historical fiction: the borgias. pg 13. lucrezia borgia. lucrezia/cesare. pg-13. 2632 words. this is marketchippie’s fault and i’m intensely nervous about it. they grow up but they do not grow apart. this is the key, she thinks, to how this family works.
Rodrigo’s children grew up inside stone walls, with tutors teaching them their tongues, learning to bend their bodies in the way each was required to, they grow up with the occasional visit from their father; memories of him standing in the doorway, formal at first and then loving. They grow up without their mother, for the most part and they grow up under the hands of strangers, strangers who care about how straight Lucrezia’s spine is when she walks and how quick Cesare’s wrist folds around a sword, strangers who teach them Latin and Italian and French but who do not care if the girl spends her nights in her brother’s beds, sitting up amongst them in her thin nightgown waiting for the morning to come.
They grow up in a different world to the one that is real and Cesare is the first of them to leave.
They grow up but they do not grow apart.
This is the key, she thinks, to how this family works.
He looks different with every visit, her brother, the shoulders spreading out under his capes, taller and he towers over her now (she has to stand on her toes to reach his cheek) casting long afternoon shadows on the back of the balcony as he faces the sun.
“You wanted to see me?”
She runs fingers over the top of the balustrade, looking down from the sun. They are looking into the courtyard, full of chained men. He doesn’t answer for a minute, eyes narrowed, face angled forward The light catches around the hair along his jaw, finer and lighter, closer in colour to her own than the black curls on his head. He was blonder as a boy, she remembers, ten, eleven, twelve. Her eyes watch the muscle in his throat tense and release in tandem with his fingers.
The arrow lands in the elbow of one of the men. Her brother lets out a hiss of disappointment.
“Yes.” He lowers it and turns to see her. Below them, there is a low, keening howl. “I did. I always want to see you, Lucrezia.”
She raises her eyebrows.
“If you wanted to see me so badly, you’d come home more often.”
Cesare grins. “Feeling neglected, sis?”
Her hand lifts to shield her eyes and she lowers her gaze to the trail of blood, a distant speck on the floor as the man crumples slowly. Her mouth twists to the side a little; she will not reprove him.
“Not at all. Why would I be?”
“Well, father’s been -- busy, lately and Juan -- “
“I know why our father’s been busy,” she cuts in, (voice high and sharp), “You don’t have to explain everything to me, you know.”
He inclines his head, a little.
“Besides,” her fingers twist in her gown, “I don’t miss Juan.”
There’s a short bark of laughter. “There’s a surprise.”
She slaps the inside of his wrist, open against the bow, the gesture quick and stinging and when her hands snaps back it leaves a mark against the pale skin, like the slow spread of blood beneath the surface -- she bites back the smile. “You’re getting violent again, Crezia,” he mutters, rubbing a finger idly across the bruise.
“Don’t call me that. I’m not a child.”
His eyebrows go up, taking the lines of his face with him. She thinks of the whispers she's heard about him -- snatches of gossip from hand maidens about how he's grown, how her brother is a man now and she does not stamp her foot at being left behind, but the sentiment stirs quietly in her chest.
"No, you're not. Not anymore. Father -- father's been speaking to me about these things." He tips her chin up with one finger. "He has great plans for you, you know. If everything -- works out as planned."
"If he becomes pope, you mean."
(Don't play with me.)
He checks himself. "Yes. Perhaps."
She lets her eyes roll around gently, mocking and pulls her face out of his grip.
"I've heard of his plans."
"I seek to help my father, in whichever way I can," she says demurely.
"You're not worried he'll marry you off to some old widower," he asks, his voice dropping lower, "Some dirty ancient with sheets of gold."
"That is a physical impossibility, brother."
"A dirty ancient?"
"Sheets of gold."
He laughs, "Crezia, you know what I mean."
She watches his mouth open on the gesture, the curl of his tongue against the upper lip and her hand is still folded in his, the rough material of his tunic under her fingers.
"And what I am to do?" she asks, her throat dry, "If he does?"
"You will always have me."
