The King's Man
Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind...
Hal Trevelyan stared blindly out of the carriage window as it turned into the courtyard outside the palazzo. He loved the huge, gloomy building, loved every curving archway and ornately carved door. Here he had spent some of the happiest hours of his life, in childhood and as a young man, growing up with the sprawling di Cesare family, who did not seem, after a while, to even realise that his real home was somewhere else.
He sat still in the carriage after it had stopped, lost in memories of the place, thinking of the first time he had ever set foot in it.
Hal had arrived in Italy in a rage of homesickness, longing for his home in England, for the library he loved and the green fields that surrounded his home. His father, however, was adamant. Hal was to grow up far from the corruption of London, was to keep his mind in such a state so that the 'fleshpots' as the austere old man called them, would hold no temptation for his son when he attained his majority, and would be free to spend his considerable wealth as he pleased.
Hal had loathed it wholeheartedly. He was completely alone, his father immersed in his constant study of statuary, and oblivious to the fact that the only company his son had was a tattered collection of well-thumbed books.
Even in winter, Hal sat outside in the untended courtyard in front of the house, reading and looking up the long road as though some rescue might come for him and take him home.
And then, in the middle of a bitter February, Guido di Cesare, twelve years old, thin and shabby, had arrived at the house, covered in mud and leading a very dispirited horse by the reins. Hal had assumed that he was some local peasant boy, and steeled himself to try and decipher the thick dialect of the region. His father's insistence on the pure way of speaking Italian, which seemed to be based heavily on Dante's philosophical works, had not helped Hal at all when it came to communicating with people.
It was a shock when the boy spoke to him in rather halting English.
"I am in most grave need of a different horse," he said.
As an introduction, it certainly got Hal's attention.
"Why?" he asked with interest.
The boy shrugged.
"This one is a fool. He has thrown me into every puddle, hedge and mudpatch from my palazzo to your home, and now he wishes to eat grass and stand still."
He glared at the animal beside him.
"Do you work at the Palazzo di Cesare?" asked Hal with interest. The family were their closest neighbours, but his father had condemned them as 'a bunch of reprobate Catholics' and refused even to respond to the Conte di Cesare's polite invitations to come and view his supposedly superb collection of statues.
The boys, apparently, were allowed to run wild. The two oldest sons, Enrico and Pietro, were renowned for their hell-raising throughout the region. Their drunken escapades had caused them more than one night in the local jails, yet they were viewed with an indulgent affection by everyone, something that seemed inexplicable to Hal, whose every activity was censured. The middle ones were reputed to be just as uncontrollable, scandalising the town by riding their horses up the steps of the local church and trying to get them to kneel before the altar. They had been unceremoniously ejected, protesting vehemently about St Francis and that their horses were good Christians.
Hal had thought his father was going to talk about it for the rest of his life. He had agreed with his father's condemnation aloud, but in private he had laughed, imagining two boys like himself - only, in his mind, they were dark and exquisitely dressed, already practising to be the perfect noblemen when they were older - riding pure-bred, gleaming horses up the steps of the little church. It seemed like the sort of thing he had dreamt, the ultimate act of rebellion. Hal's curiosity was unbounded, and now it seemed that he was about to hear more...
The boy's narrow, dirty face lit up with laughter.
"No, no!" he said, still laughing. "I'm Guido. Guido di Cesare. I do not look like the son of a count?" he added dryly, glancing down at his mud-covered clothing.
Hal gaped. From the way his father had spoken of the di Cesare household, he had assumed them to be as wealthy as his own family were, Yet this boy was shabby, dirty and unkempt, looking like the son of the poorest peasant in the village. It didn't make sense.
"But - you're a mess!" he said honestly.
Guido - if that really was his name - looked down at his threadbare clothes in surprise.
"You dress up to ride a horse in England?" he asked in surprise. "In vero? You must have most patient mothers! Enzo and I would have to have suicide on our minds, to wear good clothes and go out!"
