I.I.IV. Conqueror, Turncoat
in which a prince entertains guests and a bishops changes his cloth
The Bay of Naples, February 29th, AD 1073
Winter was fair to Naples this year, fair as it always was and more. With the cool winds over the waters came a respite from pestilence, which began to clear the streets. But Naples had never truly rested, even during the pox. Many blamed the sickness on the refugees from the war in Asia Minor, small in number but dispossessed and far from home. Though Naples had been independent from Constantinople for many years, the Duke made overtures of reconciliation whenever it was convenient. It was shameless but important work to ensure Neapolitan independence from Romans, Lombards, and Normans all.
Violence had been common, with these refugees killed for no crime but being from a distant land. A particular grisly example was when seven in total were stripped naked and their guts torn open and entangled together, with a crudely drawn message left above them on the wall, not in Greek, but in Latin (which had long replaced the former as the city's lingua franca): LONG LIVE KING RAT. That was how the Neapolitans viewed these refugees, despite their shared origins: as rats. Having long intermingled with the Lombards and sworn to the Patriarch of Rome, the people of Naples were no longer kin to the Eastern Empire and its Romans.
This vile disease of hatred had spread far faster than the pox, infecting the people and turning them against their motherland. Once the whisper was spoken to them that their supposed protectors, the Spartenoi who were first elected by the people and then themselves to take the helm, sought to sell once again the sacred independence of Naples to Constantinople, the boil that had festered for so long ruptured. They had burned down San Martino, one of the many seats of wealth that the Spartenoi had built, and ejected the duke himself from the city, who ruled in absence from Aversa.
And look what our independence has won us, uncle, thought Sergios to himself. Though he bore his uncles name, as so many Spartenoi had before them, he was not the Duke of Naples, merely another patrician in his shadow. But while the Duke and his sons were safe from the torches of Naples, this Sergios and his father, John, were in the thick of it. John was one of the senators of its council, and in this moment de facto ruler of Naples in his brother's absence, who sought to maintain order but found the Spartenoi influence crumbling, as long-awaiting patrician families made grabs for power, merchant guilds withheld their taxes (citing the pox as their excuse), and the Archbishop... He would have to be taken care of.
But there was little he could do. He had even less influence than his puppet of a father, and the whole of his life's ambition was crumbling with the rest of the Spartenoi destiny. It was this desperation that had him standing in the cold morning, beside the calm waters of the bay. He was exposed, a hated enemy of the people, waiting for a message which may never come.
"Have I answered your prayers, Hypatos?" The woman's voice had a strange tenor to it, but her vernacular was even better than Sergios's own. Why they had to speak the vulgar tongue and not Greek eluded Sergios, but it was not for him to decide.
"Must we always meet like this, in the open?"
"I prefer to hide in plain sight, a talent that would serve you better."
"It is not for you to decide, but your superior, and I would prefer to not be led out into the open like this each time."
She did not bother to correct him. "We should keep walking." She looped her arm around his, the other around her basket. The woman was dressed in common clothes, with a cloth draped over her black hair, but was otherwise not distinguishable from any other. Sergios, for his part, wore a threadbare cloak over his own heavy clothing, which while comfortable betrayed the hint of his wealth. He kept his head bowed, as if embarrassed. "Keep you head up and forward, don't act as if you have something to hide."
"I am not a child," Sergios said through his teeth, not enjoying his continuing education at the hands of this proxy.
"If that was true, we would not be having this discussion. My... master wishes to know how it became known to Rome of our plot."
To that, Sergios had no answer, none that were satisfying. It's a question he wished to know the answer to himself, but he was too afraid to probe for the answer lest anything more slip out. They passed through the slowly awakening streets, passing a cart full of the early morning's catch which brought the stench of the Old Man of the Sea with it. "Perhaps its because someone overheard what they shouldn't have while we were hiding in plain sight." Only he knew on this side of the Adriatic. He was confident enough to place the blame on her, since it surely could not have been him.
Despite the intended insult, the woman continued. "If the Papal States are willing to press the issue with war, then they must have more than a few hushed words."
"The Papacy would go to war?" It seemed absurd to him that the Pope would involve himself in this matter. Surely, the worst that could have been feared was excommunication, which meant little to the Spartenoi, who swore to Byzantine or Latin Rite as the winds blew.
"The cause is being championed by one Cardinal Monaldeschi, and thus his pet, the Count of Orvieto, will be his means."
"How do you know this?" Sergios asked, suspiciously. Rome had been sealed for the winter, and still was last he knew. News traveled slowly during the pox, and the eyes and ears of the Doukas could not be everywhere.
"Not everything can be learned from the safety of one's villa." Returning the insult from earlier with a thin, withering smile. "There is a document that is being circulated that is the key to all of this. There is nothing more to be done, Sergios, as it is known from Calabria to Lombardy of what we intend, and all there is left for us to do is deny."
