|The Beautiful Stratagem
Author: Ehwaz-Ansuz-Kano PM
Cesare Borgia deposed tyrants, using murder and cruelty to unify the Romagna. Was Pope Alexander his puppet? Was Lucrezia his lover and sister? Did the gossip mongers speak truth? This is the story of a man and woman; who are neither saints nor devils.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Romance - Cesare B. & Lucrezia B. - Chapters: 26 - Words: 119,472 - Reviews: 38 - Favs: 31 - Follows: 21 - Updated: 07-12-12 - Published: 04-07-12 - Status: Complete - id: 7998455
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Warning for incest. I have no problem with consensual incest between two adults, I do however not tolerate pedophile as children are too young to consent and no I don't condone bestially or necrophilia because I condone incest. Incest to me is kind of like being homosexual; some people for lack of a better word get 'squeamish' at the thought of two lesbians having sex, but don't think those relationships are immoral. This is my stance on incest. I would never enter into such a relationship with any of my relatives as I have a 'that's disgusting' response since I don't view any of them romantically, but I wouldn't condemn other people for doing so. Distant cousins could marry not too long ago just so everyone is aware and no one was disgusted by it.
This depiction of the Borgias stems from my own imagination, history, and a little from Showtime. I modeled my Giovanni Sforza after Showtime's portrayal (historically there is no basis for the Showtime Giovanni) who plays a minor part in the overall story. I've tried to make everyone authentic to my own imagining, which may be blurred by all the different depictions I've read and watched of them. I've seen Los Borgia (2006 Spanish movie about the Borgias), the Canal+ The Borgias, Showtime's the Borgias, and the BBC Borgias. The BBC is, if you are wondering, the most historically accurate. The French takes too many liberties in my opinion with Cesare's 'rape and infant son' scenes and Showtime's Ursula and Paolo (known to history as Pedro, Alexander's chamberlain, not Giovanni's groom) grinds me a little. Ursula is a major disappointed fabrication, I am all game for Cesare having relationships, but Ursula doesn't suit him in my opinion. As for Paolo his historical inaccuracy upsets me a lot.
I've taken some liberties in my portrayal as most writers and producers do. There is no proof for incest (in all honesty it probably didn't occur) and no basis for a brutish Giovanni. Most of the letters in later chapters are accurate with one or two of them added onto to advance the plot. Juan is depicted accurately in regards to his misbehavior in Spain and most historical events, like Cesare's later depicted actions in Sinigaglia, for which this story is named, is true as far as Raphael Sabatini goes. Some sources include the above mentioned author of "Life of Cesare Borgia" and Ferdinand Gregorovius' "Lucrezia Borgia according to the Original Documents and Correspondence of Her Day."
Thank you for reading and please review.
"This is no Chronicle of Saints. Nor yet is it a History of Devils. It is a record of certain very human, strenuous men in a very human, strenuous age; a lustful, flamboyant age; an age red with blood and pale with passion at white-heat; an age of steel and velvet, of vivid color, dazzling light and impenetrable shadow; an age of swift movement, pitiless violence and high endeavor, of sharp antitheses and amazing contrasts.
To judge it from the standpoint of this calm, deliberate, and correct century-as we conceive our own to be-is for sedate middle-age to judge from its own standpoint the reckless, hot, passionate, lustful humors of youth, of youth that errs grievously and achieves greatly.
So to judge that epoch collectively is manifestly wrong, a hopeless procedure if it be our aim to understand it and to be in sympathy with it, as it becomes broad-minded age to be tolerantly in sympathy with the youth whose follies it perceives. Life is an ephemeral business, and we waste too much of it in judging where it would beseem us better to accept, that we ourselves may come to be accepted by such future ages as may pursue the study of us.
But if it be wrong to judge a past epoch collectively by the standards of our own time, how much more is it not wrong to single out individuals for judgment by those same standards, after detaching them for the purpose from the environment in which they had their being? How false must be the conception of them thus obtained!" – Raphael Sabatini, Preface to the Life of Cesare Borgia.
