A/N: This one contains a lemon. Well, not a real one, but of sorts...I'm very sure that I'll never have the courage to write an actual one, to be honest, haha. Well, I look forward to seeing your reactions regarding it.
Notice - phrases written in Italian:
Vieni! - Come!
Bella mia - my dear (lit. my beautiful)
Buongiorno! - Good day!/Hello!
Tesoro - darling/honey (lit. treasure)
Grazie mille! - Thanks a million!
Grazie a te. - Thank you.
Come stai? - How are you?
Mia cara - my dear
Vedi! - Look!
Chi è? - Who is it?
Fatti vedere! - Show yourself!
Presto! - Quickly!
Stronzo! - fool/idiot/asshole
Ma certo! - But of course!
Vola il tempo. - Time flies.
Si - yes
Mi scusi! - Forgive me!/Pardon me!
Amico - friend
Bene! - Good!/Alright!
Non lo so. - I don't know.
Ragazza - girl
La verità - the truth
Molto curioso - very curious
È così? - Is that so?
Ora - now
Che? - What?
Sciocca - foolish
Ma che cazzo? - What the fuck?
Ieri sera - last night
14. Fool's Devotion
~ Rome/Romagna, 1497 ~
The aged, small flower-seller smiled as he noticed Dafne approach him.
"Vieni, bella mia, vieni!" he cried, limping forward to welcome her. The Florentine acknowledged with a nod.
"Buongiorno," she replied, shaking hands with the excited fellow.
"How can I be of service, tesoro?" he squeaked, as Dafne pondered a moment.
"The usual," she sighed, motioning towards the roses. The merchant nodded, running to serve her. He picked three of the reddest, longest roses, their thorns brisk and stems still fresh and green, as they were divided from their mother earth this very morning. Dafne smiled as she took them out of his tiny hands, gifting him three florins in return.
"Grazie, grazie mille!" he immediately placed the money in his bag, earning a small giggle from Dafne for his sympathetic liveliness.
"Grazie a te," she replied, and observed the roses for a couple of seconds. Their diligent, majestic scent was quickly captivated inside of her nostrils, giving her a blessing feeling of delight and vigor. Satisfied, Dafne proceeded forth, only to be stopped by the merchant again.
"I had noticed," he began, "That you've been buying my roses every single week for the past several months. May I know the cause?"
The Florentine's lips became crude as she eyed the man, some concealed bitterness playing in her orbs.
"A friend of mine..." she made a small pause in her answer, as words needed time to thrive in her throat, "Really loves roses. So I buy them and bring them to her every once a week."
This seemed to have indulged the energetic seller, as he presented his understanding with a deep nod. And with this, Dafne would rally through the crowds, silent as she made her way down the roads of the Campagna. Nothing seemed out of place, she thought, passing by a Borgia tower located near the Castra Praetoria. She would walk a bit further, reaching a small bosk and finally stopping there.
A sigh escaped her lips as she approached the tombstone that was peacefully settled under one big, heavy pine. Dafne stood, lost in notion. Her eyes were shut and lips shaking to create the words of a soundless prayer. Once this was done, the Florentine would untie her braid and use the emerald ribbon to knot the flowers together. Wiping some dust the wind had gathered off of the grave, she gracefully dropped on her knees, and with unseen care, placed the roses in front of it, crossing herself three times, and murmuring another prayer. A sanctified hush ensued, as Dafne pressed her arms together and mourned, mourned the loss, it seemed, she would never manage to fill.
Minutes after, she was seated on the ground, observing the tombstone with a mushed feeling of grief and yearn.
"Come stai, mia cara Bianca?"
But the reply to her question never came. Even so, Dafne smiled.
"I hope you are doing good, wherever you might be now..." her voice had gotten trapped somewhere in the confines of her neck, beginning to burn and descend downward to her chest in a bonfire of brutal ache. It was as though it had all played out just yesterday, as the memory of the bloodied rain fleeted and crawled right before her eyes. Dafne bit her lip.
"These hands...These hands had buried you...Sent you to God..." she spoke keenly, as if the cold, harsh stone was alive and could hear her, "It is me to be blamed for it all, isn't it...?"
But she would be gifted with nothing but silence, and the whistling of the hot, lonely summer breeze. Dafne sighed.
"I don't think I can take it, Bianca...There is just too much for me to carry, in this wild tempest of war and bloodshed, and all I can do is seek forgiveness, and lurk through the shadows, like an impostor."
She placed her hand on the tombstone's peak.
