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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Strolling Saint - Book 4. The World - Chapter 14. The Citation
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The Strolling Saint - Book 4. The World - Chapter 14. The Citation Post by :Nicholas_Dixon Category :Long Stories Author :Rafael Sabatini Date :May 2012 Read :610

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The Strolling Saint - Book 4. The World - Chapter 14. The Citation

BOOK IV. THE WORLD
CHAPTER XIV. THE CITATION

We were breaking our fast upon the following morning when Falcone sent word to me by one of the pages that a considerable force was advancing towards us from the south.

I rose, somewhat uneasy. Yet I reflected that it was possible that, news of the revolt in Piacenza having reached Parma, this was an army of Pontificals moving thence upon the rebellious city. But in that case, what should they be doing this side of Po?

An hour later, from the battlements where we paced side by side--Bianca and I--we were able to estimate this force and we fixed its strength at five score lances. Soon we could make out the device upon their bannerols--a boar's head azure upon an argent field--my own device, that of the Anguissola of Mondolfo; and instantly I knew them for Cosimo's men.

On the lower parapet six culverins had been dragged into position under the supervision of Falcone--who was still with us at Pagliano. These pieces stood loaded and manned by the soldiers to whom I had assigned the office of engineers.

Thus we waited until the little army came to a halt about a quarter of a mile away, and a trumpeter with a flag of truce rode forward accompanied by a knight armed cap-a-pie, his beaver down.

The herald wound a challenge; and it was answered from the postern by a man-at-arms, whereupon the herald delivered his message.

"In the name of our Holy Father and Lord, Paul III, we summon Agostino d'Anguissola here to confer with the High and Mighty Cosimo d'Anguissola, Tyrant of Mondolfo and Carmina."

Three minutes later, to their infinite surprise, the bridge thudded down to span the ditch, and I walked out upon it with Bianca at my side.

"Will the Lord Cosimo come within to deliver his message?" I demanded.

The Lord Cosimo would not, fearing a trap.

"Will he meet us here upon the bridge, divesting himself first of his weapons? Myself I am unarmed."

The herald conveyed the words to Cosimo, who hesitated still. Indeed, he had wheeled his horse when the bridge fell, ready to gallop off at the first sign of a sortie.

I laughed. "You are a paltry coward, Cosimo, when all is said," I shouted. "Do you not see that had I planned to take you, I need resort to no subterfuge? I have," I added--though untruthfully--"twice your number of lances under arms, and by now I could have flung them across the bridge and taken you under the very eyes of your own men. You were rash to venture so far. But if you will not venture farther, at least send me your herald."

At that he got down from his horse, delivered up sword and dagger to his single attendant, received from the man a parchment, and came towards us, opening his vizor as he advanced. Midway upon the bridge we met. His lips curled in a smile of scorn.

"Greetings, my strolling saint," he said. "Through all your vagaries you are at least consistent in that you ever engage your neighbour's wife to bear you company in your wanderings."

I went hot and cold, red and white by turns. With difficulty I controlled myself under that taunt--the cruellest he could have flung at me in Bianca's hearing.

"Your business here?" I snarled.

He held out the parchment, his eyes watching me intently, so that they never once strayed to Bianca.

"Read, St. Mountebank," he bade me.

I took the paper, but before I lowered my eyes to it, I gave him warning.

"If on your part you attempt the slightest treachery," I said, "you shall be repaid in kind. My men are at the winches, and they have my orders that at the first treacherous movement on your part they are to take up the bridge. You will see that you could not reach the end of it in time to save yourself."

It was his turn to change colour under the shadow of his beaver. "Have you trapped me?" he asked between his teeth.

"If you had anything of the Anguissola besides the name," I answered, "you would know me incapable of such a thing. It is because I know that of the Anguissola you have nothing but the name, that you are a craven, a dastard and a dog, that I have taken my precautions."

"Is it your conception of valour to insult a man whom you hold as if bound hand and foot against striking you as you deserve?"

I smiled sweetly into that white, scowling face.

"Throw down your gauntlet upon this bridge, Cosimo, if you deem yourself affronted, if you think that I have lied; and most joyfully will I take it up and give you the trial by battle of your seeking."

For an instant I almost thought that he would take me at my word, as most fervently I hoped. But he restrained himself.

"Read!" he bade me again, with a fierce gesture. And accounting him well warned by now, I read with confidence.

It was a papal brief ordering me under pain of excommunication and death to make surrender to Cosimo d'Anguissola of the Castle of Pagliano which I traitorously held, and of the person of his wife, Madonna Bianca.

"This document is not exact," said I. "I do not hold this castle traitorously. It is an Imperial fief, and I hold it in the Emperor's name."