Lucrezia laughed, flinging her cards on the table and glaring. "You are too good at this, Cesare."
"You are only bad at it. Let's play another round. Practice makes perfect."
"No," her churlish temper was irking him. He reminded himself she was only twelve and as yet was still a child.
"Prepare yourselves," Adriana De Mila, Lucrezia's warden, devout Catholic, and an Orsini by marriage, was a Borgia by birth. "His Beatitude is here."
"We are prepared to receive His Holiness," he set his hand down and relaxed in his chair. Lucrezia bridled as Adriana fussed with her hair and examined her complexion.
Rodrigo de Borja, known as Borgia in Italian, was a Spaniard. He had been born in Jativa, near Valencia (Cesare had been granted Valencia as his archbishopric) and his rise in the Church had been because of a famous uncle named Alfonso who became Pope Callistus III. Rodrigo, having studied canon law in Bologna, was made a cardinal a year later. Two years later he became Vice-Chancellor of the Church and Bishop of Valencia. Rodrigo played his cards right and when Callistus died he was not viewed unfavorably by the following Popes. He even granted King Ferdinand of Aragon his dispensation to marry Isabella of Castile. Rodrigo had served five Popes; Callistus III, Pius II, Paul II, Sixtus IV, and Innocent VIII. With the recent death of Innocent he'd ascended the Papacy through simony to become Alexander the VI in 1492.
Rodrigo smiled when he saw them and embraced Lucrezia. Cesare remained seated, knowing his father wasn't going to bestow any sentimental gesture upon him. Alexander wasn't here to talk to him. He'd arrived from the University of Pisa a few days ago; he doubted the Pope had even known he'd arrived. He was right. When Rodrigo noticed him at the table his surprise was evident.
"Cesare," he said, a smile coming to his pudgy face.
"How are you studies?"
"They go as I've written." Rodrigo may not have seen his children often, Juan was in Spain, Lucrezia stayed at the Orsini Palace, and Cesare had until recently studied far from Rome, but he wrote letters continually.
"That is excellent. Is Pisa to your liking?" He'd studied cannon law at Perugia and recently had switched to Pisa.
"The education is acceptable for a cardinal."
"Good. Now, little one," he turned to Lucrezia and bid her sit as he took the vacated seat to Cesare's left. Lucrezia smiled, folding her hands happily, her gaze adoring the father she saw so rarely. "I am aware that you've been betrothal twice. The Lord of Val D'Ayora was a respectable man of Valencia."
"He was." Her first betrothal was in 1491 to Joan de Centelles. Lucrezia had only met him once because the marriage contract had been voided two months later for a more favorable alliance.
"Don Gaspare was more to your liking," Rodrigo stated, knowing Gaspare's looks had been more pleasing. Gaspare Aversa was count of Procida and Lucrezia's current betrothed. Cesare had found no fault at the first impression Gaspare had made; he was amiable and the kind of man that might take care with a young girl like Lucrezia.
"He is handsome, though not as charming as Cesare or as dashing as Juan." Rodrigo smiled humorously. Lucrezia was always complimenting Cesare, nearly as much as Cesare complimented her. It amused him to see that his children, as unlike as night and day in appearance and person, get along so well. He had not gotten along that well with his own brother Pedro Luis.
"I am annulling this contract as well, Lucrezia," he raised a hand when she was about to protest. "I am the Vicar of Christ and as such a much better match than the lowly Count of Procida may be engineered."
"Is this man as handsome as Gaspare?" Lucrezia, ever the lover of beauty, cared little at that age for the man's mind.
"I am told he is not hideous," Rodrigo dismissed the topic. He knew the man to be old, which would be unappealing to his young daughter, and far removed from the handsome looks of her brothers. "His appearance is of no coincidence to this alliance. We need Milan to protect us from the French. King Charles is planning to claim Naples and we are in a precarious position. We could oblige him and grant him the title or we can refuse and ally with Naples and those who oppose his ambition. I've given it much thought and conclude that our best option is Naples. To that end you must marry to secure our future."