"What am I to do, Bianca? You had told me...To pursue what I love...But what if this 'love' only leads into a dreadful, bottomless pit, from which I might not be able to ever escape? What will I do when it becomes too late?"
Dafne looked down toward the stone, forming a slight smile as she caressed it.
"I will think of you. For...I cannot cease it. So many times had I tried, so many times, mia cara...God knows of my ails, and my shameful weakness. But, vedi, here I sit, right beside you, endowed in his clothes, carrying his weapons and bearing his crest...Taking life for his cause..."
She huddled her knees and held them tightly, as her head hurled down onto them, meaning that another confession had reached its end. Dafne would usually sit like this for hours and hours when she could afford, feeling as though she was accompanying the grave, and that her friend's soul was hovering right beside her, though invisible, listening to everything she uttered and promising to tell no one of what she heard. And it would make the Florentine a tad more rejoiced, this beauteous delusion; it would provide her a place to hide, where she could run away from all the toil and trouble and open up entirely.
But this time, a slight rustle in the bush nearby had triggered Dafne alert.
"Hm?" she rose her head, impaling around warily; she couldn't have imagined it. She could feel her sword cut against her thigh as she became anxious.
"Chi è?" Dafne would scream out ruthlessly, "Fatti vedere! Presto!"
As there was no answer, she was already up on her feet, the blade extending in her palm, as she pointed it forward.
"I give you one more chance before I strike, stronzo! Out!"
And it seemed the man had decided to comply to her wish, which, in all honesty, was not as the Florentine expected. A few claps resounded through the air, as Dafne paled frightfully.
"I'm surprised you took notice of me, my disguise was benign," a hood, a sash, and that cruel shape as a blazon; an Assassin, and not just any.
"Messere Niccolò! What a...Pleasant surprise," Dafne sheathed her blade, "To what do I owe this honor?"
The Maestro seemed offended by the act of sheathing, but nevertheless, he spoke with a smile.
"If my memory serves me good, you and I have some...Unfinished business. Is it not true, Lauro?"
Dafne welcomed this proposal with a lenient chuckle.
"Ma certo, how could I forget? Although, I cannot help but notice, you had delayed the deed quite a bit...Three years, wasn't it? Vola il tempo," her inquiry was, by all means, enveloped in sarcasm, as she tired to see beyond her adversary's back. Machiavelli nodded.
"Si. I apologize for making you wait, your superiors surely made me a busy man," he confessed, "And I also didn't wish to interrupt your session either," he spat back, as Dafne spread her arms, ignoring the other part of his sentence, though it did cut a sensitive spot.
"Ah, but I understand. We Fiorentini do like taking our time, no?"
Niccolò processed the sentence for a few seconds, as an invaluable revelation was contained in it.
"Oh? You too are from the beautiful Repubblica Fiorentina? I had not known this," he remarked, mildly struck, as Dafne smiled, lowering her arms.
"Rare are those who do," on a whim, her hand was on her knife, as she threw it with all the might she could provide. Murmuring an apology to the tombstone, Dafne took flight, as she heard rushing steps behind herself, which urged her to increase the pace. But luckily, the chase did not last for long.
"Guards!" Micheletto ordered the moment he saw the Florentine approach. The patrol obeyed, and as Machiavelli was alone, he quickly turned away.
"Where the hell were you?! I had searched everywhere! You've no idea how much you'd scared me!" Micheletto furiously lectured Dafne, concluding, however, in a much friendlier demeanor, "Don't do that again. You know the Assassini might be lurking around any corner."
"Mi scusi, amico. I had...An exigent affair to attend to," she explained, throwing a quick glance to where she just fled from. The two partners walked down, back into the Centro.
"I had exchanged a few letters with Cesare some days ago, and tomorrow, I am to travel to the Romagna and watch over an important shipment of slaves, as provided by Silvestro Sabbatini. Once that is done, we shall come for Cesare and bring him back to Roma."
Dafne blinked as Micheletto silenced.
"We?" she barked, frowning, "Didn't you say you would go?"
At this, Micheletto made a shrewd smile.
"Ah, but do you not want to come? I had implied that you do," he teased, but seeing as Dafne's expression remained dark, he shrugged, "Bene. Stay here then."
The Florentine suddenly stopped, arousing Micheletto's attention. Her head she had lowered, as if in shame, unspoken for a long couple of seconds.
"Non lo so, Micheletto, non lo so," she sighed hopelessly, as her hair danced on the wind. She eyed Micheletto with a profound, hidden affliction, waiting for him to clear it up for her, to give his judgement. If only he could.
