Cesare had not been expecting much of the evening; the life of a cardinal was woefully repetitive, every aspect of it was steeped in ironclad religious tradition. His father, it seemed however, had decided today would not only be a day of sermons and prayer.
Cesare strode into his fathers chambers, causing the pope to turn, beaming at him with yellowed parchment gripped tight in his hands
“Cesare, my son, we have been blessed” He announced
The cardinal hadn’t seen his father so excited in months, his face normally rigged was stress or smooth with forced calmness he was supposed to exude
Dear His Holiness Pope Alexander
I beseech His Holiness to allow my temporary residence at the Holy See on behalf of my father, King of Spain. My lord feels that the Spanish throne has strayed far from that of god.
With Highest Regards,
Princess Caterina of Spain
“Why does this excite you so Father?”
It was not so uncommon to see royalty roaming the halls of the Holy See. Father normally just swelled with righteousness and tried to seem as worthy of future military support as possible
“Princess Caterina is sole heir to the throne of Spain, she may one day be Queen, assuming her father does not produce more spawn”
“A ruling Queen? Holy Father, that’s rare indeed”
It certainly was, most Kings with first-born daughters were relentless in the hunt for a son. Women were not suited for ruling a county, after all, and their reins were often wrought with civil wars from male claimants.
“What’s rarer still is the opportunity it presents” Light was in the papal eye
“He who marries her will be King of Spain, my son, a King by marriage not blood”
“What a dowry”
What was money when a bride came with one of the richest kingdoms in Christendom?
“Indeed my son, a dowry fit only for the highest of nobility”
“You wish for Juan and this Princess to make an accord?”
Cesare was dismayed; Juan was insufferable enough without a crown. Besides, he felt some love for Spain and someone as reckless as his brother would make a terrible king
“Any Borgia will do, although Juan would be the simplest choice”
A quirked brow “And the only one, surely”
“Let us be plain. Marriage to this princess is to be secured at all costs, if for any reason, a union between you and the lady is more favourable…”
“I shall swap red robes for a crown” Cesare couldn’t contain a smirk, he was not doomed to the clergy after all
Cesare felt a deep anxiety; never had so much ridden on his seduction of a woman. Success and he would have wealth, power and family, failure and he was become yet another old cardinal.
Bribery and intimidation were methods that could be relied upon; every man had a price and breaking point. Alas, the Spaniards, with their vast wealth and secure kingdom were beyond such things. His opportunity lay in the kings’ affection for his daughter; have the princess begging for their union and it would be so.
He remembered her from his days as a child in the Spanish court. Twice he had seen her but had only once made her acquaintance; they’d been thrown together due to their similar ages at a ball.
She’d been intent on hearing of the local wildlife, of all things, he’d taken her to be interested in hunting and regaled her with how he’d shot and killed a cat, with tact befitting his age. The Princess was disgusted and had immediately asked to leave.
This was going to be difficult
He couldn’t help fidgeting as he awaited her entrance to the hall. First impressions were important after all; although he doubted her eyes would have much reason to linger on him. He was first on the Holy Fathers left, in his spotless scarlet robes.
A pompously dressed herald, all in purple, his stopped, bowed, and boomed in a nasal voice “Announcing Princess Caterina of Spain, daughter of his most gracious and benevolent King Fernando, protector of…” Cesare drowned out the titles
In came a young women, clad in robes of gold and purest white. Her tawny hair was bound to the top of her head with strategic ringlets escaping to frame her face. Her face wasn’t particularly memorable, he thought, but made an effort nonetheless. Normal brown eyes, normal lips, normal nose and normal everything else, had she been a peasant not a princess he guessed she’d make a good informant; with a face as forgettable as hers.
“I am honoured to be received in this holy city, your grace” Her voice was as calm and detached as her face although Cesare knew from the tense holding of her shoulders and regimented steps as she walked to kiss his father’s rings that she felt uncomfortable. He’d learnt to read people in his position, words and expressions were traitorous but few knew to hide other giveaways.
