My dear sister,

Faced with the prospect of being stuck between two armies like my brother before me, I have decided to make a strategic retreat – especially since I hear that all is now well in Naples. I am writing you from Rome where our father has brought me up to speed on everything else that is happening – I did not know the French king was so insistent in his quest to marry his cousin's wife. We can use that to our advantage in many ways, but we are still working out the details.

In the meantime, I am coming to visit you in a few days. I must say I am very anxious to see for myself how you have settled in as a queen in Naples, not even mentioning how much I have missed you these past few months. I am also curious to meet your new cousin, Carlotta – I have heard lots of good thing about her beauty. Have you had the chance to discuss this issue with your husband? His approval on this match could help a great deal.

Looking forward to seeing your sweet face again.

Your loving brother,

Cesare

/

Lucrezia had not been very anxious to see Carlota much after overhearing her conversation with Alfonso. She maintained an air of politeness and tried hard not to let it show, but she stopped actively trying to appease her. It was sure that the only way Carlotta would agree to marrying Cesare would be if forced – so her efforts had to be made someplace else.

"Good morning, my dear husband" she whispered to his sleepy form as soon as she saw his eyes flutter.

"What are you doing up at this ungodly hour, wife? Have you been feeling ill again?"

"No, I do believe that time is starting to go away now. I am now entering a new stage."

His eyes opened and Alfonso threw her a pointed look:

"You women always know so much about so many things. I would never think to ask about situations I do not need to know about."

"Ah, but I do need to know about being with child – it is one of my main purposes in this world."

"Do you intend to be with child a lot?"

"Do you not wish for many children, milord?"

"I suppose the regular heir and spare will do. " He said with nonchalance. "My mother was weakened by many births and eventually she died quite young. I do not suppose you would wish to repeat her fate."

She noted with a bit of internal glee that there was a bit of concern for her thrown in there.

"I do not wish to die young, milord, but I always supposed that most men would marry to beget heirs and I was ready for the likelihood that I might have to produce many of them."

He shrugged, turned his face towards the ceiling and said nothing to that.

"My brother would also like to marry and produce heirs, milord."

He turned back towards her with a raised eyebrow.

"Your attempts at subtlety are less and less of a challenge to discover."

"That is because I am not attempting to be subtle. You are my husband and, as you pointed out many months ago, communication is an asset to a union."

He laughed:

"I am amazed you remember that, my dear wife. You were so intent on leaving my presence I wasn't sure you registered my attempts to communicate."

"Are you subtly trying to change the subject, my dear husband?"

"My dear wife, you are getting far too clever for your own good. Has no-one told you that pestering your husband is not among the qualities one seeks in a wife?"

"I am sure that is true, but since we are already united, it would be difficult to seek someone else now. You do not easily go back on your word."

Alfonso smirked.

"Well, since you are willing to admit that you know that, you should also admit to knowing that my cousin Carlotta is not quite enthusiastic about becoming your new sister and short of tying her up in front of a priest, there is not much I can do about that."

"I do not suppose an order from her king has any chance of changing her mind."

"I do believe it would cause quite a scandal and I am sure you understand why I would like to avoid losing my uncle from my army."

There was nothing more she could add there.

/

Cesare arrived with pomp in Naples. His escort had grown significantly since he had given up his cardinal robes and even Alfonso noted to her that "your brother's army is a little too big to be to my people's liking. I do hope he knows how to keep them in check."

But the joy of seeing Cesare was too great to let such a thing spoil it.

"Cesare! I am happy to finally see you again. I hear great things about your talents as an army leader."

"My dear Lucrezia, I have missed you." They hugged. "I do not know what you have heard, for I have yet to win a great victory. But at least I have not lost anything yet."

Alfonso approached them with a (not so discreet) cough:

"My dear brother. Welcome to Naples. I do hope you have had a pleasant journey."

"Milord, I am happy to see you so comfortable on your throne. It has been long since I have seen a monarch so popular with his people."

Alfonso laughed sarcastically:

"I would not count on staying popular without an army safely installed in my castle, but I do appreciate the compliment. Speaking of which, thank you ever so much for your immense help in increasing the number of soldiers in the vicinity. They will be most helpful."

Cesare's tight smile showed that he did not quite appreciate his brother in law's sense of humor, but Lucrezia had to suppress a giggle.

/

"My dear Lucrezia. How is your marriage faring? Still as good as before?"

"I daresay it is even better. I have not yet officially announced it, but you will be the first to know - after my husband, of course – that I am to have a child."

Cesare's reaction was not quite as happy as she had hoped but after a few seconds of (what looked like) insecurity, his face finally settled into a smile.

"An heir for Naples. Your husband must be pleased."

"He is indeed."

"What about his cousin?"

"We have not told her yet."

"No, what I mean is… have you discussed with him about it?"

"Yes, I have, Cesare. But I do not think Carlotta is the wife for you."

"Father seems to think she is."

"Father does not have the same expectations in our spouses as we do."

"He seems to have done a good job for you."

"You seem to forget my first marriage."

"I hardly think princess Carlotta could be as bad for me as Giovanni Sforza was for you."

"There are many ways to be abusive, Cesare, not just through physical strength."

"I will speak to your husband about this." He answered with annoyance.

"Cesare!"

He didn't seem to register what she was trying to say and was gone before she could add anything else.

/

She found them half an hour later in the exact same quarters she had heard Alfonso speak with Carlotta.

"My dear brother, you do not seem to understand that neither my cousin nor my uncle desire this union."

"But you are their king. Surely your opinion on this matter should carry some weight."

"It does, but I fear that imposing my opinion on this subject would come at too high a price for everyone involved."

"In other words, you do not wish to press the things in my favor."

"Carlotta is my cousin and I must respect her wishes."

"But I am your brother in law – what about my wishes?"

"A marriage cannot be made just because one of the parties wishes it."

"I understand my sister is offering you an heir. Surely that must mean something to you. Not to mention the support you have received from the Papal armies."

"I am of course most grateful for everything I have and will receive from your family, but I must take into consideration…"

"You will not at least allow me to make my case with your cousin?"

Lucrezia could feel Alfonso's annoyance in his reply:

"By all means, my dear brother, you have my leave to make your case in whichever way you see fit. I am merely pointing out that if my cousin says no, I do not wish to force her to reconsider."

Cesare did not see her as he left the quarters in anger and Lucrezia felt at a loss as to what she could do to make the situation better than it was.

"I do believe you can join me now" Alfonso's voice invited her in and she could not hide her surprise.

"I am sorry, I did not wish to eavesdrop…"

"…and yet you always seem to hear all the important conversations going on here." He looked at her pointedly. "Never you mind" he shrugged, "It saves me from having to recount them to you later."

"I tried to tell my brother that maybe your cousin is not the best fit for him."

"He will find that out for himself when he attempts talking to her. I do believe he will not trust us on this matter."

Lucrezia sat down next to Alfonso who, quite naturally, started playing with a lock of her hair.

"The situation between me and your family may become tense due to this issue."

"You are also my family, Alfonso."

She forced her eyes to show him what words had not yet said. He threw her a curious look before his hand started slowly caressing her cheek.

"I do believe the situation the two of us are in is rather unexpected for both of us, my dear wife."

His eyes also said a lot more than his words and she could not help the smile on her face. The future was uncertain but they both wanted to face it together and Lucrezia felt there was still hope.