The night-haired man sighed, tiredly scratching his head.
"It is up to you. I cannot order you around, in the end."
Dafne took a deep breath, holding it in for a moment. Micheletto waited, and she was thankful for it, as they both already knew what the answer will be.
"Aboard, you lazy twats! Faster, faster!"
To say that Dafne was disgusted by the act displayed before her would be the undermost of lies; she wanted to vomit on the spot.
"I said, faster!" the stooped, bearded man pushed the child into the carriage, merciless and foul. As he attempted to apply the same means on another, Dafne could bear it no longer.
"Do not treat them like they're dirt!" she stood beside the man, firmly grasping his hand and preventing him from pushing the child, who, frightened, ran straight after his mate. The figure gritted his dirty teeth towards her.
"I own them, ragazza. I can do with them as I please," he strained, prompting Dafne to turn away; for as much as she would wish to deny it, the slaver was right, and she couldn't argue with her orders. Walking away from him with haste, she enjoined Micheletto, who tended to the other equipped carts.
"Is this really necessary?" she inquired, exasperated. Micheletto had not averted his eyes from the carriage.
"We can never turn down additional coin," he answered with cold simplicity, as Dafne became aware that she was to either cope with the situation or die.
"That Sabbatini," she motioned towards the slaver, "He retches me."
"He does so no less to me. But orders are orders."
And to this Dafne had to agree; her devotion would allow her nothing else.
"It is not far from here," Micheletto informed as he cringed, closing the carriage's door. Dafne gulped.
"I'm just glad this abomination is over..." she whispered, brushing her fingers over her forehead. And the carriage was moving again.
"Si," Micheletto hummed, observing the outskirts as they sat in silence. And the Florentine could almost grasp the risen anxiety that had cloaked her so tightly, and tightened with each turn of the wheels and each step the horses would take.
Soon enough, she began biting her nails, hazy and feeling dizzy as she lost herself to the sounds of the outside; the birdsong, litters, trot, the burble of the river from far away. Or was she imagining it all? Was it all still reality? She could not determine. She could not determine a thing. Insecure and tired, she slowly but surely began her slumber, which would use for shortening the trip a bit.
It seemed as though only a minute had passed when Micheletto tapped her awake.
"Up and at 'em, Dafne! We've made it!" he announced with content, exiting the carriage. The buzz and the work of the outside had managed to push her out as well. What she witnessed was an estate more than an encampment; there lied a myriad of tents and even more soldiers were dwelling in between them, all armed and ready.
"This way!" Micheletto called out from a certain distance, prompting Dafne to come after him. He walked among the sea of tents as if he was born there, whereas the Florentine was having a hard time not getting lost inter the rabble of warriors. And as they reached the very middle of the camp, Micheletto pointed towards the tent most splendid and the one that towered all the rest with no difficulty.
"We're here!" the man would announce, happier than ever, as Dafne comprehended where here was with a jolt.
"I...I'll stay outside," she ceased and stood in place like a statue. Micheletto gave her a glance of conviction, before entering the rich tent.
Dafne could almost feel the heat rush into her cheeks, burning as she eyed her surroundings with no particular interest. Dusk was slowly prevailing over the dying horizon, pushing the sun lower and lower by each minute. Observing the sunset - as she often would - Dafne took off her hood, a feeling of melancholy distressful inside of her chest.
"Whenever you are ready, Cesare," she heard Micheletto vow from the tent, and she couldn't help but drive a tad closer to hear more distinctly.
"You came alone?" Cesare inquired politely, although Dafne could swear that a note of swaying deprivation had lowered his tone for an octave from the usual. And she would notice this, of course, as she came closer and closer, hands almost on the tent now. She nervously anticipated Micheletto's answer.
"No," he replied, as the Florentine began sweating, "Dafne is with me."
An awkward silence resented through the air, as Dafne couldn't determine what was happening for a period. And finally, Cesare's reply.
"Bring her in."
Dafne could feel herself falling beneath firm soil as gulps evoked down her throat in multitude.
"But, when I had invited her to come in the first time, she had declined," to this, a loud stomp to the ground was heard.
"Then I will drag her in myself," Cesare's voice became louder as he drew closer to the exit of the tent, and she braced herself for impact.
Soon, a head so formidable popped out of the tent's confines; his features enlightened by the rays of the dying sun, a grin broadened upon his face as he spotted the Florentine lurking right beside the entrance, freezing her momentarily. Dafne saw the newly-gained wounds scar his face as he spread his arm toward her, his navy eyes gleaming.
