. it was not his concern. when Fidena brooded as though it awaited some monstrous birth. "Come on. who . "can't succeed." Beniamino turned. then Beniamino whispered something I could not hear. Don't tell me of him." Beniamino made a gagging sound. the hot days. "I always heard he was one for a wench. so long as he made money. The man had drawn rein perforce—the crowd had grown too thick for him to move—and the press of yelling people was beginning to alarm the horse. for the citizens came flocking in day after day to exchange the latest tidings and drink to the duke's success. The city was cloaked in an uneasy quiet. I was helping Celia in the kitchen when. But I say he is no fit soldier! Carlo's mad to risk so many men under an untried general. Beniamino. "With any luck he'll be killed."No. I tell you ." Beniamino was breathing heavily. . and everyone was at once impatient and fearful. and rumors began to buzz again like angry mosquitoes. he can take a toad to bed with him if he will. Days passed without news from the border. . his bulk forcing a passage towards the rider on the sweating chestnut horse. His sullen look was gone now—if Cabria was on the brink of disaster. leaving Fidena yawning empty of the soldiers who had hurried like black ants through the fever-hot streets. owlish and considering." " 'S a bastard. and now and again I heard the duchess's name on someone's tongue like a curse. . and my blessings on the Spanisher who can do it." "If he had a good second-in-command—" "He would have none." "No. . How has young Domenico served you ill?" There was a pause. united for once in a common astonishment. Perhaps he'll be killed before his men are all slaughtered. then a roar went up from the street outside. brother of his. I caught only the words "my little brother" and then the other man spoke again. Beniamino was gone with the rest of Duke Carlo's army. midway through the morning. "I care not. but now Antonio cared little." "He would if that silver devil died.

The room was filling." "Did they give battle?" "When did it happen?" "Has the duke regained Arriccio?" "He will have done by this. "The duke's own summer garrison! But that is only two days' march from here!" . "Some wine for Duke Carlo's messenger!" Celia turned to me. and I realized suddenly that I had been forgotten. "He met with the enemy in the hills between Arriccio and Castle Fucino and so routed them that I doubt they will wait in Arriccio for his coming.was fretting and shifting uneasily. only ducking his head as he rode under the Eagle's gateway." The messenger looked at the last speaker. then someone called. taking no notice now of the mob's questions. A jug of the best wine from the cellar and one of the new cups—and then I was in the taproom. serving as best they could. and Celia was snatching the things from my hands to pour for the duke's messenger. "The enemy is driven back towards Naples. and let him speak!" and as the messenger rose to his feet. "What of Duke Carlo's army?" someone shouted. his hand going to the hilt of his sword. our fortunes are made!" I turned and ran with my head ringing from her impatient cuff. praying that amid so many I could stay here unnoticed. a young man with bright blue eyes in a face shining with sweat. "Quick. "Do as he says! And bid the servants be ready—if all these follow him to hear his news. wife!" Antonio's voice was hoarse with excitement. "It was a great victory. so that even those who had come in from curiosity were having to pay to stay. As he drank again. pleased with the attention he was getting. "What's the news?" At once the babel broke out afresh. Antonio roared. Celia's eyes were only for the messenger. who had downed his wine in one gulp and was holding out his cup to be refilled." "Castle Fucino!" Celia shrieked. I noticed the tapsters moving among the crowd. Antonio's fat hand closed on the horse's bridle—I saw the rider glance down. but then Antonio screamed something above the noise and tugged the horse's head around. Without his helmet he looked far less forbidding." The young man smiled around at the shout that greeted his words. I let myself be thrust back against the wall by the jostling crowd. "Silence. more people crowding in at every moment. The man sat still in the saddle as the beast began to turn. The rider was shouting. and our soldiers are on their way home again. Fifty pairs of eyes at least followed the motion of the man's arm as he put down the cup and wiped his mouth. gasping out orders for the potboys. but not a word of what he said could be heard above the din. every man clamoring for the latest tidings without waiting to hear them told. the shouting died away to an anxious muttering.

because the pass was narrow and steep just there. and I stood still. It brought Lord Sandra's men up short. They were being slaughtered like prime cattle. As soon as his men saw it could be done. With horsemen dropping out of the sky like cannonballs. "It was so. what a dreadful thing! How can you call that a victory?'' The messenger's grim face lightened." Antonio moistened his lips. I dare swear they had had enough. some of the older men disliked the strategy. Three hundred men and more dead. "Yes. Lord Sandra's men came over the brow of the nearest hill and straight into the enemy's rear guard." I thought of Beniamino's tipsy faith in his commander and hoped that it had survived the fighting. spellbound. "What did the lord Bastard do?" "Drove his men forward in any case. "You need not fear. We followed them so stealthily that they had no warning. The duke went beyond them and then turned short. and we were at their backs by then. They split and fled downhill. in the end. "It looked as though it would work at first." "The right wing!" I did not realize I had spoken until I heard my own voice. But he slid most of the way in a hail of dust and stones and went for the enemy flank.The young man grinned. I might be able to slip back to the kitchen in safety—but just as I began to draw back. The enemy is safely driven back. The whole room was hushed. but I came away before they were numbered. without waiting for the duke's order." At that moment I caught Celia's eye and cursed my careless tongue. "Holy Mary. and they took a stand among the rocks at the mouth of the pass. and the Spanish broke and fled. but the greater part were as breathless with impatience as I was. The duke divided the army and placed himself and his men on the left and his son the lord Domenico and his forces on the right. "What happened?" The question came from a dozen throats." There was a murmur. they said it was hopeless and would not budge for all the Bastard's curses. Celia threw up her hands. We thought we were all lost—the Spanish were three times our number—but then the right wing started to move. Lord Domenico charged his horse straight down on the enemy at the very mouth of the pass. and the Spaniards could not be swept away by another charge from before or behind. . The ground is so steep there. "It was where the road to Castle Fucino runs downhill and winds into the Sant' Angelo pass. They were to wait above and mop up the fliers after the lord Bastard—my lord Alessandro—had led a charge down the center." He paused and took a gulp of wine. waiting. The enemy was making sport with our men for so long that at last they would not rally for a fresh assault. The messenger glanced round. They got no further than five leagues north of Arriccio. meaning to fall upon their rear guard. If only she would look away from me for an instant. it is a miracle that he and the horse were not killed. they charged down too. and it looked like a rout until one of those damned Spaniards rallied his men. they say. the messenger took up his tale again.

" Remembering all I had heard. and from there I could reach the kitchen. "I work in the kitchens here. Now was the time for me to be gone if I were to escape retribution. Now the messenger was taking his leave. His hazel eyes were glistening as he stared at me. Out in the street the shouting had died down." I put my free hand behind my back. then? I come here often. Hold out your hand. most of them. he had to make speed to the palazzo." "I know. I recognized his voice. As softly as I could. and he was pursing his lips as though I were a sweetmeat he fancied. I flinched from the curious stares and was about to run towards the kitchen door when a hand gripped my elbow from behind. Celia said. Some escaped to the north. a regular customer who cared more for the courtesans who traded in the Eagle than for Antonio's wine. "No need for this coyness! Ask your master if I am not liberal enough when a wench is kind. "To think that fat oaf Guardi never told me! Well. is that it?" The merchant's eyes gleamed. but by then Lord Sandro was so choleric about his own part in the battle and being rescued by his own younger brother that he purged his anger by chasing the stragglers. I could escape through it into the yard. but one or two loiterers still waited by the gateway for news. that is soon remedied. The battle was scarcely over when I came away—the duke sent six of us in haste to bring the news to the duchess." "I do not come down to wait upon the guests. he was one of the city merchants. As soon as he spoke. and he laughed. I edged around the wall towards the nearest door. "Where are you going. "I heard they chopped a man down as he hid in someone's vineyard. Hold out your hand." He tossed the last of the wine down his throat. and ran straight into Duke Carlo's men. he said. so that she would know he was safe. and I would not forget a wench like you. and Lord Sandro laughed and said the blood would make the vintage richer. I twisted quickly in the sticky grasp to find myself facing not Antonio. less at the jest than at the crowd's ghoulish appreciation of it. wench? The way to the street is through that gate yonder. "And now? Do the troops come back here with the duke or return to their garrisons?'' The man shook his head." . but a total stranger." I shivered. I had often heard Celia complain of how little Messire Luzzato spent in an evening. and proclaim the news as he went. and then we can go into the stables yonder and do our business." I tried to free myself from his grip. I could not forbear smiling— more like the duke had sent the message to discomfort his detested wife and smash her hopes of revenge. The click of the latch was drowned in the sound of farewells as I slipped outside and closed the door behind me. "I do not know." "Do you so? Why have I not seen you before."They clawed their way up the other side of the pass." "They wait upon you above stairs.

square and red. her lips tight and her eyes glittering." the merchant interposed. mistress. never fear." "What is all this?" Antonio's voice broke in. but if she saw the satisfaction behind the assumed outrage she did not heed it." "And well she deserves it. "What are you doing here after I forbade you?" Celia's face was flushed. "I cannot say what she offered me for my money. what do you here? What has happened. ." "No!" Somehow I found my voice. and stay in your room until I come to you!" Without a word I turned and ran across the yard." Antonio looked black.He was fumbling with his purse as he spoke. From the window I could see the little group down below in the sunlight. are you too proud for me? I have dealt with your kind before. I saw them discussing which of them was to go inside and attend to the guests. as the messenger came hurrying out of the taproom to mount his horse again. ." Celia shot him a swift look. but Celia said curtly. I understood you kept a virtuous house. "We shall see her punished. It was he who caught me. "You impudent slut!" "This girl. Antonio and Celia still soothing Messire Luzzato. I was hurrying home to tell my wife the tidings when she ran after me and hung on my arm . by now it bore so little resemblance to the truth that I could not recognize myself in his words. and I tried desperately to jerk away from him. What did she say to you?" The pouting lips primmed. startled. "Felicia. and there will be a silver piece for you after. A few words more and then he strolled towards the gateway with a malicious backward glance at the other two. "He is lying. panic-stricken. . "I cannot be hearkening after every wench in the place. When he had done. into the inn and up the stairs to the attic. "Go in. and he looked up with the smile gone from his face. "was importuning me for money. messire. "I shall not hurt you." "We will teach her better behavior. . "What." and I listened to the merchant telling his tale again. The coins spilled. Come on. then they looked around. with the throng at his heels. Then another hand. wife?" I tried to speak. with your nun's faces and your harlot's tricks to raise your price." He was trying to press the money into my palm as I struggled. he settling his gown and preparing to depart. ." His smile now was a sort of grimace. "Hold your tongue. the spite in her face intensifying with every word." The merchant glanced at me. . In a moment the yard was full of milling people. "It is such strumpets as these that bring a house into ill repute. Celia watched me all the time. caught my shoulder and pulled me sharply around. girl. she said. and it was only when I heard footsteps on the stairs that I turned quickly from the window.

"You know I am telling the truth. but she swept on. then?" Wisdom and my vows of patience alike forgotten. were twitching like the skin on a cow's back. I turned to face her. "He was the one who would keep you. . "Here. "No matter if you are—you disobeyed me. and that is enough to get you a beating. For a moment her eyes were astonished. their faces hard and unforgiving. He said what he did because I would not go with him." "But you do not want me here. . then they hardened. Antonio. I don't doubt you would have gone with him if I had not come when I did."I was stammering." She jerked her head contemptuously at Antonio. "It is not your business. I came up against the edge of the bed and stood. nameless slut like you. it is true!" Celia's lips sneered." "Ask him. "All these months we have fed you. ." "She can take her punishment for being disobedient! Naught else matters. you little slut. . Antonio was sweating with the heat. his shirt clinging to his fat back. I never asked him for money. let alone treat you so kindly!" "Why keep me. her broad face frighteningly aflame with pure hate." I looked imploringly at Antonio. . clothed you even.They stood together just inside the door. is it not? Then let me tell you . woman!" Antonio roared." Sickened. and this is our thanks. that worm Luzzato would never have seen you. hardly able to form the words. "Very likely—when a man with his money can find fifty fairer on any street corner! Was it your maiden modesty made you deny him or fear of being discovered?" "I . Why ." There was a note of triumph in her voice. Celia stood arms akimbo. his hands. "I warned you. Besides. "I know my Christian duty well enough. you ungrateful little bitch! There are few enough new wedded couples who would give a home to a penniless." "That man . waiting for the next. I am frightened of being touched. . "I told you she would prove no better than a harlot." He hesitated. "He was lying. I will teach her conduct!" A blow from his hamlike hand sent me reeling back. Her lips were tight." "A pretty tale! Are we to take your word sooner than that of one of our most valued customers?" "Yes. If you had not been where you had no business. the thumbs dug into the wide belt encircling his paunch." "Oh. I said no. swaying." Antonio's face was purple. Perhaps now you will credit what I say. . and Celia turned on me. housed you. But to my astonishment it did not come—there was only the slam of the door and the sound of Celia's voice raised in protest on the stairs. . ." "Be silent.

" Their laughter faded as they separated to their work." There was an explosion of laughter. But now. To me the news was like the fresh chapter of a child's fairy tale. She brought me food every day—not much—and stuff for sewing. For three days I stayed in my room. for not even when I was penned up in disgrace would she waste a pair of hands. and in the furtive glance he had given me I could read the memory that still troubled his conscience. for all I hear. but I could see a gloating look in her eyes as though to see me shut up gave her pleasure. for now I was not allowed even a candle. He had never forgotten the night seven years after my mother died when my stepfather tried to force his way into my bed. even whether she grieved for the men who had died because of the breach between her and her husband. I know that she would never even have thought of anything so petty. In those days I spent the daylight hours interminably sewing. There was no news of the duke's army. he could rent places at the windows overlooking the street and be rich in a day. At his age he will be eager for his own bed. and then he rode hastily through the city to reach the palazzo in secret. I sat down on the bed. He'll tame that spiteful harridan yet. and I stitched furiously as I pondered their words. none of these great folk were any more real to me then than the knights and dragons my mother used to tell of. I heard Antonio below. and he had had to drag him off. But on the fourth day I heard the ostlers talking. Duke Carlo made such leisurely way northwards that he arrived not the next day but the one after.'' The first lad grunted. not even Celia's venom would make him punish me for a trespass he knew I would never commit." "Why should he hurry when he has the victory? He has spoils enough and prisoners enough to hamper him. She would not speak to me nor answer any of my questions." "Aye. he boasted. hastily muffled. looking back. and the darkness with no occupation but my own thoughts. "Tomorrow. Rumor had it that he was ever a mountebank. is it? He has not stirred himself to bring his army home. "Did you hear he means to hale her after him in his triumph and make her give thanks with him for his victory over her kinsman?" "Trust old Carlo. too. A little while after. a crowd pleaser.Shakily. but their doings peopled my loneliness. and did not mean to spoil the effect of his appearance in . "At least he will not stay in the field before the city when he comes. He knew well enough how frightened I had been then and how for years afterwards I could never bear to sleep in the dark. I knew why Antonio felt bound to keep me and why he had believed my story rather than Messire Luzzato's—he knew that my fear of men was real and not feigned. talking of the triumphal procession which would pass our very door. and I began to think that there must have been a second battle and all our soldiers slain on their way back to Fidena. and his loving wife. He was a made man. and no one came near me but Celia. For once. at least no one spoke of it in my hearing. I thought of the duchess Gratiana and wondered how she would brook this public rejoicing over her country's defeat.

but with a square sort of face like a box. there is still plenty of time. close?" "Oh. and they never came from the Raffaelle side." "Four-and-thirty or thereabouts. "What does he look like. And he has blue eyes. By now I no longer gave Celia the satisfaction of asking when I might go free—I schooled myself to an enforced content. It was from a friend of Celia's own. and lived on the scraps of news heard from my window to nourish my starving spirit. "he would not be contented with one woman." The woman sighed. the hope of his house. he would make so good a father!" "For all I hear. that I learned of the Lord Alessandro's return to the city. and had seen only the smile of victory on the Bastard's face." Celia supplied blightingly. but that there was a great tall fellow in front of me who would not stir out of the way. a woman who sold fruit in the market. not haughty at all. I give you my word! No one who saw him can talk of aught else. he was so merry and courteous. I dare be sworn you do.'' "Court manners!" Celia snorted." Celia abandoned the point. so he bowed to me instead.the great procession by being too much seen. and one he lifted up and set him on the horse before him—I wonder he does not wed himself. but she stayed. her expression truculent. and the pride of Fidena." "Now there you wrong him. Mistress Guardi. He was untroubled by his father's caution and wound a circuitous path through the marketplace. the duke's heir and his nobles rode in unregarded while the citizens . no. too. "He was kissing his hand to the maids in the marketplace—clapping the men on the shoulder—and some of the pretty wenches. . I swear." "And why should he be? He is young yet. "He meant nothing by it. "Well. He meant no mischief. he kissed their hands as though they had been duchesses! He would have kissed mine. Mistress Guardi. "All Fidena is. handsome and cheerful—he favors the old duke's family. and with as pleasant a smile as you could wish to see! He made his horse step so carefully." Celia said scornfully." "You sound half in love with him. interested in spite of herself by what the woman had to say. I thought. forgotten the soldiers who had followed him to their deaths. Fidena so resounded with Lord Alessandro's popular return that the people had forgotten the less than glorious part their idol had played in the battle. Celia had come out to the gateway." Yet he can have had little cause to be merry." Celia said sourly. To them he was the flower of Cabria. but mischief to those young women. No doubt he means to marry for love. . basking in the applause of the citizens. ". Short like Duke Carlo and dark as he was when he was young. surely. it was the overflow of his good heart. you would think he feared to frighten the children—but they pressed about him. but she sounded envious. refusing to beg for my liberty.

catching the dust motes so that they turned to floating specks of gold in its shafts. she cannot have forgotten me. The city was keeping holiday. I thought feverishly. . what their departure meant to my hopes. doing penance for a fault that was not mine—and fasting. fat-brained oaf! Well. ". She cannot. but it was too cramped. Poor Antonio. stuffy room while the sounds of rejoicing were beginning to echo against lath and plaster. I wanted to pace the floor in my impatience. in the yard. I guessed. but it was far more likely that they would wait. and the sound rang back oddly from the plaster walls. with a sudden scrape. Whichever they did. and in the fast-growing light I rose and hurried into my old black dress. until the procession had passed again on its way back to the palazzo. The duke would come to the cathedral at noon and pass here a little before. and see how you like that!" Her denunciation was swallowed up in the surrounding noise as the two of them vanished into the crowd. I thought. But now I had only to throw the shutters wide and perch on the narrow wooden sill and I would have a better view over the crowded Via Croce than any down below. . I thought. with a sickening feeling. The voices in the street woke me. measuring the time. not enough brains to reserve one window in the whole house for your wife. purple glinting with gold thread. for the sound of Celia's tread upon the stairs. So eager were they to show their approval that they were up at dawn on the day of the duke's triumph to cheer for the lord Sandro. with what patience I could muster. scorching me as I looked out with a new sense of freedom. and my fingertips were white with effort as I pushed at them. the day for which I had harbored such hopes stretched emptily before me. and even the port would lie idle today while the duke rode to the cathedral to give thanks to God for his victory over the Spanish. fearing to lose their dearly bought places in the crowd. the heat of the burnished blue sky was reflected back from the peeling walls opposite. He never thinks beyond his own immediate gain. and her voice sounded clearly above the hubbub. you money-grubbing. Unless I want a silk-hung balcony and a gallant to fan me while I gaze. it might be that Antonio and Celia wouid return then. or I should have been swiftly ousted. Then. I was not to go free. I am as foolish as Antonio.were lost in admiration of the general who had cost the state so many lives. of all days. The bolts were stubborn. they slid back and I swung the shutters wide. then. . I must spend this day like every other. and then I remembered. Celia must relent. Nor to Antonio. suddenly. I cannot be better than where I am! It had not occurred to me that I should be able to see the triumphs from my own window until this moment. I laughed aloud. instead. until Celia returns and thinks of sending me something to eat. It was unthinkable that I should stay cribbed up in my bare. Celia's best gown stood out vividly among the crowd down below in the sunlight. I remembered wryly. I sat down to wait. moping because I cannot see the procession. Sunlight flooded the stuffy little room. I was sure that today. I turned away from the window. now you can pay Barilli's boy what I promised him for saving us places on the steps of San Domenico. I thought I must be dreaming when I heard her voice below.

It did not fall off—rather. These creatures were fantastic. their voices hoarse against the sound of the bells. the echoing street might have been an empty field. The gleams of brightness on the foremost rank showed as the sun on the armor of the palace guards. driven back into gateways and under houses' eaves. and the sound welled down the packed street and out over the city—drowning the cry of the gulls and the clamor of the people in the din of the duke of Cabria's triumph. for they all looked dead.The crowds below were being thrust out of the roadway by mounted spearmen. spreading from mouth to mouth. The noise in the street was gradually growing louder. and still the merciless sun beat down on the dust-whitened roadway. Here and there someone's natural coloring escaped the fashionable leprosy—a woman's high-piled hair gleaming like a helmet of bronze. their lizard eyes blinking gummily in the sunshine. surmounting its long steep slope. as the procession moved on down the street. its very stones seeming to tremble and swim in the heat. not like a sober ceremony of thanksgiving at all. even my own empty belly. opulent reds and purples and curdled greens spilling from the horses' backs like panniers of overripe fruit. as brilliant and outrageous as the flowers that blossom on carrion. The soldiers moved up and down. watching the street below. and presently the roadway yawned white and empty while jostling masses of humanity pressed and sweated in the shadows on either side. they might have come from another world. I heard the note of the cheering change. I craned dangerously over the sill as the head of the procession seemed to heave itself painfully around and start down the Via Croce: a glittering dropsical lizard. The bells were beginning a jubilant carillon. and cheering in an ecstasy of satisfied impatience. But for all the heed the nobles paid to the din. They marched on foot. The whole street was shouting. The crowds edged forward a little as the horsemen passed. But slowly. It was like a carnival. I thought. like sheepdogs with an unruly pack. I seemed to catch the scent of putrefaction as they passed. I could see the Cathedral of San Domenico. ignoring the dust and heat. moving blindly to the music of drums and trumpets which fought with the clangor of the bells. I could see people clustered at every window the whole length of the Via Croce—women in bright silks like clusters of flowers. as the first rank of mounted courtiers drew level. newly pressed some of them. and a shout went up from those gathered there. Then. Something bright was moving through the marketplace at the foot of the hill. At the end of the Via Croce. fidgeting and exclaiming with impatience at the slowness of the cavalcade. . I watched them with a feeling of revulsion as they paraded past. The curses and threats of the horsemen mingled with the protests of the victims. and I smiled at the strangeness of it. it looked as though each step must be the last as the line came inching up the long. straight road. I forgot everything else. their eyes searching the crowd for familiar faces. a blend of wonder and scorn that scraped roughly from men's dusty throats. Now. it increased in volume—but there was a jeering note in it. ponderously. to those who had come to cheer them. I did not know then that the courtiers moved so slowly to let the commons see and gape. then came the common soldiers. enough to glory in the city's welcome. waving. a man's soot-black curls—but all the rest looked like living corpses bedecked for a macabre dance of death. The lengthy time of waiting was an enchantment to me. of another kind. chattering men. From above now the street was like a crowded hothouse. it was coming nearer. and bored children. but no one was bold enough to step back into the road again. faces and hair and hands as white as mold.

The rider edged his horse nearer the duke's and bent his head to listen. for he was old. a skirt heavy with gems. The thickset body was decked in ornate silver armor. . and suddenly their shouts rose again. A burst of loud laughter startled me. a man in the street was pointing to the window of one of the houses opposite.horses and men were becoming entangled and the whole line was moving in fits and starts. checked. Forgetting the sheer drop that yawned below me. drawling voices raised in complaint above the cheers. because she seemed so distressed. line upon line. only half-understood. with a ruby-studded miter set above it. and then he too looked up. I would be able to see them. Then I looked down at the horseman who was bowing to them so ponderously and saw the gleam of gold about his head. Gold powder dusted his white hair to give an illusion of youth. but I guessed that the woman in the litter behind must be the duchess Gratiana. fragments of sentences filled my head as though someone were whispering in my ear. He must have been past seventy then. and came to an untidy standstill. But now. He sat his horse proudly. The silver hawk impaled with the Spanish eagle meant nothing to me. and I watched them with the sort of envy I would feel for a bunch of bright butterflies. I had not really believed her. The crowd was suddenly hushed. and looked beyond the black and silver banners. like a sigh. and the fashion for that leper-pale fairness had led the duke into unclean extravagance. and the cadaverous face betrayed no pleasure. of how the duke's father and the pope had quarreled and how the pope was only waiting for the archbishop to die before the whole state was excommunicated for heresy. mantled in scarlet and gold. straight as a ramrod. the courtiers surged into motion and trotted forward as the obstruction ahead was cleared. More soldiers. There was a martial glitter in his eyes beneath the tall miter. dressed in their best. and at last I saw the only arms I knew—the silver hawk crowned for the Dukedom of Cabria and flanked by two canting angels. where a group of women clustered. I could see etched in his gaunt face the burden of all the souls that hung upon his life's thread. there was more of the Raffaelle prince in this forbidding man than the Shepherd of God. but that he should look so—older than his uncle the archbishop—was somehow shocking. the duke's uncle. and all along the street other heads craned. Beyond them I could see a banner borne high above the rest: a silver hawk on black. Then. The women were blushing and laughing and kissing their hands to him. if I leaned out as far as I could. followed the litter. With a fast-beating heart I stretched from the window. I could hear the thin. The duke and his followers had halted just short of our very door. and the truth of it had not mattered when I was a child. there was a sound among the people. Rumor said that Duke Carlo was past his prime. but I had accepted it. looking down on the legendary archbishop. I could remember my mother telling me the story. with a jolt. paint mantled his heavy cheeks to the color of puff paste. But for that I would never have known him. The procession eddied again. There was no way to tell how she was digesting her disgrace. clawlike hand waving now and then to the crowd. feeling the sun on the back of my head. I leaned out eagerly. Hard little eyes peered curiously upward while one podgy hand held the horse in check and the other gestured to the man on his left. All I saw of her was a glimpse of a hooknosed profile. and I knew that the tall figure in scarlet who rode after must be Archbishop Francesco della Raffaelle. and a dark. but so haughty was his bearing that I did not think of his age. too. When he had passed.

but I could not. The rider's eyes were narrowed against the sun. My stomach convulsed and cramped in inexplicable panic. . you've played the fine lady long enough for one day. "There was nothing to do. and I could see the sardonic amusement in his face even from my high window. The duke must have made some comment on the chattering women. ." But I was too far away to see the color of Alessandro della Raffaelle's eyes." . there will be no more of that for the rest of the day! There are all the dishes to clean and the tables to scrub—none of the other servants has done a stroke of work while we were gone. and most likely he had not even seen me clearly—there was nothing in that to make me sick and frightened." "Well. . then her footsteps on the stairs." I got up silently. standing as still as a statue in the white dust of the roadway. You'll have to come downstairs and help—the world doesn't come to an end just because a few great men are feeling pleased with themselves. He sat on his horse unmoving. Unlike the duke and his bastard. I come home to find the servants have all gone off to stand and gape outside the palazzo in hope of getting scraps from the duke's feast—that is what comes of trusting them. I had done nothing but catch the eye of one of the duke's men. and she stood on the threshold. it was only as I impatiently tossed it back over my shoulder that I became conscious of the third rider. I told myself. . My whole body was trembling. "What is the matter with you? Have your wits gone at last? You look like a mooncalf." I almost whispered it. and I drew a long breath of relief as the tall rider spurred on alongside the duke. dark as he was . there is nothing to fear. You will have your hands full enough. . he was staring intently straight up at my window. I heard her voice in the courtyard. My hair had fallen forward and hung like a curtain over the sill so that I had to push it back to see more clearly. and she stared at me. a somber black figure in startling contrast to the vivid colors about him. because his bastard son chuckled before he swerved away again. and his eyes were not searching the housefronts for diversion—instead. and when I heard the sounds of the procession returning. She glared down at me belligerently. . but with a square sort of face like a box. With a rumble and the clinking of harness. there was no laughter in his face. to laugh as the other women had done. I wanted to make light of it. But I slid down from the window and bolted the shutters. I shivered as though I had escaped by a hairsbreadth from some threat. "Well. . It was early evening when Celia came back. foolish girl. the sun dazzling on his white gold hair. and there was something about him that reminded me of a cat in front of a mousehole. her hair tousled and her face fiery red with drinking."Short like Duke Carlo . my girl. and then the door swung open. What have you been doing all day?'' "Nothing. And he has blue eyes. the procession moved forward again.

my hands dangling unmoving in the greasy water as I listened. "What is the matter with you?" I mumbled something and bent my head over the pots. I still could not rid myself of the sense of dread that swept over me whenever I thought of that deliberate. she said. One of them dismounted and walked towards the door of the taproom. and as I listened to the voices of the others. and I found myself holding my breath. instead of coming with her to stand like a stock. a chill of fear began to take possession . probably. fuming. Merchants. waiting outside the gates of the Palazzo della Raffaelle. Antonio came in presently. then I thought. Better half-choking on a pilfered crust of bread than having the salt side of Celia's tongue for asking more than she was prepared to give." I ventured. A slap brought my thoughts back to the present. Swiftly. "Will you be content when you have worn a hole through my best jug?" There was suspicion in her face. and I found them returning for the hundredth time to that strange little tableau in the street—the three riders isolated in the midst of the noise and the gaudy. I darted across the kitchen and peered out. Well. wiser not. I wondered whether I could remind her that I had had nothing to eat all day. they would have a lean night of it. come from a distance to see the duke's triumph and now looking for somewhere to stay out of the reach of their careful wives. stirring cavalcade. and I looked around wildly at Celia. While my hands were busy. "Yes. I could hear her voice in the distance. I told myself." but it only confirmed what I had known already. and Celia followed him. How can I make any profit when half the population is out sniffing after the garbage from his supper?" "Perhaps they will all come here later. two of them jesting together like a couple of topers and the third sitting astride his horse like an image and staring up at me. riders. perhaps I can get something while I pass through the kitchen. he would not give bread away so lightly. and now perhaps he would take her counsel another time! Antonio's rumbling reply was lost in a sound from the gateway. I tensed instinctively. grumbling at the wickedness of the strayed servants and the folly of dukes who took bread out of honest men's mouths. I felt like a criminal waiting to be arrested. He snorted. stuffed too full for aught we can sell them—they will all be surfeiting on veal and roast partridge and turn up their noses at the food in this house! We will be lucky if we have a dozen customers in the rest of the night!" He strode off.I winced from the phrase "other servants. some half-dozen of them. every footfall set my heart pounding with a guilty fear. he should have stayed here. my thoughts ran free. Late visitors. even if it had not meant telling her of how I had sat in the sun and seen the procession in spite of her. when the man near her had proved to know more about the notables than he! He would have been more use staying at home. The soft clop of hooves and the jingle of harness passed under the gateway and into the yard. for the courtesans were where the pickings were. and yet the clothes were too plain for ordinary citizens. "If he had to make his living by feeding the beggars in this stinking city. I was nothing to Celia but a hired pair of hands that she had to lodge but would never acknowledge. I could see them distinctly in the light of the lamp—the horses were too good for tradesmen. calculating gaze. I could not explain. I could not have said why the memory of something so trivial should prey on my thoughts. berating him for letting the servants slip away.

" I gripped the windowsill tightly. casting an uneasy glance over my shoulder. "a mistake. but I prayed that Antonio had gone with them into the dining parlor. Then I saw Antonio's bulky outline filling the lighted doorway and heard the clatter of riders' feet on the cobbles as they dismounted. "He is always sure. like a conspiracy. and I hesitated for seconds that stretched into eternities. My mind was suddenly full of remembered stories of the tyranny of the duke's guards. "In this place?" came softly." A light laugh trilled in answer. My palms were wet with fright as I struggled to think clearly. and I caught the words. "We have asked everywhere. of the men and women who had vanished simply because they caught the attention of the royal guards." said another voice. . The noise sounded like a knell. the rough wood hurting my wet hands. I would have to trust that I could slip through the taproom unnoticed and escape to the safety of my room. the passage in which Antonio was standing now. and their whispers sounded furtive. I did not know how long the men would take to tell their errand. my one thought was to escape. They were silent now. receiving his belated guests. I pushed open the door and sped blindly across the room to the welcoming darkness beyond. " 'Slight!" "It is a fool's errand.of me." One of the others murmured something. Then. sounded full of indignation. and in at the side door to reach the back stairs. I did not stop to reason—like a trapped animal. . It was hard to judge where the sound was coming from. I would have to go through the taproom." Another voice. there was no time to be lost. "Do you dare think that. less muted. When the search proves fruitless he will say he never really believed what he spoke. but I did not realize that then. The riders were shifting. doffed caps to the goodsirs for streets around. It did not cross my mind that the cloaked riders could be anyone but soldiers sent after me. They said that the Raffaelle soldiers would first take a prisoner and then invent a crime. but all was quiet. and keep such thoughts locked between your teeth!" "He is very sure. across the yard. . and still the answer is the same—none such in the house. They were wearing dark cloaks and broad hats that hid their faces. Panic took me to the door of the kitchen before I realized I could not reach the stairs without crossing the long passage that ran the length of the house. I was giddy and lightheaded through lack of food. . I caught the sound of cultured voices raised in talk as I went back towards the other door. their grumbling stilled by a caution from the man who had spoken first. I hesitated again with my hand on the latch of the taproom door. letting their horses take them towards the doorway. dear fellow? Obey orders. hands clenched hard in the folds of my skirt.

. idly. Then as he moved forward. and it had had the throat out of a man before anyone saw it spring. for the laziness drained from him and his eyes narrowed. If only I could reach the door that led into the yard . and I saw his sensual mouth curve slowly in a smile of pure satisfaction. His presence seemed to drain all the strength from me as I stood pressed back against the door. and I had run straight into his hands. and he smiled then as though he were really amused. My first thought was that he was supernaturally tall: I could not see his face. Why were you running away?" I shook my head and spoke through dry lips. but he has forbidden me to trouble his guests. held by his relentless gaze like a bird before a snake. "I lodge here with him and his wife. My outstretched hand touched a chairback and I retreated behind the chair. Then as he moved. I wrenched myself away from the door and backed away from him. Once I had seen a caged leopard stand just so. this was the man I had seen riding alongside the duke.A voice. stopped me in my tracks. I ought not to have tried—if Antonio finds out—" "Antonio is the fat landlord? Your husband or your lover?" "My kinsman. putting what little barrier I could between us." he said softly. but no sound came. "You are trembling. the light caught him. I was retreating . staring incredulously at what had seemed to be an empty room. I was praying as I had never prayed before for the power of flight. shaking as I stared back at him." "A fair trouble. and I saw the man standing there. "Little crow!" I spun around. Are you commonly disobedient?" My voice seemed to die in my throat. I clutched savagely at the coarse black stuff of my skirt. deep in its throat. He must have sensed my fear. waiting for my answer. If I had been afraid before." I dared not say brother." My voice was a craven whisper. for I had seen a silver-fair gleam of beard fringing the firm jaw. soft and almost teasing. "You look as though all the legions in hell were at your back. . for his broad hat cast a shadow that hid his expression. "Yet the noise of guests brings you creeping out to spy on them. My lips parted. "What was your haste?" He straightened in one supple movement. it was as nothing to the terror of seeing this tall stranger leaning lazily against the fireplace in Antonio's taproom. He had been stripping the gauntlets from his hands and now stood as though he had frozen at the sound of the opening door." The man's eyes flickered over me in such a way that I blushed uncontrollably. then a shadow moved beside the hearth. and purr so. He was idly stripping the black gloves from his hands as he watched me. "I must go back to my room. "I thought no one was here. and a mocking note entered his voice.

But it stayed there. I wondered if I was dreaming. I felt suffocated. They were black. and unable to frame a word of protest. the whole city. biting into the backs of my thighs and cutting off my escape. the house. so dark that they were unfathomable. I turned away now. I thought of Lucifer as I looked at him. heavy and solid. When I felt his fingertips against my cheek. horrifyingly dark in that fair face. and unwarily I looked straight up into his eyes. over-whelmed in his shadow. was suddenly breathless with waiting. trying to avoid that relentless stare. my fingers moving frantically along it for some way of escape. and the room. I could not—dared not— take my eyes from his. I flinched as I would have done from a brand. of a demon's eyes in the face of a fallen angel. and I found my way by instinct and the blind groping of my fingers. But he turned my face up to him as casually as he might have turned a rose to smell it.before him with agonizing slowness as he rounded the room towards me. It was when they touched the edge of the table that I knew I had misjudged. Then. as I watched. . I caught my breath. and impossibly. a strange light began to grow in them—the darkness was swallowed up in a brilliance that made them blaze silver. I was being driven back against it like an animal at bay.

will they set watches on me even here? Say I will come soon." . . I did not desire uncommon entertainment. "Santa Maria!" The oath escaped Antonio before he could check it. "Your pardon. "God's death. excellency.Chapter Two The crash of the passage door flung back on its hinges was like a noise from another world. . But first I shall . I came only to have some talk of business with you. "Your companions say they attend your pleasure." "I will not trouble you. but it sent Antonio out of the room without a word." "Carry my message. Your noble companions are wondering where you are. There is one but a step upstairs. but his fingers caught my chin and forced my face up as he studied it silently. I was shivering as the door closed. . "Had I known your excellency desired a private chamber. ." The stranger swore softly. ." "Are they so officious?" The dark eyes never left my face." It was only a whisper. I would have given you the finest. Please . excellency." "What is it you fear?" The even voice was faintly curious." "I am indebted to them." Antonio bowed again. . What is your name?" The click of the latch saved me and Antonio's voice." There was an unpleasant curl to the man's lower lip. My gaze fell before his. . "It must be the devil at least. the eyes narrowed and searching. excellency. and my voice sounded unsteady. sirrah. excellency." "They sent me to bring you to them. I hardly heard Antonio's bellow of outrage. and he made haste to repair his credit with a low bow. "Yes. "Go and tell them. all I was aware of was the light touch of the stranger's fingers against my cheek. then. "He is angry—I must go.

and he spread his hands in a liberal gesture." The dark gaze held Antonio's. . The stranger's eyes widened. If we can but agree on the price . go to your room and go to bed. I wanted to laugh at my own stupidity. I have been to some trouble to keep it hid. "It may be so. "that the Eagle's wines are of the first growth. ." The stranger's smile was mocking now. "Felicia. sir. and my wife and I prize it greatly. or perhaps a kinsman. . As I closed the door behind me. but our store is for strength." "I said a rare one. only a greedy. "Felicia . excellency. excellency." Antonio bridled. I heard Antonio say. Rare and foreign are not the same word. excellency?" I saw the peremptory jerk of Antonio's head towards the door." almost under his breath.'' I did not stop to hear more. now the tale of my folly would be unfolded. preoccupied note. but I could not stir. I think. "I heard lately—I do not know how truly—that this inn can boast a rarer wine than any in the duke's cellars." With my knees trembling with relief. as I heard it. nor could I. I take a pride in these—discoveries. and I have no substance to spend on imported wine. Antonio. "Alas. not subtlety. . Antonio scowled at me. The stranger's visit had nothing to do with me—it was my own folly which had made me suppose he remembered catching my eye in the middle of the procession. They had not come for me! I had fashioned the whole nightmare myself." There was no anger in his voice now. "Might it be so? I am some judge of wine and would pay well for the tasting. Antonio said at last." "I am always the first to hear of any such. Why should six men come on so . then turned a look of obsequiousness on the stranger." "Certainly. "I wonder how your excellency knows of my wine."With me. "How can I serve your excellency?" For a moment the man's eyes dwelt on my face." he added hastily. for all my fears had been wasted. it is a delicacy we would not sell on the open market. his face fiery red with excitement. But I have but the one flask. buiiding upon my fear of the tall man with the soft voice who turned my bones to water. you understand. was that the wine was of recent vintage and made from the fairest grapes—grown in the vineyard of some friend of yours. Then he said softly. his broad face flushing crimson. I turned to the door. "We understand each other." Antonio looked as though he could hardly believe his ears. halflaughing and half-crying. "We will talk later of why you intruded on our noble guest. and he murmured." The man inclined his head. and I knew I must stay and defend myself. I would not presume to rival the duke's vaults-—I have not traded long in this part of the city. The tale. you have been misled! It is true. turned suddenly to me. The intoxication of reprieve sent me upstairs as light as a bird.

"I am glad you are not asleep. nothing." "Then why did you go in?" The question had an edge of Antonio's usual sharpness. You were not to know he had gone into the taproom." "Peace. and I was sure she wanted me. "I did not think he was there. that I had not thought that these costly people might come and bargain for drink like other men? As long as Antonio could be pacified. "He asked me who you were after you had gone. peace!" His fat hand patted my shoulder." The blood stung my cheeks at the memory. there was no trace of wine on his breath." I retorted with bitter simplicity. I thought as I reached my room again. but it did not really matter if he upbraided me or even beat me again: I was safe. It creaked. I am not angry with you. I could concoct some tale to tell him. no need to look like that! His excellency told me he stayed you when you would have gone. "Abed." I drew a quick breath of relief. no more. I was safe. almost conciliatory—perhaps he had been drinking." I whispered softly.petty an errand? What had possessed me. You said . . "What were you talking of when I came?" "Why. girl. and he appeared to believe me. but I was puzzled." "No. . . safe as though the strange events of this day had never been. "Then there is no more to say. I want to talk to you. I was sitting up in bed. I said. A moment later the door opened. I heard the horses arriving. and I eyed him in amazement. when I heard the horsemen leaving and Antonio's lumbering tread sounded on the stairs. shutting the door behind him and standing the cup he carried on the floor while he lowered his ponderous bulk on to the end of the bed." "Did he ask what kin you are to me?" "I would not tell him that. Why did you not say directly that you are my sister?" "Because I am not directly your sister." It was a poor lie but swiftly told. His tone was jocular. and his broad red face peered around it. "He asked who I was and what I did. still in my shift." "What is it?" "Nothing wrong. "I thought I heard Celia call." He came in with elaborate stealth. Safe from the terror that threatened me while I was gazing into those nightmare black eyes. are you? Good.

I swear!" The prince of darkness. Brother?" He gaped for a moment and then went off into a roar of laughter as though I had said something witty. looming beside the bed while I drank. I had thought I was too excited to sleep. And that ring he wears never came from a gimcrack peddler." I pointed out. The sharp tang of cloves was in my mouth as I lowered the cup and handed it back to him." His eyes glittered resentfully." He levered himself to his feet and stood over me. they will not be half-done yet." He snorted again. "Yes. girl. He was never so happy as when he had beaten some rival in the way of bargain. I will tell Celia what has chanced in the morning. Celia would have my blood if she knew of it. My eyes were closing before Antonio reached the door. "an excellent profit—a purse of silver. Drink it up. "Did you make a good profit on your wine. and my eyelids felt so heavy that all my crowding thoughts were suddenly unimportant. "I have brought you some cordial to drink. I thought with relief." I nodded drowsily. "You can speak of it when nobility questions you." The drink smelled bitter. for all the world as though he had never boxed my ears for daring to call him Brother. The menacing shape reminded me of Battista. "What a jest if he does not like it—the more fool he. I thought absurdly. "Drink your cordial and do not keep me here all night. But look—" He picked up the cup from the floor. and all for one paltry flask of wine!" He patted my shoulder. "No common soldier would give orders in such a style. for buying it untasted!" That explained his good humor. Antonio waved the thought aside. We have been talking with nobility. "You drank that like a practiced toper! Lie down now"—his tone held an odd trace of relief—"and go to sleep." His voice took on a tinge of its accustomed roughness." he gasped at last. I took the cup in both hands and smiled at him." "I did not think he was noble. and I hurried to have him gone so that I hardly tasted the drink. all fine and haughty. "And he talked like a lord. and I could not make out . but it is my guess that you will not sleep without something in your belly. but the tiny conspiracy against Celia warmed me. . "You cannot judge a man's true station. Emboldened. girl! Did you not see the whiteness of his hands? No one less than a lord could keep 'em so smooth. These court revels go on all night. . "Come on."Pooh!" Antonio snorted and bridled." "But if he were so great. If only the mood would last until morning . and I will take the cup so she will not know. but the taste of the cordial was thick in my mouth. and I did not really want it. He was dressed like a soldier. he would have been at the duke's feast tonight. "Belike he did not choose to go or else left early.

Somewhere a torch burned. They were talking about me.' he said. my dear Tomasso.whether the shadows that passed him and came towards the bed were real or part of the dream that came so swiftly. and what they said was important." The second voice was musical and cultured. ." "You are here to guard her. I tried to lift my head. we have had nothing but her ever since he saw her!" Piero's laugh was long and high. "I advise you not to touch her. I was lying on my back on a bed harder and narrower than my own. But I could not care. the whole place was like a bear garden. "Amid so much! The duchess in hysterics. "Until he found out who she was and how his hand could reach her. sounding almost triumphant. 'my excellent Piero shall keep her close for me while this exigent lasts." The other spoke lightly and coldly. believe me! And yet I wonder what makes him ask so often." "Is he so impatient. Their words were meaningless. It is true." . and now I am deputed to be her overseer until he finds leisure to speak with her. but their sense washed to and fro over me like waves above a drowned corpse. "She is a fair piece—good enough to shorten a long night. could not even make myself understand. I thought stupidly. not to tumble her.' 'While this exigent lasts' affords no clues." The brittle voice changed. my mind was a jumble of dream and reality. "Well." I ought to care. We had to search the city streets to please him. Piero?" Tomasso's voice was jeering. and he wants news of some fool of a girl!" "This one seems to be of importance. and two shadows were bending over me. "You may thank God for it. my dear Tomasso. then?" " 'Heart. "If she had died. 'Piero. the whole state in uproar. and I wondered why he should care. though." "What would you know of that." A man's voice spoke above me. but pain went coursing so sharply through it that I groaned softly and closed my eyes again." The words faded thoughtfully. "She's not dead. lest he hear of it. . I heard them. we would none of us see old age. she's a pretty wench but not to my taste. More than I guessed . throwing flickers of gold on a ceiling that was ribbed like a stone cage. my dear. "Enough. Too starved-looking. I trust no other to render her to me safely." The first man gave a quiet whistle. in darkness which threatened to close in on me. He has asked for her fifty times since you brought her here. I woke in a room I had never seen before. "How long is that like to be?" "God in Heaven knows. a meaningless trill.

" I felt a cool touch on my hot forehead. but the movement made the sickness pound in my head again. sweetest thing in the world. but they chilled me with fear. He cannot refuse her. "Indeed." Someone bent over me. "Such eyes! Now I see why ." Piero sounded amused. of course. quickly!" The water he held to my lips was the coolest. Tomasso. You gave a weak wench sufficient for a lusty soldier—and she can have eaten little worth the name before she had the drug. I think you were too liberal. he was only a voice and a pall of thick. "She is awake. choking me." "He speak with that old beldam! But he shuns her like the pestilence!" "He cannot do so now. "Look. the words made no sense. lady." Tomasso said sharply. not until he has spoken with the duchess. my dear Tomasso! Who else should know it. . "Fetch some water. I would have gulped at it." "He will not like it. . begging that she may have private speech with him." Piero warned. and I felt myself lifted and pillowed against a thin shoulder. "We know what Gratiana means by 'private speech. my dear. She has written him a fair letter." Then he called sharply above my head. Piero's voice murmured." Tomasso said gruffly. "Gently." "I could not know that!" "No. trying to force my cloudy brain to work. but the cup was withdrawn. "And I have to coddle a sick wench in these vaults until he has leisure! By all the saints!" "He will not ask for her yet. Unbelievingly I forced my eyes open. . but the duke will not think so. . "I must have given her too strong a dose. as usual." Tomasso's grin sounded in his voice. sweating.' " I tried to turn my head to look at him. It rose in my throat. then the nausea passed and I lay still again. and for a moment I thought I would vomit. and give it her." "Of course. cloying perfume. if I do not?" The sound of the duke's name transfixed me like a spear thrust. 'your gracing' him some score of times. "He cannot. then go and fetch the duke's leech. gently.Tomasso swore." "You know his mind. "You did not use your brain. . . Still I could not see him clearly.

"And do not spend your strength in questions. for whenever I opened my eyes. "You will know soon enough. I could not recall where I had seen it. but I nodded." I could only understand the last of what he said. To sleep was suddenly the most important thing in the world. You have been very sick. ." "It was not my fault. "Who are you?" "I am Father Vincenzo." Bewilderment and terror and a dim feeling of pity for Tomasso's obvious fear. and I saw that he wore the robes of a Jesuit priest. the same torch flames pierced the same darkness and the priest was there. "Have you fetched that damned leech. "Do not try to move. time enough for that when your mind is clear again. my dear—if this one should die on our hands. thready whisper was my own. "I have been tending you while the fever held you. only the present ease or present trouble of sleeping or waking—day and night were indistinguishable. . pain still racked me. "How long have I been here?" "These two days past. daughter.were slipping away from me." A cup was held to my lips. a fair face with demon's eyes. many people were sick of a sudden in weather like this. you drank something which gave you a fever. ." I felt him tense. It was not strange. and a shadow beside my bed. and I slept. and I felt too spent to care." "He had better hurry. I had other dreams after that one—for a dream was how I remembered it—but they were always the same. A voice said. Drink this. and I half believed I had invented it out of my sickness. though it is plague enough." The man spoke comfortingly. Antonio must have sent me to the common hospital to be nursed by the monks—he bore me hardly when I was in health and would never tend me while I was sick. I saw a face that was strange and yet familiar."Where am I?" I could hardly believe that the harsh. it was to darkness and dank air that stabbed my lungs. "It is not the plague?" "Not the sort you mean. and I did so willingly. No." I moistened my lips. as though I should be reassured by the name. ." I stared up at the sallow face above mine. Tomasso?" "He's coming." I drank and lay back. when food and water were so quickly tainted. Piero. all. It did not matter that I did not know how I had come to this. I would not give two pins for his life—or for yours. You will speak to the duke for me and tell him I meant the wench no harm. In my weakness I knew no past or future. more bewildered than frightened. I had nothing to do but obey the solemn young priest. When I woke again.

"Enough to have done with state affairs already! He has dismissed the council and ordered revels for this very night. he had Tomasso hauled out and hanged. It is too soon. As soon as the duke heard that his prize was like to die." "I beg you. She believes herself to be in the common hospital and thinks she is kept here but while she is sick. "He gave her too generous a dose of his sleeping draught—-and he paid for it with his neck. The one that answered him was high-pitched and resonant." The man sounded amused. where Duke Carlo lodged the prisoners who never saw the light of day." "For what offense?" "Who can tell?" I could hear the man's shrug in his tone." "So I have told him already at your request and coined excuses until my tongue is bankrupt." There was a silence and then the man laughed. They came from outside the door. mingling with the broken snatches of dreaming which filled my thoughts. it is a brave man who mentions her—they were alone together for half an hour. the solitude. My spies tell me she is well enough now to be got from her bed. She is not half-recovered. staring unseeing into the shadows above me. are you seeking to save her?" Father Vincenzo's voice was bitter." There was a sharp note of anxiety in Father Vincenzo's normally level voice. the voice I had heard in my dream. I cannot defer the business any longer. she knows nothing of how or why she came here. "I cannot permit it. Father. "That girl is innocent." "Then delay him." "Tomasso Galleotti's work.I was lying half in sleep when I heard voices close by. It is the devil's work His Grace will be at. "You belie your own skill. and resign your charge to me—he will not be persuaded. I remembered the grim tales I had heard of the dungeons beneath the Palazzo della Raffaelle. resign yourself. "What. persuade him to some other course. It will not serve. and the duke has been asking for her threescore times in an hour. Now all His Grace's mind is bent upon this business." My heart was pounding violently. "She is gone. all sleep fled from me and I lay with straining ears. and now she is banished and gone. the single priest to nurse me: now I noticed the bars that bound the heavy door and recognized the dark room for what it was. my lord della Quercia. "I verily believe he is the devil himself. the meaningless trill I remembered. ." "And what more fitting?" The other man laughed. The silence. and there an end. As for the duchess. and I am sent to fetch your prisoner. It seemed impossible that I could have been a prisoner all this while and had not known it—but it made sense of so much that had been meaningless before. and as I listened. my lord's Grace is grown impatient. Good Father. good Father. Tell him it will be better for his purpose to hold off for a space." "Does he care so much?" Father Vincenzo asked sharply.

and I will take you to His Grace's envoy. and I remember feeling annoyed by my slow progress. when the priest spoke again. seeking for an escape that I knew was not there. "I will bring her to you. You lied to me. then he bowed with an ironic air that made an insult of the courtesy. You are no worse now than you were before you learned all this—you need not fear for your life. "Pray make haste. Consider calmly. staring wildly around me." "What did you hear?" He came towards me and caught my hands in his." There was infinite irony in the smooth words. I said." "Yes. My legs were unsteady. his hair and beard bleached to the color of sun-whitened barley. one hand on his hip.My thoughts were circling. then I saw a man standing against the opposite wall. as incongruous as a shining moth in a tomb. and Father Vincenzo pushed it open." "I am much beholden to you. Come." He gently draped the dingy bedcover around my shoulders. "Is it afternoon. and you will see that it is so. The room beyond the door was wide and bare. and the Jesuit gripped my restless hands and held them still. spare. A small." . panic-stricken. shapeless man in black brocaded with silver. "Lady. He stood deliberately posed. It would have gained you nothing and perhaps hindered your recovery—you would not have learned the truth yet if I could have prevented it. "That the duke sends for me. The duke would not set me to cure you of your feveronly to have you killed." There was compassion in the priest's eyes. good afternoon!" The sudden affected lightness stirred my memory: this was the man who had complained in the courtyard of the Eagle the night I was taken. Father Vincenzo's voice came sharply from the doorway behind me. have courage. lady. seeming so bright for a moment my eyes were dazzled. what is the matter?" I said unsteadily. or truly I think the duke will come himself if you do not." "But why should he take me prisoner? And why did you not tell me?" "I feared to raise this very storm by speaking. daughter. the other stroking his beard. I have done nothing—why does he keep me in prison for nothing?" I was almost stammering." I said through chattering teeth. "Daughter. and I lifted my head in a sudden spurt of pride as I went with him to the door. "I have the right to know what is intended towards me." As the sandaled footsteps approached the door. "I heard you talking. I was out of bed. "Softly. "But knowing the duke's intent would not have altered it. his thin face a mask of paint. but at last I reached the massive door. sir? The hours are so alike I cannot tell one from another.

you have been secret with her! I did not dream she had not guessed it. he means to use you well! And use you thoroughly. sir." One eyebrow arched coolly. "I know enough. "Would you be gone before you know the reason you were brought here? On my honor. tripping step like a trotting pony. ironic smile." "I have tried His Grace's welcome. eyeing me up and down." "You do not know this duke. lady. and laughter shook his voice. I am sent by the duke to deliver you and to bid you welcome to his court. "You have pretty notions of women!" "Well. It wants two hours to supper. lady. then. "On my life." "Am I to be overjoyed that such a tyrant would lie with me? It is more like to drive me to despair!" My hands were trembling. "You are here awaiting his pleasure. smiling. The duke has given orders for your dressing." "And it was for that he imprisoned me? You mock me. and I could hear the man addressing Father Vincenzo above my head. We must not linger. daughter?" I drew a deep breath and nodded." I whispered no. well!" His eyes widened. "No more than you meant to. "Farewell would please me better.He straightened swiftly." "Perhaps a little more." I glanced bitterly down at my filthy shift. "Have I affronted virtue?" His tone turned the word to a sneer. "My pretty notions have not so far encountered such wrathful modesty. "Can you stand." He met my bewildered gaze and sobered a little." My hands clenched in spite of myself. and I retorted. or I do not know him. grown paler since I had done so little work. I never knew a duke invite a tavem wench to share his supper." I did not move. and I thrust them behind me. and the room spun before my eyes. and by that time you must be made ready. at the thinness of my hands. " 'Slight. his expression thoughtful. "Father. He bids you to his banquet. He followed my gaze. she is a prodigy if she does not dissemble. His lips curled in a faint. Someone steadied me." The murmur was mocking. and the man came forward with a quick. we are laggard. sir. "All that is at an end." He was stroking his beard. "What does he mean to do with me?" "Should I speak it before the priest?" His eyes glinted. You should be glad. half-hidden by the gray coverlet. Innocent indeed!" The priest paid him no heed. "Come. that you are honored with the duke's notice and should not stand like a lightning-struck tree. but his eyes were watchful. and I noticed that the malicious intelligence of his heavy-lidded eyes contradicted the weakness of mouth and chin." . It may be I shall alter them a little. sir. the duke intends you all love and friendship.

the gold-powdered hair. and he will win you.' Piero Ottavio della Quercia. I burst out. There are few about the court who deny his beauty— you must be hard to please. it seems." In spite of myself." The man was looking at me strangely as I fought to control my rising tears." "That . without meaning to. "His Grace is not the man to subdue the dictates of his flesh—and. "It would be more politic to call it gold. "Then you must study to find him so. Can you tell me why your master should want me more than another?" Piero surveyed me slowly. at your service. he is the duke. . you cannot be so modest!" "I do not want your compliments!" My voice almost broke. I was silenced by the ache in his voice that sounded almost like sorrow. He shrugged. you may change your mind. insolently. for he dotes on admiration. "My lord." There was an oddly brittle note in Piero's voice. "He is a kind of witch. . Piero raised his eyebrows. "Sir. . "Oh." "He cannot command my honor!" Piero smiled. He will have what he will have. "Do not be too sure. "I beg your lordship's pardon.I did not heed him. moreover. let me go! You could tell the duke I escaped you—he would not care greatly—" . Why will he not take one of them?" "Because he soon tires of those who are too willing. I ." "I am not his sycophant!" "Well. Then. He would mislike the imputation of old age if he heard it. first gentleman to the Duke of Cabria. you should address me as 'my lord. lady. for correctness. "Why does the duke want me when he has never seen me?" "He saw you once." Piero's gaze seemed to travel beyond me as he spoke. and that once was enough. "Would you call it white?" he enquired musingly. lady?" I remembered the coarse. cruel drunkard's face. that white-haired lecher!" I was almost past speech. ." "But there must be women who would account it an honor to do what he would force me to. and shook my head." The sarcasm made me so angry that I forgot my fear for a moment. Do you not think him handsome. "He is surfeited with brood mares and must mount the unicorn." "Lady.

My chastity was gone in the eyes of honest folk already. "Why. I said with difficulty. like the other whores. unless you breed by him. I am bidden to ensure that no woman he lies with has any disease that could harm him. What could I do if I were set free? Antonio would never have me in his house unless. I must have you held. "He would care enough to have my life for it! His Grace is not gainsaid by man or woman. "I will leave the lady to your mercies.He laughed softly." There was a silence as I fought for words to deny him but could find none. lady." I flinched away from him. he was in the grip of some excitement that made him tremble. Piero's hand touched my shoulder in what I thought for an instant was a caress. but Piero's eyes were bright with some unnamed excitement." It was an almost inarticulate sound of triumph. if the duke should force his passage. ." "I dare not take it." . but angrily. and his words came rapid and fevered. "Well. "So. to your home? Who there will believe in your chastity? Better stay—a duke's whore is better than a common harlot or a beggar. "I am not only your physician but the duke's. Father. my lord. I give you my word . Many are sick who do not know it themselves. you need not fear me." A cry of revulsion tore my throat. His color had risen. call me when you have done. "I am not for your market." I turned away so that he should not see my tears. and I will take my oath the duke has strength enough to bring you to it. . and I tried to twist away. but if you will not. leaving Father Vincenzo standing before me like a mute. Better stay." He flushed in his turn. Save your wit. Be still and trust me. you will get nothing by it. and the duke's health is the health of the whole state. but he held both my hands fast. "What did he mean?" For a moment I thought he would not answer. you purchase wealth and honor beyond your dreams!" The blood scorched my cheeks. be a fool if you will! I only advise you to sell while you can." He was gone in a whirl of silk and perfume. "Why should you not? You do not look barren. "Where? Back to the gutter. and it will soon be over. It is no more than a task I must do. and his shapeless fingers caught my wrists and gripped them. Then he said reluctantly. you are distracted!" The words were mock soothing." "Let me go!" I could find no other words. I paid him rent. "You would be no better by reserving your virginity but in the name of maid-—but once you part with it. "Father.

lady. with a swish of robes. He took & step towards me." "You need not seek far. after he casts you off? You were better to choose yourself a gallant who is close to the duke and live under his protection. for once. but I am sworn to obey the duke. and I twisted to escape him. If you chose rightly. "He is soon impatient with a cold wench. his voice edged with sarcasm. "I am sorry I had to do this thing." he remarked sardonically." I answered bitterly. Although in truth. Remember that the prisoner forgives the hangman. it was over quickly. Now let me pass." "A rare stratagem." his lips twisted." He was so close now that his body pressed against mine. you would scarce know you had stepped lower than the topmost rung of the ladder. irritating gesture. I shall tell him. "My congratulations. but when he had done. Then." He studied me thoughtfully." "Always your servant." "Who would be such a fool?" "I think I would. and I flinched. "You have made short work!" All the color drained from Father Vincenzo's face." "Why"—he moved nearer still—"where would you go. What must I do?" He did his work deftly and in silence while I stayed dumb with shame and humiliation." He sounded ashamed." "I hope he rewards you well. "I will not fight you. "if I could find a man willing to take up the duke's neglected whore. His . "Lady." "Perhaps he will tire the sooner and set me free. his fingers stroking his beard in that habitual." The note of pain in his voice was so sharp that I nodded speechlessly and heard his quick breath of relief. "She is clean enough to be corrupted." Piero stood aside and swept him a flourishing bow.The resistance drained from me on a long shuddering sigh. "What. "he does not ask much! Any that is shaped for a woman and is less than wholly rotted will serve his turn—so the priest can freshen her for him. for being all that the duke could desire. He laughed as the door closed and turned to me. pardon me for my office. He said in a low voice. Father. to hold him a little longer. As he had promised. he strode across the room to call Piero. "You must learn not to be so squeamish with His Grace. are you done already?" The courtier spoke from the doorway. I could not look at him. But you are new enough. But I was hard against the wall and could not thrust him away. his eyes fever-bright." I retorted. and fair enough. "There is nothing to cure.

" "You mistake. but she stood erect and stiff." "Then I wish his mind had changed when I lay sick. and the way his breath came quickly between his parted lips. "Madonna Niccolosa. waiting. . a crannied warren of gray stone stretching into seeming infinity. lady. the traces of brown at the roots of his silvered curls. dearer than twenty harlots. Two women were standing there. "The delay ought to have outrun his patience. You know your duties from the duke's secretary. we have debated long enough—you must be dressed. but my pride would not support such humiliation. He is as like to take it as a favor that I will husk the grain that he has thrashed." The woman nodded." For a moment I thought he would murder me. wearing severest black." I answered angrily. She was tall and forbidding. or tosses it away unvalued. She was not young." he added as I made a little sound of disgust." As I hurried in Piero's wake through a labyrinth of passages. I realized then that my struggles excited him. only her hands. And always before me was Piero della Quercia's hurrying back. "I doubt I would take such a foolish offer. "A royal one. those we met stared at me as though I were some freak from another country. and fitly. "Even if you were enough of a fool to take the duke's leavings." Piero addressed the elder woman with a brusqueness that carried me straight back to the Eagle. it seems strange that I should have striven for dignity at such a time. when I had lost all sense of direction and no longer knew how far we had come. the silver threads in his cloak gleaming in the torchlight." For an instant there was something like tender reminiscence in Piero's eyes. I kept up as well as I could. and when he begins to look sullenly upon you or gazes on another woman and smiles. with gray hair highpiled above a harsh-boned face. "He is a sort of child in that—he wants nothing so much as the thing that is withheld. like as not. and I could see the paint grained in his skin. and I stood still. he turned suddenly into a doorway and bowed me ahead of him into a high tapestried chamber. Time is precious. half-blinded by the harsh alternations of fire and shadow and chilled to the bone by the howling drafts." I whispered.face was only inches from mine." Piero's excitement was dying. And once he has it"—he stepped away from me and shrugged elaborately—"he breaks it. his stride somewhere between haste and swaggering. At last. he was once again the brisk and dapper courtier I had seen at first." "He is a monster. "Come. It will not be long." I said. Two guards flanked me. but I would not let them support me. then I will beg you of him. "Here is your charge. The Palazzo della Raffaelle seemed to me the palace of a nightmare. You will find I am dear to His Grace. but then he laughed. "His Grace is no more constant than the moon. "You will not have the choice. Blazing lights loomed up in the blackness of its sudden turns and vanished again as swiftly. helping me when weakness made me stumble.

but she answered him levelly enough. glaring at him. I will send someone to bring you to supper in good time. circled her pliant neck." she returned scathingly. I thought. and I jumped." "We need a hundred years for such a task. diamonds. and he gave a low whistle. "Well. "Ladies. a lovely dark bronze. Suddenly I remembered where I had seen her before. Evidently Madonna Maddalena coveted such favors. it was with a harsh." "Did he so?" Piero sounded startled. and I wondered why she should be jealous of that disgusting old man—but then I noticed her jewels. It was Maddalena who spoke first." He must dislike her. "And we are to make that beautiful. They weighed down her thin fingers. I take my leave—and you were best to use all haste. was one of the few not bleached to fairness. husky and intriguing. He will not waste his treasure on such a common wench. The fashion of her dressing is to be as the duke pleases—none of your nun's attire. but his smile was malicious as he bowed. "We have had His Grace's commands." "Very well. and he was gone. But it was the antagonism in her face that shocked me. and her gown—a wonderful thing of black and silver-—threw its color into relief and showed off her delicate. for he sent no jewels for her. we must waste no time on blasphemy. "But nothing else. and silver. are you jealous. my lord. "What. faintly tawny skin. "We do. Piero!" The younger woman spoke for the first time. in a voice devoid of all expression." Piero surveyed her mockingly. He sent them himself. "What was the order?" "Lombardy silk. She had ridden in the procession to the cathedral. When she spoke." A click of his fingers to summon the waiting guards. I remembered noticing her because her hair.veined and swollen-knuckled. her voice was as deep as a man's. then she said. as she glanced towards me. and lay across her breast like a hauberk of mail. her enormous pale-green eyes were smoldering and her mouth was hard." she said grudgingly. betrayed her age. remember. slow accent. Her lips thinned at his tone. to treat her so rudely. It was dressed in two horns on her head in the Venetian fashion. breaking the oppressive silence. My God!" The older woman frowned. "That is some comfort. "Madam. call the maids and let us begin. She could not have been much older than I was." The green eyes surveyed me a moment longer. Piero did not answer her." ." "Not to that. Madonna Maddalena? He has squandered enough upon you to maintain you for the rest of your days—now you must give place. glittering like a web of fallen stars even in this grim place.

painted and trimmed like a whore. For a moment." Niccolosa nodded grimly. "I cannot abide a proud harlot. and cheeks colorless with apprehension." There was meaning in his voice. Maddalena kept up a flow of scornful little comments on my plainness as I was bathed and dressed. and recognized only the color of my eyes. Until now my fears had been instinctive.I hardly knew what went on for the next hour." "I will. "A sweet thing! And she does not look unduly proud. perhaps he is so old that he will be impotent. too. The weight of the gown was so crushing that I was forced into the slow sursurrating walk of the other women. It seemed that court tailors knew no colors but silver and black. piled high on my head: oval face. I thought. as low as Maddalena's. and then I shall be safe. but in an instant her expression was stony: Maddalena's held nothing but flaming antagonism. for I. the kisses of that slack mouth. the embroidered skirts spread over a broad farthingale. his hand dragging back the covers and his voice a threatening growl in my ears. my last impulse to beg for their help died. but now as I turned and returned. Stiff black silk over a cloth of silver petticoat. I remembered Messire Luzzato's wet. I might have been gazing at a stranger. and a gaunt gnome of a man. and I turned as she directed. "Ladies. my whole mind was slowly succumbing to overwhelming dread. I had time to think. "We are ready. Then I thought of the man I had seen bowing in the street to those other women. For the first time I was beginning to realize what submission to the duke's lust would mean. a dread of the unknown. and nearly retched. meeting the lurking misery and fright in my own eyes. was dressed in them. Tell His Grace we are coming. In that moment. trailing its massy skirts to ease the burden. I imagined the scrabblings of those podgy fingers. For the rest. The duke should have no weeping. I would yield with dignity. you are sent for to join the duke. I thought. but I barely heard them. searching for some remembered feature from my reflection in Antonio's pewter pans. Messire Vassari. I stared. then I realized that I was looking at my own reflection in the great mirror on the wall. "Is this the latest phoenix?" "Yes. and my skin showed silver white against it. a tight-laced stomacher crusted with silver thread. moving like a puppet to order. The candles flared wildly as the door burst open. that odd untinged gray like a gull's feathers. I thought I must curtsy to the fine lady who had entered unseen. I thought I glimpsed a flicker of compassion in Niccolosa's face. as I turned. Well. I remembered my stepfather kneeling by my bedside with his breeches gaping open. cringing victim—if I had to yield." He slanted a look at me under his eyelids. there will be no more of that." Maddalena spoke sullenly. pouting mouth and greedy eyes. hurried over the threshold and bowed. oval eyes wide. A sharp little push from Maddalena brought me back to the present. lady. I was too dazed with shame even to raise my eyes. eyeing me curiously. Perhaps. "You would not have dared to speak so ten days since!" . Hair black and shining as the silk of the gown." Her eyes blazed. The gown was cut low. I took a step away from the mirror.

"Come. carved and chased. staring at the oncoming nobles. It was only as we reached a long. staring faces in a terrifying silence. then turned to me. but her stern face showed no surprise. turning the courtiers to giant insects under an uplifted stone. The silence grew deathly. swelling through the laughter. Follow. beside me. her wooden chopines clattering on the stone flags. somewhere. even this panic that makes me want to run and lose myself in this echoing maze. rank upon rank. Suddenly the whole chamber seemed to erupt in swinging patterns of brilliance and blackness as the court came to its feet. dark-haired courtier with a kindly face. the brightness of their clothes and jewels hurting my eyes. crowding the shadows. Servants ran to the doors and flung them wide. walking defiantly out of time with the beat of the music. Gone were the opulent colors of the duke's triumphal procession—-everywhere black and silver gleamed with a lurid phosphorescence. but ten days is a long time in the duke's affections. as I stood on the brink of what seemed a black frozen lake that reflected the blaze of the torches. I stood with downcast eyes praying that something—anything—would divert the court's attention. the palazzo might have been empty. There were other tables behind it. They thought of everything. and I found myself confronted by row upon row of blanched. swaggering figure beside a tall." She swept imperiously ahead. and another voice took it up. For a moment longer the raucous charter went on. and as I followed her. I did not know how apt the thought was until the doors opened and the heat and the noise engulfed me both together. Then heads began to turn." Maddalena glared. I had been prepared for any humiliation but the martyrdom of laughter. at first a whispering growing through the ringing footsteps. or he will be growing impatient. Blackness yawned before me. then swelling to the din a thousand magpies chattering. and after them a short stocky man. then. or lizards disturbed by a sudden light. only in front of me there was emptiness. a hall so vast that walls and roof were lost in shadow."No. leaving me alone and absurd in the doorway. and the music surged in unchecked. Then. glittering as though with sweat in the harsh light. the music of drums and trumpets. Then I heard. but an instant later I realized I was mistaken—the cropped . my lady. the two guards stepped from their station outside the door and fell into step behind me. but they had drawn back from the threshold. I recognized Piero's slight. throbbing through me like a giant's pulse. and the eyes were turning away from me towards it. In moments the whole assembly was rocking with jeering laughter as I stood ridiculously before them. My hands clenched uncontrollably. bare gallery of vaulted stone that the first sounds came to meet us. I wish you joy. I thought. a table curved in a half-circle of silver threatened to crush me like a crab's great claw. facing me. My heart leapt to my mouth. It came from outside. studded doors behind the silver table. It was like stepping into hell. I glanced at Niccolosa. someone tittered. At the end of the gallery were two great double doors. I looked around me helplessly for the two women. beyond the huge. In that frozen instant the court looked like the picture of an inferno from one of the painted Bibles in the cathedral. Their footsteps and Maddalena's made the only sound as we went along. I stood rooted to the spot.