She tries to say that protection is not what she needs from her. Her lips part and close on a frown.
The news reaches them by dawn.
The city burns with dancing and wine and her father's joy is a fire of its own, setting light to the streets, one after the other after the other.
Her marriage is set within the month and she thinks of the hot afternoon on the balcony and her fingers sticky against her brother's and she thinks of blood from the prisoner's elbow and blood on her wedding bed (she is no innocent) and her head swims.
Giula tells her to view the marriage as a contract.
"I know how business works in this world," she replies, "I do not need to be taught."
The Borgia arrogance never skips a generation.
He comes to see her after the divorce.
Her rooms are locked; she asked to see no one but he persuades them to let him up, strides through the open doors and slides into bed with her like they are still children. Their heads blend together and he elbows her but she won’t turn to look at him. She sits up and watches his reflection in the mirror in front of them. Her irises are lined with red.
“Tears, Lucrezia? I didn’t think you were that fond of the bastard.”
She pushes back the urge to bite back that she isn’t crying. His hand brushes over her face, leaving a faint wet streak behind.
“What’s wrong then?” he frowns.
Her eyelids burn when she closes them. He leans into her,
“Don’t play the fool.” It comes out a little hoarse. “You have heard what they are all saying.”
“And which part of their sayings wounds my sister?”
One of the pillows is duly battered against his head, he moves to wrap his arms around her waist to stop her and they wrestle for a minute, his fingers making light, feathery motions against her ribs, the gentle arc of them rising out of the flesh. Her lungs release a quick shriek and he pushes her back against the bed. He leans up on his arms,face close to hers, warm breath ghosting over her chin. She blows against his skin, his features scrunching up and laughs.
He keeps his arm wound over her, rolling back on the bed and the line of her body follows his, the skirts of her nightgown swim around his legs.
Cesare taps her nose.
She shoves a fist against his shoulder and sighs. Her head falls down on his chest.
"You can't make it all go away just like that. I'm not blind, I'm not deaf -- I -- They're saying that I -- that we're -- "
She lets out a laugh, high pitched and unexpected.
She does not answer for a minute, falls onto her back, fevered and breathless, hair falling back from her neck and over the open skin of her clavicle. He jostles her with his elbow.
Her breathing evens.
"I was only thinking, dear brother, that we're probably not helping this rumors right now."
He stills, limbs stiffening against her.
"I suppose not." And then -
"Do you really mind so much?"
There's a minute. Their lungs rush together.
"I don't know," she responds, head fitting into the curve between his head and his neck. "Sometimes, I do."
"I'm afraid there's not much I can do about that."
"You could shun me in public,” she suggests, raising herself up against his chest, “Tell everyone that I'm the ugliest woman you have ever laid eyes on."
He presses his mouth to her temple. The space between their bodies shuts.
He celebrates the loss of his robes with a haze of light that seems to last for days, woman after woman, fight after fight and he is still in bed when she goes to see him, a strange turnabout of when he was in her chambers.
His eyes glow with wine from the night before, eyelids dark and heavy.
“Come to offer your congratulations?” he drawls lazily, raising a hand to pull her down beside him.
She ignores it, stalks past to the windows and stares out of them. Her back is to him.
“Why would I do that?”
He rolls over. The sheet shifts lower over the bones of his hips.
“Haven’t you heard then? I am to be married.”
The sun gets in her eyes; she blinks rapidly. “I did hear that part. So, you’re done with the robes then?”
“I never wanted them in the first place.”
She turns, mouth tipping up as she does so -- “So now, you are free to do as you choose. Whatever you like.”
It is said without envy -- it is mocking. Cesare has always been his own master, even when he wore the hat that his father chose, even when the robes tied him to the Vatican, he writes his own destiny. Nothing has changed. It is exactly the same as it was before.
“I suppose I am.”
She moves towards the bed.
“And what would you like to do first, brother?”
There has been talk of her father’s ambitions, of her brother’s -- of how they hope to make him king of Italy someday and she remembers a similar conversation when she was twelve and he, sixteen, already old enough to be thinking of these things.