"Ragazza! Micheletto tells me that you do not wish to see me. Do tell me it is not la verità!"
The Florentine dramatically averted her gaze from his hand, biting her lip as if on the verge of her patience. She had not uttered a word.
But Cesare's low exclaim had not managed to fix the broken impression; Dafne had her head firmly fixated to the side, her cheeks as rosy as ever. For once, she had shown resistance, and she wasn't quite sure whether she regretted it or not. Well, Cesare was there to convince her.
"Molto curioso..." a retreating step came from Cesare's behalf, prompting Dafne to gaze back at him. But he had already disappeared behind the leather veils of the entrance.
Damning her own self to hell for not overcoming the urge to peek, the most unexpected took wrath upon her. As soon as her nose had reached inside, she was strongly pulled forward. Feeling a hot, fastened breath heave on her neck for the slightest of seconds, she was aimed for and pushed onto the bed, placed just in the corner of the opulent tent.
As she rolled around the soft, aromatic sheets, Dafne glanced behind herself, attempting to stand up. But Cesare brought her back down in quick repercussion, muttering a low, yet powerful, "Down." And she would obey.
"You are dismissed," he suggested to Micheletto matter-of-factly, as the latter nodded, exiting the tent, ignorant of Dafne's silent pleas indicated towards him. Her head fell down in desperation.
For his part, Cesare walked back to the table settled in the middle of the tent, and stood before it; many maps, documents and parchments were lying unfolded, revealing their contents to his tireless eye. He studied the maps with such focus and commitment, such unfaltering vigor, dragging his fingers over from one side to the other, his interminably ambitious mind taking him God knows where.
Dafne had crawled upward to the pillow, grasping it, and observing. And observe she did, refusing to blink, refusing to rob herself of one single moment of the sight she found so adorable. She hated to love him, hated to feel moved each time his two, blue-tinted lanterns would fall on her with such weight, hated to feel the urge, the need of his lips on hers, hated to give him her smile each time he would give her his.
But that was exactly why Dafne loved him; because he would give her all of these strange feelings despite her own will. No denial could overthrow this burning lust that thrived deeply in the back of her gut.
Seeing as Cesare hadn't replied, Dafne brought herself a little bit higher.
"Signore...I...I apologize for my behavior from earlier. I was...Infatuated," her voice was almost in the level of a whisper, but nevertheless, Cesare could comprehend her words.
"È così?" he would inquire, sounding disinterested. His eyes were still firmly fixed onto the map before him, as his finger quickly hurled from Bologna, over Ferrara, along the coast of Romagna, all the way south, finally to meet halt at Naples.
Dafne felt dishonored. She finally doffed her eyes off the Captain General, turning to lay on her hip to the opposite side. She stared into the empty, beige leather, one hand cupping her cheek and the other freely spurting forward. She never wanted to move again. To lie like this, forever, not having a single care in the world. No craves, no battles, no blood...Just the appeasing, savory bed, and the silence. Such magnificent silence, to fill the futile air she would breathe.
The tensing from before seemed to have fleeted away with these musings; Dafne could say she felt at peace, but-
She almost jumped as Cesare's hand grasped her shoulder; and another helpless wince occurred as she rolled to face him. He had that perplexed appeal to his smirk, and Dafne could feel those malevolent eyes gauge her from head to toe.
"A little," she replied, gulping as Cesare's hand went from her shoulder over to her face.
"Then rest," he proposed with persuasion, as Dafne forcefully shut her eyes, her face twitching as she inwardly pledged not to spare him another glance. It was because of him that she became what she is today. All because of him.
To this end, Cesare's hand cupped her chin, making her fretfully raise her lids.
"What is the matter with you? You've changed!" but Dafne had bolstered her jaw, biting her lip as she tried to set herself free. But Cesare's grip was far stronger than she could best.
"Speak to me."
"It is an order. Ora!"
Her temper lost, Dafne gritted her teeth at him.
"Should I speak sincerely, or what you would like to hear?"
Cesare welcomed this with widened eyes; where had such bold valor surface from all of a sudden? He loosened his grip, much to Dafne's surprise.
"Sincerely," he demanded, as he lied just beside Dafne, his eyes narrowing as he watched her intently. The Florentine had not anticipated this kind of reaction. As silence stretched, Cesare was eager to show his impatience.
"Well then? Speak, I'm listening," he declared, not seeming to peer his eyes from Dafne's now dreaded figure.