Then. its proud profile. In the whole vast assembly there was not a sound. watching me. Diamonds studded his hands and flashed in his ears—even his hair glimmered as if with Stardust. Even from where I stood I could read his expression: pure satisfaction. imperious gesture. with a devil's dark eyes set in the face of an archangel. The rustle of my skirts sounded as loud as a falling forest. his eyes never left my face. blindingly fair. radiantly. with an absurd defiance stiffening my back as haughtily as his. doublet and breeches fitted him like a skin. By now the hall resounded with shrieking trumpets. . his eyelids drooping and a faint. He nodded to right and left. moving slowly between the bowing ranks. and I looked up into the eyes that had haunted my feverish dreams and saw them blazing with satisfaction. raised me. The silver-gilt hair clustered in thick curls over the small. moving silver statue. white skin. They seemed to have been kneeling forever. I sank to the ground in a deep curtsy. The commanding hand fell to his side. and at once every man and woman dropped to one knee and lifted an arm in salute. I must have swayed. heavy with rings. as though to see me there amused him.black hair and square. But all I saw in that first moment was the fiercely beautiful face. but stili he waited. meeting his gaze about the courtiers' bent heads. He must have been nearly fifteen years my senior. suddenly. lady. "You are welcome. Then his hand flew out in a swift. Then. The trumpets ceased. Duke Carlo's bastard son. and for a moment his eyes seemed to rest on me down the length of the hall. As he walked. I was left standing like a fool. but there was a note of genuine amusement in it. late and confusedly. sardonic face belonged to Alessandro della Raffaelle. looking back the way he had come like a dog awaiting its master. came the Duke of Cabria. I felt the curious eyes fasten on me again like so many leeches. but he could. My fingers trembled in his. every poise and motion a conscious beauty. He was waiting for me to kneel. sensual mouth under the cropped and silken fair beard. I did not stop to reason how or why he was there. He stopped in front of me. uncontrollably. and in silence he walked the length of the hall and paused by the silver table. turning him to a living. and my breath caught suffocatingly in my throat. moving deliberately around the table towards me. proud head. the courtiers were as still as stringless puppets. He was toweringly tall and slender. for there was a glimmer of laughter between his lashes. staring into the eyes of the man who had come to the Eagle. For a long moment he looked down at me. I stayed stubbornly erect. but I did not fall. Fresh torches were borne in. A white hand. It was shrill and a little malicious. and at last. instead. and the shapely." He spoke softly. and the court rose with a great rustle. then he stepped to one side and turned. I prayed he could not see my shaking hands or the sudden dryness of my lips. he laughed. disquieting smile on his lips.

"I saw him on his way to the cathedral. I was beginning to think that I must be caught up in some monstrous dream. you are little like him." "How do you know he is not here?" I met the intent gaze steadily enough. Around us the moth-pale heads were laid together. These and sundry other weighty titles he has lately inherited from our lamented father." It was all I could say. it is a pity she should not know you!" Brother? I thought." The word was no more than a breath. Duke Carlo. and my awareness of the man beside me was almost a tangible thing. and I followed him to the head of the great table. Alessandro said relishingly. "The duke?" "Our duke. "Only such a coil could have made me defer this business so long. that in a moment I would wake with the sights and sounds fading into dusk and silence in Antonio's attic. lady. He sent for me. No two men so different could be close kin. But the silver table was solid beneath my fingers. he spoke so calmly. certain now that he was baiting me. Were you not told of it?" . Domenico Giordano della Raffaelle." "And you would know the Duke of Cabria if you saw him?" I nodded. "If you are bent on knowing her."Come. He said softly. "She says to my face what no one else dares whisper behind my back. Brother. too bemused even to fear. "He is. he might have been referring to the death of a dog or a mule." he added wickedly. who sat on my other side." It was the duke himself who spoke. And he is said to favor his mother. "You look at me as though I were a ghost." "A bold wench. watching and listening. "I have eyes. The Duke of Cabria. And now long live the new duke!" I shook my head in disbelief. Am I so monstrous?" "I thought the duke would be here. and the whispering began like a breaking sea. "Do you mean the duke is dead?" Sandro lifted his wine cup in mock salute. "I must present my brother to you. this. his narrowed eyes belying his light tone. and as he took his place in it. Duke of Cabria and Lord of the Marches. No. no one moved to prevent him. And though you sit in his place and take his homage. surely the name must be a title of affection. lady. "When did he die?" "The night I had you brought here." He spoke over my shoulder to the Bastard. Shall we make her know us better?" The Bastard grinned. He had seated me at the right of the duke's carved chair.

That silver devil . You had better tame your tongue. Brother!" Dark eyes studied me for a long moment." "I will take your word. "There's for you." "She is modest yet. I could feel his eyes resting on my bare shoulders as actual as a touch. wanted you?" I nodded dumbly." "Then parleying is a waste of time. and I looked at it with nausea—so much rich food after so long fasting threatened to turn my stomach. my father. and he laughed. Your generalship is famous—for the most part. "Drink some wine. Servants were threading their way between the tables with platters and dishes. not daring to trust my voice. I averted my eyes quickly and met Domenico's gaze." The duke's tone was idle. silver devil . Sprawled catlike in the silver chair. I had feared the father when I should have feared the son—all I had heard I had misconstrued. But you shall know greater ones tonight. . Now I understood Piero della Quercia's gibing comments and Maddalena's jealousy. So the black and silver has a reason. I thought: not just a macabre fashion but court mourning." Amusement quivered in his voice. your friend spoke truly. because I had not known of Duke Carlo's death and had not recognized his son in the procession. They were glancing often at the high table." His voice checked me. and he grinned as he caught my eye. the torches striking flickers of gold and angry red from the silver as they passed. "Your Grace. and I turned sharply away to stare at the chattering nobles. I gasped and started to rise to my feet. I will not yield willingly to you or any man." I found my tongue. the lady blushes. it is trifling." Alessandro whistled. "I wondered why Piero called you cold. Someone heaped my plate.I was silent. he would have done you little harm! You need not fear I cannot bear my part more ably than he could. ." My face flamed. "We shall see. You had best resort to battery. I did not dare look back at Domenico. "My lord and brother. then the duke said softly. listening blatantly. Did you think that old ram. . worn for Duke Carlo. discussing each word and look. "Faith. "I did not find you so in your brother's house. he was watching me. . lady." . "You take your pleasure too sadly." Alessandro was leaning forward. "True." I retorted breathlessly. watching me with a lazy possessiveness that terrified me suddenly. "I am making war on a scrupulous virginity. A half-forgotten phrase of Beniamino's was repeating itself in my head. He was leaning back in his chair." "I do not take pleasure in this.

She gave them back when I bade her. I have a mind"—his voice was almost a purr—"to give our stepmother duchess's diamonds to this lady. But by then. It was a relief when Alessandro claimed his attention. I looked covertly at the tall figure sprawled in the shining chair. but it was not pleasantly. Ippolito . but he checked himself. "I am persuaded." The Bastard's eyes were greedy. . He was dressed in black. you will have no stomach for feeding. "Brother. "I can be patient a little longer. she might be open to a fresh assault—so far I have had nothing but coldness and blows." "So I thought." He smiled. and his dark face reminded me of a contented cat's. the man he addressed heard the murmur from his place beside Piero and rose at once to bow at the Duke's shoulder. Seeing him." Alessandro looked fascinated but forbore to press the question. hence the state's." I tensed. I thought chillingly. Brother. Perhaps they will soften her heart a little. they will shine the brighter on this lady." "They were the gift of our father." I looked at the duke and saw his lips tighten. I'll tame her fury and leave her little time to trouble you. "You shall have the bitch. "No delaying. If you showed her that her reign is over." "She shall not have much either." "Does your taste run to viragoes. They have hidden that old hag's wrinkles for too many years. then! If you are to fight.The Bastard's jaw tightened for an instant. Piero's pale curls and brocaded doublet were a travesty of this man's beauty. and as he hurried away. "I did not think Gratiana would have given them back without blood. I understood why so many of the court blanched hair and skin to an artificial fairness to seem like him. with barely a trace of silver. He listened attentively to Domenico's lazy instructions. If he had meant what he said." "Those!" I thought Alessandro would say more. "I have been wooing her these ten days past. this was how Piero meant to ask for me. I watched him until he was swallowed up in shadows. it would matter little. she spurns me as roughly as a maid would do. but because she thinks you will return to her. then? You will have little peace. . Come. if you are in a bountiful humor. and when the time was right. . anything rather than look at the duke." I felt a pang for the woman who was being so casually disposed of and then a sudden dreadful apprehension. "That harlot Maddalena Feroldi. "Good." The blue eyes hardened. and the duke laughed." Miraculously. will you grant me a favor?" The duke looked a negligent query. no doubt I should be given just as casually. "You owe me a mistress—my last bedmate is banished by your means. and a city starved by siege is soonest entered. Once I have bedded her. then he grinned.

'' She darted me a jubilant look and went to him. She did not know why she had been bidden. When the hall ceased its drunken reeling. trying not to hear his poisonous. "Brother Sandro. would be delighting in my confusion-—-but he too was watching the duke. she stared at him disbelievingly. his expression unreadable. I wondered hazily why he should say he wanted me." "Domenico." The duke's voice was bored. my eyes fixed. I still sat. her pointed face ashy pale. I felt his gaze on me." The Bastard surged past me. it seemed. He?nodded. fastidiously smoothing his sleeve where Maddalena had caught his arm and paying them no more heed than he would a couple of puppies tussling around his feet. as her tears threatened to choke her. if he had seen. Then the duke turned his head. I beg you. but at last. his mouth covering hers avidly. then as I watched. Come close and we will whisper. and do not speak so wildly. and when he had done. You swore to me ." Maddalena's deep voice interrupted my thoughts. pulling Maddalena away and into his arms. "You asked for me?" The triumph on her face was painful. bending her head to listen. She gave a cry. lady." He seemed to be deaf to her low-toned beseeching. for there was no need. it was enough that he had asked for her. "We have a secret which concerns you. that cannot be proclaimed throughout the court. Only the duke ignored them. listen. my nails dug savagely into my palms. For an instant the whole world went dark before my eyes. and fought his will doggedly. . . I saw her give a little shiver of ecstasy as his bright hair brushed her cheek. and I looked down swiftly. only the deepening lines of bored petulance about his mouth showing that he heard her. he stretched. "You cannot do that to me. I lifted dazed eyes to Piero's face—he. quiet this whore. I had not made a motion or a sound. on every face was the same cold curiosity. he said indifferently. "Your Grace. too. His popinjay manners and feminine tricks were recognizable even to me—yet the purpose in his face when he looked at me was real enough. He spoke only a few words. sibilant murmur. but no man moved to help her. "Be grateful that you are provided for. shifting his weight with the unconscious delight of a pampered cat. Mercifully. . He did not speak.His head was turned away from me as he spoke to someone on his other side. his hand at the laces of her gown. Then. against my will. then I turned away. He did not even look up when Sandro dragged Maddalena through the throng towards the shadowed doorway. I raised my eyes to his. Domenico! I will not be cast off on your brother after all we have been to each other!" "You forget yourself. and the naked desire in his face at that moment mirrored my own. I knew without words that I was not to sit for much longer making a pretense of eating to lengthen this joyless banquet. compelling me to look up.

By now torches were beginning to gutter here and there, casting such pools of shadow that I did not notice the approach of the soberly clad Ippolito. He seemed to appear from nowhere, bowing at Domenico's side. "I have brought the duchess's jewels, Your Grace." "My good Ippolito!" It was a purr. "Give them to me." Around us the talk fell silent as he lifted the casket's lid and drew out its contents. Diamonds hung from his fingers in a cascade of white fire as he rose to his feet, and I sat unmoving, spellbound by the blaze in the black eyes watching me above the blaze of the jewels. "Here, lady. We give you these to signify the love and honor we intend towards you." The cold metal felt like fetters as it touched my skin, and I shivered under the brush of his fingers. The court's applause had a startled sound. "Your Grace," I whispered as he sat down, "I cannot wear them." "Why not?" The question was idle, but it made my blood run cold. "I . . ." I found inspiration in the blue white stone which lay between my breasts. "I cannot bear the weight." Poire, devilish delight lit the black eyes. "Custom will make it easy. You will learn to bear a greater weight than that." One or two heard him and laughed, but I was surprised to see on Ippolito's face a fleeting look of pity. Fighting down my dread, I stiffened proudly, and as I did so, the Duke's eyes smoldered suddenly. "These public revels are for those who want no better. Come, you and I will seek sweeter ones alone." Before I could protest, he had risen, his grip crushing the print of his rings into the flesh of my wrist. He waited an instant for silence and then spoke with an arrogant turn of his head to the sea of expectant faces. "We would not have our absence cut short the feast, my lords—we commend you to your pleasures. For our own part, we have business to dispatch which has been too long undone. And so, good night." A titter arose that he did not bother to check, and the court was on its feet and bowing. He looked at the stooping backs with sheer infantile glee before his nod freed them; then he was leading me back towards the doors through which he had come, with torchbearers before and a line of nobles in our wake. The doors closed behind us on a burst of clamor in which, mercifully, I could distinguish no words. The antechamber was bitterly cold after the heat of the banqueting hail. Drafts swept through it, striking gouts of flame from the torches, and I shivered as the chill struck me. The duke's hand

tightened on mine; involuntarily I looked up at him and saw his eyes blazing behind the slight smile which masked his beautiful face. My hand jerked, trying to pull away, but I could not get free; he only held me, watching me struggle against his imprisoning hold without a change in his expression. Behind me I could hear the dry rustle of brocades as the courtiers closed in, and I felt the heat of a torch at my back. Other hands gripped me, forcing me forward, and I cried out. "Not here, Piero." Domenico's eyes held mine, but he spoke past me. "Let the women have her, and then bring her to my chamber. Do it quickly." There was a cheated murmur from the ring of men around me, and Piero's hands fell away. I thought I glimpsed his face, startled and angry, his eyes hard with calculation; then I was being hurried away, across the antechamber and up the stairs to the tapestried room, where Niccolosa was waiting. She worked quickly and expertly, as though this were a task she had performed many times before, taking off the heavy silks and the great weight of diamonds and dressing me instead in a bedgown of white velvet, brushing my hair so that it hung smooth and shining past my waist, like the black veils of the Sisters of Charity in the Via Croce. I wanted to laugh at such a ludicrous resemblance. Niccolosa said, "You are ready?" and I nodded, wondering how many others she had made ready for the Duke of Cabria's bed. She started to the door to call Piero but stopped halfway and came back. Some emotion was struggling for expression in her bony face as she stood there, almost awkwardly; then she patted my hand in quick, embarrassed comfort and turned again to call. Piero appeared in the doorway so quickly that I knew he had been kicking his heels in the gallery outside. His eyes ran over me with an appraisal that was a studied insult, but he only gestured in silence for me to follow him. The floor was icy under my bare feet. It was all I would allow myself to think of. I hardly noticed the guards closing in behind, cutting off my retreat—it all seemed unreal, like a nightmare, the tramp of their feet echoing in my ears. Doors swung open ahead of us, and I caught a glimpse of softer candlelight. Piero stood aside, sweeping a mocking bow. "You are at the duke's chamber, mistress." The taunt was so blatant that my strained nerves snapped, and I slapped his face, hardly knowing what I did. "I may be worsted," I said furiously, nursing my stinging fingers, "but I need not endure your insults!" He stepped back, his shrill laugh bubbling as he touched the red mark on his cheek, but his eyes were wide, considering. "So you've claws?" He sounded intrigued. "Wait until the duke is tired— we will see then how much you can endure." I swept haughtily past him, only to turn in sudden shameful panic as he started to close the doors on me. He must have understood the movement, because he laughed then in real amusement. "Here, lady, you will lead a duchess's life—-for tonight, at least. I wish you good night and good rest."

The doors closed in my face. I stood still, staring at them as though they would dissolve under my eyes, as though the whole palace would dissolve and I would wake in my bed over the Eagle's gateway. I was still standing there when I realized I was no longer alone. There was no sound, but my skin began to prickle, and when I turned, the duke was there, a silver silhouette against the black bedcurtains, stripped of clothes, of jewels, and of paint. Only a swathe of cloth of silver was draped about him, twisted about his hips and over one shoulder, and his skin looked unnaturally white in the candlelight. "Felicia." It was a purr like a cat's in the silence of the room. I fought to keep my voice even. "Your Grace." "Domenico. You will forget court duty shortly." He took a slow, prowling pace towards me, lazily letting the silver cloth slide to the floor. In the light of the candles his flesh gleamed like alabaster, but this statue was warm and living, as graceful as a leopard and as treacherous as murder. His hips swung once, like a cat launching itself on a bird, and then he moved forward. There was no time to evade him, no time to resist. Almost before I saw him move, he had caught me and lifted me, and then there was softness under me and his weight on top of me as I fell sprawling across the great bed. I tried to rise, but his mouth came down on mine in the first kiss I had ever known and forced my head back against the pillowing velvets. Instinctively, like an animal, I fought back, scratching and biting. This was less lovemaking than deliberate cruelty, all that grace and strength employed in the inflicting of pain. . . . It was like being mauled by a giant cat for sport, not for food. Light glinted on the bright hair as the duke's head bent again to mine; there was no tenderness in his shadowed face, only a harsh, blazing excitement that made me catch my breath. "Your Grace . . ." It was a broken whisper. "That is not my name." His voice was low and breathless, full of teasing. I gasped, "Please . . ." and could not go on. "Please?" He laughed so that he shook me with it. "Do you mean, please take me quickly? Please, this? Or this?" The velvet robe tore under his fingers and I felt his hands slide over my breasts, probing and caressing as I tried to arch away from their remorselessly sensual possession. The touch of his hands seemed to burn my skin. My breath was coming in gasps like sobs as I struggled, braced in every nerve to resist the demand that tore at my thighs; then he gripped the scruff of my neck and held me, fingers spread across the back of my head, with my lips hard against his. His kiss was urgent, like an invasion; then, as his mouth traced the hollow of my neck with quick, fierce kisses, his weight came full upon me.

I realized that until that instant he had merely been playing with me. There was no escaping his insistence. He stilled my desperate thrashing with almost insolent ease, forcing me against him, shocking me to breathtaking awareness of every muscle in his hard, smooth body. Blindly, I made one last effort to free myself, but his hands were plundering my body too ruthlessly. If I had not been resisting so hard, it might have been easier to bear. As it was, he took me by brute force; I felt his greedy touch exploring every inch of me, and the next moment I cried out, uncontrollably and in agony. It was intolerable, outrageous; it was like being ripped apart; and as his passion smashed over me like a tidal wave, I lay imprisoned in his arms and wept.

Chapter Three

I do not know how long it was before I realized he had left me. A white hand touched my cheek, and I opened my eyes and saw the blood thick under his fingernails. "Felicia." There was no inquiry in his voice; only a command I obeyed instinctively, looking up at him through a mist of tears. "You fight like ten devils, sweet, but I can have soldiers in my bed for that. Come now, gently." But when he bent his head there was no gentleness in the touch of his lips but expert sensuality, vicious appetite. He knew how to gain a response and did so with a merciless science which left me gasping. When his head lifted, his eyes were blazing black lightning, but he smiled and touched my lips again, very lightly, with his own. "Is it so hard to love me, Felicia?" In that instant I knew how easy it could be. This happens to every one of his women, I thought wildly—and his men, too—he bewitches all of them. I tensed myself against him. "This is not love." "I will let the name go for the deed." His voice was frighteningly soft. "Let me go!" My voice almost broke. His head moved slightly in negation. "I will listen when you beg me to stay with you." My answer was smothered against his mouth. Every movement was pain, pain that he had inflicted; the coverlet underneath me was slimy with blood, and between my thighs was burning agony. Yet when he touched me again, I could not fight him, and my hands came up and stroked his moonlight hair. He still hurt me, but his lovemaking was full of an infinitely more subtle, sensuous brutality, and his hands coaxed and clung, erasing the horror. Little sounds of anguish came from my throat as he held me, exploring my body unhurriedly with eyes and lips and delicately seeking fingertips; then when his body slid smoothly to cover mine, the warm silken weight of him became my whole world. I lay on my back at last, staring up at the pale shadows moving in the mirror above the bed, long past weeping. "I told you that your heart would soften a little." He bent over me, shaken with laughter, and I gazed up at him in bitter wonder. "Now that you have shamed me, must you mock me, too?"

When I have done. "Yes. his desire kept me waking. then he began to talk. When he fell asleep at last. creeping across the pillow to touch his sleeping face. I tell you. . "You will go when I bid you. Tell them." "Do not think of seeking his charity yet. You said you loved me—why haunt me. "What. His head moved restlessly. you will wonder why your fears ever made you unkind. . back and forth on the black."Where is the shame?" His lips touched my throat. but there was nothing adolescent in the sprawled beauty of his naked body. and his voice changed. Sweat started out on his forehead and little animal sounds began to come from his throat. wide and blank with terror—then slowly their glare faded. "My brother would not have me in the house. and I lay listening to his quiet breathing and watching a sliver of moonlight that had crept through the hangings. silken pillow." . the haughty patrician mask was still there. The candles had burned out long ago. For God's love. "You will have nothing but honor for this night's work. . . then? It was a boy's trick. and his hand groped across the bed as though to assure himself that this and not his dream was the reality. . I did not mean you to be dead." he said sharply. ." He spoke without looking at me. as I watched. Then. and not till then. . trapping me even in sleep. sardonic satisfaction in my body's betrayal of my protestations. . . and I stared down at him with an intentness I did not understand. yet he would not let me rest—long after I was half-dead with tiredness. a crease of tension marred his smooth brow." I spoke unthinkingly to my reflection. I had lost all count of the hours. . stubborn still?" I knew the mockery in his eyes was malice. close your eyes!" It was the scream of an animal. who lets you burn in hell? Or is it the devil who sends you to me so often?" There was a breathless silence. . Let me alone. I remember feeling astonished that he should still remember my name. I am here." I turned my head away tiredly. back and forth. minute by minute it moved. and the sensual mouth had relaxed in a queerly vulnerable curve. but it made no difference. His head was pillowed on my hair. His eyes stared up into the darkness." The urgent whisper was a travesty of his old autocratic command. and he began to shift and murmur in the grip of some nightmare. I only meant to silence you. to stop your eternal preaching. "Felicia . . "You lie. . My defiance was slackening into lassitude through sheer physical exhaustion. "You will say I did not mean it. and the sheet ripped under his clawing fingers as he shuddered into wakefulness. You are damned for what you did after. He looked almost like a boy. "You must tell them you consented—it was your blasphemy as much as mine. ." "I can never go home. but the long dark lashes fanned his cheeks like a child's. . so I wondered if by very will he could cheat sleep. His body arched and his head moved in panic-stricken denial. and I realized he was talking to his dream. Is this your merciful God. . .

soothing him with a string of soft inanities until the bated breath went out of him. "Precious wench!" His cheek rubbed my temple in a gesture that was close to tenderness. I had no thought for myself as he clung to me. it was better not to ask. and his body lay in a curve of unfolding grace like a falcon relaxed into captivity. you must stay with me. sharp cry. "It will fright the dreams away. But as soon as I moved." I said no. She says her God will have His vengeance on me. He talked of blood he could not escape. In that moment I felt no fear." I said unsteadily. from the touch of arms that closed around me. Felicia. . "I do not want to have you killed. His arms closed around me. and he said in a harsh whisper." "I have said I will not. his bright head buried in my breast." "Swear it! Come. blaming me—I swear I did not mean it. his strength hurting my back. "I will not. "Swear for my humor's sake. and who was the woman who had said she loved him. . in faith. There was a silence. . but she will not leave me alone. . too. Every muscle seemed to be on fire. his cheek against my hair." It was the voice of a frightened child. I woke slowly to darkness and a warm. Swear you will not speak. Whose was the blood. You will say I am brainsick and turn this folly to court gossip." He drew a long breath. But He cannot touch me. Now I am duke I can buy absolution for a thousand such sins. and the stink of blood." In a spasm of pity I took him and rocked him. . and I cradled him. She lies there staring at me. For one drowsy moment I lay unremembering.His hand caught mine convulsively. imprisoning weight. "Always the same—the chapel and her body. dragging me close to him." I said gently. ." There was a note in his voice that shocked me. . Between my thighs pain was raging like a bonfire and I shrank. It is her fault. . and I drew the bedcovers around his shoulders and listened. wondering what he had done that such a dream should haunt him. While you hold me I cannot see her eyes. . I waited until I thought he was asleep and then cautiously tried to free myself to relight one of the candles. but he did not seem to hear me. and then my gasp died under his lips. and the comfort he sought was not a child's comfort. "The same dream. . and my flesh felt as though it had been scraped raw. "I was going to bring you a light." He shook his head violently. outraged. then I felt the brush of wet lashes against my skin as he opened his eyes. and then the dreams will leave coming. His head lifted a little. a lake which spread towards him and would drown him if it reached him. I will make you the richest woman in the state if you do not leave me. his grip tightened again. "You will talk of this." He was shivering. then I stirred to stretch my limbs against what hampered them and let out a soft. "No. feverishly.

"You must rouse, my sweet." Domenico's voice in my ear was low and teasing. "My knaves will be in upon us shortly, and I would not have them see this sight." His fingers ran the length of my back, idle and possessive, and as his hold slackened, I pulled myself away and sat up, biting my lips when the motion triggered little flames of pain. He was watching my every movement with terrifying attention, and then suddenly he laughed. "Do not regret your chastity—it is sweeter to lose it than to keep it." "I could not choose." Suddenly I felt cold: cold and very calm. "Am I free to go now?" The laughter left his face. "Where?" "Back to the city. You can want no more of me now you have done your pleasure." "That is for me to decide—I said you shall stay until I bid you go, and it is treason to disobey." "Stay where?" I demanded stupidly. "Here in the palace, to supply the office that you did last night. A prisoner is not ransomed so easily." The mockery in his voice did not touch his eyes; they were watchful beneath the heavy lids. I stared back at him uncomprehendingly. "But why?" His hps curved cynically. "You will learn soon enough." "But Your Grace . . ." "Your Grace!" he mimicked. "So ceremonious!" "I am no greater now than I was yesterday." "Not many will think so." He lay back, watching me with a sort of lazy curiosity. "To be the Duke of Cabria's mistress is no slight honor." "Not slight," I retorted recklessly, "but something common." "You shall be no common mistress." His face was unreadable. "But I shall not let you go before I choose. And you shall swear to be true to me." I said in simple astonishment, "You cannot command that! Your fancy will sicken speedily enough—you will have change, and then my constancy will be as irksome as Madonna Maddalena's!" "Yet I command it." His eyes were slitted and angry. "Why? To satisfy your tyranny?"

His hand, vicelike in my hair, pulled me stooping over him. "I do not trust any man—or woman either—to stand by what he says unless he swears to it." "I owe you no faith. I will not swear." "Why, do you not love me?" The sudden, silken question nearly made my heart stop beating; I would not meet Domenico's eyes, for somehow I dared not. At last he said, "Do you not, indeed?" He spoke in an odd, stifled tone, his fingertips stroking my neck. "Take heed you love no one else, then, or the man you choose shall pay for it—his hand if it touches you, his eyes if he looks too long—or if his speech charms you, I shall take his tongue. There are other forfeits." His hand slid from my throat to my breast. "But beware my jealousy if I spare your oath, Felicia." "There is no such man," I said, and remembered Piero della Quercia. "Then the court will be so much more populous. You are a niggard with your vows, lady"—he was drawing my head down to his—"but more generous with your deeds; I think I will take my sureties the silent way." Before I could answer, a pounding broke out some-where beyond the confines of the bedcurtains; the sound of someone hammering at the door. Domenico looked around sharply, all the amusement drained from his expression. "Who's there?" "Piero, Your Grace, and Ippolito." "Attend me, then." I flinched and buried my face in the pillow as their footsteps crossed the floor and the bedcurtains rattled back; then as a single fierce blade of sunlight invaded the gloom, Domenico stirred and stretched luxuriously. "What hour is it, Ippolito?" "Past nine, Your Grace. You are after your usual time." "Go call my men." It was a relaxed and drowsy purr, and through the concealing veil of my hair, I saw the two men exchange quick, startled glances. It was Piero who answered. "They attend Your Grace in the next room." Domenico nodded, rubbing the sleep from his eyes with the back of his hand. "We will ride this morning. Order the horses." Piero bowed and went to the door. I thought he would have spoken, but then he gave an almost imperceptible shrug and went away with his quick, trotting step. Domenico yawned, looking up at Ippolito with narrowed eyes.

"My lord secretary, convey this message to my brother and to my great-uncle the archbishop." Ippolito made an unwary movement, and I read astonishment in his dark face. "Tell them, with all due love and compliment—I trust you for some nimble speech or other—that we would have their voices in a great matter. Say we will hold a council in six days' time, touching the general state and the succession—that will bring them." He smiled, derisively, and turned to stroke the hair back from my face with negligent fingers. "But Your Grace—" "Are you here yet?" The bright head did not turn. "They are bound to ask what this means, Your Grace. What should I tell them?" "Say that you do not know." Domenico's fingertip traced my bruised lips. "Then you will be speaking the truth." "Your Grace . . ." "Ippolito . . ." Just the name, no more. But that one word, sweetly spoken, sent the man hurrying from the chamber without daring to reply. Domenico chuckled softly. He leaned back voluptuously, stretching in total abandon, and spoke to his mirrored image on the ceiling. "This will put wildfire in 'em—they will try now to learn my mind from each other, and neither one will guess it!" His head turned, the exultation in his face transforming it to a devil's mask. "Sweet, you cannot guess what they are to ratify!—they will hate it, but they seal it or they bleed. I shall have my will approved by the state council, and not even the commons can murmur!" He was alight with laughter, as though the sweating terror of the night had never been. I gazed at him, bewildered. "Why, what is the matter?" "It is not for you to know." He thrust himself up from the tumbled pillows as he spoke, and my hands gripped together. That was all I meant to him, a creature fit to bed with, dismissed and forgotten as soon as his mind turned back to state affairs. The pain of the thought startled me. Domenico had turned his back on me and was consulting with Piero, who had come hurrying to the bedside. "I have ordered Your Grace's gray gelding. I thought you would be weary of the mare." I winced at the words, but a white hand flashed up with the speed of a snake striking, caught Piero's wrist, and twisted. I heard the courtier's breath hiss between his teeth. "Your Grace, I pray you . . ." "Good friend, spend your wit on a fitter subject."

There was a small, sickening jar of bone, then Piero was free. His other hand cradled his wrist for a moment, then he bowed ironically. "Always at Your Grace's service—I shall dispose of last night's stale business." His shapeless fingers gripped my shoulder. "Come, mistress." "You are something too forward," Domenico spoke softly. "Our commerce is not done yet. Take her to the old witch and give orders for her to be dressed to ride out with us in two hours. Then come to us again." The hand on my shoulder tightened spasmodically, then fell away. Piero murmured under his breath, "Well, well!" and then said tonelessly, "As Your Grace wills." The duke gave him a swift, keen glance and said mockingly, "Have you waited all night, Piero, to dispose of her?" The weak mouth hardened. "Your Grace knows well how vigilant I am. I will call the attendants." As he turned away, his toe caught the white velvet robe as it lay on the floor, and he picked it up and tossed it on the bed. "Yours, madam." "And, Piero, order a horse for her—the gray will do, the young one." "Your Grace, I cannot ride!" The words burst from me involuntarily, and the duke's eyes narrowed. "You are too absolute." Panic gave me courage. "It is not willfulness—I cannot ride because I have never mounted a horse. I have lived all my life in the city, and my brother keeps no horses—I would fall off," I finished doggedly. The black eyes danced. "I will teach you to ride." Piero was waiting by the door and averted his eyes ostentatiously as I clutched the white robe around me and slid out of bed. His whispered "He has taught you much already" as I followed him was not for the duke's ears. It seemed the duke's orders had the power of magic, for clothes were there, although Niccolosa could not have known in advance that they would be wanted. Riding clothes of severest gray, calecons, kid boots, and embroidered gauntlets, all miraculously fitting. But before she dressed me, she helped me salve the worst of the marks on my skin and staunch the last of the bleeding; then she eased on the garments tenderly, sparing my smarting flesh with a care that said more than words. I looked at her grim face, unemotional, absorbed in settling the ruff at my throat, and said tentatively, "Thank you, madonna." Her eyelids flickered. "You do not call me madonna. My name is Niccolosa, and His Grace the duke has placed me in your service." She closed her mouth tightly. I colored, watching her covertly; it seemed almost the strangest thing of all that someone to whom I would have curtsied humbly a short while since should serve as my waiting woman. Yet she was accustomed to her tasks—she went about her work unhesitatingly, even though it sorted ill with her air of authority. I wondered if she could have been a servant of the banished duchess and had chosen not to follow her mistress into exile.

She finished coiling my hair high on my head, pinned the small feathered hat securely, and then turned me to the mirror. I saw my own face white and set, the eyes shadowed, the lips vivid—this morning the most sophisticated woman would not paint my mouth as they had last night, for it was already reddened, stinging from Domenico's kisses. "Mistress," Piero's voice spoke from the doorway without warning, "the duke desires your company." For a moment I went cold. Then I said levelly, "Well, where must I go?" "To the eastern courtyard. I am sent to fetch you." He extended his hand, and gingerly, disliking the contact, I put mine into it and let him lead me from the room. There were no guards this morning—it appeared I was thought less likely to escape now that the duke had done his pleasure. Piero was silent for a few moments and then said lightly, "You were a virgin, then. I doubted that; there are few left these days. I thought not any, but I was mistaken." "Was the priest's word not enough?" I asked sharply. "He!" Piero's chuckle was silvery with scorn. "He was so enthralled by your sweet face that no man would give him credit. It was rumored that he had had you himself." I turned my head away, angry and sickened, and after a moment he spoke again. "His Grace is a fine lover, is he not? A delicate lecher—I know his bed tricks from the old time. Between the sheets he is a monarch, a very god." He was watching my averted face as he spoke. "It is as well he tired—he is a witch." Suddenly and vividly, I remembered the dead woman of his nightmares. "Who was it he tired of?" "Why, of me." Piero smiled sarcastically. "It was long ago, but my lord does not change; it is only his lovers who alter.'' "Is that why you want me?" The question was out before I could stop it. "You would rather take the flesh that he has touched than forage for yourself?" "What, madam wiseacres!" His prominent eyes were furious. "Do you think it is my habit to take his leavings? I do not care what carrion he feeds on—he may take fifty harlots in a night and welcome. But you . . ."he hesitated. "I owe you payment for that blow. I will not forget it, even if you do." "And was it undeserved?" I said quietly. Ahead of us servants were springing to open heavy doors, and after a moment Piero shrugged. "Well, let it go." He thrust me ahead of him into blinding sunshine. I shielded my eyes and gasped, for without realizing it I had become accustomed to the torch-pricked gloom of the Palazzo; then I looked eagerly around me, breathing the first fresh air I had known for a week.

I reached out tentatively to pat the horse's neck. "I cannot be proud of my dishonor. lady?" "He is beautiful. and a queer apprehension was beginning to take possession of me. the tramping of strangers' horses. fingers fluttering in distress. his kiss was as avidly sensual as if we had been alone. "Such courtesies are our due from slaves. Piero released me. his ruffled hair shining like floss against the horse's flank. only the wariness of wolves not daring to attack. and I found myself standing before a sleekskinned gray gelding. He was standing beside the gray horse he had ridden in the procession." Ippolito commented cheerfully. as long as the duke stayed by my side. drawing me towards him lightly but irresistibly. As I went. even in his lightest teasing there was an edge of viciousness. even give me eminence. smaller than the duke's but still." His lips twisted. . but you must learn to be bolder. beauty and charm wiping out all the cruelty. too. He was wearing black. I could see heads turning and sense the nudges and whispers. "I can try. a great." I stood scarlet-cheeked as the nobles broke into shrill laughter. and at once my hand was imprisoned and held." and his long lashes drooped. carefree. and the sight of him made me catch my breath. as though I had said something witty. but today there was no scorn. no howls of laughter. To stop my thoughts. the chatter drifting up. only the starched ruff relieving the deathliness of it—but the look on his face was amused. to my nervous eyes. guiding me towards the middle of the melee.The courtyard was full of men and women and horses. "I shall teach you that. My heart was thundering as Piero led me up to the duke. "It is a fine horse. Come and see your mount. "Do you like him. I could see the bob of bowing courtiers ahead of us and knew the duke must be there." Domenico's hooded gaze did not waver." Those nearby drew back and bowed as he turned. I started down the steps with Piero gripping my arm. "Your Grace made an excellent choice. against the breast of Domenico's fine doublet." I said. I kept my head high. and I was dizzy when at last he lifted his head. and after my long solitude the bustle was a sweet taste of normality— this was what I had always known. He turned and saw me. "A worthy doctrine!" I flinched. "There^s enough of duty. and his eyes narrowed. and I sank quickly into a curtsy. "Madam. Domenico's fingers gripped the scruff of my neck as I rose. They would be willing to acknowledge me. I will not quarrel with Your Grace's choice. do you think you can manage him?" Ippolito's question seemed to come from leagues away. but the naked curiosity in their faces was making me feel sick. Have you not learned that yet?" He spoke very softly through the whispering that eddied round us. talking in a low voice to Ippolito. the rushing of grooms. looming beast.

"You are stirring late. our reverend uncle flays me with his wits." The white lids drooped dismissively. I looked down to thank my benefactor and to my astonishment saw a boy hardly older than myself. It was petty. "You are confusing business with pleasure. come. Sandro saw the look and misinterpreted it. . Sandro had come down the palace steps at a clattering run. and this is her first lesson. I had no thought for anything but keeping my seat on a jolting." Awkwardness stiffened my limbs to a puppet's as I turned to the smaller gelding. and I looked up to see him laughing as though the sound delighted him. . As soon as I had righted myself and gotten a grip on the reins. use the whip. the silken flank loomed like an unscalable cliff. with an obstinate chin and a look of admiration in his brown eyes. What is the matter?" The eagerness in his voice was just insufficiently veiled. I could not imagine how I was to reach that high-towering saddle. Your Grace." It was so light and sardonic that no one else could have seen the shadow in Domenico's eyes as he glanced at me. I could see the secret knowledge in the curve of his lips as he watched me.A noise behind me made me turn quickly. I murmured. swaying horse. too—I thank you for your generous gift. An unpleasant smile touched the duke's soft mouth. with a deferential "Madam. "Lady. however. Brother! Are you turned sluggard?" "My sleep was broken. Brother. For me every moment was an agony. slight. sir. . . as I looked helplessly around for some assistance. Domenico was bending to catch my horse's leading rein from the groom's slackened fingers. . he knows no more of this than you." and knew what made Sandro's blue eyes so bright and hard. and now he greeted the duke with a perfunctory bow and a broad grin. . Then. "He would inherit if that silver devil died. stay upright without clinging to the saddle . "We are wasting the morning—I have promised to teach this lady to ride. black-haired. for you know my skill in debate!— unless I have studied the matter for days before. and Domenico knew it. The crack of a whiplash made me look up. mercilessly ordering the movements that would punish my sore and aching body. State matters are for council. "Mine. once when the horse jolted me. then. pointless cruelty—and all for something that the groom would have given at a word. we are riding." lifted me bodily into the saddle. At the back of my mind I could hear Beniamino saying. "I shall make a sad botch of the work. the animal curvetted and was instantly brought under an iron control." and he blushed vividly as he stepped back. sliding. Remembering con-flicting instructions for heel and thigh and hand." Sandro grimaced. one of the courtiers slid from the throng and. "Thank you." "Content yourself. it was only when I saw the man's hand go to his bloodied cheek that I realized that the lash had laid it open. But now I must clear my wits with a good hard ride if I am to do myself justice at your council. When the mounted cavalcade moved off." He mounted his horse in one flowing movement. and Domenico turned his shoulder. now to hold the reins. I could not suppress a cry.

when the city gates opened before us. And westwards"—he pointed—"close by the city. there is a collection of rotten planks that some still use who do not mind risking their lives. and I slid from the saddle without waiting for anyone's aid. a good deal else. But I took it for imagination that first morning. for a shadow had fallen across our path. Then I shivered. but in battle the city's cannon could sink any vessel before it got halfway. and as the party moved in a half-circle away from the gorge and its looming guardian. But it would not support a single armed rider. not less than a day. I forgot everything in the sudden familiarity of the sights and sounds of the crowded streets. the stink of foul humanity. Go to your room and rest a little. "Do you think of nothing but battles?" Sandro chuckled. The frowning face of the tower that guarded the bridge over the river gorge soared into the sky." I smiled. lady. flies hung in a cloud around the horses. the dust-choked air. frivolous gossip. where the river runs into the bay. but I did not think of that. Then. and when the talk drifted to the latest amorous intrigues. since I had left the dank silence of the prison. and plumy tails lashed constantly to keep them at bay. I was swaying in the saddle. almost insensibly.That day was the first time I had been beyond the gates of Fidena since the day I was born. I even blessed the strip of hide which tethered me so close to Domenico. Cabria would doubtless still be ruled from the Vatican. The sun's heat and the unfamiliar activity had drained what strength I had left—it seemed years. "Yes. casting its shadow close and dark. A groom gripped the gelding's bridle. and the language of war comes naturally to me. The sea was faint and distant in the heat haze. "That is our watchtower. and my gaze dropped before the hard curiosity in his. Domenico's arm came around me from behind. Gradually. Outwardly it was no more than shallow. there." . so unexpectedly that I jumped. "You are tired. When at last the horses clattered to a standstill in the palace courtyard. Sandro followed my gaze and grinned. I began to notice the undercurrents in their gossip. I was becoming used to the motion of the horse. but the sense of oppression remained with me until we had passed back again into the sun. But I have been brought up to fight for all I want. I stopped listening altogether. "Yet it frightens me—is there no other way across?" "By ship." The moment passed lightly. crushing the sun-dried grass and leaving a swathe of destruction across the field that sloped towards the river gorge. The courtiers were grimacing. it is why the pope could never take Fidena back again. I cared only for the next step of the jouncing brute beneath me and whether it would decide to ignore my signals and go its own way altogether. hints of a mystery I could not understand." I said. lady. for his forces cannot get near the city walls. If it were not there. and Maddalena's exclamation of disgust was meant for me to hear—then at my side the duke's head turned with a glint of living silver. yet here and there I caught dark allusions. The horse's hooves were cutting into the tawny earth. From that vantage ten men could hold the bridge against an army.

" In spite of myself my voice sounded forlorn. his face was a mask of polite indulgence as he listened to the archbishop." Ippolito interjected. and the thin. I thought that it would take riches and the might of a dukedom to win God's forgiveness from such a priest as that." So now I stood in the antechamber. Felicia. "The duke will not leave you neglected for long. "Old and cunning. But his policy grows stale. be sure to wear your jewels at supper." He looked at the pomander." Ippolito said reassuringly. "Have no fear. Ippolito stood beside me. Niccolosa stood guard over me while I slept. Against the bright silk his hollow-cheeked face was as pale and unyielding as bone. eyeing me watchfully. and I guessed he had been set to guard me while the duke was at a distance. as impatient as Sandro and scarcely more subtle. "Faith. The archbishop had arrived scarcely an hour before. The patterns of light and shadow before my eyes had no meaning—I was walking like a blind woman— yet for some reason I turned back at the top of the steps for a last glimpse of the duke. until I wondered how the courtiers could bear this unreal existence day after day. In the afternoon a message had come from Archbishop Francesco. and in an hour or two I was caught up in the pace of palace life. but I never thought of that! Ippolito shall guide you. sports—without cessation. and I was drawn out of the heat of the sun. "I was not thinking of that." Domenico's jeweled pomander swung meditatively between his fingers. lady. The old man made a lurid figure beside him. "He wishes to learn our mind before we publish it. saying that he would answer his great-nephew's summons in good time—he would attend upon His Grace this very evening and be beholden for his lodging for a night or two. and now was deep in talk with Domenico in the center of the room. he had not left my side. hanging still. and yet he needs six days to nurse his bones!" "He is old. Domenico laughed when he heard." I started and blushed unaccountably. waiting for the signal to pass into the banqueting hall. but there was an edge to his voice. the torches reflecting from the clothes he wore so that all the light in the room seemed to shine from his silver-clad body. scarlet cassock and cape like splashes of blood. The rest of the day passed in a bewildering pageant. drinking. One pastime merged into another—eating. "We must honor my great-uncle when he comes."I do not know the way." . Your Grace. and smiled. music. Watching him. and he laughed. Then when the council met he would be rested from his journey. "That old scarlet fox! He must forever remind us that the pope's clemency hangs on his moldering life—he could travel here on foot within two hours. so old a man as he could not care for his health too much. we shall keep him dangling until we are in readiness. I glanced at Domenico. with the necklace ablaze around my neck. white hair was cropped close to his long skull. Ippolito. veined hands were bare but for his ring of office." With relief I felt my hand taken in a firm clasp.

lady. "Why was she banished?" He looked astounded. The duke—my lord Domenico. rather. plots and subterfuges were in train—a whisper here. I was not even shocked." Ippolito returned blandly." He was smiling again. "and she is not much missed."Whatever it was did not make you happy." "It is safer to think so. Sandra's face came back to me. "I do not think. the old duke's wife. "Now we must bury our thoughts of the duke who is dead and serve the duke who is living. lady." "But Duke Carlo was old. "Do not waste your pity." "You think . "The duchess!" "Yes. the swiftly masked expression when his generalship was mocked. or only a look." I said quietly. She asked to see him privately that night—we never learned what she said to him. she has been routed. I heard she had been sent away but not the reason. Ippolito's kind face twisted into a sour look. my tongue trips on all these dukes—even he could not be certain that the name of Mother would hold her off him. even now. and he had been murdered. The old duke is dead and the duchess packed off to her Spanish kin in Naples. ." He glanced at Domenico and then away. then continued quickly. They whisper that the young duke took care not to be by the night his father died. The duchess was as sorry for her husband's death as I should be if I were elected pope tomorrow. that is all any man here knows but he." Ippolito helped himself from a jug of wine and lifted his cup in salute. but next day she was banished and gone. "The duchess"—I spoke again to stop my thoughts—"does no one care that she is gone?" "Her faction went with her." "No. watching Domenico when he thought he was unobserved. All around us. no young and handsome man was safe with her. the old duke was dead and the duchess ruled the roost. "No. I thought when I heard he was dead that he had died naturally. "He was gone from the feast for close on three hours that night. . ." "I was thinking of—of the duchess. and when he came back to the palace. We are . a few ambiguous words in passing." I said the first thing that came into my head. Believe it. I can assure you. Duke Carlo only married her to fill his bed and found it would not contain her. Even Lord Domenico—pardon me. I dare not. Duke Carlo could not have inspired more hate or love in any who surrounded him. but it is as likely that the duchess waited for him to be absent before she poured the wine. and Piero's." I nodded. it would be a lucky man indeed who lived out his natural span here." "That was cruel. . I mean—banished her from Cabria the same day he had you brought here. He had given orders already for . Does it mean she has entered a retreat?" Ippolito made a wry face. "And we know enough when we know so much." He checked.

" All his courteous phrases had deserted him in the stress of the moment." I wondered whether one of us was mad or deaf. because I could not believe it. "I have talked too long of dangerous matters. "You are to be presented to my lord archbishop. He was born close on old Carlo's first marriage. As he sipped his wine his gaze traveled past me." His kind face was full of wry laughter. or whether the duke's brain had turned. "Well. "I forgot whom I spoke to. and I saw him stiffen in astonishment and lower his cup. what would you? The state is held in the shadow of the pope's anger since the della Raffaelle wrenched the land from him. "They are an ill-starred family. Ippolito shrugged." he said quickly. Then. and Madam Gratiana was his third wife. They are no kin to each other save in name. for my health's sake! Do not wheedle me. and the Duchess Isabella died in an accident." I said wonderingly. "She was the mistress that the—the duke banished?" Ippolito looked guilty.better for her absence.'' "But I cannot read. Lord Sandro is the old duke's son by a woman none of us has ever seen. if the duke should see you gaze at me in such a way." I was slow to take in the implication. "I should not have said it—but perhaps you should know. I should be good for nothing but bait for fishermen. except in the strictest ruling of the Church. with a word of apology. It was madness. thank God!" I hardly heard his thanksgiving. "He wants you. but I do not understand what you mean. He will excommunicate us all once the breath is out of the archbishop's body. but it was not incest. and I have heard it since I was a child. It is known they bedded together at the duchess's importunity. it is a tale of years and far too weighty to be told before supper. No one mourns her—except perhaps Lord Sandro. I followed Ippolito through the crowd and sank in a deep curtsy before the della ." "The duke said that." I looked beseechingly at him. He was back almost at once. lady." "Lady. too. so there is none to dispute the dukedom. who misses her as a man misses a raging tooth and sleeps the sounder without it. She was childless. and I looked back at him with a sudden feeling of affection. "Will you not tell me?" "I dare not. To present his whore—his base-born whore—was worse than folly. the perplexity as clear on his face as it had been that morning in the duke's chamber." His eyes twinkled at me over the rim of his cup. For that you must delve into the palace library and read the Cabrian histories. if you are to keep afloat in this foul sea. Struck dumb with apprehension." "The third! What became of the first two?" "The first—Lord Domenico's mother—died in childbed. he brushed past me and went to the duke's side.

do they not?" The archbishop was breathing heavily. Domenico's fingers caught mine with quick possessiveness as I rose to my feet. She is our guest at court. you will know how little it signifies. clenched and relaxed again. "No name? How is that?" Domenico ignored the calculation in the deliberately mild question. very softly. You are not yet proclaimed. "Domenico." "Do not wrong your intelligencers. then the archbishop said coldly. "It is too long a tale to tell you now. and his nostrils flared as he extended his hand to me: as soon as I had kissed his ring and taken his scanted blessing." "Do not presume to instruct me. I know the scriptures well enough." "No? But His mercy is said to be infinite." The hard eyes narrowed. "And the verse which speaks of casting the first stone?" The archbishop's lips tightened. "I heard a rumor. I swear. . . so close to me as I knelt. she has no other name.Raffaelles. too. of your new mistress. My lord. and yet you deck your light-o'-loves in jewels the Raffaelle women have worn since Cabria was ruled from Rome!" . "Have you not heard what they are saying?" "Little that is true." "To my guest." "And you have recovered them from your stepmother to give them to ." "I do not think"—the old man's voice was icy—"that God's blessing can be on such a woman as this." The duke's face was full of malign amusement. "They took some pains to let you know of it. "You do not have your wits!" I was taken aback by the venom in the archbishop's tone. They become her well enough. my dear Domenico." Domenico spoke over my head. I have my whisperers. you are forgetful of your manners and your dignity to leave her so long unsaluted. and when he spoke again every vestige of urbanity had fled from his voice. giving the old man the look of a scarred alley cat preparing for battle. There was a sudden silence. "You are behaving like a madman. he snatched it back in an angry swish of scarlet. "Uncle. good uncle." The thin hand." Domenico's cruel mouth curved in a seraphic smile. good uncle. are not those the Cabria diamonds?" "Yes. Domenico. I present the lady Felicia. Domenico." "It might signify greatly if any part of what I hear is true. Raw red patches stained his hollow cheeks. "I thought you would know them again." The archbishop stiffened. When you are better acquainted with her.

Domenico . as you term it." "What is it your spies have told you?" The duke's breath fanned my hair." "Ego te absolvo. was his answer. he only turned and whispered to a nearby servant. I whispered. I thought. "These rumors I have heard.Domenico had not moved. Uncle." "I greatly fear you may be turned lunatic!" A laugh. as an excuse to gird at the old man. then." "Not here. "What." Father Vincenzo made the sign of the Cross over me. My conscience would not let me take Communion while I was in a state of sin." "So you had reasons?" "If I should need more reasons than my will—you probe less subtly than you did. . Domenico smiled. Uncle. . and there is no one to dispute my title. let us go in to supper." There was a threat in the very softness of Domenico's voice. and his eyes were dancing as he raised his head. Uncle. but now I am less sure. His glee was the mischief of a naughty child insulting its elders. feeling comforted. . uncle. and he was reveling in the archbishop's suppressed wrath. "There is none to arraign me for it if I am! I am duke in all but the coronation—I have the name." The archbishop did not appear to be listening." The skeletal hands spread placatingly. good Uncle. "No." and he checked. It brought me more solace than the ceremonious mass held in the palace chapel—the court . The commons will not see Cabria given back to the pope because I lay dull stones on her bright skin. nothing more. and you need not fear the commons' censure—they will consent soon enough when they hear my reasons. They say you think of choosing . I shall not plague you. "You will learn soon enough what I intend. "Something I could not find it in my heart to believe when I heard it. The archbishop flinched. to know your mind—what I know now will suffice me." He was using me." "Now it is you who are too hasty. "Come. the jeering lines smoothed from about his mouth as he looked down at me. he was standing with bent head. . "You see. indifferently contemplating the tip of one shining shoe. "Your Grace . I can be ruled. "I sent the man on a message. the homage." Domenico nodded idly. but the young priest had heard my confession and given me penance for the good of my immortal soul. your spies will not find it out either.'' The archbishop cast him a strange look but said nothing. must I be more civil? Stop my mouth. he was gazing through me. "I have not given them lightly. he looked up. high and jeering." His kiss was brief and hungry. I thought you incapable of such rash-ness. if you do not plague my ears with poisoned tattling. and I rose from my knees. Then as the hasty speech ended. and there was a moody thrust to his lower lip as he turned away. . but his eyes narrowed with suspicion. .

You are a wonder in the court. If any others of the duke's retinue seek an alliance with you. I knew that I was treated with an exaggerated courtesy which bordered on insult when Domenico was near." "It is greater than you dream of. I have little choice." "But why should they? I am no more than a passing fancy of the duke's. but she is as hot-backed as he. as though the nobles believed they were propitiating some immortal revenger. Father. Some. my daughter. "I do not need them." The priest lifted the stole from his neck and folded it reverently. Benedicite. but when he was absent." I shivered. like the lady Maddalena Feroldi. I kissed the thin." The priest's eyes were almost fanatically steady. for we have little time. him you can trust. "That is your salvation. olive-skinned hand. I read my true worth in the disdain of the women and the insulting familiarity of the men. "Then listen. be wary. That it might spring from envy had not crossed my mind. There are many who will try to oust you from the duke's favor. Have you not seen it?" I shook my head." "I have no power. for they will try to undermine you. you may be sought for at any moment. so you must be circumspect—Ippolito de'Falconieri is an honest man." "He will help you if you ask him and will tell you what you need to know of the life here. the atmosphere in the chapel mingling derision with some superstitious fear." "God does not seek to punish you for the sins you are forced to commit. "You are too lenient with your penances. and it was half her seeking. "His Grace the archbishop already looks askance at your power—he wants the duke wedded and the succession secure. But until the duke wearies of me." The priest's earnestness almost convinced me. But thank you for telling me about the lord Ippolito. "While you keep at court you must learn the ways of it.worshiped with great pomp but to little purpose." He hesitated. "Only remember my warnings. Will you believe that what I tell you is intended for your good?" "Yes. daughter. "Even after the ill service I have done you?" "You have done me much good since. Hatred is in the air I breathe." "You have held him for four days now! He is wont to look for a new woman after an hour. as long as you repent them in your heart." "And as long as I sin no more." . but no other. listen to my advice. daughter. and while you hold sway the duke cannot be persuaded." I said simply. Now. he has returned to more than once. Father.

Then when the legate's successor died. it was too late. What did he mean?" There was an intent look on the young priest's face." "It was a thing every Cabrian was told by procla-mation many years ago. Pius refused. This is not a tale to tell in haste. My mother spoke of it when I was a child. By the time he learned that Duke Riccardo was ruling Cabria and would not accept papal authority. in Cabria.I caught his sleeve as he turned away." The priest gave a slight smile. The pope was then old and dying and could not stop him. He was Duke Domenico's grandfather. and seized the mint for his own use. but the time we have must serve." "What did the duke do then?" "What one would expect of a Raffaelle. at least." The Jesuit spoke with unexpected force. . . it was found that the legate had been lining his own purse by coining money from the Papal Mint at Fidena and pledging the pope's credit to the richest of the local nobles. and so I have never understood it. "The legate was executed by the new pope and a successor appointed. About the archbishop. he had to reduce his household servants to do so." He hesitated a moment." He looked startled." "But what has this to do with . the people forget what is not before their eyes. The lands were so vast that the popes allowed servants to rule in their name. "You know that the whole state of Cabria was once ruled by the pope?" I nodded. "He rebelled and took power by force. "What is it?" "It was something the lord Ippolito said. when the edict was passed. and he said that once he died. to win it back. I—I have a question to ask you. We were talking of the archbishop." . but when he died and his successor was elected. "You have heard of this before?" "All my life. "It is. "I will speak to the duke. and one such ruled here. but she died before I was old enough to understand what she meant." "You know that much truth. and his successor—another Pius— had troubles enough abroad and was willing to elect a della Raffaelle to the archbishopric in return for peace and the cancellation of the debt." I nodded mutely. Do the commons not teach the story to their children?" "I know as much as I have told you. the pope would excommunicate us all. proclaimed his brother and himself joint rulers. daughter. choosing his words. "Father. The pope then was content that it should be so. Duke Riccardo della Raffaelle. who was a bishop. Duke Riccardo demanded the election of his younger brother. to take his place. and then he told me he dared not speak of it. Fifty years ago the Papal States stretched from Rome to the sea.why he is always seeking to invade us. Listen. but by then the Papacy was so deeply in debt to the Raffaelles that when Pope Pius came to repay them." "It must be proclaimed again.

. It is eight and thirty years since Cabria was proclaimed independent. He was not twenty when he was made bishop—money is a great power in the Holy Church. The popes after Pius have been too busy—or perhaps too compassionate—to excommunicate a dukedom of so many souls. But you see"—Father Vincenzo straightened his shoulders—"why such pains are taken to preserve his life. ". The pope is waiting for him to die. at the same hour. daughter." "Why did they not?" I asked blankly. Francesco della Raffaelle." "I see." I stared at him blindly. growing to manhood under the shadow of damnation and daring fate with such arrogance. I will be here three days hence. he must excommunicate the archbishop. whom he himself had elected. "They are a proud family. "If the archbishop and the duke were to ask the pope's mercy. but my heart ached for Domenico. Perhaps they would hate him less if they knew the truth. . "I have told you. "He must be so old!" "Not so very old."Wait. superstitiously." "Then our archbishop—the duke's uncle—" "His grear-uncle. At court the archbishop himself makes us a memento mori. but part of my brain said: and I? Will I be here three days hence? * * * . "is Duke Riccardo's brother. could they not be saved even now?" "Perhaps. and those who heard the true facts then have forgotten them. Pope Pius threatened Riccardo and all his subjects with excommunication if they did not return to Rome." I thanked him and took a hasty leave. and I will tell you." I moved to cross myself. but the duke's answer was that if he did that. as he and his predecessors have waited for forty years. The pope's mercy hangs upon it indeed and grows more precarious day by day. They would have to excommunicate Rome's own archbishop. now Duke Domenico holds the state in defiance of Rome. and all Cabria must pay for their pride. After ten years Duke Riccardo died and his son Carlo succeeded him. if you have need of me. only half hearing the words. daughter." the priest corrected calmly. So the pope did nothing. "Come. But for a della Raffaelle to give up such power willingly!—" I said no more. but we should have known that the people would forget. The story is not much longer. The common people must be told over again." At last I fully understood the haunted look on the archbishop's face. or you will be sought for. the harshness that sat on him like the stamp of physical pain." There was a tired look on the priest's face.

For a moment I blinked and was dazzled. I found myself telling him of my life in the city as though it were long past. struck dumb." Niccolosa's voice greeted me as I entered the tapestried chamber. my lady. "Your Grace. unrolling bales that spilled in torrents. and mercers and all manner of others to supply your wants. "Leave us. lazily." To Niccolosa there was no more to say. and I do not need . Taccone. . my voice sounded anxious. "I have enough already. . jetty silk rimmed with diamonds and cloth of pure silver." An extraordinary feeling of suffocation swept me. and I stood listening to their busy footsteps fading away outside. and I turned. ." The dressmaker bowed and with glistening eyes moved around the room." His gesture encompassed the bolts of treasure strewn about the room. We do not require a conclave for this business. and I could even mention my stepfather's name lightly. We can judge these goods the better in private. silver bullion. . watching and now and then giving a sharp direction." While the dressmaker and his servants scurried around me. . the smile on Piero's lips told me that he at least was relishing the prospect of my humiliation. "And we will be your arbiter. He is coming himself to see you choose your gowns. I am no judge of what I should wear. I told myself that my trembling was due to fear of how my absence had been discovered. and the sound of voices. my lady . But Domenico had stopped on the threshold and was speaking over his shoulder. "Has he asked for me?" In spite of myself. and finally the duke. but for the rest of the time he talked to me. show your merchandise to this lady. I realized with a sinking heart that the duke's generosity and my thanks were to serve as their after-noon's entertainment."You are lacked. "His Grace has ordered the court dressmaker to attend on you. You have only to show yourself to us in these stuffs. I heard footsteps in the corridor outside." Even as she spoke. and others with mysterious bags and bundles. but he sent word you were to be ready by three o'clock. shimmering silk. ." Niccolosa twitched my disordered skirts into place as the door opened." "We will judge for you. Servants entered with rolls of cloth. He threw back muslin covers to reveal gowns ready-made. with the inevitable herd of courtiers at his heels." "You are to be furnished with more—His Grace has ordered it. you were best. "Sirrah. a story that had happened to someone else. Domenico lounged at his ease. "Not yet." There was the sound of a stifled protest. bodices clasped with silver. and then Domenico said. do your work—and do it well. then a tall man with a flared demicape about his shoulders. stiff brocades embroidered with silver thread and encrusted with pearls. black velvet. You are come just in time. . "His Grace! Quickly. petticoats of whispering taffeta. I said. Never fear. idle gossip of things that did not matter. . bracing myself instinctively. collars of lace. then a flurry as the courtiers bowed and withdrew.

" His arms came around me. . . "I had rather wear what I have worn till now than dress so lewdly. and it must have been twenty years ago or more. pulling me back against him. and I thought he said. but no one counted very carefully after my mother died. "Do you not know how old you are?" "Not exactly." "Spare us your arithmetic. I could see his fair reflection towering over me. the double sleeves. Gloved fingers gripped my shoulders and swung me around so that I faced the long glass behind me. too. His fingers tightened a little." he said thickly."Did you never try to find out the man who sired you?" he questioned negligently." It was like the faint purr of a leopard. "The cloth of silver. "Well? It is Taccone's latest fashion." The dressmaker bowed low. brief and unvarnished. sirrah. my body stiff in the elaborate gown. and I met his eyes in the glass. then he gripped the veiling gauze and tore. the tightly fitting bodice. It had grown dark outside the slitted window. the two brocades. Make them up as I directed and leave those other gowns here. and the laughter in it stung me. Felicia. and the gauzedraped neckline with its high. "Yes. Your Grace." "As Your Grace wills—and the one the lady is wearing now?" "You should ask her. "What do you dislike?" I stared at the spreading farthingale. "and I do not sue to see my own domains." "In the city only the whores wear gowns like this." I had not meant to blurt it out so. do you like it?" "No. wired collar framing my face. and his eyes were gleaming strangely. and . "It is—far too fine—for me." I made a small. "Our mistress is not to be bound by yeomen's rules of niceness." Domenico nodded thoughtfully. "How could I? He cannot even have known he fathered me. then he stood up." I answered awkwardly. the Spanish velvet. I think I must be twenty or so. desperate sound as his hand slid possessively over my breast. causing the dressmaker to give a cluck of reproach." He was numbering them on his fingers. impatiently. my own pale face and apprehensive eyes. "I am duke of this province." "The truth. I shook my head. you must do our pleasure in this." . "Enough. Taccone— those I approved I shall take. "That will do". but now I had to go on." "Nevertheless. Your Grace—the Genoese silk." His eyes narrowed.

I wondered that the court did not come. That night he talked in his sleep again. the warm scent of him and soft moans and whispers that were a whole new language. "I thought it would please you. . His fingertip flicked the side of my neck. Taccone. and he nodded slowly. "I am beginning to learn that.I tensed under his caressing fingers. I had learned the treachery of my own flesh and was shocked by the frailty of my virtue. decking me like a doll. Make them all in this fashion. he smiled very slightly and drew away. listening to the voices of contrition and self-loathing inside my head. to hood my senses. but inevitably my new knowledge betrayed me so that I was lost to hungers I had not known I possessed. the blood!—Get back from me and let me rest!" His outflung hand caught my hair. so I held him. ribbons. We will go in to supper. At night the strangeness of the court and the vigilance kept over my own fears were melted in the growing familiarity of his body against mine. Felicia." The blood stormed to my face and ebbed again as he stooped to press his lips to my throat. "Will you not thank me?" I said stonily. The servants stood rigid and wooden. when I was trembling and pliant against him. cradling his head to my breast like a baby's. flinging himself . and I winced.". deaf and blind to anything but his torment. I had learned to await his coming with excitement as well as dread. and then tonight I shall teach you how to render thanks graciously. "the day wears. When he had done. But the time has not been wasted. I tried to shut my ears to it." he added deliberately. a long high shriek of pure terror." I rejoined. only the faintest of leers on his thin face." He had taught me much in four nights. not of him but of myself and of the drugging rule my body could exert over my mind. I thought bitterly that they must be used to such scenes. "Come. At last. but most likely they dared not. He had taught me that pain could be a part of pleasure and that pleasure could be a kind of pain. "That will do. he looked down at me with a mocking smile in his eyes. scarves. What little modesty the gown had had was gone. . "I did not mean—I will not—oh God. as though it had burned me. and chains." "I am not all women. He was amusing himself with his latest toy." he said softly. "for now you look nearly as fair as when you are naked. his nightmares always came to tear him." The dressmaker bowed delightedly. brooches." "Ungrateful. All women are greedy for fine clothes. And when I lay quiet. and my breasts were almost bare to Domenico's touch. and at the touch he screamed. but it was no use. "Your Grace has done what pleases you. I stood immobile while Domenico chose gloves for me. the excitement that had burned in him blazing through his dreams. I thought: and when it ceased to amuse him . Now I had new fears.

Tomorrow . . the silver flare of panic slowly fading from his eyes. . I knew. He was breathing hard and fast. my throat choking with compassion. Then he muttered." The next day. "What will you do tomorrow?" For a moment he was silent. .back in a violent recoil that dragged me with him. . None of them can stop me. "No matter. and his opened eyes looked sightless." and pulled my head down to his." "She cannot stop me." I looked down at him. I dreamed . was the one fixed for the council. "Felicia. . "I know.

but the lesser fry were excluded from the chamber. I am ready. where keeping my footing amid the chafing tempers and spiteful formality of the della Raffaelles was ten times as hard as tracing my signature. "Yes. He stooped over me to kiss me good morning. drawing the covers up as he did so and tucking them under my chin. "What you will. Felicia." Domenico nodded and moved towards the door. in the severest Spanish fashion. he looked back. Rumors ran through the court like wildfire. knew. and even more princely. "What am I to do?" It sounded stupid. and I will have Piero send your women to you. It was bewildering to leave his lessons. He filled my time far longer than Domenico could have anticipated. as the duke's secretary. A great ruff brushed his firm jaw." He was dressed. as though he had put on majesty as a whore puts on paint. as a mask and as a weapon. Father Vincenzo made no reference to what was happening around us. "I must attend the council today." The black eyes turned from me to the door as Ippolito entered. and for those four days he taught me as rigorously as if we had enjoyed the same monkish seclusion in which he had learned his letters. childish. his supple prowl had become a conscious elegance. The quartet of sycophants who normally clustered about Domenico every moment of his public life hung about the gallery outside. that he might teach me to read and write. "He will fill your time when I am absent. but no one there could even say for sure what the councilors were debating— Ippolito. Stay abed for a little. in which I became a child again. Your Grace. ready to be at his elbow when he emerged and to marvel at or condole over they knew not what." "The council attends your pleasure. a sardonic quirk to his lips." he said maliciously." He did. I saw. making him look older. "I will send you to Father Vincenzo. blinking the sleep from my eyes. . and go to the brawling suppers after the talk had broken off. more awe-inspiring.Chapter Four I woke the next morning to find the duke already stirring. I tried to sit up. and nothing was more important than the curl of a G or the difference that a single letter could make to the sound of a word. he said. then as he reached it. that state council lasted for four stormy days. The duke had told him.

