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"The Queen must be told."
"Indeed, I think so, too. It will come best from you. Go tell her, so that measures may be taken. But go secretly and warily. You are safe until he wears the crown. And above all - whatever you may decide - do nothing here in Naples."
And on that he turned to depart, whilst Bertrand sped to Giovanna. On the threshold of the garden Charles paused and looked back. His eyes sought and found the Queen, a tall, lissome girl of seventeen, in a close-fitting, revealing gown of purple silk, the high, white gorget outlining an oval face of a surpassing loveliness, crowned by a wealth of copper-coloured hair. She was standing in a stricken attitude, looking up into the face of her lover, who was delivering himself of his news.
Charles departed satisfied.
Three days later a man of the Queen's household, one Melazzo, who was in Duke Charles's pay, brought him word that the seed he had cast had fallen upon fertile soil. A conspiracy to destroy the King had been laid by Bertrand d'Artois, Robert of Cabane, Count of Evoli, and the latter's brothers-in-law, Terlizzi and Morcone. Melazzo himself, for his notorious affection for the Queen, had been included in this band, and also a man named Pace, who was body servant to Andreas, and who, like Melazzo, was in Charles's pay.
Charles of Durazzo smiled gently to himself. The game went excellently well.
"The Court," he sad, "goes to Aversa for a month before the coronation. That would be a favourable season to their plan. Advise it so."
The date appointed for the coronation was September 20th. A month before - on August 20th - the Court removed itself from the heat and reek of Naples to the cooler air of Aversa, there to spend the time of waiting. They were housed in the monastery of Saint Peter, which had been converted as far as possible into a royal residence for the occasion.
On the night of their arrival there the refectory of the monastery was transfigured to accommodate the numerous noble and very jovial company assembled there to sup. The long, stone-flagged room, lofty and with windows set very high, normally so bare and austere, was hung now with tapestries, and the floor strewn with rushes that were mingled with lemon verbena and other aromatic herbs. Along the lateral walls and across the end of the room that faced the double doors were set the stone tables of the Spartan monks, on a shallow dais that raised them above the level of the floor. These tables were gay now with the gleam of crystal and the glitter of gold and silver plate. Along one side of them, their backs to the walls, sat the ladies and nobles of the Court. The vaulted ceiling was rudely frescoed to represent the open heavens - the work of a brother whose brush was more devout than cunning - and there was the inevitable cenacolo above the Abbot's table at the upper end of the room.
At this table sat the royal party, the broad-shouldered Andreas of Hungary, slightly asprawl, his golden mane somewhat tumbled now, for he was drinking deeply in accordance with his barbarian habit; ever and anon he would fling down a bone or a piece of meat to the liver-coloured hounds that crouched expectant on the rushes of the floor.
They had hunted that day in the neighbourhood of Capua, and Andreas had acquitted himself well, and was in high good-humour, giving now little thought to the sinister things that Charles of Durazzo had lately whispered, laughing and jesting with the traitor Morcone at his side. Behind him in close attendance stood his servant Pace, once a creature of Durazzo's. The Queen sat on his right, making but poor pretence to eat; her lovely young face was of a ghostly pallor, her dark eyes were wide and staring. Among the guests were the black-browed Evoli and his brother-in-law, Terlizzi; Bertrand of Artois and his father; Melazzo, that other creature of Charles's, and Filippa the Catanese, handsome and arrogant, but oddly silent to-night.
But Charles of Durazzo was not of the company. It is not for the player, himself, to become a piece upon the board.
He had caught a whisper that the thing he had so slyly prompted to Bertrand d'Artois was to be done here at Aversa, and so Charles had remained at Naples. He had discovered very opportunely that his wife was ailing, and he developed such concern for her that he could not bring himself to leave her side. He had excused himself to Andreas with a thousand regrets, since what he most desired was to enjoy with him the cool, clean air of Aversa and the pleasures of the chase; and he had presented the young King at parting with the best of all his falcons in earnest of affection and disappointment.
The night wore on, and at last, at a sign from the Queen, the ladies rose and departed to their beds. The men settled down again. The cellarers redoubled their activities, the flagons circulated more briskly, and the noise they made must have disturbed the monks entrenched in their cells against these earthly vanities. The laughter of Andreas grew louder and more vacuous, and when at last he heaved himself up at midnight and departed to bed, that he might take some rest against the morrow's hunt, he staggered a little in his walk.
But there were other hunters there whose impatience could not keep until the morrow, whose game was to be run to death that very night. They waited - Bertrand d'Artois, Robert of Cabane, the Counts of Terlizzi and Morcone, Melazzo and Andreas's body servant Pace - until all those who lay at Aversa were deep in slumber. Then at two o'clock in the morning they made their stealthy way to the loggia on the third floor, a long colonnaded gallery above the Abbot's garden. They paused a moment before the Queen's door which opened upon this gallery, then crept on to that of the King's room at the other end. It was Pace who rapped sharply on the panels thrice before he was answered by a sleepy growl from the other side.
"It is I - Pace - my lord," he announced. "A courier has arrived from Naples, from Friar Robert, with instant messages."
>From within there was a noisy yawn, a rustle, the sound of an overturning stool, and, lastly, the rasp of a bolt being withdrawn. The door opened, and in the faint light of the dawning day Andreas appeared, drawing a furlined robe about his body, which was naked of all but a shirt.
He saw no one but Pace. The others had drawn aside into the shadows. Unsuspecting, he stepped forth.
"Where is this messenger?"
The door through which he had come slammed suddenly behind him, and he turned to see Melazzo in the act of bolting it with a dagger to prevent any one from following that way - for the room had another door opening upon the inner corridor.
Instead, Melazzo might have employed his dagger to stab Andreas behind, and so have made an instant end. But it happened to be known that Andreas wore an amulet - a ring that his mother had given him - which rendered him invulnerable to steel or poison. And such was the credulity of his age, such the blind faith of those men in the miraculous power of that charm, that none of them so much as attempted to test it with a dagger. It was for the same reason that no recourse was had to the still easier method of disposing of him by poison. Accepting the amulet at its legendary value, the conspirators had resolved that he must be strangled.
As he turned now they leapt upon him, and, taking him unawares, bore him to the ground before he could realize what was happening. Here they grappled with him, and he with them. He was endowed with the strength of a young bull, and he made full use of it. He rose, beating them off, to be borne down again, bellowing the while for help. He smote out blindly, and stretched Morcone half senseless with a blow of his great fist.
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The Historical Nights' Entertainment -by- Rafael Sabatini