"Ludovico, the Moor, rules in Milan," Cesare cut in. "Which Sforza are you marrying Lucrezia too?"
"Giovanni Sforza, Lord of Pesaro and Count of Catignola. You would be a countess."
"I'd be a countess married to Gaspare too," she crossed her arms, her features brooding. Rodrigo had made no assurances about Giovanni's looks which meant he was either plain if she was lucky or he was ugly if she was not.
"Giovanni is twenty seven I believe and known to be of an ill-suited temperament," Cesare spat. "You'd give innocent Lucrezia to that man?"
"Twenty-seven," she cried, "That is older than anyone I know!"
"I'll remind you I am older, silly girl, and Adriana too."
"But you are both ugly."
"That is enough," Rodrigo didn't like being insulted, much less by another Borgia. "I have made my decision and you will heed it. Once you are thirteen the wedding will be announced and shortly commenced. The marriage contract will give you some freedom. You are too young yet to consummate and will be given a year to mature. After that you will be Giovanni's wife in more than name. I will have no quarrel. We need this alliance, you have no idea―with your frivolous life and childlike seclusion―how much we do."
Rodrigo, noting that Lucrezia was too young to realize the conversation was over and was going to complain further, left.
"You should not rebuke His Holiness," he said at length, seeing her seething.
"He is making me marry an old man!"
"He is doing this for the good of the family. You do not know the political ramifications. If he doesn't marry you to Giovanni Sforza and secure an alliance with Milan against King Charles Sforza will not be a concern. Father could be deposed if Giuliano della Rovere has his way."
"Are you serious, brother?"
"I…" Her discomfort at her ignorance was evident.
"You are a woman, Crezia, it is not expected of you to know the political situation."
"I'm sorry I'm unaware. Adriana and Giulia only ever speak of jewels or gowns or the next feast."
"Do not be put out," He reached over and linked their fingers, watching her smile. He was seldom touchy with anyone. She was a prefect beam of sunlight when she was happy.
"I hope Giovanni is like you, brother, since I can't marry you." He laughed, torn between desperate despair and overwhelming joy. His delight won out this time as he squeezed her hand tightly; later at night his despair would crush the memory in the garden of her bright smile and warm hand.
Cesare scowled as he paced the Sala dei Santi, glancing at the fresco adorned walls with annoyance, barely noticing the intricate work of the artist Pinturicchio. Michelotto watched anxiously, anything that upset his master made him nervous. Few things could bother Cesare, much less manifest themselves outwardly.
"Should we not attend the wedding?" He asked, noting how his hand lowered to his hilt.
"Bah, attend the wedding of a…a…I've not a proper word for that Giovanni Sforza!" He came close to his face, "Do you want to attend it, Michelotto? Go ahead, I won't stop you."
"My loyalty lies with you, Eminence," he declared, not the least concerned with Cesare's threatening demeanor.
"So you say, but all assassins are the same. Your kind can't be trusted." Cesare ran a hand over his chin, "I wasn't aware my own blood wasn't to be trusted either."
"I do not follow you, Eminence. Why is the wedding not to your liking?" Michelotto was more perceptive than many gave him credit for; Cesare wasn't upset because a cherished sister was marrying.
"You know what I mean." Cesare knew Michelotto well enough to know he spectated, if not knew, the reason for his frustration.
"I do not think you have reason to worry. She may be marrying, but you know the contract stipulates no consummation. Even if Sforza wanted to be ungallant he couldn't." Michelotto shrugged when Cesare glared at him. "I doubt furthermore that Sforza will care to spend time with his wife when he can't be intimate with. What allure does a young girl like her have?"