It was only a lewd rigmarole he had heard in the city streets. I promise. "My lady Maddalena may have been slack in your service. and little by little the rest began to whisper together until the noise filled the great void of the hall. obstinacy and an indefinable complacency radiating from him." His blue eyes twinkled at me." I spoke in genuine surprise. lady. suddenly." "Small doubt of that. "You must not be deceived by that jade's haughty looks. No one had the courage to break the silence. There was no mistaking the compressed lips and dilated nostrils. The other councilors— staid older men. "If so. and your true father cannot betray you. I looked at Sandro." His eyebrows shot up." Domenico interjected savagely. but he embroidered it in the telling. demanding more wine from a nearby servant in a voice that made the man stumble and nearly drop the flagon. lady. chosen to give the name of legality to the reigning family's absolute rule—took their cue from them and devoted their wholehearted attention to their food." His stormy dark eyes held a malevolent glitter. you must blame me for it. and as he met my gaze he winked. the quartet at his heels like a gaggle of distressed geese. "If you ask her." "I did not know she was supposed to serve me.The first evening Domenico stormed out of the chamber and into the banqueting hall white with fury. and the sound of his voice severed the unnatural quiet like a lifeline. "It takes wit to do it well. and I had to drag my thoughts from him to frame an answer when I realized that Sandra's last remark had been addressed to me. expecting to see him incensed or ashamed. You should consort with my brother. I thank its bounty. Sandro began to talk. or both. and Domenico's violence was washing over him as a tide beats over a breakwater. she can tell her father's name. instead. The duke did not respond. "But for our father's lustihood I would have been the son of a horsecoper—as it is." he observed blandly. "Are you sure you are not mistaken. "You have much in common. Then. my lady. but neither did he turn on his brother. It was hard to recognize the Domenico of yesterday in the white and thwarted autocrat beside me. I blessed its very raucousness as a return to normality. then the duke's hand closed over mine so hard that I nearly cried out." I stiffened as though he had struck me. "But I am sure she is better born than I. and he laughed. and the whole court took their seats in a hush of trepidation. You must bethink you." I colored and said. The meal dragged on in an ominous hush until I thought I could bear it no longer. he was making a comically rueful face. He can teach you to make a revenue out of your bastardy. You shall have her back tomor-row. She is no more fine than a waiting gentlewoman who learns her manners from the whore she serves. my lord? She seems too fine to be anyone's servant. here a soldier and there a cleric. I knew that he had taken a stand in the council from which nothing could move him. but I have been employing her constant-ly till now. More dreadful than anything was his silence—he did not speak." I saw the archbishop's eyes flicker in something like consternation. but he had turned away. . I have had my living from the state since I was three years old. someone or something had thwarted him. On my right the archbishop sat stiffly. lady—concoct a proof that says you are the daughter of a king.

Brother. she treated me with such disdain that I hardly dared speak to her. . when he came to my bed. I could not even ask her not to attend me. All she did was done grudgingly."Your speculations do not fit the time. On the second and third days. but his black mood had changed from anger to abstraction. It was as though he was fascinated by the thing he loathed. I began to start at shadows. It was a sour little reminder that I owed even their civility to Domenico's reflected power. oppressing me with her incessant. and when I fell asleep. silencing me with his mouth and making love to me so unmercifully that I had no thought for anything beyond his pitiless. fearing that he would step bowing from their screen to pour his interminable insinuations and reproaches into my ears. because his talk was a stream of indecent speculation mingled with disgusted invective. Niccolosa would not allow me to study all day long. with an air of fierce contempt that made me half-afraid of her. Piero would enter with it in his hand. food was carried into the council chamber so that the debate could continue uninterrupted. I was never free of him. Something had made his tongue as bitter as jealousy. It was on the morning of the fourth day that my unease at last ignited into anger. Maddalena returned to my service. for now he constantly condemned me for surrendering it. I began to wonder whether I had imagined the smooth-tongued bawd who had begged my virginity for the duke. he said. exquisite carnality. I missed his protection sorely. For he upbraided me now as roundly as the strictest confessor. he called me presumptuous. Piero became the bane of my life. inward spite. for without the check of his lord's presence. He would stroll in upon me while I was dressing or making ready to retire for the night. When I asked questions. no nightmare of his came to wake me. he would be waiting in doorways or in corridors when I went walking and would elbow Niccolosa from my side to take my arm—the privilege." Disbelievingly. By day I felt curiously lonely despite the occupation of my studies. It was like a grim stone warren. I tried to remind him that not even the Duke of Cabria would be able to find my father after so many years. If Father Vincenzo sent a servant to his study for a book or fresh parchment for our lessons. "We will ponder the question at a fitter time. of the duke's chosen envoy. and the pity and sympathy I felt for her were alike unwanted. he would construe it as a complaint and do more than I meant. when perhaps we can lighten her ignorance of her true father. As Sandro had promised. and I suffered Sandro to pick up the thread of his earlier discourse. and I walked with her twice a day. but she knew every inch of the way. and his threats of what he would do with me when the duke wearied of me were more than idle. He wore me out at last. with its galleries and drafty passages and time-hollowed stone stairs. and one or two spurned me as they would have done if I had never been taken up by the duke. if Domenico should hear. The courtiers we met affected not to see me. but the pressure of his fingers silenced me. and I supposed she had known it all her life. no wiser than I had been before. For all that time I never saw the duke save at night. but there was true rancor at the core of his railing against Domenico. and he never spoke of what had chanced. not only against the court's contempt but against Piero's increasing insolence." He still spoke curtly. learning my way about the palace. At first I thought that his exclusion from the council had made him waspish enough to want to bait me. I had told myself that my own fears might be shaping the man's innocent proceedings to something greater. I could only submit to her untender ministrations and hope that the tangle would resolve itself at last.

unless it is court manners to come in on a woman uninvited." Piero smiled lightly.'' I had to shake myself out of some sort of dream." I said in a whisper. "How dare you call me hypocrite? You have no cause!" "To deny a sight to one man that you give another freely! Is that honest?" "Honest enough to the duke. I was standing in my petticoat. Why should I seek for better?" "You know that best yourself. my lord"—I shook my hair forward quickly. my lord. "But foul enough. "Where is your power now?" "I had none to lose." "Not yet. my good mistress!" He stepped forward with an artificial laugh. You have no claim on me. He was standing just inside the door." I was silent for so long that he spoke again. "Nor ever." "If you can! I am glad you have no great estimate of your power. when I saw over her shoulder that he had come into the room." "I thought this news would make you sing a humbler note!" His fingers. "Who is it he means to marry?" "That is what they are debating—the duke says one woman. watching me shrewdly. I am cold. my lady Hypocrisy. His eyes were fixed on me. I swear. so you had better lesson yourself to speak to me softer. "Well. waiting for Niccolosa to pull the gown over my head. "It seems he thinks of choosing himself a wife. and for a moment I could have sworn that he licked his lips. "If I wish to see Diana Outraged.but that day he came to my chamber early. "What do you mean?" "Only that one of the council was in his cups last night and told me what His Grace is debating in council." I crossed my arms before me." he agreed. thoughtfully stroking his beard. in your deeds at night. "Please go. if I can prevent it. "Once the duke's thoughts are full of his . there is a tapestry in the west tower that shows her with Actaeon—it is something wormeaten but well enough to gaze upon. and soon too. because you are like to lose it shortly." Niccolosa stepped back as he approached." He came nearer." "You are too nice in your talk of manners. and the Bastard ferments their quarreling because he would not have his brother marry at all! But it is sure that he will marry. but I stood my ground. and I knew that he had purposely chosen his time. impatiently. knowing that it would hide my bare breasts as surely as a cloak— "was that what you came for?" "Why. my fingers digging into my own flesh. unannounced and uninvited. shapeless and as smooth as a lady's. the archbishop another. gripped my wrists and pulled them down.

Then he turned on his heel and went without another word. "The duke has not forsaken my young lady yet." and I crumpled the paper covertly into my hand. thinking that I could give it back when I saw Piero again. "You cannot strike me this time. Piero must have dropped it by accident. only patterns of wavy lines like an ostler's tally. "I saw her face when you took her to him. . "How long have you been so hot in defense of the Duke of Cabria's whores?" he demanded viciously. I had not meant to weep." I thought dazedly that I had never heard Niccolosa speak so unsteadily. he will have no time for you—I know well enough he does not return to a dish he has picked over—but we need not wait on his consent like a troth-plighted couple. I had not hoped to make out what it said. and the next moment Niccolosa's bony hands gripped me and pulled me away from him. It was as she turned away to fold my discarded nightrobe that I saw the tiny roll of paper lying on the floor near my foot and bent quickly to pick it up. "Nor is he likely to from all I can see. visibly weighing his courage with his discretion. my lady. however. You had better leave her in peace from this day on." I knew he meant to kiss me and twisted to avoid him. and then she helped me to put on my gown. or a wise woman's philter that Piero was keeping. my lord. Her unexpected championship did not make her any gentler." For a long moment Piero looked at her. she spoke to me tartly until I grew quieter and had regained control of myself. but Niccolosa's unyielding embrace was inexpressibly comforting. He kept his hold on my wrists. beating at him as well as I could with my pinioned hands. I decided. Give me some earnest now. his square face set and determination in his blue eyes. "But that is dead and buried. eyeing her as a ram does a sheepdog. I was hurrying towards Father Vincenzo's room when someone came rushing out of one of the antechambers'and cannoned into me. and now I bear no one any ill will." Her harsh accent was suddenly more emphatic. or I shall see to it that you regret this morning's work. I looked up to see her confronting him. or I would not give a groat for your life. "Or have we converted you at last from your creed of chastity—as my tongue converted her?" "I know how willingly she went to Cabria's bed. Leave her in peace." I was struggling so hard that his kiss missed my mouth and fastened hotly on my shoulder. "Father Vincenzo will wonder what has become of you.bride. and I can tell true fear from feigned as well as I could twenty years ago. I thought wryly. he could not have meant it for me. and said with his high bubbling laugh. Lord Piero." She bit her lip as though she had said too much and then continued brokenly. Out of curiosity I unrolled it and then stared at it in perplexity. I jumped. It must be some mountebank's spell. All the past is dead. stiff with outrage. but here there were no letters. for he knew my skill at letters well enough. Niccolosa said gruffly." He retreated before her. my young lady least of all. expecting it to be Piero—the palace corridors were dim on the brightest day—but it was Sandro.

sickened. "No. his unwontedly grim air melting into a comradely grin. One way it will be my brother's bane. I will take this to my great-uncle. and I laughed shakily and thanked him." In moments he had gathered them up and thrust them into my arms." He looked up and seemed to see me again at last. When I know what it says. It may be nothing. or only some tongue that I cannot read. "Go on—it does not matter. I think he dropped it while he was speaking to me." At that he halted." and turned my head away. and I saw he held Piero's paper. "and yours will be the blame for what it breeds. "I think my lord Piero has been selling his allegiance where he should not. the other della Quercia's."You will be late for the council. This is a cipher." "And if not?" "If not. "It is something of my lord Piero's. "Where. not from Spain." as though the idea were nonsense." Sandra's eyes rested calculatingly on my expression. "Do you care so much? Well. this does not come from any of the factions about the court. "Let them wait. fortunate Domenico! He does not know that yet. lady. "a love note from della Quercia's latest boy. No man knows more of codes like this than he—he has traded in such matters for too many years to be unable to interpret this. then?" "I do not know. "I will not let you think me a boor for forty brothers. perhaps?" I thought of the banished duchess and her Spanish kin. and I was keeping it to give it back. Then I said. it is a wicked one. . "With your leave. "Where did you get this?" he demanded roughly. "Keep it. What shall I do?" I looked at the apparently harmless thing and hesitated." he added reassuringly." he declared. his attention still on the paper. You had best not let my brother—" He broke off. or I can take it to my lord archbishop." He held it out in the palm of his hand. you can be sure I will give it back to him and say I found it by chance. he is intriguing against my brother. and he and I will see it safely unraveled." I said as he checked. and he let out a quiet whistle. "Here is some privy conveyance of yours. exasperation on his face. but Sandro." "If it is.'' "From Spain. we may think again. said. "I thought it was a charm. He was turning to go when he stopped again and picked up something from the floor. but I mean to find out. staring with knitted brows at what was in his hand. I can give you back this riddle. If so." "Do you know what it is?" I shook my head. scrabbling about after my strewn books and papers." He flicked the paper with a disdainful thumbnail.

He drew a quick breath of relief. "There." I smiled at him. and I glanced at Father Vincenzo." "That is all that concerns me. and I stared in awe as the pen held in our two hands shaped the letters on the parchment. filling the quiet room with their shrill voices. thickset and with a rictus smile seemingly painted on his lips. in full force and full cry." "You speak as though I were a child. and I looked up almost with relief as the door opened. but now I was beginning to know them. and Andrea Regnovi." "His Grace sends for you." There was an odd note in his voice. Guido Vassari. "That is 'Felicia. and I wondered if my sudden inexplicable joy at the summons was visible in my expression.' " The priest smiled kindly. Otherwise they would jam me on a spit and roast me. This will be a passport to the council's forgiveness when I arrive so late. was quietly putting away the pens and ink." "Your brother is not here to chide you now. "What is your surname?" My fingers slackened on the pen. who looked like a woman in a man's clothes: all so encrusted in artificiality that the natural men were lost within the glittering shells. after a long look at my face. Riccardo D'Esti." They all spoke at once. Soon you will be able to write your name as well as any clerk and set it down instead of making a mark. But he. "To me you are only my pupil—all the rest I had rather forget. It is written. . "Lady. and my brother said I must not call myself by it after she died. my fingers trembled as I clutched the pile of books and papers. the council is ended. It had taken me days even to distinguish them one from another. tall and thin. before I could answer. "I have no right to one—I only know my mother's." "And we are to escort you to him now. Baldassare Lucello. "Thanks. and I went on towards Father Vincenzo's room. What was your mother's name?" I said. It was the quartet. clutching the poisonous scrap of paper." "He awaits you in the council chamber. Father Vincenzo was helping me to write my name." He was off and running." and he nodded. "But I am only childish in not knowing my letters." The memory that sometimes made speech difficult between us came back to me then. not daring to contemplate the consequences of what I had done. the little gnomelike man who had fetched me to the banquet on that first night. his hand tightening over mine. fair lady. My brain felt giddy. "Guardi.

and cannot decide which we ought to purchase. that I realized I loved him. "Is that what you have been debating?" "For four mortal days. Your Grace.Feeling rather like a sparrow caught in a flock of rowdy starlings. looking up at him. I might be brought to endure the marriage yoke." He was watching me as a cat watches a mouse. I let myself be drawn after the quartet down the great staircase to the door of the council chamber. Piero had done me a favor by telling me this news this morning. He held his hand out to me without speaking. Your Grace. and a tolerable wench. "I never had a stomach for it before—that nightly drudge is a breeding ground for hate—but I think with some policy. Guido inserted himself nimbly around the door jamb. but now I am in the market for a wife. so gorgeously painted and cunningly framed that I blinked at them. Your Grace?" "Parma himself sent it six months since. I knew then." Whether he meant to or no. and I could hear voices within before Guido." His eyes never left my face. Lust for the beautiful animal who had seduced me. stepped forward and knocked. Fate had lured me into the ultimate folly. as I went to him like a falcon flying to his fist. All my uncle's sermons"—he glanced fleetingly at the archbishop—"have borne fruit—the dukedom needs an heir. and it was then. Strewn across it were a dozen or so trinkets. he tells me. fear of the vicious tyrant. "We have brought the lady. his sharp face a careful blank. Do you favor any of these?" . that I had been deceiving myself." Hands thrust me forward. "And my father deferred the question." It was the archbishop who answer-ed me. "Why does she send you her picture. their busy tongues stilled. straight into Domenico's eyes. They halted then. and I forced myself to raise my eyes to Domenico's. calling this feeling by any name but love. for now I could hear it unflinching. looking down the length of a huge table made of shining jasper. and now I was trapped in total love. and I found myself in the doorway. "We have been turning over some trinkets. Is it the lady's beauty or the artist's cleverness that I am to judge?" "Oh. Look and tell me what you think is the fairest. Felicia. compassion for the haunted man who cried like a lost child in my arms—they were only part of what I felt for him. They were pictures. and has urged it ever since Gratiana refused to curb her pleasures for the sake of bearing a child. the subject. the daughter of the Duke of Parma. and someone gave a sharp summons. I felt the councilors' eyes on me as I picked up one carved like an ivory flower and saw inside it a painting of a plump. fragments of bright color reflected in the shining surface like dragonflies on the water. "Pay no heed to the painting!" I thanked him unemotionally and looked at the picture again. I knew then what the pictures were. golden-haired girl with a child's pouting lips belied by her full breasts. "I cannot choose without knowing what you seek. hardly knowing what they were at first. The black eyes glimmered down at me. The talk broke off. I said.'' I looked down at the tabletop. Someone coughed and said that that was Lydia Renaldi.

that for perhaps a day or two longer the duke would not choose his bride. Let it be. alliances. and a kinswoman of the Doge of Venice. while in my ears the archbishop's voice spoke of dowers. ." "It would be a great match. and I realized that Domenico was studying me curiously." the archbishop said as I picked up another portrait. "if we can compass it. "twice widowed. good Uncle. settlements. "I think perhaps she will. the tight mouth and pale. I could think only that this was a reprieve. It may be that her judgment will exceed yours." In a daze of relief I heard him dismissing the councilors and their trooping out after the savage swish of the archbishop's train. then. If he had offered me an asp in a bracelet I would have taken it from him. "Are all these rivals in your market?" "They are some of the dearer goods." I realized with a sort of hunger that he was offering me the gift of a jewel that had been his." Domenico cut me short impatiently. I turned to the ebony box he pushed towards me." I bent my head attentively over the portraits. we shall decide another day. The doors closed. and heirs. another set in a golden locket—women and girls. "Do you care no more than that?" he asked idly. trying to quiet my fast-beating heart. "Tell her their names. "The lady Francina di Corso. "Come. "I thought this news might grieve you. Look and choose. and the gravity was gone from his voice." I said colorlessly." After a moment he spoke again. willing myself to handle them carefully when I longed to smash them to fragments. at least. I placed the lady Francina di Corso at forty." he agreed ironically. I felt as though my whole body were filled with pain and if I moved or spoke it would spill and foul the room with its stench. but for all his care and her rich clothes and jewels." He turned away abruptly. we will leave this talk of wives for a space—your .I stared at the pictures through a mist of tears. pretty and plain. hard eyes showed clearly." "Why should it? I have never professed to love you. "Look. and their fortunes and conditions. ." "Not with your tongue. one by one. The painter had been at pains to soften his sitter's sharp face to his ideal of beauty. each a desirable match for a duke in birth and fortune. and whom she chooses shall be my wife. but one of them may please you. He nodded meditatively. companionship suffices me until I come to marry—you need not fear a rival till then. One portrait was circled by a ring of gems. I have other toys you may like better. . "True." "And from that day your wife will suffice you?" I asked with a hint of bitter wonderment. they are not so old. She is the heiress to a third of the Farnese fortune.

I am not one to brave comparison with emeralds and sapphires. his voice had no expression at all. "Scruples are for fools—take whatever you wish for. . "Are you not superstitious? Some men call them bad luck. wrought in the shape of two clasped hands holding a pearl." "Some men are frightened when a cat crosses their path or when a skew-eyed old woman frowns at them. I thrust the ring on my finger and held out my hand." "Who told you?" he-demanded sharply. It was silver." He spoke slowly. there were clasps and shoe buckles. He was turning over some papers as I made my choice. I meant you to choose a worthier stone." "The Duchess Isabella?" I could not understand the queer. "You do not want to part with this. When he spoke at last. earrings and chains." "No. heavier made than he usually wore. his head averted. I noticed the. I will put it back and choose another." he said in a queer voice. that is all." "No. all tossed together in a haphazard muddle. "She was killed." "I like this. I am less credulous. they told me. I did not know I had kept it. after a long hesitation. Then." "But pearls mean tears. there was an attempt on my great-uncle's life by some Lutheran zealot who sought to wrench Cabria to his heretical faith by killing the head of our Holy Catholic Church. and so rich that I drew back instinctively. All these are nothing. "That is peddler's trumpery. by my father's second wife. caught in the lining in one corner of the box.My first thought was that he had more jewels than any woman. before he could gainsay me. was given out so. He must have cared for it once. . there were a boy's ornaments on which the engraving had worn smooth. I have a greater gift in mind to give you. "Ippolito—he said she died in an accident. and must have lain in the box for years unworn. Your Grace. The thing has little enough value—I had not seen it for so many years. . and quickly. "I should like this. only turning over the trinkets one by one. I may not take them. I was given it years ago. the almost dreamy note in his voice. dead look of him. to have kept it so long. and the pearl's luster was dimmed. I thought.ring. the metal had a blackish sheen. and because he had let it grow grimed and dirty he would not mind if I asked for it now. no one knows for sure how she died. She died not long after." He looked up with the beginning of a slight smile. "These are more of your family's jewels. then froze like an animal in a trap. take it. Just before." I assumed he was teasing me and did not answer." "It ." he contradicted lazily. they are my own. showing that he had worn them often: and on these my fingers lingered involuntarily. Many of them were dingy." I looked up and saw his face. "In fact.

The saying held true for her. and no one know of it?" "She had gone to pray in her chapel.He failed in that but escaped the palace guard. protruding from an inkwell set in a human skull. . "It was a thing she did often—she would pray for hours. then at last he began to speak in a strange. there was no light in them at all. "Poor lady." His fair head was bent and his voice muffled. but it slipped out unbidden. "It was a poor enough gift. but I would never say so to him. He was silent for so long that I thought he did not mean to answer. but a soldier saw him by the palace gates. "The Lutheran could bring no evidence that he had not come upon her while she was alone. anyway. she had ill luck enough with it. I had not meant to ask the question. almost petulantly." "Did you love her?" I asked inconsequentially." "But she died when she gave it away." "Why do you say that?" "Because she gave you her ring." His reply was abstracted as he stared at the notched blade of his dagger. He swore he had been drinking at a tavern. and it was thought that he came again that night and had better success. Perhaps she was praying for deliverance from my father. "She wept more than any woman I ever knew. "I? No. and no one heeded her absence. opaque black. dreaming murmur. he was hanged for it." As he spoke I saw the quill at his right hand. He looked up quickly at that." I whispered. he was picking savagely at the carving of the table with the tip of his dagger. "I only wore it once. "But he cannot have been unseen—unheard—how could she die. I looked again at the tarnished ring. "I do not like the dead— they belong in tombs and on battlefields. It made me feel cold all at once." I spoke almost without thinking and added quickly." "But she loved you." The very tonelessness of his voice sounded somehow defensive. and I saw that his eyes were dead." The thought made me shiver. and then fled." The knife dug into the table almost vindictively. stabbed her. "What became of the Lutheran?" "He was caught and executed for her death." "Did it hurt you to see it after she died?" "I did not wish to think of her!" he snapped violently. It might have been he as soon as another." he added viciously." No woman could choose but love him. "Was it so dreadful?" I said and bit my lip. I thought. "That pearl can well stand for the tears he had of her. She must have loved you.

his betraying." It was then that I understood his nightmare. Felicia. what was the guilt that would not let him forget finding her so. "Nothing else?" His hand on my shoulder was still unsteady. . "What was he doing there?" and I started. Niccolosa was with me. the dulled silver and the modest gray pearl carried no taint with them. "He—he had come to escort me to my lesson. I said that the lady would confirm how she found it. Lord Piero dropped it in my chamber. and we had a disagreement. "Keep the ring if you have a mind. Then with an impatient movement he jammed his dagger back into its sheath and straightened. "Whoever killed her had made good work. But why. "There. Perhaps the sight of it on your hand will drown the other remembrances. and his hand tightened." . You would think these creatures would vary their codes sometimes!—and I have brought de'Falconieri. but she did not answer—and the floor—" he broke off. choking.'' Domenico said silkily. "Your Grace!" "Brother. but this one is addressed. I wondered. and I couid feel a tremor in his fingers as they slid under the sleeve of my gown." He nodded after a moment. Your Grace?" My voice sounded breathless. It was his stepmother's body. my lord." "Thank you. "Look. and I wondered why I could not find it loathsome." "Your pardon. He did not see me move." I met Ippolito's anxious look and nodded. "Yes. "Felicia . and Sandro put two papers into it. Ippolito. but it was all I could say. "You are something untimely." then turned with startling swiftness as the door opened. and why did he talk in his sleep of blasphemy? The ring gleamed on my hand as I put it out to him. That message cost our uncle little labor—he has intercepted a like code before in notes from spies that we have taken." Domenico's eyes were narrow. "My humblest thanks. I thought she had fallen asleep and I called her." Domenico held out his hand without a word. But it seemed a sad keepsake rather than a ghoulish one. the message and its translation. . I think you will like to know whom della Quercia seeks as a master. . sprawled on the chapel floor in its own blood. but his sensual mouth was tight as he looked back at the two papers. and my hand dropped back to my side."She was lying on the floor when I went in. as though she had not moved all night. He said with a glare that was not wholly a threat. Brother—and madam"—Sandro glanced at me ruefully and bowed low—"but I have news to tell you. who will not believe that I have not concocted this myself." It seemed pitifully little. that haunted him. shaking hands clenched behind his back.

"He meant mischief to us." Ippolito stared at the papers. I shall see that this lady has another guardian." Domenico's mouth twisted. I have been bidden to offer you my service. "Set someone to watch the traitor. Since he abuses his freedoms. and there. and said hesitantly."' "He writes soberly enough. Piero had been Domenico's companion—and I believed him." Domenico continued curtly." "It is foolery. "I wondered why he did not prosper!" "Such uprightness is tedious. I could see his thoughts clearly—if a man as close to the duke as Piero had been was condemned so summarily. "but so that he does not see it. if this slave had had the wit to choose one—as it is." Ippoiito was silent for a moment. his lover—for more than a dozen years. that is intelligence an enemy would pay well for. for gallantry will never make his fortune. bowed to the duke. "But it shall not go unpunished. and I do it with all my heart. he has been your friend . one who is linked to my family by marriage and is so far from enmity with me that he is forever soliciting me to visit him and see that palace of his! Did the dullard have no brain at all? I might have gotten it from the man he wrote to. the writing has done no harm. as soon as by this accident. See there. to say the least." Ippolito seemed not to be able to believe his eyes. "Your Grace. "Madam. He approached deferentially. this is some drunken foolishness." "Leave your excuses." But when Bernardo da Lucoli came to my side at supper. his face that of a man who has stepped on a green meadow and found himself in a quicksand.His secretary went to his side at once. The more fool he. I had not held him for as many days. who styles himself my cousin. Bernardo da Lucoli will serve—he has not sufficient mettle to be anything but virtuous. it is . "Your Grace. "He will serve as a gallant to Felicia for a glance from her fair eyes and will ask for nothing more—not even a purse. . "But. he seeks to sell me to the Duke of Ferrenza. I smiled. nonetheless. Lord Piero could not mean you any harm." Domenico tossed the papers to Sandro. and bring me word of how he spends his time. ." ." The vicious little sneer made Sandro laugh. then he said in a troubled voice. "See what goes forward under our very noses—a creature of ours seeks to sell us to our enemies. . I am sure it was done in a fit of melancholy and not seriously intended. Your Grace. if this is so. You will be ready to arraign him when we require it of you. what hope was there for him if someone should denounce him? And what for me? I thought suddenly." Ippolito stepped back. Why." The black eyes narrowed and went to me as though unconsciously. My tenure was precarious. for it was the dark-haired boy who had helped me into the saddle on that first morning. and we will requite it so. .

" I answered quickly. "This is folly!" "Only wait a little. my lord. and I am still learning the ways of the court. belatedly and apprehensively. for much is altered since he died." "Not all virtue is tedious." "Has he not?" The deep. who was beside him. and started as the archbishop's voice addressed me. at Domenico." "Is it not? Should I seek for some. sir. for I am a novice." He glanced." The insinuation of the last words made me deaf to the puzzle of the first. "I have no fondness for tumbling. too.I held out my hand to him." "You are shrewd—have you learned that in so short a time?" "His Grace is an expert teacher. "Secrecy is the breath of life to him. I am doing that to please you that will make them call me fool and madman. "Then we shall have to help each other." He bowed gratefully and after a word or two more withdrew to his place. messire." Domenico was watching us speculatively. staring unseeingly before me." His eyes glimmered. then. I sat for a moment. He loves intrigue more dearly than any mistress. He raised his eyebrows and laughed. "So you know of my nephew's wedding plans. and the awareness made me uneasy. He has not spoken to me of any preference. I came from my home in the north to attend on Duke Carlo. Domenico's fingers toyed idly with the knife beside his plate." I smiled tenderly. melodious voice was skeptical. to make you smile at me?" The breath caught in my throat." I returned rather bitterly. "You have not been at court long. meeting his piercing scrutiny. "Or I will tumble for you if you ask me. to smooth his discomfiture. messire?" He shook his head. "But only that he means to be married. "Yes. then forced my face to stillness. "I am grateful to you. and glad to accept your offer. and said involuntarily. Your Grace. "A few weeks only. I said. lady?" I turned sharply to face him. I looked at the ingenuous-ness in the young courtier's eyes and the unpainted smoothness of his cheek. "I thought he would have acquainted you with his thoughts." My lips felt dry." "No. then turned to talk to Sandro. "I did not know that your taste ran to milk and water. worse than my lord archbishop. .

and to reject his help would be close to blasphemy. his beautiful face full of catlike satisfaction. and after that . how you took the citadel and laid it waste. sell yourself by lottery. "I was telling the lady of your good success there." "Do you think you will have leisure to repent when you are earning your bread on your back? I do not speak so to distress you. But Genoa . "What were you saying of Genoa?" he asked softly. Belike my nephew forced you and holds you against your will—if it is so. "for He will damn me. "but to warn you of what must happen." The duke nodded. And God will not brook it. for the archbishop was the voice of God in Cabria. I have no family but my half-brother. for a woman cannot but be damned in this corruption he calls a court." I hardly heard what the archbishop replied." "How?" My bowed head jerked up incredulously." I was silent for a long time." A lump grew in my throat. You might go there and live among the nuns to atone for your sin in prayer—but I doubt you would take such a desperate remedy." "I shall not be the duke's whore long. as though Domenico's intervention had saved me from a choice I could not bear to make." "Then I must be damned." The archbishop's tone was noncommittal. . I must have murmured the word. nephew. You do not have the look of one who has lived long in sin. This chance was literally heavensent. "And now I enter it freely. "And what will you do when he is married? Bow before his wife?" "No—I do not know what I shall do. for he never tried to find me when the duke took me. daughter. you must coin your beauty. He nodded. and he cares nothing for me—I think he was glad to be rid of me. I felt faint with relief. then I shall pray for your soul." The archbishop drummed his fingers thoughtfully on the rim of his wine cup." I said. . "I might give you help. and there was no chance to . "I am patron of a convent in Genoa. "It is as I thought. . "But since then I have conquered a sterner fortress.The archbishop surveyed me thoughtfully." I said with a sudden dreadful certainty. And I have no friends. I must trust in God's mercy." "You could leave the court. A whore once made must after stay a whore. . for Domenico's bright head turned. "I have nowhere to go. if I take my own life. nor skill to earn my living." His eyes mocked me. "I know he will cast me off as soon as he is married." he continued smoothly as I flinched. If you wish to live and thrive afterwards.

It was only when he rose to leave that he whispered compellingly. undemanding presence and quiet devotion were soothing when I was tired of combating the pinpricks of the court and my own overwhelming. he stayed and spoke to me a little of the duke's wedding plans. Piero came to my chamber just as I was going to the duke that night. and that quickly. my lords. and may heaven help all of us if either of them succeeds! The Bastard has his own followers— Giovanni Santi and those marauders he calls gentlemen—and the archbishop hates us and will root us out if he comes to power. but his manner had changed. I felt a stab of pity for him and wished wholeheartedly that I could have kept his secret without endangering Domenico's life. "Cabria has no heir after him but the lord Bastard and the archbishop." Baldassare Lucello interposed. with a meaning glance under his eyelids at me. the gleam in the black depths of his eyes. even teaching me the court dances in the banqueting hall after the feasting was done. the duke's mistress— my days would be done soon enough. his gentle. "His Grace will do well to choose a rich wife. incredibly. Baldassare. It seemed an age since I had sat in the attic over the Eagle sign and wished for some excitement to enter my dull life—now. and it was of little consolation that Piero no longer came near to upbraid me. passing all my expectations. and I would have given it all for peace of mind. he went away with his face a little more drawn under the paint. The palace was clamorous now with the names of conflicting contenders for the duke's marriage bed. his eyes flickering around the room all the time. "Oh. Domenico spent much of his time in council or closeted with Ippolito over state affairs. and then. I remember the slow. "You may as well prophesy that Spain will swallow Cabria after Naples's victory over our soldiers. "Remember. What if I were still. one who will close her eyes to his infidelities . and he will not listen to talk of moderation. Now his self-confidence had deserted him. I found myself often seeking Bernardo da Lucoli's company. once he had chosen his bride. and because I felt lost and reckless I gave him my hand without a glance at Domenico. not finding what he sought. now. hopeless love. biting his lip." and then he was gone in a rustle of silk. too. A complaisant woman. "He has near emptied the treasury by this. insidious music of flutes and hautbois. feline smile and would not say yea or nay to any of them." Riccardo D'Esti's fixed smile never left his lips as he spoke. Let us pray that the duke will get himself a son. and he seemed worried." "It is a fruitful one that he must seek. but he has wealth enough yet to squander! I will take my oath it is not gold that will lure him. but at night he kept me close to him. and the way the room faded like the setting of a dream. . leaving the hard grip of his fingers and the breathtaking grace of his steps as the only reality.speak to the archbishop again for the rest of the meal. Every faction held a different opinion. Once Sandro came to solicit me to dance with him. the torchlight outlining the duke's silvered body like wildfire." Guido Vassari said. before the state totters!" "And falls into the lap of Rome? You are too gloomy." Andrea Regnovi tittered. . and Domenico heard them all with a faint." I had not much comfort then. This news of the duke's is good for all of us—it is only his drabs who will repine. I had it. . and then there was nothing for me but a choice between beggary and a convent in Genoa.

lady." The words shocked me so much that I almost stumbled. . my lord? That is none of yours!" He laughed outright at that. I curtsied to him automatically as he released my hand. His frowns are directed at me and not at you. "Stay a little longer at court. Sandro remained unabashed. they were only waiting to know when he would die. The music ended." Sandro nodded shrewdly. and your tender conscience will cease to prick you. lady! I have been hearkening overmuch to my great-uncle's wisdom. "Soon you will have a kennel of these . "True. lady. No wonder the man was close-tongued these days. "My brother is not sparing with his punishments. Tell me"—I thought I heard his voice sharpen as I turned under our upraised hands—"when does he mean to strike at della Quercia? He has had proof of his treachery for five days and more. . "I will not do more to bring the lord Piero to ruin than I have already done." "Surely he would not send you there for so little!" He shrugged. You have come to know my brother better since you came here. my thoughts so full of Piero and his treachery that at first I did not notice Domenico's expression."My brother did not intend any man but him to partner you. Why should you be so squeamish? The man is as good as dead. . You do not love the man—you could persuade . He must be feeling the chill of a phantasm's existence." "Where did you learn that caution. and he showed no sign of caring that he would be sent into danger— not that I really believed the danger. and cautious. But the old jackal is right for all that. and he was not wont to be so slow in his revenges. . and his eyes were as cold as chips of ice." He sobered swiftly." "I do not know. So to him—and to anyone else who knew of that damning scrap of paper—Piero was hardly more than a walking wraith. The figure of the dance took him away from me. and as our hands clasped again he said. I shall be paying for my pleasure soon enough." I shook my head instinctively. I shall find myself on an errand to the border tomorrow. In a week or two—a month—a man's life will be nothing to you if it stands in the way of your affairs. for Sandro bore a charmed life. lapdogs vying for your favors. But for his own safety and the state's. ribald guffaw which rang discordantly over the music." For a moment the humor was gone from his voice. and I saw a troubling glitter in the dark eyes following his half brother's stumpy figure." "No. a sudden. "The court would be well rid of such a plotting knave. lady. "Perhaps. my lord. "He—the duke has said nothing to me. wholly unconcerned." Sandro observed with a wolfish grin on his dark face. and Sandro led me back to the chair by Domenico's side. then he saw my expression and smiled again. He had weighed the offense against the penalty before he ever approached me. "You need not fear for his anger. "but it will not harm him to give place for once! He has it all. And I wish I had not done so much. "So my brother Sandro grows attentive." . I'll swear. Perhaps he means to torture him with waiting. too?" His voice jerked me back to the present." I added in a whisper. you had best urge him to rid us of this traitor." I felt a sense of shame as I spoke.

I could bear the loss of the Duke of Cabria's favor. and after that I began to notice again the despising tone in some voices. what is the matter?" There was a fierce purpose in her face that startled me. Sandro's sudden expedition to the border to brave the clutches of the King of Naples was a nine hours' wonder that barely stirred the eddies of rumor concerning the Duke's marriage. and fair enough for Domenico to overlook the accident of her birth. and the subject was dismissed. . "I wanted to speak with you. and he turned his head. "Oh. and I supposed. but her roughness and spite began to abate. . I thought she would find pleasure in taunting me with the prospect of my fall. My days as his mistress might be numbered. He will listen to you. and once he is wedded there will be no security for women who are not friends with his bride. "Quickly. waiting for Bernardo to fetch me to the duke. rumor had it that they were ambassadors sent to negotiate his marriage. But a senseless joy was licking through me like a flame. and their tongues relished the speculations like bees around a honeypot. or I may grow angry. they say. I have eyes. The archbishop has done all he can to oppose the match. and my brother ." He spoke lightly. Bernardo da Lucoli. but God help any man who sought to anticipate my dismissal. that she had decided I would most likely go to Genoa and not trouble her much longer. wondering which of those dimly remembered portraits had been of Savoy's daughter." "Why. but how was I to live without Domenico? A firefly glimmer moved in the mirror before me. when I saw her whispering with the archbishop and gazing at me. I was thinking. but now he has given way.I made a movement of protest. She is rich. and I was thinking that soon I must give up those ill-fated jewels in my turn. I was sitting in my chamber. a terrifying hardness about the smile on his lips." "Have you not heard?" Her smile was scornful. "I want you to ask Domenico to prefer me as a lady-in-waiting to his new wife. what was promised was ever more important than what was past." "But he has not chosen her yet." Her voice was low and urgent. it seemed. What surprised me was the change in Maddalena. the contempt in their eyes that had been veiled. I said in a voice that did . To the court. When the duke sent out a dozen messengers on some mysterious errand. his eyelids drooped. "It is all over the court that he is to wed the Duke of Savoy's bastard daughter. you had best be virginclose with them." I stared at her blindly. Niccolosa had gone to lock up the Cabria diamonds in safety. before that old hag comes back. and I met the reflection of Maddalena's green eyes as she came up behind me. Della Quercia.while they thought me secure in the duke's bed. The names and the faces had all run together in one hurtful blur. The next night.

sullen jealousy in her face. "You cannot be as mealy-mouthed as that! There is no need to play the innocent—the whole court knows. . "Domenico has discovered that you are his father's child. . . "You at least are nobly born. trying not to let the tears spill down my cheeks. of course. "I do not doubt it. What do they know now?" "Why." "It is proved. ." I heard the pain in my own voice almost detachedly. . "It would be nothing to you . I shall be cast lower than you!" I turned to face her. None of this is real. but Maddalena had taken the words literally. I cannot—I cannot make myself understand you. if it does not tempt a nobleman to marriage. When they found that you were truly Duke Carlo's daughter. when he marries." "No!" I said. but I dare not beg an office for myself." Understanding flooded her face.not sound like my own. of your parentage." I said bewilderedly. it will induce one to take you under his protection. and how fond you seem to be of Sandro." Her scornful tone dismissed my interjection. "Well. I shall have nothing. "I had not heard. It has been common knowledge since Domenico's envoys came back—they could not keep such news to themselves. They say it is clear from how swiftly you settled here. is it so surprising? Duke Carlo was not faithful to any of his wives." I put my hand on her arm. "Besides. and she laughed. . "Why should he give me a dowry. let alone for you. "He has given you more than ever he gave me!" There was a flash of the old. "No. more than another?" and saw Maddalena's wide mouth curve in a cynical smile." She gave an impatient little sigh and began to speak slowly and clearly as though I were a halfwit. This cannot be happening." . and. but not to tell you—that outgoes everything!" "Please. it is well known—he had dozens of other bastards besides Sandro. "That man is a devil! I thought he had used his tongue to coax you into continuing to share his bed." Her tone changed as she saw my expression. but I have no foothold here but the duke's favor. . . I am not. and all of them were small and dark like you." A voice in my brain was repeating monotonously.'' "You have no need of an office!" Her eyes narrowed like a cat's. When he weds. he is sure to give you a dowry. "Domenico's agents discovered more than he foresaw when he sent them to find out your father." "When the duke is married. You would be welcome if I could do it. "But I never knew that he had discovered anything. You are his half sister. "Please tell me plainly what you are saying." I felt suddenly weary. Did he not tell you he was seeking him?" "He once said he might.

and I do not doubt"—she glared at Maddalena— "there are jealous ears enough to give even that tale credence. I went with him like one in a dream." "It is true enough. But all I could think of was that I had fallen in love with my brother. "Because he knew you would take it so. "You must not heed any stories of His Grace's new wife. I thought you knew all this—it is nothing. Some even say it will be you. When Bernardo came to fetch me. I felt the same excitement." Maddalena's deep voice was as indifferent as ever. If you doubt me. I just sat still." "He will never marry me. as much as if I had mated with Antonio. you would have refused him. not daring to move or speak in case something should happen to prove that this was reality. "Why should I believe you? It may not be true. and her lips thinned. Madonna Maddalena!" Her voice hardened." Both women tried to soothe me. the same languor. . Ask Domenico." She caught my hands and pulled them away from my face. no more!" I gave a little cry of despair. and I found myself facing reality. no doubt. "Why did he not tell me?" I said at last. "He would not if I were an empress. I could bear it. And if he asked me. As long as I knew it was a nightmare. and I can hold him as long as I choose. ask him. I thought. sitting on the great bed. When he kissed me. my lady?" I shook my head. "Now. "What have you been saying to my young lady?" "Nothing. unable to answer. I swear to you. I would refuse him. by habit I waited. But the common people. so total. is winked at by priests. kneeling beside me with her eyes hard and bright as pale emeralds. and what I had accounted a venial sin was one of the blackest that man or woman could commit." I stammered. "He will kill me if he finds out that I have told you: you must swear not to tell him what I have said. Maddalena shrugged. my lady. I was so deep in iniquity that I could love my own . I would guess. These days no one cares for consanguinity—any kin now. "Nothing it is not good for her to know. I know I hated you when you first came here." That dreadful. What is it. By habit. and Maddalena rose to her feet with a great rustle as Niccolosa entered. cracked whisper was my own. I followed. . I tell you! The court thinks it sport."—the dis-missiveness in her tone was more insulting than contempt— "still hold it sinful to mate with kindred. Maddalena seemed half-startled by what her words had done.I did not hear the rest of what she said. . To my horror my new knowledge made no difference to my inward response. The love which had seemed so glorious. My brother." "Seeking to make mischief. It was not until Domenico came to me that the dream dissolved. through my tears I saw her come flapping towards me like an agitated crow. I had been sleeping with my half brother. If he had told you. next to full brother and sister. but that is past—I have Sandro now. was a tie of blood after all! My ignorance had betrayed me into incest.

. made him glance at me in surprise. There was a fever in my flesh. Tactfully. As Bernardo appeared in the doorway I hurried towards him so quickly that Domenico tensed with sudden suspicion. I hoped—or perhaps feared—that lacking me Domenico would find another woman to lodge with. and after a few moments he lifted his head and looked down at me. I cannot." His beautiful face was grim. I dared not take this sin to Father Vincenzo. Bernardo told me. and then he led me out into the gallery and back to my own room. "I thought we had thawed this ice. but he extended his arm to me without continent." In answer he bent me back with a strength that made me shiver. but I could not speak the words. "You should have told me—I am not such a novice that I know nothing of women's matters. "I beg you . as demanding as it had not been since the first night when he forced me—then his hold eased and his watchful eyes searched my face. his dark eyes angry and puzzled. I took it gratefully. His kiss was rough." Shaking with reaction and relief. the consuming ache of loneliness. sirrah. the news nearly overset my . and my clutch. The days I spent by Domenico's side.brother as carnally as if he were no kin. scorching my skin. of the Duke's bad dreams since I left sleeping with him. and I spent their watches on my knees. stumbling with shyness. I managed to force my lips into an unsteady smile. Inwardly I knew that this excuse would not serve me long. Is it that you are sick?" I said yes. Felicia. the longing to cast out my conscience and kiss the grimness from his sensual mouth and the glint of growing anger from his eyes. But somehow I forced myself to stay rigid in his arms. "This is more than coyness. as though I were starving to death. praying for God's forgiveness. and even through my unhappiness I could sense the sudden distrust that radiated from him. "Forgive me. What I had not anticipated was the physical agony of separation." I could not say more. he did not ask why he had been called for such an unusual office but only bade me good night in a tone of heartfelt sincerity and kissed my hand at parting. but now it was a respite from the first shock." "Your Grace. more than anything else. by the time the plea of illness had ceased to serve me. why should my knowledge of it make him pause? Instead I whispered brokenly. an unresponsive statue. I was learning to glean it from a word or a look. But my eagerness to escape almost betrayed me. and his frown lightened. "Take the lady back to her chamber. I had expected the pain of estrangement. I stood beside him with bent head as he summoned Bernardo. "Your Grace!" Bernardo was obviously astonished. If he had taken me knowing that the deed was incest." His voice sounded curt. "What is the matter?" I wanted to tell him. avoiding the question in his eyes each morning or answering it with a mute denial. For three nights after that the duke did not send for me. Like the rest of the court. a terrible sense of emptiness. I no longer marveled at how I came by the news of the palace. I longed so much to succumb to it. We will forbear tonight. . as on a lifeline. but the court spies were abuzz with the prodigious news that the duke was lying alone. snatching at the excuse. I might have thought of another.

he talked lightly to me about the preparations for his coronation. time will show. Come and see him—the sight of you may loosen his tongue. But. you have not. as I listened to the noises in the shadows. Spies watched alertly for every new coupling that might alter the intricate web of policy and lust spun every night. secret death for the groom. We had long ago left the part of the palace that I knew. I thought." There was an unpleasant smile on his lips. "that they may put off their mourning for that one day—it will make a braver show. The court was pairing: partners were being chosen for an hour. A countess who bedded with a lord would cause gossip tomorrow. and across the uncertain patchwork of fire and dark his eyes were fixed remorselessly on my face. now barely seven days off. lady. malicious satisfaction. a countess who bedded with her groom would cause a scandal. "I have passed an edict. I thought. filled with strange scufflings and shadowy forms that shunned the light and drew back into the dark. was half-dead with work. I was learning. or longer. I told myself grimly. only shadows moved behind us. and it only remained for the courtiers to order their clothes for the ceremony. The archbishop." The protest died on my lips as he took my hand and drew it through the crook of his arm. and yet I sensed instinctively that Domenico knew where he was going. we walked. and he was watching me with a dark. and I felt the pain stab deeper even than the agony of my conscience. he said. "Your thoughts are wandering. one foot swinging negligently. No one followed us as he drew me with him down the torchlit passage. Outwardly we were dawdling purposelessly through the deserted corridors. I was even learning to ignore the sights and sounds that gnawed like rats on the edges of my consciousness. What is it? Are you missing your gallant?" "I have no gallant. He has found a new woman. there would be a swift. As. The hand that swung his jeweled pomander in a bright arc gripped it and suddenly held it still. After supper on the third night I sat alone at the banqueting table in the light of the dying torches. it was for the best in the end—I might save Domenico's soul by keeping away from him." he told me lazily. "Well." "True. I saw the light gleam on the supple line of Domenico's silvered body. He was sitting on the edge of a nearby table. an eyebrow raised—and somewhere. for my thoughts were racing." I answered him at random. but now everything was ready. a wine cup in his hand. Honors would be called into question. I was learning to be surprised if a couple stayed together longer than a day. "Not now. Your Grace. But I must not love him—it was a deadly sin. and my breath caught treacherously in my throat. not to be surprised when men paired with men. I almost murmured the words aloud. The hall was half-deserted. sooner or later." "Nor ever—" "No?" His eyebrow lifted idly.resolve. or a night. now we were in the . closing my fingers on his embroidered sleeve.

The dungeons must be on a level with the caves that run from the bay. bunched torches flaming against the stone pillars which supported the scooped roof.bleak stone catacombs where the soldiers and the servants lodged. . and as I saw the pieces of machinery scattered across the strawcovered floor. I did not recognize them. He walked surefootedly even in the dark." I moistened my lips. studded door as he spoke. The stairs led down to a dark. I had to suppress a cry. and I stumbled to a halt. bare cavern of a room. you were lodged close by for long enough. a faint tang of salt. I now realized. and I saw stone steps curling down into dimness. paved corridor like a tunnel where a single torch flared and guttered." He pushed open a heavy. "This should not be strange to you. and in spite of myself I clung tightly to Domenico's arm. I stared around me uneasily. and Domenico's fingers tightened on mine. but I knew the smell at once—the rising chill of dank air with. The corridor led through a vaulted archway on to an iron-railed gallery. Below stretched a vast. It was the torture chamber. I thought detachedly. I guessed he must have come this way often and fought not to let my teeth chatter between cold and fear. "Are we near the dungeons?" "Directly above.

I could hear strange whimpers and ragged. clamping my arm cruelly against his side. fear choking in my throat. "How do you like him now?" His voice was taut." . "Why have we come here?" I fought to keep my voice steady. of what would happen to any man you favored too much?" "But I do not favor anyone! I—I want to lie alone. and his hold tightened. that is all. "Your Grace. "What have you done?" His smile broadened. "You must not think I am quite a fool. chained bodies and the torturers sweating at their work despite the cold. I have no gallant. I whispered. "He cannot kiss you—the ropes will not let him lift his head—but you can kiss him if he is so dear to you. and never will be again—it is a pity." Domenico spoke lightly." My fingers shrank under his. the air was thick with the miasma of corruption. sickly smell of burning flesh. "Now the slave is small good to any woman. "To end this masquerade." I pulled back when he would have drawn me down the shelving steps. Felicia—I know you are not sick. and I will show you. "Come. Domenico halted beside a long table in the middle of the chamber." he continued as though I had not spoken. obedient to his unspoken order. Come down and see him now. I warned you. but his eyes were brilliant as quartz with anger." "You should not have let me see your inclination. Blood and human filth mingled with ammonia and the sweet." My first thought was that the stench was unbearable.Chapter Five l stared around me. I give you my word—'' "You are lying. did I not. that is the oldest trick in the world to hide a strayed affection. his lips smiling. and reluctantly. and I wanted to cover my ears. I tried not to see the cadaverously thin. panting breath from among the devilish machines on the straw-covered floor. he has been here since last night and found it a harsher lodging than your arms. I looked down at what was on it. he was comely enough before.

Your Grace. cold and terrifying. hands caught me and spun me around. . if not love for another man?" My lips parted." "You have been gossiping with that whore Maddalena. then up them. "Then why are you so changed?" It was the rage of a spoiled child who could not understand and could not accept that there was a thing he could not have." Now the anger in his voice was adult. "Your pride will not let you believe I am unwilling. "I do not want your money! I never did!" . I should have remembered the savagery that raged in Domenico if he were thwarted. A pulse was beating fast in his temple. From somewhere below came a smothered scream. I only recognized Bernardo da Lucoli by his mop of black hair. and I twisted free and ran blindly. then the sound of someone sobbing. and Domenico shook me viciously. His joints are so loose that he swoons when I turn the wheel. Bernardo has never done any more than kiss my hand—the rest you have imagined for yourself!" "I have not imagined your coldness. Something has made you harden your heart against me—what is it. "I want you to let me go free. "Not far short. What is in that shallow boy to make you shrink from me after so long? Do you love him so much that you can forget what we have done together?" I shook my head helplessly. I could not. he had been in the torture chamber a long time. he must be enraged almost past thought." Hot tears sprang into my eyes." "Free? Why?" I sensed his sudden alertness. . Felicia. "Have you racked him to the uttermost?" Domenico sounded almost scientifically interested as he surveyed Bernardo's broken body. "So you weep for him—will you deny now that he was your lover?" "Yes! And I will say it if you do the same to me!" I glared up at his tear-blurred shape. but no sound came. In that moment I loved him so much that I almost forgot the dreadful reason I had first denied him." My voice almost broke. sobbing as I ran. and you find my bounty wanting. so you have invented a scapegoat. "I am not changed. still gripping me. "You have compared her price with yours. do you not?" The blood drained from my cheeks. back across the slippery floor to the gallery stairs. "Something has altered you. Domenico continued. I thought: but how could I have known he would do this? As I reached the gallery.I did not answer him. that is all. "Because I do not pay you richly enough?" "No! I do not want .

"And now you set yourself up to be greater than God."A jewel beyond price?" There was an ugly twist to his mouth. Here. . You keep the knowledge of my mortal sin from me as if you had power to remit the fault yourself—Lucifer was cast out of heaven for less insolence!" A spark stirred in the dead depths of his eyes. "What sin have I kept from you? We have done no more than we did at first—it is the same gate. Domenico's fingers gripped my jaw. I stared at them for a long moment. I do not know what you mean. his eyes watchful. but I am skilled enough at lifting petticoats. You know . "Do not touch me. . ." Swiftly he stripped the rings from his fingers. "You could have spared me when you found out. though we take different paths to it. "I rule in His name. . and held them out to me with a little contemptuous gesture. and I felt cold stone strike my back. "Would you persuade me it is not for sale?" "Not to you. wrenching my head around to face him. "You should have caught them in your lap as the other harlots do." The fetid air filled my lungs as I caught my breath to cry out. sweet. my voice as dry as tinder. and his mouth on mine was a deliberate insult. the pomander from about his neck. and I remembered too late his old nightmare." I could not stop the shamed blood staining my cheeks. "Blaspheme?" His voice sounded odd." "How can you blaspheme so?" I demanded brokenly." He smiled. . "I did not mean that. Not at any price. . Come"—his voice was full of a poisonous softness—"what will you take in return for half an hour?" He had released me and I backed away instinctively. "You take God's office on yourself." "No. When I looked up his expression was remote. . it is your vocation to love me above all others. I will not barter my dukedom for one night's lodging." he interrupted tightly." "Over a land stolen from the pope!" Suddenly my bitterness overflowed. and then they clattered on the flags as I turned my head away. Is that what has brought about your coldness? Answer me!" "It was cruel to let me stay ignorant when you could have taken another mistress who was no kin to you." "Found out what?" . and at once his grip tightened." "I am God's deputy. "God's death. . yet the trembling that racked me when he lifted his head was not wholly fear. what devil frights you to this chastity? Do not try to play the nun with me." My voice shook. I gave a little cry of despair." "I will pay you well for it. even his silver sheath knife. "You must not be too ambitious.

"Undress her for the night. she said you would not tell me because you thought I would not come to your bed. panting. Losing patience. "You will believe a jealous harlot without evidence and then presume to doubt me! In the name of God"— another ornament went splintering—"you will believe me before this night is over!" Before I could guess what he meant to do. jerking my head back so that I saw him through a sparkling blur of tears. "that this is no brother's love. Shivering. but my servants could find no trace of who your father might have been. Domenico turned on me." . "The lying jade—witness. "What do you want?" She spoke not to me but to the duke. and too quiet for me to hear. disheveled and wary. "My brother's name comes more glibly to your tongue than mine. I heard him give orders that Maddalena was to be fetched." Strangely the childishness of that lessened my fear. Moments later Maddalena came in. I did send. I hurried beside him in silence." "And I am to believe you?" The next moment I had nearly jumped out of my skin as a delicate mother-of-pearl box went smashing to the floor." His kiss almost stopped my breath before he freed me. then led me back up the twisting stone steps and through the maze of dimly lit passages. "Tell me. he had gone to the door to call. As she entered the room she looked from me to Domenico and back again. but it was not until we had reached the privacy of his bedchamber that he spoke again. aware even through my own misery of the tension in the harsh grip on my wrist." There was peril in his dulcet murmur. "Did she tell you that? That you are my sister?" I nodded and heard him draw a sharp breath. and his lips tightened.Hot anger swept me. her lips still swollen from Sandra's kisses. this time the orders were long and detailed. and I waited almost tranquilly for Maddalena while Domenico prowled restlessly around the room. his color risen dangerously. thanks to Maddalena Feroldi. "She said you had sent spies to discover who my parents were. and her face flamed with such hatred that I began for the first time to doubt her. When they brought back the news that Duke Carlo had sired me. and there was a veiled challenge in her deep voice. "Do not pretend you do not understand! I have known of the news your spies brought you for the last four days." The heavy lids hid his dark eyes. "You are to attend your mistress. "She will be with Sandro." I said as he closed the door again. I do not care about knowing my father's name—if he were any other man it would not matter—but not to tell me I am your father's bastard!" He shook me again. "Did Maddalena say how I found out who your father was?" I answered drearily." he bent his head to mine." "Belike I would not—if her tale were true. he went to the door again and summoned three soldiers.

" That stopped her. but no one could mistake the eagerness that pulsed behind the question. if she believed it. Domenico. and I could see the sudden fear that gripped her thin body. but with a defiant toss of her head she fetched a furred dressing gown from the closet and began to unlace my gown. . . . "I would have come swifter." He was looking down at her impassively." "Would you call it that?" He sounded clinically interested. . He stood like a silver statue before the empty hearth. Your Grace?" She spoke smoothly enough. "She is too stupid to understand anything." Maddalena cast me an angry glance. I would say anything to win you back again." I said urgently." The contempt in Domenico's voice would have made me wince. "You do not change. She stood utterly still. as well as not. . . and I would be yours again for the asking!" "That news would interest my brother. I hear. how can you be so cruel to me? I have been rash in loving you. his face a mask of almost inhuman beauty. Did it come from your foul mouth?" I saw her square her shoulders. do you still hope I may want you back again?" "It is not so impossible!" She had moved away from me to confront him like an antagonist in the center of the room. "You have been busy fashioning lies. but that does not matter—you made me yours. I heard her catch her breath as she saw the marks of Domenico's fingers on my shoulders. I would send him packing tomorrow if you would take me. she does not matter! I have been so miserable. lady. "He is not important." His eyebrow arched. She is an illiterate commoner and was never worthy of the time you bestowed on her. holding up the robe for me to slip into it while she unfastened my petticoats. "Did you think I wanted you for any other reason?" "I did not know it was you who wanted me. Maddalena turned to look across the room with hungry eyes. "Listen well." "I have heard a tale of my mistress's parentage"—he spoke slowly. "What. but it left Maddalena unmoved. "Lies? I do not know what you mean." Domenico's eyes rested on my face. "You were not telling the truth?" . "What if it did? It might be true. "I am as fair now as I was when you seduced me. . When the mockery of retiring was completed. . . "Was that all you wanted. "I do not remember. Felicia. watching her from between his lashes—"fit to frighten her from my arms. "And caused some misery yourself." "She may hear if she likes." he interjected softly.She glared at him. no more important than that peasant slut there. yes. his gaze never leaving the two of us while Maddalena undressed me. but still he did not move." She took a step towards him appealingly. "Domenico. and then she answered him with an arrogance to match his own." Her eyes blazed." She smiled.

. as much in anger as in grief. it is his way to twist what is until it shows like what is not. So he said he would help you to rid the court of your rival?" She hesitated. ." The words fell icily into the sudden silence. This plot is too subtle to be all of yours. how to make her believe you when she knew you were jealous of her? And who told you I had sent out to discover who her father was?" Maddalena bit her lip." Domenico's smile was breathtakingly beautiful. "I thought you were proof against tears. He was still looking down at Maddalena with a bored curve to his mouth. but now his slitted eyes were as hard as slate." "I beg Your Grace's forgiveness!" she retorted bitterly." "You wrong me. His bright head bent." he remarked dispassionately. Then I saw her shoulders shake and realized that she was crying. and the laziness drained from him. "I am not to be berated thus. but it was not the tension of fear. lady. and she turned with him. "This cunning smacks of my damned great-uncle. lady—your tricks do not rise above a few weak lies to make a man jealous or tearing your rival's hair out of her head. His eyes narrowed. warily. and he moved forward. it may be true after all!" Maddalena burst out. "Everyone knew you had sent out messengers. or to her death. but his devil's look blazed behind it. "You cannot prove she is not your sister." She swayed towards him as he stopped in front of her. "If I am stale."I might have been. If you take me . then nodded sullenly. I could see her tension from where I sat. "If I must forbear my sister against my will.. "I marvel you can still weep. an almost invisible shifting of his weight. I think." "Domenico. I shall not be so far damned as to rob my brother. "He said if I could keep her from you. he would have her packed off—to his nunnery in Genoa." His tone was almost gentle. longing lighting her sullen face to a voracious beauty. even hope." Domenico's voice was dangerously even. it was expectation. "Who knows who your father was? Do you." "You give me enough cause. my concern is with who he was not. you and your precious brother! How dare you taunt me with that?" "You forget yourself. circling her like a prowling cat. it was you who made me so. Domenico?" I saw him tense a little. He said the business of your marriage made ridding you of her important. that quickened her breathing and parted her lips.Who told you the way to lull Felicia's doubts." Maddalena's thin hands clenched. black and watchful. and he smiled into her eyes. "No matter who he was. More especially I will not rob him of a stale morsel I gave him long ago because he was hungry. he did not care which. I am not to be duped so easily." "But not why I sent them." Her voice was full of malice. "His policy grows something stale. .

full into her open mouth. insistent caressing. You shall have proof enough that I am not your brother.'' I watched as in dumb show the men took hold of Maddalena and dragged her out of the room. Staggering." "It is a just punishment. a little wordless cry of disgust and disbelief." I said unsteadily." "A sweetly considered one. "You have been too long at court." Domenico had turned away from her. Francis at Arazzo and learn to govern the lusts of your flesh—the lepers whom they nurse will not heed your enticings. my hands clasping each other painfully. went swiftly to the door and beckoned in the white-faced guards. I wanted to look away but could not. She tried to speak. Duchess Gratiana. and there was a grim look on his fair face. but all she could utter were those incredulous. Domenico still stood with averted head and lowered lids." I doubt that she heard him. without sparing her a glance. I could find no words in the face of Maddalena's torment and covered my ears as her voice gradually rose in scream upon despairing scream. Then he bent his head as though to kiss her. tearing gasps. between them consumed more flesh than the plagues of Egypt. contemplating the sparkle of light on one of the scattered rings which lay at his feet. why do you look like that?" "It is a dreadful thing! I think you take delight in suffering. "Take this jade away and silence her. in case you should infect sound lovers with your own hot itch and coin scabs as fast as your tongue coins slanders. Now she can make redress by tending carrion and nursing lepers she did not contaminate. She made a sound like retching deep in her throat." The purr in his voice seemed to turn his speech to tenderness."Not half so much cause as I shall give you. Domenico looked up as I moved. Domenico. she was still looking up at him with a sort of bemused eagerness. the room was silent again. and spat deliberately. rubbing his body against hers so that she melted against him in boneless delight." he said suddenly. Maddalena spent her nobility whoring—she and my mother. "You are banished. "And I would not have you here longer." The wooing. quite unmoved by what he had done. When I took my hands from my ears. and in her eyes was the look I had seen in those of a pursued vixen one day when the court rode to hounds. heedless of everything but that intimate. "You will go to the Sisters of St. she backed away from him with her body contorted like that of a woman who has been raped. you have such a care to inflict it. he was touching her as he spoke. sensuous note in his voice was against the sense of what he said. lady. "and you have no cause to love her. "You have sent her to a living death." I sat frozen." "Like Bernardo's?" . She hated you. sharply. "Do not fear—I shall not touch you until this folly is concluded.

" . . Your Grace. then as he caught sight of Domenico his eyes nearly bulged out of his head." Domenico spoke curtly."I punished his thought before it could grow to a deed. and nails on his toes and fingers. No one is to know he is here. like a child discussing a broken toy. I said bitterly to Domenico." "As Your Grace wills. and his tongue." "I am Cabria. I tried not to imagine what we were waiting for—who was to be the next sacrifice to this tyranny—and my thoughts were driven back to Maddalena." "It is well. a prisoner and two soldiers. to Bernardo." The guard withdrew. . "I will send surgeons to him if it will win your good opinion. His protests were stilled on his lips as he stared around him like a boar in a strange thicket. "Who is your latest victim?" He glanced at me swiftly. and do it secretly." His eyes smoldered. "I sent for you because I require intelligence regarding your sister. we have taken the man you sent for." I shook my head. his head turning at every noise like a leopard listening. but his eyes went at once to Domenico. He was panting and checked when he saw me. under his long lashes. "Wait and see. "Your Grace. My eyes flew to Domenico's face. you! I did not know—these men said the duke sent for me. "Bring him here as soon as he arrives. and I heard the sound of approaching feet in the gallery outside. but it was still and unrevealing. another whining and pleading shrilly. "I have done him enough harm." He sounded disinterested. Neither of us spoke. "Excellency." Domenico's head had jerked up sharply. and I thought . "You did that when you smiled at him and hung on his arm. I will not take his life in my hands. but it might be more merciful to dispatch him quickly—there have been things done which will not mend. Instead I said after a moment. "What will you do with him now?" "That is for you to say. covertly. One man's voice was arguing. The leader beckoned the others. Then he halted in his tracks." Antonio was shaking all over. "I was more merciful than I could have been—he had his eyes still." A guard came hastily through the doorway. and the second voice was one I knew. They are not far behind. The door opened again to reveal four men bunched on the threshold. and I heard his footsteps clattering away on the flags." he said in an edged voice." I tried not to watch him as we waited: he was pacing the room impatiently. his fat body wobbling and his face drained gray with fear. I came ahead to tell you—the others are bringing him now." I could not reply to him. to all the deaths the Duke of Cabria could mete out so uncaringly. "Antonio Guardi.