A document? It made no sense to Sergios. Were his benefactors so foolish? Or... Was this a Roman plot? A forgery? He could only shake in rage, clenching the muscles in his arm that was locked with hers. He would not risk harming her, not now, even though it seemed he had less and less to lose. "Then you would abandon us? What of the armies, then? What of Naples?"
"Even if you were to convince your uncle to swear fealty to us, we would be honor bound to deny him, considering your family's past betrayals. And how can we expect to trust the oath of an oathbreaker?" She releases him when he stops, continuing to walk forward for a few more paces, before she remembers something. "As for your salary, Hypatos," withdrawing from her person a leather pouch. When she placed it in his hands, the weight of the coins within seemed heavier than usual. It was not the salary that increased, however, only the burdens it brought Sergios Hypatos. "Use it wisely," she admonished, before disappearing into the Neapolitan streets and leaving the patrician traitor behind.
Desperate as he was, he was not like to give up yet. He withdrew one of the coins, minted with the face of the Emperor Michael VII. He had a chance, slim but better than none. Naples had one strength that the Papal armies did not, and that was in her navy. With it he could carry the whole of their armies, to anywhere on the coast of the Mediterranean. Orbatello, Ostia...
No, Sergios decided. To Pisa.
Sergios VI, known by his Byzantine honorific "Hypatos", was an unlikely pretender to the Duchy of Naples after its usurpation by the Orsini. Center of the Byzantine plot to reacquire Justinian's conquests of southern Italy, Sergios Hypatos would find that the Komnenids that deposed Emperor Michael Doukas were uninterested in his adventure. His line would continue to claim the title of Duke of Naples into the 12th Century, but faded into obscurity after the Sack of Constantinople.
Palazzo di Conte, Orvieto, April 1st, AD 1073
"War, is it?" Giacopo rested his face in his hand. That was all he could discern from the cardinal's filibustering up until that point, and in his seven years dealing with the legate he had find the routine tired.
"No." Cardinal Monaldeschi was as terse as Count Orsini, but whereas the latter preferred plain speech and a direct approach, the cardinal and legate preferred instead to keep his intentions behind a mask of propriety. Such propriety was evident even in the way he cut his meat, slicing thin strips of pork and then eating it piece by piece. While it was slow and methodical, he would leave nothing left. He is a hungry man, Giacopo surmised, and not just for pork.
"Their oath to the Holy Roman Church, and it is the church's investiture that grants the Spartenoi their right to rule. Yet the Archbishop of Naples swears to the eastern heresy, openly even, and these Greeks spit in our face." The cardinal betrayed no anger, despite the tone of his words, sparing his energy for the tearing of the meat. "It is necessary for us to take a strong hand in these matters."
"The legitimacy of the Church is hardly the question." While all his councilors advised one course of action, Count Orsini was less convinced of this adventure than the rest.
All save one, and it was that one that spoke up, fearless as ever in his candor. "I would fear that the lesson of the Reconquista has done enough damage, far more than some Greek plot might." Alessandro, now podestà and administrator of Orvieto after the unfortunate loss of Consul Beneveto Alberici to the pox, remained the most skeptical of the matter out of Count Orsini's men. Even the lord chamberlain was in support of it, but Chiano had never seemed to fully recover from his sickness, or his brother's death, and remained absent from the private dinner.
The cardinal did not regard the dwarf, a quaint sight in his comparatively massive chair, seated upon a stack of pillows. Instead Monaldeschi's attention was on his meal, picking the meat from the bone meticulously. It was to the Count he spoke to, and no one else. "Nevertheless, the people of Naples cry out to their patriarch in succor. And our Holy Father, Alexander, has heard them, and wishes it to be answered. However, it is not for the Bishop of Rome to make war on Christians..."
"Christians? I thought they were heretics..." Alessandro countered.
"Enough," Giacopo said to his one present advisor, and turned back to the cardinal. "While you speak with His authority, we will only go to war upon the Holy Father's request. I know my oaths, and will not forsake them, but I am not eager to partake in this dark business."
"Had your fill, then, condotierri?" Monaldeschi mocked in his drone, his lips fitting and sucking down the soft flesh, and chewing with the same methodical focus as he performed everything else. Giacopo remained unmoved, so the cardinal continued to make his case. "Do not think of it as a war. These are little more than rebels and heretics, Count Orsini. It is more a... suppression of such wantonness, and a restoration of order to the city of Naples, which burns." He dabbed a napkin at his lips, and finally looked to the Count with a pointed expression. "Returning this rebel state to the protection of the Church is what the Holy Father would ask of you."
"The Holy Father, or you, cardinal?" Count Orsini asked, rhetorically, and keen to the meaning the cardinal did not answer, simply returning to his meal. Giacopo brooded on the matter, before settling back into his seat. "There is the matter that without the full of the papal armies, we can only field two hundred and one score men, most untrained and ill-equiped levies. The wealth of Orvieto is small, and we cannot afford the services of the condotierri. Naples is rich, and can afford the services of Norman men and their combined arms."