The reception was formal, dictated by custom as was proper. The only vaguely remarked event was the Princess’ early retirement.
She…was passable, not a great beauty but no beast either, he supposed she could have been viewed as fetching if she had been the slightest bit more sociable. As it was, in the week she’d been in Rome she’d merely pawed the papal libraries. At least she did not dwell too much on propriety like too many noble daughters, for she wandered without escort
He forced a smile “Yes, Juan”
“You haven’t seen our little visitor have you?” Juan received the same speech he had
“Last I heard she was in the library”
“Of course, she could hardly be entertaining anybody, as dull and unappealing as she is”
Juan disagreed with his assessment of her as ‘passable’, preferring far harsher words. In Cesare’s favour was the Princess’s apparent distaste for his brother. He once even observed her eyeing the window while in his brother made yet another insincere attempt at courting.
He heard Michalivellis voice
“I have located the lady my lord”
“The fountain of St. Augustine”
“My Lady, what brings you out to the streets of Rome” Her head whipped round so fast he doubted it could be comfortable
“Many things, Your Eminence, but chiefly lack of more thrilling activity”
“I beg you call me Cesare, you’ve tired of the papal library then?”
“I have read what tomes seem interesting but I defy you, Cesare, to find anyone who finds joy reading canon law even among clergymen”
“I would point to Lord Burchard but I doubt the man can be described to ‘find joy’ in much”
There was a moment of silence
“My lady, you have done my fair city an injustice, there is more than dusty tomes in the Eternal City”
“To my recall this is no more your city than it is mine and while there may be more I doubt I shall ever see it”
“I could, in service to a fellow countrymen, show you Rome’s splendours beyond the church”
“I really couldn’t impose” “There is no possibility of that” “I’ve heard a cardinal’s day is never over” “Do you believe all you hear?”
“You really do insist, don’t you?”
“Resolutely my Lady”
“Then I imagine your duties have just been broadened”
“I’ll meet you here at noon tomorrow”
Cesare had never seen Caterina as she was now. His Caterina was always distant but never cold, just an odd kind of shyness but this could freeze the fires of hell with her stare
“Cesare Borgia, marry me”
“That has been you intention from the beginning has it not? To wed me a don the crown of Spain?”
“What have you hea-“
“Do you reject my proposal?” Cesare was shocked, confused and suspicious but could see the Princess would only accept but two answers
“No I do not”
She smiled then but for some reason he found it heart rending “I’m glad”
Caterina turned to go but her new fiancé caught her wrist “Why?”
“Why not?” She shook of his hand “I must write to father, as you should inform yours”
He had a wife in name only it appeared. They’d been married for over a month and aside from painfully quiet visits to his bed once a week, which always ended before he awoke, his wife was forever absent.
He had what he wanted; a kingdom (in waiting) and freedom from cardinalship. He even supposed he could pretend he was unmarried, a pleasure few men could enjoy. Yes, his wives’ apparent distaste of him was truly a blessing.
It just didn’t feel like one.
He held the gilded envelop in his grasp like Judas held Roman coin. Had he stooped so low? To intercept private letters to understand his own goddamn wife…
He sighed and tore the seal, only to be interrupted
“What are you doing?” He froze, for the love of God, not now.
“Opening a letter”
“Addressed to someone else” There was a pause “Why? Do you distrust me? Am I suspected of plotting against you with my mother of all people-“
He shot up from his seat then, eyes fierce
“Is it treachery? Do you leave my bed at daybreak for another? I must say dear wife this is quite unexpected, I never took you for a whore”
He strode forward, words sharp but eyes hurt
“Do you dislike me so much?”
For the briefest of moments her eyes met his and for the first time he saw tears clinging to her lashes
“I’ve never disliked you” She came towards him and brought her hands to his rugged face “I merely wished to make you happy…”
He scoffed “’Happy’ You think avoiding me by day and visiting my bed as if it’s a chore makes me ‘happy’. Don’t lie to me, Caterina, don’t you dare”
She was shaking her head with tears in leaking from her eyes
“Why did you marry me? Why did you marry one you hate so?”