He smiled at his own words, amused at how Cesare colored indignantly. There were few things that embarrassed his master; Lucrezia and even the remotest hint of indecency was one of them. Talk of lewd courtesans, fornication, and lechery didn't faze the man, but even mention that Lucrezia was a woman and he grew as red as the rubies he liked to wear. He didn't doubt it was mostly from sexual frustration, but he loved hinting at it.
"She is a woman," Cesare said stiffly, face still scarlet. "She may be young in mind, but her body is mature enough to desire men. Do you think she will desire Giovanni?"
"Have you seen the man?" Cesare laughed at his jest, a pleased expression returning his face to normal coloration at the thought that Lucrezia was likely to be repulsed by Giovanni.
Lucrezia lay, fanning herself with her hand. Why was Rome so hot tonight? She was grateful for the darkness of her room as she rolled onto her back on her bed.
Giovanni had been utterly uninspiring this evening. He had come to speak some respectable words to her; his manner like that of a jumpy rabbit the entire five minutes. She was grateful he hadn't stayed long. Cesare had visited after and she had given her cardinal brother a good berating for not attending her wedding. He had seemed upset when he'd gone and she'd been satisfied with her rebuke. She may have loved Cesare, but she was still angry over his absence. She'd wanted to see him in splendid wedding attire like Juan and Jofre and then later at the feast she'd constantly searched for a glimpse of him until she'd realized he wasn't coming.
He doesn't love me anymore, she thought angrily, pressing a hand to her forehead to check for fever. She felt cold, but her body was burning and a strange churning in her gut made her feel uncomfortable.
She was married now. She frowned at the ceiling of her apartment. She thought her life should have changed for the better. Her father had given her the palace of Santa Maria, which she loved, and Adriana was a lady-in-waiting rather than a caretaker, though she still obstinately spoke to her like a child. Her everyday duties consisted of meeting important ambassadors for her father and receiving gifts. Just the other day Alfonso of Ferrara, as a gift from his father the Duke, had given her a beautiful silver jug and basin. The most annoying change in her marriage life was her husband's occasional visits.
Her neck was dripping with sweat. She wondered what Rodrigo was doing at this hour and then recalled Giulia at the feast and recoiled. She shuddered at the thought of a pretty slender Giulia sleeping beside flabby Rodrigo. She hoped Giovanni never graced her bed.
She turned her thought to more delightful ones. She bet Cesare was just arriving back to his chamber after a long night of secret activities. At her naive age she had no idea about Cesare's ways and Michelotto's assistance in them, only that he often went out late from what Giulia said. She imagined him, tall and slender as a dancer, but with the strength of a bull. She let her mind wonder to Gaspare, tall and broad shouldered and plain faced. He had kissed her hand on her only visit from him. She recalled that moment with longing, feeling a stirring in her nether regions she didn't quite understand.
Giulia had told her shortly before her marriage to Giovanni, "Lucrezia, you will be a woman soon and you will feel sensations you do not understand. Let them whisk you away and you will come to find them utterly pleasing. Adriana will tell you otherwise because she is a pious Catholic, but I tell you the best pleasure is had from defying tradition."
She thought on what Giulia had said now with some sense of yearning to understand the world of adults. All she understood was that her body ached strangely. She would ask Giulia for guidance tomorrow.
When she awoke in the morning she burst into hysteria upon seeing the blood lining her sheets and sent a maid to fetch Giulia and Adriana.
"Calm down," Adriana lifted her up from the bed where she sat weeping and sternly led her to her wardrobe. "We will get a bath and see to this. Giulia, inform the servants to draw a bath. This is a natural occurrence, child, I promise you are not dying."
"But blood came out, Adriana, don't people die from that?"
"Not a woman. It comes once a month. It is God's way of telling you that you must outgrow childish things and eventually become a mother yourself."
"Yes, now off with that pout and let us get you cleaned up."
"Cesare!" He turned with a start and smiled.
"You sneak up on me like a nymph, woman, what's the matter?"
"I want to show you something, your Eminence."