Suddenly, all of the rebellion and fury she had shown but a second ago faded away as he was so near to her now. A jolt raced down her spine as her lips anxiously parted, but nothing was to come out. It was as though some kind of malicious barrier was preventing her from ridding of all the burdens and ordeals she had been forced to bear for so long. It was in the way of the freedom. Or so it seemed.
But Dafne knew; if she doesn't tell him now, who knows when will she receive another chance? Never, perhaps? She shuddered at the thought.
"Bene, I will," she spat back weakly, as Cesare appeared earnest to see how far was she willing to go.
"Be out with it then," he emboldened, flexing his arm and leaning onto his elbow, creating a curious expression. But Dafne decided not to hesitate this time.
"Why?" she began wistfully, as Cesare knitted his brows, "Why give me false hopes with deeds like these? Why throw such cold, mocking ignorance straight into my face? You love her..." she gulped, careful to omit revealing her own feelings, "You spread your whole hand and caress her cheek with it, whereas your other hand you had given to me, but not whole; only one finger. And even that you tend to divest me of. I do not want that."
Silence, it was mild to say awkward, had ensued between them yet again. Little could Cesare even suppose that he would be given these bitter words. He watched Dafne's orbs become watery as she concluded her speech, but she didn't seem to feel how she wanted, even after making this confession. However, a crooked smile played on Cesare's lips as his hand occupied her chin again, making her face him.
"I give you my entire arm with my body now."
Cesare couldn't help but laugh at her childlike fear.
"Sciocca ragazza," he playfully tapped her nose with his finger, "I cannot concede with you bearing such unsightly thoughts. Therefore, I shall see to it that they be mended."
Dafne was paralyzed; Cesare tenderly wrought his finger up and down her cheek, adding coaxingly, "You will crave me, Dafne Vespucci."
As the Florentine finally began realizing what was going on, Cesare already had his lips pressed to hers; she would protest, she really would, but the feeling was...Too perfect, too lovely to be denied.
On a whim, Cesare pulled Dafne downward, under himself; he stared, charmed by the deep, endless void of the green in her eyes. A lot of things he could see in those beautiful, vacant eyes, but one thing would absolutely outshine the rest. It was himself. He could clearly see each bit of his soul, his word and very being carefully carved into these two, perplexing circles, whose owner now trembled under his touch, pained with desperate yearning, longing, waiting...For so long. He held her closer, nearer, her hot breath covering his face, shattering his ails, his fears and troubles; leaving him with nothing but blind, inveigling desire to have her, claim her.
Before Dafne could react, another kiss came from Cesare's behalf; only this time, it was a tad more humming, graceless in leaving saliva all over her mouth. And all Dafne could do was relax and let go. And in all honesty, she wouldn't have it any other way.
Once she felt doughty enough to start kissing back, Cesare's hands began exploring her bosom, trying to figure out how to unbutton the tunic. But as he had experience on the matter - and oh was he proud of it - he quickly succeeded in his goal, baring the Florentine into her undershirt. With that he was less diligent; he tore it apart, merciless and impatient as he was.
Now denuded, Dafne lied underneath him, her arms settled back above her head, as a sign of utter surrender to the Captain General, and a begging starve for more glimmering in her orbs. And now, with a devilish grin, he would begin his conquest.
The white of the tent spun around her like a whirlpool, as she couldn't remember her whereabouts nor what she did in the last several hours whatsoever. Unnerved, she went to roll back and groan, but what she saw was more than she bargained for.
A loud, frightened shriek escaped her lips, awaking Cesare instantly.
"Ma che cazzo?!" he growled, but as Dafne's wrought up, naked figure appeared before him, his mood quickly changed.
"Ah, ragazza!" he snickered teasingly, "Enjoyed yourself ieri sera?"
Crazed with trepidation, Dafne glanced down at herself; naked, as if just born. She bit her lip, wishing to melt away from shame. Cesare laughed at her with disdain.
"I thought it was quite...Adventurous. You would blush and scream on me every five seconds though," he described with more than pleasure adorning his voice, as he laid back onto the pillow, revealing his own broad, muscled chest. Dafne felt as though all of her blood had gathered up into her face at the moment. She opened her mouth to apologize, but it would seem the embarrassment that had cloaked her was stronger than her throat.
But that set aside, she gripped her own slope of the pillow, watchful of the now slumbering man before her. Upon his face laid a satisfied smile, and it was the greatest of honors to know that it was she who evoked it.
Vigilant of not waking him up anew, Dafne clung onto Cesare's arm, meekly placing her head on his shoulder. And as she felt his arm mantle around her, she perceived herself as the beloved, esteemed laurel of Caesar himself.