"The Normans are no longer simple mercenaries, Count Orsini. They tend to their own affairs, and states they control in no small part thanks to Naples itself. They have little reason to involve themselves."
Giacopo leaned forward, pushing his finger down on the table. "These Greeks have no honor, Monaldeschi. They have allied with Saracens when it was to their advantage. He has played host to the armies of the Guiscard, and would do so again to protect their 'independence', as little as such means." He leaned back, taking up his cup of wine and holding it close, gazing at the cardinal over its lips. "And if this plot you have uncovered is true, then we cannot hope to match the armies of the East."
Finally, the cardinal placed his cutlery down upon his plate, and regarded the Count once more. "It is this same lack of honor that leaves them without allies. The Guiscard is dead to the pox, his brothers war with the Saracens over Calabria, leaving their would be allies of Apulia with their hands tied. And the Emperor will do nothing, as he has matters of his own to attend. The Komnenids are making their bid for his throne, and every petty duke and prince in the Empire is standing against him. As you say, these Greeks have no honor, do you expect them to hold themselves to a plot hatched by a lowly duke across the Adriatic, struggling for relevance?"
Southern Italy, once ruled by Byzantine and Lombard city-states, was now becoming more and more in the grip of Norman power. Though Apulia was on the wane since Robert Guiscard's death in 1072, and was entrenched in war with the Sicilian emirs in Calabria, it remained the preeminent regional power. Naples had long secured its independence through alliances of convenience, employing Norman and Lombard mercenaries and still paying occasional tribute to the Byzantine emperor. However, by the late 11th century it had become mostly irrelevant and was quickly running out of allies...
"There is no means to attack, still." Giacopo complained, pondering the Cardinal's words still. "The mountains fence us on one side, and the Drengots hold the Campania, and with it the Appian Way. As for the sea, you cannot mean for us to face the Neapolitan armada..."
"The Prince of Capua will see the justice of our cause. He is a friend of the Papacy, and Duke Sergios holds his family's traditional seat of Aversa, gained during the Guiscard's own occupation during the campaign for Calabria." The cardinal seemed confident, but Alessandro was not. The Norman Prince was no friend to Naples, but it seemed unlikely that he would play host to a conquering army ("suppression" or not) with sights on his neighbor.
"I must confess, Cardinal," Alessandro began, tapping his finger lightly on the side of the table, "I cannot understand your place in all of this." He was characteristically blunt, and uncaring for the consequences of his words. Such manner endeared him to the Count, even though Chiano's more tactful approach served Orsini better in the court. "I doubt its a matter of piety that you should take up Naples's cause, nor do you seem to personally gain from it."
The cardinal, for the first time since his visit, regarded the dwarf podestà in his quaint seat. Now that he had the legate's attention, Alessandro continued. "Yet you have seemed to make all the plans for us, down to the avenue of attack, meaning you have some investment in it. Care to enlighten us, then, what that would be, Cardinal Monaldeschi?" It was audacious to ask, but Alessandro lacked Giacopo's sense of duty, and would not be held to some cardinal's grab for power unless it had some benefit to him or the state.
The cardinal for his part, having picked the bones of his meal dry, pushed the plate aside and moved to take the cup of wine provided, not looking at the dwarf directly as he did. "As Count Orsini rightfully observed, the wealth of Naples is greater than that of perhaps any city other than Rome herself in these lands. Wealth that lines the pockets of fools, heretics, and rebels. It would be better used in service of the Church." It was disarmingly blunt a statement by the otherwise obtuse cardinal, which left both the count and his advisor stunned to silence. The cardinal put down the cup of wine, and took a piece of bread.
"And used it will be, for we will have much need of it in the coming Reconquista." A lingering silence followed, broken only by the crack of tough bread.
Palazzo Soliano, Orvieto, April 8th, AD 1073
More and more, Emisu Hermigues began to feel that she was in a prison.
Even though the sickness had come and passed, taking with it faces both familiar and not, the Count had forbade her to leave the crypt of the Soliano. She had been recovering from her father's death when the pox hit, all but trapping her inside, away from her son and the rest of the court for months on end. It had changed her, her time among the dying, as she heard but few whispers from the outside. She knew that she could not longer be a maid when it came to these matters, but a woman grown and a mother besides.
"Will there be anything else, contessa?" Contessa. The nursemaid meant little and less by it, but that word felt sharp on Emisu's mind, causing her body to tense. She had been the Countess of Orvieto by marriage, but now she was the Countess of Castelo Branco by blood, whatever little that meant now that her father's land was overrun by Moors. She remembered her father leaving Orvieto, white as a ghost, and never returning. Her husband refused to explain to her his leaving, much as he remained silent about so much more. Such as the matter of his daughter.
After the birth of her precious Claudio, Emisu believed for perhaps a moment she could win her husband's affections and fidelity, or at least attention, with such a gift. She had since practiced and become knowledgeable in the vernacular, and her Latin had improved besides. And for a few short months, despite her apprehensions about the father of her son, she was treated as a member of the court. Until the Devil invited a whore into their midst.