"Don't call me that and I'll let you show me whatever it is. For God's sake Lucrezia stop this energetic tapping. Your feet should only lift if you are walking." She was bouncing anxiously on her heels, a brazen smile on her angelic face.
She led him to his apartments, skipping ahead of him like some child. He rolled his eyes and followed obediently, knowing it was nearly impossible not to obey her wicked charms.
"I was very worried," Lucrezia admitted as he crossed his arms. "Adriana said it wasn't a bad thing so I'm not concerned anymore."
"What are you talking about?"
She smiled and lifted her skirts to show him the bundle of wool used to stop her bleeding. He stared in horror for a long moment as Lucrezia laughed and lowered her skirt.
"I'm a woman now, Cesare." He grabbed her arm and dragged her roughly out of the room, his face red with embarrassment.
"Giulia!" He burst into the Pope's quarters, throwing Lucrezia against the bed. Giulia, busy with a servant, turned to them with bewilderment.
"What is wrong with you?"
"Lucrezia…is immodest," he said softly.
"What was wrong with what I did?" Lucrezia demanded, sitting up from where he'd thrown her.
"Everything," he spat back.
"What did she do?"
"She can tell you. Just correct her behavior before she shows someone who isn't as tolerable." He stormed out, slamming the door behind him.
"I didn't think it was that bad," Lucrezia slumped her shoulders.
"What did you do?"
"I showed him my rag."
Giulia pressed a hand to her mouth, but her laugher came out anyway. "Oh, Lucrezia, you never fail to amuse me."
"Giulia," Lucrezia asked nervously. Giulia was hardly much older than her in years, but she was mature in a way that frightened and adored Lucrezia to her. Giulia had the added bonus of being more understanding than Adriana.
"Do you remember that conversation the week before my marriage to Giovanni? When you said I'd be experiencing sensations I wouldn't understand?"
"I recall something of the sort. Lucrezia, you are about to embark on a grand journey."
"Where will I be going?"
"Don't be coy, it doesn't suit you. I mean you will experience pleasure beyond your silly comprehension."
"What is the greatest pleasure you've experienced thus far?"
She remembered Vannozza's arms around her as a child, that was warm and nice, but not the thing of thing she figured Giulia was fishing for. She remembered Father's kiss upon her forehead, Juan's grudging embrace as he left for Spain, and Jofre weeping in her arms when they left their mother's house for good. Those were all familial connections. Not quite what was Giulia was speaking of, she thought with a pout.
She thought of Gaspare's kiss and the way Cesare would twine their fingers together when it was just the two of them. Cesare's warm, lingering lips on her cheek as he left for Perugia.
"There is color in your cheeks. You are thinking of it now?"
"I was thinking of Gaspare's kiss when I first met him." She was wishing it hadn't been Gaspare's lips.
"Ah," Giulia was smiling secretively. "Handsome boys often inspire fluttering hearts. Now when it is late and you are alone in bed think of his kiss."
"I have for the last few nights."
"Now that your bleeding has past you can explore your body."
"What do you mean?"
Giulia pointed to a woman upon the wall. "The one with her hand between her thighs, Lucrezia, touch yourself gently there and you will know what I speak of. Think on handsome Gaspare while you please the area and you'll be fine."
She lay with her chemise pulled up, recalling Gaspare's frank eyes as she let her fingers caress her thigh. The sensation of fingers there was new; she rarely touched any part of her body but her face or hair. She wondered if Cesare was holed up in his apartments with a woman. She'd heard gossip from servants that he kept courtesans. No one thought it was unnatural. Young boys took pleasure whenever offered; the fact that he was a cardinal made no difference. She doubted she had never met a truly celibate cardinal, she thought with amusement now.
Her fingers paused uncertainly at the soft flesh between her legs before parting the flesh and searching the crevice. Before Giulia's words and these odd sensations of yearning she had never bothered with the place before. She let out a grasp of delight at the odd feelings that followed.