He smiled. "Persist if you are weary of life," he said. "Surrender now, and you are free to depart and go wheresoever you list. Continue in your offence, and the consequences shall daunt you ere all is done. This Imperial fief belongs to me, and it is for me, who am Lord of Pagliano by virtue of my marriage and the late lord's death, to hold it for the Emperor.

"And you are not to doubt that when this brief is laid before the Emperor's Lieutenant at Milan, he will move instantly against you to cast you out and to invest me in those rights which are mine by God's law and man's alike."

My answer may, at first, have seemed hardly to the point. I held out the brief to him.

"To seek the Emperor's Lieutenant you need not go as far as Milan. You will find him in Piacenza."

He looked at me, as if he did not understand. "How?" he asked.

I explained. "While you have been cooling your heels in the ante-chambers of the Vatican to obtain this endorsement of your infamy, the world hereabouts has moved a little. Yesterday Ferrante Gonzaga took possession of Piacenza in the Emperor's name. To-day the Council will be swearing fealty to Caesar upon his Lieutenant's hands."

He stared at me for a long moment, speechless in his utter amazement. Then he swallowed hard.

"And the Duke?" he asked.

"The Duke has been in Hell these four-and-twenty hours."

"Dead?" he questioned, his voice hushed.

"Dead," said I.

He leaned against the rail of the bridge, his arms fallen limply to his sides, one hand crushing the Pontifical parchment. Then he braced himself again. He had reviewed the situation, and did not see that it hurt his position, when all was said.

"Even so," he urged, "what can you hope for? The Emperor himself must bow before this, and do me justice." And he smacked the document. "I demand my wife, and my demand is backed by Pontifical authority. You are mad if you think that Charles V can fail to support it."

"It is possible that Charles V may take a different view of the memorial setting forth the circumstances of your marriage, from that which the Holy Father appears to have taken. I counsel you to seek the Imperial Lieutenant at Piacenza without delay. Here you waste time."

His lips closed with a snap. Then, at last, his eyes wandered to Bianca, who stood just beside and slightly behind me.

"Let me appeal to you, Monna Bianca..." he began.

But at that I got between them. "Are you so dead to shame," I roared, "that you dare address her, you pimp, you jackal, you eater of dirt? Be off, or I will have this drawbridge raised and deal with you here and now, in despite of Pope and Emperor and all the other powers you can invoke. Away with you, then!"

"You shall pay!" he snarled, "By God, you shall pay!"

And on that he went off, in some fear lest I should put my threat into execution.

But Bianca was in a panic. "He will do as he says." she cried as soon as we had re-entered the courtyard. "The Emperor cannot deny him justice. He must, he must! O, Agostino, it is the end. And see to what a pass I have brought you!"

I comforted her. I spoke brave words. I swore to hold that castle as long as one stone of it stood upon another. But deep down in my heart there was naught but presages of evil.

On the following day, which was Sunday, we had peace. But towards noon on Monday the blow fell. An Imperial herald from Piacenza rode out to Pagliano with a small escort.

We were in the garden when word was brought us, and I bade the herald be admitted. Then I looked at Bianca. She was trembling and had turned very white.

We spoke no word whilst they brought the messenger--a brisk fellow in his black-and-yellow Austrian livery. He delivered me a sealed letter. It proved to be a summons from Ferrante Gonzaga to appear upon the morrow before the Imperial Court which would sit in the Communal Palace of Piacenza to deliver judgment upon an indictment laid against me by Cosimo d'Anguissola.

I looked at the herald, hesitation in my mind and glance. He held out a second letter.

"This, my lord, I was asked by favour to deliver to you also."

I took it, and considered the superscription:

"These to the Most Noble Agostino d'Anguissola, at Pagliano.


Quickly.
Quickly.
Quickly."


The hand was Galeotto's. I tore it open. It contained but two lines:

"Upon your life do not fail to obey the Imperial summons. Send Falcone to me here at once." And it was signed--"GALEOTTO."

"It is well," I said to the herald, "I will not fail to attend."

I bade the seneschal who stood in attendance to give the messenger refreshment ere he left, and upon that dismissed him.

When we were alone I turned to Bianca. "Galeotto bids me go," I said. "There is surely hope."

She took the note, and passing a hand over her eyes, as if to clear away some mist that obscured her vision, she read it. Then she considered the curt summons that gave no clue, and lastly looked at me.

"It is the end," I said. "One way or the other, it is the end. But for Galeotto's letter, I think I should have refused to obey, and made myself an outlaw indeed. As it is--there is surely hope!"

"O, Agostino, surely, surely!" she cried. "Have we not suffered enough? Have we not paid enough already for the happiness that should be ours? To-morrow I shall go with you to Piacenza."

"No, no," I implored her.

"Could I remain here?" she pleaded. "Could I sit here and wait? Could you be so cruel as to doom me to such a torture of suspense?"

"But if... if the worst befalls?"

"It cannot," she answered. "I believe in God."

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