He looked lazy. that the bully I had feared was cringing in front of me. and when he spoke his words were measured and deliberate. I responded levelly. "Sirrah." Domenico's eyes were almost shut. Antonio. Your Grace . as I had known even in my first feverish desperation. "not then." "No more than you. Then he noticed me suddenly. I know she could wish for no greater honor. . "No." I said wryly. Celia was near-crazed with grief. . they had been too glad to be rid of me to care where I had gone. .Antonio gasped. "Your Grace. "In the end. "I could not fetch you back—are you angry with me?" It seemed wrong. and I have been here ever since. ." "But you—the duke—did you know he was the duke?" "No. bowed hastily and abjectly. I think His Grace's men would have defeated you. "I decided you had run away as you threatened to do. for however closely you had kept me. somehow. I was not aware of Your Grace's puissance the night you honored my humble house. . . the thought of Celia near-crazed by my disappearance was almost irresistible." he concluded. No wonder he was sweating. . almost disinterested. and after a silent moment Antonio began to babble: his shock when he found me gone. "rest assured that your sister is in the safest hands in that she is close to us. . We sent for you on an important matter. Now I am only glad there was no bloodshed"—I glanced up into Domenico's hooded eyes—"the night I was taken. . "However I can serve Your Grace . They had not cared—why should they? And. the inquiries he had made. and the three of us were left alone in the chamber. the search he could not pursue in the city because no one there knew that he had a sister. his arms free of their pinioning hold. to soothe his obvious fear. "Felicia!" His voice gurgled in his throat. "I did not know where you had gone. stammering with eagerness. I wondered what he thought had become of me. but we decided there was naught we could do if you decided to leave our house." Watching his working face." I had to repress an hysterical laugh." One swift look dismissed the guards." The duke gave a strange smile." His glance sent the betraying blood surging up in my cheeks." Domenico's voice interrupted. "It was he who took me from your house the night I vanished. and now the Duke of Cabria himself called him up in the middle of the night to question him about me. looking at me as though he feared what I would say. "I thought you were lost long since!" "No. I am the duke's guest. and I thought he might be going to faint. brother. "My—my sister! Excellency ." "It is no matter." I spoke gently. . It must have seemed to him that the devil had spirited me away." Domenico murmured unpleasantly." Antonio said in a defensive tone.

if Antonio could not disprove Maddalena's story. Your Grace. and he peered in awe at the diamond. no—she is not yet nineteen." My name on the duke's lips appeared to distract Antonio. In the house where we used to live before I married and bought the Eagle." Domenico counted swiftly." There was a long pause." Domenico's eyelids lifted. Antonio stepped back a pace. and she would never speak of such things to me. Your Grace. I do not know! I swear I do not! No one ever knew save my mother. when Domenico's hand gripped my shoulder in fierce possession and I caught the crow of exultation in his voice. but now the case is altered. "Why. shockingly raw. in Fidena. I let it rest then. on the feast of San Paolo. "Our thanks. sirrah." He stooped to one of the rings he had discarded and tossed it to Antonio." I was wondering. and the little color that Antonio had regained fled from his face again. My brother's fat hands closed greedily around it. but I knew I must not. and it will make money for you if you speak. "Tell me her father's name." "A little is more than nothing. I longed to lean back against his hard body." "What do you wish to know?" Antonio watched him fascinatedly as he moved to stand behind me. I swear it on my father's soul and mine! If we had ever known Felicia's father." "Yes. to draw down his waiting hand. of the hand that hovered above my bare shoulder without descending. I was horribly aware of the fluid strength so close to me but not touching. and then said. She refused to tell anyone who he was. we need not trouble you further." "Beware of lying."You swore when I saw you last that you had no knowledge of the facts of your sister's birth." "And therefore begotten. . Then Domenico said." The duke's voice was suddenly. the sin would be as great as ever. "in the spring of 1586—what month was she born in?" "In January. If not. You have resolved the question in my mind and done your sister some service—take your payment. "Your Grace. we might have had money for her keep from him. "Your Grace. He cast me a wild glance." "How long ago? Twenty years? Twenty-one?" Antonio looked startled. The man was one of the guests at my father's inn. Your Grace. but it made me shiver. and his black eyes bored into Antonio's blue ones. why he had never bothered to tell me that. because it was not important." Domenico's voice was absent. That is all we know. "I told you true. she was born in the winter of 1587. I know only a little. Felicia will tell you that I have many means of charming stubborn tongues to speech. "Speak it. with absurd astonishment. "She says she was born here.

a week's hard ride away." "You must not task her too far." Domenico's ring flashed incongruously on Antonio's finger as he held out his hand. and did not bother to tell him that no one had friends in the court of Fidena." Domenico murmured mockingly." The fingers tightened. and we shook hands like strangers." I found my tongue. Felicia." Domenico's patience began to fray. . "Farewell. . "Brother. "Felicia. "I would bid farewell to my sister. On his honeymoon journey"—his lips twisted scornfully—"he went to Rome to gather in the news and so that his bride might visit . "I will do so. his curious gaze fixed on the white fingers lightly caressing my shoulder." Antonio nodded absently as he watched. and then you shall have good welcome— and tell us how you have passed these weeks. when your leisure serves you. between fear and hope. "Unless my father was a sort of devil and could be in two places at once. "That is an honor for her indeed! When you return then. he was nowhere near Fidena—he was fetching himself a bride from Serrato. and I said breathlessly." "How do you know?" I hardly dared believe it. Felicia. tomorrow the court travels to the capital. Get you gone. but I could feel his eyes on me. sirrah Antonio. Your Grace. The echo of his footsteps had died before I thought that I might never see him again." Antonio bowed. and your sister comes with us to attend our coronation. "I will visit you when I may. and I looked up. or enemies. visit our house. is there no more ." Even at this moment he was seeking grand customers. "That will not be for some time." The duke spoke my name imperiously. personages he could boast of whose names would swell his trade. We will be gone three weeks and more. Till then."Your Grace. And you must visit us. to meet black eyes liquid with triumphant laughter. "Because in the spring of the year you were begotten. Domenico spoke to Antonio. "I will look for you on your return. and Antonio allowed himself to be chivvied peremptorily out. dear Sister. only allies. I tell you. and assure her you left me alive." "Yes. farewell. and any of your friends will be welcome for your sake. Brother." I must have stiffened under his hand. he did not sire you. "Now let me hear no more of brother and sister." "Farewell. Commend me to Celia." "No more." "My men will see you conveyed back to your house. but Antonio did not see it: he was staring at Domenico with eyes the size of plates." His voice had warmed and thickened. or lovers. I smiled wryly and nodded.

at the fierce and arrogant beauty that stooped between me and the torches. but with a sound of sheer exasperation he pulled me into his arms. I only luxuriated in the momentary joy. I waited here in Fidena." "Three months . and when he spoke again there was a note of impatience in his voice. was what satisfied him. I was almost beyond caution. so you need not have lied to prevent me. The drop of sober reality in this Lethean draught was the knowledge that he cared nothing for me—I was a piece of goods reclaimed at a bloody price. Now he will know when the court does not go to Diurno that you were speaking falsely. "But no wizard. hiding the capitulation in my eyes by pressing my mouth to the strong column of his throat and tracing the sweep of muscle from his neck to the curve of his shoulder. Now I gloried in his driving strength and the demand that spread my legs inexorably wide. my nails clawing at his back in animal impatience. It was much later. "You may ask anyone you please if it is not so. taking a long revenge for my coldness. Ippolito. He waited a moment. My father was a lecher. gasping shameless release and satisfaction. I was half-laughing. and by turning my head a little I could have leaned my cheek on his thigh. the thoroughbred elegance that belied his great strength. my arms locked tightly around his neck. one foot on the edge of the bed." I sat still. and as he bore me back. Now what have you to say?" He was standing directly before me now. her godfather." . I forgot that the priest had called my unwillingness my salvation.the pope. . My brother stayed for him in Diurno to greet him when he returned. "He left the capital for Serrato early in March that year and did not come here until June. I found myself wondering anew at the grace of him. and then a sound I scarcely recognized as my own voice. any man old enough to remember it. Piero. Crushed beneath the satin-skinned hardness of his smooth body. my brother Sandro— any of them will confirm it. not the woman. He did not care who yielded to him. When at last we uncoupled. for fear my relief and joy should betray how much I loved him. "Your Grace . I could not speak. came the fleeting thought. gazing up at the ceiling. "I did not want to visit my brother. I was straining to meet him as urgently. I heard him say something against my cheek. ." His eyelids drooped. . I forgot the deaths that seemed to stick to his hands. From Rome they traveled to Diurno and thence back across the mountains." Domenico was watching my lips." He was running an idle hand up the inside of my thigh and grunted an enquiry. the surrender. He was gone at least three months. that I suddenly remembered something Domenico had said to Antonio. he did not release me but still held me hard against him. deliberately tormenting me with the ease with which his least movement could arouse me. for now it was as though it had never been. a thing desired and taken. his triumph was the triumph of a prince entering a reconquered fortress." "That and more. . half-cryingwith frustration as his hands cupped my breasts.

the thrilling steepness of the mountain roads." "For Diurno!" "For Diurno. I will prevent it." His arms tightened around me. when we were past the mountain peaks and had turned due south for Diurno. At night we stayed in towns and villages whose inhabitants seemed unsurprised by the sudden descent of the duke's retinue—Ippolito told me that they stayed in these same places when the court passed. Diurno seemed to burst Upon the traveler around a turn of the road. "Like denying me your bed. "I did not send my tottering great-uncle there for his health. assuming only that he was going back to his own palace. and he nuzzled my outspread hair. its houses clustering thickly like rose-colored ants on a swelling hillside." The black eyes glinted.You must take heed not to trust my uncle too far if he is so determined to rid you hence. ." I argued. and yet it was beautiful. for I will not spare you on so long a journey. and you with it. "Whatever he means to do. It lasted six days. The weather was hot. On the crown of the hill the palace sprawled like the pale bloated queen of this glittering anthill. for I know"—there was a strange twist to his mouth—"the sort of herbs that grow in his garden. seeing buildings and landscapes I had never thought to see. the day after Maddalena had spoken to me. I never thought of it. In the pain of losing Domenico I had paid little heed to his departure."But I was not. It could hardly have been more different from the place where I had been born. I had begun to notice the discomforts of travel more than its excitements. and now the lie I had told Domenico had come true. But by the third day. Did you think I meant to be crowned out of the capital?" "I did not know. when I had begun to think the journey would never have an end. but she was sunk in some reverie of her own and returned me few answers. "The court leaves tomorrow morning. At first I was in a fever of excitement. its fortified walls visible for miles around. but I did not believe it. between Diurno and Fidena." He rolled over so that his weight pressed me back on the pillows. and the cavalcade moved at a crawling pace along the rocky roads. . He has gone to oversee the last of the preparations and order the ceremony in the Cathedral of San Giovanni. you might not be living now." "And you had other things to think of. . I tried at first to draw her out and make her talk to me. For company I had only Niccolosa. You must now fix your thoughts on Diurno. the towns set like jewels high up on the rocky passes. Belike if I had not sent him hence so suddenly. each spring and autumn. Fidena stood starkly on the plain between the mountains and the sea. we arrived at the capital. sweet. and I was sick indeed—that I would not bear a bastard yet a while was little consolation. Every bone in my body ached from the jolting of the coach. And do not eat or drink with him." It was a long journey. Domenico's laugh was half-choking. . "No one told me where he had gone." I dimly remembered that the archbishop had taken his leave days ago. But at last. and there was little talk between us." "He might only mean to send me to Genoa. I said. each as interminable as the days of my imprisonment.

my lady. drawing me with him towards the great staircase that led to the main doorway. it was their shrill chatter that guided us. al! eagerness to go inside the palace and claim their own apartments. if I can find him for you in this hurly.As the procession rumbled into the city. Domenico beckoned me forward. "Look. his skeletal hands raised me. I would have hurried. rigidly upright. to see how he liked it. I would have looked for Domenico. But then." He turned. Then. I thought as I knelt before the archbishop that before so many watching eyes it would be like him to humiliate me as he had before. as we stopped a few steps below him and Domenico knelt with ostentatious grace to kiss the old man's hand. Above and below." "Let him dislike it! He will have heard of what has chanced. all around me strangers scurried hither and thither. Then he said. feeling utterly lost. My legs. The scents of rosewater and incense mingled in my ." and drew the duke to his feet again. people poured out of their homes to shout and cheer. There is no need to go craning out of the window!" I was about to reply when I remembered the last time I had craned out of a window. . and took my arm. The titanic figures dwarfed the busy courtiers below—they even dwarfed the tail figure in scarlet robes who waited at the forefront of his followers on the first broad landing. threatened to give way under me as I climbed out. "Rise. . and I followed him through the crowd to find Domenico already dismounted. all the noise was suddenly stilled as we climbed the steps. "You will see enough from the coronation procession." Relief flooded me. after . His gloved fingers gripped mine. The scarlet figure stood unmoving. you are to come to the duke—that is. but Domenico's fingers forced me to slowness. high-soaring. "Madam. as though he knew the world would wait for him. "Your Grace. There were so many coaches that the ones entering had to wait for those before them to be taken away and all the horses stabled—nobles and servants were everywhere. Only I stood in the sunny courtyard beside Niccolosa. and I felt myself enfolded in a torrent of whispering silk. The very extravagance of the courtesy made it a taunt. and a muscle twitched in the archbishop's lined cheek as he gazed down at the bright head. stiff and cramped. broad. and then he said. he will not like to see me in your company. each bent on his particular task. waiting with the quartet around him. incredibly. I nodded meekly and sat back until the coach finally came to a standstill." I hung back instinctively. Their formal embrace was performed without a trace of affection. flanked by towering statues three times the height of a man. and soon the clamor was deafening. inching up the curving road that wound between the steep terraces. I went to Domenico without another thought. to my astonishment. and this will be fine proof of his defeat. hand in hand. and both men's faces were impassive as they ceremoniously kissed each other on both cheeks.me. my son. Ippolito bowed before . who was riding. but Niccolosa pulled me back from the carriage window and rebuked me for behaving like a hoyden. my great-uncle waits to greet us. smiling reassuringly. He climbed unhurriedly.

but a daughter . my lord. that is for tomorrow. The Duke of Savoy's loss will no doubt be our gain. "And with your noble bride beside you." As he moved after his uncle his fingers slipped from mine." "Domenico . "I am glad to see Your Grace. full of delighted laughter." I recognized Piero's voice. carrying to the listening crowd below. once you are as close to him as I." The archbishop fought to control himself. and then shrugged in his turn. they were talking of state and I was forgotten. there was a bony cheek laid against mine." Domenico's eyes glinted with amusement." "Your lordship honors us. "We are amply recompensed for the duke your father's death— not only in this speedy crowning of your fair self. Then the rest of the court came streaming up the steps. bewildered. "As you will. she is a bastard. Nor will we offer less." Now the old man's words were very clear. "Well." "It is no more than the wench deserves. Why do you think my lord archbishop looks so sourly upon the match?" . the very air buzzing with speculation. "Our thanks." Domenico shrugged." "I speak with the voice of all Cabria." The arrogance of that was unanswerable. but you cannot alter me. We cannot do less for our intended bride." "Prettily said. and all around me was a sea of light and color. not knowing if I should follow. "I saw your grandfather's crowning and ordered your father's"— his voice now was all sweet reason—"but I never knew them to grant the honors to their married duchesses that you would bestow on the Duke of Savoy's daughter. "Savoy's daughter! Have you heard of her before?" "I did not know he had one. and below I saw a rippling in the crowd and caught the echo." "A bastard! How do you know?" "His Grace is not a hard man to unhusk. Savoy. Today I must extend you the city's loyal greetings and bid you welcome to your palace. ." There was a fleeting dryness in his tone." "My lords. "It seems my lord's Grace has a fondness for the breed. . "Welcome. I stood passive. unable to credit what was happening. The four sons. and I hesitated." Domenico's smile was ironic. . Cabria will know many more prosperous days. The archbishop glanced swiftly at me as though to measure the pain the words had given me. . "The preparations for Your Grace's coronation are well advanced now. his eyes as hard as flint. Uncle.nostrils." The archbishop turned to Domenico as he released me. and the brush of cold lips. "But I wish to consult with you again on the marriage question. but in knowing that your marriage comes hard upon it." The archbishop had dropped his public tone of utterance.

" I stiffened and tried to rise. I would not be able to bear the sight of her. "He looks sourly upon everything. touching hands and smiling as though at some secret. my mind filled with uneasy memories—Piero's claim to have had Domenico's love. but he bade me tell you he will see you at supper. I watched Piero's instinctive caution blossom into astonished delight before my eyes. it seemed we two were engaged eternally in a game of King of the Castle. and if she would love Domenico as well as I did. It was something I could never share. "His Grace has sent me to take you to your apartments. the other down. But what if it revived? Suppose Piero's treachery had bred a kind of remorse in Domenico and he took him up again? But late at night. and I looked up. he was climbing high once more." But at supper Domenico said little to me. my lord archbishop!" There was a high-pitched titter. "I did not know where I should go. a rabbit magnetized by a swaying snake. what else?" came the sardonic response. will it please you to follow me?" His voice was gentle. and in that moment I understood why Maddalena had hated me so much. luring him with glances and innuen-dos and soft. into Ippolito's friendly face. dark or fair. Now that my brief sun was setting. I had not realized how much of the player there was in Domenico—how aware he was of his own attraction. "Madam." "I know. "His insolence! Why. his treachery condoned or else forgotten. one up. my dear. after he had possessed me and lay kissing my breasts. caressing words. startled. which bound him inescapably to the duke and made Domenico so offhandedly cruel. but he pressed me back again. but only one wife to fill his treasury for him." I wondered jealously whether the Duke of Savoy's daughter was tall or short. If the new Duchess of Cabria were an angel. the unexpected bond. Gradually he came closer and stayed longer until he was fast by Domenico's side. Someone bowed to me. how confident of his beauty. and even while he talked idly of the coronation ceremony to the Archbishop. part love and part hatred. tonight you dallied with him as if you sought him for a bride!" . Domenico said thickly. He courted Piero with the shameless-ness of a practiced harlot." A woman's voice said speculatively. "Does that knave Piero think he can give me a sweetness to rival this? I almost love him for his insolence. he was subtly and scientifically wooing Piero back to his old place at his elbow."Oh. "He can have pretty mistresses by the score. Seeing them together. so I never spoke of it to Domenico or answered Piero's oblique boasts. The lord archbishop has him in talk about the coronation. only watching me with an odd calculation that made me wonder whether he was planning to discard me here." I said. Piero's mocking voice was loud in my ears. and the duke forgot it. "I wonder why he marries her—for her face or for her dowry?" "Her dowry.

and then kill him. "A traitor's love. making the Fidena palace seem bleak and comfortless. Genoa. Then when we slept. It was high and massive. Domenico's nightmare came again and woke him screaming and sobbing in the duke's painted chamber. could hardly believe in its luxury. but I managed to bite it back. "I think that is why he betrayed you—when he could not bear it any longer. Domenico was closeted with the archbishop and Ippolito—it was the state council over again—and I. I have seen him watch you under his eyelids. He has clung so long without biting. for he could not suffer much more than he has done since he knew his cipher was lost. "Would you let him?" His words came on a current of low. Everywhere there was light. but when I met Sandro in my wanderings he promptly offered to show me his home. and he has learned his lesson. if he will take it so—no. The fit is over now. and I must poultice the wound before I lance it. and I." "He loves you. "What will you do?" "Flatter him. Venice. I have not done. used to the dark catacombs and howling drafts of the Palazzo della Raffaelle. "Prudery will not serve. . and Piero seemed forgotten for a little. I mean to pay my lord Piero for his treachery." he retorted. there are other considerations—it is the reckoning of years and must be paid. The day following our arrival. do not struggle. but he had his way." I was astonished to hear myself say the words. . in an effort to distract my thoughts. the one man who has never offered war to Cabria. . I am privileged. It is strange." "Then pardon it." He sounded almost disinterested and pulled away my protesting hand. he wants the chance to do this. although God knows why. The palace at Diurno was beyond any building I had ever seen. he took the first treachery that came to his mind. you must save your modesty for other men." He almost startled his name from my Hps." I stared unseeingly at the shadows overhead. set out to explore. "Would you suffer a traitor's arms about you and give him the liberty I have? No. To begin with."The more fool he. Not for this only. "He dies. towering over a colonnade of arches. It must have been madness. . . with gilded columns supporting painted ceilings and tall arched windows open to the sun. Romagna." But Domenico's body had stiffened. I am not duke for nothing. Niccolosa was my resigned escort. lie still. and I knew I was wasting my breath." I called him despot and tyrant. ." "I said he was a fool. but I never thought it would come to this. . satisfied laughter. nearly all of Italy is ranged with the pope against me—and he tries to sell me to Ferrenza! To my friend. did I not? Naples. Rome.

To her mind there had been no harm in flirting with so charming a man as the duke's half-brother. It is my brother who is the man for Fidena— I swear he loves that bone-freezing palace there as much as he loves anything." he said in answer to my unspoken question. but it had not been so. For the first time I saw what use Domenico had for the quartet—they went into action as smoothly as a pack of hounds. His Grace charged me to be vigilant over the lady. my lord. Now he bowed deeply. and the end was inevitable. Domenico and his brother had drunk the merchant under the table with the ease of old experience. a merchant's pretty wife had caught his eye. will you and your woman honor me with your company while I show you the treaures of the palace?" I thanked him. and we moved slowly along the sunlit gallery. But the gift had seemed to propitiate Sandro. "Look up. then one night. and Niccolosa eyed him sourly." I laughed. and I spent my boyhood here. I gazed until the touch of Sandra's hand brought me down to earth again. and took his arm. lady. "I was born dov/n below in the city. He watched my astonishment with amusement on his face." I did so and almost reeled. After that I lost count of the wonders he showed me." "So. in one of the mountain towns. The curving ceiling was a chaos of form and color—satyrs and nymphs. gods and goddesses in luxurious abandon that seemed to deride the solemnity of the chamber. encircling her and holding her down for Sandro. "I am at your service. and he pointed out a sculptured chair. lady."This is my home far more than Fidena. I and a few ladies more. the stairs that glittered like gold. Across one landing we went softly. the duke and his nobles. And because she knows they far outstrip my virtue. and Madonna Niccolosa here will vouch for my good intentions. I will not ask her to leave us alone together. Sandro kept well away . I had thought that Sandro might quarrel with his brother over what he had done to Maddalena. "My brother's chair" was his only comment. empty now. and his blue eyes twinkled at me." Sandro nodded like a duelist who acknowledges a point and extended his arm to me gallantly. "I would not do so for your asking. for Domenico was holding me and only laughed when I begged him to stop them. like the track of the sun. then said. the wrought metal and glowing wood and polished marble. and after that Sandro had been free to pursue his flattered quarry. for the duke and the archbishop were but a door's thickness away. Niccolosa followed at a distance. He showed me the chamber where the full Cabrian council met and the great bronze table." I managed not to wince at his words and smiled instead. Sandro had sulked ferociously for four days and almost stripped the woods we passed through of their game. We had been dining as the merchant's guests. trapping the woman when she would have fled. a block of metal on the backs of four crouching leopards. its back meshed with the carved shapes of strange beasts. and now he moved through the court with a philosophical air and never referred to the fate of his lost mistress. Though he swore he knew most about the wine cellars and the stables. I could do nothing. swept a brief curtsy. and I touched it superstitiously as I passed. "Then. Sandro proved an expert guide.

" I blushed uncontrollably. "You are a sort of miracle already. with so brave a face and form. my lord." He grimaced scornfully." "I know that. shrewdly. "There is naught else I could do. perhaps he had set himself to shake my unwillingness and had lost interest now it was done. but that you hold to him when you know he is to be married. I ignored the square brown hand which sought to close around mine. By now Niccolosa was well behind. and the pressure of Sandra's arm on mine reminded me that we were alone. dead of his injuries on the rack the day I saw him." I thought of Bernardo. but now his were lagging. . that is enough to enroll you with the saints. "What. for all his craft and guile. lady. You will have a small stock of either when my brother weds his Savoyard. Sometimes I think he is a madman. "I do not think so." "Pooh." My throat went dry as I remembered the night before we started for Diurno. "I was not thinking of him. or whatever wench he means to couple with. Sandro was watching me sidelong." I went with him eagerly. I did not think to measure Sandra's pace until I realized that we had lost her in the turns of passages and stairs." I replied lightiy. and be a nun! You should do as other women do and square out your life by the rule of what pays the richest in wealth and pleasure. you can hold him. I am content to be displaced—I had rather that than . "The view from the colonnade is a thing you should not miss. I will wear out the one I have and then leave the court to find another habit. he set his teeth and said he would take me down to the palace courtyard. While you can keep him guessing. do you know that? That you have held my brother for so long—he has not slipped once in this latest faith—is strange enough. you need not tell me. "And there you have found the way to keep his interest." he observed. Perhaps that was why Domenico seemed more distant. "I cannot change faith as I change my gowns. I tried to ignore it and quickened my steps." Willfully. unafraid of the wicked gleam in them. "I do not know many things so well worth seeing.from the rooms where the courtiers dawdled and gossiped." ." "Then why wait meekly to suffer an eclipse? It would be a wonder if you could not shift for yourself. there are many others you could take! Domenico is not the only lord in the world. but when they began to drift through the rooms to stare. He was always a strange-composed fellow for women—they drop into his lap like manna out of heaven— and nothing cloys him so soon as a willing wench. "Because I choose so. lady—my brother will not be free from the archbishop's tongue for an hour at least. You would do better with a plainer man who did not rule you so harshly." I smiled into his blue eyes." Sandro pressed my arm again. I said. my lord. "There is no hurry. .

"And I hardly love him enough to tell him what will please him. It would pay you well"—he lowered his voice—"to grant me a few favors." "I am rebuked. . "I think the pope's legate long ago must have known who would steal his palace from him. and folded about them. When I had looked long enough. hair blowing. Sandro drew me to the brazen well heads in the center of the courtyard and turned me so that I faced the towering bulk of the palace. "The old pirate rescued the pope's legate from the Turks long before there were dukes in Cabria." I could not prevent the small secret smile that curved my lips. No." I said. and set high above the arches of the second tier of columns were two stone angels looking down." The columns. and then he pulled me close against him. curving high over their heads and down to their feet. Faces calm. It did not occur to me that he might be serious. "against the ostler when he used his tongue too freely. between them the colonnade was checkered with gold and blue. My grandfather must have laughed when he seized the palace and found his ancestor already here to greet him." His arm slipped around my waist as I looked up at him. I will not be so discourteous as to betray a lady. My affront was no more real than his pretended love." "Do you cry craven? You could walk as boldly in the court after the wedding and face out my brother's bride. "Well. and there was a meaningful look in his eyes." He grinned as I started. strong face was smiling as he scanned mine. it would have been sweet to horn my brother!" I took his arm again as we started to walk and blinked as we emerged into the sunlight. two moves in a childish game. I freed myself with a sudden twist and boxed his ears. His hand was kneading rhythmically in the small of my back. "There is even a statue of Cosimo della Raffaelle in the great gallery where the portraits are. You feared my brother enough before he took you—how do you know that another will be any less loving?" "I had rather not try. and sure enough he was laughing as he stepped back." I retorted."Than take another man? Domenico would give me a fortune for that news. "Look. "I told you. See in those niches in the eastern corner. I must not. huge wings. his square. and in gratitude the legate ordered the statue to stand there. surprised. "In the tavern. lady—in a bedchamber or in some siege?" The antagonism fled from me on a ripple of laughter. "That was a fine blow! Where did you learn it. cream and rose." "Then the family has not owned the palace long." Sandro was more interested in the angels' punning aptness than in their beauty. "You are a rare philosopher. soared up to pointed arches around three sides of the courtyard." He sighed heavily." I looked." he said sardonically. long hands firm on their staves. But you are reasoning like a baby.

"My brother is the third Duke of Cabria to hold it. "Would you not rather live here always?" I asked involuntarily. I stared at them hungrily. "The legate's savior. You must not think this is Raffaelle wealth! We were always a family of magpies." He eyed the sculpture in a comradely fashion." "True. Niccolosa was gazing at us in mingled concern and reproof. were all shown in picture one after the other. "We have owned this barely fifty years." His eyes widened guilelessly. "It is the dukes who order the disposing of the court. lady. lady." He patted my hand as it lay on his arm. "And what has been gained by war can be lost again as easily. "That is old Cosimo. and I would have stood blinking in the midst of it for hours but that Sandro hauled me irresistibly towards a statue on a plinth halfway down the room. I will take you to see old Cosimo and the favor of a few of my ancestors—on my father's side." To my dazed eyes the picture gallery seemed the size of a cathedral. Nearly all the della Raffaelles were square and sturdy." He cocked his head and regarded me quizzically." he commented sarcastically. my lord. We will come up to you. duchesses. Dukes. with bold features that declined with age into coarseness. "Holla. and those legitimate"—there was a sudden crack of bitterness at the word— "seem to favor that moldy warren in Fidena. "That is because you feel that Diurno is your home. "Why should you think so? I need you when I tell your lady tales of my illustrious forebears." Before I could ask him what he meant. "I daresay you took care to lose me. brothers. It seemed impossible that such a place could be touched by war or subject to men's petty greeds." I felt as though a pit I had not suspected yawned suddenly in front of me." He grinned suddenly and pinched my cheek. sisters. We were returning even now. Look. I thought. seeking a resemblance in the dark faces and heavy bodies that was not there. My grandfather wrested Cabria from the pope and took the legate's palace at the same time. you can see the name cut in the stone. "A fine crew. Madonna Niccolosa! We thought you lost! Do not climb down all those steps." It was true. and Sandro watched my perplexity knowingly. like . "Come." I nodded obediently and turned when he bade me see the portraits of the della Raffaelles since they became mighty in Cabria. lady." Sandro's tone was dry. It has been the family stronghold since the Caesars. I care less for it than they do. I answered awkwardly. too." When we reached her. He does not come of our father's stock—he is his mother turned male. he was staring past me with his eyes screwed up against the sun and then called aloud. "You will not find my brother in them. I swear you know more of them than any native Cabrian. "The choice does not lie with me. I am a clearer pattern of our blood than he." I stared around me. looking at the pictured faces. They had dark hair. stealing bright things. cousins.

"My father was unlucky in his first two wives. the slender. "That is the Duchess Vittoria. even a little jealously. But the first at least was a fit piece to gaze upon. I hurried after him towards a group of portraits at the far end of the gallery—and halted. with a long face and a long nose and downward-slanting eyes. Then I saw the pearl ring faithfully painted on one of the tightly clenched hands and knew who it was before Sandro said the name. wearing an identical gown. if it were not plain enough. It was uncanny." I thought for a moment that the second portrait was a parody of the first. God help them both. But there was no cold flame of beauty in this second woman. flawless face. the same bullheaded look. a poor tribute to such perfection. emphasizing the defenselessness of her thin shoulders. I could see his father in him as I gazed at a picture of Duke Carlo in his twenties. Sandro followed the direction of my stare. that gazed out of the picture with something like defiance. But she looked more like a statue than a living woman. or else a fault of the painter's." Glad to forget what had crossed my mind. there was a chilling indifference in the painted eyes quite different from the turbulent brilliance of Domenico's. half-vulnerable mouth. emphasized by the greedy mouth and the look of petulance about him: but it was in Sandro's rugged and cheerful face nonetheless. "That was the Duchess Isabella—my father's second wife. She was thin and haggard. "That was painted when he was a young man. ablaze with the Cabria diamonds. and—I realized with a sense of shock—the same hard. interrupted my thoughts. they had the same compactness. "We can thank her for your guardian. Her soft brown hair might have suited her if it had been dressed to soften the harsh planes of her face.Sandro—the only thing which marked him out from the run of the family was his vivid blue eyes. Look at the other. with a schoolgirl's miserable angularity. but she looked stiff and sour and desperately unhappy. Without the cruel severity of the black and the cumbrous jewelry she would have looked like a schoolgirl. transfixed. bright hazel. that he should remember her so long? Sandro continued casually. Had he loved her in spite of what he said." Sandro remarked. Another woman sat in the identical pose. I shivered and told myself that it was my fancy. here—Madonna Niccolosa came with her to Diurno when she was married and has served my father and my brother ever since. The shining silver-gilt hair was piled high and crowned with diamonds. clasped about the white throat. at the face of the woman who haunted Domenico's sleep. "Frosty-spirited both of them.'' Looking indifferently out of the canvas was the likeness of a seated woman whose fair beauty shone against her sable velvet gown like the moon on a frosty night. unconcerned and unheeding." I stared wistfully. There was the haughty profile." . lady—my royal brother's mother. In Duke Carlo it was clearer. and as proud as the devil. acquisitive eyes. all blurred by some trick from a man's to a woman's. The Duchess Vittoria had been beautiful beyond imagining and had bequeathed her beauty to her son." Sandro's voice. prideful grace made the Cabria necklace. She must have been years younger than the Duchess Vittoria. the heavy-lidded eyes night-dark in a fair. but it was dragged back and dressed high in hurtful imitation of the earlier portrait. the half-cruel. "There is another of him when he was older—come and see.

Domenico smiled. The gown was cut far too low for so old a woman. uglier by far than poor plain Isabella." Domenico still spoke gently. brother. "My lord. "She was never so clean as that since she came from the womb. are you communing with my ancestors?" I forced my languorous eyes to open. I turned to find both brothers watching me curiously and spoke with an effort." "Tush. she was . yet there was something about her that attracted men. but his hands slid down to my waist and gripped hard. "I wondered whence you had so many messengers. her lips. The Duchess Gratiana. Domenico's voice said softly. and her shoulders and breasts were powdered. wondering that he could speak so lightly. like her face. cloaking him in splendid clothes like a shell of majesty. "you need beg no man's pardon save mine. lightly and possessively. lady. then away again quickly. "Yes. who is that lady?" and both brothers glanced up. bringing me love letters from her. The touch of his lips seemed to burn my palm. Your brother has borne with me all this while and showed me much of the palace I would not have dared explore alone. The Duchess Gratiana was ugly." Sandro's eyes lifted maliciously to the painted woman's. "What. Sandro said. but ." I gazed up at the portrait now with unfeigned interest. "That is our gracious stepmother. Your Grace. I had rather he should bear with you than you with him." but his hold had slackened. I could imagine the smell that would linger in the folds of that rich dress. at once fleshy and slightly sunken. the Cabria necklace about her throat—and with it a great ruby brooch. and I disengaged myself to go and stand before the picture. and gold combs in her thick. dark hair. She was leaning a little forward. . far whiter than those dark and wrinkled hands." "Oh. and. To fill the tiny silence I said. and he has made believe all her hair was her own. but he did. and I swayed. Duke Carlo grown old: a gross man whom the painter had had to flatter. her nose was a great beak." "Oh. "The painter did not flatter her unduly. were painted a vivid scarlet. the more the pity. as though to display her bosom. I was looking at it when hands touched my shoulders lightly. Domenico was saying. She was dressed in cerise and gold—her olive-skinned hands covered with rings every color of the rainbow." Sandro fingered his ear reminiscently. remembering the drunken Beniamino's harsh description.He did not give me time to answer but turned to direct my attention to the standing portrait of the man whose image I still recalled from the day of the procession. which the painter had understood and expressed in details of his sitter's pose and expression. "And is! She is not dead. . lifted my hand—the hand that wore Isabella's ring—and kissed it. Sometimes there are posts from Naples still." "That is your lady's thought too. As for my brother."I broke off.

Brother. thinking that he had gone mad." I stared at him. Brother?" "She will serve the turn. "Savoy's daughter cannot come in time. "The ceremony is ordered. so I shall wed his pretty bastard. If Savoy had a legitimate daughter. I would yield to my uncle. and you are to stand proxy for her—to take the bride's part in the solemnities tomorrow. if you are dressed finely enough and in royal state. "I will not. enigmatic look and then his gaze came back to me. that he could not know what he was saying." His expression was unreadable. "Your Grace." "I deny it. It is not fit." Sandro chuckled. and. his gaunt face tight with rage. I ask your leave to be absent. at least!" The voice from the doorway made me jump. and then after a moment he grinned and looked at Domenico. and the people are halflunatic with expectation—they do not know you. they will take you for what you pretend to be. but his voice continued levelly. and I looked around to see the archbishop standing there. and her dowry contents me. "God's life." The bright head nodded. if your bride is to bear a part in the ceremony it is not fitting that I should be there. "You will show her to them as your bride. you go roundabout! Do you still mean to honor her in your coronation?" Before Domenico could reply. I said quickly. "He was trying once again to dissuade me from wedding Savoy's daughter." "But you do. have you and the old fox done your conference?" Domenico shrugged." "You have so much sense. it seems. the wench's gown bespoke." He turned his back on the picture and said in a different voice." Domenico gave him one swift. "She has beauty enough to overcome her bastardy. his silks swept the marble floor with a hiss like an angry snake. but he has not. . He still does not favor her.he was a fair artist and could not hide all he saw." Sandro was watching me calculatingly as I strove to keep my face impassive. "Well. Then as he moved forward.

" The duke's eyes narrowed dangerously. but Domenico's hand detained me. The people will discount all the rumors of your bride—I can have it talked of in the streets that she has not come here after all. You know my mind—I think you would have done better to choose elsewhere. "Would you prefer it if I stood aside and let you risk all your father and grandfather gained for the sake of a masquerade?" The archbishop's lips were tightly compressed. Cabria's safety hangs on it. it will be excellent foolery!" "It is no subject for fooling. followed by the rustle of Niccolosa's skirts as she hurried to the door. Tuscany. . then continued. "I have told you it contents me well enough. Why make such a business of it?" "You know that no substitute in such a ceremony is ever kept secret from the witnesses. "You might change a Turk for the Savoyard and none of them would notice. Be patient. and Genoa learn that you have shown them a false bride?" . my lord." Sandro raised his eyebrows. Alessandro." the archbishop's voice changed. But what if Milan. but you are preparing to insult their very ambassadors by parading this woman before them as your betrothed wife!" "I never knew an ambassador yet who was chosen for his brains." Sandro interpolated. But this playacting is playing with fire. Uncle?" His voice sounded bored. choice of yours by reporting her wealth and beauty and hiding the fact that she has neither rank nor power. there are proxy weddings enough—this is not even a betrothal. . "go to your crowning tomorrow as if this marriage had not been thought of. "I will not argue with you. I would have followed her. It is more than a fair show to please the people and you know it. but neither threats nor bribery can win them to this! It is enough that you have sacrificed an alliance with a daughter of the Sforzas or of the Medicis. When she arrives in truth you can welcome her with pomp enough to show off the match you have chosen." There was contempt in his tone." The archbishop checked as Domenico stirred restlessly. Savoyard bastard of yours now that you have won the council to your will. "More arguments.Chapter Six For a moment there was silence in the long gallery. my lord. "Well. ." Sandro shrugged. Venice. my lord!" "Domenico. "I cannot prevent you from marrying this . . "We might mend this . "Come. Do not insult my intelligence.

Ippolito is conveying their lordships to their chambers." He flicked my cheek. "Nephew. What will you do when the time comes for your true bride to take her place?" The beautiful mouth twisted." Piero bowed low to Sandro. there are carriages arriving down below— men from Pisa and Mantua and I know not where." Domenico turned sharply. and as I turned away. Domenico's fingers caught my wrist. "I am told there is a post come for you—from Naples." he said blandly. they would join with our enemies and bring the whole state down in revenge. I looked up to see him gazing straight past me. "You may find it sweet to be a duchess. my lord. he was gripping my wrist until his knuckles showed white." "And. and it is common knowledge that for twelve years the de Poitiers woman was treated as Queen of France. "Well. I heard Sandro's voice making some laughing comment. the door opened. If there is such danger—" "Enough. Then suddenly. If they were to learn that their ambassadors had done reverence to a paramor of yours. at the opposite wall. tracing the shape of the silver ring on my finger. "No one is like to tell them they are being hoodwinked. at least! I hope she has sent money with it. please listen to my lord archbishop. waiting indifferently for the debate to end. Cabria has enough enemies to spread a tale like this: Rome. even if it is in jest. "Your Grace." I said unsteadily. and I felt a spasm of shock go through him. Uncle. Half-uncon-sciously his fingers moved. but I thought you would wish to know of it. I tell you we need every fingernail of advantage! When there have been Raffaelle dukes for five hundred years. Romagna. the Spanish states." His eyes were smiling. "Neither the Orsini nor the Valois trod a knife's edge on the brink of damnation. and reflected in his face was the image of the unhappy girl in unbecoming black." . and Piero came trotting over the threshold. I shivered. turning his back on the portrait. blessedly. Ferrenza holds to us by old marriage ties: but Urbino and Milan would never stomach such an affront. Men are not so scrupulous. we will come. "Your good Grace. the ambassadors will not question what they are told." Sandro opened his eyes wide. "Paolo Orsini lived openly with his mistress before he married her. my lord." "They are not blind—nor forgiving once they have been slighted." The archbishop looked at Domenico. but in them was the hard look I remembered seeing before. Spare your breath. then perhaps they may flout opinion.Domenico did not answer. They will see what they are bidden to see—Savoy's daughter. Sandro said dryly. "I did not think you were so unworldly. "The old beldam is loyal." Suddenly. there in the flood of sunshine.. Venice plays a waiting game in case we should threaten to join with the Turks and sail against them. And remember. and Naples. They would delight in turning our few allies against us. But now we must be cautious. answer me this one question. he was studying the play of light on the jewel that hung around his neck. I know how to punish disobedience." Sandro gave a short laugh. "Marry her.

Domenico moved away from me. if you wish it." I closed my eyes. I could send you to Genoa before he expects it. another had been an honest merchant's wife before Duke Carlo favored her. If you were to go tonight." He nodded slowly." I watched them go. the greater part of his mischief would stay undone. "Come. so still that not even the whisper of his silks disturbed the silence. The duke will have everything to answer his wishes. before the coronation." I turned to find him watching me impassively. After that your offer did not seem so kind. my dear lord. hard. perhaps." Even in that moment. "And of course you will obey him. but I have always known I must be cast off sooner or later. no matter what anyone may say. "I can still help you. He may succeed in the trick he means to play tomorrow." I hesitated. Have you considered that?" My hands gripped together. but I heard someone say"—I stared him straight in the face—"that you did not care whether you bestowed me there or in my grave so long as you were rid of me. One woman had borne three children to different men. "No. "It did not matter then. but remember all you see around you. I admit. "You waver. "Have you forgotten what I told you of Genoa?" "No. You are not stupid—you know my nephew cannot let you meet his bride." "Not quite everything. "even though it could mean your ruin." . I shivered uncontrollably and said. I will go. and that white. Faced with so sudden a decision. disease and madness were not uncommon things among the great. his voice low and persuasive. even damnation seemed unimportant. a startlingly sweet smile that held a ghost of Domenico's radiance. I stood gazing blindly at the painted panels. No doubt many of those corpselike palace women had been fair enough once. conscious only of a great yawning emptiness. dead-looking flesh had a sinister cause. And I had begun to catch hints of other earthly punishments. too many women in this court have sold their salvation for want of resolution. too dazed and shocked to marshal my thoughts into any sort of order. if you can help me. But now it is not I who seek to be rid of you. swaying into the curve of his arm like one resuming a half-forgotten habit. "I have no choice. but only so long as you are gone from court before Savoy's daughter comes. When the door closed behind them. to save my nephew's soul from another sin. remembering. The archbishop spoke again. and now she was nothing but a court whore." the archbishop's voice said behind me. The high-piled wigs of fashion were sometimes worn from grim necessity. and Piero hurried to his side. "My lord." The old man smiled. He cannot confront the false with the true. There is no help. the realization of what he meant seemed less terrible than the thought of the years without Domenico stretching ahead of me. my lord. daughter.

The old man nodded slightly. The archbishop's face was expressionless. "I have never known my nephew to refuse an offered bedmate—if she only stays him for half an hour. and music was loud in my ears. He will never know where you have gone. "If the duke should miss me ." "I can supply your place with a willing woman. and he sends a servant to escort me in case I should lose my way. . and I strove not to think of where I might be when the dawn came." I barely had time to nod before Piero was bowing in front of me." Footsteps sounded outside the door." "I cannot. "You are wise. and the archbishop's expression changed. "Unless his habit is changed. Domenico. when you go to your own chamber. but I managed to say stiffly. in Diurno as in Fidena. and I saw the quick gleam in his gray eyes. "After supper. "Go on. Leave it all to me. my lord. staring at the flame reflected on the rim of my wine cup. do not go to them. I must play the statesman a little for my uncle. I sat still amid the noise." "But I do not know how I shall escape." The thin lips smiled sardonically. All the doors are guarded." The archbishop made a dismissive gesture. . The torches struck'flickers of color from the painted walls. I thought despairingly." He shrugged. I was thinking: This is the last time he will fetch me to the duke. Supper was ending in the familiar riot. One of my gentlemen shall meet you and carry my commendations with you by word of mouth to the abbess in Genoa. skulllike again as the old man brooded." His plan was ready. he looked up." I paid little heed to the curious glance he gave me. the duke sent me to find you. you can be clear of the city. from Amerighi! Yes. I shali not be long." My heart felt leaden. "Mistress. "My thanks. "Then tonight. "I will supply your escort from among my men. It only wanted my consent. Leave the palace instead. he sends you alone to your waiting women. "I hear you have had letters from Ferrenza. Domenico glanced at me. then as Domenico rose and drew me to my feet. I caught his whisper. My servant will be waiting. my daughter." I nodded half-reluctantly. "Oh." . when you leave him." The duke's lips curved scornfully. The duke scarcely lets me from his side." "What was in them? Does he come here for your coronation?" Before he answered. You should have followed him. Beside me I could hear Domenico's voice directing Ippolito to call him at dawn. It is wiser not to write them.

By your leave. then. but I did not think he could have done it so swiftly. now! There is a carriage waiting. and we must hurry. "Lady. and with a great jerk the carriage rumbled forward. I thotight. I could see only the shadow of a beaky profile. He promised to send someone. leaving me suddenly cold and desolate. It was cold. We were hurrying through rooms I had never seen before and along bare stone passages to what looked like the kitchen quarters. The archbishop's man sat silent. fading into the hubbub as I walked towards the door. and to him I could have been nothing but a shadow in a silverwebbed gown. then the carriage door slammed. The gentleman thrust me in and scrambled after. and I wished I had thought to bring a cloak. I am sent by my lord archbishop. then a figure stepped out of the shadows. I am his good cousin still. "But I have orders—" the guard protested. moving easily with the lurching motion of the coach. The night wind blew in my face as he opened the door. and my nails dug into my palms in sudden anguish. I . so long as the duke does not find out—and make haste. . "Well." "It is bis trade. I wondered momentarily if the archbishop still held Domenico in talk. and soon the little familiarity I had with the palace was lost. There was a clinking as some coins passed from hand to hand. . forgetting wisdom and salvation. and then he chuckled and fell back a pace. "He has an army to match the pope's own." "I know. however. or he will come before you are done." "I do not trust this friendship. and where the carriers' carts should wait stood a small carriage drawn by two restless horses. take her if you have a mind to her. but he renews his vows of friendship and sends yet another invitation for me to visit him. that I should be carted away like refuse." Already. The voices followed me.For a moment longer I stood." Obediently I went with him through the darkened corridors. "He cannot come. I thought miserably. . then I dropped my gaze and turned without a word. he is the pope of spying and statecraft. That dog of a guard was right. and the cloaked man turned to me. "Quickly. I could see only the glimpse of a pale face and the black and scarlet of the archbishop's livery as the man accosted the soldier who was my escort. with a quick word to the coachman." "But he will not use it against us. It was easier to obey than to think." His footsteps died away down the passage. We were in a little courtyard which served one of the kitchens." The huge doors closed behind me. storing up the sight of him in my memory. It was apt. lady." the archbishop responded thoughtfully. For an instant I wanted to rush in again.

"The duke is not easily stopped." Meant to soothe. Domenico's face was ashen under his bright hair. Dazed.had thought I could bear the pain of parting from him. As the door slammed on me. I sat erect and tense against the seat back. I heard the archbishop Vman utter an exclamation. the calm words stabbed at me like knives. He did not speak but only cast me one smoldering look and slammed the door shut behind him. Not once during the journey back to Diurno did he break the silence. lady. "You need not fear pursuit. and anger lit his eyes to a fiercer silver than the blade of the sword he held. It was so violent that I was almost thrown to the floor. and now there was nothing between me and the end of my journey but the empty hours of travel. it radiated from every nerve in his body." "No. Outside a man's voice shouted. He seemed to tower over me like an avenging angel. and my companion composed himself for sleep." I said tautly. I remember wishing that he would kill me there and then. Outside there was a scuffling noise and a sharp cry. But it was true—Domenico would not own by word or deed that he wanted a woman who would have none of him. I could feel him taut with the fury I had seen in his expression. and I cowered back against the seat too shocked for speech. His Grace is too proud ever to pursue an unwilling woman—he will not follow you. then we were past them. The gentleman said suddenly. and then I felt the door seized. I caught one glimpse of Domenico's face as his followers' torches cast a yellow blaze in the darkness. How else could he have uncovered his great-uncle's plot? . but my lord archbishop has thought of that. Then. I wanted to laugh. The gentleman advised me to sit at ease and then said no more. but at once I realized that the floor of the coach was still level. There was shouting outside and the sound of hoofbeats. So I nodded meekly and sat back in my seat. The lights of the city had fallen away behind us. scorching me as fiercely as once his desire had done. "He will tell the duke that you fled because you hate him and to avoid a public shame. as I saw who filled the doorway. The archbishop knows well enough how to hold the duke in check. the catch dragged from my fingers as it was wrenched open from the other side." Remembering how little unwilling I had been. not daring to voice the question burning in my mind: how had he found me so quickly? Perhaps he was in truth the devil. the coach creaked as the horses threw themselves into their collars. and then he flung open the coach door and jumped down into the dark roadway. I let out a little frightened cry. I sat huddled in the furthest corner from him. and he sat back in the shadows. but now I sat staring into the rushing darkness thinking only that every turn of the wheels was taking me further from the man I loved. I must have been dozing in a torpor of misery and exhaustion when the coach jerked to a halt. The horses settled down to a steady pace. But I could not. trying not to think or to remember. anything rather than see that look on his face. wrestling with the catch and vainly trying to see through the tiny window. I wondered whether we had lost a wheel. and slowly the equipage began to turn. listening to every sound on the road outside. I was beside it.

and I was half-dragged down the steps into the main courtyard of the palace and towards the Titans' staircase. but I knew he was moving towards me and now stood over me. as I started to raise my eyes against my will. Domenico did not look around. my legs too unsteady with reaction and terror to support me. The first prisoner was the soldier who had handed me over to the archbishop's man—his crime was taking bribes to betray the duke's service. . was over in minutes.'' As the man hurried away.Now he sat rigid. the men. There were ugly marks too. When she heard herself accused of treason she did not utter a defense. pair upon pair. there was silence but for the frantic scratching of the scribe's quill. hesitating. Even two of the archbishop's servants—innocent men—were condemned as a threat to the one man he could not touch. unspecified. Then. openmouthed. I dared not contemplate what he would do. and I stifled a gasp as a stitch stabbed my side. as we reached the room which Domenico used as his study. It looked as though a whole strip of flesh had been freshly torn out. I must have made some sort of sound when he sentenced her. and her cheek was marked in a long jagged line. I crouched shuddering on the floor in a vain attempt to stop my ears— soldiers. The coach lurched to a standstill. to my horror. Domenico extended his hand. This was Domenico's way of torture. It was a burlesque of justice. I saw that the fourth prisoner was a woman. Domenico pronouncad his accusations. punishing me with the cries of the condemned so that I would know that mine was the blame. not looking at me. the voices of the condemned ringing in my ears like an accusation. Imperiously. servants. were paying with their lives for it. I had sunk to my knees in the middle of the floor. wondering what crimes they had committed and why they had been brought here. Hard white fingers bit into my wrist. I could feel his dammed-up violence threatening me like a great storm. the duke turned back to me. then. on her neck and arms. And the scribe. were condemned and sentenced to die the next day. I remembered the archbishop's light promise to fill my place with some willing woman and shivered. whiter than ever. I could not have borne the anger in his eyes. then I recognized one of them and began to guess. When the last prisoner was taken out. paid no heed. it was as if she did not understand what was happening to her. and he was condemned to hang. protesting or pleading their innocence. and after that one glimpse of his face I was glad. The two next were guards at the palace gate—their crime. any who might have had a hand in my escape. The palace corridors were dark and silent— only the guards stared. She was panting and disheveled. "Bring those knaves to me. any more than I could understand how he had learned so soon that I had gone. to write the indictment. and it hurt her. if it could be called a trial. I dared not look up. but Domenico. there was a clatter of footsteps outside the door. I stared at them dazedly. and I knew she must have been roughly handled by the guards. The scribe was shaking so much that he could hardly grip his pen. but he did not even glance around. was neglect of duty. On the threshold he freed my wrist with a cruel jerk and spoke to one of the guards. The trial. he was moving so swiftly that I could hardly keep up with him. The procession seemed to go on interminably. The guard had come back and with him soldiers. One shouted as he was sentenced that the duke would never have caught me again without his testimony. and between each pair a prisoner. for she was weeping and kept putting her fingers to the wound in a disbelieving way.

as though he were loath to make an end. and there was a contemptuous twist to his mouth. it was a wonder that he had remembered the names of those condemned. and quickly!" The scribe needed no second bidding: he vanished as though he had wings on his heels."Sirrah Scribe. I could scarce write them. as his eyelids lifted. and suddenly his voice rang out. . leaving me crouched abjectly in the middle of the floor. I did not remember hearing them. They are not done half so well as I would wish. but otherwise he gave no sign of having heard." Domenico's voice was a poisoned whisper. the tears drying on my cheeks. and gradually the resolve which had strengthened me ebbed again. I had nothing to lose. A pulse was beating in his temple. I knew he meant to kill me." The dark eyes dropped to the papers in the duke's hand. but no words came." The man gave a sob of fright. then he stacked the sheets carefully together and put them on one side. that will mend your scribbling. I looked up. Domenico moved towards his desk and sat down. "Are you in truth a scribe. and I wondered if he was waiting for me to break down and beg for mercy. . and yet his slowness was the slowness of reluctance. I felt that somehow I had to prevent this last. and yet I knew he did not see what was before him. and picked up a quill. and put your own name to it. "Your Grace. slowly. choked and savage. . Your Grace's proceeding has been so . He has not even neglected to do his duty. The torchlight flashing on the slowly turning blade lit Domenico's face to a fallen angel's beauty. Then. Domenico stood unmoving. this man has committed no crime. out of my sight. . Why should he die?" I saw his fingers clench on the papers. I could sense the danger burning in him more and more fiercely. for I would be dead within the hour. purely wanton murder. or an untaught knave?" The scribe's mouth opened and shut." The man looked up quickly. the dangerous flush fading from his face. spreading the crumpled death warrants before him. . he reached out to pick up something which lay half-hidden among his papers. He read each warrant through with unnatural attention before setting his signature. as though making love to it. His head was bent. "Write another warrant. . and he touched the sharpened steel voluptuously. . "Your Grace. the light in his black eyes was pure fascination. "You must want practice. "Sirrah Scrivener. I saw his attention fix as he looked down—then. He signed the last warrant and sat staring at the seven lives spread out under his hands. they are scarcely ready. and I could see its sharpness in the delicacy with which the white fingers turned it over and over. . wonderfully swift. and he gazed straight at me. and the sound pierced me. It was a knife. sirrah. . The procession of deaths had so frightened him that his hand had lost its steadiness. He must have used it for trimming pens. his eyes unwavering.

" "A letter?" I stared incredulously as she held out a sealed and folded sheet. The fingers of his right hand barely touched the hilt. not now. The nightmarish events of the previous night had faded. and went to him with the oddest feeling of relief. I woke with a feeling of dread. and while the deaths he had ordered were being meted out. If he killed me. and broke the wax with fingers that trembled suddenly. but there was nothing to be learned from her manner. and. I could feel his gaze resting on my bare throat. thinking never to see it again. Then he softly flicked the fingers of his other hand. and I went down on my knees beside him. for a long moment he was still." "But his servants brought your gown not half an hour ago. I wondered how much she knew of what had happened last night. He turned a little in his chair to watch me. It was Domenico's coronation morning. I half expected to be taken to the dungeons. I should have known that nothing would make him alter his plans. the knife between his hands. I lay still. remember. I would not have to remember this night. and it was with a sense of shock that I found myself in my own chamber: the room I had left so many hours ago. The ceremony would go on as he had ordered it. . and then I met his eyes and saw the blaze in them. painfully. The duke will have changed his mind after ." it said without greeting or superscription. with slashing. . you must get dressed." "No. Niccolosa touched my arm. You are to ride in the coronation procession. "My lady. and there is a letter for you—he expressly desires you to wear it today. at last. They left me alone then." After a moment I began to laugh. and tell the old woman that if you appear less than a duke's daughter. "Ippolito will come for you two hours before noon. subdued Niccolosa— came to rouse me. arrogant strokes. and I wondered for one frightened moment whether the executions were taking place here and now. I never saw him move. apprehensive. I rose slowly. Then I remembered. and then he was out of his chair and shouting harshly for me to be taken out of his sight. until Niccolosa—a silent. the preparations were going forward for him to mount his throne. I fell into bed and slept as though I were dead already. Although it was barely dawn. I was lifted to my feet and led away. "Be ready to go in state through the city. others were up before me—I could hear the scuffling of feet in the corridor and voices in the antechamber. and it was only when I recognized the hangings of the bed I so seldom slept in that I remembered. Trembling so that I could hardly stand. The knife went flying across the room to fall with a clatter somewhere in the shadows. she shall answer for it. "Cabria. piecing together the memory of how I came to be there. I would have served his turn.The knife was resting on its point. and I would ape the part of his betrothed in front of half the statesmen in Italy—and if afterwards he chose to kill me or discard me. Looking at her folded lips and expressionless face. too weary for any further thought. ." It was signed.

"Well. It was the duke's order that I was to wear it so. There is time enough for you to break your fast. their beauty was as much a mockery as the court's reverence would be. "But I am too afraid. The finer I was. The process of readying was so long and elaborate that I felt worn out with standing still long before she pronounced the work done. ." The door opened to admit servants carrying burdens of spilling brightness that made me gasp and run forward to touch them cautiously. knowing that I was no more than a puppet that jerked to the duke's command. Then I remembered that these robes were to deck an impostor." "First you must eat." "I am sorry." As she moved towards the bellpull. so heavy that I could scarcely move. There was no vestige left of Celia's drudge. "As you will. . . But now it was the fear of a different loss. but a ghost of fear lay in the gray eyes. stitched with diamonds in a pattern of scrolled leaves and flowers like a frozen summer. and her lips tightened. They were made to His Grace's order. "The women will bring them when they come. for Niccolosa had glimpsed Domenico's note and had taken as many pains with my dressing as if I had been what I pretended to be. For a moment I was enchanted. loose like a virgin's. It was with less than half an hour to spare that I was ready at last. she patted my hand." She nodded and said no more. a necklace of diamonds clung about my throat. then." she said and left me. I said bitterly. my lady. and over so much brightness my hair hung like a black cloak. . I will summon your ladyship's women. "My lady . and not all the chains of pearls and diamonds twisted up in it could disguise the mockery behind the lying blazon of maidenhood. Niccolosa was watching me in the glass." I shook my head. ." I tried to smile. as she had done once before. And for my pride's sake I could not—would not—admit that my usurped dignity tasted as bitter as gall. . Over it went a mantle. "Where are my masking robes?" She did not pretend to misunderstand me. hardly any trace of the girl who had pleaded to be set free on that first night." "No. Niccolosa. silvery lawn filled the breast of my gown and framed my face in cobweb-fine ruffles." I managed to swallow my laughter before it broke into weeping: "Very well. The gown was cloth of silver. With a bitter little smile I noticed the distinction between bride and mistress. Food would make me queasy. I shall not disobey His Grace's commands. for fear they might vanish. "I will fetch my lord Ippolito. When I looked into the mirror I did not know myself. the more they would jeer behind my back and laugh up their sleeves at my impudence. spreading behind me in unnumbered folds of wrought silver: a plain cross lay on my breast. my lady.Niccolosa looked anxious.

" He spoke with sudden briskness. He means to go last in this rout so that the crowd will be gaping for him when he comes. face after face was upturned to stare back at me. For an instant I felt as though I were choking on the lie I had to act. at some signal I could not see.To keep my thoughts at bay. To try to move quickly was a waste of effort. So do not think of anything that may make you heavy-hearted and slow your steps!" Most of the court was already mounted and waiting when Ippolito led me down the Titans' staircase." he added soberly. and as Niccolosa and the maids fussed around me. learning to manage the crushing weight of the silver robes. but it was too late: The air was full of clattering hooves and the swell of music as the procession moved off." His friendly smile overspread his face again. than deal with my lord's Grace when he would be point-device! The daintiest lady is a sloven to him. Ippolito stood watching me like a man in a trance. I had just contrived a full turn without tripping when I heard the door open at the other end of the room. "You are to ride in an open litter to the cathedral. almost as though they watched Domenico. My hand must have tightened on Ippolito's. I began to pace the room. 'I would have them know without asking which is the duke. resplendent in dark gray velvet. White-clad servants mounted the great black horses which bore the litter. madam. and he will outswear the devil himself if things are not just as he would have them. I had to walk in long. because he glanced at me quickly and led me down to the waiting litter. dulling the fierce beat of the sunshine. "If you are ready. But come. between the two stone giants. "For a minute I thought I must salute some unknown royalty! I never saw a lady look lovelier. The courtiers' eyes were watching my every movement as though for some portent. "Where is the duke?" I could not suppress the question. I could not look back to see ." and he laughed. and then he swallowed and closed his mouth." Ippolito arrived hastily. and I am threatened with exile or death—or both—if you are an instant behind your appointed time. spreading outwards from the foot of the steps like circles in a pool. cursing his men. "I told him he was mountebanking it. I found I had to draw the train after me as a horse draws a cart. and his mouth dropped open in the middle of his cheerful greeting." Ippolito's eyes twinkled. the stragglers began mounting and the riders moved up to take their places. all possessed of a fiend. and I was aware of an unnatural silence. . I nodded and walked slowly towards him." I smiled at the indulgent note in his voice and said.' " He handed me into the litter. I looked up at him in anxiety. madam . I was aware again of the continuing silence. "Will I serve the duke's turn for Savoy's daughter?" A shadow—I thought it was pity—crossed his dark face. Then. "She will be hard put to it to excel you. smooth steps amid a susurration of silk and silver. "I had rather manage fifty women. throwing my weight forward with the first step so that my burden would run smoothly after me. arranging my train. like a full-fed tomcat. "Take care he does not hear you. all impudent. . "In his chamber still. "Well. and he smiled and said. and pages in the same livery were raising a silk canopy over my head. As I stood at the head of it.

Ranks of clergy followed him. The dark gaze swept unseeingly over my face as he passed and mounted the steps of the dais. harsh with pride. the litter swung so that I was nearly flung out. a jeweled cross borne high. and behind them. sneering smile hovered on his mouth as though the homage he received was no more than his due. slow and stately. By the time the procession disgorged its load before the bronze paneled doors of San Giovanni. He looked magnificently. they would remember I had no right to be there and turn me out. . ablaze with white fire from a crust of diamonds. Turning.whether Domenico was following. He did not glance right or left as he walked. and the moment when the archbishop lifted the ducal crown and placed it on Domenico's bright head. the feverish roll of drums began to echo around the walls. He alone of all the court—and I. I looked up and saw Domenico. and I shrank back instinctively. His fair face was incandescent with flaming pride. Piero. I was giddy with the noise and the motion of the litter. Now the trumpets rang and redoubled. and a tiny. He was wearing silver from head to foot. walked Ippolito. Then the archbishop moved forward. at the foot of the dais which bore the Cabrian chair of state. and people poured forward into the torchlit cathedral. but my breath caught almost superstitiously in my throat. I was so certain that someone would see through my imposture that I could hardly believe in the cheers and blessings shouted at me in the streets. his uncovered head arrogantly high. for until horses and riders found their slow rhythm. every other man seemed somehow gaudy or squalid. insanely beautiful: Lucifer aspiring to mount God's throne. the smell of incense and the scent of rose petals strewn underfoot. then the tall figure of the archbishop. Then someone—I never saw who it was—took my hand and urged me forward. Sandro. in obedience to his order—had ignored his edict. stiff with filigreed silver. For a moment I wanted to turn and run. with a clamor of trumpets. I dared not stir a step for fear of making some fatal mistake. I have only recollection of the scarlet figure moving around the silver one. They flashed blue white on his hands and in his ears and on the cope of the great mantle which swept the ground before him. Then. It was as though I was caught up in a nightmare in which I was the only one not to know some ritual. and in the sudden silence the coronation ceremony began. Beside the mourning splendor of his coronation robes. and the high vaulted roof dwarfed men and women to scurrying insects as they fled to their places. I stood and watched them with as much awe as did the people in the streets outside—soon. The trumpets blared again. I obeyed numbly. Looking back. and I heard a long shivering sigh run through the court. He should not have been able to waik for the weight of it. During the progress through Diurno I was waiting for a denunciation that never came. But even as I gazed about me. and all the officers of the court. I thought. I saw acolytes swinging censers. but he moved unhesitatingly towards the altar. Niccolosa had ridden before me. It was only then that I realized I stood alone and advanced before the whole congregation. and she was at my side to manage my cumbersome robes while I waited for someone to tell me what was to happen next. a dazzle of gold and colors. Of it all. an incongruous figure on horseback. the doors swung wide. heads were turning to stare back along the central aisle. his face a rapt mask below his glittering miter. The interior was as bright as day. walking towards the distant altar and halting where I was bidden.

." his gaze swept them. gloved fingers lay lightly on my shoulders. Then I felt myself raised. clashing their swords in feigned fight. The archbishop stepped forward again and knelt to take the oath of allegiance." He turned to me. Was it his rejection. I checked the thought angrily. "and my noble lords. Domenico said sharply. and by now they had lost their air of reserve and were eating and drinking as heartily as any of the court. and there an end. and there was nothing. "As for you. lingeringly. and the silver figure stood alone before the state chair. Around us the revelry continued unabated. He glanced around suddenly. I could hear Sandro breathing heavily. What did it matter? It was over. the archbishop drew back. inexorable command. unfathomable expression in his dark eyes which left me wordless. The doors closed behind him: He was gone. like a dog." and then he strode out of the hall with his men at his back and his train spreading behind him like a glittering sea. black-clad and masked like skulls. It had come at last—this was his rejection—the end of my masquerade and end of my bittersweet hold on his favor. on the mouth. we bid you good night. then the crowned head turned. It had not been a sudden yielding to an impulse to shock. Beside me I could hear Domenico laughing. but in that instant there had been an odd. and I kissed it. "My lords Ambassadors. "Attend us. a deliberate act before the greatest in Italy. Everywhere there was noise. surrounded on all sides by music and laughter and the noisy antics of dwarfs and fools. performed with cruel ceremony. My mind was too full of the arrogant demand of Domenico's kiss. he had meant to do it. with a harshly proclaimed benediction. song and shouted conversation filled the swag-decked hall. looking down at me without a change of expression. the packed congregation was sweltering. A hand in its embroidered glove was extended. The ambassadors. or only the formal greeting to his supposed bride? I remembered nothing of the rest of the ceremony or the return through the streets to the palace. It seemed impossible that last night he had sent seven people wantonly. We must part from you for a little. Domenico had taken care that they should be served with the best of everything and attended by the most attractive of the noblemen's wives. Use your pleasure in our absence—Cabria bids you welcome. had unbent and grown visibly more cordial as they saw the opulence of wealth spread before them. And but for my folly in listening to the archbishop . and even from where I stood. his still face convulsed with mirth and his cheeks flushed with wine. . hardly aware of what I was doing. that I awoke from the dream which held me. we cannot revel it further tonight. He moved again then. and the duke kissed me on both cheeks and. rising to his feet abruptly. to their deaths." I rose and stood passively as he touched his lips to my brow and turned away. I almost stumbled as I stepped back. drawing my head down. but long before he had done. It was not until I found myself in the midst of the banquet. fair lady. Sandro and three of his cronies were entertaining the court with a dance mocking the triumph of Death. and I flinched. keeping my head bent for fear of what I should see in his face. and the black eyes met mine in a silent. But at last. I walked to the foot of the dais.The old man worked swiftly. I could see the sweat shining on duke and prelate. Slowly. at first stiff and formal. viciously. . the whole assembly sank to one knee with a brittle rustling like the clap of bats' wings.

"Well. and soon outdistanced the waiting women—yesterday I would not have done so. and I shook my head dumbly. mistress.In dignity there was nothing I could do but call my women and go to my own chamber." There was an excited glint in his eyes. which held such surprising strength. "I wonder you betrayed him! Would you not rather have had me gone?" He shrugged lightly. Then he took a pace towards me. Till now you were backed by the Duke of Cabria. "What will you do now that he has cast you off—or should I say. could you not see that?" I ignored the jeering note in his voice." Sudden tears constricted my throat. I choked as his clinging scent engulfed me. rubbing against mine." I shivered. then. and he caught my arm. I walked swiftly." "Oh. My cry of disgust was smothered by his mouth. and through the stiffness of my gemmed skirts I could feel him gripping and stroking my thigh. You cannot still hope that he will change his mind—I can testify that he will not. Where were your wits. my lord. but your unaided power is less. and I had no choice then but to tell what I knew. The old man only wanted you gone to smooth his own path. I think. and thrust me back into the doorway he had left. so the phoenix dies in flames?" I turned sharply. Piero was standing in the shadow of a nearby doorway." My voice shook. "He has provided you with a goodly pyre—I did not think he could hold to one woman for so long. and I felt his spindly body. his words recalled Maddalena's fate almost unbearably. I doubt you would be alive now. my hand was forced. That old crow Niccolosa came to seek you when you were after your time. "What I do is none of your concern. but I never thought you would be so foolish as to go at his bidding. but I knew he must tire at last. but already their diligence was slacker. his grip tightening. I mean to have the use of you before the duke spoils your beauty for other men. "Oh. who will be your partner?" "I will not hear you. I left the hall without a backward glance." "You knew I ran away?" "Who do you think told the duke of it? I heard the archbishop wooing you to it yesterday. and as I halted. I would have gone past him. "I have waited a long time for this. That escape of yours pricked his pride. forgetting the weight of the silver robes. . but he moved into my path. I had gained the head of the stairs and turned along the first gallery when an amused voice said. but it is. I could hear the hiss of speculation beginning to grow. "You cannot choose. to rush to your own downfall so? If it were not that to murder you would please the archbishop." The raw note in his voice startled me. he stirred the bright folds of my skirt contemptuously with his toe. clenching my hands to stop their trembling.

with no thought beyond the drowning darkness of his eyes. "Come. and I stiffened to break free." "It is as easy for him as breathing. and only struggled when I felt him fumbling at my gown. it seems. and very slowly put down the cup. and as they faded. "If I cannot have the fruit of his neglect. save that I knew it and he did not. "There's strange work towards—we are sent to find His Grace's drab. we were both derelicts. Niccolosa's warning face kept Piero at bay when he would have entered the chamber after me. I must go and seek her—why in the name of knavery could the bitch not go to her room?" I heard his footsteps dying away. Piero turned back to me. at least I shall reap the reward of your recovery. "Who's there?" "Is it you. it was luxury to move freely again. our duke could serve as the father of lies. ." "No. Piero?" Guido Vassari's voice came back from a distance. No one will see. "He dissembled well. trembling. a mount for him to ride in triumph. "Will he send her packing before the sheets are cold she slept in last?" "Not unless it be packing to bid her come to him in secret. the world was suddenly glorious again because Domenico still wanted me. His hands gripped my shoulders. cradling his cup in one white hand and gazing down at the floor with an abstracted frown on his face. "Quickly. but now his play is played. He said they would think it something forward if he hauled the wench to bed before their faces." "He goes roundly to work!" Piero sounded faintly admiring. I stood still. He said expressionlessly. beautiful face and told myself deliberately that I must not love him so much. "Here. and she is not in her chamber. My body felt light and weightless when they were off at last. Piero swore and then quickly loosed rne and stepped back." he said harshly. he would be at the old act with her again. If the devil wanted a substitute. I wanted to sing." I followed without a word. Misery and a strange sort of compassion numbed me into acquiescence. Domenico was standing by the hearth as I entered. to weep." His voice had roughened. and the silk of my shift was cold against my skin as I followed Piero across the painted anteroom to the door of the duke's bedchamber. and she swiftly set to work to unload me of my coronation robes. his eyes narrowing." I sensed Piero's rigidity even as relief flooded me with its blessed warmth. then I saw him dismiss Piero with one quick." Guido's tone was acid. I might hold him until Savoy's daughter came. I did not care that I was nothing but a sop to his appetite. pressing me inexorably to my knees at his feet. but almost at once it died. You had best take off that tawdry before you go to him. impatient movement. let me alone. He looked up then. . "The coldness he showed was to prove his chaste love to my lords ambassadors' eyes. and as the door closed softly. For one moment I gazed at his moody." Abruptly my common sense returned.Hot anger surged through me for an instant. if he took me back now. . So I let him take his kiss. . he reached me in four strides.

" I thought: he must not know how much it hurt me. and I had to fight to remain unresponsive under the insistent caress of his fingers. The blood beat in my head. his body tensing into a sinuous curve of abandonment." I answered breathlessly. suppliant. his hands were stripping me. but his grip was too strong. The next instant he had wrenched my wrists apart. "You are shivering. ruthlessly. indefinably. casually. gradual and total. swiftly. the feel of his smooth skin under my palms. He was as far from being calm as I was. and I realized afresh that he had meant the deaths he had meted out to others as my punishment. voluptuous relish. "I am— your obedient subject. I felt as though I had forgotten how to breathe. "And was it sweet to act the bride? Come. With wanton deliberation. faintly mocking expression was no more than a mask. and all I was aware of was the relentless clasp of Domenico's hands. "Where did you go. Then." He drew me to my feet so that I stood swaying before him. I had to cling to reason to prevent myself from surrendering totally. he bent his head and kissed me. "It is time you paid your homage fully. Deliberately. my head on his breast." I answered. Felicia?" I barely heard him. I tried to turn my head aside. "Did you think to run away again?" I shook my head helplessly. His mouth touched my neck. and he stooped and crushed me so hard against him that I could feel the stir of hard muscle bunching under my cheek and could sense the beat of his blood." he retorted softly. not theirs. my face upturned to his." His hands slid from my shoulders down the length of my arms to grip my wrists. drowning all shame. "Then remember. I closed my eyes so that I should not see the knowledge of it grow in his eyes. all memory. "There are no words—I have never known such a coronation before. and I threw back my head to look him in the face. His head arched backwards. Instead I said lightly. a brilliance in his eyes that made me uneasy. my face upturned and eyes wide in an access of shock. the quality of his hold altered. that I must send for you?" His voice was harsh. tell me. he pressed my palms to his chest and drew them down his body with slow. I found myself spread-eagled against him. I do not think Savoy's daughter herself would dare to challenge me thus. Love for him flooded me." Anger burned in me suddenly. but so viciously that my arms were stretched wide. "Do you flatter us now. What would you have me say?" . Come. scorching and impatient. I know how to punish a traitor.holding me helpless. and his fingers bit into my shoulders. "Is not that what you want? Another trembling vassal to crouch at Cabria's feet and feed your pride with flattery?" "Your borrowed state has made you bold. "I do not prize other men's lives so lightly. I could feel the tautened play of muscles under his skin and knew that his still.

