“Ladies and gentlemen,” Giac paused a moment to clear his throat and wait for the crowd to quiet down, “I wish to thank you all for coming today, especially on such short notice.” At this the crowd laughedquietly. “I know my sudden marriage came as quite a shock for most of you, but it means a great deal to me and my wife that you have all chosen to come here today to celebrate our union.”
The crowd clapped politely and Giac raised his glass. He motioned to his right, turning the gests’attention to the door. “So, without further ado, I present to you Beatrice di Brandi, my dearest wife.”
At her cue, Beatrice, flanked by her two ladies and adorned with her new set of jewels recently arrived,moved softly into the room. A hint of a smile played at her lips and she gazed approvingly at the crowd that had turned out.
She took her place directly in front of the crowd. “Vi ringrazio per essere venuti,” * she said with a slight nod, addressing her new family for the very first time. The guests raised their glasses in her direction. Giac claimed his place next to his wife. “Now, if you will follow us, dinner and entertainment shall commence.” *Thank you for coming.
A troupe of actors provided pleasant entertainment throughout most of the courses. The diners laughedalong with the comical monologues and cheered on the players as they fought one another for the love of a beautiful girl. When the action ended, they all applauded heartily and a band of troubadours was brought out to entertain during the final courses.
Once the actors had left the courtyard, Beatrice was finally able to turn her attention to those sitting near her in the hopes of making some polite conversation. When she did, she was startled to find Alessandra just to her right and she let out a small gasp. “Signora Giordano?” Alessandra turned her attention to Beatrice. “Yes?”
“I’m sorry if this isn’t exactly appropriate,” Beatrice lowered her voice and leaned in closer, “but I only just now realized that it was you who delivered your brother’s note to me in the first place. I mean, of course I knew you two are related, but I just never made the connection. I suppose it was all the confusion this past week.”
Alessandra blushed and stammered, trying to formulate an acceptable explanation. Finally she settled on, “I never wished to lie to you, Beatrice. It’s just that the last thing Giacomo wanted was for you to figureout who he was so I couldn’t possibly tell you that I knew who wrote the letter! It would have made it fartoo easy to guess, so the best thing I could come up with was that I was helping out a lost envoy. Sort of a messenger for a messenger, I suppose. I hope you are not angry.”
Much to Alessandra’s relief, Beatrice smiled. “How could I possibly be angry when the whole situationturned out so well?” She vaguely motioned to her husband over her shoulder. “Giacomo told me almost the whole story, save a few key details it seems. He didn’t mention your terrific acting skills.” The girls laughed together as, in the background, the servants began to clear the dishes for the next course. “Perhaps I should join the company that just left! Can you imagine me as an actress?!”
Beatrice laughed, “Oh, of course not! I was only teasing.”“As was I, Beatrice,” Alessandra answered with a smile. “But still, sometimes I think an adventure would be fun.”
Once the long meal had ended, the musicians left the courtyard and Giacomo invited everyone tocontinue the festivities inside. Taking Beatrice’s hand, he pressed it gently. “Would you care to dance?” “I would love to,” Beatrice said, her eyes sparkling with excitement.
“Let’s go in as well. It’s been such a long time since we last danced,” said Carlo by way of invitation. Alessandra rolled her eyes and agreed to join him.
Hearing the conversation at the opposite end of the table, Lucio turned to Renata and asked, “And you,my lady? Would you care to dance with me?” If he played his cards right, he could perhaps manage to swap partners with Carlo during one of the first sets.Renata accepted the invitation and the wedding party moved en masse into the house for a late night of dancing.
Several hours later, the party was still going strong. Countless bottles of wine had been emptied anddozens of dirty plates were stacking up in the kitchen. The musicians kept playing and several people twirled about the dance floor. Alessandra, after dancing a couple sets with her husband, had excused herself to watch from thesidelines. Lucio had kept trying to get her to dance, but he had gone about it entirely too obviously andshe didn’t want to rouse Carlo’s suspicions. No, it was far safer, she decided, to spend her time enjoying other aspects of the party.
At the moment, she was keeping herself entertained by pointing out possible matches for Renata. “Seeover there,” she pointed to a pair dancing by the sideboard, “that’s Alberto Costa. He’s a distant cousin of ours, but he would make a good match. He is an ambassador to France. Rumor has it that he’s back in search of a good Tuscan bride to take back with him in the fall.” “Who is that he’s dancing with?”