They were on the grass, in their mother’s gardens and he rolled his head onto her lap.
“You think I’d make a good king?”
She was playing with his knife, turning it over in her hand, the light glinting off it, grazing the top of his head. She struck it against a stray lock between her fingers and pulled. Her brother winced.
“Is there any great possibility of you ever being one?”
(She had always had a tongue on her.)
“I could be.”
“You’d need a queen, of course,” she’d wondered, fingers grasping at his hair, “Cesare, I could be your queen.”
“You don’t want to be my queen, sis.”
“I am going to die young.”
Time shifts in her head and she turns away from the window and the boy is in his bed, the boy who wouldn’t make her queen for fear of breaking her heart and she stares, searches her brother's face for some sign of him.
He is not there.
In their father's absence, she holds the keys and the papal seal.
Cesare is supposed to be abroad. He writes her letters in the meanwhile, formal, courtly ones with the underlying hint of intimacy and when he comes back, it is her who meets him, waiting at the gates with her ladies. One eyebrow arched.
"I trust your journey was safe," she greets.
"I hope you weren't too hard on the cardinals, sis. They have gentle souls."
Her ladies smother laughs against their palms. Lucrezia catches her lip between her teeth.
"You do speak from experience, brother."
"Indeed. Both of the robes and your cruelty." He leans forward, lowers his voice, "To be honest, I cannot tell which is worse."
She does not allow herself to laugh. Her frame trembles with the weight of it and when he lifts her up to embrace her, she lets it out into his neck. "My idiot brother," she says.
This is when he has started to wear the masks.
They do not talk about those.
No one is taught to love the way that they do but they are not taught forgiveness, they are children of the church who know how to love each other and how to hurt each other but not how to heal and she says nothing when the rumors of Juan's murder circulate but when her husband (her second husband) is strangled in his bed, she summons him to her.
"You wanted to see me?"
"No. No, I didn't"
He leans in the door. His eyebrows go up, some attempt at levity that he must know will not placate her.
"Your message said."
Her voice breaks through his words, clear and ringing.
"I thought if I could look you in the face, I would know."
"You killed my husband."
"Crezia -- "
She turns her face away.
"I cannot look at you. I cannot."
He stands there for a minute, anger breathing out of his body, (something else, too, she smells fear on him that has never been there before) and his feet take him forward before they leave him out of the room; there is a bark before the footsteps -- "I did what had to be done." She thinks of her husband's body under the soil, his body that once moved inside her, the weight and breadth of it when he walked, slight but not insignificant and her mind draws up the sound of his beating steps against the heavy footfall of her brothers, the rhythm of it matching the thrum of her heart.
Her chest tightens and holds.
(She feels as if she has lost both of them at once.)
They grow older but they do not grow apart.
The geography of their family changes and she is swept off to Ferrara and he roams the battlefields, carving a snarl deeper on his face. She reads about his conquests in letters and she tells her husband, her lovers of his cunning. Her belly grows round and his blessings bring the sardonic curve to her lips.
Rome finds them both grown. His mouth is heavy around the edges.
"They are already saying that we are damned," she says, her feet tapping against the ground between them.
"Is that what the Estes tell you?"
"That is what the world tells me."
Her fingertips trace his scars, not gentle, nails dragging across the skin. His mouth tightens under her touch.
"You aren't allowed to make fun of me. War wounds," he says.
She scoffs. "Love wounds, more like."
"You are as cruel as ever, sister."
They do not linger too long in each other's company when they meet, not out of a desire to be apart but because it makes the inevitable departure, that much more difficult. They are only sentimental, after all, it would seem.
"I am only truthful. I consider it my duty."
"Not if you are still of this family, then."
Her eyes lift to his.
"I will always be of this family."
There is a minute.
"So, do you think it's true? That we're damned?"
Cesare bares his teeth.
"You mustn't pay attention to them, sis. They've been saying that since before we were born."
The last time they both leave the city, it is by nightfall.
Rome shines only for them.