He lifted his head, and his gaze held mine. "That now there will be nothing to curb my greatness." He kissed me briefly. "No checks or slights or petty rebellions; that it was the fairest ceremony you have ever seen." Another fleeting kiss. ". . . and that you were pleased with the honors I gave you." He sounded suddenly like a boy eager for praise; in a moment he would begin to brag. Longing to laugh at him, to tease him in the ecstasy of my relief, I said gravely, "Nothing can hinder you now from being the greatest duke Cabria has ever known." "Good," he said softly, his eyes watchful. "And there cannot have been a rarer coronation throughout Italy." "Good." His fingers were following the curve of my spine in an insistent caress. "And the honors you gave me were very sweet and would have been sweeter if they had not been stolen from your true bride." His hand stilled. "Your honesty is too nice. They were my gift, you had them at my hand. How was it robbery?" The mockery silenced me, and I gazed up at him almost in despair. At last I said, "I will not quarrel with so great a lawyer.'' His arms tightened around me so hard that I gasped. "You are presumptuous, lady," he said and kissed me hard and deliberately. I had half expected him to take his revenge on me by making a relishing torment of the possession, showing me brutally who was the master. But he seemed to have forgotten his vengeance, and his kisses were long and wooingly sweet. I trembled in his arms. His hands moved to touch my breasts almost tentatively; then with sudden urgency he bent his head, and I felt the hungry demand of his mouth. Instinctively, my hands slid over the white silken skin of his shoulders, in a fever to seize and to hold; it was not until I heard him catch his breath against me that I realized I had dug my nails deep into his back. Then he bore me back on to the bed and I gave myself up to the rapture of the moment, glorying in the strength that tore me, sharing the tumult of giving and taking as though the nightmare of the previous night had never been. My lips opened to sigh his name, my hand lifted to caress his cheek, and then I froze. He was watching me scientifically; there was no emotion in him at all. There was an assessing gleam in the hooded black eyes, a satiric set to his mouth, and I knew with fatal clarity that I had been duped. The rapturous tenderness was only a ploy to win my response—he had known—he always knew, Domenico!—what I wanted before I knew it myself. With sheer, heartless skill he had betrayed me, to him and to myself, and had reestablished his dominion far more harshly than he could have done by using simple force. I gave a small, shamed cry and turned away from him, and he laughed. I did not sleep for the rest of the night. I pretended to, lying motionless after he wearied and waiting until the soft sound of his breathing told me that he had fallen asleep; but I was open-eyed, aching with a sort of dull misery, staring blindly up into the darkness of the painted chamber. It

had all been for nothing— the agonizing decision to leave him, the fruitless journey, the wanton deaths that had followed my return. I was still Domenico's mistress, as fast in his toils as ever I was, and in spite of all that he could do to me, I still loved him. I turned cautiously, looking down at him. He lay sprawled with the abandon of a cat, yet I knew he would wake as instantly and completely as an animal at the first hint of a disturbance. As I had done so often, I studied him, trying to guess what secrets lay behind the mask he wore when he was awake. In the day I never dared study him too long, in case he should read my longing in my face. He must have learned young to be secret. Often when he woke, I would see him watching me with calcu-lation, as though to gauge whether he had given away something of himself in his sleep. Ippolito had told me a little of his childhood, a beloved tutor murdered because Duke Carlo thought his affection would make the boy soft, the corruption that followed on the heels of grief. I was sure that now he purposely hid his emotions and amused himself by feigning what he did not feel. But he felt some emotion, I thought as I saw the unexpectedly vulnerable, almost childish curve of the fingers of one lightly clenched hand. Those fierce, animal passions of his were his masters, not his slaves, and he was as much their victim as those he punished when he was in their grip. And despite what he had done to me tonight, I knew that his desire was real. Even if all his need was for a living body and arms to hold him, it was still a bitter, desperate need. He would never see a woman as anything but a toy to suit his tastes, or a possession to be gained or lost, yet paradoxically there was sweetness hidden deep in his nature. I remembered the times he had curbed his impatience for my sake in the early days, and that grave, searching look that had been in his eyes that evening at the Eagle; even the way he was wont to laugh at me, with rare, unmalicious amusement, teased my heart with an irrational unspoken hope—until tonight. I should have been horrified by the cruelty in him, but my heart still ached for the arrogant child who had been spoiled to become something like a monster by the indulgence of his every whim. I did not care that this was the loathed tyrant of Cabria, that my life hung on his lightest word. All that mattered was Domenico, the man I loved, who had snatched me back to his side out of the contemplation of a whole iifetime of desolation. From now on, I knew, my plight was hopeless. There was nothing for me to do but cling to him, greedy of his presence, until he finally cast me off. Love had chained me to him more irrevocably than any threat he could use. That it was groundless and inexplicable—I did not truly know him and could never hope to fathom that capricious blend of intelligence, oversen-sitivity and animal violence—made no difference now. "It will be sweet when you sigh like that for my sake," a lazy voice said, and the black eyes opened to drowsy slits. "Where are your thoughts, Felicia?" I stiffened. "Here, Your Grace." One eyebrow arched slightly, and he stretched sensuously like a cat expecting to be stroked. "Are they so? You must convince me."

I read the hard demand behind the faintly derisive smile, and for the space of a heartbeat I lay still. Then, with the sensation of plunging into an unknown sea, I moved to lay my lips on his, unurged, uninvited, kissing him for the first time entirely of my own free will. The court woke Wearily and late next day to the celebrations that were to last another three days. Dignitaries from the length and breadth of the state were flocking to Diurno, and the ambassadors from half Italy had come to confirm the goodwill of their masters to the new-seated Duke of Cabria. Pompous Venetians, quick-tongued Florentines, and cautious Tuscans all begged audience with the duke; the palace resounded strange accents and was crowded with strange fashions, like a port whose harbor is full of ships. Only the archbishop looked black and talked of who had come and who had not, and of the portent of waning friendships. I searched the foreign faces for a Savoyard embassy but was forced to conclude at last that the duke must have meant to send only his daughter to Cabria. Domenico received them all in the council chamber, crowned and enthroned in the carved chair Sandro had shown me, with me seated like a mute at his side. I could not guess whether it was a punishment or only his whim that I should sit so, playing the bride for the ambassadors; but I sat beside him for hour after hour, a useless puppet, while they talked of treaties and partitions and ratifications and thought me to be the next Duchess of Cabria. Now and again I caught a gleam of derision in Domenico's eyes, as though he relished the absurdity of it all, but I could not be sure whether it was I or the ambassadors that he mocked. Meanwhile, the court buzzed with my new advancement. Some even believed it was for my own sake, forgetting that I was nothing but a substitute, and there were sycophants who would hang on my every word and petitioners to plead causes at every turn of the stairs. Only I knew, by Domenico's quick, ungentle passion and by the perilousness of his temper, how fragile my power really was. My escape might have been pardoned; it had not been forgiven. I saw little of Sandro during those few days, for he had told his brother that he was no better a counselor now than he had ever been and had disappeared into the hunting field. Jealousy might have pricked him, but that was to be expected in an elder brother who misses an inheritance, infuriatingly, only through his bastardy. The archbishop treated me with smiles and silvery courtesy which I did not understand at first; then I realized that his spite against me went deeper and worked in subtler ways than open enmity. Somehow, he had discovered Piero's desire for me and worked upon that like the politician he was. He knew as well as I that at the first hint of my unfaithfulness the duke would have done with me-—so he paid Piero, and others too, to court me, in the hope that their attentions might work some mischief. But if Domenico saw what was happening, he paid no heed—or perhaps he no longer cared how many men laid siege to me. His mind seemed full of state affairs, and it was only at night, when I was smuggled to his bed, that he heeded me beyond any of the gaggle of courtiers who crowded about him. At last the ambassadors began to take their leave, and the court's mood altered to a cruder, more sensual gaiety. Ceremonious revels were laid aside, and little order was kept in the sports and feasting. For once Domenico seemed content that strict observance of his presence should not be kept, and once the interminable councils of state were done, he lent his countenance to any pastime, watching the revelers with a faintly cynical smile disfiguring his soft mouth.

Ippolito de'Falconieri was teaching me the rules of chess—he had appointed himself my unofficial guardian since we came to Diurno—when the duke came and stood beside me, watching the play over my shoulder. I tensed at once, forgetting all the rules of play in my awareness of the lounging, silver-clad figure so close behind me. I moved a piece at random, and Ippolito hesitated; then he shifted a piece in his turn, and Domenico laughed. "You are too chivalrous, Ippolito. You should have taken the rook she has left unguarded." "I am playing a deeper game than that, Your Grace." Domenico's fingers closed in a cruel little caress on my shoulder. "True. If one strikes too soon, there is no pleasure in playing, but if one seems to let a fault pass unobserved, one can reap the benefit later—look." He reached past me and negligently moved a pawn. "Your knight has been in peril for some time; this other rook can take him. Beware your queen, now." Ippolito watched the capture of the mounted knight philosophically. "Well, I have another knight, and I think my bishop"—he moved it forward—"will guard the queen well enough." The white hand checked, then moved smoothly, and the duke said softly, "No. See what happens when the king comes into play." Ippolito groaned, and I laughed, then stared at the board. In three moves Domenico had altered the whole complexion of the game; from a pathetically undefended position, spread anyhow across the board, the black pieces were now threatening the white, breaking up their ranks and invading their territories. "You see," Domenico remarked lazily, "choosing the moment to strike can look like mercy." I sat very still, my pulses thundering as his fingertips stroked my heck. Ippolito looked up sharply, his dark face suddenly drawn and anxious. "I think," Domenico spoke absently, his fingertip tracing a line of fire across my shoulder, "that Piero della Quercia must learn to bear himself more humbly soon. It is time, when he crowns his treachery with folly and woos my mistress before my face." "Your Grace, I thought you had forgiven that business long ago!" There was a small silence. "Forgive? I?" I started to put away the chess pieces. There was nothing more to say. I saw Ippolito's unhappy face and wished uselessly that I had never seen Piero's cipher. And what would my punishment be for running away? Was it poison or exile he had in mind for me? His fingers caught my chin and tilted my head back. "Struck dumb? We have been hedged about with ceremony too long, but tomorrow we shall be free of these preaching timeservers, and I am going to take you hunting." Unease filled me as I saw the queer brilliance of his eyes; he was up to some devilry, but my protests died on my lips. There was nothing I could do but be ready when he bade me to ride with the Royal Hunt of Cabria.

The courtyard was filled to overflowing with men and animals; to stand on the Titans' staircase and look down was like looking into a black and white inferno. The morning sun was so bright that it bleached the color from everything and cast deep shadows like pools of pitch, and the sky seemed to flare like a white-hot shield. The horses were restive, whinnying and stamping excitedly, and everywhere underfoot there seemed to be dogs—the confusion of their cries rang and redoubled around the palace walls, and the noise was earsplitting. Sandro was already up, mounted and fretting impatiently and cursing grooms and dogs alike with impartial good humor. I knew he was fond of hunting, and clearly he even relished its noisy prelude. A little behind me, Domenico was whispering with the one man at court to whom he did not have to bend his head—Giovanni Santi, Sandro's master of horse. I had never spoken to him, but I instinctively mistrusted him, for he was the picture of a black villain. Scarcely shorter than Domenico— there had once been a man who was taller, and Domenico had had both his legs broken to shorten him—he was twice as huge, massively built and heavy. He moved lightly for so big a man and dressed with incongruous care, though without any of the extravagancies of the quartet. But it was his face I disliked: broad and meaty, with the flattened nose and fat red mouth of a pugilist, deep-set eyes under scowling black brows, a shock of tightly waving hair, and a heavy mustache. I judged the man ripe for any sort of mischief, great or small— Domenico, too, it seemed, for they were agreeing together well enough, and the duke's black eyes were sparkling with wickedness. As I looked around at them, Santi bowed and hurried down the steps to help one of the kennelmen, and my eyes followed him with a sort of reluctant fascination. Then I noticed that the dog he had gone to tend was not one of the heavy-eared, belling hounds who were now beginning to muster: It was a different breed altogether, more like a wolf than a dog. I touched Ippolito's arm. "What kind of dog is that?" He stared. "I do not know; I have not seen 'em before. The duke has hired them from some fellow Santi knows—there is a boar loose in the woods, and those dogs are trained to fight boars. Small wonder, they look to me like killers." "I almost pity the boar." The dog was snarling and straining at its collar; there were three of them, I now noticed, mingling with the pack. Piero came almost jauntily down the steps, and Domenico flicked his fingers in summons. Piero obeyed it at once and was prevented from bowing by the arm that came across his shoulders. "You have been too distant of late, Piero." The duke's wooing voice came clearly through the surrounding uproar. "I would have us friends again. What is it that offends you?" "Why, nothing, Your Grace!" Piero sounded a little hysterical. "Rather, Your Grace has been too busy until lately to take note of me. My loyalty has not changed." The two fair heads were close together, the true silver and the imitation. Domenico answered softly, "It may be I have merited that reproof, but let us forget times gone and enjoy the present."

" "True. A hand grasped my horse's bridle and pulled the animal to a standstill so suddenly that for a moment I did not realize what had happened. compelling glance that I was to follow and say nothing. and we shall start the best quarry of the day. I spent the first half hour pressed close to my horse's neck as flying twigs. bent back and released by the passage of other riders. to my astonishment. When they killed the first stag. leading the wave of riders. and now he became rebellious. Only the shock of annoyance. The gelding. Setting after the second with the stink of slaughter still in my nostrils. but it was only for an instant. As I gathered up the reins." "My lord . the big man grunted approvingly and then looked up at me. I would not have you forget all the times that have gone. when it was docile. I closed my eyes and turned away from the knives and the running blood. but somehow I knew that he was weary of his cat-and-mouse game. "Some of them were indeed happy. stopped wheeling and stood quiet. then I followed the jerk of Santi's woolly head and realized that he was not. lady. The effort of keeping my seat and my place occupied me amply for a while. kept me in the saddle. "My best Piero! Come and ride with me. I saw Sandro. and a sort of stubborn pride. He disengaged himself and gave Piero a dazzling smile. then he had turned to Piero and was calling something. leaving me to trail unescorted in his wake. Then I looked down and gasped. he was trying to rub me off against a tree. came whipping over my head. I could see Domenico's fair hair gleaming against the leaves and gazed after him wonderingly. his face set in a satyr's grin of excitement." I opened my mouth to retort that the duke was up with the huntsmen. . "One day we must live over those times together by recounting them to each other. and Piero did not notice. but I had never ridden in the steep. and Ippolito came to lift me into the saddle before hurrying across to his own mount. Santi had dismounted from his gigantic piebald and was holding it with one hamlike hand while he gripped my horse with the other and cursed it roundly. You must follow the duke. ." Domenico looked down at him. or when the boughs of trees were suddenly swooping obstacles that I must duck and dodge." Piero had slipped unconsciously back to Domenico's old title. I saw Domenico go still. sloping fields around Fidena. thickly wooded hills near Diurno." Piero broke off and rubbed his cheek against the duke's shoulder in a little gesture of affection. "You are on the wrong path."My dear lord. ." There was the usual flurry of mounting. my riding served me by now on the bare. My horse sensed it. In reality I wanted nothing better than to drop peacefully onto the tawny earth and let the hunt go on without me. I knew from that tiny. There was no outward change in his expression. About a dozen or so had broken away from the main party and were going off to the left at a slow canter. but the pain of seeing him turn his back on me was no less sharp. following the zigzag flight of the panting deer. and he had relaxed in the circle of the duke's arm. and before I could stop him. Already the first horses were plunging back into the trees. I felt Domenico's gaze rest briefly on my face. a little catlike smile on his lips. he began to dance and fidget. There was no time to dwell on plots and subterfuges when an unseen rabbit hole might make my horse stumble and send me rolling to the ground. I was beginning to tire.

I saw the courtier's face light with almost indecent triumph. The duke reined in. and a slow smile curved his weak mouth. too. "Fate is determined that this boar shall live—the dogs cannot get his scent. but this was my first hunt and I knew nothing of how it should be conducted. high and overexcited. watching without a flicker of expression on their painted faces. Certainly Domenico did not seem concerned. I began to guess what it was. and as I looked around the clearing. but a ring. The courtiers made a ring— loose and seemingly accidental. The hounds were spreading aimlessly over the ground in search of a scent when we came up with them. "Very well. taut with expectancy. My heart began to pound. We had reached a wide clearing in the woods. To quell the feeling. he was nervous. "An omen. He has taken the boar hounds with him. I slid from my horse in desperate haste. For an instant of time it turned him towards me and away from Piero. letting their horses wander among the trees—by now the silence was oppressive. even chaining Piero's tongue. He talked of anything and everything—court gossip. Domenico bent lithely to adjust his stirrup just as I approached. and Domenico. All his caution had been swallowed up in conceit." and when he had remounted. In the center stood Piero. I felt sick. and it was as though he had greeted me. and Piero said something and laughed. . A tree had fallen across the track. court fashions. its roots torn out of the earth by some recent gale. I drew myself up and said coldly. and by now the distant hunt was out of earshot. even after my flight the duke had clung to the form of law. Then I saw Domenico's face. It seemed strange that the duke should leave a flying quarry to follow a cold scent. But it was not infectious gaiety. slow." I caught the faint tang of a Fidena accent on his tongue and for a moment felt almost homesick for the city and its common people. Then he straightened and turned his shoulder and took no further notice of me." As he swung fluidiy out of the saddle. and his voice. sir. The others dismounted in twos and threes."Where are they going?" Santi's teeth flashed briefly. I obey orders. even as part of my brain said that they would not harm him without a trial. Riccardo's fixed smile held no trace of mirth. was the only one uplifted in the whole party. thinking that somehow I must warn Piero. that's all. We will dismount for a little and let him go. first he was letting him make a fool of himself. dumb with unease at last." he said sardonically. I rode stiffly after him in the wake of the disappearing riders. the latest political rumors—while far behind us the sounds of the hunt died away. I heard him laugh as I rode towards him. Ippolito's face was troubled as he watched them. lady. Domenico's cruelty did not stop at keeping Piero ignorant of his doom. sickening thumps of apprehension. Something was happening. "It's my guess the duke is after rougher game than stags. "I cannot say. I could hardly bear to see how flattery had swelled the man. and even the quartet had left off their chatter and sat their horses in silence. I saw his hand clench tight on the pommel." "Am I to have a jailer now?" Nervousness betrayed me into speaking more sharply than I meant. and he told me before we rode out that I was to see you kept up with him.

and when he spoke again his voice was infinitely gentle.He had been standing with his head bent. Do not deny it further. you mistake. accuser and accused." Piero looked for a moment at the still. "You do not know the half— but let it go. my lord. "My most dear lord!" Piero's voice cracked with nervousness. wolfish smile on his lips. like a rustle of wind through the leaves. . Slowly. Domenico drew something from his belt and turned. I saw the last defenses drop from Piero as he drew himself up with an odd sort of dignity and shrugged." "Why. . "It is a finer plot than you can guess. Softly then. The whole clearing seemed frozen in a breathless silence. " 'Fore God." The sloe eyes fell to the tiny roll of paper in the duke's fingers." . and Piero paled." Domenico's arm fell slowly to his side. holding it out with a breathtakingly graceful movement. "You lost this writing the other day. Take it. high and shakily. "It is written clearly enough for those who can read it. if I cared for such petty treacheries. younger and more nervous. or I may grow angry. As it felt the grip on its reins slacken. fair face." Domenico's eyes were almost shut." Piero's expression was almost pitying. Long ripe. and he watched it go. and the only living beings were these two men. letting the reins run through his hand. His face was as white as ashes under the bright hair. he looked around the ring of impassive faces. He was not riding his favourite gray today but a black. I served only a tithe of its great estate." "Do not belittle your penmanship. if that is what it is—it looks more like an infant's scrawl. my lord!" Piero took the paper and scanned it. like a man in a nightmare. nor would I ever betray one I have held dear for so long. The outstretched hand never wavered." "This is a jest. The surrounding men were like so many ghosts. . and it was ripe before I joined it. and his dark eyes were wells of greed." "Piero . who stood beside the fallen tree."It was a vicious parody. tell me no more lies! This folly is your revenge for my neglect—a thing to gall me with. it contains no words." His trill of laughter was almost convincing. "My lord . there was a small. "My lord. "These suspicions are unworthy of your greatness. his cheeks burning as if with fever. it twitched its head free impatiently and trotted away through the waiting circle." Piero began to laugh again. . came a breath of "Piero" so gentle I wondered if I had imagined it. I would guess. "Why. I know nothing of ciphers! You wrong me. then at last he looked up into Domenico's eyes. I am no spy. no mark but scribbled lines! Who can write without words?" "Any man who learns your cipher. "I lost no writing. my lord. He looked like a god waiting for his sacrifice. Piero. Domenico's head lifted. which moved like a shadow over the ground.

" Domenico stood dreadfully still." I shivered. Though Gratiana hates you. and I know not who else. When I told you it was that creeping mute he kept as a . but you should not have spurned your mother duchess so harshly. do you remember? And I who found out who betrayed him to your father. my dear. clear voice." The title was a sneer." He smiled mockingly as Domenico's hand clenched. to protect him from the tongue of the man he meant to kill. But if an affronted virgin knew the language of the stews. his fingers stroking his pointed beard. Piero. never mind. I owe my rise to my tongue. "You were always too proud."You lie. You cannot see further than your avowed enemies when you search for treason. I shall try to talk till doomsday. "I thought till then that you knew she lusted after you—you have such a knack for knowing these things. From the menacing quiet had come a small. She has borne you a grudge ever since. "He cannot have thought such tricks would do any real harm. He was standing as he had stood so often in the court. for what you did to her— casting her out because she poisoned your father in the hope of pleasing you. "My dear man. and ruling Cabria with you." Ippolito's voice sounded. And wedding you. "It was I who wooed you from your tears when del Castagno died. I heard that. The cocks that bled for it would have stocked a farm. I know you were dreaming of the gray-eyed witch you planned to steal for your bed. and he did not answer a word. Did you seek to wind him in with you to help Rome? Or have you been intriguing with Gratiana? Answer me!" Piero shook his head. "Dear my lord. It was a magnetic stillness. the Duchess Gratiana looked like a moldy parrot and stank like vermin—but what you said to her was not kind or filial. Oh. one hand on his hip. Piero. I am quibbling for my life! Every word I utter is one more breath to me. the old gibing lechery in his eyes again." Ippolito sounded sickened. to charm him into his grave. Domenico. Not a muscle moved." "His Grace was but a boy then. not payment. and it was as though one of the trees had spoken. "I was outside with my ear to the crack of the door. I promise you. do I not. and you made a wax mannequin when you were fifteen-—paid wizards and alchemists. "Sure. Domenico?" The Duke's eyes were like slits. Was it the contrast?" He glanced across at me. but I could not make my limbs move. sure enough." "Stop quibbling. and it was the voice of a lost child." "Can he not? Well. for after all they did nothing but raise the market price of poultry." "She killed my father. "I know how much you loved your father! You and I have drunk to his death through many a carouse. I wanted to run to Domenico. You broke this plot yourself to Ferrenza—if you had had his answer you would have had rebukes. she would have spoken as you did then. like a panther poised for battle.

I think—though paltry enough revenge for thirteen years' thralldom! " Ippolito gave a muffled exclamation. dear Ippolito. and you are curbing your temper— but one day soon you will learn just what harm I have done you and damn my soul to hell a thousand ways. my dear? Will you not even curse me? You think I have only done you a little harm. you clung to me and vowed to be my friend forever. And yet you never loved me. . "I will not spend my breath on your paltry treasons. "Once it was not duke's son and lackey. "I did not choose a life spent dogging his heels and panting for his notice! I had no choice. Domenico?—so I shall speak it all now. God loves those who speak the truth. I even helped you to kill the little rat. and I should like to unburden my soul. but you may be tired of standing before I have done." "You flatter yourself. "I have longed to see you in thrall to one who did not love you. Then he said. It is a tale worth the listening to. then stinted me. "Sure as those spells you say he did not believe in! He made himself my food." "Piero. "Thralldom! But .body servant." Piero turned on him like a cornered jackal." His voice rose." "Never tell me I chose it." he said almost conversationally. to watch you crawl for love as I have done and get cold answers still. "I have never known whether I loved you more than I hated you. I tried to rule him. "God and the devil will have to winnow it out between them. "save perhaps Domenico della Raffaelle." "Should the son of a duke be ruled by his lackey?" The contempt in Domenico's voice brought Piero up short. and I saw him blink as though he had been struck. "Once it was two lads— Domenico and Piero— and it was Piero who lorded it with you! You do not choose to remember—" . "As you say. "I will only use you then to whet my tongue. Shall we sit down? No? Let it be. then! You will find it more than paltry. ." A spasm of sudden fury twisted his face." he answered venomously. But I fancy the devil will win. Then he said in an altered tone. waiting quite deliberately until they were steady. I know— but your first in the court. watching Domenico with bright. and the demons came and frightened him to death. malicious eyes. Not your first murder. And now I shall not see it!" His gaze dropped to his quivering hands and he watched them. God may dislike my making you His rival and tip the scales so that I shall bum. then he grew older and too proud to bear with me. and so I did for a little. "Will you not speak to me." Again he glanced fleetingly at me. then. "Do not say I did not warn you. the night you mounted my sister in Satan's name. He bewitched me. Do not stand there like a stone!" His voice had an edge of hysteria." Domenico retorted harshly." He paused for a moment. for the love of God!" It seemed to burst from Ippolito." For an instant Piero's face contracted as if in pain. It is damnable. My lord dares not let me speak when I go to the block—do you. nor anyone.

Piero. Domenico—your old fit again—"and he bent and pressed his lips to the duke's temple." The raw fury in Domenico's eyes made Piero step back. "Why not? She is fair enough. with a rush. and the courtier's face filled with delighted malevolence. "Why. His face was flushed hectically. he pitched forward like a falling tree. Domenico lay apparently unconscious. and then his voice seemed to catch in his throat. and I clung to the tree as though it were a lifeline. It can only have been seconds before he stirred. I heard him say. Do not tell me tales of your undying love. Ippolito had slipped away. No one moved. then he tore himself from Piero's hold and slithered back from him as swiftly as a snake." "You loved the son of the Duke of Cabria. Piero laughed on a sour note of self-mockery. and say 'my lord' so often. Somewhere a dog snarled. What was between these two seemed private. but to me it seemed like centuries. without any attempt to save himself. you thought to haul yourself higher on my coattails and rule the state from behind my throne. his eyes wide and blank."I remember well enough. I swayed. when you went in fear for your life—but I would as soon hold a leper in my arms as such a vile scullion! And you dare talk so—you dare—to me—to me—" Sweat was pouring down his face as he screamed the words." Domenico's voice was dangerously even. I meant to be patient. or enemies. and one of the men shouted and pointed at Piero—then." His voice festered suddenly. more cunning for mischief than breeding! For my hate's sake I have let you live so long—it was sweet to see you couch to me. and his lips drew back from his teeth like a snarling animal's. his face as gray as death. "Forbear to talk of it. I could see his violent trembling from where I stood. though—I would have waited until you wearied to take her to bed. "I have seen you sweat after my very mistress!" I felt sick with shame. were confronting one another like gladiators. disturbed by the bitter voices.'' "No more words. almost silver with rage. his shining head on Piero's shoulder like a sleeping child's. Piero was kneeling. my dear! Of whom are you jealous? Your black-haired drab or me?" There was a moment's charged siience. . "Of you? Do you imagine I think of you? A smooth-tongued slave with more impudence than brain. "Oh. For a moment I thought he was dying: Then. the three great boarhounds left their keepers' sides and leapt towards him. then Domenico's eyes flared like a berserk wildcat's. Kill him. Measure for measure with the love I gave you. and he seemed to recollect where he was." The duke's voice shook as he spoke. "Kill him. Piero caught him as he fell. I simply did not know what to do. and then the duke. gasped. supporting the duke's whole weight across his upraised knee. Piero's hand went out to him. His head lifted a little." There was a scuffle and a sudden clink of chains. clinging tightly to the bole of a nearby tree to keep myself upright. before anyone could move." "If you remember. then judge my jealousy. but his voice was still stifled. "It was my power you made your court to. and the two lovers.

trying to recover his balance. he raised his head sharply. as though I would never stop. I remembered that I had thought I hated him. beyond rational thought. and he turned slowly from one dog to another. and his hands caught mine and pulled me upright. The clearing looked like a butcher's yard. . half-collapsed and racked with weeping. . dropping backwards to the ground." Guido Vassari shook his head scornfully. who had cleared the dogs away and was clearing up the mess with an unmoved expression on his brutal face. Then. the arm useless as the hound sank its teeth into it. he had not moved since he gave the order. The dog on his right sprang. ruined thing that had once been a man. He stood looking down at the crimson grass with a lack of expression that was terrifying. Piero's second scream was short. I was shocked beyond reason. Among the courtiers I recognized only Santi. then his harsh grip slackened. and with a muttered "Come." he turned and swung himself lithely onto the black horse's back. I would have fled him. he has men eaten alive. Then Santi brushed by him to pick up what looked like a severed hand. a man cannot scream with his throat bitten out. Domenico was still crouched on the ground." he said with a shaken laugh. The man I love is a monster. as though a thought had struck him. Ippolito was not there. and then he did scream. so immeasurably greater than the crime it punished. . . I thought dazedly. and he stood up at last. that they could be coming for him. Then one of them launched itself from behind him on his left side. still visibly sickened. watching. Riccardo was sulkily paying his bet to Guido. but otherwise the struggle had not touched him. "Never! Look at the other two. but I was weeping. and some of the courtiers had gone to catch the horses. nonetheless. but I could not remember how." While Piero was trying to dislodge the brute clinging to his mangled arm. I felt Domenico stiffen as he met his secretary's eyes above my head. He stepped back. It was a gift to the third dog. There was a long smear of blood down his velvet sleeve where Piero's imploring fingers had caught at it momentarily. I do not think he believed. watching.He did not scream. Once. I wanted to look away. if my legs would have held me up. Then. Riccardo D'Esti whispered excitedly. the hand that held the dagger was wrenched high. in that first moment. The weight of the animal's body made him reel. Around us the huntsmen were struggling to calm the hysterical pack. I could only stand propped against the trunk of a tree. staring at the red. trying to estimate where the first attack would come from. His were icy cold. "That will teach him to betray me. But I stayed still. I watched him come towards me with a sort of dread. I wanted to shrink from a man who could wreak a revenge so terrible. "A silver piece that he lasts five minutes. and stumbled. when comprehension flooded his face. not daring to look at the trampled grass or the stains glistening on the bark of the fallen tree. Ippolito was with them when they returned. his hand dropped to his pitifully inadequate dagger. and he flung up an arm to fend it off. the other two dogs were circling. I remember thinking stupidly that those dogs could not have been fed for days.

but he kept his face wooden enough while he heard the tale. . Sandro's eyes were frankly skeptical.I did not hear what he said to Sandro when we rejoined the main hunting party—some farrago about blood from a wounded deer. and the dogs maddened by the smell on Piero's clothes— Piero who had smelled always of musk and civet. Soon the palace might be buzzing with gossip and surmise. The ride back to Diurno was long and silent. but now not a man dared murmur—the duke's hunt brought its quarry home in speechless unease.

and I rose from my knees feeling comforted. He was alone in the chapel when I found him." "He is haunted. The duke only uses confession as a means to shock me. his gentle manner saying far more than the stilted words he spoke." I flushed as I met the Jesuit's steady regard. too. blotting out the red horror of the forest clearing. Did you know that his constancy to you is the wonder of the court?" . and remember. it is not for you to judge the weight of your own offenses." "Not to you?" I shook my head. "I am only his mistress. you would not have come to me. watching my fingers as they twisted together." I must have made a betraying movement. I had not seen him in all the days since I realized that my sins were willingly committed. because he looked at me keenly and nodded. a man's death is less to him than the loss of a glove. if they did. and I think he had heard something of what had happened. "They are heavy enough by any man's reckoning. Slowly the familiar pattern of prayer caught my attention." Father Vincenzo did not answer directly. but he will not—I think perhaps he does not know himself what it is. Sometimes he talks in his sleep. do not wait until you stand in such need. But his pride will not let him admit that a thing can terrify him.Chapter Seven That afternoon I escaped to find Father Vincenzo." "But not so heavy as to crush your conscience. "I will not tell you more than that. daughter. "He is much changed of late. I thought you must have guessed something—it is more than the god of his appetite which drives him to such evil. Father. "You know of it. and so he never speaks of it." I spoke with difficulty. I have sought to make him tell of it in confession. "Another time. that is all. He pondered for a moment and then said. I tell him of damnation. for he greeted me without surprise. but I doubt he fears anything but the darkness in his own mind. but now my soul was so heavy with remorse that I could not bear it alone.

I said." "He did it to vex his great-uncle. He was wont to take a delight in tormenting his mistresses so—favoring one in the sight of another and on the same night betraying both. but his every third word was a lie. . not daring to move in case it increased the hurt. Your Grace." I turned to see Domenico in the doorway. "My soul is to him as the Augean stables were to Heracles. and as I did so." The men behind him sniggered." My tongue stumbled. daughter. baldly stated. "Piero della Quercia said something like it. was so painful that I sat as still as if I had received a wound. . almost angrily. Your Grace?" but he shook his head sharply." "That may be beyond my power. I think." "And I know he will keep me only until he is wedded.'' . "Were you seeking absolution for your crimes? For those you should ask pardon of me—I swear I can devise you softer penances than any priest. Ippolito and the quartet at his heels. his voice was low and gentle. "Remember." The Jesuit sighed. when you are backed with my good confessor here?" Domenico glanced sardonically at Father Vincenzo. but the sound of them." The young priest inclined his head. Ippolito! Are you seeking to set a fashion in piety." I had known the truth of that before I spoke the words. . "Here is devotion. a mocking voice sounded from the doorway. a half-reckless smile on his lips. "I will keep my own road. He continued smoothly. Heracles finished that labor." "The duke would not be so far kind as to spare you the knowledge of them." "What. sweet? You will have few enough followers at that." I interrupted bitterly. the smile still on his lips. And the honor he did you at his coronation has been noised throughout Italy. "Like enough. and the priest smiled rather sadly. remote look in the depths of his dark eyes. his fingers closing on mine. "I thank Your Grace for the comparison. Father Vincenzo glanced at me sharply."Piero . ." His voice was light. and eleven more to boot. He told me so. He was lounging lazily. it was only when I reached his side that I could see the new. "It was no more than a sign that he can do as he pleases now he is duke. . and when he spoke again. "And trust to your prayers to keep me from the devil's clutches. I will always bear half your burdens if you ask me. "Will you stay." I bowed my head in a sudden flood of gratitude and kissed his thin hand. and I obeyed the peremptory flick of his fingers perforce. For all I know there may be fifty others.

Our great-uncle remains behind to manage our affairs here." Domenico might not have heard. "There is no need." "Your Grace forgets." He drew a map from his pocket." The sudden twist of impatience in his voice warned me. We will stay at each of them for a night or two. leaving Diurno far behind. and I bowed my head in acquiescence. I should be of little comfort without my head." I sighed with relief." "Fidena! But I thought you meant to stay here until .Domenico straightened." He started in mock terror. lady!" Sandro's voice made me jump. he sought by flight. and Sandro swore downright and sulked thunderously. "A week of meandering through clefts and gorges to take in a night or two at moldering castles whose owners seek to evade my royal brother's tithes. "Do not look so glum. "Not I! The pace my lord secretary sets favors the sickliest jade on the heaviest-laden coach. "Do not say so before the duke. and I have the royal leave to post ahead. and I will make you the next archbishop. I meant to say. We start for Fidena tomorrow morning. But as I learned." Until Savoy's daughter came. and his remote gaze was fixed on my face. We were to travel back at a much slower pace than we had come. "Do so for me. Ippolito told me that evening. my lord." the priest retorted gently. and see some triumphs—and sleep soft—and that is what will make our journey slower. "You are a great comfort to me. You will enjoy yourselves!" "Do you not come with us?" I asked quickly. We will not ride at a walking pace. "We were talking of the journey back to Fidena. and laughed. there was much grumbling in the court when the move was announced. I and my men can make the same journey in four days. Look. you might have heard the news I have told the court— we are for our travels again. ." I looked around to find him regarding me quizzically. and there is no need for us to fool it here any further. what I tried to do by prayer. my lord. lady." "Ah. yes. "I must tell tales of you to my brother if you get his secretary into corners. lady." "What." "Did he believe you?" . his fingers were hard on mine. "See in the mountains there—and there as the road crosses back towards the marches— those are castles belonging to the duke's lieger lords. Lord Ippolito was showing me the route we are to take. . "that you are not yet pope. "If you had not stolen from me. and smiled when he saw my expression." Sandro's eyebrows lifted. I told my brother a wench claimed marriage of me and I wished to leave in haste—it was a likely tale enough. but he cut me short.

At first I had been eager for these respites. for he amused himself by baiting me as we rode. "Then bear up a little longer. so. and that he was only waiting until we reached Fidena to be rid of me. I thought wryly. it could not be a lover's impatience that pricked him so cruelly. and he did not bother to conceal the fact." Sandro admitted cheerfully. You will soon be in your bed. not to me. His careless. It could only be that I had. I only knew that I was glad to leave Diurno. "To be Duchess of Cabria is worth a little pain— and you will be here to care for her. "but he looked at me from under his eyelids. even urging Savoy's daughter as a cause for him to stay and wait. I stole a wistful glance at his fair profile. "Yes. It was as though he only suffered my presence for the sake of coming to my bed at night. "Ippolito. Then I saw Ippolito's understanding nod and felt glad that I was not the only one made uncomfortable by Domenico's dark gaze. and I saw his mouth take on the cruel curve I dreaded. where the mountain roads were not so steep."Not a word. When we reach the head of this gorge the road winds past the face of the bluff and brings us to the castle. Your Grace. Some instinct made him turn his head. I doubt not. but the duke had not listened. It might have been because I was inured to the discomforts of court travel. He showed no sign of caring for his bride's continued absence. forcing my response without a trace of tenderness and mocking me when I yielded. "Let her come after." And a woman's too." Now and then. but he had seen. go if you will. almost contemptuous possessiveness masked an indifference which had grown upon him since the night he brought me back to the palace. and Domenico's hand tightened on the leading rein. killed his indulgence towards me by running away from him." "Less than half an hour. and I would have traveled anywhere rather than stay behind. he let me ride instead of sitting in the jolting coach.' And I shall take him at his word. The archbishop had quarreled furiously with Domenico over his sudden departure. and said in that voice of his as if he were musing. and by day. with a mixture of brutality and contemptuous amusement that brought the blood stinging to my cheeks. and I dropped my gaze quickly. after all." He made a rude grimace. and Ippolito urged his sluggish mount forward with a hearty kick. for the beautiful city was one in my mind with images of death and fear. there was a hard remoteness in his eyes that looked close to hatred. but the journey back to the coast seemed far shorter than the way inland had done. though he kept me as fast by his side as ever." My horse fidgeted uneasily. At night he used me mercilessly. "It is always his way to seem to know what is in a man's mind." Blessedly he spoke to his secretary. 'You have your reasons." . Your Grace?" "How long is it before we reach Corveteri? I think the lady grows tired." he had said indifferently. now I dreaded them. sweet. as though it shared my discomfort.

Instead I drew myself up. then settling into its familiar outlines as we drew nearer. The jaded nobles sat straighter in their saddles." When we rode through the gate of the Castle of Corveteri." . We thought when we saw you coming that you were he. I wish I were! Naples is stirring against us. and heard Domenico say in a judicial voice. As we passed the outlying hamlets west of Fidena. and shadows of sleeplessness ringed his eyes. He made straight for Domenico. but now they pricked up their ears and threw themselves forward against the traces as if they could smell the stable. Brother. Even the horses seemed eager to reach the city—for days now they had plodded through the mountains as though they believed the journey to be unending. "God's death." For once there was no laughter in Sandra's eyes. leaving Niccolosa alone in the coach that inched creaking down from the foothills and started across the plain. I saw Giovanni Santi astride his rawboned mount. "That is the best seat you have had all day. Then Domenico reined in sharply. his rugged face was grim. the whole line seemed to sweep through the straggling trees in a sudden surge. Fidena is not safe. the whole cavalcade came to a ragged halt." he said curtly. I blinked at the sheer grace of the motion.I heard a stifled sound from Ippolito but dared not look around. "We drove his soldiers back not two months ago. "You had best turn about and make for Pinzi. I noticed how quiet the fields were. "Come. "I had the news when I came here three days ago. Normally the men stayed working until sunset. he was down from his horse's back almost before the groom had reached its head. * * * Eight days after it had set out from Diurno. I was riding again beside Domenico. then I realized that Sandro was their leader. but do not clutch at the reins like that. then found him standing beside my horse with a hard demand in his face. wrenching his horse to a steaming halt before him. I followed Domenico's narrowed gaze and saw a tight knot of horsemen spurring towards us. or else ride along the coast to Sorentino. the duke's cavalcade was skirting the woods bordering the plains around Fidena. at first like a smudge of mist on the lip of the gorge above the bay." Domenico said. I have tried to get the city ready for a siege-—his armies are expected any moment. stiff with offended dignity. He cannot have mustered another army so quickly. and at once a din arose of drivers shouting to their impatient horses and shrill voices demanding what the matter was. but the thought only flickered across my mind and was gone as I glimpsed the walls of the city. and I slid from the saddle into his arms without a thought for the watching servants or for the count and countess waiting with their gaggle of children on the castle steps." "Are you jesting?" Domenico's voice was harsh.

"He has levied fresh troops from Spain. There was no whisper in the afternoon air of the acclamation which had roared at his heels when he rode out to Diurno. Brother. Domenico was watching his brother as a leopard watches a wolf. Santi. Come. in the palace. and I drew back into the shadows as servants hurried in with lights and stood unnoticed while the candles . and his horse's hooves rang ominously as he clattered through the gates of the city. lady. The men brought back an envoy from the King of Naples with letters for you." Domenico was silent for the rest of the journey. he whispered. but the gist was plain enough." Sandro's face did not change. then. The whole city was waiting. Outland farmers were crammed in with their city relations within the walls. seeing myself forgotten. Sandro." For a moment there was a pulse of silence that seemed to still the surrounding tumult. I followed the men up the worn." he said scornfully. and he flicked his gloved fingers for Sandro to turn his mount and fall in beside him. and at a signal the whole cavalcade moved off again. "They had not even thought to unload the ships. in case he should spy for his master. but as Ippolito helped me dismount. Even in full daylight there was not enough light to see by. I have not read them. "So the rumor runs. Ippolito. Then he said coldly." he replied blandly. you shall tell us what you know as we ride. like a conspirator. I will keep the city." "Where are the letters?" "Awaiting your gracious attention. so I thanked him kindly and turned him back at the gates. "They would have left four cargoes of grain rotting in the bay." Santi put in. I saw to that and sent out to discover who the invader was this time. I hesitated. the streets were as silent as though they were under a curfew. "You had best come with us. curving staircase to a bare stone chamber at the top of the tower. I heard only scraps of Sandro's tale as we cantered towards Fidena. The duke may want you. "Spain! So the cur seeks more help from his master! It must be so." Domenico was frowning. or he could not come against us so soon. but I could have sworn he was disconcerted. "We will not trouble your stewardship. and a few others. He dismounted at the southern door of the palace. but it was a kindly thought. and the size of his force. He had made good speed from Diurno." I knew he would not. and Sandro cast him a murderous glance. "but you may wish you had followed my advice. arriving three days ago to find the city convulsed in terror. "You had best get yourself and your cohorts to some place of safety. "As you will. the port was shut down and the quays manned in case the invasion should come from the sea." The little sneering curl of Domenico's lips was answer enough. where thin bars of light streamed gold through the slitted windows. Sandro obeyed." The Bastard did not move. and the rest with him—the quartet.

he conveyed. crushing the letter. Until we have stronger news than rumors. absurdly. "Have you sent to the garrison at Castle Fucino?" The duke's sudden question made me start.." "They will come too late to fall on the Spaniards' backs if we do not send soon. The Duke nodded briefly. Santi stepped forward and handed them over unceremoniously. and none of Domenico's angry demands could alter the course of events. He had had. There was no sound in the room but the rustle of pages. the pain of my hopeless love engulfed me afresh. Without warning. and I stood in the shadows trembling from head to foot. they are better where they are—we shall have fewer mouths to feed. Even in small things the fear of a siege was apparent. but if the duke insisted . His voice was as gentle as a summer breeze. and I turned to see Sandro shaking his head. the noise had reminded me." Domenico's voice was shaking. of the Eagle. the light from below painted strange demonic shadows on the beautiful face and touched the silver-fair hair with a halo of warmer gold. who stood watching him expressionlessly while the other men simply waited. and spread the parchment over the maps on the table. "What does he say." Domenico paused again and then said sharply. "They are not needed yet." There was a hiss of indrawn breath in the room as the courtiers looked at one another. In the silences I could hear the rumble and clatter of carriages and horses passing through the gate below us. He is not only a villain but a knave—a lying knave—and now he tries his knaveries on me!" His open hands smashed down on the table as his head lifted. and his eyes were blazing. I stepped back into the window embrasure to look out. turned. "He demands all Cabria in the name of my mother duchess to buy the favor of his Spanish overlords. their eyes gleaming strangely in the candlelight. Ippolito. For his part he would rather have been left alone to have the ordering of the siege. . Domenico was pacing the room like a caged leopard. there were fewer candles now than there would have been a little while ago. "But she has no claim!" .were lit. and his fingers clenched slowly." The retort stung like a whiplash. Ippolito looked blank. still looking at the letter. bending above the candle flame to read. Your Grace? Is it some dispute of territories?'' "He will have it all." "I did not say the half. "Where are they?" At a sign from Sandro. "Or do you propose they should avenge the fall of Fidena?" Sandro shrugged. turning occasionally to fire a question at Sandro. Your Grace—and so he is. At last Domenico spoke. "The letters from Naples. "Did I not say that Naples was a villain?" "Most sure you did. three days to consider the very questions that were being fired at him.

and his fingers gripped the edge of the table until the knuckles shone white. . "Your Grace. . . Domenico swayed. Sandro suddenly yawned cavernously and grinned around at the assembled lords. long ago. "Impudent beggar! You would support these traitors. The King of Naples is not Your Grace's subject and ." and he turned back to the map-strewn table as though nothing had happened. Your Grace. For hours the discussion raged back and forth. I watched with a sick dread as Ippolito struggled to calm him. the most timid of the quartet. suddenly. I could guess how long we had been there only by the runnels of wax which clogged the bases of the candles. he will wrest it from me by force. ." Domenico checked. Only Sandro gazed without a change in his expression. his face dangerously flushed." "Pretext!" Domenico's eyes flared. . sirrah?" Andrea Regnovi. do not let him be dead. I had felt tired and longed for the time when we should have reached Fidena. and sugar this gall with your tongue. ." and I saw the same fear stamped on Ippolito's suddenly aged face before Domenico stirred. The coaches had long ago ceased to rumble through the gateway below us. . . "Do you give such a name to treason. "Please. his fair face flushed and twisted with hate. he meant no harm! Every fool who does not choose his words well is not a traitor." Ippolito was beyond caring what he said. Now the idea seemed ridiculous— there was no time to be tired. "He must know the story to be false. and the palace was sunk in uneasy quiet. God. gazing down at his secretary with eyes that looked sightless. and Domenico stared down at him. The moments dragged. and his voice rose to a shout. In God's name. routes of supply. treaties. . What is that but more treachery?" Ippolito interposed quickly. . . "Your Grace. He straightened. . his breath coming short and fast. "This folly moved me." "Your royal father's will is common knowledge. quailed. . I only meant . so different from his usual icy anger. He was shaking with rage."She has invented one. does he expect me to give in tamely?" There was an instant babble of protest. touching on allies. Then. His curses were choked on his tongue. my lord . . something had touched off one of those strange fits of animal fury. I found myself praying ceaselessly. He bids me resign my dukedom to that old whore and says that if I will not. and real alarm sharpened the quartet's painted faces as they watched him." "This is only a pretext to cover his invasion. then. She has shown Naples proof that my father willed her the throne as regent for her lifetime. rightly disco-vered it is not treason. and he was most uncontrollable now when he needed to be most calm. "Your Grace ." A vicious blow silenced him. then a child's shaken voice said. The duchess has no such proof. I remembered that once. . Then he half turned and simply dropped. slumping unconscious against Ippolito's shoulder.

but still Domenico did not look up. ." "Yes. Only Domenico took no notice. "Felicia—have you been here all this while?" I nodded. and I had been gripping the stone sill so tightly that I had to peel my hand away. his eyes hard and unfathomable. and his voice was bored and cold. "I shall crush her somehow." "Revels!" He nodded. . "You did not bid me go. . rigid lines about his mouth that had been there ever since his outburst against Andrea." His recklessness appalled me. Domenico looked up sharply. I knew I had gone too far. "They cannot hope to elude Your Grace's vigilance!" "And now that we are secure." As I spoke. and we should do well enough when the Spaniards come. "Should we care for the pleasure of a few rawboned vassals?" . and I shall take it most unkindly if the Spanish come to wake me before morning. "so that they cannot surprise us. is it wise to seek pleasure at such a time? Your brother says that the people are already living leanly in expectation of a long siege." "Now I do." His Fingers drummed feverishly on the table. did you hear? She claims my dukedom of me. a fever of the mind. "Your Grace. "That damned whore Gratiana is making mischief. It was the same fit that had caught him the day Piero died—the ungovernable rage and the sudden collapse. and if you were too prodigal."Well. Perhaps that was what Sandro meant when he said that his brother was mad. they might resent it." The strained faces relaxed. his face now as still and unrevealing as a mask. It was like a sickness. the queer withdrawn quietness afterwards." He rose from the edge of the table and came towards me. slung along the edge of the table. and then the terror faded from his face and his eyelids drooped." Riccardo D'Esti bowed and smirked. "There have been feasts and shows prepared against our homecoming—it were a shame to lose them. I am for my bed. I heard. his eyes narrowed. There should be lookouts stationed to give us warning. Slowly I moved forward out of the shadow. there are revels toward. He still sat. a taint which had been bred into him. I have watched these past two nights. Our troops are disposed. I was chilled to the bone. For an unrecognizing moment he stared at me as though I were a ghost. invasion or no invasion. Ippolito was chivying the rest towards the door. studying one of the maps spread out before him with his bright head bent and harsh. and even the quartet yawned and shuffled their feet like natural men." he added over my shoulder to Sandro.

I have heard that on every side ever since I came here. I was fighting my awareness of him as he came towards me. quieting into a silence of exhaustion. and I stifled a cry. and soon would come the bitter aftermath. "By your leave. I could not see his expression. we will hold the feast tonight as we planned. and I was silent. the woman a few feet away who fell sprawling on the silver table. When all the rest had begun mauling each other in a lust born of dread. but against my will my hands clenched. too?" The threat in Domenico's voice made me shiver. for the air was thick and stale. The mask of the Seven Deadly Sins played before our faces. Where is the harm in that?" "But the means for one such feast would provide four days' plain victual. as softly as a nightwalking cat. Here and there were gleams of light from the last embers of the torches. masked faces pressing close. I sat staring into space. I had tensed. stertorous breathing. Baldassare Lucello. Guido Vassari holding fast to one of the young pages and calling for his fellows' help when the boy tried to break free. laughing at the sweating efforts of the man who lay upon her. all we will do is set them forward. The darkness seemed to breathe. and everything is provided. and then he turned to the waiting nobles. watching as though for his private amusement. and the moment they were out of the duke's presence. the rustle of garments and the kiss of flesh. madam. thrust me forward unceremoniously with a murmur. seeing in the darkness pictures of the gluttony and debauchery to which fear of tomorrow had spurred the Cabrian nobles. It must have been near morning. a blacker shape than the blackness. pressing down on me like a hot. this course is wiser than waiting in apprehension. the sighs and screams of the court as the torches were doused one by one. a smooth fingertip ." I followed them without speaking. "My lords. the court's lust had spent itself in one hectic surge. Near me something moved. we may not linger.Guido Vassari stepped forward. to the head of the stairs. "Will you be a general." and I thought suddenly. "Madam. only the strange gleam of his dark eyes. but all he had done was to grip my wrist to stop me being drawn into the melee with the rest. expecting and yet dreading his touch. I felt dizzy as I felt the warmth of his hands on my naked shoulders. thick blanket. sung and chanted. For a moment longer the dangerous silence lasted. the flowing wine. But now the shouting and the raucous laughter had died away and were replaced by gasps and moans and deep sighs of pleasure. But now he had risen and was standing above me. the duke!" The thought flickered and was lost. and it seemed like hours since we had come down to supper. he alone had sat still. toweringly tall. I remembered arms and bodies twining together. and the blackness was peopled by innumerable small sounds. and I quickened my pace." I protested. behind me. We will not let our pleasure wait on the King of Naples's whim. These celebrations were ordered long before we had the news of this invasion. with the servants of each Sin's train engulfing the whole hall in a miasma of vivid color: the spilling dishes. The duke must not be kept waiting. sighs of lassitude. a din of chatter and hurrying broke out. then Domenico moved into the light. The whole court is in a perpetual hurry—and for what? "Madam.

caressed my throat lightly, and as a shiver of excitement ran through me, I heard, faint and far off, the clanging of a bell. Domenico had not heard it, but he sensed my stiffening and raised his head to listen; then he too heard it, and his grip was suddenly cruelly tight. The sound came from beyond the antechamber, beyond the palace walls, borne faint and clear through the echoing corridors. Domenico released me and turned to the doorway into the antechamber, swinging the door wide so that the gray dawn flooded in. In that moment I realized what that clamoring bell must mean and forced myself to my feet. I was stiff, and I staggered as I moved and clutched his arm, but he did not heed me—he was looking around him at the wreckage of last night's revels. Bodies lay on the floor, obscenely sprawled or still clasped, deaf to the bell's warning, too foundered in wine or lechery to rise. Littered across the hall were trampled garments, overturned furniture and puddles of spilled wine. The stench was choking, the reek of guttered torches, the sourness of wine, greasy food, and stale vomit. Domenico swore softly and savagely, then threw up a hand to shield his eyes as a man-at-arms came clattering into the hall carrying a torch alight with gouts of orange flame. The shadows swung and reeled, and I shielded my own burning eyes, trying to see clearly. "Your Grace." It was the captain of the royal guard. "The Spanish army!" "What of it?" "It . . . it . . . they are coming, Your Grace. Marching under the banners of Naples. They are approaching through the forest to the southwest—they must have marched by night so that our sentinels could not see them crossing the western foothills." "God's death!" Domenico's voice held the crack of a whip. "They carried lights with them, did they not? Are all our soldiers blind?" "Your Grace, some of them were drunk—they said that a nobleman sent out barrels of wine so that they might join in the carouse last night. No man could have expected the Spanish so soon. . . ." His words died away, for the duke was no longer listening. "Send all our forces to the southern wall to scatter these invaders. They shall learn what it is to brave Cabria thus." "But Your Grace, that would leave the rest of the walls unmanned. If there were a second force . . ." "There is none!" Domenico lowered his hand from his eyes, and it was clenched hard. "You said the Spaniards were coming from the southwest; get you gone, then, if you are not a coward, and drive them back as you are bid!" The man went white, but he only said in a strained voice, "Yes, Your Grace," and turned on his heel.

By now other bells were ringing, nearer and louder, and I heard the great boom of the bell of San Domenico pealing out over the city. The courtiers were stirring and groaning, opening thickened eyes and moving stiff and surfeited bodies; I thought momentarily of the bloated shifting of queen ants when an anthill is broken open. Then I started forward instinctively as the duke called, "Ippolito!" and scanned the hall for his secretary. He glanced down at me as I moved, and his eyes narrowed. "Go to your chamber; call your women and keep them about you. I shall send for you when it is safe." "But, Your Grace . . ." "There is no time to dispute." There was an ugly curve to his soft mouth. "Obey me, or I shall have you arraigned for treason. Go!" He turned away, leaving me thunderstruck. I could barely comprehend what was happening; I could only think stupidly that he had ordered me away. Ippolito had answered the summons, and they were conferring together—the words came to me dimly as I stood half-dazed. "We will stand on the battlements above the palace gate and see all that passes on the south wall from there. There is no time to reach the city wall itself—" "Your Grace must arm. You are too fair a target clad as you are." "Good Ippolito! I had forgotten it. Hurry, then!" He glanced back as he reached the door, his eyes narrowed and angry. "Felicia, go!" There was nothing I could do but obey, and with what dignity I could muster I walked through the men and women beginning to gather themselves together, and out of the great hall, feeling sick with dread. I thought, if he goes to the battlements now and is killed, I shall never see him again. The clatter of running feet sounded as a soldier came racing towards me. One noble less drunken than the rest rose staggering to his feet and caught the man's arm as he passed. "What's toward? What now?" The soldier shied away, trying to free himself. "I have to tell the duke. . . . There is another troop of men on the opposite bank of the river gorge. Two hundred and fifty bowmen are there already, aiming at the northern battlements, and the duke has ordered every man to the south walls!" The nobleman released him and swayed back against the wall. "God curse him," he said thickly. "This heat of his will kill us all." The soldier looked at him with scared eyes and ran on. As I climbed the stairs, I had to fight my way through a current of frightened courtiers, all seeking news, which threatened to force me back the way I had come. But somehow I kept my feet and managed to reach the head of the stairs in safety. It was at the end of the gallery leading to my chamber that I noticed the boy. About fourteen, slender and small for his age, he was craning curiously after the fleeing crowd with excitement

sparkling in his eyes, level with my own as I passed by him. It was then that the stupid, desperate idea came to me. In clothes like his, I could follow the duke unnoticed; he would not pay any heed to a page. If I could reach the battlements undetected, once there I could keep out of sight: Nothing would matter so long as I was near Domenico. He need never know I was there. "Boy." He looked around in surprise; then his eyes widened as he recognized me. "Madam?" "Have you another suit of livery?" His jaw dropped, and he stared dumbly. I could have shaken him. "Have you? Answer yes or no!" "Yes, madam." He swallowed hard. "Yes, I . . . I have." "I will buy it from you. If you bring it at once to my chamber, you shall have my purse." He eyed it as it hung at my girdle, and a strange expression crossed his face. "To . . . your chamber, madam?" I wondered if he were simple. "Yes, you know which it is—the tapestried chamber near the duke's." "Yes, madam." His gaze lifted from my purse to my face. "I will not let His Grace's men know what I am about." He was gone before I could wonder at his words; he could not know why I wanted the clothes. But there was no time to stand and puzzle. I hurried to my chamber and began to undress, throwing my gown to the floor in my haste and wrapping a silk robe around me as a tap came at the door. I opened it thankfully, and the page stood there, a smirk on his face, his color rising as he saw my undress. "I have brought the livery, madam." He tried to sound unconcerned, but his voice cracked and betrayed him. "Good—put it there on the chair, and I will pay you." I turned to pick up my discarded dress to search its folds for my purse, so intent on the search that I hardly heard what the boy was saying. "I have done nothing yet, madam." "You have done as I asked and brought the livery quickly. Did you think I would cheat you? Here." Roughly I disentangled the purse and held it out to him. He stared at it as though he expected it to vanish before his eyes. "But I thought . . . I thought . . ."

His bewilderment checked me even in the midst of my haste. "What did you think?" His eyelids flickered and fell. "Only that . . . only that many ladies offer great fees for small errands and then ask a different thing. I thought you were at the same game while you are safe from the duke." I stared at him in unbelief, then shook my head slowly. "No. I wanted what I asked for, and no more. How old are you?" "Nigh on fourteen." His eyelids lifted again. "But you need not fear that I am unskillful. The lady Caterina says . . ." "No, I am sure you are not." I smiled rather bitterly. "But I have no time for such things. Here is the payment for your livery. Is there a cap like the one you wear? I must have a cap." "No, madam . . ." "Then give me yours into the bargain, instead of the other thing." I took the velvet cap from his unresisting fingers and handed him the purse. "There, now we are quit." He backed away, still gazing at me, then scrabbled behind him for the latch of the door. As it opened, he half staggered, then almost fled down the echoing gallery. I made haste, trying to blot out the little unpleasant memory. I did not know how long I had before the Spanish forces reached the city; I had to reach Domenico before they attacked, or I might never find him in the press of battle. Whatever the boy had thought of my request, he had fulfilled it handsomely— he had brought hose and knee breeches, a linen shirt and a stiff black doublet badged with the silver hawk of Cabria. When I had put it on, I looked in the glass and blessed the tyranny of fashion, for in a peasecod-belly doublet it would take sharp eyes to see what was there and what was not. There were no shoes; the boy must only have possessed one pair, so I found the black boots I wore for riding and put them on. My hair I twisted into a thick rope and stuffed under the velvet cap. There was no time to wonder at the unaccustomed freedom of breeches—-splashing my face with cold water from the ewer erased all traces of the duke's pale mistress, and it was a fresh-cheeked page I saw in the mirror. Then I was running as fast as I could along the gallery and out into the clamorous morning, leaving the chamber door swinging behind me. There were stairs cut into the face of the tower that the archers used to reach the battlements. As I climbed among them, I was straining my eyes to see what was happening outside the city walls, but then giddiness and my old fear of falling seized me so that I had to shut my eyes and grip the stone wall until the sickness passed. The bowmen cursed and prodded me in the back, and one man muttered about the milksop lads they were breeding nowadays. When I opened my eyes, I did not look down again but kept my gaze upwards, watching the toiling men ahead silhouetted against the blue shield of sky as it brightened into the late summer's full furnace. It was going to be a hot day. A lieutenant in charge of the archers asked my business, and when I told him I had come to seek my master, he waved me away without a second glance. Men see what they expect to see, and no

one at a time like this would take note of an insignificant page—all I had to do now was to find the duke. Along the battlements arrows were being fitted to bowstrings in a single motion that rippled along the line of men like the sweep of an eagle's wing. They would stand like that, waiting for the signal to draw their bows, for hour after hour if they had to, with little hope of a single shaft landing on the distant enemy. Tradition demanded that the duke's bowmen, his Fifty, must attend him in battle, but I had heard bitter grumbling that they were not with their fellows on the outer walls, where their bows might do some good. Keeping my head down, I moved away from the head of the steps and along the narrow rampart. From here I could see the turmoil down below in the streets, already shrouded by the haze of heat and dust over the city. From the palace to the great bastioned wall the streets were thronged with people, scurrying like brightly colored dolls. They were surging and shouting with panic, but from so high above the frantic crowd movements looked aimless and the hubbub became a wordless roar. Then horsemen came spurring, out of the palace gate. I saw them riding among the frightened people, laying about them with staves and spear butts to clear the streets, driving the citizens back into houses and shops. I should have been down there now, I thought suddenly, not peering down from the palace gateway as though I were in some way greater than they. I tore my eyes from the milling crowd and looked out over the city walls—and saw, massed like a field of wind-stirred grain, men and horses spread over every inch of the plain to the very lee of the walls. And opposing them, strung out in chains and clusters along the outer battlements, the blackclad troops of Fidena. Even then I did not feel fear—the danger was too great, too unthinkable, like the nightmare which had first gripped me when I knew I was the duke's prisoner. I turned my back on the Spanish army and went in search of Domenico. It was many minutes before I found him. He had left the gateway and gone along the ramparts to the western corner, where the walls of the city and palace joined and the mass of gray stone dropping sheer to the foot of the gorge above the bay bordered both at once. To the south the wall bellied out to encircle the city streets, and the close-pressing army could be seen quite plainly. To the north and northwest the river cut through the frowning gorge, and on the opposite bank more men were massing; their ranks followed the river line to the incongruous bright waters of the bay and clustered thickly before the towers that guarded the bridge. Domenico stood with Ippolito beside one of the huge cannons which gaped across the gorge, unattended now, for every soldier had gone to line the southern fortifications. The quartet waited nearby, and his commanders were impatiently awaiting their orders, but he stood as though he were alone, watching the enemy beyond the walls. My heart almost stopped with love, and it was only by a supreme effort that I did not run forward. What use was a disguise if I betrayed myself the moment I saw him and was ordered away again? I bowed my head and slipped through the group of men to where a couple of other pages hovered aimlessly, Domenico's little eunuch and Ippolito's young nephew. No one even glanced around; they were watching the duke.

and the duke could still reign in safety and keep whole skins for himself and us. and fanned the anger in his brain to a reckless white heat. On the plain the Spanish army waited in silence. The quartet were whispering among themselves. The whole scene might have been the picture of a battle in some monkish chronicle. stretching the seconds as the day grew hotter. I could soe the glitter in his eyes that betrayed the beautiful mask. The Spaniards at the south wall were changing their position. The courtiers began to sweat. . and if he were to hear . "What you counsel is treason. his hatchet face pinched and gray under last night's paint. then Santi swore softly. and the flame in his black eyes froze the excuse on his lips. The silence was almost unbearable as the noise died away. surging back and turning. But never let me see your face again. It held him. infantile fury that any man's army should invade his dukedom. and then Guido turned and went without a word." There was a long. disturbed the sudden quiet." "Quiet!" Unaccustomed firmness rang in Baldassare's whisper. the stillness broken only by the occasional stir of a restless horse. their spears bowed like bending rushes in a fan-shaped spread around one particular spot. no siege towers or battering rams. I began to wish insanely that the Spaniards would attack— anything to break this awful silence— and knew that this was their way of playing on our nerves. strained pause. .From where I now stood. Baldassare was trying to silence Guido. . . and Domenico's black-gloved hand clenched hard. "I knew you were a coward. I felt horribly conscious of my absurd disguise and of how angry Domenico would be when he learned that I had disobeyed him. trembling. I strained my eyes.I tell you we must flee the city—we could escape even now or else make terms with their general! The Spanish king would ask only an oath of allegiance. . . not a breath." Guido froze. and his eyes were still on the distant walls. there was a stir. in a travesty of stillness. . I heard him break into a run. "They have opened the gates!" . and their arrival would be the signal for the attack. His footsteps were loud in the silence. In the streets the citizens had been driven indoors. but no one moved. and my skin began to prickle as minute followed crawling minute. a hot. perhaps they were being made ready somewhere in that sea of enemy soldiers. and as his feet touched the stairs leading down from the tower. Not a word. ". I found myself thrust to the back and could not see. but Domenico's head turned sharply. but I did not think you fool enough to be careless of your tongue. It was pure childish pique. and Fidena lay in uneasy quiet." Domenico did not turn his head." "He does hear. He started to stammer something. My teeth were chattering despite the hot sun. whose poise was crumbling into panic. and Ippolito exclaimed in an incredulous voice. Vassari. At once everyone swept forward to see what was happening. "Take the coward's part if you will. and I knew that now the most arrant coward among them would hesitate to voice the idea of truce or flight. Suddenly. The others were exchanging furtive glances. There were no war machines.

turned to his fellow with a face peaked with fright. the Spanish bowmen were loosing their shafts from where they stood. By now the sunshine was blotted out by a pall of smoke and dust. the rough stone hurting my knees. "Look. "They cannot burn stone. and the Cabrian soldiers were fighting with the bitterness of despair. "Your Grace. As foot soldiers and spearmen pressed in through the gates. "They are saying we ought to flee the city. spitting his outrage and fury at creatures who had never dared to withstand him before. and their excited chatter was silenced. but his cursing then made the men around him blanch. The black banners were giving way before the golden leopards of Naples. They ringed him in like hunters. drowning his voice with the power born of desperation. Your Grace . below. I tried to catch the drift of the argument. I had heard foul language enough in the taverns. this is not cowardice but wisdom!" "To stay here would be folly! The city is burning!" Domenico's voice caught in his throat in a little choking snarl." "Will you be broiled alive on your own leads? For God's sake. for the footsoldiers had pressed so far into the city that they had forced their foes out of bowshot. trying to pick off the soldiers from the walls. they are firing the houses. "There is a traitor in the city!" "We cannot hope to stop them now!" "Who has done this?" I felt sick. . The commanders were raging. One of the pages cried. . but the Spaniards outnumbered them five to one." Cautiously edging closer. Some citizens had come out from their houses to make a stand. The arrows had almost ceased to fly. That would be the old quarter. All the men were shouting at once." and as he spoke. and curses began to pour out of him in a dizzying stream of filth. I saw gouts of flame beginning to stream from the wooden tenements against the outer wall. Domenico stood in their midst like a trapped leopard. I do not think they could have calmed him if the sky had not suddenly darkened and clouds of arrows come slicing overhead from beyond the southern walls." . It was not easy. The other two boys were still young enough to see it as a game of soldiers at first—it was only as the fighting came closer that they saw what devastation followed the battle. The terrible hissing clouds made everyone gasp and turn again to look down into the city streets. peering down at the fighting. Renewed argument was breaking out among the lords. sharper-eared than I. the air was thick with gunpowder and the meaty reek of blood. Ippolito's boy. and ashes were flying by on the wind. and the fight was clearly hopeless. I do not know how long I crouched on the parapet. and around him everyone was shouting. where I lived with my mother and foster father before Antonio was married.Domenico stood as though turned to stone. and always the fighting crept nearer the palace walls. Then his color changed. enemy troops were pouring into the city I had been born in. I thought numbly. But I only had eyes for Domenico's dreadful stillness. a violent trembling took him.

"God's nails. and suddenly Santi. who had been watching the fighting through the smoke. I thought for a moment that it was drowned in the hiss and clatter that rained down around us. A second flight of arrows rattled over the battlement. Quick. to Diumo. He must go. All we need are some ropes to let us down the walls—they will have men set to pick off whoever sticks his nose out of either of the north gates. he teetered slowly to his knees and fell with an arrow deep in his back. only shook his head curtly. his fixed smile a dreadful thing to see. That should give them a wide enough berth. were queerly compelling. for the state's sake and his own—take a few men and ride for his life to the mountains. . if you escape. so we should have a clear run along the coast as far as Pinzi. with a look of surprise on his face." "Seek help? I?" The black eyes flared frighteningly silver. There he could consult with the archbishop and mold an alliance to strike back against Spain. they said. and past choosing his words. the sudden seriousness of the man's brutish face." At once the others turned on the duke with redoubled energy. then turn west and make for the mountains. his expression anxious. He did not answer the suggestion. "He is not quite a fool. "Only a commoner would expect Your Grace to hang from ropes to serve as a target for those devils who are shooting at us." Ippolito touched Santi's arm. They're shooting now. "Your Grace. "Your Grace. "My lord Duke." Riccardo D'Esti hurried to soften this speech. . we will lose everything! Our lives. "it's the dogs on the other side of the gorge. or you are trapped here. "Your Grace's bride's great father?" I saw the murderous glance Domenico gave him and was as startled as he. "I know where some traders keep horses stabled in caves in the gorge— they use 'em for transporting grain from the ships to the mills—I could go down and fetch them. Then. The damned Spanish are nearly all inside the city now. and do it quickly while you can still get clear. But perhaps the Duke of Savoy would not give his daughter in a landless match. and lead them to that clump of trees at the foot of the walls there." The direct rough speech." This succeeded as nothing else had in silencing the whole assembly. They're at the gates down below. you'll have to get down the side of this tower. his heavy body expectant." Santi growled."You can reach the mountains and seek help from there. But if you are taken. thrust his way through the ring of men. our . and Domenico hated even so unintentional a reminder. What about the archers?" "We'll have to risk them. too. "Why not with Savoy?" one of them demanded. Riccardo's body lay forgotten on the flags as the nobles stared in astonishment at Santi." The captain of the guard was angry. "Then live in exile if you prefer it." His voice stopped suddenly. Giovanni. He took no notice of them. he was staring at Domenico straight in the eyes. this man is mad!" One of the nobles sounded shrill with outrage. "Only get out before they raze your palace about your ears. Your Grace!" . we lose only the city.