"I don't know. My mother's dead."
He waited for the conventional expressions of regret that he had heard all his life. None were forthcoming. Instead -
"You are lucky," said Guido gloomily. "Mine is most decidedly not."
Hal found himself laughing in surprise.
"I'm Henry Trevelyan," he said, sticking out his hand. Guido grasped it, covering Hal's hand with mud in the process. They grinned at each other.
"Guido di Cesare," he said formally. "Fourth son. And as my father would say, that means no title, no lands, no responsibility - and no sense!"
Hal gaped. This must be the younger of the two middle brothers...the ones who had taken their horses to church! Before he could think, he had blurted out -
"Did you really ride your horse into the church?"
"Ah, that was Enzo and Pietro, not me! They think that if Enzo does something, I must be there, like a little shadow, and think the same for poor Pietro, always following Enrico around the place...so they got us confused. No - I was the one who made them the bet that they would not dare!"
"You made them a bet?" Hal was horrified. If his father ever learnt of this...
"Si, certo. I bet them that they could not convince the padre they truly believed in St Francisco, and like fools, they said they could." He grinned. "I have won the bet!" Then his face grew gloomy, as he glanced at his horse. "Unfortunately, the bet was for this godforsaken mule I have here..."
"I used to ride...but Father doesn't like me to, here. He says it's not safe."
Guido's narrow, intelligent face suddenly sparkled into an expression that Hal was to come to know very well indeed.
"But your father is the very rude statue man," he said. "And you are not going to listen to him any more."
Guido had insisted on taking Hal back to the palazzo with him, and Hal had fallen in love with it at first sight. Huge and rambling and Gothic, it dominated the landscape in a series of arches, surrounded by fields as green as the ones Hal so longed for. He saw a lake in the distance, and Guido, pulling his new horse along by brute force, had said,
"I shall take this wretched animal down there one day. And drown it!"
He had handed the horse over to a stableman with obvious relief, and pulled Hal through a side entrance into the labyrinth of the palazzo, leading him down the corridor to a room that was the antithesis of everything Hal had experienced of family life. Rather than the silence he had come to expect, a careful, critically oppressive atmosphere, there was a continual racket. Two dogs slept in front of the blazing fire, as did the smallest of Guido's brothers, curled up between them. One man stood in front of the long mirror, turning around as he admired the cut of his coat. Another was playing the piano in the corner very loudly, singing what was obviously a tavern song at the top of his voice. In the window seat were two boys, as scruffy as Guido, carefully examining a sword and arguing loudly over the workmanship on the hilt.
"Who is everybody?" asked Hal quietly.
"Enrico is the fop with the mirror," said Guido over the noise, "Pietro is the terrible musician, Lorenzo and Angelo are fighting over Enzo's sword, I have no idea why, and - ah - Carlo is asleep with the dogs. Enrico!" he shouted over the noise. His brother turned round.
Guido spoke rapidly in Italian, gesturing to his little brother
with obvious irritation, and then
turning to Hal and explaining something vehemently in the same language. Enrico sighed, walked over and scooped the little boy up, depositing him in one of the chairs that were scattered around the room. His brother did not even wake, obviously used to this kind of treatment.
"Happy?" he asked, speaking, to Hal's surprise, in English. "Today we speak English, Guido, remember? Not Italian. Papa says that every day -"
"We must speak a different language, yes, and tomorrow it is French. I know. Enrico, this is important. This is the son of the statue man. He has no horse."
Enrico smiled at Hal kindly. He looked nothing like the rake he was reputed to be, and was far younger than Hal had imagined, not even twenty.
"My father will be delighted to give you one," he said, and he grinned, the similarity to his younger brother evident. "As long as you are sure it will displease your father!"
Hal laughed, and began to relax. The irreverence of the di Cesares towards everything they encountered was a completely different experience to anything he had come across before.