She never met her, knew not this mistress's name, but it was the only conclusion she could reach when her husband brought an infant girl into the household, and claimed her as her own. Emisu Hermigues had not the heart to say anything at the time, instead letting it fester in her the darkness. The Devil had caught hold of Emisu herself, as she found herself praying for the child's death. And though she knew not whether it were God or the Devil that granted such a vile wish, the whore's child was dead to the pox, under the same roof she was now imprisoned, and that thought had broken her.
"Contessa?" The nursemaid's brow pinched, and she left the room besides. She had grown used to her lady's lack of eating and long silences, but little sympathy, considering her own lot, and that it was left to her for the rearing of these children. With her absence, Emisu only had the embers of the fire and the cold silence of the room to keep her company. It suited her just fine, and was content to wallow in such despondency for as long as it would last her. However, it was interrupted by a soft voice, one that made her heart sink.
Emisu had no time to even register the greeting before the child embraced her, laying his head in her lap. Her hands settled upon his black hair, and stroked lightly at it, saying nothing.
"Please, mama. Come outside with me. It's beautiful." He spoke her tongue, having learned it from her along with his father's, and seeming just as adroit in either. He had a talent for that much, she knew.
"I cannot, not until your father..."
"Papa said you could! He's leaving today, and he said you can. I ask him."
The thought of her husband allowing it seemed strange to her, but she quieted such thoughts. Surely he was capable of kindness as much as cruelty, as men are more than what they seem, she was always taught. And it was not Christian of her besides to judge so harshly. Still, she had not the strength at that moment, as much as it gave her hope. "Forgive me, minha vida. But... Keep me company, please."
As she stroked his hair, he seemed disappointed but as ever soon let it pass and smiled. That smile, so broad and generous, reminded her of her late father. Or perhaps I am only seeing what I want to see, she thought wearily as she played with his locks.
"Papa has gathered all the soldiers in the piazza. Will I be a soldier too, mama?"
It seemed a strange question to her, but it was natural for sons to wish to be like their fathers. What was more distressing was that her husband was leaving, and with the soldiers of the city it seemed. "No, sweet. Your brother will be trained as a soldier, and be a prince of men. You are to be trained by the priests and become a prince of the church." Leaving him out of the inheritance, Emisu knew.
To that, Claudio pouts. "I don't want to be a priest." He said, with a surprising conviction. "I want to be like papa, and Bobone, and fight for the Pope."
Emisu considered his fire but placed a finger on his lips and shook her head. "Be thankful that you were born as a son to a man like your father. We must accept what God gives us as our lot, and do everything we can to not disappoint Him."
"But all of the men in the square, they fight for God, don't they?"
She considered the boy, young but ever precocious and perhaps wise beyond his years, and knew that such questions would not endear him to his father. She would have to do what she could to spare him what his brother had suffered. "Sweet, those men in the square have no choice. They were born low of birth, and when their lord calls they must answer. We are all given parts in God's kingdom to play. And yours is as a priest. It is what God, and your father, want for you."
The words seemed to humble the child, but Emisu could feel her body tense up as another voice was heard, passing in from the doorway. "Lady Hermigues."
Her husband stood in the doorway, wearing as ever humble dress unfitting for his station. Her lips pursed as she stared at him, the first time she had seen him since first being trapped within these walls. There was so much she wanted to say, to scream, but with her son here, she could not, only remain silent as that very same son ran over and embraced his father. She bit her lip and looked down as Claudio spoke in Italian. "Papa! Can I go with you? I want to go to Naples."
Count Orsini regarded his son not with a smile, but not harshly either, a gloved hand messing with the boy's hair. Emisu looked up, a bit surprised. "Naples?" Why were her husband's armies going there? Was there a war? Questions she had a right to ask, but could not find the strength to do so. Giacopo regarded her cooly before pulling his son's face to face him. "Go find your brother. Tell him to be ready, we must leave before long." Claudio, eagerly enough, obeyed and ran down the hallway to make his way back to the other palazzo and find his brother, leaving Giacopo and Emisu alone in the room.
Giacopo stepped forward inside, letting the drapery that covered the doorway fall behind him. He unclasped one of the latches to his cape, and wrapped it about his hand, laying it down upon the end of the bed. He said nothing. He apologized for nothing, explained nothing, nor even spoke to her of anything, leaving her only to stare at him, full of such anger and sorrow, as he did his work. There was no passion to him, as he removed his outer mantle and stripped down to his tunic. There was only am ild frustration that built up until finally he snapped, "Damnit, woman, what? What do you want from me?"
Guilt and loathing were in that voice, but not loathing for her. Emisu knew this, and perhaps if she had not been so hurt, so hardened, she would feel for a moment compassion for him. But she no longer had that in her heart for her lord husband, so instead she remained silent, staring ever more.
