Title: Courtesan for a Knight
Summary: 1554. Her Majesty, the Queen, sends her vicegerent, Sir Edward Masen, to Venice, Italy to acquaint Cardinal Cullen with the latest news from England. On invitation from Doge Aro, Edward stays at the Palazzo Volturi where he meets the courtesan Isabella.
*Il Catalogo di tutte le principale e più honorate cortigiane di Venezia - this was the published catalog listing the names, addresses, and fees of the prominent courtesans in Venice. It really existed. A yellow pages/phone book for whores. Go figure!
*Doge - the senior most elected official in Venice, chief magistrate, and serene leader.
*Vicegerent - one appointed by the ruler of a country to act as its administrative deputy.
*Palazzo - home of the affluent. Larger and more palatial then common houses.
*Rialto Bridge - built over the canal to increase traffic and rents to the city. The market was on the east side and the lower prostitutes (cortigiana de lume) tended to live near it and practice their trade there. The true courtesans (cortigiana onesta) were intellectual and considered much higher class.
*Cavaliere - Italian equivalent of a hereditary English Knight
*Coteccio - card game.
The servant girl ran up the steps of the palazzo, bursting into the Doge's apartments. "They're here! They're here!" she yelled as she pushed open the door to his bedroom. She continued in her excitement, paying no mind to the naked woman sitting astride the Doge. "The English ship has anchored, and even now they row through the canal!"
The young courtesan, Jane, tossed her head back and laughed as Doge Aro released his grip on her hips and slid his hands up to palm her breasts. "Has Sulpicia prepared the rooms?"
The mention of his wife caused Jane to growl and make attempt at her dismount. He released a breast to slap her bottom and force her concentration back on the task at hand.
"She has," answered the girl, Jessica, as she scooped up Jane's dress and slippers, impatiently holding them out in front of her.
The Doge took a tighter hold of the young courtesan and flipped her beneath him. He began a series of thrusts accompanied by his words, "We must finish, my beauty, for I have a Knight of the Queen of England rowing his way to a private council with the Cardinal, and I am to intercept him and - oh! - offer welcome."
Jessica tossed the dress and slippers back on the floor and ran to the Doge's wardrobe. She had just reached in to retrieve his cap when she heard him moan out his completion and fall upon Jane. Doge Aro reached across the bed and pulled the rope, signaling his manservant, while also instructing Jessica to help Jane wash.
Afton entered with the Doge's purse and held it open as Aro counted out sufficient coin for his tryst. He put the gold in Jane's velvet reticule and then removed the ruby ring from his pinky. It was the very one he had confiscated from a street vendor who was foolishly selling sweets in the market without a license. "Here, my dear. Take this ring that has been in my family for generations as a token," he lied smoothly.
Jane giggled and kissed the Doge. "Same time, a week next?" She asked him as she put on her slippers.
He shook his head and smiled wide. "Sulpicia is off to the country in two days time. She is to attend my sister during her lying-in. And I am to host a party here to introduce the Queen's Knight to Venice properly."
Jane squealed and clapped her hands. "You tease, to keep this secret from me! I shall consult the Il Catalogo di tutte le principale e più honorate cortigiane di Venezia immediately and send 'round your cards." She took a moment to help him button his shirt before taking leave.
The lead gondola made its way toward the Rialto Bridge which loomed over the canal that was littered with all manner of Venetians cheering and tossing flowers. The Queen's vicegerent, Sir Edward Masen reached into his lap and plucked away the yellow roses that were gathering there.
His childhood friend - and one of his co-council for this trip - Jasper Hale, the Earl of Whitlock, leaned over the side of the boat and threw a handful of roses back at a prostitute who had pulled her bodice down and shook her rather full bosom. His eyes followed their swaying like a ship rolls with the waves.
Edward grimaced and pulled his friend back by the arm. "Please, Whitlock! Remember we are here to do business on behalf of Her Royal Majesty and try conducting yourself befitting the Crown!"
Whitlock turned, tossing another handful of roses while chuckling and ignoring his friend.
However, Emmett McCarty, who was brother to the Queen's goddaughter, Mary McCarty, responded to Sir Edward, "I have heard tales of the Venetian courtesans and am very much looking forward to showing respect to our hosting country. You would have me snub the Doge and refuse him the honor of his own fair city's recommendations?"
McCarty clapped his friend on the shoulder and continued, "Why you might as well invite foreign nobility to our homeland and then force them to sit through Tournaments blindfolded."
Sir Edward looked up again at the Rialto Bridge and winced in contempt. "These whores of Venice are no better than the serving wenches of Whitlock County. If this is what Venice boasts then I fear we may indeed offer insult to the Doge."
"I say! Be kind to my wenches." Whitlock protested. "And these are not the courtesans of Venice fame. No. These are marketplace prostitutes. I believe the true feminine jewels are treated quite as nobility by our hosts and we shall only meet them upon invitation."
He turned to McCarty for support, "And should that invitation come, I bet even the loyal and respectable Sir Edward shall forget his own wife's name!"