“To make you happy, Cesare” He was about to speak “Please speak after I’ve finished explaining myself. For it appears my silence has caused much strife already…”
“I was naïve, when I first met you in Rome. I initially assumed you came to me out of curiosity or diplomacy. You status as a cardinal barred me from seeing you as a suitor.” She looked away, unable to meet his gaze
“After a time I thought you wanted a friend, with your kindness and understanding words. I think that is why I fell in love with you, Cesare Borgia-” He went still ”-no man had ever approached me as a person…not a key to the crown. I wept for you, you were doomed to a life of piety without family or ambition but I was at a loss, the man I loved was doomed and there was little I could about it”
“Then I heard you speak to your brother about the true intent of your actions. You were interested in my kingdom, not my friendship. I even heard at detail how repulsive you found my appearance and my company” A self-deprecating smile crossed her face “I was upset, at first, I wanted to run from Rome and never make your acquaintance again. I wanted to curse you to the lowest pits of hell but then I an epiphany”
“By marrying you I figured I could please everyone; I would no longer have to fend off suitors, Spain would have a wise and competent king and you could have freedom from a life you never choose”
“I had it all planed out; I would force you to endure the barest of marital duties, you would take a loving mistress, like your mother was, have children with her which I could publicly claim and all would be content. I had made my peace with a life of happy solitude already”
“I admit it’s been more…painful…that I anticipated and you have yet to seek pleasure in another bed but I figured with time. But, you are discontent? Why?”
She turned her eyes beseechingly to his, he just whispered “All this time, you thought I found you repulsive? You married me thinking thus?”
“Yes my liege. They were the words from your very lips”
He pulled her into his embrace “You are indescribable and I am so very sorry”
Beneath the cold exterior Caterina was positively baffling. He’d taken her all over Rome in hopes of breaking down her stony exterior and, while she wasn’t unfriendly, he was losing hope.
She was unmoved by the fresco’s, untouched by the choirs and undaunted by the architecture; was there anything this pompous princess enjoyed?
Apparently, as one glimpse of the royal papal kennels and she bolted. He’d never seen one so enthralled by an animal in all his existence; she petted them, cooed them and inquired spiritedly with the kennel master for every possible detail of the canines.
It was quite amusing to watch though he noticed her rapture ended as soon as he approached. So that was how it was? It seemed the princess was not unimpressed with Rome but merely trying to appear detached…this was more promising.
“You’re fond of beasts my Lady?” He crouched to meet her gaze
“Not at all, I was just intrigued by the” She floundered “selection, you see some animals here seem preposterous” She gestured to a large, peculiar dog he had heard came from the land of Dalmatia
“You pet and coo all you find intriguing then?”
Her mouth curved downwards and his heart leapt; clique in her mental armour.
“I concede, I do have a fondness for animals but please, Your Eminence, do not speak of it. I beg you” She bowed all so slightly,
She wore a rueful smile, “When I was 15 it was rumoured I adored the colour purple, within weeks half the noble sons of Christendom had turned up at our door with lilac bouquets”
He laughed at that “Many women would envy you, with so many suitors”
“Suitors you say? They are suitors for my kingdom not my hand”
“And you resent this?” Cesare used the welcoming tone usually reserved for confession
She looked taken aback “resent them? Why no Your Eminence. To seek my hand is understandable given the circumstances” She stared resolutely at the horizon “I’ll marry he who appears a good king, not he who is the best at flattery”
Caterina had been directed to the papal studies in her search for Cesare. She had to know before she left…was there any future for them? Probably not, Cesare a cardinal after all and her position demanded she wed. But she had to know, if only to settle her raging heart. She paused at the doorway, trying to picture her confession in mind but a baritone voice of the Holy Father broke her thoughts
“-To be king, my son, just imagine it”
She froze, her attention now riveted on the voices of the room
“Being a king sounds fine indeed to bad he’ll have to wed such a horse”
The words stung, she’d admit, but Juan Borgia was too ignorant and pig-headed of a man for her to be wounded by
“I only speak the truth father, surely you admit Cesare’s future bride is lacking in many areas”
‘Cesare’s future bride’ did they mean her? But Cesare never-
Her cardinal intoned “She is not so deficient, sure she is disagreeable is body and mind but at least she knows to shut up”
It was all she could do to dart into an unoccupied room before her hard-earned walls shattered once and for all
He didn’t get it…did she care so little for him? That she’d waltz so freely out of Rome and his presence without so much as a goodbye? All his work and not even a dent on her stony visage; she truly was an ice queen. It was only a crown and one he’d really wanted at that, reflected the man bitterly, who cared if the little bitch ran off?
