ACT I: Lucrezia
On Lucrezia’s 15th birthday, her papa is away on business, doing the Lord’s work, so Cesare organizes a private party for her instead. It’s just the three of them, herself, Cesare, and Juan, but they let her have wine and at the appointed time, Juan produces a cake from her favorite bakery, and she spends the day laughing, wishing life could always be like this.
Always the three of them, always together, always alone.
Cesare goes away to Oxford that year, still close enough to come home on weekends, but his time away changes him.
He grows his hair long, starts smoking and cavorting, and he comes home smelling of perfume and sometimes cologne.
When they are alone together he is still her Cesare, still patient and adoring and kind, but those moments are rare, further and further eclipsed by the nights he spends out dancing and fighting, by the long afternoons when he disappears with Juan, out onto the lake or into the woods, gone for hours until they come back with matching sheepish grins and shifty, furtive eyes.
She starts to follow them, but they are always too fast for her, and sometimes she hears them laughing in the distance, as if it’s a game they are all playing together.
Lucrezia is not used to losing, but she’s afraid that this time she won’t be able to do anything else, not when she understands so few of the rules.
Their papa used to be a priest, once. But then he met their mother, and he left the Church and forsook God’s love for her’s. For years they lived that way, and her mother bore four children before papa changed his mind again, chose God once more over the family he made.
Her mother left, back to Spain, to the villa Rodrigo once plucked her from. She took her youngest child, Gioffre with her, but left her other children behind.
Lucrezia was nine when it happened, and although Cesare has gone to visit their mother since then, Lucrezia has never been invited, never permitted.
Still, she likes to imagine her momma, sometimes, surrounded by clay roofs and bright colours, her dark skinned kissed with freckles from the sun.
Cesare is home from college again, bearing gifts.
A new necklace and matching barrette for her, cigars and a new book for Juan, something obscure and philosophical that makes Juan laugh wickedly when he receives it, makes Cesare wink conspiratorially, and makes Lucrezia’s hands curl into fists, her eyes narrowing.
For their papa, Cesare has news of his impeccable grades and his many successful races with the college rowing team. Lucrezia has gone to see Cesare row, just once, but while there, she thought she understood all too well the hungry look in Juan’s eyes as he watched their brother move, strong arms straining in the sunlight, and she hasn’t asked to go again.
In the night, she is awoken to clumsy footsteps that can only belong to Juan. She peaks outside her bedroom door, catching a glimpse of his back before he disappears into Cesare’s room.
Knowing she should close her eyes and go back to sleep, Lucrezia slides out of bed and into her robe, clutching it tightly around her as she creeps out into the dark hall.
She hears their voices, muffled and frantic, and then the unmistakable sound of clothes sliding off skin, mouths pressed wetly together.
She feels something in her body give out, and she sinks to the floor, nightgown pooled around her ankles, eyes shut tight.
When Juan finally emerges from Cesare’s bedroom, wild-eyed and swollen-lipped, Lucrezia is still crouched in the hall waiting for him.
“He will never love you as he loves me,” she lashes out coldly into the dark.
But Juan just leans down, smiling, and lifts her up off the floor. “I’m learning that, in itself, has its advantages, sister,” he informs her cheerfully.
Yet there’s a grim set to Juan’s smile, and Lucrezia finds she dislikes it even more than his customary lecherous grin.
“Well you see, dearest sis, because he loves you, our brother wishes nothing more than to keep you safe - to guard your innocence and purity - in this life and the next,” his smile becomes a shark-like grin, “It would seem Cesare has no such qualms about damning my soul.”
She imagines Cesare standing behind his bedroom door, listening, but he doesn’t come out, doesn’t apologize to her or contradict Juan, and she hates him for that most of all.
She prays for hours, kneeling in the chapel of the home that has belonged to her family for generations. She prays, pleads, for her brothers’ forgiveness, begs that God may spare them, may save their souls.
And finally, almost as an afterthought, she prays for herself.
Lucrezia grew up believing that Cesare was a hero, a god. That he was everything right and good in the world, or, at least, her world. He was her confidant, her protector, her champion.
But from Juan, she has learned that Cesare can be cruel. That he can be selfish and brutal and that, in denying himself what he truly wants, Cesare will take what is given and pretend it is enough. No matter whose heart is broken in the process.
They’re riding together in a limousine, home from another charity banquet of their father’s. Juan and Cesare are sprawled on the seat opposite her, limbs tangled together, sharing a cigarette and a bottle of stolen champagne.
Cesare steals the cigarette back from Juan’s fingers and laughs when Juan reaches for it indignantly, rapping his knuckles lightly and then kissing his hair in consolation. Juan accepts this and completes the transaction by lifting the bottle of half-drunk champagne out of Cesare’s lap and taking a long swallow.
Lucrezia makes a disgusted noise when Cesare kisses Juan sloppily while he still has champagne in his mouth.
“Must you?” she asks, flicking a disapproving eye up and down the tangled mass of her brothers.
They look thoroughly debauched, shirts half-unbuttoned, jackets and ties abandoned on the floor of the car, eyes glassy from too much drink, grins hazy behind the smoke that fills the car.
“Don’t be a spoilsport, sis,” Juan says, his smile all cruel, mocking edges.
Watching her watch Juan, Cesare looks momentarily guilty, but then he takes the bottle from Juan and drinks with his eyes closed until Lucrezia eventually looks away.
If they weren’t still miles from home, she’d get out and walk. As it is, the rain that had been threatening all day is now hammering down on the limousine roof, and she knows Cesare would never let her go walking out in it by herself. If he came, so would Juan, and they’d all be back where they started.