All three laughed as their gondola settled in front of the stone steps to the piazza where a group of men awaited. They took a moment to acquaint their feet to solid ground as one man stepped toward them and bowed before speaking in heavily accented English, "My Lords, may I present His Serenity, Doge Aro Volturi."
Introductions continued and the Doge's man left to intercept the travelers' servants and oversee the proper installment of their belongings at the House of Volturi. The remaining party of men were escorted to the Palace where they were offered refreshment and settled to meet with the senior ecclesiastical.
Cardinal Carlisle Cullen was quite content with his post in Venice. He gladly accepted the letters and discussed matters of state with Sir Edward. By these meetings, the Cardinal learned that the religious affairs were moving forward prosperously for the Crown. His Holiness, the Pope, would be delighted to receive word that the daughter of Queen Katherine was most anxious to right the heretical society borne in England!
He knew that commencing in negotiation should be put on hold though, so that the Queen's delegates would not misinterpret that he, the Cardinal, was under any order from the Signory. Besides, these things take time. They agreed to continue their meetings on the morrow and allow the travel weary men to return to their host.
Across the piazza, Isabella sat in her library reading through a copy of Francois Villon. Her secretary entered, poured her wine and, together, they then sorted through the cards she had received. Tossing several aside, for the senders lacked enough gold to meet her price or were just too boorish, she stopped at the extravagant invitation from Doge Aro.
"I love when the Doge opens his gardens," she said aloud while fanning herself with the card. She bade her secretary to cancel any appointments she may have for the afternoon as it was of greater importance now that she must call upon her friends, Rosalie and Mary-Alicia.
This trio of courtesans was famous in Venice, nay, through the whole of Italy and France. Rosalie's beauty and sharp, teasing wit won her many patrons. She was also fierce with a sword and liked to put on a small act at parties, especially as a pirate.
Mary-Alicia was most known for her voice and talent with the lute. She was able to direct the demeanor of those in attendance with flirtatious ballads (and her perky breasts).
Isabella used knowledge and words to seduce. Her talent for playful debate easily transformed into romantic poetry recitation during love making. Many of her own patrons puffed in ego (for it must be their own prowess and masculinity that inspired her) at her ability to rhyme their member with varying words synonymous in their size and longevity.
Isabella was met in front of her home by Mary-Alicia and together the two women made their way to Rosalie's whose maid showed them in to the sitting room. Rosalie was posed suggestively and unabashedly across a chaise. Her arm was thrown over her head as she reclined and a long strand of pearls teased her naked left nipple. The windows were wide open and a cool breeze kept her nipple erect.
Rosalie moved her hand to wave them in and the artist, Caius Tintoretto, threw his paint brush down. "No! No more! Why, Beauty? Why do you torment me so?"
The three girls giggled while the painter continued, "And you," he said, turning to Mary-Alicia, "You did this, too! All through the hours I painted you. You twitched! You moved! Ack!"
He waved his arms and Isabella laughed as Rosalie mimicked him from the chaise.
"And now, someone will ask that I paint your friend as well?" He pointed to Isabella. "Beautiful? Yes. I should find patience to paint laughing girls who won't sit still?" Caius snapped and his assistant appeared with a new brush. "I should learn to paint in the dark. I should learn to do so, so that I can capture your beauty as you sleep!"
He turned back to Rosalie, "Now! No more moving. See my gray hair?" He pointed with the brush to his head and yellow stained his temple causing all three girls to laugh loudly and the pearls across Rosalie's nipple finally slid out of place. Caius groaned and motioned for his assistant to replace the necklace; who did so, only too happily, and perhaps with a wet finger as well.
On the third day of the gentlemen's attendance at the Palace, they sat among the Venetians as the wealthy citizens debated city business including rents at the marketplace. Whitlock slouched in his chair and huffed in annoyance as Sir Edward elbowed him.
McCarty leaned over and spoke out of boredom, "I am disappointed that we have, as yet, to see evidence of these tales of brilliant and masterful women lovers. Am I to believe that courtesans do not exist and the only beauty to be seen here is within the presentation of the feasts that Doge Aro's wife sets for us?"
Whitlock snorted. The feasts were grand indeed. The Doge went to great lengths to fatten his guests.
A break was called and a fine man of impeccable dress approached the three Englishmen. He was accompanied by the Cardinal who initiated introductions. "Hello, friends. Allow me to present Felix Donato, Duke of Parma." He then turned to the men walking up behind him and introduced them as Count Marcello Dimitri of the House of Este and Cavaliere Alex Friuli, Knight of the Holy Roman Empire and loyal servant to King Charles.
Dimitri spoke up first, "We did not see you last evening. You were surely missed. Our parties are renowned and we expected you to come and sup with us."
Whitlock stepped forward with a frown, "We were not informed."
"Bah! The Doge likes to keep our city's important guests to himself!"
Whitlock turned to the Duke of Parma, "I say, Donato. In the future, you are to send your man directly 'round to avoid another loss of invitation."