Enrico bellowed for silence, and might even have got it, had it been only the older brothers in the room. Unfortunately, his shout woke the dogs and Carlo up, the dogs barking frantically and Carlo crying. Chaos ensued, as Guido and Lorenzo tried to chase the dogs out, and Pietro, who Hal was later to know as being the most responsible of the brothers, attempted to soothe Carlo.
Finally, order was restored.
"This is Signor Henry Trevelyan," Enrico said. "He is going to be very rich, his mother is dead, and he is the son of the statue man."
"The statue man is rude," Lorenzo retorted, his thin face, its features almost identical to Guido's, flushed after his exertions with the dogs.
"But Henry is not," protested Guido. "And he has no horse."
Having no horse seemed to be a far better entry to the affections and sympathies of the di Cesare brothers than having no mother. Lorenzo immediately jumped to his feet, and shouted down the echoing corridor,
"Papa! We need a horse for the English boy!"
The Conte di Cesare came in, looking irritated. It was obvious at a glance where his tall, thin sons got their dark, narrow looks from, but the wicked smile was nowhere in evidence. The Conte was, quite evidently, as serious a man as Hal's father could ever have wished for - though the lines on his face betrayed that he was infinitely kindlier.
"Who? Enrico, what is this nonsense?"
"The statue man's son has no horse," said Angelo carefully, obviously trying out his English rather than trying to help in any way. The Conte beamed, his face transformed from that of a stern aristocrat to that of a kindly father in a second.
"That is very good, Angelo!" he exclaimed.
"No it isn't," said Lorenzo, shoving his younger brother to one side. "How is it good that he doesn't have a horse?"
"He means his English is good, fool!" said Pietro, sitting with Carlo on his lap.
"I am not -"
The Conte raised one elegant hand, and the argument stopped in mid-flow.
"Guido," he said, turning with unerring instinct to the cause of the latest chaos among his unruly brood, "Signor Trevelyan is not going to be pleased with this. I shall have to pay a visit to him, and I would like you both -" turning to Hal as well, "to accompany me while I do so. Guido, go and wash and find some good clothes. No, Enzo, don't even think of lending him your sword -" this as Lorenzo got to his feet, automatically unbuckling the rapier from his waist.
"But Papa!" protested both brothers simultaneously. The Conte's calm voice overruled them easily as he continued,
"I will have no peace from either of you if you have only one sword between you, so - Guido, you may collect yours from my study in half an hour, when I expect you to be respectable. And tie your hair back, please, there will be no more schoolboy untidiness. You must learn to behave according to your station, if you are to carry our crest with honour."
Guido simply nodded, speechless for the first time in his life.
Guido's older brothers grinned at him as their father left the room.
"Lucky dog," said Enrico. "I was fourteen before he let me have mine."
Guido could not reply. He was in a trance of delight.
That, thought Hal Trevelyan, getting slowly out of the carriage, was the beginning of the good times...
And stopped in his tracks, as Francesca flew out of the doors towards him.
"And when you came," he murmured, "It was the beginning of their end..."
Hal and Francesca stood in the shabby old room that had once been filled with the laughter and argument of the di Cesare brothers, and stared at each other in silence.
"He - he's going to kill me?" stammered Francesca eventually. She was very white, under the fashionable makeup that Lorenzo insisted on, her reddened lips looking as though they had been painted onto the eerie pallor of her face.
"No!" Hal's vehemence would have startled Lorenzo, who saw the Englishman as a vague, lazy individual who served him because there was nothing else for him to do.
"No," he said, more calmly. "No, I won't let him, carita, you know that."
Francesca di Cesare smiled wanly at the use of the Italian endearment. For the four years of hell that had constituted her marriage to Lorenzo, Hal had kept up their old way of addressing each other, ignoring Lorenzo's glares in order to remind her of their long-ago friendship. To remind her of Guido, to tell her in the only way he could that he had not forgotten either, Hal had tried during all that time to use the words that had once fallen with such passion from the mouth of the man who seemed to have forgotten that she ever existed.