"It is not to be pillaged. and you can climb in the shelter of this tower. all they could find. shouting orders to the servants within to fetch ropes. "Then I am to surrender it without a fight. I shall stay here. to my horrified glance. startled me from my dream. The look flickered and was gone like summer lightning. forgetting where I was and what I pretended to be. But then I forgot about him. I had to back away from the edge. I realized with a stab of something like jealousy that Sandro had been right. Your Grace?" "I care not how. After one look at Santi." Santi looked and nodded. I heard him mutter to his ensign." The captain drew a sharp breath and after a visible struggle bowed his head and stepped back. and I hurried after the others as they left the tower to join Santi down below in its sheltering shadow. "Get the ropes" was all he said." "Yes. and join them securely on pain of their lives." The duke's voice sounded strange. he had less than half the apparent height to descend. belike. "Are there enough horses for us all?" "Some dozen or fourteen. "Surrender under a pledge of safety. The men needed no second bidding. someone in authority should oversee this rout and try to make terms that will save the palace. Enough and to spare." The captain of the guard spoke gruffly. but steadier now. still harsh. . for the servants were dragging great coils of rope on to the lower rampart. "We shall follow you. I had not seen him since the previous day—I had not even noticed him at the banquet. although I could not look long enough to see it. In fact. swinging perilously as he lowered himself down fathom after fathom of rope. "Right." He had forgotten who it was he spoke to. you will be stuck like a prize hog. Hang the rope from the lower rampart there—it will save so many lengths. "Saving your pleasure." "Your Grace.Domenico held his gaze a moment longer and then turned away. and for an instant Domenico's bleak face was alight with self-mockery for missing his title at such a time. Domenico went swiftly to the north side of the tower and stared down for a moment with an unfathomable expression on his face. It took a steadier sight than mine to discern the stone flagway fringing the gorge. and it looked as though the big man would have to go on and on until he touched the water. "If you go down the full face of this tower. On the word some of them were racing towards the stairs. Only preserve it until I can deliver the city again. but I stood like a stock." and then the two of them withdrew to make their own plans. Domenico loved the Palazzo della Raffaelie as much as he loved anything. I wondered what had become of Sandro. the side of the palace dropped sheer into the river. Most of the arrows will glance off it." I caught the despairing look that the captain shot at his fellows." His voice. Then he called to Santi.

moving past the clustered courtiers as though they did not exist. the rope was still. "I say I will not!" They fell back before the blaze of his wrath. I am persuaded. Then suddenly Ippolito stepped close to him like a swordsman stepping inside his opponent's guard and said something in a low voice. "Send these first. Then suddenly his voice cut through the hubbub in a vicious scream. I saw Domenico go still." "I do not seek to do that. Then. . "Do not command me. But do it. as you hope to live. like centuries. their reasoning and sophistry useless in the face of his blind absoluteness. "Your conveyance awaits. The men crouched beside the parapet. and there had been no jerk. his glance barely flicked us. before Ippolito straightened up and beckoned to Andrea Regnovi. I felt as though I were watching Lucifer's fall from heaven." Ippolito beamed and slapped the looped rope with a proprietary hand. Your Grace. Will you follow him?" Domenico shook his head. "I have other business first. The vision of his supple body lying broken at the foot of the gorge was so clear that I seemed to see it with my waking sight. no cry." His gesture indicated the whole group. suspicious but intent. pleading and persuading. but I caught the movement of his lips. . for the flights of arrows were no more frequent than they had been before. and gradually the silver malignancy in his eyes was replaced by an arrested expression. not to pierce the man clambering between earth and sky. "You stand in greater peril than any of us—for God's sake. I could see his bright head above the tallest of those surrounding him. sweating as they watched the loop of rope rubbing against the stone with the shifting of Santi's weight. but for your own safety . sirrah! I do not keep a secretary to order my actions. Ippolito looked eagerly up at the duke. then. he was over the parapet in one almost liquid motion and scorching down the rope. sir. "Come on. Ippolito nodded. and a little of the tautness went out of Domenico." "There is no time. and the shafts were aimed to skim the battlements. he was looking from face to face." . almost before I saw him move. his lips curling back in that almost animal snarl. "He is down. A jubilant mutter went up. ." Domenico turned. His Grace is down—now I must go and do his errand. and the nobles crowded about Domenico. Watching his bright head gleaming farther and farther away. come now!" The fair face hardened. Inwardly I was waiting for the shout that would tell me that those around me saw it in reality. He stared down at Ippolito. light flooding his eyes so that it hurt to look at them." His pleading glance drew the help it begged. Your Grace. It seemed like hours. Your Grace.The bowmen cannot have seen him. I wanted to cry out. "Good Ippolito . "Do you swear?" It was almost too soft to hear. ." A flash of exasperation crossed Ippolito's kindly face. and looked down at the rope with a frown. Your Grace. but mercifully my fear for him kept me dumb while my thoughts rushed on in a tumult of wordless prayers.

and I stood rooted to the spot. commanding me. To climb that rope would be to trust my life to a few strands of twisted hemp. He fell so suddenly and so close that I could not see his face. I might have been there yet if someone had not come. For my life. Someone shook me by the shoulder. his voice sounded quite unlike his own. fear weighted my limbs like gyves. but every time I made a move towards the edge. gray amid the smoke. boy. I knew that I must do as the others did and go down the rope. I dared not move. "What are you doing here.The relief was so great that I swayed and stumbled against the parapet. and then the whole world seemed to slip away from me. "We must do something to salve your terrors. Somehow I was standing gripping the ledge with both hands. Flags and sky were mingling. The arrows were beginning to fly around us in earnest as the Spanish archers noticed the activity and made the lower rampart their special target. but he had gone. I dare not think—these Spanish arrows are swansdown feathers to the weight of his displeasure. his feet clattering down the stone stairs—the business Domenico had for him must have been urgent. I would have obeyed him without thought. But come. and with a jar I was back in the real world. he lifted me to mine: then I felt the grip of his hands tighten in astonishment. and he shook me so urgently that my head was jolted back as he stared at me in disbelief. I had just enough sense left to keep my head down. Boys and men were clustering around the rope as one by one they lowered themselves into that gray infinity. "Lady!" He sounded utterly amazed. and Ippolito crashed to his knees beside me. four times higher than the tallest ship. and I felt as helpless as I had in prison. my lord. I leaned against the stonework. Sir Coward. No one heeded me. "we shall have to leave you behind if you do not pluck up. My throat was dry and my palms were sweating. If Domenico had been before me." Ippolito's voice said above me. In panic I slid to my knees. Though how I shall fare when the duke knows I have not done his errand. "Come on. but he had already hurried on." His voice was steadying as he spoke. The fear of a cold welcome was as sharp as the fear of falling. and in those clothes?" . Up with you!" Scrambling to his feet." "Then we must go. too. my cheek against the roughness of the rock. to dangle helplessly in the air. "without a thought for me. breathless and strained." I muttered shamefaced thanks. on an empty rampart: all the others had gone while I hung back. "Are all the rest gone?" I found my voice. crouching abjectly behind the bulwark out of the hail of arrows. slumped against the parapet. Go and tell my nephew Lorenzo that I bade him look after you. "Yes. not caring if I was with him or no. Footsteps came running across the flagstones. in the grip of a fever. and let my senses slide.

I scrambled over the parapet."I could not stay in my chamber while there was danger. One hand moved slightly. his body teetered and fell. "Courage." I could not say more. "Go on. and I wrenched my eyes away from the spinning void and craned upwards. and the trouble in his face cleared." He was smiling still as I hesitated. turning and sailing through the air into infinity. for it will soon be over. At first it doubled together and toppled. When it died. as though to touch it. The memory was so sharp that I flinched momentarily. my feet dangling in the air. you must not look down!" Ippolito's voice came sharply." For an instant I heard in his words the echo of another voice—Piero's—wooing me to the duke's bed with the very same words. Only remember not to let yourself slide. "Madam. but he seemed to understand. but he meai." There was no time to demur that the duke might not want me.t what he said. "All you have to do is to keep a firm grip on the rope and find what footholds you can on the way down. . but the hiss of arrows drowned my voice. my feet found crevices in the crumbling wall almost instinctively." I was over the edge now. As I peered up. but as it fell out into space it spreadeagled. perhaps leaning a little lower than he had done but not troubling to avoid the flying shafts. into oblivion. "The duke will be halfway to Diurno if we do not make haste." he finished gently. he was kneeling atop the parapet and leaning down to call. The ground seemed to spiral up to meet me. with nightmare slowness. because there was a look of compassion in his face. His face was suspended above me in an arc of smokefilled sky. if Ippolito said I was to go. there was no tarrying. and the strain on my arms was unbearable. I glanced down to find a foothold. it took a moment to realize that he was slowly sagging forward and moments more to connect it with the feathered shaft protruding from his forehead. ineffectually. Ippolito still knelt there. then forced it out of my thoughts as Ippolito closed my hands around the rope. and it was only by luck that my hands retained their grip. and at once I was transfixed. "And you have found more danger than you bargained for. then. "Well done! Now go on!" I took a deep breath to call my thanks. or you will burn the skin off your hands—and keep close to the side of the tower. hearing his soothing instructions in my ears. and after the first step the worst is past. then. like a sack of flour.

but now it seemed to come from a world long past. but I choked it down. . starting at every shadow. all the rest must have gone on. I could still hear the din of battle within the city. Instead I stared straight ahead with numb concentration. long scrapes where a boot had skidded or a crumbling foothold had given way. The rope was sticking to the palms of my hands. Nc one was waiting in the thicket as I scrambled down from the fiagway to the cover that Santi had pointed out. Coming so suddenly out of the sun's glare. But with luck and the helpful bole of a tree. time enough to mourn later. I would have to ride astride. trying to distract her attention from the fading sounds of battle. my feet finding cracks in the masonry. and with an involuntary whimper I began to lower myself down the rope. The sudden weight made her shy so violently that I almost lost my balance. Every muscle in my arms was screaming in protest. I ran panting from the foot of the wall. winding my hands in her mane as I sought to stay on her back. for no boy ever sat a horse sidesaddle. I talked nonsense to her. I hauled myself into the saddle. in case I saw the empty battlement which would confirm what I had seen to be reality. forcing my buckling legs to obey me as I raced uphill and in among the trees. My legs almost gave way as I let go the rope. and I pulled free.Chapter Eight It was pain. I stared at the horses. A lump rose in my throat. I clung feverishly with thigh and knee and hand. There was little choice. and then as my eyes accustomed themselves to the blue-dappled shadows I saw two horses tethered there—mine and Ippolito's. sensing the violence in the air and upset by her cavalier treatment. It took some coaxing to calm the mare enough for her to let me mount her. she laid back her ears and began to sweat. Then she was off and bolting. for I could never mount the tall chestnut gelding unaided. It seemed impossible that I should have climbed so far. seeing the scars of the other climbers' feet. marks where the sun-dried lichen crusting the wall had been trodden to powder. and when I gathered up the reins. staring unbelievingly at the frowning face of the tower. t might manage to mount the piebald mare. and the next—the giddy seconds when the rope swung away from the wall and I clung to it like an ape—the realization that at last there was ground. I realized. she was nervous. expecting a Spanish ambush at every turn. and when the sound of my voice had lulled her into uneasy stillness. I was not aware of anything but the next step. simple physical pain. bouncing in my unaccustomed seat. trying to assess them as though I were calmly choosing a mount in the duke's stable. and I tottered drunkenly. I dared not look down: And now I dared not look up. solid ground under my feet. and I was riding without stirrups. I was almost struck blind. which shocked me back to my senses. men howling and the crackle of fire. roughly.

Still tugging desperately at the rein. no idea even of where she was taking me. I loosened one hand and managed to grab the flying rein. driven by fear of the turmoil of war behind her. We had reached the northern side. Wiser than I even in her panic. but I knew that if I let the rein slip I was lost. My arm felt as though it were being wrenched from its socket. I had no hope of controlling her. the one that Sandro had shown me what seemed like years ago. tethered so close to the fighting. certain with every moment that I should slip off and be crushed by the flying hooves. Between my thighs her muscles were bunched and tense. and that must have been what saved me from the bowmen across the gorge. The earth blurred under her hooves. I thought despairingly: Domenico will have turned westwards to Diurno. I caught the rhythm of her stride at last and sat down on her back. but now she was headed straight for the precipice-—there was no barrier but a couple of old upright timbers stuck meaninglessly on the verge. the bowmen on this side of the gorge clustering opposite its walls like ants on a trail of honey. The mare's pace checked as her head swung around. had unnerved her so that now she would gallop until she was exhausted. and then as she took off again. tearing through the undergrowth like a thing possessed. with one final defiant toss of her head. and if I cannot turn this animal. Then. my feet found the stirrups at last. then steadied again as she wrenched at the bit. and she was resisting my attempts at control with every nerve. small wonder that the Spanish had not even tried to cross by it. Far behind now was the siege. The mare was turning at last. she was terrified beyond all control. her stride leveled into a headlong gallop. the rough ground would slow her down. If I could turn her back again. Now I could risk turning to get my bearings. The embattled city was now only a distant threat. back off the level ground to the slope below the lip of the gorge. for those who do not mind risking their lives—and now it had saved mine. I could hear the creak of its timbers even through the drumming of hooves. but only for . as she gained the crest. and ahead were the path over the crest of the gorge and the road that traced the cliffs running beside the sea. The animal did not hesitate. I was amazed by how far we had come. I thought dazedly. went thundering down on the brink. I was riding flattened to the horse's back. She chafed again as she felt restraint on the bit and resisted. But it seemed nothing could stop the mare. half-smothered by her flying mane. but we had covered the ground at desperate speed. and the smoke-filled air became a wind which filled my eyes and lungs and left me gasping. then I heard her hooves striking timber and the drumming as she galloped on. he had called it. I felt the lift and surge of her muscles as though she were leaping and wondered why she did not try to check her momentum. The mare must have looked riderless as she labored up the slope to level ground. She veered and. She ascended the rise. As the mare climbed the slope towards the pathway. I saw the ground dip and fall away ahead. I do not know how far we had traveled when I felt her tiring at last. The ground ahead seemed to zigzag crazily as we veered away from the frowning walls—if we had finished by crashing into the river I would not have been at all surprised. and pulled with all my strength. all the muscles I had strained in the climb now screaming protest as the mare's head jerked and jerked again.She plunged out of the thicket like a mad thing. When I looked behind. I shall never come up with him. she had looked and seen the old bridge that spanned the gorge. -The long wait in the thicket. A collection of rotten planks.

and I suddenly recognized Andrea Regnovi. "Who is that slave? What has happened?" . hiding his embroidered doublet and breeches. and he that brings the tidings. and she threw up her head and galloped straight forward. slowed. If we must spend a boy on this errand. . One of them must have heard me approaching. I would not be the one to tell His Grace such news. staring with unbelieving eyes at the riders. "Dead! But he cannot be! How did it happen?" "He was hit as he helped me down from the battlements. in another moment I would have spoken out impulsively and betrayed myself. I gave a little sob of relief. I drew a deep breath." Andrea looked reproachful. "The boy can tell him. "What do you mean. but there was little chance of friends. "What are you saying? There are few of the sweet lads enough and little chance of other solace on this journey. and my mare. "God absolve him. . trying with all my strength to turn the horse.a little. . "He is dead. An arrow pierced his skull and he fell. Two of them had ridden back to meet me. sir. "Where is the lord Ippolito?" The question came sharply from the taller man." The taller man said. His companion followed suit more perfunctorily before asking. and then her headlong pace began to slow. and my horse's panic-stricken flight had brought me up with them. but ahead the other horsemen had reined in. . Against my will I was catching up with the riders ahead— whether friend or foe I could not tell. They had taken the northward road. I hauled on the reins. In a moment she would be cantering. I could see them now. turning to confront me. muffled up in a soldier's heavy black cloak and clumsy beaver. and I found myself gazing incredulously at two of the Cabrian lords. . can he not be ugly?" I shivered. One of the horses whinnied. The death of his own secretary will loose a storm over all our head. "Why. and the dust from their horses' hooves was choking me." He made a brief. then. and then if I could manage to turn her . Now she would answer the bit. but my sudden panic had communicated itself to her." Both men turned pale. "Who will tell the duke of this news?" His companion twisted to stare at him. I heard the sound of horsemen ahead. hating him for taking Ippolito's death so lightly. We can spare one more brat to appease him. unbelievably. and I pulled her up. graphic gesture. messire?" The other man shrugged." and crossed himself. riding hard. sir. because there was a shout and those behind reined in sharply. and Domenico's voice came back peremptorily.

With part of my mind I noticed the faces of the others—genuinely shocked. and I read no relenting in his face. He was as white as ashes. Santi said. the merest breath." "So you are Gratiana's errandboy?" Domenico's voice was infinitely soft. but then they saw." The skitter of hooves broke the silence." the tall man called out. I could see the same thought in every man's face. I said huskily. I dared not go to him. and besides. Your Grace. He was alone when I met with him." "Ippolito! What of him?" The riders surged and scattered. in the midst of them. I remembered the old coast road. and for a moment no one spoke. The hoofbeats were soft and distant but growing louder every moment. He sat as still as stone. Then the riders burst out of the nearby olive wood. You always go roundabout!" The twinkle in his eyes was almost affectionate. as I had. and the eyes that gazed at Sandro were utterly black and quite blank. I could only wait for the movement that would summon me to his side. of course. that the Spanish soldiers were following us." Sandro asserted blithely. "Horsemen on the road behind. the standard which snapped and stirred behind him and bore the Spanish eagle. But nothing happened. She wants your handsome head as a plaything to heal the sting of what you said to her once upon a time. Domenico was sitting perfectly still. Brother. "You fooled me by making northwards. kind Brother! I cannot rule Cabria in peace while you are living." I wheeled my horse sharply. . one of the riders had. "He has been killed." Even from that distance I saw Domenico change color. and his body fell into the gorge. "Why do you seek to stay us?" Sandro's smile broadened. edged his horse away from the duke's side. feeling terror suddenly chill in the dusty air. Your Grace. Your Grace. "To kill you. A Spanish arrow struck him. staring ahead of him with eyes that looked blind. "Was no one else with him?" "No. uncontrollably. and as they cantered up the road towards us. "Well. Then when they sent word that you had not come." Sandro sounded insanely cheerful. "I made sure you would go west. The dark gaze piercing me was full of loathing. the old beldam I am yoked with will not be satisfied with your dukedom. and I saw Domenico. I recognized their leader with a jerk of my heart. He reined in when he saw me. "news of my lord secretary. as though he were gazing into hell. no welcome. I had never realized how much he had loved Ippolito. and there was a look on his face which made me feel physically sick."He brings news. and I have a hundred men broiling in the sun on the plain to stop you. and a dreadful silence fell. proudly erect in the saddle. as though they had been fonder of Ippolito than they knew—but I cared only for the queer note in Domenico's voice as he asked. "You had led me a fine dance!" A few of the duke's followers had relaxed as they recognized him.

But Sandro glanced across at him at the same time and beamed mockingly. she would rule it beside me. the day I had shown him Piero's cipher and asked whether it could have come from Spain." "So be it. "I will give you leave to rail. that is soon remedied. not from Spain" so swiftly that I had not thought to question how he had known." Domenico said nothing. then." Sandro's jaw muscles clenched. I have held her purse strings." "As you will. For an instant Sandro hesitated. He had said. without warning. my lord. and then he laughed.His half brother's smile faded. the name there does not matter either.'' "The eldest legitimate son. at a push I can get the crown the same way. I bear you no grudge save that you were born in wedlock—if your making had been fumbled up like mine. Brother. "Holla. "No. my lord Duke. When you are dead. but he must have been treating with the Spanish then and had known at once that it did not come from any of King Philip's emissaries. I wish your pretty whore were here. I saw Santi shift restlessly—he was staring hard at Sandro." "Can you not kill me yourself?" . I should be duke at this minute. "Well. "Well. Brother. We have been plotting for this exigent ever since you banished our beloved stepmother—she thought if she could not rule Cabria beside you." I remembered. how will you take your death? Hanging like a felon. and I thought he shivered—then he gave his old devil-may-care grin. rather. we will hold the state for Spain: Viceroy or duke." There was insistence in the murmur now. "Ever since her eye fell on me. you mountain of treachery! What do you mean by sliding thus into my brother's service? You will be safer at my back than his—will you change masters again now. Domenico's voice stopped my thought. I shall be her ruling consort before the year is out. "No. or would you prefer the sword for your royalty's sake? My men can let you out of the world any way you choose. "Say her partner. I had as soon spend few words on the matter." "Very true. before I kill him?" Santi shook his head. but you take all pleasure from this business with your slow tongue. "You are content. to be her stud?" "I shall thrive. I only claim the right of the eldest son to succeed his father. Giovanni. only swayed a little in the saddle." Sandro shrugged. since you have lost! I hoped you would fret and stamp.'' "But you have not killed me. never fear!" Sandro chuckled blandly. The name does not matter. I know ways to use her that would soon end that patience of yours. and I wondered in that moment whether he had led Domenico here on purpose. To be plain with you.

his hand went to the pommel of his sword. . snatching the pennoned spear from his grasp. As it left his hand. in the same movement Domenico swayed." "The distance is too short." The dark eyes were veiled. and as soldiers and courtiers scattered. I have been hoping you would say that! Will you fight with me. then a sudden surge of movement. "You always fought foul." Domenico said breathlessly. "You were a fine tutor. "God's blood. almost hungry note in Domenico's voice. the della Raffaelle brothers were left confronting each other in the middle of the dusty road. "To the death. straight into the bunched spearmen. and the crash of impact drowning it all. my damned." Domenico's face was expressionless." Sandro had not waited to see if his weapon found its mark. and I realized with a shock that Domenico-was as good as unarmed. hard. delighted grin spread across his face. he had turned to his standard-bearer. Sandro said pleasantly. hefting it critically. Sandro's spear had snapped in two. swerving. legitimate brother. almost before Sandro had wheeled his own mount. His right hand flashed out." "Come. "Finish it. smoothly avoiding the dagger that flashed towards his throat from Sandro's hand." and the bright head bowed as though at a compliment." Sandro seemed not to hear the odd. then?" "Willingly. I closed my eyes involuntarily. "This is a poor place for a tilt. too swiftly for my eyes to follow. the clink of metal. "I would as soon turn my back on a coiled adder! I thank Your Grace." There was a silence broken only by the sound of a pawing horse. the creaking of leather. His slim-bladed dagger would be useless against Sandro's fighting sword." Sandro chuckled. and he was making no attempt to use it. and he had turned again. Sandro's eyes flickered around him and back to his half brother's face. dragging the spear from the hand of the nearest Spaniard." As he spoke. sitting so still that he seemed to be waiting to be killed." "Then ride off a little. the drumming of hooves.For a moment Sandro stared at him. Brother Bastard. I will make shift as we are. and then slowly a broad. the eagle standard was in the dust under the hooves of Domenico's horse. Then he moved. "I shall enjoy seeing you lie low at the finish. he was breathing quickly. then. wrenching his horse back on its haunches and then spurring forward. and there was an eager glint in his eyes. and when I opened them. "It will serve.

. Baldassare Lucello dismounted and went to Domenico. and blood welled from his mouth and he died. set in a grin of agony like a satyr's mask. I heard the clatter as Sandro threw away the useless butt of his weapon. I hardly heard the leaderless Spaniards retreating. as merciless as the glinting points of their spears. They must have been dumbfounded by the speed with which events had turned against them—I had forgotten all about them until the sounds of their precipitate flight made me wrench my eyes from Domenico's face. his hands clutching the shaft. somehow—I could not see how—everything was changed. It seemed as though he would ride his brother down if he could not unseat him and trample him into the dust by brute force. still the men watched and waited. Sandro's onslaught was driving him on to the point of Domenico's spear. "I wonder—who Gratiana will find-to pleasure her now?" and then the laughter caught in his throat with a noise like a pig snorting. only their eyes gleamed hard with murder. A strange bubbling sound came from his throat. then with a dull crash. I saw Sandro's jaw tighten as if for the final effort. like a thing already dead. Domenico had released the spear and reined hard. but after a glance at the duke he forbore and let them go. Domenico stared down at his half brother's spitted body. the look on his face was one of bleak indifference. "Your Grace. "What is your will we should do with this . level and incurious. . In the silence the noise of the dying man's rattling breath sounded like the roar of a wounded bull. their spears unscathed. I looked up to see them galloping back into the grove of olive trees and knew that they were going to report their loss to the Duchess Gratiana. but I stayed desperately silent. biting my lips in an effort not to scream. one of his horse's hooves leaving a print on the edge of Sandro's cloak." The man sounded shaken. and were wheeling again for another assault. The spear shaft still protruded from his body. I wondered how they could keep their seats through the jar as they came together. When the dreadful rending crash came again. and he was laughing. but he would not die. turning blacks and golds to the same grayish brown and dimming Domenico's bright hair. some of the men cried out. Laughing helplessly at the last bitter jest of his life. his gloved hands clenched hard on the reins. Sandro's breathing heaved and tore. and his brown hands closed round it almost greedily. his contorted body hunched over the spear like a gross baby. then they lifted. Both men were still in the saddle. dragging himself over. and he spurred his horse with sudden fury. and one of the Spaniards tossed him another. For a moment the hooded eyes still dwelt on the flies settling on the body in the dust. to the living face of the courtier. The thrust lifted Sandro out of the saddle like a bale of hay. Domenico turned his mount at the edge of the open space and lowered his spear again. shock shivered their spears and through their arms to their shoulders and must have hurt them cruelly. and he stirred.Now there was no laughter in the Bastard's face. and still Domenico's expressionless eyes watched his suffering. The rugged face was caked with dust. ?" . the blade sliding smoothly between the armor plate and twisting viciously downwards into the flesh and sinew of the thickset body. Santi made a move as though to follow them. By now dust was mantling them and their horses. fondling it as though it were his own flesh. he said in a harsh difficult voice. he landed on his back on the ground. It was uncannily quiet without the sound of Sandro's breathing. Then.

Ippolito's death. then settled again. I realized. ." "Let them finish what they have begun. but since I cannot." Domenico's voice made me shiver despite the hot sun. If I could. uncontrollably: the final loss of Domenico. and he had no other feeling left for me. It was a worse punishment than I could have imagined for the folly that had made me come after him and for the cowardice that had delayed Ippolito— perhaps even caused his death. . the shuttered stillness of his averted face. With a sudden sense of weariness. but after one look at his face. and he did not want me. Baldassare and Giovanni Santi were dragging Sandro's body to the side of the road and remounting hurriedly." The reply was curt. who lay smashed and broken at the foot of the river gorge some miles behind us. leaving us to follow as best we might. without a backward look. but I did not dare. but horses and riders alike were tired. turning his back on the olive grove which hid the Spanish soldiers. But I was staring at Domenico's proud back. and that whore duchess's. The courtiers crowded around him solicitously. Baldassare started to protest. the chill of that had killed his lust. The afternoon was scarcely worn. I kicked my now tired horse into motion and set off after him." "But Your Grace. watching him ride away as indifferently as if he had never known me. we should surely bury him! The flies . Sandro's murder—-but one memory I shrank from. Even now I could hardly believe it. . "I said let be! We will not spend time on bestowing carrion!" He turned his horse as he spoke. At first I thought the duke would not dismount—he still sat on his horse after everyone else was out of the saddle. Between them. "All this is his contriving. He brushed by them as though they did not exist. The thoughts that occupied me for the rest of that day's ride were so confused and bitter that I cannot well recount them." The word was choked. . He had not so much as glanced around at me since I gave him my news. My whole being clamored to go after him. and spurred it to a trot away from Fidena. I knew it must be true. staring unseeingly ahead—but then Andrea went to him and said something. unwanted and unregarded as I was. because there was nothing else I could do. the flies buzzed and wheeled." He was thinking of Ippolito. and at last he slid to the ground and suffered his horse to be led away. "This . "But Your Grace. the prey of kites and crows—and of these growing swarms of buzzing flies. Ippolito. they drew back. I would stay until the flies had made an abhorrence of him. to comfort that savage grief. If I had ridden forward—if I had been in his arms—I could not have reached him. he shall lie unburied in his turn."Nothing. his mind was with the dead. . he is your brother—" "Let be. and no one argued when the order came. My brain was reeling with the shock of all that had happened— the city's fall. at least. but watching the rigid line of his back. but Domenico's soft mouth twisted in a grimace of purely animal savagery. Tears were stinging my eyes as we drew rein by the roadside and started to make camp for the night.

For the moment. but the horses lowered their heads and drank thirstily while I knelt and drank from my cupped hands. and good fruit growing all around. gouging and tearing viciously until the sap ran down the trunk like blood. my boyhood must continue. I remembered him in another olive grove. he drew his dagger and plunged it into the tree trunk. I obeyed hastily. Ippolito's nephew. "There is a stream not far from here. again I saw him. there were those who would regard a duke's discarded mistress as benison from heaven on this journey. "Come on. except a few mouthfuls of the duke's nightmare banquet. I had not even given a thought to my disguise for what seemed like infinity. stretched out on the ground and teasing me with laughter lighting his black eyes. and I suddenly remembered that I had had nothing to eat since the afternoon of the day before. soldierly men like Santi who had no use for other men. . who were pederasts. Then as I watched. I took them with fingers that trembled with eagerness and wolfed them like a famished schoolboy. on the ride to Diurno for his coronation. I resolved then that I would follow him for as long as I could. and incorrigible lechers like Vario Danese. and a curt order from one of the nobles to take the horses to the stream jolted me back to remembrance. I had not spared a thought for food since then. As I led the horses back through the trees. The stream was low. for my belly is as empty as a drum. it seemed. since he no longer cared what became of me. Without Domenico's protection I did not dare let anyone know my true sex. deep in his throat. nor had I any idea of how long the journey would last. and when I could follow him no further. as though I were the one being struck. my boy's clothes were my only safeguard. all I cared for was to hoodwink the rest for as long as I could and to pray that Domenico would not choose to betray me on some idle impulse. The frenzy of destruction lasted until the bark was in ribbons and the tree's crown of leaves was rent and torn. hearing the whine of Andrea's voice as he complained to Baldassare. It was like a deliberate defacing of my memory.Santi's gruff voice spoke into the silence. rough. and there was a shadow in his sea-blue eyes which had nothing to do with the duke's violence. I tried to force myself to consider dispassion-ately the consequences of what had happened and not to remember that now Domenico would never hold me in his arms again. but when Lorenzo. He had hardly spoken since he heard of his uncle's death. keeping my head down. a tepid trickle over the rounded pebbles. I did not know where he was bound. offered me a handful of olives. then with a strange little sound like an animal. he drove the blade deep into the trunk and leaned against the ruined tree. The men had made camp in an olive grove. shaking from head to foot. I had flinched at every blow. trudging slowly away from the men while I considered what I should do. I would take whatever chance befell. Beside me Lorenzo watched and said nothing. a rejection more savage for being so impersonal. or why. We may as well eat. Apart from those like Andrea Regnovi. and my heart turned over with love. I muttered to him. How my life ended no longer seemed important. and he was standing beside a straight young tree gazing up at the dappling of the sunlight slanting between the leaves. and boys like Lorenzo too young to care whether I was man or woman. a sign that those days were over for good." There was a murmur of agreement. but it did not seem to matter." and we tethered the horses and went to sit at the edge of the clearing with the other pages.

" The conversation lapsed into whispers after that. I looked anywhere but at the shape of the big man who stood in front of me now. Lorenzo had turned away and was peering at the activity around the fire. in your wisdom!" Baldassare frowned. making the hair prickle on the back of my neck. a badge of my identity. I dragged my gaze from Santi's receding back and looked down at my hand. ! Now we are to sleep in the open. if she had not come already. Inwardly I had assumed that we must be going to Diurno—where else would the duke seek help?—and had imagined that that one thing was at least foreseeable. exchanging a few words with one of them—my heart was in my mouth before I realized he was directing him to build the fire higher. then he moved on again. "Here."Of all foolishness . where any Spaniard may stumble over us—what is wrong with the hostelries of Pinzi? It is less than two leagues back along the road. . but I would guess that we are not bound for Diurno." giving Santi a faint. and I jumped. and the thick fingers snapped as if to a dog. I wondered. when Diurno lies due west? Answer me that. "Messire Giovanni." The rough voice was low." he had said in my ear. where the dagger itself would keep it safe and hidden. The duke has foreseen her thought and brought us past the place she will look for us. it was heavily. I rose and followed him without a word to where the horses were tethered. Lorenzo looked past me and said over my head. and so he did not see my change of expression. his shadow blotting out the sky. and I heard no more. He was moving among his fellows now. But now I saw no limit to my childish masquerade and must ride unwanted at Domenico's back for heaven knows how long. There was a second small garrison of men in the hills above the city. boy. A massive hairy hand touched my shoulder. how long he would keep silent. slow strides. a reminder. When he turned. sickened. "Hide your ring. leaving me staring after him wide-eyed in fright. "or one of yonder lords will recognize it. . and I watched him come towards me with long. my good lord." The pearl winked mockingly back. Quickly. as though he were faced with a task he did not relish." Andrea looked discontented. the archbishop still waited there to receive Savoy's daughter. "That I do not know. furtively. "When the Duchess Gratiana hears we are on the northward road. "And why are we on the northward road. and Santi bent low to whisper in my ear. I drew it off and slipped it into my dagger sheath. and there we could sleep soft and eat well—what was in the duke's mind to make him sheer away from its outskirts as though the plague were there?" "Because he knows that the Spanish will go straight to Pinzi when they hear from those soldiers where they met with us!" Baldassare sounded genuinely angry. My eyes slid away to the yellow buds of flame growing on the piled twigs—to the dimming sky between the leaves—to the branches stirring in the night wind that had sprung up. but it would do me small good now that Santi knew. I mumbled an apprehensive greeting. . she will send troops after us to revenge the death of Lord Sandro. but I glimpsed an appalled expression on Lorenzo's face and felt a sinking of my own heart. fugitive smile.

before the men are up—I will stand guard and make sure that no one sees you. I cannot . It should have been I." The horsemaster nodded. . Not even the murmur of the other men's voices disturbed the waning day." Even in the poor light I saw him flush. . his last words were 'Go on!' I could not do less for him than do as he wished. "Yes. Do it tomorrow. I think. angrily scrubbing my eyes with the back of my hand. for now the dark mass of the mountains crouched ahead of us. Thank you. lady. . messire. and my heart quaked as I looked up at that brutal. but then he suddenly frowned down at me. I swallowed and said." There was a moment's silence. And now"—my voice shook—"I think I am safer as a page. "Lady. but he only said. and below I could see the road we had traveled skirting the rising slope." I said levelly. . and I waited in trepidation for Santi to speak. The words gave me a sudden pang. he nodded slowly. I told myself sternly. . The duke wants you. as I stood gaping at him. I have nowhere else to go. then Santi said. "You must cut your pretty hair. who was called: I hurried away from Santi before the stupid tears could spill and ran back to my fellow pages. messire?" After a long moment. "Will you keep my secret." "So it is already. Then. We must have turned inland. In the gathering dusk his gaze was uncomfortably shrewd. not Santi. you cannot wear that thing day and night. . But this journey will be a grief to you. If I could not control myself better. I met his eyes for the first time and saw the worry in them. and when he . how did you come here?" The question was so unexpected that I could not answer. "Then you mean to continue as you are?" "There is nothing else for me to do. Santi strode ahead until he reached the edge of the trees. lady." I nodded quickly and looked back towards the camp as someone's voice called him." "Will the duke not keep you safe enough?" "No. "I bought these clothes from a boy at the palazzo so that I could go up to the battlements. then he grunted and gestured to my velvet cap.The trees thinned here. "not now. "And why are you dressed like that?" and made an embarrassed gesture towards my page's livery. . He met me as he was coming after the duke. meaty face. then waited until I came up beside him. For a moment he did not turn. when he was killed. no alliance in the world could save me from discovery. "Lord Ippolito sent me." Something in his silence made me look up to find him gazing at me with troubled eyes. . I realized. It was very quiet.

"Come and help me. I huddled myself into the warmth with a whimper of relief. but my thoughts would not let me rest. my hair streaming around me. soft and obscene so that I nearly cried out.I wanted to sleep. The cold shock made me gasp. curiously light-footed stride until we were out of sight of the camp." and someone dropped a heavy cloak around my shoulders. then he slowed so that I could draw level with him. . . and I almost jumped at the strange name. "Here. As I slipped out of the enveloping cloak. Somewhere a horse whickered and stamped. . Few of the others slept more than fitfully." Domenico sleeping. ." I nodded and quickly splashed my hands and face in the stinging water to drive away the sleep which clung to me. I turned away. well lined. but it cleared my brain and brought me back to a sense of urgency. his "fair cheek pillowed on my hair. they and the bitter cold. now I felt only gratitude and relief. and this windswept hill was the crudest dwelling I had ever known. . Santi had his back to me. I thought tiredly. beside an outcrop of rock where the stream fell tinkling and ran down the hillside. lady. It was good heavy wool. sweeping the locks aside with an imperious hand to put his lips to my neck . The olive trees screened us from curious eyes as we stood. rising and dying away like the eddies in a marsh. men were stretching and groaning. "I cannot do it. . scanning the hillside as I snatched off my cap and drew my dagger. then memory assailed me so suddenly and sharply that I stood paralyzed. the morning air struck me like a blow. Things crept and stirred in the darkness. Santi looked grave. his cheeks bearing the telltale stains of tears he would not shed in daylight. first in one place and then in another. "You. and I forced myself to my feet in haste. Going by its size it must have been Santi's own. "You had better make haste. and it was the shrill song of a bird that had woken me. quickly now!" One of the other men shouted a jest. I crouched. "Help me. I had never before slept out of doors. and caught sight of the massive figure of Giovanni Santi crossing the clearing towards me. The night was alive with little grumbling murmurs. and Santi stopped to scowl at him from under his heavy eyebrows. Yesterday I would have flinched in dread. Then a gruff voice said. once a bat wheeled close against my cheek. not wanting him to wake and see me looking at him. and smelled of tobacco. clasping my knees and shivering. I did not hear the footsteps until they were almost upon me. Santi vanished into the dark again before I could draw breath to thank him. I had never thought to look beyond the big man's villainous appearance—only when I was forced to recognize it could I see the steadiness of his ruffianly gaze or hear the diffident note in his growling voice. tiny unnamable sounds. Near me Lorenzo lay stretched out under his own cloak. his eyes closed. I awoke stiff and cold but still wrapped in Santi's cloak. he would miss it. Numb with cold and utter loneliness. and a great dull pain in my breast. I must find him and give it back to him. Around the glowing embers of the fire. The dawn was breaking. Marcello!" He hailed me for the benefit of anyone who might be listening." My voice was a dry whisper. and I caught the far-off howl of a wolf. I dared not stretch out on the ground for fear I should freeze—instead. in the palazzo I would have turned away in dislike and distrust. and I staggered as I straightened. Help me. I will stand guard over you. I was scrambling in his wake in an effort to keep up with his long.

sucking air between his teeth in a sharp hiss like a woodcutter. He had not slept much either. I did not reply. he said. I had no appetite for my share of the scanty breakfast and gladly turned it over to the other boys to divide between them. his normally deft fingers clumsy as they took hold of a fistful of hair. I was ashamed of the vanity which made this trivial loss seem like the end of the world. "Have you cut enough?" He nodded in a quick." I forced my voice to a steadiness I did not feel. The name came easily to my tongue. "What do you want?" ' "Cut my hair." Santi crushed the hair into a ball and crammed it into the leather pouch at his waist. I asked shakily. I am no barber. they thought he lived in luxury and was happy and that the court was some sort of paradise." I was glad that he was bending to pick up the shorn hair and did not see my lips quiver as I spoke. To stop my thoughts. and I thought it would serve as well as any other." "Your son! I did not know you had one.'' He talked on as we went back towards the camp. and not dwell on the cloudy reminder of the past that hung from Santi's hands. "Why Marcello?" and Santi's somber gaze lifted in real surprise. trying to distract my thoughts from the flood of self-pity which threatened to swamp them. only stood staring blindly into some hell of his own. As they ate. and had first come to Fidena to earn more money for his wife and children. messire. I said." he finished somberly. "Two." "Thank you. brought the blade around and slashed. an unaccustomed tinge of color in his heavy cheeks. and I stared down at the soft masses of black at my feet. "It will do. I looked for Domenico: he was standing staring into the glowing embers of the fire. But he had taken care never to let them know what his life was like or to bring them to the palace. embarrassed fashion. I told myself fiercely. catching his breath. He took a step forward. I must think of the future. then folded his lips tightly. He took the dagger in his free hand and. He had been married for six years. I sat watching the duke furtively from under my lashes and saw that the shock of Ippolito's death still gripped him. He did not speak to anyone. I thought. his face drawn and paper-white. "And I wondered why—I do not know anyone with that name. and I listened eagerly. He had finished the job in seconds. with a look on his face that made all around him fee! . "What do you mean?" "You called me Marcello while we were in camp. for we had reached the olive grove and I knew that among the other men I would be wiser to stay silent. I do not know how to start. Please. though. "It is my son's name. "But I would as soon take them to the worst brothel as bring them there.The big man turned sharply. And one daughter." He nodded." Santi hesitated a moment longer. fingering the short ends of my hair unbelievingly. looking at me with sudden uselessness.

now I tagged in the wake of an exiled duke. then they hauled themselves wearily on to their horses' backs. untouched by the overwhelming joys and sorrows I had known. Santi shouted that we were approaching the main road to the coast: all the traffic from one side of Italy to the other passed along it. At a signal from Santi. not even the haughty Philip would dare send troops after us into Pope Pius's lands. Pius. The other pages were as saddle sore as I. but now what he mocked threatened to crush him. There was traffic on the road for some distance. and we stayed on the difficult paths of the higher slopes until Santi judged the main road was safe again. The rest bustled about. stay in a man's saddle.afraid. my muscles were almost as sore as my heart. whom we must avoid as though we were lepers. families. wounding indifference a second time. but we dared not stop. the cruel heat of the afternoon striped with the ice-cold shade of the peaks. "Aviglio. Any man was sure of sanctuary within the see of Rome. Several times we had to leave the road to avoid a village clinging leechlike to the slopes. were the lifeblood of Cabria— of Italy—and yet their destinies seemed like childish games. and our pace seldom dropped below a canter as we crossed the plain and climbed the western foothills. packing the few remnants of food together and scattering dust on the dying fire. and my heart broke because he no longer desired me. After a few hours in the saddle. artificial life. Philip. and not even Andrea lagged or complained. They had their own concerns—trading. Gratiana . the riders moved forward. once we crossed the mountain border into the Papal States. I saw little but the rump of the horse ahead and heard little but the incessant drumming of hooves. At the crossroads I gazed around me wonderingly. but I did not dare. and the remnants of the Cabrian court rode down the hill towards the road again. stirring in my trance of pain for the first time. Any man but the Duke of Cabria. politics. Such a little time ago the most important thing in my world was the setting of straight stitches and the scouring of pots. for there was no knowing whether someone in so large a place might take note of a band of strangers and tell of them again. By now every man was hungry and thirsty. once the houses of a fair-sized town came into sight. I knew that this haste was to outstrip the Spaniards who would be pursuing. but they set their teeth and made no complaint. and the horses were beginning to labor. picking their way over the sliding stones of the rough track. . On either side of us the mountains loomed. A feeling of urgency had infected us all. and we must cross it and ride well clear before we halted. The horses slowed as the road grew steeper. and a murmur ran through the bunched riders. The great road from Fano to the mountains had been laid down first by the Caesars—it still showed signs of its origins in its clear borders and evenly paved surface. I could not endure that brutal. climbing up the side of the cleft in which the buildings clustered. I longed to go to him. And the people who used it were still untouched by the events which had blasted my strange." Then we turned aside hurriedly. and manage my skittish mare. Belike Philip would hardly need to hunt his quarry through Pius's territory when Pius himself would do the job for him. for Cabria's dukes held lands that had been the pope's own half a century since. We skirted the town with wary looks and fast-beating hearts. In the pride of his power he had laughed at their hatred. . These busy people. the shadows stretching towards us as we went onwards. To me the hard riding was a thankful opiate—I could forget everything but the need to keep up. . Domenico had so many enemies. In the end it was Baldassare who spoke to him and persuaded him to mount. farming— and cared nothing for the shifts and tides in the fortunes of those who ruled them. The duke was pressing hard.

It was bleak and cramped. messire. I thought. You owe him no loyalty!" He pressed closer to me. Domenico brushed by me. "Your Grace. I took a couple of horses and led them away. leaving me shivering and clinging to the horses' bridles as if for support. "Or I will knock your teeth down your throat. and when they huddled beside the fire. my eyelids shut of their own accord. and several times someone was nearly thrown. Santi had sent a couple of men to scout for a resting-place. but not alone. or you will wake your fellows. A hand on my thigh roused me. Come now. "Ambitious boy! But I may serve as well. and we turned them loose to graze at will. "I do not like unnatural pleasures." Santi's whisper came out of the dark. and as I turned with them. for God's sake!" "You need not be so hot in his defense." There was a dangerous rumble in the big man's throat. "My lord. "Yes. go back to sleep." "So I will.We must have been in danger then." I wrenched myself away from the questing fingers just in time. because Santi urged us on at a faster pace than I thought the horses could bear. and I shrank. . without pausing. but at least the overhang would provide a little shelter. they stumbled as they went. but the moment I lay down. But at last." I muttered. but I did not dare look up and could not be sure. "Do my bidding quietly. good Santi—he woke even now from dreaming of my lord's Grace. and I murmured drowsily. and I shall give you . I thought he glanced at me impatiently as his elbow brushed my shoulder. But I will not have these boys forced against their wills. my lord. they fell asleep almost at once. "Stir yourself. Go and lie down. for the horses there was a steeply shelving meadow inhabited by a couple of thin cows. . If the duke once rouses from this black mood of his and should choose to snap his fingers." "Forbear the boy. "Domenico. There was little talk that night. and I daresay that coarse brute Santi has lessoned you well. my dear. Then he was gone. fully awake now. "You must not be so coy. and I stiffened." My flesh crept. Come closer. and Andrea Regnovi tittered again. For an instant my heart beat high in my throat with apprehension and a sudden suffocating excitement. and I have no mind to be kept awake by your amours." but my tongue said. and they had returned to guide us to this one. we halted under the lip of a huge rock overhanging a cave a little way up the mountainside. and I hissed." . boy. somewhere between terror and revulsion. He is tired and so are all the others. and stay mum." and hauled the horses forward with a disregard for their mouths that brought me a sharp word from Lorenzo. exhaustion made men forget their empty bellies. I had meant to stay awake and make sure that Domenico slept. "Marcello. is it not?—you are old enough to know what I want of you. As we dismounted." A stifled titter answered me. Marcello—it is Marcello. you will have lost your minion." "He is not my minion." Santi called sharply. as dusk was falling.

His gaze flickered disinterestedly over my face and rested on Santi. my lord. If any others had heard the little scene with Andrea. "Do you not wish to lie with me. "So it seems! But I wonder what answer I should have away from your stern guardian. and above it the mountains sloped so steeply in places that we had to dismount and lead the slipping horses. my lord. and the boy said nothing more."How can you be sure it is against his will?" Andrea's whisper became coaxing. What had set out as a group of well-dressed courtiers was by now degenerating into a tatterdemalion crew—skins had a grayish look in the sunlight. quietly and contemptuously. I jerked the mare's head around to avoid him and halted. before sunrise." He turned his back on me coldly and hunched himself into the folds of his cloak. Lorenzo watched him go and then lay down again. and I held my breath." Lorenzo's voice. and then the whole troop mounted in a morose silence. Santi and I settled ourselves to sleep in silence." Santi grunted. never looking behind to see whether any man followed him or not. but his anxious words won no response. The last of the stale bread from the horses' saddlebags was shared. neither liked to ask what Lorenzo knew of Andrea. My body. reined in sharply. one unwary move and it would spill and spatter the . the camp began to stir. ingrained with dirt. "It is true what he says. my brain. Marcello?" I said in a shaking voice. felt full of pain like a bulging wineskin. and he reined in in his turn. My sleep was fitful after that. The duke thrust impatiently past him and swung into the saddle. No one who did not know what he sought would look for the Duke of Cabria in this company. Your Grace!" I flinched as his low call brought Domenico's head around. Marcello?" "The same. drowsy but very clear. Andrea hesitated a moment longer and then was gone. my lord. Then. "No. "Look at the ground. "Then you are answered. We had turned on to a track bending southward to avoid a village called Stretza—a cluster of limewashed houses and a church—when Santi. slithering over the ground like a serpent. too. That day our pace was slower because of the difficult terrain. and he only glowered as he swung astride his horse. they made no sign. "What is it?" "Horsemen. his eyes downcast and a moody thrust to his bottom lip—then he looked up." and after a moment Andrea tittered lightly. "If he will listen to my advice. and his boyish face looked curiously adult. I have heard you talk of the duke in your sleep. breeches white with lather from the horses' backs. and I saw he had raised himself on one elbow. and the murderous glitter in his dark eyes silenced the big man. when I thought he was asleep." he said tersely. Do as Messire Giovanni says-— go back to sleep and do not trouble us. Santi was speaking urgently to the duke: I think he was trying to find out our destination. and I was thankful when." In the dusk his eyes burned sea blue. Cloaks and boots were crumpled and stained. spoke out of the dimness. We could not follow the road for fear of being seen. just ahead of me. and the men's chins were no longer immaculately barbered. leaving me fighting down gusts of hysterical laughter. Domenico heard him out in silence. Now perhaps you will learn to mind your tongue. I heard him whisper.

"Are they so valuable?" "Our hope of revenge would be better with more men. most like. "Your Grace. on. Domenico had turned aside and was drawing rein at the head of the slope. and Domenico's lashes drooped. "there are too many for us to challenge. and there was a queer expression on his face. The track we were taking leveled out as we rounded the foot of a sheer bluff. and if we should come upon the Spanish now . looking down at the distant road. Asking questions of the townsfolk. I'd say they were riding from Stretza due south to Alcina. that I should not give a single sign of how much his indifference hurt me." Baldassare breathed a faint sigh of relief. "Your Grace. and now he was alert.ground with poison. and in a toneless breath of a voice he asked." "We have nothing left to lose. "Must we so?" I saw Baldassare swallow even across the distance that separated us. be cautious. I beg of you. "Well. Santi said. We must hope to go by them. Then he said softly. and here the slope was gentler. Before anyone could stop him. and beyond that the cliff fell sheer to the valley road. I distrusted the now deliberate impassivity of the duke's face and the way his fingers had clenched. starting at every gust of wind or scurrying animal. then he looked up." Domenico did not seem to hear. but even slower now. But Santi and Baldassare seemed to notice nothing wrong. We are scarcely an hour's ride from the border. Domenico's head bent." "We have our lives still." The beautiful mouth twisted savagely." Santi said into the sudden silence. and a good many at a guess. and the troop rode on as it had before. "How many?" "A hundred—more perhaps. . but I was still uneasy. But there was a difference: The threat of immediate danger had served to rouse Domenico from his tranced grief for Ippolito. It was desperately important that I should not move." Santi pointed to the churned-up earth with a fatalistic gesture. and for a long moment he considered the confused tracks. the old arrogance stiffening his supple back as he pushed his horse ahead. At times we were moving at little more than a walk. and I feared to speak in case I drew attention to myself." Baldassare spoke quickly. veiling his eyes." The duke's eyes narrowed slightly. very slightly. there have been riders here less than half an hour since. on the horse's rein. Somewhere between wariness and resignation we proceeded. it was . "Your Grace. . Look for yourself. On our left hand the ground ran gently away in what was almost a meadow.

and we pressed forward along the narrow track. let the scouts go and be thankful. It was as though the whole thing had been a bad dream. "God's nails. We came across the Spanish scouts around the next bend. I was only grateful that they should. The scouts had only to give the alarm and we would be lost. I saw Santi come up and then veer away towards the third man. and then arm and weapon seemed to disappear in a blur of light." he snapped. Domenico was off his horse when the others came up to him. . Then I urged my mare forward again. too blessedly faint. overwhelmed by the whole mass of soldiers. It was not until the Cabrian horsemen were pounding at a gallop across the sloping meadow that I remembered the force below. I thought." Santi said. We waited silently at the head of the slope until the last of the soldiers on the road below had disappeared southwards. past thinking. In their midst I glimpsed a litter and knew /that Gratiana had had the news of Sandro's death. For a moment I sat dazed. I did not know why armed soldiers should run from such a small troop without even a challenge. and others in his wake. I knew they must bear the Spanish eagle. . he must have known that the blow would slice away half his shoulder like a butcher's cleaver. but the entrails were soft enough. afterwards Santi told me he thought he would have to break his arm to get the weapon from him. Then I saw that Domenico was spurring after them. with only the three corpses left behind and the dark rust on the unwiped swords to tell that it had been otherwise. incredibly. They must be crazed. crouched over the jerking body of the second Spaniard. I saw the glint of steel in Domenico's hand as he drew level with the hindmost Spaniard. conscious only of a great relief. They had to prize the sword out of his grip because the blood had glued it to his clenched fingers. I could see the bunched muscles in his back as he wrenched his sword through bone and gristle. the way he sat there letting himself be wounded. The man sat like a dummy. uncomprehending. he was killed cleanly. . . and I saw with a sinking heart that indifference was back in his face and cold withdrawal in his eyes. A murmur ran through the troop of men like a breeze. He should have made some resistance. and as soon as they saw us their eyes widened.thick with horsemen. and for one absurd moment it was as though the Spaniards were the hunted and he the hunter. The third man was the luckiest. "there are two hundred at least. I thought. but their voices were too faint. as though he were tired. It was unnatural. on his horse's back. they were fleeing down the mountainside as though the devil himself were at their heels. he was moving slowly. letting those dreadful crimson slashes plow up his back and shoulders. They were dawdling along. When at last he moved to mount his horse again. "We must pass them. One of them shouted something—I could not hear what—and the next moment. The humped red thing was still on the terrified horse's back when one of the other men turned and came rushing on Domenico. like a sack." Domenico turned his horse's head with a vicious jerk. to reach the ears of the Spaniards below. looking back over their shoulders at the sound of our horses' hooves. There was a snarl in his voice like a leopard cheated of its prey. and although I could not see the flapping standards. They were shouting as they rode.

She. for so long a dimly imagined figure like a child's bogeyman. loomed in my mind like some omnipotent ogre. I had never been out of Cabria in my life before. and I fell back. however. In the crossing I clung desperately to my mare's neck. For fifty years the pontiffs had sought revenge on the della Raffaelle family—and now the reigning duke was trying to cross their own territories." he said shortly. lost in my thoughts. would it not be wise to rest the horses here and dry our clothes? We could make camp and then press on tomorrow." I whispered to Santi. we were still riding west through the declining slopes of the mountains." Domenico shook his head curtly and did not answer." To judge by the shadows. soaked to the waist and watching the foam around her flailing legs with trepidation. "That was the border. only the empty mountains. Suddenly the pope. ever slanting towards us as the sun sank.No one spoke when the road finally lay empty: Domenico only turned his horse and guided it along the track. I looked around me nervously. I sat slumped in the saddle. cutting directly across our path from north to south. leaving the meadow behind. But there was nothing. the ground was soaked as though by heavy rain." I stared uncomprehendingly. "There is no bridge. my dear. "Your Grace. seemed completely unperturbed and shook herself so heartily on the opposite bank that I was nearly unseated. Only Domenico remained in the saddle. no more than you. But all around me other horses were shaking themselves as vigorously. Santi observed in an undertone. "The horses can swim. It seemed like years. lulled almost to sleep by the monotonous jog trot of the mare. with your talk of pressing on! Do you know where he means to take us?" A smile. "How are we going to cross?" He gave me a quick. and as we circled it. uncharacteristic in its irony. We had reached the outskirts of another village. and to go on in weary silence. curved Baldassare's mouth. I had lost sight of Santi—he had gone with a few others to look for game for our meal that night—and it seemed to me that the day would never have an end and that the rest of my life was stretching before me in this tedium of anguish. their riders giving little shouts and explosions of startled laughter. and Baldassare looked up at him apprehensively. At last the men dismounted. since I had seen running water. wet clothes rubbing horribly against wet leather. abashed." A little superstitious shiver shook me. "No. There was nothing for it but to remount. bursting on my dazed sight like something hardly remembered. impatient look. and beyond that a river. half expecting the pope's Swiss guards to appear from behind every boulder. "Now we can stop fearing the Spaniards and start fearing the pope. never thought to cross its frontiers. feeling their clinging wet clothes disgustedly and wringing out their dripping cloaks. my lord. . Andrea touched Baldassare's arm as he hauled himself into the saddle and whispered. "You are glib. like centuries. But I am sure he does not mean to seek sanctuary with Pius. After something like an hour there was another road to cross.

I recognized Santi's bulky form leading them. watching one another contentedly in the light of the brands which burned smokily in the wall sconces. and for a moment I stood spellbound." Lights were blossoming in the windows of the little village on the lakeside as we left it behind. Soon the smell pervading the building was so appetizing that my hands trembled with hunger and my eyes filled with tears. Not a tree. its blue surface fretted by thousands of pinpoints of light. and there is room for the horses too. and the roof beams had caved in over the main chamber. The roof has fallen in. and then part of my mind said. we are in luck!" There was a note of excitement in his voice. With meat in our bellies some of the nightmare had departed. I was beginning to wonder where we would spend the night." Behind me Lorenzo spoke in a low voice. tideless sea. There was ordure to be cleared and cracks to be stopped with sacking. I started at the sound of horses approaching across the fields. I think. Looking up through the roof. and I found myself thinking rationally again and felt less like an animal in a trap.And stretching to the horizon before us was a glittering. Lorenzo! This place is as quiet as a grave!" I shivered involuntarily. and the track sloped down to a broad treeless plain. not a rock. Then somebody touched my arm. and I almost rode into him. We can build a fire and roast our supper in comfort. Santi whistled softly as he came up and drew rein beside the duke. "Your Grace. but I caught a glimpse of his pure profile against the sky as he nodded. There was a relieved shifting among the riders. replete. No meat I have ever tasted seemed as good to me as the half-roasted chunk of venison I held in my scorched fingers that night. Santi lit a fire in the yard outside and slung the deer on a spit to roast over it. Two of the other men were riding double. moving softly and steadily northward. but as they loomed up out of the dark. and the next moment we were turning into the teeth of the freshening night wind to follow where Santi led. I could see the stars coming out. his unbroken voice somehow shocking in the eerily gathering twilight. it had been long since abandoned. there was no shelter for miles but the village itself and its fellow. It was too dark now to read his face. ." One of the other boys laughed at him. and Lorenzo answered. Afterwards we sat back. "You are fey. "About a mile away there is a farmhouse and its outbuildings without a soul living there—I rode in and looked around. From either side of the road ahead the hills fell away. a smudge of light reflected in the water beside the northern bank. but the stables are sound enough to sleep in. "There are no gulls.Ahead of me one of the riders checked. He had spoken the truth about the farmhouse. and across the saddle of the third horse was slung the carcass of a deer." The whole party held its breath. waiting for the duke's yea or no. "Yes. I hate the places where the old battles were fought—I always feel the soldiers are still there. For an instant I thought we had crossed the breadth of Italy unaware. Then I saw what he had seen and gasped. and I turned quickly to making the stables fit for habitation. "This must be Trasimene.

withdrawn. As Domenico's head turned towards me. then he shifted his weight. whether or not they had learned too much of him while he slept. The hot smell and the darkness engulfed me as I pulled it to behind me. It would be a very long night. I could see the intentness on his face as he deliberately scanned his followers. all night if I must. aloof. I felt as though I watched a leopard debating his next spring. I told myself. But I could not stay and watch it. and my heart began to beat with slow. I scrambled to my feet and went stumbling over the slumped bodies to the door of the room where the horses were stalled. Perhaps he was tired of tormenting me with mere indifference. his eyes like slits of calculation. groping with outstretched hands for the opposite wall. It was as if the Archangel Raphael lay sprawled on the other side of the smoky stable. It would not be for love that he sought another partner. He looked like that when he woke from his nightmares and was gauging the reactions of his attendants. and I saw his expression clearly. because he looked up. as if to savor my reaction. I almost laughed at the arrogant contrast of the heavy Cabrian seal ring on that dirt-encrusted hand. his brightness dimmed by dirt and his spirit sunk. I withdrew further into the dark. as he raised his hand. As he turned his head. and I thought suddenly that I would not have recognized him as the elegant Duke of Cabria. and then put my back against it. whether he would have to kill them. and his clothes were creased and stained. to find an occupation for his empty hands and a tenant for his bed.Instinctively my gaze sought Domenico. but he might do it for cruelty. reckless set. the brightness of his fair curls was dimmed with dust. that the nephew should salve the grief of the uncle's death. I thought wryly. and fair stubble covered his firm jaw. I saw his mouth take on a cruel. a successor—from someone among this company. perhaps he meant to give me a rival—no. . I thought his eyes met mine for an instant. Then. His face was drawn and gray. and his head moved with the watchfulness I remembered as his eyes traveled from face to unconscious face. Domenico's charm would win the boy where Andrea's blandishments failed. I thought. inspecting the backs of my hands. Not that I was cleaner than he. restlessly. I must have moved then. Santi will see what is going on and know why I could not stay in there with them. for no tenderness softened the cruel line of his mouth. the trimmed nails black with grime. staring unseeingly at the light that flickered through the cracks between the boards of the door. The dark eyes rested on Lorenzo and lingered. and my nails dug hard into my palms—it would be fitting. but I could not be sure in the uncertain light. Nor any man or boy in this rout. I can stay here. But somehow it seemed unthinkable that Domenico—my proud and dazzling Domenico—should be so debased. a gleam of torchlight lit his face. terrified strokes.

a black. . corroding disgust and boredom. and his shadow crossed the band of yellow torchlight towards me. I could feel his eyes on me and instinctively drew back into the deepest shadow. bitter note in Domenico's voice. . I had to escape the spell of his voice and his touch. I . all he wanted was a human body to charm his senses into oblivion. lifting my arm to shield my eyes. then both his hands were on my shoulders and he was spinning me to face him. With a cry I struggled and then relaxed against him. The horse in the nearest stall whickered and stamped restlessly. dragging my body back against the hardness of his with brutal. traced the line of my jaw and the side of my neck." "Do you care so much for horses that you come to see them at this time of night?" "No. It was boredom. I caught my breath as he loomed so torturingly close: then I glimpsed. wooden and sulky-sounding. than took me out of loathing. and I would rather he ignored me. a glint of the expression in his eyes. and I spun around. and he jammed the torch into an empty sconce above his head. It creaked open." "It is private enough here. In a spasm of shock I wrenched myself away. I ducked under his outstretched arm and flung myself towards the door that led to outside. "Come here. as a thing to minister to the need of his body and nothing more. "I wanted to be alone. I thought wildly. "Thank you. into the silent farmyard. evading the touch of his fingers as though it burned me." There was an odd. inescapable insistence. too dazed to reason. pushing me back against the doorjamb . .Chapter Nine l was still standing there when a flicker of torchlight fell across my eyes. as his fingers touched my cheek." My voice was harsh with fright. "You did not bring a torch. and I was almost out into the freedom of the blanching moonlight when his hand gripped my shoulder. his fingers digging harshly into my flesh. in all conscience. my voice choked in my throat." "No. His mind was still with the dead. He came up behind me with one silent pace. . lingering on the pulse that thundered there. With every nerve in my body aching to give him what he demanded. . Behind the blaze a voice said softly. because he cared no more for me" than he would for a mouthful of food." An undercurrent of impatience stirred in his level tone." I felt as though I were suffocating. but he did not even glance at it. between his impossible lashes. I stood rigid.

Then I had been the cause of that burst of virulent fury on the battlements of Fidena—and could I have been part of the cause of this savage." I said unsteadily. so cold and remote compared with the fierce hunger that was taking possession of me. His eyes were blazing black in his intent face as they studied every detail of mine.so that he could see me in the moonlight. I sent him back for you. They told me you were dead. and he made a sudden sound of impatience and began tearing at the buckles. when he lifted his head at last. Ippolito. his body shining silver with sweat in the moonlight. Your Grace. and that he was alone when he died—I thought the Spanish had taken you and killed you when they had done. how he had ceased to talk of his unfulfilled errand and spoke only of following the duke. I felt a rush of cool air against my face. The rubble on which we lay. but I held him as desperately as he held me." "I brought you the news of Ippolito's death. "I have not spoken with you. He said at last. "If it is the devil's work. If some coven has raised you from the dead. and then with an almost animal groan of "Felicia . I stared up at him helplessly. where the moonlight checkered its rubble-strewn floor. I will be damned again for this night's work. and his hands lay on my shoulders like dead things." he bent his head and kissed me ravenously. and the next thing I knew he had half pulled." I remembered Ippolito's relief when he saw me. My fingers were caressing the back of his neck as he raised his head. clawing at his shoulders through the padded tunic. the words coming feverishly. "He was killed helping me. Behind his head I could see the stars. The broken tiles were cold under my back as I felt him undoing the strings which fastened my doublet and shirt. like a god's. I felt his arm slide behind me and pull me close. "Not I. . half carried me into the ruined farmhouse. in a queer gray voice. I moaned. and his mouth was warm against my breasts like a hungry child's. I was whimpering. the cold and the smell of stale sweat—nothing mattered but the urgency of our need for each other." and he shook his head again as though he were dazed. I do not care. then he looked up suddenly past me. lingering greedily on my lips. sticky with grime. I lay with my body arched and my legs apart while his kisses invaded and possessed me. I only heard someone saying that Ippolito was dead. "You are dead." He spoke so softly I could barely hear him. His hand went to the neck of my doublet. . . I told you." I could only say. then slowly the strength ebbed from his grip." "I did not know you. his hands exploring and stroking my thighs. You spoke to me then. "I have ridden at your back these three days. his hands tightening agonizingly on my shoulders. running lovingly down his forearms as he knelt over me." "You were with him. wordless grief? I said. swearing viciously under his breath." He shook his head. half with pleasure and half with pain. Our skins clung where they touched.

and the frightening and wonderful knowledge that." And then the long strain snapped and I lay laughing in sheer golden relief. wonderful -completeness." "Yet you came." I interrupted quickly." Domenico stiffened. it was as if he mocked himself for his own memories." Then his eyes. I thought you meant to leave me behind in Fidena and that I must fend for myself. . We lay locked together like one single. with Domenico at first startled and then beginning to laugh . Your Grace?" He caught his breath. . and then Domenico said." "I had to. only the piercing warmth and a hurting. startled. narrowed. "At Ippolito's bidding. straining. Then he said in an altered voice." I answered and was startled by the look on his face. When I slid back to the ground at last the stars seemed paler in the sky." There was a short silence.A sudden hard thrust and his face blotted out the star-filled sky. after so long parting. My disguise was too good—-he thought I was a boy. the two-backed beast. I dreaded the moment when we must separate." I retorted." It was the merest breath. "Santi! That . his body like a living wall around me. "and he saved me from the importuning of Andrea Regnovi last night. there was only his strength pulsing through me. "You have cut your hair." "I did not know you still wanted me. scanning me watchfully. but he lifted me and held me against him so that there was no breaking apart. I forgot that there was anything else in the world. I would never have contrived but for him. one white hand came out and touched the ground beside my head. "He helped me keep my secret from the others." "And what payment did he ask for this favor?" "None. "No. "And you have ridden among these vassals of mine for three days. at this moment he was mine and no one else could lay claim to him." "Why come as a page?" His voice hardened. and none of them recognized you?" "Santi knows. and my fingers felt foolishly soft and relaxed as I reached up to touch him. "My good Ippolito!" in a tone that was halftender and half-bitter." I returned steadily. "Am I dead. spending its strength upon itself and glorying in the spoil. "I still have power enough to protect my mistress. He sent me after you. "Andrea?" "Yes. softly groaning animal. My breathing was shallow and rhythmic. "A page with hair as long as mine would have made a blind man suspicious.

and even now he could not resist showing me off as his minion to these poor remains of his followers. As the horses clattered out of the farmyard. soft-footed as a cat.too. But gradually as I worked. and the shadow that passed me. and Andrea's. Is all well?" I nodded. and one or two heads turned at the soft sound—Domenico's. it was only pressure on my love-punished flesh that still hurt me. until at last I was moving freely. and I knew that the blood was rising in my cheeks as memories of the night before came flooding back. "Hurry up. young sluggard. and silencing my laughter with his lips so that both of us sank back again and the cause of our laughter was forgotten. "I saw you come back last night. Santi said. and had to bite back a cry. I pray God he has not guessed it all. but I should have known better. "but keep your collar well fastened to hide those marks. when I had woken torn and bruised and still bleeding sluggishly. and once or twice Lorenzo glanced at me in impatient contempt. the pain abated." he returned. scowling as though he had been berating a lazy stablelad in the Palazzo della Raffaelle. reluctantly. summoning me to his side with a swift flick of his fingers. my feet finding tiny spaces between the humped bodies. I lay down with a little sigh of thankfulness. I thought. and I murmured protestingly. I groped my way back to the inner door and into the room where the men lay sleeping." "Good. folding my lips tight. I crept through the motions of saddling and bridling like a snail. until I saw where Santi had spread his cloak for me. There was a wind running before the sun as I limped back through the horses' unlit stalls. His expression did not match his sharp words. I had not known so much pain since the first time. For the moment. and that I could bear. slowly and monotonously. Santi was watching me carefully. "What is it?" and I shook my head. My cheeks burned. I could hear the nudges and the amused whispers as I pressed my horse forward. then I moved. quick and vigilant. burying my face deeper in the cloak. so tired that my eyes shut of their own accord. I wondered hazily why I should feel so tired. I saw his gaze go from me to the duke and comprehension followed by a smothered leer cross his girlish features: well. dark shapeless bundles like old clothes strewn on the floor." Then he turned his back on me and went away. and I trod softly through them. messire. Someone was shaking me. My eyes were accustomed to the dark. releasing my arm. Domenico twisted in the saddle. When I got to my feet it was slowly. his veiled eyes lit by a suspicion of teasing laughter. He had flaunted me before his court as his mistress. as though I had been beaten. "I think so. I had hoped that he would leave me in oblivion at the back of the troop. He gripped my elbow as though to hurry me and said in a low voice. . or you'll be left behind!" I blinked drowsily and peered up into Santi's dark-browed face. seemed like a part of a dream. until I pulled it to behind me. there is one who has guessed something. I could not quite suppress a gasp as I landed in the saddle. Someone gripped my arm and pulled roughly. the unfastened door was banging.

but never—-if I cared for his anger or the sudden flash of panic in his eyes—be out of his sight. if it chafed." he said deliberately. From then on I rode as fast by his side as if I had been chained there—I might have been a dog he had whistled to him. Now it was for others to tend the horses and scavenge or hunt for food. The men eyed us warily and went by in silence. I realized then what Domenico was about: He meant to go north. "Did you have good rest last night. but every face around me was stamped with the same grim fear that they had only to tell someone of what they had seen. and I knew that danger was the reality and not this mirage of peace. his thoughts were far away. Your Grace. out of reach of Rome. but I answered woodenly. and his eyes flickered to Santi and then came back to my face. his hand would come out and steady it. and when it had gone by.Baldassare fell back to let me reach Domenico's side.. and there was no sound but the hoofbeats on the road and the jingle of harness. I did not breathe freely again until we had left the haunted plain of Trasimene and begun to climb the road veering northward. I must stay beside the duke. "Why that?" "I was named for my patron's son." "Marcello!" His eyes narrowed. but it skirted them and followed a long." "Marcello. "Your name? I have forgotten. and Domenico heard. If my mount lagged. as though he thought I might vanish.. I had learned so much of the country in my long hours with Father Vincenzo." Behind me Andrea gave a little snicker of outrage. good boy?" The insinuation in his soft voice made my hands clench. north away from the Spanish garrisons in Naples. and I knew that only to the north was there a gap in the encircling mountains. or his voice would give me quick instructions to curb it. Your Grace. The duke leaned over lithely. oblivious to the little band of fugitives venturing into it. it was a moment before the strange. He did not trouble to look around but only checked for an instant. talk to him when he pleased or be silent when he would. and I was desperately afraid that he would miss the way. "Yes. The valley looked peaceful. . almost idly. He was staring through them with a frowning preoccupation that made it clear he did not see them. half-hidden by the short strands of my hair. He watched me almost constantly as we rode. "You have our patronage now. and I wondered for a moment whether I had dreamed the war from which we fled. I thought at first that it would take us back into the mountains again. absent . listening. and his gloved fingers brushed the side of my face where he had left a bruise. Then he spoke again. All but Domenico's. Then some farm workers with a cart came plodding up the road towards us. long curving hillside down into a green valley. he would take its leading rein. We had reined in to the side of the road to allow the cart to go past." I told him.

noting the raggedly cropped hair which was jammed untidily under my cap. Four or five days—-and nights—longer. "Boy. but even without looking around." Silently I guided the mare a little towards him. I could feel his eyes on me and knew the expression that would be in them. speculative and searching. I stirred uneasily. "I have thought of nothing else since I lost—what I lost. . Did you think I had none?" There was a glitter of irony in the dark eyes. "Does it matter?" Not as long as I am with you. shortened until we were riding knee to knee. where are we going?" In the shadow of his black hat. I was too anxious for circumspection. He was coolly assessing how I came to pass as a boy. I answered inwardly." again. and then he said. "We cannot run for ever. Then he shifted his weight in the saddle and turned his head so quickly that his eyes met mine before I could look away. ." "What is it?" Cheeks burning. scanning the features too weak. with a gleam of mockery in their depths as my discomfort grew. I thought I heard a faint sound as though he were laughing under his breath. come nearer. and the next moment the leading rein was in Domenico's hand." The teasing monosyllable made me start. It was the last thing I had expected him to say. "Yes. I thought when you did not go to Diurno that you had not thought of . I said. but aloud I said. but he only said as though the words were dragged out of him.harshness smoothed from his face. his brows twitched together. . palpably feminine. "Nearer. to break the silence that pulsed between us. His eyes were seeking the curves of my breasts beneath the concealing doublet and following the line of hip and flank and thigh. "You are too far off. it was as though he stripped from me not only my usurped clothing but my faith in my disguise." "Your friend!" I repeated numbly. There was a derisive half-smile on his lips as he watched me. "Your Grace. As though by accident his booted leg brushed mine as we moved on again. "I do not know." So it was Ippolito's death after all that had made his eyes so bleak. I felt as though my clothes were peeling back from my body like husks from grains of wheat. veering away from him. and I pulled the mare's head around too sharply. and we shall reach our destination. . The look on his face made my heart sink. The mare sidled nervously. ." "Nor will we." "Revenge?" he inquired softly. I could feel his gaze penetrating the shadows across my face. for when he looked at me like that. the neck too fragile for a boy's. "We are going to my friend to get his aid. of . my blistered fingers as ringless and dirty as on the day he had first seen me. I was hideously.