To his grace Holy Father, Vicar of Christ…(etc)
Please forgive my impromptu recalling of my daughter, there were urgent matters to discuss that required her presence. Upon meeting with her I received the most shocking of revelations, it appears Caterina has become smitten with one of your sons. Alas, it is your child in vows, Cesare Borgia, who has taken her heart. I understand the impropriety of this situation and have informed her of such. I merely inform you to explain my following actions.
I have decided against sending her back to the Holy See, to spare her further heartache, Your Holiness. I must thank you wholeheartedly for hospitality to date and would notify you of the solemn gratitude of the Kingdom of Spain and myself.
His Highness, Fernando VII of Spain
Cesare re-read the letter thrice over, baffled to say the least. Could he have missed something, were the Princess’s feelings more deep than he had anticipated? Nonetheless, what’s done is done; they’d be married before the year was out.
His father would write to King Fernando, saying that his eldest son wholeheartedly reciprocated Caterina’s affections and of the travesty of separating lovers. Cesare would renounce his vows, travel to Spain and Caterina would be his wife
Caterina would be his wife
Caterina would be his wife
Despite his misgivings he couldn’t help but feel a strange sense of elation
“I must speak with you, in private” Caterina was as unaffected as ever
“As you wish”
“I am sure you were wondering why I informed my father I loved you”
He was silent, so she didn-
“-I became aware before my departure that you had intended to wed me from the start and from your presence here I assume I was correct”
A look of horror dawned across his face, she knew, he’d spent months gaining her trust and he suspected that had now all been lost
She smiled in that nauseatingly fake way “Don’t worry Cesare, you have proven you have all it takes to be a great king and I would not deprive my people. I’ll take care not intrude on your life further as I’m aware you find my presence disagreeable”
Shit, shit, shit, shit He knew Caterina, with her grudges and stubbornness, would make very real on her words.
“Caterina, whoever informed you I find you disagreeable? I prom-“
“You did, My Liege, I overheard you lamenting your fate with your family”
He went still “You spied on me?”
“I hadn’t intended to but as you said, I’m skilled at being quiet” Cesare searched his mind desperately for help “There is no more to discuss, we shall be wed and I grant you liberty find affection elsewhere”
For over a year Cesare had found himself frustrated to the point of insanity. He’d done everything he could think of to earn her good graces once more; he devoted himself to the Kingdom, was caring during her obligatory once a week visit to his chambers and showered her with compliments, gifts and more.
All for nought
She praised him as an advisor for his diligence and seemed to try and deal with the lovemaking as stoically as humanly possible. Apart from this he rarely ever saw his wife, she was always on a diplomatic mission or visiting the stables or walking the grounds. It was painful to watch as her gaze swept over him as if he were a piece of furniture. But worst of all was what she must think of him. Cesare knew that despite his words on the contrary she sincerely believed she was just being courteous to his finding her unpleasant
On lucky days, he’d spy her out the window riding. Her face would break into a broad grin and when she thought no one was looking Caterina might even dare to laugh, given reason. Then she’d reach down and stroke the godforsaken animal, pet and coo it as if a new-born child.