"Hal, you've never been able to stop him doing anything. God knows, you have tried, but...ah, Hal, it's of no use!"
Francesca's voice had none of the smooth English drawl that Guido and Lorenzo had learnt from the young Henry Trevelyan. She was Italian to her fingertips, the long-forgotten girl who had saved Guido from his despair and married Lorenzo out of the numb depths of her own grief, the perfect society hostess in France, the perfect consort for the lethal Conte di Cesare, beautiful and mysterious, flirtatious and evasive.
No-one had looked at France's most courted darling for long enough to see the wayward, opinionated, daring woman who had captured Guido's heart so many years ago. No-one but Hal, who remembered her from that time with pain and sorrow.
Guido had loved her with passion and poetry, wooed her with the words he could never have said for himself, won her with the language of Donne and Raleigh and Shakespeare, and with all the depth of his passionate heart.
He had brought the language of long-dead men to life, imbued every word that he wished he had written with new meaning, convinced the sceptical, unbelieving girl who did not dare to love him that she was the very breath of the new interpretation he brought to every line he quoted.
And then Lorenzo had stripped his brother of life and love and memory, and taken Francesca for his own with the same soft words on his lips and hatred in his heart.
Hal had loved her because his once libertine friend had given up his hell-raising behaviour to prove that he was worthy of Francesca's trust. He had sworn to protect her when Guido begged him to do so in one of the assassin's last moments of sanity before the metal collar destroyed him. He had loved her despite her public adoration of Lorenzo, and held her in his arms when her loss of Guido's unborn child had threatened to destroy her. And he loved her still, for his friend's sake.
Keeper of Guido's memories, silent sentinel of the forgotten, Hal Trevelyan kept the flame of their Hotspur's past alive by words and looks. Guardian of Guido's destroyed self-knowledge, he kept himself and Francesca safe within their shared understanding.
In the terrible year that had followed the deaths of Enrico, dashing and beloved, of his brother Pietro, the mainstay of the brothers, and their adored father, the Conte di Cesare, Francesca had been Guido's angel and saviour, teaching him to grieve and to love once more.
Now the boy who had laughingly described himself as -
"Fourth son. No title, no lands - and no sense!"
was the heir to the di Cesare fortune and responsibility. And this heir, now a bitter and cynical man, could not even remember who he was, or who he had been, but instead killed for a king who, according to rumour, could no longer even command himself. So Hal remembered for him, attempted to console the disbelieving Francesca, and mourned without ceasing for the determinedly honourable young man who, tormented past even madness, had vanished into the depths of England's spy system.
Francesca was gripping Hal's wrists now with her surprising strength, her deceptively fragile face hard and set.
"Is he going to kill me, Hal?" she begged desperately. "Does he know?"
Hal shook his head, his long fingers, calloused with horse-riding, curling around hers.
"No...no, he doesn't know...he doesn't even think about you in that way - except as a means of finally destroying Guido... 'Cesca, I truly think he's mad!"
Francesca pulled her hands from Hal's with a gesture of despair.
"And you only see this now?" she asked, her voice heavy with the weariness of years. "I think he has been mad since Guido left. All - all! - is Napoleon and the Borgias! And oh, Hal! He still thinks that the child was his...and so...it is...I cannot give him an heir - and he so hates me! I should force him! Make him to kill me...how much longer can I survive anyway?"
"I'll take you away," said Hal determinedly. "We could hide, I have money, I could buy secrecy..."
Francesca's beautiful face hardened, and the young woman that Guido had so loved was suddenly apparent, under the mask of the Republic's ideal.
"No," she said with equal determination. "If Guido will come to Toulouse - then so will I. He faces death, in vero, Hal? So I will face it with him...and maybe, maybe, he will remember me, in the last moments..."
End of Chapter Eleven