Alessandra made a face. “Her name is Giade. Another distant relation, though even more so. There have been rumors about an engagement between the two, though I cannot imagine why. Her parents are shopkeepers so there is no way she has a proper dowry.” “Perhaps it’s a love match?” “Hardly,” Alessandra scoffed, “look at how stiffly he’s standing. There’s nothing between them except business.”
Renata wiggled her eyebrows, “In that case, I wouldn’t mind trying my luck. To be the wife of an ambassador would be exciting, don’t you think? Plus, I’d get to go to France!”“I’ve never been but I’ve heard good things. You know what they say about French men, don’t you? I’ll bet he’s picked up a thing or two during his time there.” “Oh, if only I knew his character,” Renata sighed. “He sounds wonderful.”
Alessandra smiled slyly, “He’s actually quite kind. Would you like me to introduce you two?” Renata’s eyes grew round and she shook her head eagerly. “Oh, please, yes! You know him?!” “We practically grew up together. We were born within a few weeks apart and, after my mother died, Iwas taken in by his family until I could be sent back to my father. We spent the first few years in the same nursery and, growing up, we remained rather close.”
Alessandra waved at Alberto and, recognizing her immediately, he excused himself from the dance floor and came over to say hello. “Alessandra! It’s been so long!” “It’s been far too long, indeed! How are things at the court of Charles VIII?”
Renata watched while Alberto and Alessandra exchanged brief pleasantries and gossip, hoping that she would be brought in to the conversation. Finally, her chance came.“Alberto, I do not believe you have ever been introduced to my syster, Renata..” Alessandra pulled Renata into the circle. “She’s been staying here recently and tonight I promised to introduce her to some of my friends.”
Alberto gave a deep bow and kissed Renata’s hand. “Piacere, Signorina.” * Renata blushed and echoed his greeting, “Pleased to meet you, too, Signor.”“When I told her that you are an ambassador, my dear sister insisted on meeting you. She’s always wanted to go to France, you see, and I’m sure you have many exciting stories to tell her about the marvelous country.” Alessandra took Renata’s glass of wine away from her and nudged Alberto in the shoulder. He took the hint and, bowing again, asked, “I would be delighted to tell you about the time I went hunting with the Duke of Bar. Perhaps after we dance, Signorina Moretti?” *Pleasure to meet you, miss.
Renata’s hands fluttered about as she tried to contain her excitement. “I would love to, Signor Costa!” “You may call me Alberto,” he added with a wink as he led her onto the floor. “And I am Renata.” Alessandra watched on in approval as the music began and they joined hands.
“You know, if we go now we can make this song,” Lucio said with a grin as he took Alessandra’s drink and set it down out of reach. He tried to pull her out into the group of dancers, but she resisted. “I’ve already told you, Lucio. We shouldn’t be dancing together tonight.”
She cut her eyes over to where Carlo was lurking around the edges of the room, eyeing them with suspicion. Well, glaring, was a more apt description.
Lucio glanced over his shoulder and scoffed. “Come on, Alessandra. You’ve avoided me all night so he can hardly have anything to found his worries on.” When Alessandra balked once more and started to turn back to the safety of being a wallflower, Lucioimplored her once more in hushed tones. “Please! Do not deny me the pleasure of dancing with the one I love tonight. There’s nothing Carlo can do, so what’s stopping us?”
“You better know what you’re talking about.” Alessandra took a deep breath and placed her hands in his. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Carlo grimace and grab another glass of wine, but she pushed it from her mind and concentrated instead on Lucio’s loving gazes and the warm touch of his hands.
Near midnight, the merriment was beginning to wane as exhaustion caught up with several of theguests. Giac had been enjoying himself thoroughly so he did not notice the slight lull in activity as the moon climbed higher in the sky. Finally, one of Beatrice’s ladies gathered enough courage to approach him. “Pardon me, Signor.” Giac excused himself from his conversation. “Is there something I can do for you?”
She pointed uneasily to the opposite side of the room where Beatrice stood slumped against the wall for support. “She’s worn out, Signor.”He laughed a bit to himself. “You can tell her it’s time to go to bed,” he instructed. She bobbed her head and left to retrieve her mistress.
Giac turned back to his friends, “I’m afraid I must excuse myself. My bride has overtaxed herself this evening and it is time I took her upstairs.” Lucio winked and held up one hand. “Not before I send you off with a toast!”
Gathering everyone around, Lucio meted out a generous portion of wine to everyone.“Friends and family! It has come to my attention that the bride and groom wish to retire to the bedroom for the evening.” He made a few gestures that caused several of the ladies blush.