He was fostering a hatred of horses
He’d become very fond of distractions, a courtesan here and glass of wine there, anything that numbed the senses. His first son had been born and for a split moment all her walls crumbled as she embraced him with one arm while the other cradled the babe. She loved him. Underneath all the distant gazes and brushed-off affections she must, with those eyes. She’d never believe he felt the same and he’d come to accept that, but still, that one moment…wife and child and all at peace, forever seared into his mind.
A few months later he’d travelled on a diplomatic mission to see his brother-in-law Alfonso of Aragon. Thinking to introduce young Fredrico to his aunt he took the babe with him and left Caterina in charge, she was certainly a capable regent.
He’d been gone for a week when the letter arrived
I regret to inform you that the city has become rife with plague. It is not so bad as it other cities but at least a fifth of the population is taken ill. I’ve ordered a strict quarantine around afflicted areas and the spread seems of been contained, still I advise you and Fredrico to stay away from the city for the time being
Unfortunately, it appears I too have been afflicted; fear not I am still able to carry out my duties although soon I shall have to start delegating them if the situation does not improve.
Please, Cesare, keep my baby away from here I would not have him touched by this pestilence
Your Wife, Caterina Borgia
His pulse went cold, he remembered seeing peasants dead of the sickness by the roadside there eyes haunted by their grizzly demise. The plague was not a death sentence though, many did survive but…if Caterina would tell him of her health then he knew the situation was dire indeed. His Caterina would rather walk over coals then tell him of her health unless it was bad enough that as King he should be aware
What if she dies?
He still assumed, after all this time, that she would eventually relent her grudge and they could be a true husband and wife. Maybe that was just wishful thinking but it coloured his mind whenever he thought to the future. But no, she may die still believing he found her presence repugnant
He would not allow it, he was a Borgia and by god he got what he wanted and he wanted her heart back.
“Saddle a horse” He informed a nearby maid, he’d respect her wish’s and leave Fredrico in the care of his sister. But if Caterina thought he would just let her die in peace then she was wrong, he’d force it into her thick skull that she was the furthest thing from unpleasant.
“Cesare, I must confess I’m worried for your happiness”
“Heh, people have worried for my life, legacy and pleasure but to worry for my happiness alone is an odd concept”
“You wish for the life of a free man, yes?”
“Of course, why are we discussing this?”
“I have a proposition for you, depending on your answer I shall leave Rome in 3 days time as originally planned”
“If you wish I may live as your wife, I refuse to bear children but other task I shall gladly fulfil”
“Because I love you”
“And so the bird offers its wings”
“My answer is no”
“I see, my path is clear then”
“Please know; I have watched my mother suffer for the life you propose, I refuse to bestow it on you at the cost of your freedom”
“My aim was to make you happy, my love, do not render it mute by concern for my feelings”
“You, my lady, just damned your chances of ever being considered marriageable”
“Oh did I, My Lord? How do you suppose I would rectify this misfortune?”
“By appearing chaste, modest and showing your…charms to full affect”
“And if I seek not to rectify it?”
“What do you mean my lady?”
“My circumstances are such that I need not fear destitution, marriage would provide no security and my father needs no political alliances”
“So cynical of marriage, what of children and the love of a husband?”
“I’ve no want of children and while I desire love and adventure, wedlock seems too daunting of a commitment” “Surely you understand my liege? Few persons of standing desired their unions”
“It has not been a concern”
“Why ever not?
“You don’t know my position?” “I’m Cardinal Cesare Borgia, at your service”
“You mean to say I have spoke ill of marriage to a clergymen? My darnation is twice fold”
“Fear not my lady for I offer absolution”
“Come to my noble house at noon and you shall see”
“I eagerly anticipate my salvation Your Eminence”
“For how long will you be within my reach?”
“As long as I fancy”
“You’re truly a bird, I suspect; always moving towards a distant horizon”
“Bah, we all birds at heart, most merely choose to sacrifice their wings for power or love”
“And you look at those in distain?”
“On the contrary, I envy them”
“You’re a noble man but not a holy one, why live such a life?”
“Power, my dear, power and loyalty”