"Please. Here, friends, you must call me Felix!" Next to him Dimitri rolled his eyes and Felix shook his head, "What? I like it."
McCarty reminded them, "We are invited as guests of honor this evening at the Doge's garden for entertainment."
Dimitri nodded and raised his eyebrows, "We will be there. You can be sure it is to be a grand time. Already, I have heard that many guests are to attend!"
This satisfied Whitlock and allowed Sir Edward a reprieve from playing governess to his friends who had been behaving much the spoilt children. Or, to be more accurate, they were randy as virgin lads who had yet to wet their wicks. How their wives must suffer!
Sir Edward conducted himself more severely. He was a new husband of only a few months and had not spent enough time with his wife to realize that she was cold and unkind. So far, he had mistaken this as the shyness of a censured, well-brought up lady. Why, they had only coupled three times since the union of their souls in holy matrimony; and he had yet to relieve her fully of her nightshift.
True, he had hoped for more time to get her with an heir before leaving on his commission. And, true, he was looking forward to more thorough explorations of breasts and other womanly parts, but he was not convinced, nor particularly concerned, that these women of Venice would be any different than those of his previous acquaintance at court, or his wife.
For now, he happily reflected on the extremely lucrative dowry his new bride brought with her fine figure (he was mostly guessing) and deceptively shy disposition (he would be sorely mistaken).
After all, he had only known her but two weeks prior to the wedding and was soon sent away on the Queen's business thereafter. How was he to know that her large dowry was to compensate for the guilt, or maybe relief, that his bride's father felt in shackling his eldest daughter to Sir Edward?
In the center of Doge Aro's most prized gardens a number of gentlemen, recognizable from the Palace, were standing in a circle drinking wine and discussing the politics of the day.
The Doge, himself, sat on the grass surrounded by large pillows of a shimmering and colorful fabric. More gentlemen unceremoniously threw themselves down, laughing and rolling amongst the cushioning.
Behind the Doge, a young beauty massaged his shoulders while two others poured ale or wine for those with him.
Nearby, a table was set with food and a number of men stood there being fed by women or, in one case, being chased around the table in a laughing game.
"No. Not at all like court," Sir Edward mumbled to himself as he took in the varying groups engaged in conversation accompanied by beautiful women - he grudgingly admitted. It was as if they had bloomed from this garden. By this sun. For their enjoyment only.
No, indeed! These were not at all like the prostitutes dangling from the Rialto Bridge. Nor were they like the ladies of court who made no move at all - less they offend - except to gossip.
Whitlock crossed himself and put his hands together in prayer, "God save the Queen! Thank her for this most enjoyable mission and her infinite wisdom in choosing your loyal, and obviously sensible, servant Cardinal Carlisle as recipient for her most important business of this political nature."
McCarty snorted at his friend and stood between both men, putting a hand to their shoulders and shaking them as his grip tightened. "Shall we?"
At that moment, the Cardinal stood up from a blanket that was spread beneath an olive tree. He waved the men over and as both Whitlock and Sir Edward were still staring at the scene presented, McCarty used his grip on them, steering their direction.
The Doge stood as well and joined them. "Ah, you made it. You see we start our celebrations much before the sun sets."
The men exchanged bows with the Doge as the Cardinal offered a hand to the lady who now sat at his feet. As he pulled her up, the Englishmen took in the blatant impropriety while the woman only laughed and wrapped her arms around the Cardinal.
"Countrymen, this is my dear and personal friend cortigiana onesta, Esmeralda."
The woman bowed her head, "Esme," she insisted and then the Cardinal kissed her full on the mouth, momentarily shocking the guests of honor even more.
Felix and Dimitri arrived next and were able to persuade Whitlock and Sir Edward to join them in a game of cards. McCarty preferred to speak with the Cardinal longer.
One woman at the card table had beautiful hair the color of fading pale roses. She dealt the cards slowly allowing the men to drink and hold discussion. Since the other gentleman of the table openly stared at her breasts, the Englishmen swallowed their reserve and followed suit, taking note of her visible nipples and how they matched her rose hair in color.
Another woman appeared and brought them wine before joining the card game, and even Edward could no longer diminish the truth to the stories of Venetian beauties that he previously believed to be fabrication. Here was proof! A dozen, or more, indisputably glorious women surrounded the gardens and now he wanted to know if more of the tales were true.
Isabella had watched the Englishmen arrive. She was disappointed that they had not presented themselves at the House of Este last night. "And I wore my favorite gown," she had told Rosalie with a pout. No matter now. The Doge had most generously opened his coffers this evening so that the party was sure to last well unto the morrow. Courtesan fees paid, food for all, and wine aplenty.
She made her way to the coteccio table and as there were no seats left, she stood behind the man she found the more attractive of the three foreigners. Deciding it best to go with Chaucer for an opener, she leaned forward - hesitating a second so that her scent could linger - and without touching him, whispered in his ear, "A thousand times have I heard men tell, That there is joy in heaven and pain in hell."
The small hairs along his neck stood up and a shiver worked its way down his spine. The words tickled his ear and he turned to face the tempting voice.