"Then it must be . "Savoy is a coward. but Domenico stiffened. there's little hunting to be had in this valley—it's all tilled lands and vineyards. like a cat with lifting fur and lashing tail. "Your Grace must do your pleasure." He shook his head. for it was folly. I sensed a sudden wariness in Domenico. my great-uncle. . . I blurted." He choked." and stopped. like a sycophant. He watched me a moment longer. then." He added as though he could contain himself no longer. Your Grace. and then he began to laugh. "I think I should take her without his countenance. good Santi. unless you fancy death's-heads for servants." Not Ippolito. . "Your Grace. but his city and the name of duke were the losses that had flayed his pride. . . I stopped the thought hastily."Then why are we not going to Diurno?" "I will not parade my shame before that old fox. "He is old and white-livered. then said deliberately. The pain in his eyes was the festering of wounded vanity. ?" he prompted remorselessly. "Sweet innocent!" It came on a gasp at last." I longed to ask whether he would still marry the daughter. . and turned thankfully as Santi came up beside us." His voice still quivered. I could not do less for a wench who spends so long in the mountains for my sake. no more. "It must be . "I shall borrow men and redeem it all before he knows for certain how much is lost." I gripped the mare's reins fiercely. and a glimmer stayed in his eyes." He spoke harshly. but I managed to fold my lips and stay silent. then continued. ." . "It must be the Duke of Savoy's help you are seeking." I smiled involuntarily. and he must not know how much his casual words had hurt me. Savoy's daughter had traveled to Diurno from her father with servants and goods to go with her. We must do something soon." His voice was as cold as ice. a high. It was a deliberate torment. "He would not put himself in jeopardy for so slight an alliance. while I . watching my face." I said. He may do so in any case. yet my heart still ached for him. "We are to thank you for preserving Marcello. And our food is gone. The beautiful face was twisted in bitter mirth. Santi looked uncomfortable." "But he must support you if you are to wed his daughter. . "We shall be out of the valley by nightfall. and no means to get more. "It was nothing. and I flinched from the mockery in his tone. and the sound hurt my ears. and will wait to see who is the victor in this contest before he pledges his loyalty. . "He would deny his pretty bastard to keep out of this broil. The boy has been safe enough. my own pain engulfing me like a tidal wave and leaving me speechless. Lord Andrea's heat must have blinded him. derisive laughter which made heads turn and men rein further away from him." There was a moment of silence.

" I retorted. you must not. had to be coaxed through the press of people and the rumbling traffic of carts and horses. I dismounted at Domenico's bidding and held his horse's head. As ill luck would have it. Santi shrugged faintly. and I watched him go. . made restive by the unaccustomed bustle in the streets. yes. we are rare chapmen! That knave would have charged us two gold pieces for that moldy bread and said they were not right money. But when I made him know their value. There was nothing for it but to follow. but nothing would turn Domenico from his purpose. very softly. I had decided. I patted my mare's neck and whispered soothingly to her. he sang another tune." The hoofbeats were loud in the silence. and I could see my own fear mirrored in Baldassare's face. "God's death. when he returned." My voice died away as I saw his expression. I started at every sudden motion in the crowd. and I said quickly." Santi looked apprehensive."Nightfall is no good for hunting. He said at last. "Should not." My voice quivered between laughter and tears. carried a basket of loaves." Santi cast me a pleading glance. Every moment seemed an eternity until he returned. "We have money enough. the next place we came to was a fair-sized market town. to offer Cabrian gold to the pope's own people and try to be gone before Pius learned of it. . "Your Grace. There were exclamations and even a smothered oath. stopping my blood. "Then we shall buy our bread like the common herd. Your Grace. but I did not notice. Your Grace. "Would you care if I were taken?" "Indeed. taut and gray with strain. The reins were twisted tightly around my fingers. and Domenico was in wild spirits. The horses." . that when Domenico was dead. have we not?" "Yes. he guessed what was coming. The caress seemed to linger on my skin as he walked away into the crowd. Every face seemed dark with suspicion. I should kill myself and trust in God's mercy. every sound an alarm. beside him. "And pray that it does not choke us. but inwardly I was as fearful as she. Your Grace. but Domenico did not seem to hear. calmly. Then Domenico said sharply. feeling sick with dread. and I made a little gesture of despair to Santi. then fell behind to tell his companions what had been decided." "Must not?" His voice was uneven. Santi." Domenico's lips twisted scornfully. If you were seen or recognized . He was staring at me now as though he were trying to read my innermost thoughts. and he flicked my chin casually. as he might have done to any pretty page. "Why?" It was achingly gentle. "Because no man else knows where we are bound. and I thought he stiffened in triumph.

It was only as we remounted that I saw what he had seen over the heads of the crowd. and he started. Their startled looks as they avoided the mincing hooves seemed unnaturally marked. one with a vague familiarity which teased my brain." I called quietly. It took all my strength of will not to set spurs to my horse in shameful. angry curiosity. and my mare's ears were twitching nervously as she picked her way through the knot of cheerful men. so near the common haunts. It was as though contact with mankind had reminded each of us that we were fugitives. "but at least they are not Spanish. I thought wryly. for now we were like her—badged as surely by the hatred of men as she by her leprosy. passersby turned to stare at Domenico's great height and arrogant grace. The mere chance of meeting soldiers unbargained for—whether they were enemies or no—had shaken the confidence which the quiet days in the mountains had lent us. No one spoke until we had left the town behind. outsiders who would be remembered for our speech. And listening to the chatter around me. and we would not risk lying by the roadside as we had done before. His hand covered mine as he took the horse's reins. as though she sensed my dread. and to my eyes their faces changed. I found myself thinking of Maddalena. "I do not know. They looked up as we passed. Night was falling when we reached open country again. Even now my fear had not wholly left me. But what was important was that we Cabrians were foreigners. with all the airs I remembered from the Eagle of men off duty." We had to ride through them to reach the end of the street. "They are coins of a different state.I put a restraining hand on his arm. Perhaps some local lordling keeps his own soldiers. "Where the devil do they come from?" one of the courtiers demanded. and we were tasting afresh the bitterness of it. and from a distance I heard the outraged snort of two of the townswomen at the stranger's familiarity with his page." And a long time. "We had better move on. Without warning. like that of a child who sees it has lost its mother's attention. I realized that the people spoke with a different accent. betraying panic. "Messire. To him they are not right money. and I knew they turned to watch us as we rode away. a barn standing isolated in the midst of a field. A group of liveried men at arms. had entered the street and were strolling towards us." Baldassare returned quietly. "What are you thinking?" Domenico's voice was full of sudden. before he ceases to talk of it." Santi said abruptly. and I noticed Santi glancing worriedly about him. "What is it?" . suspicion replacing good humor. there was nowhere we could sleep in this open valley." "He will go a long time before he is paid for his bread in gold again. remember. for despite the travel dirt upon him and the broad hat hiding his bright hair. Then I saw a dark shadow against the darkening sky.

" and I saw his fingers clench. "so I need not sleep among the general ruck. "Do you think my title will sweeten this hell?" My throat grew tight. "You're right. beyond that dip in the ground. There is a barn. who had come up by his elbow. "It was my duty that kept me back. "I will suffer your barn. he means." "Why this ceremony?" His voice had roughened. ." I would have gone then." and then I met the flickering flame in Domenico's eyes." "I ask Your Grace's pardon. and I knew my use of the big man's name stung him. I think. I had never liked him so well in the court of Fidena—there he had seemed a frippery creature."Over there—a barn." My heart was beating fast as I turned and signaled to Santi to turn off the road. and I said woodenly. And you shall stay by me and keep off the dreams. "We did not give you leave to leave us. In one corner a ladder led to the loft. Blessings on all farmers who build their barns close to their hayfields and far from their homes! What do you think." "Messire Giovanni!" he echoed sardonically. . We could sleep there. good boy. "Tell the duke." I smiled at the dryness of his tone." and I spurred forward obediently. "It will do well—we shall be spoiled to lie under a roof two nights together. windowless place heaped high with hay. just as a voice called sharply. and what had shown as a look of mild kindness in his eyes was proving to be a strength and patience I had not suspected." He peered. We tethered the horses outside the barn and went inside in silence. Santi said." I was thankful that he could not see the color that stained my cheeks in an uncontrollable tide. "As you please. and the little flame showed a high. "To our left. I think. and so warm that I knew we would hardly need our cloaks. If you will not know your duty"—his gaze held mine—"you must be taught. and then his heavy face lightened. Santi put down his basket of loaves to light a wax taper from his tinderbox. "Marcello!" I heard Andrea snicker. . he was assuming a character of his own." "Where?" He strained his eyes in the gloom. if Your Grace will consent to sleep there—Messire Giovanni thinks it will suffice. but he stayed me with a hand on my horse's bridle." "We do not grant it. "If Your Grace will . in adversity. one of the painted satellites who encircled Domenico. It was dark and smelled sweetly of hay. my lord?" He addressed Baldassare. "Ganymede. But now.

"Are there no more of you?" Domenico shook his head. and Domenico said sharply. shadowed face. a ridiculous armed tortoise. until I learned later that Santi had slept like a great door ward at the foot of the ladder. His dream came to him. and whom do you serve?" Domenico demanded. and I tried not to see the ring of faces watching—our own men and a score of others. "It is for us to ask the questions-—come down quickly. "You are the captain of these men." . I felt myself pulled back out of the circle of lamplight and looked up apprehensively into the beautiful. and Baldassare's lips were tight with impotent anger. "Well!" He sounded startled. "Will it please you both to come down?" the soldier inquired sarcastically. "What is it?" The man's head and shoulders came through the floor and peered around. but Andrea's giggle was silenced as the duke's head turned. and clearly he had counted on dominating the situation until he found himself having to look up into Domenico's face. I recoiled. It was as well for my boyhood that they did not." It was so quiet that I was not sure I had heard it. "We will lie somewhere less populous. glowering Santi was being held by three men. then Domenico's fingers closed around my wrist. I heard a ripple of knowing laughter that came from throats other than Andrea's. I thought he would never sleep. I heard the commotion below and rolled over quickly to peer through the hole in the floor of the loft and found myself face to face with a stranger climbing the ladder. arms akimbo. I take it. and he smothered his screams in my breast. When the reeling shadows had steadied. "We have the rest of your crew safe enough. I did not understand why no one came in the night to disturb us. The man who had mounted the ladder now stood back and regarded us. A crimson. It would have been absurd if it had not been so startling. until I felt sick with the pain." "Who are you. His hands on my shoulders were clenching. by some miracle it was not dry." He backed down the ladder to watch us descend. Your Grace. Andrea indicated the high dark loft and giggled.and a lantern hung beside it. and after a minute or two Santi could blow out his taper and survey the barn in a dim yellow glow. As I climbed after him into the hay-strewn loft. and he caught up one of the loaves from Santi's basket. He was evidently the leader. and it was only thanks to my fear of discovery that I was dressed again in my boy's clothes when the soldiers broke in upon us with the first glimmer of the morning. for no boy ever lay with his lover as I lay with Domenico that night. The half-hidden face hardened." His whisper was quite clear in the warmth of the barn." "So. "Your royal chamber. "Come. slowly clenching. He grunted and thrust his thumbs into his belt. My palms were slippery as they gripped the wooden rungs." The rest became ostentatiously busy spreading their cloaks on the hay and dividing the rest of the bread.

The soldier continued. For a moment the fair face was a mask of calculation." A sound escaped Domenico that made everyone jump. too." "I should think not!" The soldier grinned." "And why did you bring them here?" "To sleep. "Our lord would have a word or two to say to that." he retorted angrily. Our lord sent us to see what manner of men passed through Bolsino in such haste. all mired and dirty—and talking so soft. "Well. a hiss like a cat's of sheer exultation." "What lord is this of yours?" Domenico spoke as though he had not heard." and scowled at his own compliance. "We've orders to bring you before him if we think fit." Luckily the soldier was hardly listening to him. and I've a mind to do it—entering a man's barn without his leave could be a crime." "We are honored." he shouted suddenly. Bring him after me. "No." "You have a charter then. "The Count of Mesicci. Perhaps you'll speak less haughty then and look humbler." "The duke?" Domenico's head lifted sharply. As he spoke. we will follow you." he added scornfully. "before I flay him alive!" and he turned on his heel and stalked out of the barn. and I could see grins on the faces of one or two of his men. beyond Bolsino. like singing birds. There was a blaze of triumph in his face. "for you'll wish you had never come here soon enough. "I know my lord will be grateful for your presence. then Domenico said.Domenico's eyes lit. and again it stirred something in my memory. The man answered. "Is there a duke in these parts?" "Where have you come from?" It was a jeer. I held my breath as he opened his mouth to speak and then let it out in a gasp of relief when he only said in a stifled voice. "You take it correctly. not to mention the duke. "Our thanks. "Of course there is a duke! The pope's domain ends an hour's ride south of here. do you. and he said lightly. I noticed again the harsh accent I had heard in the market." The soldier's face was flushing ominously. "It is good you are so pleased. and I could not quite remember who it was. to sleep where you fancy? Or do you style yourself King of Italy?" I felt Domenico tense and prayed that he could hold on to his temper. . Someone I knew spoke like that.

I thought that the leader's anger was betraying him into foolish haste. he seemed suddenly more formidable. He was a little old man. when suddenly I saw a single stone tower clinging to the side of the valley above us." Domenico turned then. This man was the ruler of this castle and . he doffed his hat with a deliberation that made an insult of the courtesy. half-obscured by trees. nearly as old as the Palazzo della Raffaelle but barely one-tenth the size. and then he crossed to a high carved chair on a dais at one end of the hall. his face was as still as a mask. "Don't be jealous. we were taken under guard to the castle hall and stood waiting while the leader sent a message to his master. . "Do not touch the boy. my lord. which is the leader. my lord. "Well. "Make him take off his hat in my presence. I . fat and selfimportant in a furred gown as tight as a sausage skin. Seated so. captain." The count made his height sound like a deliberate impertinence. Surrounded on all sides by the count's men. good Enrico?" "That one. and I lost all desire to laugh." I wished miserably that it were jealousy. From its gates the road fell steeply away. ." A jerk of the helmeted head indicated Domenico. When we had dismounted. To lose everything now. I'm one for a wench myself. assessing the little fat man coolly." One of the soldiers laughed. he said suddenly. and his florid countenance took on an alarming hue. and straight ahead the rocky side of the cleft reared straight up into the sky. his eyes shuttered and somehow withdrawn. his men circled warily around Domenico and closed in almost apprehensively. curling down the side of the valley. He suffered them to hem him in. are they?" "Yes. and before anyone could move. Only his black-gloved hands betrayed him. blocking out the view. There was a silence while he took several deep breaths. "He is very tall. I glanced up at Domenico. It looked as though it had once been a watchtower. "So these are the vagabonds. and even now it was a building for use and not for luxury. for there was no sign of any dwelling. The castle of Mesicci was old." The leader of the soldiers was wooden-faced now. we were forced to travel at a hard pace—too hard for our tired horses to keep up for any length of time. He came through the doorway almost at a run. but as one of them put a hand on my elbow to draw me away. then stopped and shook himself and his robes into good order. Then the soldiers closed in behind. "Hmmm! Well. The count gobbled. puffing and blowing in his haste.Left behind. But it was no more than the warning snarl of an animal whose dead quarry is approached too closely. after four days' bitter journeying. for the intrusion of some unknown petty nobleman! The count had assumed such nightmare stature in my mind as we waited that when he came himself in answer to the message I almost laughed aloud. firm!" He took in his prisoner's unearthly fairness with starting eyes. scarlet with exertion.

had passed through Bolsino." "The Duke of Cabria!" The count's eyes popped. do you know?" . and his black eyes were suddenly searching." The count was flushed again." The count's tones grew peevish. "Well now. of course. even if he was bald and as fat as butter. "Haste indeed to travel like that—if you are indeed from Cabria." "But the son is a boy— a stripling! Far unfit to rule! How old is he. "We come from his city of Fidena. is it Duke Carlo you mean?" The count looked annoyed. and they stayed here for a night—what are you staring for?" Domenico said in an odd voice." "My fa—" Domenico checked his forward impulse. "Are you certain of this?" "I was at the new duke's crowning. It is well for you." "We are riding on the Duke of Cabria's business. fellow? He was taking his bride back to Cabria. "What business makes you risk your heads crossing the Papal States?" "We were sent in haste to the Duke of Ferrenza.these Territories." As Domenico spoke. The ring was borne down the hall to the dais." The very expressionlessness of Domenico's voice was somehow disdainful. who are you. as though the words had some meaning I did not understand. and his feet did not touch the floor when he sat in his state chair. Your duke stayed here at this castle. The count's fingers laced themselves comfortably over his ample stomach. I heard a stir of excitement from among the Cabrians. and the bald head and the helmeted one bent over it in consultation. to give a message to him. "And I sent for you to make sure that you meant no harm to my people. "Why should I believe this rigmarole of yours?" "I have the duke's signet. some sort of deserting military perhaps." "What?" The count bounced to his feet. and I saw this very ring on his finger then." he added suspiciously. this time with excitement. "Look for yourself—-my lord. and where do you come from? Answer me that. "It looks real enough." "Of course. and Domenico dropped it into Enrico's outstretched hand. At last Enrico said. His son reigns in Cabria now. sirrah." Domenico drew it from his finger as he spoke. I heard that a mess of soldiers. "Duke Carlo died two months ago. You could be bandits. twenty years ago. "It never leaves the Duke of Cabria's finger save on a royal embassy or in times of great peril. "Who else. "My lord. fellow"—he blinked at Domenico—"that you did not try to trick me with forgery—I should have known it at once." The count nodded his permission.

but I think they are to inform him who is reigning now in Cabria. then nodded self-importantly. where he lives like a monk." A long relieved sigh whispered from every Cabrian throat. "Yes. all nonsense. good Enrico. but the duke is not there. You must bear my commendations to him when you go. and our state was never so prosperous as it has been since this duke ruled us.There was a faint smile on Domenico's soft mouth. that is settled. they are not brigands. "Urgent. then added." "Yes. and the duke has removed to his summer palace in Majano. "yet there may be something in it for all that. "His Grace does not confide in me so deeply. very likely that is their tenor." he finished interrogatively. The son does well to continue friendly towards our duke. "Majano? We are bound for the capital." The count rolled his eyes sapiently. you will do your new master little credit by presenting yourselves in Majano as you are now. I dare swear. well. to tell him that Carlo della Raffaelle is dead at last? If that news is two months old it can wait a few hours longer. Why does he send messages to our duke?" Domenico's long lashes veiled the flash in his eyes as he answered." The count left the dais and came bustling towards us. "I have never been bidden to such a banquet." "So much! And the years ill spent. "while I write a letter to my lord the duke. who is also his cousin. Unhand these men. It is said he had dined on human flesh. as though he mocked himself. my lord. fellow. His good Grace has lately become weary of government. "Now I think of it. "Nine and twenty." came the reluctant reply. "At your lordship's service. from all I have heard. . It is the good Bartolomeo who keeps in the capital." Domenico stiffened." the old man fumed. and Domenico bowed ironically. you may go there and welcome. . ." "Then it is sure to be some mischief." Baldassare snorted and managed to turn the sound into a cough. The count glared at him. and I tell you. but the moment he spoke I realized it was in surprise rather than in anger. You say it is the son's business you are bound on now?" Domenico nodded. . and he shares the burden now with his brother-in-law. "Witchcraft and murder and women and I know not what else." "All nonsense. good fellow—the Amerighis are a mighty family. "Well. as you feared." "Our business is urgent. I am told." There was a note in Domenico's voice that spelled danger." The discontent in his round face was a comic contrast to the eagerness that had been there when he asked for news of Domenico's licentiousness. you shall all stay and dine—and make yourselves cleanly—" He added a little too quickly. "Yes.

which will take you to Majano in two days' riding. did not merit much in the way of courtesy. shaming masquerade. little more than half as far as the capital. before I had even had time to wash my hands again to rid them of the horse smell. and the sight of them made me acutely conscious of my breeches and of my whole. I swallowed and turned away. a rough one. one of the castle servants came hurrying to tell me that "my captain" was asking for me. Pain caught at me as I realized how little of his thoughts he had ever willingly shown me. calculating. once there. eyeing Domenico with undisguised curiosity: the count and his wife had three daughters. well-worn brocades. it is true. he does not look like the patient sort. "In the castle hall with my master and his family. "You attend me disgracefully. with their ordered hair and modestly cut." "No. he slapped my cheek lightly with his glove. it seemed. Marcello." It took longer than I would have believed possible for us to clean ourselves. "Go now then. "I had to send a slave to search for you in the end. then. The count's voice broke in on my thoughts. What would these wellborn women. there is a road. Enrico and his men escorted us to the stableyard and indicated the well. and as I turned. you and your fellows. Even now I did not know whether he had meant to go to this duke all along or whether he had stumbled into his land by mistake and had woven a swift mesh of lies to extricate us from the count's interrogation." The empty fingers of the glove rested on my cheek and were drawn down the side of my neck like the brush of a butterfly's wing. The count answered him with a look of astonishment." Domenico nodded abstractedly. altering plans of which he had told me nothing. and his absence made us behave foolishly: Lorenzo and I emptied a whole bucket of water over Santi's woolly head as he bent over the well coping. breathless. I will take you back to him-—you had best hurry." Most of the household was foregathered in the hall when I reached it. "Where is he?" I demanded. "he is not. "Why." The hooded eyes glimmered."Where is Majano?" Momentarily all Domenico's pretense of servility had deserted him. As an afterthought our saddlebags were brought. mere servants of another state's ruler. a gentle buffet that was almost a caress. We will eat in two hours from now—it seems"—he eyed us all complacently—"that your duke is not overlavish with his servants. From here you may ride southwest across the hills to meet the river and then follow its curve to Toli. and I knew that his thoughts had gone on ahead. and Enrico will show you where you may clean yourselves. say if they knew the truth? The soft snap of the duke's fingers cut short my thoughts. At the dais end the count and his family stood talking. and he spoke with unthinking command. Our soaked clothes dried on us in the heat of the stables as we set to to give the weary horses their first thorough grooming in days. . but good enough. and he spluttered and roared in mock rage while we giggled like children." I agreed wryly. with a comb or two and a mirror. Domenico was called back to wait upon the count. and with the aid of the mountain-cold water we sluiced off the grime of our travels.

for your hospitality. "My lord. Amerighi is my professed ally—it is time he proved his goodwill. I thank you for him. Near me one of the Cabrian lords hissed "Sa-sa!" and Santi stiffened like a dog about to utter a warning snarl. "Here is your master's ring again." Domenico did not move for an instant. and then he seemed to wake and crumpled the glove in his other hand. his empty glove resting its fingertips on my shoulder. it was lodged in the cracks beside his fingernails in spider-fine lines of brown. otherwise. black and utterly opaque. at any moment the dog might be rent to shreds. "Well. Come here. Your Grace. "My good lord. staring at the money in his palm." the count called out. then. Around us the talk had fallen silent." Even to me my voice sounded breathless. "What do you mean to do?" The words were out before I could stop them." Domenico bowed his head." "Then you are truly going to the Duke of Ferrenza?" He nodded. with my mistress and all my court."Your pardon. And here I have writ you a safe-conduct to take you through our lands to Majano. Domenico stood as though carved in stone. he moved to the count and bowed low. "I would speak with you myself. with a studied deliberation. and I looked up to meet his eyes. fellow. sirrah. and you will deliver my letter?" "With all due care." the count said importantly. He has been soliciting me to visit him time out of mind—and now I shall do so. He thrust his hand back into the glove again." . "Bear with this old dog if I can. and for us all. "and the letter you must bear to my kinsman the Duke of Ferrenza. our captain is not a man of many words. Eat his food and leave his letter in a ditch on the way to Majano. you and your men will find the liegers less easy than we of Mesicci. "I have not so rich a choice of friends. at your lordship's generosity." "Well. "What better could he wish for?" "When you are done conferring." Everyone was watching as though spellbound as the coins passed from hand to hand." Baldassare's voice made everyone jump." Was there the faintest emphasis in that toneless voice? "Hm! Ha. rather. and the blaze in them made the count start. The laughter faded from his eyes and he stood still. then he lifted his eyes. are you dumb?" "Dumbfounded." There was a sardonic twist to his voice. I noticed absurdly that he had not been able to rid himself of the blood of the two Spaniards he had killed. It was like watching a leopard making obeisance to a pug-dog. well—here's for your pains. then.

Paying no heed to those around us. I caught his arm instinctively. and he was watching Domenico. and his piercing eyes scanned my face. So now I could not even comfort him. for I had been too intent on Domenico. but the duke's hands gripped my shoulders. He stood perfectly still as the hall emptied. I wish you all Godspeed!" The count puffed a little as Domenico rose to his feet. trying not to weep. he pulled me around to face him. but the count had gone. "My lord bade me tell you that your horses are ready. his face frighteningly calm. "Take heed. I felt as though my head had been jolted from my shoulders. "and you can be on your way. and smile." and he spun around on me so fast that in that blurred instant all I saw was the lightning flare between his lashes and the sweep of his hand as he struck. saying." "We will come presently. "Well. and eat well before you depart. Come on." His voice was rising dangerously. not the count. and he grunted. Quick." Lorenzo dug me in the ribs as we followed him. . and answer insults patiently. mind. what had seemed like joy when he discovered me was nothing but pleasure in regaining a thing he had thought lost. . and Domenico stood with one arm around his shoulders while great shudders shook him from head to foot. Bow to an upstart yeoman who should bend his knee to us. I did not hear a footfall in the silence after he had gone." I answered stonily." Domenico's answer was curt. if nothing else provokes him." one of the count's men said. The count and his family passed down the chamber on their way out and halted near us. Perhaps. The little man's alarming color subsided. The blow rocked me with its force. "I do not know. and nodded towards the duke. I realized I had not tasted a crumb. and I could see the flush I dreaded rising in his lean cheeks." sharply. "Do you think he can keep his temper?" I shook my head. "And we are to run the errands of that old dog and thank him for his payment. "Prettily said. "Your Grace . "Did it hurt?" His voice was so treacherously gentle that I felt my heart turn over. purposely towering over him. now. his gaze never leaving my face as he spoke. fellow. that you deliver my letter!" I saw a scathing answer rise to his lips. and then said softly. and I knew he had come up behind me. "Am I to ask your pardon?" . "Your Grace is no weakling." When the meal was over. . fellow. . let us sit down. and withdrew. . I held my hand to my stinging cheek. you are all welcome. Baldassare was gripping the duke. I averted my eyes as he lifted his head and heard him say "Marcello. just as the door behind us opened. but Baldassare's face was anxious.The words were the expertly gauged flattery of a man who has made his fortune by flattering. "You're an absolute fellow!" The man said half-admiringly.

" The count cast me a disgruntled look. "He well deserved his punishment." and his fingers tightened. "Does that quit us?" There was no trace of the expected laughter in his voice. "I have a thing to tell you that I could not say before them all—it would not be fitting. and a hard intentness that made my eyelids fall before it. I should have left him long ago. "You there. "Keep your tongue. The stableyard was almost empty as we saddled our horses." and gave me a slight shake." "Your Grace does not need to ask pardon of such a sullen lad!" Andrea struck in." "Hm! Well. So many times I had had the same bitter lesson. I managed to say. It is somewhat private. my lord. fellow! A word with you!" Domenico seemed to freeze." His voice was toneless. keeping me just off balance. He looked like a cat. Your Grace. then he thrust me impatiently away and strode towards the door." Domenico said levelly. and they." His hand closed painfully on my foot. trying to pull myself up while she minced in circles. hackles risen. I was so astonished that I nearly slid off on the other side. and the dying embers of his rage. He did not speak again. and even when I had her saddled and bridled. so he had better be. when his magnetism held me like a rabbit charmed by a snake. Perhaps he had changed his mind. were impatient to be gone now that they were fed and rested. I thought with a sickened drop of my heart. "Answer me." . even now.I was so startled that I looked full into his eyes. "Nor do I wish to speak before your—hm!—page. "No. "Marcello is a secret to a fault. My mare fidgeted and would not be harnessed up. I gasped suddenly. and righted myself to look wildly down into intent black eyes. and had decided not to let us go after all. and yet I could not tear myself away. as the count reached him. It concerns His Grace of Ferrenza." Domenico shot a glittering glance upwards. and when I looked back. "My lord. he turned and looked down at the little man. more a helpless prisoner of my own heart than I had been in his dungeon. and always my resolve failed when he looked at me like that. as though from a great distance. over his head I could see the count come hurrying out of the castle. I shivered and looked away. fur lifted. I was beginning to lose patience when I felt myself gripped and thrown almost bodily into the saddle. "He can be deaf and dumb at need. eyes narrowed to slits of light. then. His fingers dug cruelly into the hollows of my shoulders. his popping eyes fixed on Domenico's back. his fair head was bent and he was tightening the mare's girths. I was stranded with one foot in the stirrup. There was mockery there. too. boy. for this is most secret. I could not take counsel from that blind blow and remember that he was incapable of love. I told myself that I was a fool. For a moment he stood as though petrified. I could not mount.

but it is his cousin who has all the trouble of government. in name! His is the signature and his the authority. perhaps. "Which of us is not?" The sudden bitterness chilled my spine. "they say its fame has gone throughout Italy. "He keeps his army with him. "Perhaps. which is that the duke is mad." "I am charged to visit the duke himself. when a grown man behaves like a child." "Hmm. "Proceed. but his fingers had slid from the tuckings of the . "It came into my mind that if you did not know of the duke's retirement." "Very like it." Domenico spoke frowningly. and he has never given proof to the contrary. He has grown very solitary and strange. as long as he had his toys—his collection and his perfect soldiers—to play with. But there is more than that to the matter—men say he is grown a little mad. but he was so big with his tidings that they would not be contained." The count looked dubious. cosseted it and packed it with mercenaries." "In name." he added grudgingly. The count shut his mouth with a snap. For all the duke cares." "Yet none of this is madness. .Domenico said softly. "Certainly the Duke of Cabria knows of it. Certainly he does not conduct himself like one in his right mind. . with everything he wants—paintings and statues and I know not what and his mercenaries to guard it all. save when he goes to inspect that army of his—it is said that is all he cares for." The count looked at him strangely for a moment. sirrah! I speak no more than I have heard. Outwardly all his attention was on the count. his fingers absently caressing my ankle. you might not know of the reason for it. it is said. disturb His Grace. "But you said he still governs. The first thing he did when he came to rule was to draw up plans for the ideal army." Domenico nodded. yes. that and his collection of treasures. toying with the stirrup leather as he listened." He was relaxed now. He is scarcely seen outside his palace. The state has awarded His Grace a nursery at Majaro. "Now." "Perhaps messages from Cabria will rouse him from his melancholy." he finished in a rush. this is no time for your heathen philosophies. and that if you knew that." "I heard rumors of this in Cabria. and now he lets it stand idle—he made the perfect tool without bothering whether he was to use it! And yet. you say. while his cousin works in the capital with all the pains of a dukedom and none of the glory! He may not sign anything greater than an order for hay. you might rather go to the capital and present your message to His Grace's cousin." Domenico said intently. Why should I not?" "Only that your coming might . Ferrenza could rule itself. It seems our good Ferrenzans do not suffice for the duke. his face unreadable.

With the count's safe-conduct our way was much easier. but that is what he has become. Domenico was cramming things back into his saddlebag when the crackle of parchment arrested him. although there was little enough we could do.saddle to my thigh. Sandro's. and he stroked it softly. he said with irony. it is self-will. I think Baldassare must have recognized me. and in the morning early we were on our way to Camuzza. where it touched the leather. "As your lordship says. to be sure. I was grateful in a way that I had no time to think of the other deaths—Ippolito's. "How long has your duke been in this seclusion?" The idle authority in the question stung the count's cheeks to a deeper red. If it is not madness. those nameless Spaniards'— and I could almost. . "I heard of it six months since—it is disgraceful. We reached Toli that night." and I had heard the term applied too often to the pretty boys and painted striplings at the Palazzo della Raffaelle not to know what it meant. we cleaned ourselves and tried to freshen our travel-stained clothing. knowing that it was this army he meant to get from the Duke of Ferrenza. and he looked down with a queer little laugh. tired as we were. tomorrow. my lord. forget that if he succeeded in his battle. with his head buried in my shoulder and his nails clawing at me for comfort. either at Mesicci or soon afterwards—he never spoke of it." he said lightly. "My thanks. I may tell you! Judge for yourself if this humor of his is not unnatural—not to see his own kinsmen when they visit him. I fought my awareness. worn out after a day's hard riding. almost inhuman. not to entertain man or woman save at his express invitation. The boy should do his duty." The impatient shifting of the other horses came loudly into the silence before Domenico spoke. and still to be unwed at nine and thirty! A dozen years ago no man would have dreamed this. impulse. To them I was the Duke's "Ganymede. but before he could get out a word. Domenico ordered our saddlebags to be brought into the inn." The count swelled. No monk either. a couple of coins tinkling on the cobbles behind him. "Poor Amerighi!" I thought the count would expire from an apoplexy. So. When we lay at Camuzza. but there was a consideration in his manner which contrasted sharply with the jesting of most of the others. his voice casual. "for your information. we must be fit company for a duke. beget an heir on some docile wench and leave this unnatural solitude! I have no patience with him. Domenico had moved from my side and mounted his horse in one." and then he turned his mount and was gone. The boy was never merry. "I do not speak in ignorance. but he was always civil—none of these hermitlike humors then." Domenico nodded wisely. from there it was little more than half a day's ride to Majano itself. almost liquid. for now there was no need to avoid the villages in our path. I must give him up. It seemed that nothing could stand in our way—only the nightmares which seemed now to pursue Domenico like avenging furies and left the implacable revenger a crying child in my arms.

" I answered calmly and saw his black eyes smoulder." The white fingers tore the count's letter across and across. As for me ."That old dog's precious letter! I had forgot." . "Not until I have won back all that has been lost.'' "Do you believe what he told you about the Duke of Ferrenza?" "I think he believed it. Soon I shall have to consider the things I say to you before I speak aloud." I asked in a low voice. "If I remember it tomorrow." "Yes. Your Grace." He made a slight dismissive gesture. ." "Soon you will be married." He looked at me sharply. It does not matter to you whether the duke is mad or sane so long as you can get what you want from him. . . "I know. "You are eager to have your precious freedom. and his lips tightened. After tomorrow"—the fragments scattered— "when I have seen my friend Amerighi." I felt a twinge of pride at the steadiness in my voice. "You are growing politic. "Still?" I dared not speak for the tears that filled my throat. "Still so stubborn?" Something twisted in his voice. we shall resolve this once and for all. "Well. hard look about his mouth. . "Will you deliver it now?" "Perhaps." There was amusement in his face. "And then we shall see. . I shall be patient for a little longer. and then I shall be gone." There was an odd.

Then with a nod of thanks he turned his horse. and we followed him back through the streets. to the freedom of boy's clothes. I thought. After so long in the open." he said softly. watching his supple back. as though centuries of sunlight had been absorbed by the stone. far smaller than Diurno. even to the sense of fatalism that carried me on in the duke's wake because I felt there was no other choice. in marble. of learning to resign myself to emptiness and forgetting that I was ever his mistress for a few short weeks. until we came to a shallow ravine with a slender. He would win back his dukedom with Ferrenza's army. then. but a warm. away from the center of the city. "Ferrenza's winter palace. a world of politics and statecraft in which I might easily be swept aside and forgotten. in wood. By now his Savoyard bride must have reached Diurno and the welcomes of the archbishop— Domenico would marry her. It was a sour little consolation that I had never once confessed how much I loved him. built on a high ridge which thrust two arms across the plain towards us. Andrea tittered and said. and in which the choice of whether to stay or go would no longer be my own." Baldassare said nothing. At least I had salvaged my pride from the wreck. "Ferrenza has the ear of the pope and his province's loyalty is very strong. But now Domenico's world was beginning to exert its force again. . and I would face a lifetime of not having. Its houses and palaces were clustered on its slopes like limpets clinging to a rock. In the afternoon sunshine it looked very fair. "One would think we were in Rome. in bronze. what are we doing here? As well to put our heads into the lion's mouth as to parley with the pope's friend." but Baldassare hushed him. not the bleak gray of Fidena or the opulent rose of Diurno. its streets were cobbled and precipitous and looked fit for nothing but donkeys to traverse. arched bridge facing it. Majano was a small city. and everywhere I saw the blazon of a she-wolf. built like a small fortress on the raised ground above the ravine. The duke had reined in beside a passing citizen and was exchanging a word or two. "In God's name. the tall buildings seemed to crowd. He was watching Domenico uneasily." Andrea was unrepentant. its walls gleaming pale gold. and then it would be as if none of this had happened.Chapter Ten It was with a heavy heart that I set out the following morning. so have a care what you say. gentle color. I had grown used to the comradeship that had grown up among us on the road.

the grooms will see to your horses. and a little later there came one to say that no petitioners come here." Domenico's voice was bitter. His Grace will be here directly. I realized for the first time just how shabby all of us had grown. they said. I said that I was no petitioner but came on business to His Grace of Ferrenza. We will not go skulking to Ferrenza like beaten dogs—ride and tell him that Cabria is coming." I felt a pang of astonishment. I gave a farewell pat to the nervous mare I had ridden for so long. I told them I was an envoy from the Duke of Cabria. and they said I should have ridden to the capital. "How were you received?" "Coldly at first. Domenico gave no sign of impatience." We waited for minute upon crawling minute after the sound of hoofbeats died away. thinking absurdly that my last link with that long ride was breaking." Dismounting. but he did not wish you to enter his palace ungreeied^—if you will please to dismount.Trees clustered at the foot of its tall towers and I could see others growing beyond the great gate. Go on with your story. Your Grace! I am Filippo Marcionni. Domenico was questioning Baldassare almost under his breath. it is only his talkative kinsmen that the duke hides from. We shall follow behind. "If Your Grace will allow me." "And then?" "I sent one of the grooms with a message to the palace—he was loath to go. and at a slow and regal walk our tired horses crossed the last bridge and entered the gates of the Palazzo Amerighi. no one dared speak. But perhaps. the duke would receive no visitors. his eyes fixed on the gate beyond the ravine with the attentiveness of a cat at a mousehole. I thought with an involuntary smile. and looking at him. "My good Baldassare. and beside him stood a small plump man with a pudgy face and thinning hair who immediately stepped forward and bowed to Domenico. Marcionni was bowing again. within the courtyard. We are petitioners right enough. I will inform the duke of your arrival. the look of long strain gone from his face. for this overwhelming gracious-ness accorded ill with the old count's tales of a half-mad recluse. you and your followers." . "Welcome. secretary to His Grace of Ferrenza. Your Grace." Domenico was gazing at the palace with a frown between his brows. "You lied. There was no reading the expression on his face. he sat still in the saddle. until Baldassare should have given the fitting warning of a royal duke's approach. it was to give the signal to move on. "You shall be our envoy. Baldassare was waiting under the trees. but I greased his palm for him. When at length he wrenched away his gaze. looking at the sober richness of his clothes. he was insistent that he should know at once.

His chestnut hair was combed smooth and lay like a cap over his head in a straight. I thought for a little that he was foolish. At first he was cold and reserved— civil. and much else besides that I will not repeat." "Well?" "He smiled. . he . 'Raffaelle is coming here. made me sit down. he changed. rawboned and loose-limbed and thin almost to emaciation. At last I made them understand that I was in earnest. and then said. For a moment I thought I felt a pulse of recognition. he had never seen the duke before. he gave a wholly charming smile and came forward. but the white fingers had clenched. glossy fringe. He only stared." Baldassare frowned. When I said that Your Grace was at hand. Amerighi was nearly as tall as Domenico himself. like a saint! He was transfigured!" Baldassare looked eager." Before Domenico could reply. staring almost hungrily. and he turned swiftly. He smothered me with welcomes. There was no answering smile on his face. Then. even as I looked. sardonic face with a long nose and down-drooping hazel eyes. sent for wine for me to drink— Your Grace's name is a powerful charm with him. the door behind him was thrown open. after that all was well. and they fetched Master Secretary Marcionni. and a thin. his face changed. but he stared through me. He was . "And afterwards you shall tell me what occasion makes me so happy. "I could not understand him. It was a gaunt face. drinking in every line of the beautiful face and graceful body. Your Grace. "You must be worn to death after so long a ride! Come in and refresh yourselves." the elder man corrected gently. then when I told him I came from Cabria. Marcionni stood there. and I saw Domenico's expression of negligent watchfulness wiped out by a look of cold shock. strange. "I swear that Your Grace will be made truly welcome. he did not seem to understand me. for he took me to the duke at once. but then I forgot it. He had a bony. Like a—well. I fear. ." Domenico's smile did not touch his eyes. his hands held out. masked. a little forbidding—clean-shaven in contradiction to fashion—but not unattractive. and after a moment Baldassare continued. ." ." His glance barely skimmed the rest of us. . the promised visit!" "Unlooked for. "Under Your Grace's pardon. "Unhoped for. straight mouth that had once been smiling and was now ridged with lines of ill health or grief. . It was gone in an instant. . and I realized then that for all their professed friendship." His hands gripped Domenico's and held them. cousin. "At last. after so long a delay."They told me the duke would do no business." Domenico said nothing. that he was in retreat here. "My dear cousin. for I saw the way he was looking at Domenico." "I thank you. bowing on the threshold and ushering out the man behind him.' and he ." "What did Ferrenza say?" "But little.

He ushered us out of the sunlit courtyard and in among the cool shadows of the palace. I have ordered a chamber to be prepared for you." Domenico's voice altered. but I had the impression that Amerighi's brain was racing." Amerighi's dark brows lifted. "In these clothes I am Marcello." The hazel eyes smiled." I had already turned to follow the plump secretary. and I looked away to find Amerighi gazing from one of us to the other with an odd. "Felicia . and I was still blinking when I found myself in a small." was all he said. . Amerighi was handing me a cup of wine." I stood paralyzed. "A pretty fellow. arrested look on his face. and thought irrelevantly how beautiful it sounded. it is I who am grateful. especially such great ones." "She ventured herself. I shall take order for your night's lodging. Does she come after you?" "No." He went to the door and paused by it. For the first time. There were startled movements among the Cabrians and I knew they were staring blankly at one another ." His fingertips brushed my flaming cheek." I turned as though compelled and went to his side. "I thought it best for her to ride so among my men—we came in haste. We are ill prepared for guests. cousin. I beg you will ask for it. Amerighi said in a tone that robbed the words of any compliment." Careless fingers pulled off my cap. Behind us I could hear voices receding in the distance as Marcionni led the others away. to be going with them.Amerighi shook his head. fear of the unknown beginning to cramp my stomach. except Santi. then. . Will you present me?" I sensed Domenico's reluctance and spoke before he could. suddenly. "At your service. . Your Grace. "I wonder you ventured so delicate a lady on so long a voyage. for your sake and her own. when Domenico answered. "I must crave your courtesy for my mistress. I shall not feel like myself until they are changed. I longed. and the metal in my hands felt cold and heavy. and with every step I could feel the eyes on me. And perhaps Baldassare. and my servants will see your people bestowed fittingly—if you want anything. I heard Amerighi's deep. . rather grave voice. "No. she is with me. "If you will give me leave. to be free of this stranger's curious stare and the breathtaking touch of Domenico's fingers. "Forgive me. astonished." "Marcello. "A prettier wench. almost accusing. I beg you will use her well. but it brought the blood stinging to my cheeks. Somehow the silence was worse than an outcry. Amerighi looked away from Domenico. to my sun-dazzled eyes it was pitch dark. but you have no baggage?" . and there was little time for gallantry. "What should I do else? The lady is welcome. richly furnished room with a long window looking out on the lazily stirring trees.

and you have refused. "If he has asked you to visit him before. "What. . "Perhaps all men are not as distrustful as you. . you will not need to suffer his gaze upon you." "Do you believe that?" His fingers gripped my chin and forced it up. "I . The lady is more difficult. My eyes fell before his." I shrugged. I have said. "What do you think of our civil cousin. then when Fidena is mine again. "That is done. piercingly. a brooding look in his eyes." . and I have scarcely seen him yet." "Belike he will.Domenico shook his head. he is strange." The white fingers drummed impatiently." Domenico's voice was edged. and Amerighi smiled. do you like him." Not a glimmer of expression betrayed the fact that he had seen Domenico's hand cupping my face." "Mistress Wisdom. and you shall not know him long. the door opened again. I tried to say. and I said after a moment. then?" he demanded softly." I could not find words for the unease which assailed me when I looked at Amerighi. "It is as Baldassare says. Do you think we are as welcome as he says?" The question echoed my own uncertainty. "True. I do not know him. Domenico turned to me. but even as my lips parted. he must be doubly glad to see you now. and Amerighi came in like a shadow." He stared at me suddenly. Your Grace. But there is something ." My voice quivered with a laughter that was close to tears. "I shall speak him fair and get his army from him as soon as I may. I have no cause to mistrust him—he had been kind beyond mere courtesy." It was himself rather than me that he should guard from those long." "What do you mean?" "It is all too easy. "Then we must contrive. I would not deal so gently with a ruffian calling himself a duke." The derision in his eyes made my hands clench." As the door closed. I will not be long. Felicia?" "That he will prove a generous benefactor. "If I were Ferrenza. but something is being done. "But that was not what I meant." The intense gaze dwelt on Domenico. "My valet will attend my good cousin of Cabria and supply your wants from my own wardrobe—I think we are enough of a size. I do not know." The black eyes frowned. "I hope I may have your company at supper. if you are not too tired with traveling—I feel we have much to discuss. "For my part. . calculating looks of Amerighi's. "I do not know what else to believe. I would be happier if he seemed less kind. .

" "I shall be impatient to hear it—I am eager to know what brings you so far from your city— Fidena." Domenico sipped his wine slowly. I have loaded them on a willing ass and retired to this palace. his face relaxing into a rueful smile." The thin mouth curved. cousin. Is not that a strange sort of retirement?" "I have said I like to superintend my treasures. the court does not remove to Diurno until it is fully autumn. and my army is the greatest of them. ever seeking the best men. for fear they might be tempted from my service by one richer. You Dukes of Cabria have always had a fondness for Fidena. Every man is an expert. but invincible." "Yet I have heard that you keep your private army garrisoned here. "Living here in seclusion. and they must be ruled by one who is content to suffer their stupidity. "I created my army as a sculptor creates a statue. No one cares for proper order but myself. .Domenico nodded. and he was watching Amerighi through his lashes. molding. I marvel how you found that out. "There is much talk of this seclusion of yours." "We too have heard gossip on our way here. "rather choose to withdraw. . refining. "Nothing is of worth but what is duly prized. the rarest skills. I have little to do but learn the news." Amerighi glanced swiftly around at me." Domenico's voice was toneless. Since my cousin Bartolomeo has shown himself willing to take on the burdens of public life. have you not?" "We have. For a while we were doubtful of our welcome. "But where is the sense in repining? If they will not learn. By now they should have found you something more fitting to wear. and you can cease to be Marcello. There is a matter of great importance to us both on which I would like your opinion. I keep them here. "I shall be glad of it. I myself. close to my hand and my purse-strings. cousin. which suits me better. a small force." Amerighi's long hands made a slight. I care more for superintending my treasures than for governing the state. without pattern!" He broke off." again that slightly deprecating movement of the hands." Amerighi laughed. Now I have a collection of mercenaries whose prowess is the vaunt of Italy. "My subjects cannot understand my dislike of pomp and pageantry! I have always disliked them. . they will not. is it not? Or are you dwelling in Diurno at this time of year?" "You have a good memory." "One hears gossip." "As you prize this lady. proved in his craft. with all this talk of soldiers and statecraft? I will send for a servant to take you to your chamber. and you may rest there until suppertime. I have always harkened to news from Cabria because of our states' old alliance and our friendship." "I applaud your judgment. do we not. dismissive gesture." . the people live out their useless little lives without thought. "We weary you." There was the faintest of smiles on Domenico's lips. they say you have turned hermit. and they have not been beaten yet. "We came from Fidena." "I remember. madam.

I thought. How Amerighi had come by such a garment. That was the accent I had been hearing ever since we came to Ferrenza. I scoured myself diligently. as I became aware of my surroundings. But then there had never been any reason why she should. My hand had grown thinner. When the summons came at last. Once again I was a stranger to myself: There was nothing familiar in the image that met my eyes. I knew that both dukes were watching me. and she had never told me. bound close under my breasts by a linked girdle of solid gold set with pearls and fastened with a gold clasp at the neck. I was modestly. my one link with my remembered self in Fidena. staring at myself in the glass in perplexity. No farthingale. one accustomed thing in the midst of so much that was strange. When I had done. I thought. he had squandered it in this room. hardly knowing whether to bow or curtsy. I was dry-mouthed with fright. but it was my own. The count. lavishing gold and colors on the walls and silk and damask on the hangings of the bed. clad. It was not altogether strange. My cropped hair looked ridiculous against such splendor. and the ring slipped around. low-waisted bodice. wide-eyed. It was a very strange gown. but I missed Niccolosa's skill sorely. it was high-waisted. and while I stayed still. no petticoat. I stopped short. I had kept my thoughts at bay. it might hide what the gown revealed. they came flooding back. that harsh. shimmering silk embroidered in gold and silver. no lacing. even Amerighi himself. It was bliss to strip the now shabby page's suit from my tired body and to bathe in the steaming rosewater the servant had provided. I gazed around me.I stammered something. faintly guttural speech that had nagged perpetually at my memory. and I blushed at my own reflection. When it was done. Hastily I shook it out of its hiding place and slid it back on my finger with an odd little throb of relief. even demurely. If I kept it caught around me when I moved. rinsing the dust from my hair and glorying in the half-forgotten sensation of cleanliness. I looked for the fresh clothes that Amerighi had promised. Instead it clung to me as closely as a shift. then. There was a cloak the intense blue of the sky which I put on over the gown. and after several vain attempts I manage to comb the short ends smoothly to the crown of my head and secured them with pins. The draped skirt whispered freely without even a brooch to clasp it. and its weight around my shoulders lent me a little more assurance. It was with relief that I closed the door of the bedchamber behind me. Enrico and his men. once I had done. the future had been a . which looked like no fashion of gown I had ever seen. but all I could find was a tangle of gold and silver stuff spread across the bed. I could not guess. and I found myself thinking of that first night in Fidena. Then. rippling and glinting with every move I made. no stiffened. all spoke like Niccolosa. Then I remembered something that would remind me of my own identity—the pearl ring I had taken off at Santi's bidding. She must be a native of Ferrenza. entranced. no ruff. and the knowledge of it warmed me. that a man should prefer this inanimate loveliness to the living squalor beneath the splendor of the court. Then I had nothing to do but to pace the beautiful room until I was sent for to come to supper. I picked it up and held it against me. While I dressed. soft. unless he kept it for his mistress. The Duke of Ferrenza was no miser with the beauty he loved. My reflection gazed back at me. and as I followed the manservant from the room. it did not look unlike the French fashion. as now. The cuffs of its great gathered sleeves were bracelets of gold and pearl. shutting out the servant's wooden face and curious stare. not even a collar. when Piero had come to fetch me to Domenico.

he bowed low and kissed it and looked up at me half-shamefaced. and they turn my stomach—but if I had known—had known—" He broke off and then said simply. Even as I thought so. But it was no dapper. I promise you. not even in courtesy. that these great ones would not deign to discuss their affairs before the household. heaven knows. but I am now— that I could be of service to you. "No. "I mean—I wanted to ask pardon for the way I spoke to you on the journey. but you were right to speak as you did. Piero's shade must have smiled as I followed the man along a corridor and across a broad landing checkered black and white like the floor of the hall below. Someone entered the room. you startled me!" "I am sorry. not trusting myself to speak. loathing the present yet clinging to it for fear of what was to come. "I think you are very brave. and I held out my hand to him in silence. neat in a borrowed suit of clothes. instead. and he stammered. I turned to go down the staircase to the dining chamber I remembered seeing earlier. For a moment I could not see who it was—then I recognized Lorenzo." Color flooded Lorenzo's face. "Thank you. unthinkable—and I had stood waiting." "There is nothing to forgive." Something in the way he spoke reminded me of Ippolito. mocking ghost who bowed before me—only a blank-faced stranger in the Duke of Ferrenza's livery who said stoically that the duke begged for my presence at supper. you are to sup in the duke's private apartments. I thought you one of those pining milksops who sigh after the duke—there are enough of them among the pages. you see. Messire de'Falconieri. I was truly a pining milksop." He shook his head." I felt my lips quiver as I smiled at him. in the way of young boys. I thought. I expected him to grip it and let it go. unguessable. Time had turned back. madam. and I looked around with dilating eyes. "Oh. with trouble furrowing his brow and shadowing his sea-blue eyes. .blank wall. "I did not know. It must have been the first time he had kissed a woman's hand. and his eyes would not meet mine. I gasped. Clearly he meant to utter every word of his apology and would not be deterred. I did not need to ask which duke. and not brave at all. if Domenico were to humble his pride and ask favors." He blurted the words. At least now I should not have to parade before men I considered my comrades in this immodest gown. And I have to thank you for protecting me from my lord Andrea—-I did not do so then. for Domenico would never beg." I should have guessed. gracious madam. His Grace has given orders that you are not to be disturbed. someone moved out of the shadow into my path. "It was nothing—I am glad—I mean I was not then. and again I was walking barefoot through a strange palace in the wake of a stranger. he would do it in private. you and your lord. but the servant shook his head.

and if you will not trust me to honor my debt when I return to Cabria. "I have told you how fortune has served me. Believe me. ". and then his downcast eyes lifted suddenly. . "I must go. some paltry followers of my own. speaking softly. . I said shyly. "Thank you again. Then he said suddenly. "That is the extent of my pledges." Amerighi's thin fingers drummed on the arm of his chair for a moment. horribly aware of the way the gleaming gown clung and rippled. his dark head cocked like an attentive bird's. I can take Fidena back again if I come upon her quickly enough. a queer green gleam in them. Cousin. Domenico a startling contrast in creamy white." He broke off as he saw me. . she is too proud to take counsel from her captains. and he stared unseeingly ahead for a moment. half-silhouetted against the dying sunshine streaming across the checkered floor." Domenico spoke with all his old arrogance. I reached your land" —his voice was perilously even—"with a few half-starved horses. and all the northern states under the Hapsburg yoke. frozen half-out of his chair. "Good evening. I will consider." "She will be lost without my brother's guidance. lady. . then he shrugged." and wished insanely that Domenico would speak. "To make war on your mother duchess . hardly noticing that the servant had gone. All my estate is lost in Cabria—I cannot conceive that my mother duchess will give me a pension to wage war against her. so I am forced to ask you to trust me." Amerighi nodded slowly. the two halves of the Spanish force are severed. . Cabria. Lorenzo. . cousin. I knew that the boy was still standing looking after me."By your favor. Amerighi in black. ." Amerighi murmured thoughtfully. I can promise no more." A shadow crossed Amerighi's face. Your Grace." "And you mean to lay siege to her with my men. Pope Pius will be your only bulwark—but as long as Cabria is safe. . madam . and the Great Seal of Cabria. gripping its arms convulsively. What chance will you have to survive if Gratiana rules in Philip's name? With Naples. As I came nearer. The two men were talking idly. propped lazily against the edge of the table. I realized what he was speaking of. that the conversation was not idle at all. you cannot be more reluctant to give your trust than I am to ask it of you. I am honored by these confidences. my apprehension came flooding back. and but for one trifle . and I stood listening. "I know her. and the great ring flashed. "Should I be reluctant to give you my trust?" Domenico's lips tightened. "I bid you good evening. "Well." As I hurried away." I walked forward. . Astonishment momentarily drove every vestige of expression from his face." The servant's voice made me start. seated in a low chair." I said quickly." He moved his hand to catch the light. "Why should I give you my aid to reclaim your dukedom?" "To save Ferrenza from the Spanish. Then I forgot him as I caught the murmur of voices at the far end of the gallery.

The Duke of Cabria would have punished that presumption with the full weight of his capricious fury. It seemed uncanny that we should sit there. There are no women here to supply your needs save a fat old grandam or two—I have no wife. must stay silent and humble his fabulous pride to a compelled meekness. "And if you had scorned those things. within the carved and shuttered minstrels' gallery. but his face was still. It might have been a long-awaited state visit from Cabria to Ferrenza—there was no word of armies. who is that?" "The Blessed Virgin. I met his gaze for a fleeting instant and shivered as though he had touched me." Amerighi laughed again as he saw my expression." It was lightly said. "I thought so until now. all pretense of relaxation stripped from him.When I looked at him." and Amerighi seemed to start at the sound of his voice. only his narrowed eyes. They become you better than the woman for whom they were made. blazing black. the music of lutes fell softly down. leisurely eating and drinking and pretending that nothing lay behind our presence there. lady. lady. of exile or death. lower arch." The mobile mouth twisted. From above. seeing the impatience behind his lazy unconcern. and there was a glint of overexcitement in his eyes. "It must be a fair picture. as doubtless you have heard. I had been lost. "Not before we have eaten. but I cannot find it in my heart to be sorry. I thought he breathed more quickly. he had straightened out of his lounging pose. but I felt a spasm of dread as I saw the way the muscles ridged about his mouth. and wondered whether his greatuncle's rebukes would have galled him more than this eggshell pretense. I assure you. but for now. there was only the slightest tremor in his voice. A flush stained his hollow cheeks. "It is true." Domenico said deliberately. of usurping duchesses. but when he spoke. Shall we go in to supper?" "And your answer?" It was very soft. and he turned away as he spoke. By now the sun was almost gone. "I thought to have asked your pardon for those garments I sent you." "Why. Amerighi shook his head. "But I hope they may serve for this one occasion. and candles cast a soft glow over the loaded table. But I lately commissioned a painting of the Annunciation from Lombardetto. Cousin. and he left behind the robes in which he portrayed the Virgin Mary. betrayed the wild animal under the artificial calm. I watched Domenico. armies and territories are bad sauces to good food. their tiny flames reflected innumerably in the bright gold of plates and goblets. an almost malicious brilliance in his eyes. affecting not to see Domenico's involuntary stiffening. I took Amerighi's proffered arm and went with him through another. landless exile. They are for a lay figure and not a living woman. I beg you! I will give you my decision soon. but Domenico della Raffaelle. Amerighi gave an odd little laugh. . into one of the chambers off the long gallery." He glanced significantly at the hem of the gown. and I will not discuss it further. his gaze flickering from me to Domenico and back again.

that only that which is prized to the full has any true value—I would like your confirmation that this treasure of mine is worth the store I set by it. Watching the acquisitive cock of his smooth chestnut head and the sharpness of his profile. "This is paltry stuff. I?" The back of Amerighi's hand went to his mouth. and the overbright eyes burned with eagerness rather than rapacity. The fruits of your labors are all around us. He had been too much alone. "But I am a poor judge." Amerighi turned to me. Amerighi sat back in his chair. have you stolen someone else's treasure?" There was a veiled insult in Domenico's voice." Domenico shrugged. when the meal was over." "You honor me. his eyes brightly mocking. and after a little Domenico curbed his temper enough to answer him civilly. In the next room. I guard it against thieves I know would steal it if they could. He talked of paintings. The duke's excitement thrilled from him. "As you will. too. for example. I do not keep in common sight. lady. and I saw him bite his knuckles. Amerighi was too adult. "will you go with my cousin into the gallery there? The servants should have set everything in readiness—I will bring my treasure to you there. I was reminded again of a bird: Sandra had said. but I had the oddest feeling that no one was really listening to what was being said—that the stream of words itself counted for more than its import. "You have been very patient with a man obsessed." "What. But you shall see it and judge if my care is not warranted. is locked the thing I value more than anything I have told you of till now." Amerighi's curving brows lifted. "I do not ask you to judge its beauty. but the Duke of Ferrenza seemed determined to leave no awkward silence." "We have eyes. once." He smiled faintly. but his exhilaration was that of a child showing its prized possessions to other children. statues. to be betrayed by open boasting. like to steal bright things? But there was no greed in the almost ascetic face. describing each piece as though it were to him a living thing.I had expected that talk would flow stiltedly between us. Cousin." "Then. "Who. his controlled face growing animated as he warmed to his theme. that the della Raffaelles were a family of magpies. "To hear of my collection is nothing—the pleasure is all mine in the recounting—but if you saw some part of it. too controlled. you might understand my passion better. "No. jewelry." Domenico yawned. cousin. Did the Duke of Ferrenza. as I remember. Amerighi spoke of his collection of art treasures. nothing in the beautiful voice but a faint sharpening of excitement. At last. lending a curious waiting atmosphere to the meal. I crave . I promise you! What I prize most. I can see beauty"—his eyes lingered on my face—"only in one thing at a time. You said earlier. all beautiful things for use and ornament that he had gathered around him." Amerighi snapped his fingers. only its value. I thought compassionately. but he still smiled. and no man knows I have it—not even those it most concerns to know.

" "I cannot call you by anything but your title!" "You must learn." I shook my head. Domenico gripped me by the shoulders and spun me around to face him. ." . "Felicia? Is that what Marcello is called when he is not Marcello?" I looked back from the archway. At last he said dangerously. burning the whole length of the gallery." He nodded. There were lamps. I and my cousin will answer you in a perpetual chorus. and my solitude has been a long habit. "You are grown great with my monkish cousin." he added dryly. and I stared at the floor to avoid his gaze. and his expression was grave again. dry and warm. I clutched savagely at the edges of the blue cloak. then? He would be glad to have you so familiar.your pardon if I am an unpracticed host. "You cannot call me that any longer. Your Grace. I am not the only duke here. "Your Grace . come." "Your Grace ." I answered in a tight voice. "but I am a creature of habit." I rose to my feet and murmured something as his lips. settle on Amerighi's face. should I spurn his courtesy? Heaven help your embassy. half-sly. making it nearly as bright as day. "It fits you. I do not doubt. Domenico had come up behind me and his fingers gripped mine hard. "Why. The moment we were out of the duke's earshot. . "Yes. Amerighi's eyes traveled past me and widened slightly." Unaccountably I shivered and saw a smile. lingered on the palms of my hands. silver and glass. remember— unless you call me by my name. As he straightened. "Felicia. but the grimness on his face was frightening. I was trembling. fiercely studying the black and white slabs at my feet. . I am not Duke of Cabria until I have won Cabria back again." but he cut me short. I knew that this was only a spurt of the anger he had had to hide from Amerighi. I said hesitantly. . then!" "Take care it does not go beyond courtesy. Tne word is not poisoned. and spare you this confusion." he retorted and released me with a brutal little shake. Say it." he said quietly and vanished out of the circle of candlelight. but before I could turn. half-amused." "Domenico. "Would you rather beg the freedom of my cousin. You must force your stubborn tongue around the syllables of my name or else leave me nameless as well as all the rest.

"I will tease you no longer. Instead I said." Domenico's fingers flexed slightly. then he said in an unemotional voice. I am indebted to you for the clothes I stand up in!" "And it irks you to be indebted to me. "and I beg you to make use of it if it pleases you. yes!" "So you will not go to hazard to regain what you have lost?" "What will you take?" The lips smiled. "It compares but ill with all I hear of the revels at Fidena. I will not lend you my army out of love. For an instant Amerighi gazed as though hypnotized at the blazing beauty confronting him. the smile on his lips a sneer of self-mockery. "My stable? Or the Great Seal of Cabria? I have nothing else of value. After a moment he said lightly. "Cousin." I could not say that uttering his name would be the symbol of my last defeat. Your Grace. "Or yours either." Domenico gave a small." "I know your army to be worth more than my whole estate. I. "I find I am strangely loath to do you favors." I laughed. "In a moment I will show it to you—forgive me your poor entertainment this evening." "It is Niccolo. What will you hazard for it?" Domenico's tautness relaxed and he shrugged. But it would be wrong for me to use it. "You can my-lord me if you wish. but I will give you the chance to win it from me. and beside me Domenico drew a sharp breath." Domenico's voice frayed."I could not even if I wished to—I do not know his name." he responded dryly. an admission of the love he would despise if he knew it. too." a grave voice said from the doorway. What is fitting that I could call you?" He came forward. the elder man watched him a moment and then laughed. but the black eyes were bitter. Do you dislike my cousin's name. "Faith. "Is that the treasure you spoke of. You must blame my monkishness. choking laugh. Will you hear my decision on the request you made to me?" The bright head came up sharply." "You underestimate your worth. and a hiss like a cat's broke from Domenico. have been wondering how to avoid this throng of graces. "Must I be plainer?" . but he made no other movement." Niccolo Amerighi's fingertips caressed the carved surface of the silver casket he held. his charming smile lighting his cadaverous face. lady?" "No. Cousin?" "Yes. "I think my consequence will bear it. except his surname. and I saw the tight rein he was keeping on his temper." His gaze swept the empty gallery.