It was not enough to stop him. "I am leaving, and will not return until the campaign is over."
Emisu said nothing.
"Chiano will attend to the household, but you may travel in my absence as you like, so long as you stay within the city."
And still, she said nothing, as he walked towards her, left only to his breeches. He stared at her, tired and frustrated, clenching his jaw. She was gripping her knees tightly, knuckles white as she stared at him. "I will spare you as much as possible. I will keep our duties short. And business-like." He seemed to think it a kindness. Emisu, still, said nothing of it, as her husband took her upon her seat, and left her alone as such on his march.
This time, however, she did not weep.
The March of the Campagna, April 29th, AD 1073
It had been nearly a month's march from Orvieto, and after a triumphal march through Rome, where Count Orsini gained the blessing of the Holy Father himself, war was upon Italy.
And not just in the south, Giacopo had learned. Messengers from Rome arrived after Orsini's men had set up camp in the marshy lowlands of the Pontines. The Republic of Pisa had asserted its independence against the Emperor of the Romans, which began a cascade of rebellions incensed by Heinrich's seizing of Tuscany after the untimely death of the Duchess Matilda. Joined by the duchies of Savoie, Lombardia, and Carinthia, as well as many smaller states besides, the peninsula seemed poised to erupt into bloodshed. While the relationship with the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy was cool, to say the least, Count Orsini could not be certain whether Pope Alexander would intervene, or whether he would remain silent much as he had during the Iberian Civil War.
The news had caused a dark mood to settle in among the small army, which was further burdened by the papal legate and his retinue that had insisted on accompanying. With the success of the Mohammedans in Iberia and Sicily, and even against the mighty Eastern Roman Empire, such unrest within the strongest protector of Christendom (even if it was often at odds with the Church) was unseemly in the face of Christ's pagan foes. And what of this venture? Giacopo was left to think within his tent. Are we any better, making war on Christians for such greed?
The presence of the legate in the army train was obviously the cardinal's ploy, a reminder of his unspoken threat. He remained Archbishop of Orvieto, and it was his investiture that ensured the countship's suzerainty, which was shaky enough as it was with the competing factions of the patrician families and the office of the consul, which remained contested even though it was empty and defunct. Cardinal Monaldeschi as well had set a dangerous precedent with the matter of Naples as well, as this 'abolition' of investiture was what justified the war in the first place, as it was the papal investiture that so long ago granted Naples its independence from Constantinople.
Giacopo would be a fool to think that Monaldeschi would not do the same to him. Given the time to consider, it seemed so obvious the answer to the question all those years ago that had plagued Giacopo, of why he was chosen for this task. A lowly ranked noble and condotierri, with little to distinguish himself, being granted a third of the papal lands and a countship to oversee them. Why? Giacopo had taken that his character and humble beginnings were the reason Pope Alexander chose him, but he knew now that the Bishop of Rome had likely little to do with the decision. Giacopo was chosen as a soldier, a proxy for the Papal States to make war on Christians, so that it may consolidate its temporal power against the likes of the Holy Roman Emperor and the Norman conquerors.
If Giacopo had been unwilling to make this war, it would have been a simple matter for the Cardinal to replace him with a man more pliable, more useful to his cause. Had he known the man's intentions all those years ago, he would have gladly let someone else play the fool. But he had built a castle, a family, and could not simply walk away from it out of pride. Is it humility that keeps me, or comfort and coin? Giacopo could not say.
Giacopo's thoughts were interrupted by an expected guest. Alessandro di Baschi seemed altogether different with his courtier's garb removed and replaced with more utilitarian fashion. The dwarf was now rich enough to afford a tailored suit of mail, with leather padding besides. Though he was hardly a warrior, the dwarf had complained that he did not wish to be "caught out naked, if at all" when the battles did come, so Giacopo had him referred to the armourer. And to see him in such a thing brought a rare, if brief, smile to Giacopo's face.
"Perhaps this career would suit you, di Baschi."
"It would be preferable than playing your aide-de-camp. Your son has been attended to, though the conditions do not seem to find him well. I think he misses that castle you call a palazzo." Alessandro found himself a seat with some difficulty, the weight of the armor seeming to be something he had yet to grow accustomed to.
The mention of Orsini's son had soured his expression, and he gave only a curt nod. "The boy would do well to learn from his surroundings. He is nearly of an age, and it would do him well to learn how to treat his men, and to gain their respect. They will not want a callow boy leading them when I pass." He diverted his attention elsewhere, sharpening the knife Giacopo kept close to his breast.
Alessandro observed the change of mood. "I have been meaning to ask, my lord, of your son..."
"It is best that you don't." The tone of Giacopo's voice on the matter ended any discussion before it began, leaving Alessandro with the same disquiet that Giacopo seemed to leave any who broached the subject with him. It was an almost infamous topic of rumor, yet Alessandro seemed unconvinced of the rumors of bastardy. Having been so forthright on the matter of the late Adalgisa, much to his own detriment, it did not seem in Giacopo's character that he would be so defensive about Bobone's legitimacy. Then again, he is the firstborn son, not simply a daughter...
