"Good morning, wife." Alfonso smiled from his place at the table.
"Good morning, husband." She replied cheerfully.
"There is a letter from your brother." He said on a serious tone.
Cesare had been very uncommunicative ever since he had left Naples with a negative reply from his proposal to Carlotta. His letters were few, rare and empty of any significant content. Even worse, rumors were flying about a possible alliance between the papacy and the French – King Louis' representatives were still at the Papal Court, preparing the trial for the annulment of his marriage to his current wife, Joan, the sister of King Charles. Alfonso's representatives at the Court seemed to think that the French were suddenly on very good terms with the Pope and his son, Cesare.
"Oh" Was all that Lucrezia managed to say. "Did you read it?"
Alfonso looked at her in mock outrage:
"Why, I would never think of invading your privacy like that!" He declared, mockingly scandalized.
Lucrezia gave him a knowing smile:
"You truly are the best of husbands"
Alfonso's expression turned smug for a few seconds:
"Yes, I know. Now hurry up and read the letter. You can skip the sugary brotherly love and give me the essentials as soon as you are done."
My dear Lucrezia,
I hope you are doing well and your pregnancy is progressing fine. I hear good things of Naples and your husband's reign. His people seem to love him.
Our father wishes you well. He would like to write you more, but he is extremely busy with the French representatives. They have finally convinced him to declare the marriage of King Louis to Princess Joan null and void. Apparently on top of them being closely related, there is proof that she had faults in her body's build that prevented her from ever consummating the marriage. There is also evidence to show that King Louis was forced into the marriage by Princess Joan's father, the late King Louis XI.
The announcement will be made official in a couple of days. I am sure King Louis will be most grateful.
I hear your husband's cousin, Carlotta, has joined King Louis in Paris. I am still hopeful she will accept me, so I have offered to join the French representatives in delivering the King the good news.
Please give my good wishes to your husband,
"My father will declare King Louis' marriage null and void."
"Of course he will" Alfonso declared as if it was understood. Lucrezia found herself surprised at his words.
"Your father is doing the same game he did before. Before, he married you to Giovanni Sforza and your brother Gioffre, to my sister, although us and the Sforzas were enemies. The point was to keep leverage with both camps and decide which camp is winning before choosing a side. He has now married you to me and is now building a relationship with the French king. When it will come to war, he will wait until it is clear who is winning, before either withdrawing his support from the French king or divorcing you from me." His voice sounded bitter.
"He cannot divorce me from you! I am with child! He cannot declare that this marriage was not consummated!"
Alfonso's eyes darkened.
"No, he cannot."
She avoided riding since she was pregnant. But she could not help herself from wondering the beautiful gardens of Naples.
A small trip, a fall, and one lady falling on top of her. It was all it took.
Lucrezia woke up in the middle of the night in terrible pain. She felt like she was torn to pieces and screamed before she could help herself. She had not experienced this much pain since she had given birth.
But it was way too early.
She only marginally registered that Alfonso was at her side, asking her what was wrong before she realized she was bleeding.
"I am sorry, Milady. There was nothing we could do."
Lucrezia could barely hear them. Her child was dead. Dead before even born.
It had been a daughter. Not an heir, but a child nevertheless. And she was now dead.
Alfonso held her hand while she stared at the wall. She could not even weep.
"I am sorry, Milord. I have failed you." She whispered.
"This things happen, Milady, through no fault of ours. God has decided we are not ready for children yet. There will be others."
He seemed so unaffected. She did not understand how he could maintain his calm in such a situation. And yet, in an odd way, seeing him calmer and more restrained that ever, managed to keep her closer to the ground.
The physical pain had died out within days but she couldn't get herself to get up and just walk like nothing happened. She sat in her bed, feeling empty and unable to make any moves, just continued to stare at the blank wall. Alfonso was visiting her every day, joking about incompetent servants, telling her how nice the weather was and how she should go outside and see for herself.
"I have just received notice." He said more seriously one day. "King Louis has married Queen Anne, King Charles' widow."
It had only been a month since the annulment had been announced.
"He moved very fast" she couldn't help but notice.
"He is settling his affairs. He will want to come after Naples and Sicily as soon as he has."
"My father will not allow my crown to be taken away."
He did not reply.
"I was thinking, my dear wife."
He turned towards her with a pensive look on his face.
"I hear rumors from my ambassadors in Rome. It seems your father has had another son, named Giovanni. He was born last year, while you were in Rome. But I imagine he has kept you away from the scandal."
Lucrezia's eyes turned wide but she did not say anything.
"I do not imagine a Pope has time to raise a son and there's nothing known of his mother. A child this young would need a motherly figure. No-one could do a better job than his sister, the Queen of Naples."
Her heart started beating fast and she could not imagine she had ever loved him more or could ever feel more than she was feeling at that precise moment. She had not seen Giovanni since she had left for Naples, four months before. Words failed her as she slowly realized what she had suspected all along: Alfonso knew about Giovanni, he did not mind, and he wanted to ease the pain of her miscarriage by bringing her son close.
"Unless, of course, you think you would be too busy with the business of being Queen to take care of your half-brother, in which case, of course, this is not a very good idea."
"No, husband." She did not recognize her strangled voice. "I think this is a very good idea."
That evening she made an effort to get up and go to dinner. She sat next to him and made polite conversation while he casually bullied the servants. His easygoing manner kept her grounded, like it had for the past weeks, prevented her from going insane.
At the end of the dinner she followed him to his rooms. He turned towards her with a somewhat sarcastic expression.
"Oh, hello, my wife. I had grown quite used to going to bed without you. You have almost startled me."
"I apologize, husband. I have been a very bad wife these past few weeks."
"You have not. I quite enjoyed the solitude."
"Do you wish me to leave, Milord?"
"Well, since you made an effort to follow me, it would be rude of me to throw you out now."
She had already gotten used to his roundabout way of expressing affection. She already knew that she would never hear words of love from him. But his actions spoke ten times louder and she liked that ten times more than any sugary word she had ever heard.
"Now, dear wife, would you care to converse? Perhaps I shall bring you up to speed with the newest gossip in Naples? Or would you prefer a game? A night of reading?"
For the first time she realized that he was a little nervous and did not quite know what to do with himself.
She got close to him and rather enjoyed his stunned expression when he watched her. Her hand slowly caressed his cheek and she felt tears spring from her eyes, which she did not attempt to stop.
He became restrained once more but did not take her eyes off her. His hand came to caress her shoulder and he slowly pulled her towards him, in a quiet embrace. She allowed herself to cry for the first time since she had lost her child. He squeezed her tight and she thought she felt him tremble slightly while he held her.
"Now, now" he whispered after a few minutes. "It will not do to bring me in such a state. If any servant walks in, I will lose my terrible reputation in an instant."
She felt an explosion of affection, mixed with a restrained laughter, even as the tears had not stopped.
"I will make sure to be careful in the future, milord."
They made love that night, like they never had before. For the first time it was slow, tender and comforting. Far from the desperate passion that had consumed them before, a different type of desperation was guiding them now. And at the end he held her some more as she released her previously unshed tears.