I take it?" I thought the silence would last forever. were you not?" Domenico nodded. It should appeal to you. . a game of subtle strategy not unlike the one we are playing now. "It will serve. "Certainly." . and his dumbness thereafter. "I will play you for your mistress. "Now I cannot change my mind without perdition. could find no use for her this side of damnation." Amerighi's hazel-green gaze ran over me." The light. intent. almost alarmed." I had to bite my lips to contain my hysterical laughter as Amerighi answered." An expression—it might have been triumph—-flickered over Amerighi's face and left it calm again. and Amerighi smiled. But it would be worth as much. . as I would demand and you could give. And for my part." "And on what are we to hazard?" "On a game of chess. You are agreed that chess shall be our game?" A little of the nightmare look faded." "Good. cruel words jerked Amerighi's speculative gaze away from me with a look that was furtive. The army would be unchanged. I have played whenever I had the means and the opponents. "In your case you will require me to stake my army. but I will do it." he added sardonically." The white hand flashed out with the speed of a snake striking and gripped Amerighi's pale fingers. and I saw him start to draw off his ring. "Then you are content to stake her?" "Content. It seemed apt. "I thought so. When Domenico spoke at last there was a queer tremor of laughter in his voice."But what is worth. Suppose I set a value on something of yours that would counterpoise the worth of my army?" Domenico took a step forward. "Black against white. or being her brother. no. "A bargain. I know I swayed where I stood. my dear cousin? I might ask half your dukedom as a stake or set my army against a piece of silk ribbon. "A very fair bargain. to win back your dukedom for you. Cousin—you were taught to play when you were a child. There was a white look around his mouth. or as little. "Then you Will play for my soldiers. "Well?" It was curt with a boy's impatience. Cousin! What should she be else? I bought her from her fat hog of a brother for thirty pieces of silver."he broke off. I played against my sisters until they married and left my father's palace— but no matter. Either he did not know what a treasure he possessed. "I propose that we each stake what the other deems most valuable. since I was a boy." Amerighi's face was judicially calm. And I . I got her for the price of the brother's deafness when my men brought her away. faintly cunning. in my case—what pleases me. She is yours.

and you will. my thoughts were circling with a sickened. It was a sheaf of papers. And now it was too late for the knowledge to make any difference." I was not listening as they talked quietly together. good Cousin. closely written in a cramped." "Wait!" Amerighi's thin hand checked him." "Read on. you cannot. the corners dog-eared as though it had been much read. Bought like a heifer or a mare to fill the Duke of Cabria's bed. and drew out the casket's contents. "Let us make an end of this quickly. for Domenico was weary enough to let me go." . Domenico flicked the catch. put back the lid. Domenico's fair head was bent. No wonder he had seemed to be asking my forgiveness the night he was brought to the Palazzo della Raffaelle—he must have thought I knew then."True." The fair face was like a mask. Amerighi's voice quivered when he spoke. "Later. It gives you the command of all my forces. "Well. I have only to reach out and take—the White Queen. Does this suffice you?" "Amply. and I caught a glimpse of an extraordinary blaze in them. it is done!" Domenico turned sharply away. The lady is here: If I beat you. and all I could do for him was to acquiesce and let the luck of a game decide my future—whether I stayed with him on sufferance until he married his Savoyard duchess or lay with the Duke of Ferrenza for his sake and kept his bargain for him. scanning the lines. dazed fascination around the abominable fact that I had been bought. "My deed of gift. my loving brother who told me he had made a fine profit in his bargain with the stranger. but as I looked. but the Duke of Ferrenza's private army was more important to him now than any woman. somehow hasty hand. With tightened lips. watching him." He finished with an odd note in his voice. "No. slightly yellowing. but I was shaking as though I had seen into hell. Niccolo straightened and smiled his charming smile as though he had done nothing out of the ordinary. "I have not yet shown you my treasure of treasures. I might have held him for a night or two longer. his eyes lifted to my face. Cousin. to be maintained at my cost. "You do not recognize the hand?" Domenico shook his head. until you are reseated in Cabria. "And neither can I. I would be done with this folly. Amerighi had put down the silver casket on a writing desk by the wall and was scribbling rapidly on a piece of paper." Domenico halted." Amerighi picked up the casket and put it into Domenico's hands. curiosity warring with impatience in his face. then. if you win the game. The white lids drooped again swiftly. No wonder Antonio had not searched for me when I disappeared." Amerighi looked down at the clasped hands. "Do you also require a deed of gift?" "I will trust your promise. yours." "I will not play until you have seen this.

malign triumph flaming green in his eyes. "My lord . I have waited eleven years for this moment. "I will not. "But you are mistaken. Begin . in her chapel. "It is quite simple. "Your sister . . "my sister Isabella. Should I let him think I have forgiven him that?" I faltered. Domenico turned the page.there." Amerighi sounded like a schoolmaster reasoning with a willful child. I wrenched my gaze away and turned to Amerighi. was not that the story? I know it was the tale that devil's priest invented to hide the truth. so that now I shall not see her in heaven. but I did not think even Cabrians would believe it—why should the Lutherans kill . to speak more exactly—to know why I will do him no favors. . Then slowly." Domenico's voice was a threadlike whisper. tighter and tighter. I thought my heart would break when she was married to the Duke of Cabria. I have treasured it for eleven years. .The silver-fair head bent as Domenico's eyes ran cursorily over the writing. Isabella?" "Yes. and then rested on my face. and I thought suddenly. I want my dear cousin—my nephew. "What has this writing to do with your wager?" Amerighi smiled. "Yes. but I feared for her faith if her swinish husband proved kind—I never thought to fear the lust of her stepson." His voice twisted." The thin ringless hand flicked a leaf where the corner was turned down." I protested. The green eyes flickered. ." "But you must. He drove my dearest sister to kill herself. and your creature della Quercia sent it to me—for a keepsake.'' "But I do not understand. as though he feared the movement might break some spell. "The sweetest sister who ever drew breath and the dearest lady to me. "It much concerns you and your father. he knows it all by heart." Domenico did not move. who was watching with a smile on his lips and pure. . . a strange little sound of pure animal revulsion tore from his throat. wavered." In desperation I moved towards him. "Do not interrupt me. "And damned her soul. and suddenly he froze. expression draining from his face. but I did not know then that I was bidding her good-bye for ever. ." The duke's thin mouth twisted for an instant. leaving it blank as a dead man's. and as he looked. . interposing myself between him and Domenico." "." "I will not read it. he raised his head and looked unbelievingly into Amerighi's fanatically bright eyes. She wrote that document the night she died. Only his hand clenched on the manuscript. "The duchess Isabella was murdered by a Lutheran fanatic." the beautiful voice said gently. a look of terror growing in his face as he read. then he stood immobile. . She swore when we parted that she would never love another man as she loved me. lady." He answered without moving.

. and all the time she only wanted me to take her . "I left her there. confession." ." I fought the conviction that he spoke the truth. she must be content with that once—-and I thought no more of it. she was still lying there. I only knew that at last I would learn why Domenico's sleep was broken by Isabella's unhappy ghost. when they should strike at that lecherous Antichrist. bearing a waking nightmare without a change of expression. spine-chilling whisper. "What is a man's life to a della Raffaelle? Any of them would hang twenty men to prove one lie: The Lutheran did not murder my sister. like a bitch in heat. she said. Well. there on the floor of the chapel. it seemed too good a jest to let go. clinging and whining for more. So I spoke to her and told her she could have what she desired. The fingers curled over. Amerighi moistened his lips. And I heard her praying for deliverance"—his voice festered suddenly—"from the sin of loving me—she had preached to me of purity and chastity until my head was ringing with texts. I turned back to Amerighi almost desperately. but I hardly noticed the pain. . and silenced her sermons. she called it. "Are you proud of you conquest now?" Domenico's eyes were like stones. she had even banished some waiting wench of hers I had gotten with child. still in that icy breath of a voice. and I heard her as I passed the chapel door. Even now it kept Domenico unmoving. When she had written the whole story in that document. All I thought was that she was not so pure after all. "How do you know?" "Because Isabella was planning to kill herself when she wrote that . But when I went back the next day to see how she fared. Cousin. . leaving livid marks where they gripped. bloodless creature. I told her so. I went in. She would rather die than live without me if the Holy Mother would not purge her of her sin. and I caught it between both mine. to learn if such a dry stick of a woman could want anything—she was always a poor. I thought I would stay and hear her prayers. and she looked at me as though . he was hanged as a scapegoat for the Raffaelle pride. but I knew that pride." Amerighi said levelly." "As though?" Amerighi prompted insistently. his face set in lines of rigid endurance. He said in a sweet. . She dared not tell her father confessor what had happened: She was ashamed. . just as she was—there was no love in it. and she was kneeling in front of her precious Holy Virgin with her back to the door. and she did not see me at first." One white hand reached blindly towards me. her husband?" "I do not know. tightening. "As though she had seen a ghost. She was like every other woman. I had taken a torch to go back to my own chamber. but it is true—a man was hanged for the murder." He looked around as Domenico raised his head. and I thought everyone was abed until I heard her voice. my father's wife! She could not endure it." I felt suddenly cold. "And then?" "I took her. who was sweet and God-fearing. . she went back into the chapel and stabbed herself. "It was late. and my fingers were lifeless in his. with nothing but her beads and her pride for company.my sister. He said.

but the hand in mine was suddenly so still that I expected all its living warmth to ebb away." Amerighi responded. . On Amerighi's set face was a look of craving which spoke strangely of the love he had borne his dead sister." . . like a gleeful schoolboy. "you must not cling so to my good cousin. "She would not have spared herself. "All red . I had the slave's hands cut off for it before my face. and his eyes were like black wells of nothingness. But she could have spared me. "It might be that my sister hated her own womanhood ." Domenico did not answer. Under the assumed calm his thin body was quivering with excitement. It was the work of a creature who hated women. to our business. then. His expression did not alter by the flicker of an eyelash. his greedy gaze clung like a leech to Domenico's face as it searched for the smallest sign of pain and to the tiny involuntary flexing of Domenico's fingers as my hand fell away from his. Domenico's face wore the look of nausea it had had in the throes of his worst nightmares. "I thought she was sleeping until I saw the floor . You anticipate the ending of our game. . watching him. "Come now." It was then that I realized how much a sham was his unnatural self-control." His voice choked in his throat." I said softly." Amerighi drew a long breath." Domenico looked up sharply. . he gave a tiny chuckle. . "Lady." Amerighi said reprovingly. "No. As he watched my hands fall slowly to my sides."As though she had not moved all night. . I was reminded of a man prodding at a pain-drugged leopard.

Amerighi took the black. I could not believe that a mere game would decide the fate of a dukedom. with a studied indifference marred by the harsh lines hardening his sensual mouth. a chair on either side. later. but as he set it down. The fingers caressing the silver as he debated were as smooth as alabaster. squares of gold and silver set in shining marble. the moves slowed. because he looked up at me for an instant and I saw him pause. "A pity. the glinting gown molding every line of my body. his fair profile impassive. The table stood at the far end of the gallery. I watched intently. but no matter.Chapter Eleven The chessboard was inlaid in a tabletop. he must have sensed my scrutiny. At first the two men played in silence. supple as a great white cat. Domenico's hand hesitated over the board for a moment and then moved a piece: The game was on. and they watched each other as they hesitated. then Domenico moved. fraught with tension." A blush burned my face as I moved towards the table. It was only when the pieces at last began to be lost that I could begin to see the elaborate patterns of check and countercheck. Against the high back of his bronze chair. and sat down hastily in a nearby chair. but the score seemed even. to sit behind the white pieces. the long dark lashes veiled the expression in his eyes. Perhaps I shall be able to teach you. each gauging the other's reaction to an intended move." My throat was dry. Breathlessly I counted them. that the whole of my future life depended on the manipulation of those beautiful little toys. Amerighi looked across to where I stood. I had forgotten. trying to judge the play. his heavy eyelids drooping. In the dust and mire of the long journey. "Will you not watch us?" "I do not know the game. The discarded pieces were ranged beside the board. and from a drawer beneath it Amerighi produced the men and set them out. black against white. The black and white figures of the two dukes were very close as they conferred briefly together. To me it all seemed like a fantasy. how beautiful he was. Almost lazily he shifted a piece. watching only the board between them. but as more chessmen were captured. but it was hopeless. I thought. my scanty knowledge of the rules made it impossible for me to understand the subtleties of the game being played before me. gold against silver. He lounged in his chair apparently at his ease. . in gleaming precious ranks. I could read nothing in Domenico's still face. his silver-fair hair looked unearthly.

Domenico's mind must have been in a tumult. then moved smoothly on. but I dismissed what he said as the effusion of his fancy."You must keep your mind on the game. "Yet I have always wondered why he entertained my plans—a creature of yours who had been yours so long. "What else should I care for?" There was genuine astonishment in the question. He wrote of you in his last letters. "I do not know what he thought." "He was clumsy." Amerighi cautioned gravely. Amerighi shifted his gaze back to the board. he had ever a way of wrapping what he had to say in dainty terms and salting his spying with a grain or two of poesy. I do not wonder he spent so much ink in describing the duke's new mistress. Domenico answered indifferently. "For your father. he confessed before I had him killed. or its loss may mar your game—for myself. you should never neglect the slightest pawn. . my rook is waiting—so. "Yes. he remarked. but not a flicker of it showed in his face as he spoke Piero's epitaph. I cared little for his report save that you might figure as a means for me to injure my cousin. for I knew him white with pox. "You see. gently indulgent. I had only to wait for him to mold away. ." The dark brows lifted. But now that I see you." "I can guard my own well enough." The chessman landed with a hard little bang." "Can you so? Look." He added as Domenico's hand hesitated over the board. "So you killed him? I thought he must have been discovered when his dispatches ceased so abruptly." Domenico said detachedly. As I remembered. "I myself dare not look at her too long. Was it that he was jealous of this paragon?" The jerk of his head turned the words to an insult. though he fancied himself more at first. And all he did to Isabella was slight compared to your ." "But the lady does. "Have you cared for eleven years only to injure me?" He took a white knight zigzagging down the board. I judged the man to have more brain than to be discovered so soon. He only tormented her—it was you who killed her. then relaxed again. I cherish my pawns as long as I may unless their loss is inevitable. . Cousin." Domenico's hand checked the merest fraction. "Piero della Quercia was one of mine. lady. Moving a man with a careless movement." There was anger and an odd kind of fright in the very expressionlessness of Domenico's face as the gold piece swooped on the silver. Cousin. "I am not quite blind. sport. for fear I should lose a pawn or a bishop in contemplation of the prize. Look how she blushes. unrevealing." For a moment the soft mouth twisted in distaste." A tall king moved into the white knight's path. Amerighi continued. you have not regarded your king's pawn.

my dear Cousin. But now I thought for the first time of what the end of it might be for me. he moved a chess piece forward. Then. I do not expect you to concede easily when so much hangs upon the outcome. with another dismissive little shake of his head as though to dispel a mist before his eyes. mate. would maim his arrogant spirit. and there were deep lines etched in his hollow cheeks and from nostrils to chin: But the resemblance which had startled Domenico at their first meeting was shockingly vivid." Something in his voice made me start. before he put the piece down amid the captured ranks. "Check. "Check. Gold pounced upon silver. He said again. it would be like seeing Lucifer transformed to Satan before my eyes. the same down-drooping eyes and thin wide mouth. the glittering movements were fascinating me. you have lost your white queen. relaxing as he did so. far more than the loss of his dukedom. But now . In my heart of hearts I had not really believed that I should have to keep Domenico's bargain. "Check. and Amerighi shrugged." harshly. toying meditatively with a castle wrought in gold. . and I realized that on him. and his mouth curved slowly." and Domenico frowned. and I remembered the name he had given me earlier. as on me. "and . and he shifted a man. bony angularity. triumph lighting his gaunt face. even graceful. His hand hovered briefly. "You must betake yourself to your defenses." the beautiful voice said. "Of course. . I was convinced that somehow he would always have his way. Amerighi murmured. I will play on. The white queen. Amerighi's next move was so swift that he must have foreseen the counter. his were relaxed." . . The hands. one elbow on the table. Until that moment I had been thinking only of what defeat would mean to Domenico."Domenico leaned forward. the glossy brown head made a civil inclination. and the bony fingers tightened on the captured chess piece. gliding with an almost lascivious delight over its cold smoothness. and as Niccolo studied the board. I will stay your leisure: If you can free your king from this predicament. Amerighi watched the countermove intently and smiled a smile that Domenico did not see. were as bonily elegant as his sister's—but where Isabella's had been clenched tightly before her. "No. Amerighi's fingertips rested lightly on the little image. the figure of a woman. in the unvarnished terms of crude fact. The loss of his hopes. the fatigue of the long day was taking its toll. as if he were pleased with what he saw. In the man's face the marks were clearer. Cousin. his face was suddenly stamped with the image of his sister's. I thought: He is winning. There were few pieces left on the board now." Domenico said. the same sallow skin and the same unhappiness. and stared down at the board. Then I saw the chess piece he held in his hand. . and I could think of nothing else. He was looking straight at Domenico. There was the same birdlike. he was twice the age of the girl in the portrait.Domenico frowned and shook his head as though to clear it. robed and crowned.

Slowly. "I regret I must be so crude. . that I have won?" The sound that broke from Domenico was so quiet I was not sure I had heard it. I know. But I am not so saintlike as to relinquish my prize for pity's sake—that would savor too much of turning the other cheek." The dark eyes lifted. spectacle. "not the pageant of Venus? Come. and his arm swept the board clear in one vicious movement. The seconds dragged into leaden minutes. he guided me. his gaze fixed on Domenico's face. "No? But you will watch. . to the doorway through which he had brought the silver casket." the deep voice sharpened. Think now." "What. At last Amerighi broke the silence." and I shivered as though the gallery had grown cold all at once. half a groan. searching for a way out. is done. as though he savored it. the game. ." Amerighi had crossed the black and white floor and was bending to hand me out of my chair. now you need not gaze on them any longer. that you will see me invested in my .There was something terrible in his patience as he sat waiting. . Domenico had not moved. The chestnut head turned. half a sigh." Amerighi's eyes were brilliant. I would have seen you invested with the generalship of my army—I crave only so much courtesy of you." Domenico drew a sharp breath. "Cousin. Amerighi rose to his feet. The precious figures scattered on the flags. "I claim what I have won. bouncing and ringing. and Amerighi glanced back at Domenico. and Amerighi nodded slightly. my dear cousin—I should be loath to have you dragged. and my lady Felicia might love me less if I bade my men cut off your eyelids. "Yes. "You will concede." Even as my hands began to tremble. Then a breath of a voice said. rights to this lady. and my nails dug agonizingly into my palms." Without a glance behind him. with incongruous courtesy. "I am not in the vein for pageants. Leave the pieces. and much has happened to disquiet you. His bright head was bent over the pieces. I wish to make sure you lose nothing of this . His eyes were feverishly bright. here!" . "I offer you my condolences. obsessively searching." Domenico swung around sharply in his chair. The guard. What you shall see now will be far more diverting." I could not answer. I wondered what kind of brother could think of his sister so. and only then did he turn and look back. You were weary. "Lady. then shook his head decisively. "So. Cousin. "think of all I might do to her without the restraint of your presence. but you will appreciate the necessity for my guards.

his black eyes holding mine with a queer insistence. This man"—his voice stripped from Domenico even the courtesy of his name—"is to stand before it and watch what passes within. "I do not want to injure you. It is too plain. by losing the woman he loves beyond his life. their flames darkened by the lamplight." Amerighi said. "By your leave. A man might have dedicated such a room to the memory of his wife rather than his sister. Cousin. anxious to explain himself. and the tasseled pikes crossed behind me as I followed Amerighi down the steps into the windowless chamber and looked wonderingly about me. I had forgotten there was anyone else in the room when Amerighi tugged gently at my hand. he meant to take it where it had been conceived. lady. kill him. A couch stood in the center of the floor before the portrait. His voice. my lord. It was like a shrine: a shrine to the dead Isabella. gentle and reasonable." He stared at me arrestedly for a moment. Now he can live and suffer as I did. reading his sister's confession and dreaming of revenge. "I must do this. bumed in front of a laughing portrait. the guards came clattering through the arch at the end of the gallery. This is dukelike indeed. a child's crucifix. a plain set of ivory chessmen ready to play. both men seemed bewildered by their master's orders and stiffened warily as Domenico rose from his chair and came slowly down the gallery towards us. "You will stand guard at this doorway here. lady. but not before I have done. My fingers felt icy cold as they rested in his. He was not looking at Amerighi as he drew level but gazing at me. I only share his bed. but I felt no fear for myself. If he resists. and all the gentleness drained from Amerighi's face. eyeing me amazedly as he passed. do not bother to lie to me. and I shivered at the thought of the hours the duke must have spent sitting there amid his hallowed relics. There was more of the connoisseur than of the lecher in the dry touch of his hand." He sounded like a child. his face was set. "My compliments. was a jarring contrast to the fanaticism in his face. a single glove lay there." Domenico gave a very faint shrug." I said. but it is the will of God." Before I could try to convince him. He had dragged his gaze from Domenico and was looking down at me almost curiously." The guards stamped to attention. lady. And now that his revenge had come crowding in upon him. "It would have ill become your dignity to be dragged to us. you will ensure that he does not close his eyes or turn away. Take your stands and bring me a light within here so that he misses nothing. but by sending you. I would have killed him if you had not been here. God delivers me from the sin of murder. . here in his sister's room. Quickly!" The sudden impatience in his voice goaded the two guards into action. this strange man did not want me save as an item in his collection or a counter in his game of revenge. and then he glanced over my head and smiled. "No. Candles. "He does not love me.Footsteps came running up the stairs in answer to his shout. One of them hurried to the wall and took down one of the lamps to take to the room behind us.

I stood tamely. His head bent. I could win. long fingers digging into my flesh. Amerighi's hand ran greedily down my body. I wanted to twist my mouth away from the rough. I was afraid suddenly—some thread of self-control in him had snapped. but I knew I must not. and I fought to remember that lack of resistance. Over the duke's black-clad shoulder. "So beautiful . for the look on his face had been too clear. not to fight him as once I had fought Domenico. he was not half as strong as Domenico. my fingers were quivering with the effort not to strike at him. as he parted my thighs. and the blue cloak slid rustling to the floor. a little. "I begin to think my revenge will be doubly sweet. I could see him lounging in the doorway—by his pose he might have been awaiting the start of some common entertainment. But I did not fight. . I wondered how I could bear to let him possess me without crying out. But even as the thought crossed my mind. I knew I would not call. and I would keep his pledge. in revulsion. and the detachment I had trusted to keep me safe was lost in the clutch of half-frenzied.Amerighi halted beside the couch. Then the thin fingers were cupping my face. meek submission to his enemy's desires. his hand came out to touch my breast." As he kissed me again. He said tauntingly. "Did the Cabrian teach you no better tricks?" and. I knew. relaxed and casual. "Now he will know what hell is like. it shrank for a second as though I had burned him and then returned. He was waiting for me to betray him. punishing me until the muscles of my face were numb and there was the taste of blood on my lips. . Amerighi murmured. and I hardly noticed the touch of his mouth. one hand lightly clenched as if in impatience at having to see this spectacle through to the end. . but it was so low in my throat that only Amerighi heard it. gripped my shoulder. catching my hand as it hung by my side. . then his arms tightened. My flesh crept. caressing my neck and my shoulders—for an instant the hazel-green eyes stared almost blindly into mine. sallow and lightly freckled against the ruffle that framed it. letting him loosen the golden girdle so that the Madonna's robe fell open. if I fought him. and I felt the trembling which shook his thin body." and drew me unresisting into his arms. then. his lips against my ear. I thought despairingly. unsteady breath. squeezing and stroking urgently. drew my arm about him. he was fumbling at my throat. for past him I could see Domenico standing still in the doorway. seeing the vein throbbing in his temple as he caught the shining folds and lifted them away. His kiss was calm at first. Well. but I felt nothing but disgust for the gaunt body pressing against mine. A shudder ran through me. Indifference hooded his eyes and stamped a sullen curve to his mouth. one hand reaching up to the crown of the archway as though he were leaning in at a low window. indifference . I might force myself to keep the letter of Domenico's wager. I would not: He had pledged me. leaning idly against a pillar. I gasped then. inexpert pressure. His thin hand. even passionless. and then Amerighi whispered roughly. Almost tentatively." and his mouth came down on mine with a sort of blind ferocity. The goggling soldiers with their crossed pikes might not have existed. waiting for me to shudder away from Amerighi's touch or recoil from his unwanted kisses. pushing me back on to the couch. Domenico was not ten paces away—if I called him . He lifted his head and drew a long. was the last and only way I could help Domenico.

I saw Domenico standing on the steps. As the man reeled back. Domenico had moved so swiftly that I could barely follow the movement. He would not stir even if I called. another caught him. and his hand met my arm and slid deliberately to my breast when I tried to twist away." His voice was harsh and breathless. looking down at him. Amerighi's shadow moved between me and the doorway. "You shall not have her. and it was my movement. and one thin knee was upraised and resting possessively on the unyielding cushion between my legs. and a crash as something fell. Keep back!" Domenico took a slow. scattering his brains on the floor. he only watched the hand. tearing with sudden clumsy impatience at its clothes.had been in every line of his body. the ring of metal. I thought hysterically. trying desperately to beat off his adversary. The thin fingers were warm and dry. "No!" His hand came out as though to press me back again. my dear Cousin. grand or grotesque. not the sound. "Do you expect the devil to keep his word?" . hawklike poise of his profile before I twisted away from him. Amerighi's breathing had quickened. sending him crashing backwards to the ground. Then his eyes lifted. I heard Amerighi's triumphant gasp as a knot broke. "You yourself admitted that I had won. He had no time for more than a startled grunt before the pike head caught him full in the face. I must not think of the man in the doorway. and I caught the startled. "Do not touch her. that caught Amerighi's attention. and I thought he said. "Not now. prowling pace forward. The second man stood astride it. His face was flushed and working. which clustered about the bosses and clung to the ribs of the vaulting. My breath caught in my throat." The chestnut head moved warily. gazing at the beasts of heraldry. and in the same moment a scuffling sound came from near the doorway. his black eyes slitted and dangerous and his lips curling slowly back from his teeth in an animal's snarl. but then he checked. too excited to undress himself. I won her fairly. He must look ridiculous. for your life." Domenico did not seem to hear. scoring my hands on the crushed bespangled silk of the Madonna's robe. why should he risk his skin against Amerighi's guards for something so trifling? I stared up at the vaulted ceiling above me. catching up the fallen soldier's pike and swinging the shaft to catch the second a glancing blow on the head. He raised serpent-bright eyes from his own working fingers. like a heron. pike upraised. Amerighi took a step backwards. I knew I must not look at the black figure stooping over me. The sound of the last blow still reverberated as the man tensed to ward off another. I struggled to get up. a savage sneer on his beautiful face. and I shall take her. Something lay doubled on the black and white flags like the parody of a newborn baby—the body of one of the guards. "She is mine. I waited for the wrath choking him to find a voice. and when it had passed." Amerighi shook his head. Then the impulse to laughter died as ice-cold panic gripped me.

and now he looked calm and calculating. Do you have another of these . . crude instruments . and I thought: I shall die if he is killed. His first blind rage was dying as Amerighi managed to parry the murderous strokes." The bright head inclined proudly. Now the sword blades rested together. the moment Amerighi grasped it." Amerighi's hand quivered. his free hand groping along the wall as he retreated from the steps that led out of his sister's shrine. the tiniest move instantly countered as the two men stood. I could feel my heart pounding so hard that it hurt me. and as it was withdrawn. Uncle Niccolo?" Amerighi's long face was gray. . Domenico was quivering with impatience as he threw the sword. and I was glad that I had held my peace. and the light dusting of freckles stood out against his skin like seared burns. Their swords barely stirred. tensed body—but Domenico moved with a supple strength almost insolent in its beauty. But he was tiring. and at once the battle was joined. "Yes. trying to drag the robe around me again. . . His face was losing its expression of wariness. Amerighi's movements were quick and deft—there was no ungainliness now about his thin. The flags were icy under my feet as I lowered them to the floor. and the frenzied look on his face altered to grim concentration. His blade slowed from its hissing arcs. But the white arm bore down the black. and the blades crossed higher. and there was an odd smile on his face."Do you think I will give her up now?" "Yes. the swords steadied. the blade glinted. the fire in his eyes burned down to a steady gleam. "I will fetch it. as though he realized that he faced a swordsman against whose cunning fury would avail him nothing. As he turned. watching each other's faces." and Amerighi's own sword spun in a silvery arc towards him. The furious attack drove Amerighi back from the doorway. "Now. Do not think to call the rest of your guards— they are not as worthy of your victual as the men in your army. There was no pretense of courtliness in this duel. and Amerighi's first upward swing—like a spear at Domenico's breast—-met a downward blow in a deafening ring of blades. It was as though the two opponents were constantly testing each other. arm and rapier and slim body in a single lithe curve of destruction. Between this doorway and the one leading to the dining chamber. on the wall out there. he seemed to surge forward like an animal on its prey. and then Domenico's voice called. The bony hand caught it deftly. . I pulled myself up. "We have fought on your terms—now we will fight on mine. in your precious palace. Domenico's face was that of a devil as he forced his opponent back across the shining floor. so that I bit my lip in an effort not to cry out. by God!" With one impossibly fluid movement Domenico had thrown the clumsy pike aside and was across the room. his hand gripping the hilt of Amerighi's discarded rapier and shaking it free of the scabbard. Once Amerighi thrust. close to Domenico's cheekbone. lightly crossed and almost imperceptibly flickering. Watching them. It seemed somehow blasphemous that something so beautiful could be so deadly.

then his sword flashed over his head in a dizzying arc and the duke's thin wrists were gripped and held. It was not I they fought for. the empty floor yawning twilit far below. The rapiers locked. and he was panting now. Then. Amerighi attacked again. before he could turn his head more than a little. but somehow the blade was there. I stood in the doorway. Then. There was a flurry as Amerighi launched himself forward. and tipped it over the banisters to fall to the floor below with a smack like a carcass on a butcher's slab. lifting the body with him. Amerighi was staring up into Domenico's eyes almost hungrily. "Domenico!" For one eternal moment they all stood frozen. yet there was no fear in Domenico's face. with a convulsive writhe like a cat turning to fall on its feet. as though one of the statues had spoken. Amerighi had not seen him. without pause—almost without effort—he straightened. The bright head shone above the well of space. assessing. fearing even to blink in case I should miss the fraction of a stroke. I screamed. forgotten. for his gaze was flickering around the gallery walls. and Domenico's face wore a look of wild shock. my hands clenched uselessly at the breast of my gown. not the scream. as Marcionni raised the dagger. At first I did not see the shadow on the stairs. The breath was driven from his body in a sharp gasp as he slammed against the railing. Marcionni took a pace forward and his quick ears caught the footfall. pressing himself flat against the arch so that Domenico's momentum carried him on. Amerighi's weight was forcing Domenico back over the railing. He jerked the sword free impatiently. Then. Then. which made him check. suddenly. and he straightened out of that tortuous position like a bow when the string is released. I was no more than an excuse—the wounds which bred this fight would be healed by nothing less than this. and for a moment the two straining figures were breast to breast. Then. as he did so. It seemed impossible for Domenico to turn in time. the white figure bent impossibly under the black. he managed to twist partially free. stumbled. He hefted his sword a little as though it clung to his sweating fingers. not bothering to turn but simply driving the rapier backwards in one murderous blow. a gasp caught in my throat and was stifled. even when I recognized the discreet bearing and plump. and I had to look again before I was sure. bent to grip the dying valet's body by the belt. exposing his back to his opponent. The strength of his arms forced Amerighi back. and Domenico jerked away sharply.They were fighting in the gallery itself now. and was driven back against the baluster behind him. It was only when I saw the gleam of something bright in his hand that I realized what he meant to do. Then a shudder of something like revulsion ran through the locked bodies. only a fierce corroding anger. There was still time. he moved. measuring. I did not stop to wonder what he was doing there. for the combatants blocked my view. bringing it up to counter Amerighi's stroke and. polite moonface of Filippo Marcionni. It was the weight on his blade. gripping the silken hanging as he fought. but Isabella. In a movement so dazzlingly swift that I could not at first see what he had done. but now they had turned so that it was Domenico who retreated first on to the wide landing. parrying a downward slash. and Amerighi's retreat was taking him through the yawning archway which led to the staircase and down to the great hall: He sensed it. he disengaged and stabbed behind him. It was only as he turned to stare at Amerighi with . Though I was the object of the duel in name. At once Amerighi's knee came flashing up in an ugly foul— Domenico stepped back.

. I could not believe that he would show this mercy to an enemy—-something had happened that I could not see. Amerighi's face was wiped clean of the frenzy of desperation. Then. But Domenico paid as much heed to the wound as he might have done to an insect's sting. half-aimlessly. Fire-eyed. He stopped then. They had reached the floor. sapping his courage. shock and nausea mingled with something like superstitious terror. Obeying an impulse I scarcely understood. curving staircase. Domenico's arm drew back to make an end. his unfocused gaze turned inward upon someone or something no one else could see. He stood still for what seemed like a century. it only served to infuriate him. His guileful but toocautious fencing was no match for Domenico's half-insane recklessness and the speed and savagery that anger had lent his arm. I left the wall against which I was pressing myself and darted to the banisters to look after them. Amerighi took a few wandering steps forward. Without being aware of moving. as though great weights were dragging at it. for him to strike. "Cousin?" harshly. .fury blazing afresh in his face that I saw the scarlet stain spreading on his right shoulder. He was staring fixedly at the duke. the calm slipping from his strokes. the motion of the right arm growing wilder and wilder. He was still gazing at Amerighi. and then Domenico's blade wrenched the sword from his hand. He did not turn as I came up beside him. looking around him as though he did not know where he was. free hand clutching the stone. vast hall. trapping him against the column to be spitted like a chicken. paying no attention to either of us. and the blank eyes lifted to his face without a trace of recognition. his fingers at work on a torn cuff. and now he was not calculating where his retreat was taking him. The valet's blade must have found a mark. I put out my hand to touch his arm as he came level with me. and his eyes went uncomprehendingly to my hand as it rested on his . Amerighi's face was ashen. Then I followed his fixed stare and saw why. he drove at Amerighi with such ferocity that the older man retreated across the landing and down the stairs. and the dark head turned to watch it as it fell. I could not read his half-averted face. Domenico's whipping blade was driving him up against one of the great pillars supporting the carved ceiling: It sang in his ears. . He was backing more swiftly. yet Domenico did not move. He might have been alone. Domenico whispered. my pulses racing as though I were fevered. I could see the thin black shape spread-eagled. straightening his disheveled clothing with compulsive neatness. and Amerighi was flagging seriously now. I clutched at the hangings in agony. Step by hard-fought step they went down. I found myself running down the stairs towards him. his sword arm fell to his side. Then slowly. and there was a curious look on his face. my nails tearing the priceless stuff. and there was no sound in the whole. but the tension in the line of his back made my scalp prickle. white-lipped. One thrust would have ended Amerighi's life. and I waited. the clash of blades echoing vastly up and down the shallow. and his mouth hung open as he strove for breath. he stood calm and quiet.

in his mind I was his sister. I bought him for less than nothing—and I thought you would come to me then. and you could not come." "You delude yourself. "I knew you would keep your oath never to love another man as you loved me. He looked from the pearl ring to my face with a child's anxiety." I felt sick with a new fear as I stared into the dark eyes." He nodded gravely. Niccolo. so that now God will reward our constancy by suffering us to live together for the rest of our days." . miraculously back from the dead. and I felt the color flame in my cheeks. but I will not." and his hands tightened on mine. But I forgot." His voice was very gentle. He died more than two months ago." Amerighi looked up bewilderedly. He touched the ring on my finger and turned it curiously." He kissed my hand. . "Why." Domenico's voice broke the spell. "Yes. "Does Cabria grudge you to me even now. "Dear Sister. I could feel Domenico's eyes on me. "It is the man who brought me from Cabria. as soon as you were free. I knew you would not give my ring away in truth. but I felt no fear—to him it was as though one of the events of this night had never been. . He might be mad. on his blank face a radiant smile grew. "Sister?" Amerighi's insistent voice was almost beseeching. "God may suffer it. "Duke Carlo is dead. was it not." "My dearest sister. but I could not bring myself to disillusion Amerighi. It was for that. who is this?" "It . . . "you were dead too. slowly. and not because you loved the Cabrian's son too well to leave him?" "Yes. sister. You lied when you wrote that you had given it to your paramour. Frightened. but oddly moved." he corrected himseif." "I remember. that he sends this fellow with you?" "No . And I have kept the oath I swore to you." "Why does he seek to command you?" "Should I not?" The whisper was directed at me. and it was impossible to shrink from such joyous tenderness. Isabella? The fat Cabrian will not come to fetch you back?" I shook my head. and then he took it between his cold ones and examined it as intently as a child might do. did you not?" "I said in a dry whisper. and joy throbbed in it. "You have it still.dark sleeve. then. it was for that. I stood motionless. watching my face. "You are here to stay now. "I had a message from della Quercia—you were right not to trust him.

be so childishly cruel. called out sharply. and it was a wager between us to prove to him that I know a little of fighting. "Truly. being a man of honor. The palace guards sent for us when they heard the sounds of fighting—they are cowards. looking up into the pathetically strained face of the man who held my hand. . not a flicker to show that Amerighi had heard. and Domenico's voice cut into it like a knife. "And then?" "What else? Your master." "Is he often so?" . "Your master and I have had a . watching the man. . . . every one. this . and his hands gripped mine urgently." I turned my back on Domenico as I spoke. . but Amerighi's attention never wavered. The leader. "I have need of the services of you and your men. friendly trial of our strength. Isabella? You will swear it?" I was about to make my promise to him when a noise at the far end of the hall made me turn to see an armed man blinking in the doorway. He did not realize that we were fighting in jest. "And the dead man?" "He tried to help his master." Domenico agreed negligently." He touched the wound with a casual fingertip. wager?" "After a fashion. He has fallen into one of his fits. "You know it is useless to speak to him. "I am the captain of my lord duke's army. even now." There was a devilish gleam in the dark eyes. "And you will tell me that you won this fight. "In attacking me he slipped on the stairs and fell on his own dagger." The man nodded slowly. Domenico turned swiftly. and it may be weeks or months before we get any sense from him again. . The silence was suddenly terrible." a fraying voice interposed. Others with lanterns stood behind him."Yes. The dark man glanced at Amerighi and said tonelessly. and in that moment I meant what I said. his gaze resting dispassionately on the scarlet patch on Domenico's shoulder. Niccolo. "What has been happening here?" I saw Domenico tense. and his breath hissed gently between his teeth. "Cabria does grudge her. . arrogantly. peering warily around the hall." He spoke levelly.'' "I will stay with you. eyeing him suspiciously. "Who and what are you?" The man turned." The man's eyebrows lifted ironically. resigned to me to redress his servant's foul—that is why I say I won after a fashion." Uncontrollable scorn tinged his voice. Anger was burning in me that Domenico could. Ask your duke if it is not so. a short swarthy man. "My lord the Duke!" There was no response. Amerighi's eyes lit up. It was he who gave me this. then his bright head lifted a little.

He himself crossed the floor and put his hand on Amerighi's shoulder." "This fellow grows tiresome. not trusting myself to speak for the choking in my throat. "The heat of combat. it will not be the first time I have fought my countrymen. Then he said. "Guard your mistress well." For the first time the hazel eyes lifted from my face." and went out. for his own good and the state's. and as he turned to go out with the captain at his shoulder. and with your help I will win it back. And what must I call my new master. Felicia. "It will be good to fight again. I will send to tell our men that we leave within the hour. escaped from Domenico. He let go my hands." The man bowed obsequiously. It is urgent. standing with his fair head bowed. "It seems I must go with him—you will stay here until I return?" I nodded. you must come with me. fellow. "The woman is not your concern. But his voice was as curt as ever when he spoke. What of the woman?" The question made me jump: I thought he had scarcely noticed my presence. but in these fits he is like a child. and take that carrion and that—your master—out of here." He tapped his forehead. As the sound faded." "The Spanish!" The man gave a wry smile. "Well. across the mountains to Fidena." "I crave your pardon. like a sigh. but I saw a measuring look in his eyes as he glanced at me. . like spots across the sun. "I am the Duke of Cabria. and the captain signed to his men to carry Marcionni's body away."More frequently of late—it was why he was brought here to dwell out of the capital." The man nodded again. his black-clad figure quickly swallowed up in the darkness. Go and warn your men." Then the door closed behind him. The captain lingered a moment on the threshold. . You and your men will be ready to ride with me tonight. "What can be so urgent that it interrupts my private conference with my sister? Learn to know your time. sirrah. "And we have to wait for them to pass. I would say so. when my old one cannot gainsay his orders?" A long breath. "My lord Duke. he said sternly to Domenico. Domenico's left hand crept up to grip his injured shoulder. and Amerighi returned petulantly. and if you will come . He is harmless." he remarked to the hall at large. looking back. "We grow rusty as nursemaids to a lunatic. and the footsteps died away across the courtyard. Isabella. What began it?" Domenico's smile was not pleasant. the Spanish army has possession of my city. and I saw for the first time how gray his face had grown with exhaustion." Domenico turned his back dismissively. "But it is of the utmost import. my lord Duke. "Yes." . "Go and put on the clothes you came in." The smile Amerighi gave me was wry and completely charming.

" He said. "I am going to find my new master. and I felt the tears rising treacherously in my throat. I continued. "You have had value for your thirty pieces of silver." I spoke steadily. I shall stay and care for him—he needs me now more than ever. I said. incurious note in his voice. staring down at me.'' He looked around then. sharply." The single word made my blood run cold. lashing at him blindly. "Do you not care that when he takes you to bed he will believe he is at incest with his scrawny sister?" I ignored him. I shall stay here with the Duke of Ferrenza. and I shall look after him in exchange for the army you have stolen. "Why will you not?" I was not looking at him as he spoke. Your Grace. but I was beyond caution. To prevent them." "No. . It did not come. then it was as though my words came out in spite of myself. a stroke of luck that enabled him to get what he needed? Cold with fury. I only heard the level.Without waiting for an answer. I must forget that I love him. he turned towards the staircase and began to climb. unbelieving—could the tragedy of a man's shattered mind mean no more to him than so much political advantage. "Duke Niccolo won me fairly. walking across the hall to the great door." And I turned and left him. and I will not cheat him now because he is mad. I watched him. have you not?" He did not answer. feeling my heart tearing out of my body with every step. "Why should you care whether I go or stay? You only want me to salve your precious pride! I will not be hauled through the mountains to pleasure you for a few nights more. his eyes narrowing. I told myself violently. and try to salvage some sort of life for myself out of this ruin. "How?" "I will not go with you. sounding shaken. just to gape at your triumph afterwards!" I looked up to see him standing unmoving. And he loves what he believes me to be—that is something. "Because I am not yours to command any longer—I care for your pledged word if you do not. uselessly. "No. waiting for his anger. and then looked away again.

when I have had to fight not to kneel to him as he knelt now to me. toneless. without lifting his head. "I love you. "You cannot go." The words were low. I thought. but I could not speak. as if you hated yourself. His hand touched my shoulder. it was a lie. I was thinking: It will be cold outside.Chapter Twelve "I forbid you to go. and me for making you yield." Cold to him. "I am not yours to forbid. not to beg for the crumbs of his love? Surely my love must have lain in my eyes a hundred times for him to read? . fighting for self-control. I heard Domenico's voice. This could not be happening." He spoke in a whisper. But you have not." As I stared down at his bowed. but perhaps when I find out where they have taken the duke I can borrow a cloak to put around me. and desperation in the white fingers gripping my gown. the earth shook under my feet. I answered without looking back. I thought dizzily. Then. "Felicia!" The raw anguish of it stopped me. Comfort your pride with your conquest!" I was almost at the door. I could not forbear you. I have always loved you—I bought you from your vile brother because I could not live without you. and as I watched he lifted the hem of my gown to his lips and kissed it. as my fingers touched the latch. Tears were threatening to spill from my eyes so that I had to bend my head. "Or must I grovel?" He was on his knees at my feet. But you were such a goddess in my arms. bright head. "Does this look like pride?" His voice was shaking. and I did not hear him come up beside me. a trick to beguile me when his force or his threats failed. "I did not think you would not come to love me—women have always loved me. then dropped again as I shivered. shaking voice." There was a note in his voice that shocked me. "Only once or twice I thought—but then you were as cold to me as ever. I thought that if I kept you long enough you would cease fighting me at last. But there was a note of shame in the ragged. I made some sort of sound in my throat.

he who turned his church into a brothel before he grew too old for whoring!" His voice shook. . "So I sent out messengers. and I felt him trembling as he had done in the grip of one of his nightmares. He forged me your pedigree to show the council. you might have come to love me at last." "And the portraits?" I asked softly. Then when you were mine forever. and I had forgotten it when I tried the trick. He would not have a commoner on the throne of Cabria. She was jealous. "I meant to wed you." It was little more than a whisper. His lips moved soundlessly. then somehow I was in his arms. I knew he would not gainsay me—he fears Cabria—and the tale did him no harm. "It was to stop you flying from me that I did not tell you. . then as he raised his head to look up at me." The words were muffled and difficult. but he stirred as though he thought I meant to put him from me." It was a child's nightmare gasp." Laughter shook me.But it had not. "Those slaves in Diurno accepted the tale easily enough—no one save Ippolito knew for sure that I had no proof of your parentage." I stood very still. then he spoke my name in a strange choking voice and rose hastily to his feet in the only ungraceful motion I have ever seen him make. and my hands went out to him. for what I had given you if for nothing else. she was spying on me and thought she could stop my intent by frightening you with that story of my father. but in the end I wrung their consent from them and consigned my uncle to Diurno to prepare at once for my crowning and my bride. and the silk of my gown tore between his clutching fingers. Why should you be jealous of me?'' I stopped to stroke his hair and felt him go still under my hand. almost unconsciously. "Stay with me. "Nothing else?" For a moment the world seemed to stop as it had on that far-off night in the Eagle. laughing and crying together. "Felicia. I saw the look on his face. his fair cheek pressed." "I?" I murmured. the whore. Those ancient whoremasters debated for four days. half to myself. "No. "Not yet . you would not break it. I asked unsteadily." The bitterness in his voice hurt me like a physical pain. hard against my thigh. like a surge of pain. still without lifting his head. And that harlot Maddalena guessed the truth. for now he knelt humbled beside me. My heart seemed to stop beating. and I invented Savoy's bastard daughter to hoodwink you and silence my damned great-uncle. . on his lips even pleading became an order. But you did not love me enough. He nodded. "I thought no woman would scorn to be Duchess of Cabria—and I knew that once I got your faith. pretending to find out your father and published it in council that it was old Savoy. "All you told me of the bride who was to supplant me?" "To get some sign of jealousy from you.

kissed me with a sort of punishing tenderness that made my senses swim. and he said sharply. too. his eyes were warm and slitted. They will be ready in half an hour. and the white ridges of muscle were gone from his mouth. "I love you. while his eyes searched my face hungrily. the Duke of Ferrenza is safely stowed. "Will you only call me by my name for my hurt's sake? I will take forty such pinpricks to hear you name me. When at last he lifted his head. loving him." "I thought you must have guessed it. "I thought you would hold me as cheaply as all the others if I told you—I have pride. "Your shoulder. cupping my face between his hands." There was tenderness in the smile that touched his cruel mouth. Call me when that is done. and tell them we ride out in half an hour. I love your" He was whispering it against my lips. "Why would you not admit it?" he demanded. Domenico." His eyes rested ironically on the arm which held me bruisingly hard against Domenico. I would have been as free with my tongue as I was with my body. "Are all your men in readiness?" "They are mustering now. "Did you not? Every spy at court was buzzing with it before I silenced the greater part and scotched the less—my hoary great-uncle knew it that first day."I love you." The man nodded briskly and went out. We were both shaking from head to foot when at last I rested in his arms." I retorted. He made an incoherent little sound and." Even a hint of the old imperiousness was back in his voice. "Say it. "My lord Duke. Or did you think I always left my father's feasts to seek out a face I had seen in the Via Croce?" "I did not know how you got your mistresses.'' The black eyes glimmered down at me." I was about to return a laughing answer when the door beside us opened again and the captain of the guard was standing there." Breathless and half-drowning in his kiss. "You love me. "What orders have you now?" Domenico's hold slackened." "Then summon my own men. too. and that was why he tried to spirit you away. your shoulder. breathing the words into my mouth as he kissed me. ." and in that instant my boats were burned behind me forever." I said. I made one last effort to recover my sanity. But if I had known you loved me. and I clung to him. past speech and almost past thought. "More easily"—his hand cupped my chin—"than I have gotten my wife. a knowing expression on his face. I caressed him.

madam. "We crossed the pope's lands so swiftly that we will have overtaken their estimations. She has not set men in the old watchtower. . It was only as the hours passed and I could see the turmoil outside the city gates and hear the crash of cannon and the shouts of men borne on the humming air that my fears came back to overwhelm me afresh. . paced restlessly or sat still. Come." I had not believed him then but had forced a smile and let it go. that it was Lord Sandra's brain which steered the duchess's army. Baldassare Lucello and I had talked together or been silent. but the duchess is a poor general." I had nodded reluctantly. but we were few when we set out and carried no arms and no supplies—the cannonry and the sumpter wagons are what slowed us down." His lips touched mine lightly. but they soon calmed and began to graze indifferently. Baldassare had discharged his duty with discretion and tact." he repeated softly. He had chattered like a magpie when I asked him to talk. trying to divert our own minds and each other's from what was happening below. It was late afternoon and the sun's fierceness was ebbing. And you must own. Domenico looked down at me and said." Baldassare smiled with a hint of reminiscence. She lets her passions rule her head. You shall see. I swear to you. Since the gray hour just before dawn. Now the thought of revenge on his hated stepmother was making him blaze with inward excitement. His Grace will surprise the duchess's forces. "The Spanish will not be expecting a counterattack yet. because she does not think it important. he did his best to allay them. Fidena is a strong fortress. but that would have meant going into battle without guns and with tired and hungry soldiers.As the door closed. . not truly convinced. They had been restive and nervous at first. she sent them out scouring the countryside for my lord's Grace. parching hours of waiting. fallen silent when he realized I was no longer listening. Saddled with me as he might have been with some inconvenient but valuable piece of luggage. madam. he checked and turned back to me. and even so we have made better speed than armies commonly do." he had assured me as the last muffled hoofbeats died away into the darkness. "We will fire Gratiana and her men out of my city." I knew myself forgotten as he turned away. even with the help of Duke Niccolo's safe-conduct!" "True. but my tunic and breeches were sticky with sweat and dust from the long. The horses were listless and sluggish and had been so ever since the noise within the city walls had faded to silence. that we have fared better on this journey than we did on our first. "There is no time to waste. . holding out his uninjured hand. Felicia. "Come. and now and again when he saw my fears plain in my face. Now that he is dead. and I went to him and put my hand in his." "Swiftly!" I had stared at him in disbelief. "When she should have kept her troops fast within the city. My horse's hooves bit into the churned earth as I urged it down the slope and away from the frowning shadow of the watchtower." "So it is. but even as I gazed ruefully after him. Domenico had given Baldassare command of half a dozen bored and surly mercenaries to guard me when it became obvious that Santi had no intention of staying behind in safety when he might be fighting. "But still he—we may fail. We could have forced a greater pace. she will be confounded quickly. when Amerighi's men had ridden down these slopes toward Fidena and left us behind. "It has taken five days more to travel here than it did to reach Ferrenza.

I saw a single horseman break away from the attacking army and come spurring towards the tower. I had thought I was to go with him into battle." I had thrown my arms around him and held him. he had gripped my arms hard and twisted me to face him. It was impossible to tell what was happening at so great a distance. It is too precious to me. and I had doubted that he would remember. . and the attacking soldiers made no more than an unrecognizable stir of activity against the bleak gray walls. . . "I will not have you hazard your life. A little while after the sun came up. you should stay fast by my side. the battle sounds were a mere meaningless discord punctuated by the roar and thud of the guns. whether you live or die. I would never be able to restore it. It had not crossed my mind that injured as he was he would insist on fighting. But he had insisted. when I knew he loved me. and when he refused that. in spirit if not in words. who poured out to Baldassare an account of the duke's attacking strategy. They say it is lower there. too sick with fear to try any longer to ascertain what was going on. and for a moment I glimpsed the courtier who scorned to admit the existence of an area so squalid as the trading quarter of the city. All I had gained was his promise to let me know how he fared. "They have mounted an attack on the main gates. but Gratiana's men will take no account of any man's will." Baldassare shrugged. Then. harsh note to his voice—"I should be back in hell. just as the Ferrenzan cannon began to bombard the city gates. It was one of the Cabrian pages."—there had been an odd. After a while I turned my back on the city. and had seemed not to hear my pleas to be allowed to follow him. "If I could be certain it would be so. Yet the memory of Domenico's set face as he held me during the night before we reached Fidena. I had begged him to command the fighting from a place of safety. So he had left me. wild with excitement.Worst of all was the sheer monotony of waiting. Now. with fifty men and one of the guns. . Our troops had reached the walls before their crossbowmen could raise the alarm. but if you were killed and I survived . and the ports for trading are not so well maintained for defense as they are on the southern wall. ablaze with his desire for revenge. let me share it!" The bright head had moved in negation. prevented me. I thought: I could ride down to the city now and no one would notice that one more boy had joined the fighting." he agreed. "Messire Giovanni will know. Felicia. his feverish lovemaking and broken murmurs. and now . in the midst of a discontented little group of soldiers at the foot of the old watchtower. but the duke and Messire Giovanni plan to storm the wall by the northwestern gate. "Are there any hurt?" "Only four or five. "Domenico. Death by your side"—he had touched my wet cheek—"would be a fine thing. I could hardly bear him to be out of my sight. But he did send. when I had turned away from him to hide my helpless tears." "And is yours less so to me?" I demanded brokenly." . and had ridden off into the half-light of the morning. and I knew that if I broke my faith with him. Again and again as the hours passed. I had given him. my promise to wait. messire. and he had taken that as my consent.

was racked with continual dread. They are all such men. each is an expert in his own province. "You will be safe with the archbishop. I know they are very skillful. the night we supped with him. A light touch on my arm made me open my eyes again. Safe with the archbishop! I would as soon trust myself to the Spanish army. ." I had more courage once. The boy started and crossed himself almost superstitiously. when there was only myself to fear for. My heart was pounding as I rode. madam. The other men beckoned the boy over and began to question him more closely while I stood with closed eyes. but I knew that it masked an apprehension almost as great as my own. . After such an agony of suspense. I wanted to scream at him for the very calmness with which he sought to soothe me. You would not have been sent for if it were not a victory—the Spanish could not know that His Grace brought you with him. a rider had come to summon us to the city. madam. "Do not fear." A gasp of hysteria was startled out of me. messire?" He shook his head. no other safe place to send me. messire. body and mind. "and he told me he had been champion of his regiment with the pike and halberd. I believe. "None. there would be no more allies." "Yes. "I have orders to take you to Diurno if the worst should happen." I spoke with an effort. But I knew that Domenico had made the only provision he could. after what seemed like an eternity." With a small cry I turned away from him. but I cannot help being afraid. Now there was no sign of activity on the city walls other than the triumphant flutter of the silver hawk above the gates. Baldassare nodded. holding my arms across my breast as if to contain a physical pain. Captain Valdares sent word only that it was safe for us to enter the city." I bit my lip. I felt as though this were my personal hell: to be doomed to wait forever. I told myself. I looked up as we drew near them and saw the frowning walls stretching . he leads the attack on the northeast wall. "Yes." Baldassare said quietly. "I do not care for victory or defeat. Baldassare spurred level and touched my arm." he said. and I schooled myself to patience. and they have served together a long time. He cannot be killed now. "I spoke with one of Ferrenza's men yesterday. wondering why he should think it was my safety I feared for. . He must not."Is the duke safe?" I could not control the question. But now. and my whole being. trying not to communicate my tenseness to the mare. Are you sure there was no message from him. ." I nodded and was silent. I smiled at Baldassare. But love for Domenico made me suddenly." "But the duke . terribly vulnerable. while the sun stood still in the sky. "Duke Niccolo told me as much the night we . so long as the duke is safe. I could hardly believe in the reality of what was happening. madam. if he were defeated. I thought suddenly. in which every distant sound seemed like the death cry of the man I loved. fighting my inward despair.

. and the tireless clouds of flies. The houses clustered close by the gates had been gutted. and the sight that met my eyes as I emerged from the shadow made me rein in the mare involuntarily. too. seeming to fill the fast-dimming blue of the sky. lady. in which a few people were engaged in some sort of barter. supporting his huge bulk against the base of the column. and what I remember to this day is the heavy silence. a broad empty space now. I was struck by the unnatural silence within. I hesitated only a moment." My voice faltered. watching my face. too. and as the mare halted. Santi was standing slightly bowed. stone buildings now stood stark like broken teeth. and I caught my breath as I saw what they had hidden. and. I could see the grit that had settled between his teeth. I could see soldiers sheltering under eaves or in doorways. A great bruise distorted one cheek and his face and clothes were caked with grime. the very stones were cracked and darkened by fire. I took a deep breath and urged my horse on. . as he grinned at me." he added judiciously. "Messire Giovanni! You are alive!" The woolly head nodded. And I lost a valuable servant. here and there a cluster of wounded. "I do not die so easily. The great gates hung askew. in the open space before the cathedral. What had been a huddle of prosperous solid. though those Spaniards did their best to finish me off! They put up a good fight. . Marcello!" A voice from the dimness of the cathedral steps made me start and stare about me. In answer.high above me. Oily smoke rolled lazily over the ground. littered with refuse. he pushed back the folds of the cloak that swathed his left arm. The count is not finished yet. "Did you have many losses?" and he made a wry face. a pile of heaped corpses from which I averted my gaze. and everywhere there was the decaying aftermath of looting. It was the first time I had seen the aftermath of a battle. but their stares were bleak and incurious—they did not care who or what I was so long as I did them no further harm. the sour sense of waste that hung over the streets like a pall. roofs fallen in and doorways and windows gaping blindly. a figure emerged from the shadows at the base of one of the massive columns and peered up at me. The market was unrecognizable. It was hard to tell what had been wrought in this day's fighting and what was the result of Gratiana's own siege. I could feel the impact of their eyes as I passed. muffled up in a heavy cloak despite the evening's heat. Santi nodded. My eyes searched the shadows ceaselessly as the horses turned down the wide expanse of the Via Croce. Tiles had been smashed. perhaps ten. narrowing his eyes against the early evening sky. and the stone archway showed new cracks. I wrenched my thoughts back from my own overmastering dread to ask. splintered and twisted. and the earth beneath the horses' hooves was scorched and bare. "You. doors wrenched off their hinges. As I rode under the arch. "Eight men." "Who .

" I gripped her arms urgently. . Crowds thronged the colonnades—people came and went. when he was pushing the men forward to attack the troops in the east courtyard. on the edge of the crowd. the duchess knows me. I shall be well satisfied. dismounted and caught my horse's bridle. to see him with my own eyes or else find his body. every captain with an errand. and if the duke grants me a pension. and at the sight of her grim face. messire. Baldassare. and a dozen languages clamored in a veritable Babel. leading it through the throng to the foot of the palace steps. "Myself. madam. I forced the mare onwards with sudden impatience. leaving Baldassare to cope with the mare." . If it had been my right hand. what had become of Domenico. I had to know. I owe you much more than that for your friendship. are you safe? Has anyone harmed you? I thought I should never see you again!" Bony arms closed around me briefly. I felt a lump grow in my throat. I stopped. however. now! But I shall do well enough once the surgeon has done his work. there was no way I could find a single man in this bedlamite rout. lady. He had a whole skin then." I gazed down into the kindly eyes set in the brutal face with a quick rush of affection." he called above the noise." The old woman was standing like a rock amidst the waves of humanity. my hands clammy with fear on the reins. But now she is to be sent away again in good earnest—the duke is having her conveyed home to Spain." Her momentary emotion was gone. Those Spaniards treated us fairly once the city was yielded." "The duke . "I will speak to the duke about you. I will be able to go back to my home on the marches and end my days in comfort with my wife and children."It might have been worse. "Here. and her lips primmed themselves into their usual uncompromising line. "Is he safe?" "I heard someone say he was at the palazzo. The palace courtyard was in turmoil. and there seemed to be a heavier sprinkling of gray in the severely dressed hair. lady. for good or ill. Besides. seemed to be crowded into that seething arena. Even if I could have forced my way through." he added dryly. I thanked him and set the mare to a trot. Niccolosa?" "Indeed I have. Every citizen who had something to say. "Niccolosa." "God will bless you. soldiers and commoners jostled one another. "Here is Madonna Niccolosa sent to find you. the lines in her face were deeper." He wound the cloak around the bloody stump of his arm again. I slid untidily out of the saddle and ran up the steps to her. . I saw him not two hours since. and she made sure I came to no harm. "I have been well enough." the big man responded. Suddenly I could not bear the suspense any longer. Baldassare following behind. appalled. "Have you seen the duke?" I asked uncontrollably. my lady. "Have you seen the duke. "It is by his orders that I am here. she looked a little older. Seen so close. and there were tears on the wrinkled cheek laid against mine.

giddy with conflicting emotions. . a sense of disturbance. I thought absently. "Were you told that?" The old woman seemed to relax slightly. then shook her head. "No. But hurry.Quick joy engulfed me. and old habits were asserting themselves again at the sound of familiar words. . . I checked in my stride. into the duke's anteroom. to be scolded by Niccolosa again. "No . and I said defensively: "I have been riding with His Grace's army. "The Spanish have not been here. Instead. My fear for Domenico's safety was subsiding under Niccolosa's acid matter-of-factness. I followed her down the silent corridor to the room I had left to look for Domenico." I followed her up the steps and into the palace. what we heard—that His Grace killed Lord Alessandro with his own hands?" "Yes." Most of the faces I saw as we made our hasty way through the palace looked strange to me." She hesitated. my lady. . . Niccolosa glanced at me curiously. the almost tangible stink of hate. and by then you must be ready." I remembered the dusty road. "Then take me to him. ." "Hurry . She would not allow questions that might delay her in her work. The duchess made much of her grief for the death of Lord Alessandro and chose to sleep in his old apartments in the west tower. instead. there is no time to waste—the duke sent word you are to meet him by six of the clock. and men scurried frenziedly back and forth like ants whose nest has been broken open. . It was strange." Fair inasmuch as both of them fought foul. but in a fair fight. some were townsfolk helping with the business of scouring Fidena clean of the Spanish invaders: but throughout the catacomblike passages was a restlessness. It was simpler for me to dress so." "Hurry. Through the banqueting hall we went. she exclaimed over the calluses that the horse's . Some were soldiers I had never seen before. and the sound of Sandro's breathing. I was glad in my turn that she would never know all the truth. . the tale was of cold-blooded murder." "No time to waste. "The duke sends for you. Quickly!" She shook her head firmly. my lady. there has been much mischief. I am glad to know the truth of it." "And to cut off all your hair?" she questioned sourly. "I am commanded to help you change your clothes before you go to him. I thought. And now that I see you. "Is it true." "Hurry. I know why he charged me so strictly to see it done!" Color tinged my cheeks under her censorious look. I do not doubt. . so many days ago. She said that to enter the duke's rooms would contaminate her. . "Well. up the grand staircase." I said with a strange feeling of certainty. whose very livery was strange.

I told her of the journey to Ferrenza and its outcome. of how he had looked and behaved. insensibly easing the tension from my taut body. Niccolosa combed my hair smoothly and severely. ." she added in a bracing tone. if Niccolosa noticed the change. omitting most of the details. She showed no interest in Domenico's motives for going there or what means he had used to get control of the army. she made no comment. then replied briskly. "You have not lost your accent even after all these years. and she nodded her approval. I noticed vaguely. "No matter. It was stranger still to be a woman again. and I wondered whether she would urge me further. "I did not know you came from Ferrenza. I recognized it when I heard it in Majano. the rustling petticoat webbed with gems. over the past weeks. to divert my thoughts before fear could begin to grow again." I answered. I still have my ring. Niccolosa. The bruises made by Domenico's fingers when he spoke of Isabella's death were almost faded." Briefly. "charming and kind. How did you find out where I came from. they say. pinning the ends high on the crown. my lady—the duchess demanded them the moment she entered the palace—but I do not doubt His Grace will have them of her again! You look very fair without them. "He was charming. I thought at last as I studied my reflection." I told her truthfully. you and the duke?" "Yes—our soldiers come from the Duke of Ferrenza." She paused for a moment. The brief masquerade in Majano had faded like a dream and now seemed so long ago that I felt as though I had been "Marcello" forever. But he has grieved so much that sometimes. there was only a trace of discoloration across my knuckles now. but she only nodded. made my reflected image seem as strange to me as it was on that first night. I said. my lady?" "By your voice." I drew it from its hiding place and put it on my betrothal finger. "I was bom in the capital." I found I could not tell her of the babbling child who sometimes inhabited the man's body. Now the gleaming black silk of the first gown Niccolosa had seized in her haste. brought scissors to trim the ragged ends of my hair.reins had made on my hands. and I served as lady-inwaiting to the duchess and her daughters. the night I was taken from my prison for the pleasure of the man who had bought me." The gnarled old hands were still. I submitted to her ministrations with a grateful sigh and let her dress me and rebuke me as if I were a small child again and she my mother. he wants his wits. and in the mirror I could see no sign of the dusty. she cared only for news of Niccolo Amerighi. I met Niccolosa's eyes in the mirror. and she turned a pathetically eager face to me. shabby fugitive who had peered waveringly at me out of streams or dully from a gun's gleaming barrel. and bathed me with a care that relaxed my aching muscles. "You—you went to Majano. of what he had said. "Your jewels are gone.

The whole scene had taken less than a minute. my breath caught in my throat. "But you are nothing like her to look at!" I held out my hand and showed her the pearl ring. and I did my best. I heard a harsh. and Niccolosa stared. "Hurry. then a stream of unintelligible words. "It was because of this. He may be wounded."For my lady Isabella. How could I have stood so long talking of petty things when all that mattered was that I should see him. He said he gave it to her. but I was left feeling sick. mocking her." I let the subject go gladly when she started suddenly and said. "Yes. . he may be scarred. We cannot stand talking here! You must go to the duke!" My heart bounded. I do not doubt. Niccolosa put a soothing hand over my wrist. I thought it had been buried with her. rasping voice utter a shrill cry. my lady. The hand on my wrist tightened. "The duchess Gratiana. I thought. When she found out that the voice was not God's but her own. imitating her cries of distress with shrieks like a parrot's." I faltered. and as she turned from one to another I glimpsed an eagle profile convulsed with hate. . . Anything that had happened in the past was trifling now against the fact that I was to see Domenico. still shrieking abuse." "Did she so?" Niccolosa took my hand and peered closely. "I know she used to wear such a one— she would not be parted from it—but I did not think that was the same." "Duke Niccolo took me for her. and she . As we reached the head of the grand staircase. and I feared for his reason when he found out she was to be sent to live so far away. touch him. then a woman ran out of the duke's anteroom into the hall below. but"—she shrugged—"Isabella was too sure that she had heard God's voice to be guided by me. you say?" "Yes. It was Niccolo's gift. I never knew sister and brother so fond of each other. and I began to tremble uncontrollably." and followed her out of the room. "She gave it to our duke. . . Guards moved with her. my lady " Hurry. "They are taking her back to Spain." "Then that was why she treasured it. it was too late. . I answered. I could hear the commotion below. He charged me on his blessing to care for her. A few fragments of vicious Spanish drifted back as the doors closed behind her and then she was gone. bowed and ungainly. "It is after six." The black-clad guards closed in inexorably upon the old woman in gaudy purple and pushed her roughly towards the palace doors. He always loved her more than any other living creature." I said involuntarily." she said quietly.

now and forever. Niccolosa turned the handle of the chapel door and stood back for me to enter. My first thought was that he was Duke of Cabria again. for I knew that love would not turn the silver devil into an angel. "Well. But he loved me—and I loved him. As I met his gaze." I knew. He was standing erect. "No. that whatever Niccolosa might have guessed. my lady. and I was stabbed by the poignancy of homecoming. "Where are we going?" I asked breathlessly. They had not even re victualed the city." His tone made light of the whole day's fighting. unfeeling yet passionate. I ran to him and carried his wounded hand to my lips. The soldiers say I bear a charmed life—doubtless I am doomed to suffer a worse fate than death in battle. I knew. But here the familiar flames licked arrogantly. "To the chapel. I could only follow and strive for patience. casting dancing shadows on the ribbed stone walls. and you know he is niggardly with his reasons. "Torches were blazing in the passage that led to the chapel. and I quickened my pace to catch up with her." He made a slight. There were only four people in the pool of candlelight before the altar: Baldassare." His mouth twisted wryly." "The chapel!" I was too astonished even to begin to reason it out. the mercenary captain Valdares. Felicia?" There was a note of teasing in his voice that did not match the sudden hunger between his lashes. negating gesture. He would remain what he was—subtle yet childish. Niccolosa had gone on ahead. "It was as I thought— they did not expect an attack. We had only to reach Gratiana and order her to call off her Spanish dogs. Father Vincenzo—and Domenico. he smiled and turned his fingers to cup my cheek. with no sign of any hurt upon him except for one ugly red seam across the knuckles of his sword hand. lost irretrievably to everything but his own desires. and in that moment I realized that that was one of the reasons the palace had seemed somehow strange—in most of the rooms the torches had been doused and men carried lamps to light the way. The last chance to turn my back on a glory of happiness that would always hold a drop of poison. tall and shining and consciously beautiful in black cloth stitched with silver. but I glimpsed a shadow of cynicism on Valdares's sallow face and wondered where the truth lay. I said simply: "I was afraid for you. she would keep to herself. too. barbered and trimmed. I was bidden to bring you there.My last chance to change my mind. "But why?" "His Grace ordered it. and there was an incandescent triumph in his black eyes. then his fingertips trailed fire down my throat and rested . "You are not hurt?" I demanded.

. Father. All I saw were the candle flames reflected brilliantly in Domenico's dark eyes. and I would have not have needed any of it. and a courtier and a waiting-woman were the only witnesses." I gaped at him. why?" "I have had word that the archbishop has left Diurno—no doubt he grew weary of kicking his heels there." A thrill ran through me at the words." he promised softly. "If we are wed before he comes. and I smiled back at him." . It would go ill with me if the world learned I had to make my mark!" As I wrote. for the ceremony went on unchecked." The sensual mouth was tight. I could feel Domenico's eyes on me.on my thundering pulse. "As willing as you are to be wed." So there. in an empty chapel in the midst of a city torn by the wars of princes. yet I must have spoken. His wife—I had never truly believed it would happen. pressing my imprisoned fingers against the breast of his embroidered doublet. as I felt the clasp of his hand and the firm touch of his white fingers as he thrust the signet ring on my hand. "I hope so. "Wed you? But . "Thank you. Father." I remarked light-headedly. "I am glad to see you're restored to womanhood—I doubt the good Father would give consent for me to wed a boy. It did not matter: It could have been the most magnificent state marriage that ever took place. but if we wait upon his blessing. I married the Duke of Cabria. "I hope you have not forgotten how to sign your name. with half Italy to stare at us! Now we must make haste and the bare words must suffice. "all the duties that belong to the Duchess of Cabria. shaking off the dream as I took the proffered pen. but my own voice I could not hear—I seemed stricken with the dumbness one has in dreams. too." I glanced at Father Vincenzo. whose gentle face wore a serene smile. he dares not harm you. and impatience edged his tone as he spoke again. A mercenary captain gave my hand to him. but here—now—Domenico. He is due to reach Fidena tomorrow or the next day. he will not be able to touch you. I will have my uncle marry us again in the capital. "I shall teach you. . and Domenico's hand covered mine as I spoke. At last Father Vincenzo said. "If you long for pomp and ceremony. the old fox will find ways to hamper our proceedings. The priest here is willing to marry us. But he misread my silence. He pulled me around to face him and held me so." he said quietly." His face hardened suddenly. I heard him make his responses after the priest. white and set." and I laughed. "You have changed your mind?" "No. "You must teach me how to write my new name now. I have seen him at such work too often to doubt it! But if you are my wife.

Arms around me. . . The court rested in Fidena for the rest of that year. I have told them to fetch His Grace the duke to see his son and so that he shall know that I am safe and will not die. after Domenico had threatened to kidnap a cardinal to do the work. lusty and screaming. and it was there that I waited through the winter and burgeoning spring for the child that now lies heavily in my womb. he threatened to hang the doctor if he let me die. obediently treated me as his daughter.Epilogue The archbishop was hardly reconciled to what had been done. I could concentrate. and the Duke of Savoy. lifting me up from the pillows. when I have comforted him. . It was as the duke had promised. I must give Domenico his son. . and his father before him. in the Cathedral of San Domenico. and I cannot breathe for the press of people who watch for fear I shall substitute a changeling for the duke's child. . but they are holding up the baby in the light of the torches so that I can see him. two months later. whom I had never seen before. . but at last. They are firing guns from the battlements in rejoicing. Half Italy came to stare. It is coming. and the echoes are coming back from the bay. If that woman would only stop screaming. There is no time now for thought or memory. In a minute or two. and the worst of the city's battlescars were hidden. and a torrent of rain seemed to scour the streets of Fidena of all the filth and fever left behind by the burning summer. . I shall make him look up and see our baby. The drought had ended the previous week. and a fair head buried in my neck. . poor man. stuffy chamber. and tradition demands that the babe must be born here. I can feel the baby turning. fighting to be born in this dark. But it is too hot. as Domenico was. with black hair like mine. . and the pains are coming faster. he relented and agreed to conduct the state ceremony. Such a small creature to cause so much pain. Already the citizens were squaring their shoulders and beginning to rebuild. The sun has gone now. All that matters is the child. . It is the duchess's chamber.

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