“Lucrezia,” he said and kissed her. It was no fraternal kiss.

Once they had greeted one another, he took her hands from around his neck and, still holding them and looking into her eyes, said, “I hope you are treating our guest with kindness.”

Lucrezia grimaced. “That mouth on her!...How I’d love to sew it shut.”

Cesare smiled. “I rather like it open, myself.”

“Oh, really?”

Ignoring her archness, he continued: “Have you talked to our father about the funds requested by my banker?”

“The Pope is at the Vatican just now, but he might need some convincing when he returns. As will his own banker. And you know how cautious Agostino Chigi is.”

Cesare laughed briefly. “Well, he certainly didn’t get rich by being rash.” He paused. “But—that shouldn’t be a problem, should it?”

Lucrezia wound her arms around her brother’s neck again, nuzzling against him. “No—but…it gets quite lonely sometimes without you here. You and I spend so little time together these days, busy as you are with your other conquests.”

Cesare held her to him. “Don’t worry, kitten. Soon, once I have secured the throne of Italy, you are going to be my queen; and your loneliness will be a thing of the past!”

She withdrew a little and looked him in the eye. “I cannot wait.”

He ran his hand through her fine blond hair. “Behave yourself while I am gone.”

Then, after another lingering kiss, Cesare left his sister by the door through which he’d entered. She herself, downcast, took the opposite direction.

Where was Cesare going? Was he leaving immediately? From that leave-taking, it looked likely. Quickly, Ezio maneuvered himself around the circumference of the wall until he could take up a position that overlooked the Castel’s main gate.

And not before time. As he watched, it was being thrown open, amid cries from the guards of “Attention! The captain-general is leaving for Urbino!” And shortly afterward, on a black horse, Cesare rode forth, accompanied by a small entourage.

“Buona fortuna, Padron Cesare!” cried one of the officers of the watch.

Ezio watched his archenemy ride off into the night. That was a flying visit, he thought to himself. And no chance to kill him at all. Niccolò will be very disappointed.

TWENTY-FOUR

Ezio turned his attention back to the task at hand. To find Caterina. High up on the western side of the Castel he noticed a small window, set deep in the wall, from which a faint light came. He made his way to it. When he reached it, he saw that there was no sill on which he could rest, but instead there was a narrow transom projecting above the window, which he could cling to securely with one hand.

He looked into the room. It was empty, though a torch burned on one wall. It looked like a guardroom, though, so Ezio hoped he was on the right track.

Farther along on the same level there was another, similar window. Ezio made his way to it and peered through the bars, though there seemed no reason for bars. No one slim enough to escape through this window would be able to climb down a good 150 feet to the ground, and then make it across the open ground to the river and possible safety. The light was dimmer here, but Ezio could see immediately that it was a cell.

Then he drew in his breath sharply. There, still in chains, was Caterina! She sat on a rough bench against one wall, but Ezio could not see if she was also chained to it. Her head was down, and Ezio did not know if she was awake or asleep.

Whatever the case, she raised her head at a thunderous hammering on the door.

“Open up!” Ezio heard Lucrezia cry.

One of the two guards outside the door, who had both been dozing, hastened to obey. “Yes, Altezza! At once, Altezza.”

Once inside the cell, and followed by one of the guards, Lucrezia wasted no time at all. From the conversation Ezio had already heard, he could guess the reason for her fury: jealousy. Lucrezia believed that Caterina and Cesare had become lovers. He could not believe that to be true. The thought of Caterina being defiled by such a monster of depravity was something his mind refused to accept.

Lucrezia rushed across the cell and pulled Caterina to her feet by her hair, bringing her face close to her prisoner’s. “You bitch! How was your journey from Forlì to Rome? Did you ride in Cesare’s private carriage? What did you get up to?”

Caterina looked her in the eye. “You’re pathetic, Lucrezia. Even more pathetic if you think I’d live by the same standards as you.”

Enraged, Lucrezia threw her to the floor. “What did he talk about? His plans for Naples?” She paused. “Did you…enjoy it?”

Wiping blood from her face, Caterina said: “I really can’t remember.”

Her quiet insolence drove Lucrezia into a blind fury. Pushing the guard aside, she seized an iron bar used for slatting across the door and brought it down heavily across Caterina’s back. “Perhaps you will remember this!”

Now, Caterina screamed in intense pain. Lucrezia stood back, satisfied.

“Good. That’s put you in your place at last!”

She threw the iron rod onto the floor and strode out of the cell. The guard followed her and the door slammed shut. Ezio noticed that there was a grille set into it.

“Lock it, and give me the key,” ordered Lucrezia from the outside.

There was a rattle and a rusty creak as the key turned, then a chain clattered as the key was handed over.

“Here it is, Altezza.” The man’s voice was trembling.

“Good. Now, if I come back and catch you asleep at your post, I’ll have you flogged. One hundred lashes. Understood?”

“Yes, Altezza.”

Ezio listened to Lucrezia’s footsteps as they grew fainter. He considered. The best way to reach the cell would be from above.

He climbed up until he came to another opening, giving on to a guard’s walkway. This time, sentries were on duty, but it seemed that there were only two, patrolling together. He calculated it must take them five minutes to complete the circuit, so he waited until they had passed and then swung himself inside once again.

Crouching low, Ezio followed the guards at a distance until he came to a doorway in the wall from which a stone stairway led downward. He knew that he’d climbed into the Castel two floors above where Caterina’s cell was located, and so, two flights down, he left the stairway and found himself in a corridor similar to the one in which he’d seen the encounter between Cesare and Lucrezia, only this time it was clad in stone, not wood. He doubled back in the direction of Caterina’s cell, encountering no one, though passing a number of heavy doors, each with a grille, which suggested cells. As the wall curved following the line of the Castel, he heard voices ahead and recognized the Piedmontese accent of the guard who’d been talking to Lucrezia.

Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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