“But before I would allow my good friend to take his fair young wife away to enjoy their first nighttogether – if we haven’t missed the joyous occasion by about a week – I wanted to wish them a happy, prosperous future.”
He raised his glass and shouted, “Auguri e figli maschi!” * which was echoed by everyone else in the room. * Literally: Good wishes and male children! (Traditional Italian wedding toast)
Giac and Beatrice emptied their glasses and left them on the table. Maneuvering through the throng, they paused at the doorway to bid everyone a good night and thank them all for coming.
Beatrice took Giac’s arm as they left the party, walking to the rhythm of the noise of the guests as they sang loudly and banged on plates and silverware.
At the top of the stairs they parted ways, Beatrice going into her own room and Giac leaving for his own but promising to come back right away.
After changing quickly, Giac did as he said and went straight to Beatrice’s room. He could still hear theloud revelry downstairs as the noise resounded through the halls and he knew that it would continue on for much longer.
He cleared his throat to make his presence known and Beatrice’s ladies scurried out from the bed chamber.They smirked at some inside joke and one even winked. “There’s a surprise waiting for you, Signor,” the one with the darker hair said as she passed him.
Giac rolled his eyes and started towards Beatrice. He waited until he was sure they had left the room to round the final corner. What he saw caused his heart to leap into his throat.
Beatrice was positioned on the bed, shrouded behind gauzy bed curtains and covered only by a nightgown so thin that it was entirely translucent. Her long, blonde hair flowed gently over her shoulders and her jewels sparkled at her throat.
Shyly, she raised her gaze and reclined back onto her pillow. Once recovered from his initial shock, Giac came fully into the room and joined her on the bed.
“Are you ready?” he asked for lack of anything better to say. Beatrice swallowed her trepidation and nodded.
It was only a couple of hours before dawn by the time Alessandra and Lucio left Giacomo’s house. Choosing the brave the dark, dangerous streets of the city at night just to enjoy some time alone, they walked hand-in-hand back to their place.Carlo had gone home several hours ago, Alessandra having only barely managed to convince him to go on without her, and was already in bed.
The clandestine couple wound their way up the town, into the house, and up the staircase stealing kisses every few steps until they finally reached their destination.
Locking the door behind them, they stumbled towards the bed which they tumbled onto, locked in a fervent embrace.
Alessandra pushed him back and leaned over, tickling his chin with the loose end of her braid. With a grin, she leaned down to plant another kiss.
Lucio stopped her just inches from his lips. “What?”Lucio took a deep breath and said all at once, “Run away with me, Alessandra.”
Rina opened the chamber door and wasn’t surprised to see Carlo standing in the hall. “Your wife is not here, Signor,” she explained.Carlo laughed dolefully. “It’s just that I head the front door and was hoping that she had decided to come back to stay here tonight.” He swayed a little as he spoke, a result of the good time he had had at the party.
“Sorry, that was just me and Signor Lucio. We walked back but Signora Alessandra was too tired to come along. She opted to stay at her brother’s and ride back in the morning.” “I know,” he said dejectedly. “I was just hoping, that’s all.”
“Goodnight, Signor,” Rina tried to retreat back into her mistress’ bedroom, but he kept talking and she couldn’t pull herself away.“I really should get used to lonely nights, you know,” he said with a sardonic smile. “So far she has been able to wriggle out of my bed more nights than not since we have been married.” Rina just nodded and backed away.
“A man has needs, though, that can’t be ignored.” Suddenly he lurched forward and gripped her shoulders tightly. He puckered and shoved his face towards hers. Rina braced the palms of her hands against his shoulders and pushed back.
She successfully removed him and stared incredulously. “You’re not yourself tonight, Signore.” Carlo glared angrily. “How dare you!”
With renewed force, he gripped her shoulders again and wound his arms around them, pinning her hands at her side. He pressed his sloppy lips against hers, ignoring her cries of protest. For a second, he pulled back and sneered. “I won’t be alone tonight.” __
Early the next morning, Kari had been dusting a row of books on the shelf when she experienced her first labor pains.
With a grimace, she shouted for assistance. Her maid answered her call promptly and rushed to her side.Kari had her hands on her stomach and she was doing her best not to shout. “Call for the midwife and notify Giacomo. Now.” The baby was certainly not planning on waiting around to be born for much longer.
The maid fluttered her hands in excitement, “Don’t worry, Signora! I’ll get on it right away! Just hold on; I’ll be back as soon as I can!”