Alessandro put a hold on that thought lest it got away from him. "Then let me ask this, what need do you have of me in this? Surely as podestà, I would better serve you back in Orvieto."
"The chamberlain will serve as my voice there, of that you have no need to worry." But worry Alessandro did, especially if Chiano were to look too closely to the carefully cultivated bookkeeping, or any of the other irons in the fire the dwarf had. For all that, Alessandro had little means of complaint, if his lord had need of him.
"I need a man I can trust," the count finally confided.
"Ah, then again, why am I here?" Though it could be taken as jest, di Baschi meant nothing of the sort. He knew that the count had little reason to trust him, as he had never been Orsini's most loyal vassal, and was ever the Devil's advocate in his council. Alessandro was always forthright in his self-serving intentions with the Count, knowing that such earnest was something the just man respected, even if selfishness was not.
"Listen," Giacopo started, and that kept Alessandro silent. "Whatever the cardinal plans, I seek to be a step ahead of. I need a man I can trust to ride to Naples, and deliver a missive on my behalf." He lifted a satchel, which seemed to have more than just a letter in it. The sound of coins could be heard, which got Alessandro's attention.
"And to whom in Naples is this message intended for?"
Giacopo stood and crossed the tend, to hand the satchel to his advisor, who seemed smaller compared to it. "Its Archbishop, Komitas of Cumae."
The Pontine Marshes and the Appenines formed a natural barrier that since time immemorial protected Rome from her enemies, but also presented a problem for her conquering armies. The Appian Way was built as a military highway that allowed easy passage through the otherwise malaria-infested Roman Campagna, and remained in use even during the early Middle Ages. During the Neapolitan Suppression, Count Orsini planned to meet the Neapolitan armies in the Pontine Marshes where the papal armies would have the advantage, assuming that the Neapolitan army would be forced to take a land passage towards Rome.
Alessandro took it, and swung it over his shoulder. He had his own horse, but it would still be dangerous. "You cannot expect me to evade the Neapolitan armies and gain entry to the city, alone?"
"The less that accompany you, the more likely you would evade notice. Stay off the Appian Way, and stay under night." The count's brow arched. "I have done as much before, surely a man of your stature could accomplish the same."
That did little to fill the man with much confidence. "If I didn't know any better, I would think my lord is trying to be rid of me in a more permanent way." Such speech was brazen, but he was not about to let the issue go without getting the last word in.
Count Orsini, however, managed to steal it back before dismissing the podestà. "Be glad then, that you do know better, dwarf."
Once he had been rid of his advisor, Giacopo began to grow more and restless within his tent. The sun was nearly set, and with it would come the dusk. A plague of midges would descend upon them, ripe with the fevers of the Campagna. The Count had little time left to survey the forces and take an accounting of arms, so he decided to make due with what he had left. After stepping out of the tent, which rested upon the summit of a central hill, he regarded the encampments that encircled outwards. The supply train remained at the edge of the highway, and was the most heavily guarded part of the camp. Save for the legate's pavilion, the men lived in spartan comfort and with few amenities. However, Giacopo was adamant that the men not be lost to the fevers. He had commissioned the weavers to fabricate cloth nets as drapery for the otherwise exposed levy, much as he had for his own company the last time he had made this journey. He was a mercenary then, and he felt a mercenary now, paid with a crown rather than coin.
The Count's gaze was drawn to the south. They had expected to meet the Neapolitan forces already, as this was the only land passage to Rome that the Neapolitans could take. Unless they made common cause with Apulia, Giacopo reminded himself, but even then, they would have to traverse the Appenines, which would be unkind to their forces if they were of any substantial numbers. The other possibility Giacopo entertained was passage by sea -- the Neapolitan armada was their pride after all -- but they would have to find a dock. Neither Ostia nor Orbatello seemed likely to give safe harbor. Desperate as they might be, the Spartenoi would not be so brazen to declare war on the Pope himself. At least officially, it was solely between the Count of Orvieto and the Duchy, and that was best for Naples.
Still, the lack of an army was troubling news to Giacopo. It could be that the Spartenoi army was supplementing the garrison in Naples, yet scouting reports seemed to reason otherwise. The forces had mustered north of Naples at Aversa, and there was news of an army on the march. If that was true, they should have already met. Orsini's own men would soon be in Campania, if they were not already, and would have to deal with Richard Drengot in due time. Breaking bread with a Norman prince was not a prospect Giacopo was eager for.
"My lord!" The voice was one of the men, and drew the count's attention in that direction. It was not one of his men-at-arms though that he saw, but a woman dressed in rags, climbing clumsily up the hill and stumbling at the last. One one knee she peered up, almost mad-eyed, and when he saw the piercing blue of those eyes Giacopo knew in his heart that God had not forgotten his transgressions yet, for before him was the last remnant of his being led astray.
