Excerpt of Leonardo's Swans by Karen Essex
(Page 2 of 5)
Printer Friendly Excerpt
"I'll tell you a miracle that happened right here in Ferrara that is
even better," Francesco says, sidling his horse right up to Isabella's
so that their legs touch. She knows she should pull away, that her
mother would rail against this sort of indiscriminate physical contact,
even with leather riding boots providing a barrier to the couple's
much-craved intimacy, but instead, she rides with slow care so that they
might continue to brush against one another.
"What miracle is that?" she asks, suppressing a smile.
"That your father agreed that you should be my wife," he answers.
You have no idea just how miraculous, she thinks. If the timing had been
slightly different, he would be marrying the jaunty girl riding ahead of
them, but this, he does not know. When the marriage agreements were made
nine years ago, Isabella was only six and Beatrice five. Who could have
cared at that time which sister married what man, as long as both
marriages were politically expedient for the city-state of Ferrara?
Isabella wants to tell him the story but she would need him to say that
if things had worked out differently, his life would have been a ruin.
And he cannot possibly say that in front of Beatrice.
Duchess Leonora had long ago drummed into her daughters' heads that
marriage between noble houses was no whimsical arrangement based on
ephemeral qualities of preference or attraction. The peace of Italy
depended on these unions, especially at this juncture. The Venetians had
become doubly aggressive since the Turks pushed them out of
Constantinople. They began to push farther and farther inland into Italy
because they needed land for their farms and their citizens. They hired
condottieri to take over towns--Verona, Padua, and Vincenza, all near
Ferrara. The Venetians wanted complete control over the trade routes and
the rivers, as well as the land. Ferrara was venerable and strong, but
small. For her to remain independent, she must have strong alliances
with the city-states of Mantua and Milan.
"You girls are ambassadors of Ferrara. Its welfare depends upon the
success of your marriages. Therefore, you must do nothing, nothing,
to endanger these alliances. You must do nothing prior to the marriages
that may cause the families to renege on the commitments. Your behavior
must be impeccable. You are as much the protectors of Ferrara's welfare
as our army or our treasury. You are, in fact, its greatest treasures.
And when you enter your husbands' houses, I expect you to act like it.
Your bodies are the very bindings that will hold us all together and
stave off conflicts and wars. Do not think that you can behave like the
women in fairy tales and poetry. The duke and I will not tolerate it."
Looking at Francesco now, Isabella thinks that she must be the most
fortunate of women. Her fiance is not handsome, but has a rugged quality
that gives an ugly man appeal. Already three and twenty, he will never
be tall, and his eyes bulge, a condition that she knows will worsen over
time, because she has seen old men with this affliction, and they look
like reptiles. Yet he is as solidly built as any man alive, and his
courtly manners contrast so thrillingly with the wicked look in his
protruding brown eyes. Besides being from one of the oldest noble
families in Italy, he already is considered a brilliant student of
warfare, destined for an illustrious career in the military arts.
Undoubtedly he will lead one of Italy's great armies to many victories.
Isabella feels that Francesco is the perfect man to help her realize her
destiny--which is to have a powerful husband and reign with him over a
great and enlightened realm.
Excerpted from Leonardo's Swans by Karen Essex, pages 5-12. Copyright © 2006 by Karen
Essex. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random
House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be
reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the