She let her mind wonder back to Gaspare, thinking his callous fingers would feel better than her own tentative probing. She thought of Cesare's slender white hands and the strength she felt in them each time she held his hand. Her excitement rose and she felt the heat in her body intensify.
She glanced at the ceiling, contemplating the figures of the men above her head. She wondered what lay between men's legs; men must find some pleasure too because they often sought women for coupling. She racked her brain to remember her lessons. Her studies had hinted at the pleasure, she thought now with sudden astonishment. She had been too naive to realize this before. There was a reason men mounted women at marriage ceremonies, reason men sought courtesans, why the lewd jokes were so plentiful at her wedding ceremony, and why everyone spoke of consummation with half concealed laugher. She had just dismissed all the talk and let it completely go over her head. She now wondered on it all and tomorrow she would find out.
"What is entailed in the consummation of a marriage?"
"Lucrezia," his face reddened. This was a sight she couldn't ever recall seeing before. Giulia dropped her needle work into her lap, a laugh escaping before she stifled it.
"I am glad Adriana is not here," Giulia commented.
"I do not desire to talk to you of this," Cesare was embarrassed beyond reason, "and why of all people are you asking me?"
"You never lie to me."
"This is women's talk," he looked pleadingly at Giulia.
"I find it amusing," she answered his plea, "that you should inform our dear little Lucrezia about the details."
"This is not funny," he glanced at his hands. Lucrezia followed his gaze to his gloved fingers and wished he'd not worn them. She shuddered at her ill-timed thoughts. It made sense to her now why men constantly made jests about the subject; minds just strayed in that direction without much prodding.
"Please tell me, Cesare."
"Ask your husband."
"That would be amusing to see. Giovanni is already jumpy around women, can you imagine his discomfort?" Cesare cracked a small smile at Giulia's words.
"I think he is like that naturally," she piped in, not liking the way the conversation was turning out. "Cesare, I trust you to tell me. Please?"
"This is not appropriate conversation for siblings. Ask His Holiness or better yet Giulia and spare us all the grief."
"Giulia told me yesterday to please myself and I did. Now I want to know how men please women and you will tell me. Does it have to do with the reason men have codpieces?" Cesare's face had never been redder as he stood and walked out the door without a word.
"You've embarrassed him to death, dear; we'll soon find he's fallen on his sword."
"Is the subject so touchy?"
"With one's brother, yes."
"Will you tell me, Giulia?"
"Fine. I had every intention of doing so. I merely wanted to watch him squirm before I did."
Lucrezia frowned in the darkness of her apartment. Was it appropriate, she wondered dismally, to think of one's brother while pleasing one's self? Giulia had explained in plentiful detail the aspects of consummation, but she had been too timid to ask this nagging question. Deciding there was no one she could ask but a priest she resolved to seek the confessional booth tomorrow. Tonight she would imagine Cesare was above her as she teased her flesh.
"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned," she mumbled as she crossed herself, trying to discern the face on the other side of the lattice. "It has been four weeks since I confessed."
"Tell me of your sins, my child," the gruff voice wasn't recognizable.
"I have twice disrespected my father, thrice disobeyed my elder, and once lied about breaking a vase. Worst of all I have lusted after…"
The priest leaned against the lattice as if he couldn't hear her words and waited patiently.
"I have lusted after my brother and have pleased myself while thinking of him."
"That is a grave sin, my child," he stated, hand waving for her to continue with her patience.
"O my God, I am heartily sorry, for having offended you, and I detest all my sins, because of your just punishment, but most of all because they offend you, my God, who are all good and deserving of my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of your grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin."
"Your penitence will be four Our Fathers and three Hail Mary's. Refrain from lusting after your kin; that is a great sin before God."
"God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son, has reconciled the world to himself, and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins. Through the ministry of the Church, may God grant you pardon and peace. And I absolve you of your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."
She left the confessional, feeling only a little better. She resolved never to think of Cesare intimately again. She would think of Gaspare next time.