“This is no place for me,” he was grumbling. “Did you hear the way she spoke to me? I wish I was back in fucking Torino.”
Ezio edged forward. The guards were facing the door, as Caterina had appeared at the grille. She spotted Ezio behind them as he withdrew into the shadows.
“Oh, my poor back,” she said to the guards. “Can you give me some water?”
There was a jug of water on the table near the door, where the two guards had been sitting earlier. One of them picked it up and brought it close to the grille.
“Anything else you require, Princess?” he asked sarcastically.
The guard from Turin sniggered.
“Come on, have a heart,” said Caterina. “If you open the door, I might show you something worth your while.”
The guards immediately became more formal. “No need for that, Contessa. We have our orders. Here.”
The guard with the water jug unlatched the grille and passed the jug to Caterina through it. Then he closed the grille again.
“About time we were relieved, isn’t it?” said the Piedmontese guard.
“Yes, Luigi and Stefano should have been here by now.”
They looked at each other.
“Do you think that bitch Lucrezia will be back anytime soon?”
“Shouldn’t think so.”
“Then why don’t we take a look down the guardroom—see what’s keeping them?”
“All right. Only take us a couple of minutes anyway.”
Ezio watched as they disappeared around the curve of the wall, and then he was at the grille.
“Ezio,” breathed Caterina. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“Visiting my tailor—what do you think?”
“For Christ’s sake, Ezio, do you think we have time for jokes?”
“I’m going to get you out. Tonight.”
“If you do, Cesare will hunt you down like a dog.”
“I think he’s already trying to do that. But his men don’t seem all that fanatical, to judge by these two. Do you know if the guards have another key?”
“I don’t think so. The guards handed theirs to Lucrezia. She paid me a visit.”
“I know. I saw.”
“Then why didn’t you do anything to stop her?”
“I was outside the window.”
“Out there? Are you mad?”
“Just athletic. Now—if Lucrezia has the only key we know of, I’d better go and get it. Do you know where she is?”
Caterina considered. “I heard her mention that her quarters are at the very top of the Castel.”
“Excellent. That key is as good as mine! Now—stay here until I get back!”
Caterina gave him a look, and glanced at her chains, and at the cell door. “Why—where do you think I might go?” she said with a dry smile.
He was getting used to the contours of the outer walls of the Castel Sant’Angelo by now and found that, the higher he climbed, the easier it was to find hand- and footholds. Clinging like a limpet, his cape billowing slightly in the breeze, he soon found himself on a level with the highest parapet and silently hauled himself up onto it.
The drop on the other side was slight—four feet to a narrow brick walkway, from which stairs led down, at occasional intervals, to a garden. A rooftop garden, in the center of which was a stone building, one story high, with a flat roof. It had broad windows, so the place was no extra fortification, and the light of many candles blazed within, disclosing opulent and tastefully decorated rooms.
The walkway was deserted, but the garden was not. On a bench under the spreading bows of a button-wood tree, Lucrezia sat demurely, holding hands with a handsome young man whom Ezio recognized as one of Rome’s leading romantic actors—Pietro Benintendi. Cesare wouldn’t be too pleased if he knew about this! Ezio, a mere silhouette, crept along the walkway to a point as close to the couple as he dared, grateful for the moon, which had risen by now and provided not only light but also confusing, camouflaging pools of shade. He listened.
“I love you so, I want to sing it to the heavens,” Pietro was saying ardently.
Lucrezia shushed him. “Please! You must whisper it only to yourself. If Cesare found out, who knows what he would do.”
“But you are free, are you not? Of course I heard about your late husband and I am very sorry, but—”
“Quiet, you fool!” Lucrezia’s hazel eyes glittered. “Do you not know that Cesare had the Duke of Bisceglie murdered?—my husband was strangled.”
“I loved my husband. Cesare grew jealous. Alfonso was a handsome man, and Cesare was conscious of the changes the New Disease had made to his own face, though God knows they are slight. He had his men waylay Alfonso and beat him up. He thought that would act as a warning. But Alfonso was no puppet. He hit back; while he was still recovering from Cesare’s attack, he had his own men retaliate. Cesare was lucky to escape the fate of San Sebastiano! But then, cruel man!—he had Micheletto Corella go to his bedchamber, where he lay nursing his wounds, and strangle him there.”
“It isn’t possible.” Pietro looked nervous.
“I loved my husband. Now, I make-believe to Cesare, to allay his suspicions. But he is a snake—always alert, always venomous.” She looked into Pietro’s eyes. “Thank God I have you to console me. Cesare has always been jealous of where I place my attentions; but that should not deter us. Besides, he has gone to Urbino to continue his campaigning. There is nothing to hinder us.”
“Are you sure?”
“I will keep our secret—if you will,” said Lucrezia intensely. She disengaged one hand from his and moved it to his thigh.
“Oh, Lucrezia!” sighed Pietro. “How your lips call to me!”
They kissed, delicately at first, then more and more passionately. Then Ezio shifted his position slightly and inadvertently kicked a brick loose, which fell into the garden. He froze.
Lucrezia and Pietro sprang apart.
“What was that?” she said. “No one is allowed access to my garden or my apartments without my knowledge—no one!”
Pietro was already on his feet, looking around fearfully. “I’d better go,” he said hastily. “Look—I have to prepare for my rehearsal—scan my lines for the morning. I must go!” He stooped to give Lucrezia a last kiss. “Farewell, my love!”