"Giacopo..." Her voice even now sounded angelic to his ears, though her face had been scarred with pock-marks. Altruda too had suffered the pox, and what's more become dessicated and destitute in her absence from his household. He had ejected her once their daughter Adalgisa had passed, for reasons that pained him to remember. He had until now no idea if she had survived, but she had, and found him as a camp follower, reduced beneath even the low station he had found her.
The men who had tried to stop her caught up, and lifted her up by the shoulders. She kicked and spit but it meant little, she had little strength to her besides. "My lord, do you know this woman?"
He was not sure what to say to that, but Altruda answered it for him. "Do you not remember, Giacopo? I bore you your child. You cannot forget me... You cannot! Please... Just..." Her voice trailed off as the Count approached and held her by the chin, regarding her face. It disgusted him, but not for the marks on her skin. It was the memory of her beauty that sickened his spirit, and the guilt of his sin. In her doe-like eyes he only saw the hateful holes of his wife back home. He turned away.
"Our child is dead. You wept not for her, and did not visit her with me." Even after the pox had passed, Altruda remained more interested in courtly fashions and her lover's wealth than her daughter. She was greedy, and such rendered her spirit ugly and bare to Giacopo, after his dear infant child had passed. "You are no mother, and not even a woman, but a whore. Take her away from my sight." He waved his hand, and she screamed imprecations and curses at him.
"As you like, my lord. We have uses for whores like her, as you said." That simple statement gave Giacopo pause, and for all his hatred and guilt, he could not abide it, as vile a pleasure as it might have been to simply stand aside.
He turned around, and with that disquieting tone set his command. "Take her away, and send her back on the road. But she will not be harmed, nor will the man lay a hand on her. Those that do will answer to me." With that, there was only a lingering silence, which satisfied the Count well enough. He left them, if only to get as far away from her frothing, desperate screams. It would be long before he could forget this. But forget it he intended to do.
But not forgive, he reminded himself. It was not in his nature to forgive, not even himself. And for that, he would bear his wife's hatred, the guilt of God, and the sorrow of his dead child all.
His eyes focused once again on the southern horizon, and he found himself hoping, even praying, for that army to appear marching. What troubled Count Orsini was not that he was filled with bloodlust, he was not eager to once again get into the thick of the fighting as he had been in his youth. Such affairs quickly lose their taste as the years go on. What troubled him was that he seemed to welcome the risk, the danger, and the redemptive power of such combat, and the arbitrary chance of a honorable end. What Giacopo realized was that he was praying for a chance to die.
For whatever reason he prayed, it was answered, for an army appeared at that horizon. Giacopo did not move from his spot, rooted as he observed, and the other men began to take notice as what looked like some score of men and horse were crossing the Campagna to meet his camp. He searched for the banners of their army, to confirm that it was the Neapolitans, finally ready to meet the Latin armies in battle.
Yet it was not the gold and red of Naples that he found on their banners. It was the crowned cross emblem of another force entirely.
Prince Richard I, the Norman lord of Capua.
Castello delle Pietre, Capua, May 4th, AD 1073
"Do you march with the authority of His Holy Father, the Pope of Rome?" The prince questioned authoritatively from his high seat. He was cleanly shaven, and cut, but lavishly dressed, piety and opulence shown in equal measure, and he stood up to his title in every way, a mountain of a man in both stature and presence./
"I do," Giacopo answered tersely. He spared only as many honorifics that the Norman prince had, which was to say, none. He was thankful at least that the Norman and him shared a common language, even if it was stilted Latin.
"Then the Papal States make war on Naples," Prince Richard concluded, as if it were the simplest matter in the world.
Count Orsini clenched his teeth at the arrogance, but if he were in Richard's place, would he not make the same conclusion? There was little that he could say in protest, and it was in matters such as these that he wished he had the presence of his chamberlain. Instead, he had the cardinal and legate, Giacomo Monaldeschi, who seemed intent on filling that voice. "My prince, do you see the emblem of the Holy See on these men? They march under the banner of Count Orsini and no other, it is he that seeks to restore order to the province and-"
"Thank you, Cardinal," the Prince said, which irritated the otherwise unflappable Monaldeschi. "I see that the Pope sends a legate, and a cardinal no less, to accompany the army, and yet it does not fight on his behalf." The Norman seemed astute enough, and unconvinced of the whole matter. Giacopo was wise to have accepted the terms, and his army was camped outside the city and surrounded by the Norman forces, who outnumbered Giacopo's own by a hundred and were better armed besides. The small number of cavalry was simply the van of the larger force, and the Prince had seemed ready to make war.
"My prince..." The cardinal began again, leaving Giacopo simply silent (which was as close to polite as he was capable), trying to turn the conversation to his side, "we had sent messengers before us with requests for passage through Campania, at your leave, and the request still stands." Though ingratiating enough, the cardinal's deep voice was firm on the matter, even though the advantage was seemingly Richard's. Never before had Giacopo felt so superfluous to the proceedings, simmering in himself as he observed their back and forth.
"I had received them, yet I cannot say that I accepted, nor were your forces kind enough to await my permission to enter these lands." In truth, the borders were in dispute, but it was a matter of minutiae that was not worth debating in this court. He finally regarded Count Orsini again, with a pointed brow. "Does this legate speak for you, Count Orvieto?"
Giacopo turned towards Monaldeschi for a moment, and then back to Richard with a shake of his head. "No. He speaks solely for the Holy See, and I come here on my own initiative. And it is I, not the legate, that requests your permission to pass." Giacopo knew that the Cardinal had instructed him to request passage as a legate's escort, which would have made the affair easier. But Giacopo saw no point when the Prince would know the truth of it, so he spoke earnestly.
For that, the Prince seemed impressed enough by the earnest, though less so by the request itself. "When last we granted passage through our lands, to the Guiscard in Aversa, we found they were less than thankful for the privilege."
"Lost to Naples," Giacopo reminded Prince Richard. The matter of Aversa was a deep wound for the Drengots, and perhaps it would be the leverage necessary to force the deal. It was dangerous game, but not one Count Orsini was content with leaving to Monaldeschi alone.
Richard seemed at least furtive when the matter was mentioned, but quickly dismissed it. "Whatever the Count's intentions, Capua will not be party to it."
Giacopo clenched his teeth in anger, but restrained his voice as best he could. "There is no other way. We have not the fleet, nor would Apulia allow our passage. Campania is the only passage into Naples, and we ask only that you let our forces pass in peace."
"I fail, Count Orvieto, to see where that is my problem," the Prince said, almost languidly. He was a cool and cunning man, like the rest of his lot, even bloated as he was on his power. He is hungry, Giacopo noted, much like the Cardinal Monaldeschi. Giacopo, perhaps desperate, resorted to the only mean he knew for dealing with hungry men like him.
"Perhaps we could reach some understanding then. On the matter of Aversa." That got Richard's attention, and the Norman gave a smile of his yellowed teeth. Giacopo had no stake in the spoils beyond Naples, and his part was already in motion. There was only one man who stood to lose in this matter, and it was he who spoke up against the matter of this deal.
"There is one other matter. I hold with me this papal bull, signed by Pope Alexander II and bearing his seal." He withdrew the document from his person, the last trick up the cardinal's sleeve, the look on his face implacable. "On the matter of passage for his vassal, the Count of Orvieto, and his vassal's army, any who hinder their suppression of the rebellion and heresy and the restoration of order in the city of Naples are in danger of sanction by the Holy See, up to and including excommunication from the Holy Roman Church."
All geniality drained from the body of the Norman prince, and his expression was one of incredulousness. He ordered for the bull to be brought to him, and read it himself several times before setting it, shaking upon his lap. He cursed in his tongue, consulted with his chancellor and carved wounds into the cardinal and the count both with his eyes. Whether he wanted to or not, Giacopo had gained an enemy in the Prince of Capua, due to the machinations of the Cardinal. And there was little he could do about it.
"I trust that His Holy Father will remember the loyalty of the Principality of Capua in supporting the justice of his election, and we are ever at his service. The Count Orvieto may take his army and crush this rebellion without so much as another word from a loyal Christian such as myself." He nearly spit with each word. It was a brutish thing, but Cardinal Monaldeschi's gambit seemed to have worked. "If there is nothing else, leave. You have what you wanted."
"There is one thing," Giacopo boldly started, which drew the iresome gaze of the Prince. "We were expecting to face the Neapolitan army, not the Capuan forces, on the edge of the Campania. They had mustered in Aversa, last I heard. Have they gained passage through Apulia?"
Prince Richard regarded him for a few moments, and then gave a smile, as he was to have the last laugh in this. "No, Count Orvieto. The Guiscard's brood are no more friend to them as they are mine. You will not find them in the Appenines, but far closer to home..." He leaned back, folding his hands and examining the rings on his fingers.
"Where? You know where they are, don't you?" Giacopo could sense something was amiss, some danger he did not quite understand.
"Pisa," Richard answered. "They have bought passage through Pisa."
Prince Richard I Drengot of Capua was a powerful figure in his time, contemporary to Robert Guiscard of Apulia and said to be his match in cunning and skill. Starting from his base in Aversa granted to him by the Duke of Naples, he founded the first Norman principality in Capua, usurping it from the Lombards, he would be a loyal ally to the Church. At the behest of Cardinal Hildebrand, he assisted in the reforming pope Nicholas II (who invested in his claim on Capua papal suzerainty) in his struggles against antipope Benedict X, and later Alexander II against Honorius II. He secured power against the Lombard princes of the Holy Roman Empire and freed southern Italy from their influence. Despite this, his favor in the Church would wane after the election of Pope Boniface VII, leading to the abolition of his claim in 1082.