At least here she can stay dry, and the taffeta of her dress will only be partially ruined by the smoke that clogs her pores instead of being utterly destroyed by the sleet-like rain.
Lucrezia is nothing if not practical; a life with so few choices of her own has made her cautious, careful, and calculating with the few things still left under her control, and so she stays where she is. Her only concession to her own comfort is to close her eyes, head lolled back, as she tries to pretend she doesn’t hear the sounds of her brother’s sin across from her in the back seat.
Cesare is red-eyed and remorseful the next morning, but she refuses to accept or even listen to his apology. Forgiveness is their family currency, the grease in the wheels, but she will withhold hers for now. At least until she can get the sounds of Cesare’s rasping moans when Juan touched him out of her mind.
She only hopes she can last that long.
ACT II Juan
There was a brief time, before Lucrezia was born, when Juan was Cesare’s pride and joy. Cesare took Juan everywhere with him, doted on him, read him bedtime stories and stayed with him when there were thunderstorms, carried him on his shoulders when Juan got tired, and patched every scraped knee.
Juan remembers this time in his life in snapshots, tiny, perfect moments that he holds tight inside himself, locked in his heart, safe from the reality of his life now.
More clear than anything else, however, is the memory of Lucrezia being brought home from the hospital, pink and foreign in a pile of blankets, passed to Cesare like Juan imagines he once was, given over to the eldest brother to love and protect. In that moment, Cesare’s focus shifted irrevocably, and even at the tender age of five, some part of Juan knew then that he’d lost Cesare forever.
Lucrezia turns 15 and her childlike innocence slides off her like a second skin, transforming her into something dangerous and almost wanton. She still has their father’s principles, still lives in prayer and breathes in guilt with every moment of failed perfection, but she is too beautiful to deny, now. Too beautiful, too clever, and too forceful for Cesare to still pretend away the knowledge in her eyes when he looks at her, and so Cesare flees like the devil himself is chasing him.
College is an acceptable enough excuse, but Juan knows better. He know it is not knowledge Cesare seeks within Oxford’s hallowed halls, but refuge, escape from the desires he fears he will not be strong enough to resist.
The first time Cesare comes home from Oxford, he is drunk, and that is his excuse when he ends up in Juan’s bed instead of his own. At least, that is what Juan makes out between the frantic, bruising kisses that Cesare devours him with, eyes closed, so lost to the oblivion of pleasure that Juan is sure Cesare will not even remember it in the morning.
Cesare is gone when he wakes up, and Juan tries to tell himself he is grateful. With denial will come absolution, a lie they can share together but never speak aloud.
This is what he expects, but when he comes downstairs to breakfast, Cesare is there waiting for him, already dressed and holding a tackle box and a pair of fishing rods. He holds one out to Juan like a peace offering, or perhaps a challenge, but regardless, and as ever, Juan will take what Cesare is willing to give him.
They take one of the rowboats out onto the lake at the centre of their family estate, not talking, their rods dangling loosely in their hands.
After an hour or so of this, Cesare abandons the pretence, substituting his rod for a cigarette he passes to Juan after inhaling twice, eyes open, watching Juan as he sucks in the smoke and exhales through his nose.
They trade the cigarette back and forth like that until it’s gone, and then Cesare smiles, something dangerously full of promise, and he pulls Juan towards him smoothly, not even rocking the small craft.
They kiss under the mid-morning sun and Juan is glad for the cigarette they’ve just shared, for the way it makes their mouths taste just the same.
It starts happening regularly, after that. Whenever Cesare comes home, whenever he has to spend a day with Lucrezia, bottling up every moment of desire for her, until he bears all of it down upon Juan’s willing flesh.
Then spring turns to summer and then all Cesare’s days belong to Lucrezia. His days belong to her, but his nights belong to Juan, and on those nights Juan goes to sleep with his head on Cesare’s shoulder, and he tells himself it is not such a terrible thing to be wanted more than he is loved.
When Cesare is gone, Juan and Lucrezia wander through their days aimlessly, staring listlessly out windows and going for long, purposeless walks to the edge of their property and back.
They talk little, and Juan spends hours alone while Lucrezia locks herself away in the chapel, as if praying hard enough will earn the forgiveness neither of her brothers are asking for. She comes out of the chapel red-eyed and exhausted, most times, and Juan will feed her fruit and chocolate until she can recover enough to look at him disapprovingly, accusingly, and then he will smile and his best lie of all will be pretending to both of them that he does not miss her, that he does not mourn the loss of closeness with her that his new found place in Cesare’s bed has cost him.
She does not smile for him much, not anymore, and when she speaks to him it is only in whispers, but they hold hands, sometimes, grasping out blindly for what they want and finding only each other instead.
They are both drunk the first time Cesare kisses Juan in front of Lucrezia, but the heat in Cesare is doubled, tripled by her proximity, and Juan knows it won’t be the last.
They go night swimming, the three of them, naked underneath the dark water, underneath the stars.
“Here we are just as God made us,” Lucrezia says, but she is laughing, and Juan laughs too, because it is the first time he has ever heard her speak so lightly of God, the one of their father’s creation, the one that looms behind their every thought and action, haunting their steps and every inch of their home.
Cesare doesn’t laugh, but he watches them both, his gaze sharp and calculating, chin held at a high angle, staying just above the water.
Juan swims closer to him but Cesare moves away, a game Juan knows all too well, and then Lucrezia is in between them, her hair silver in the moonlight, curling all around her in the lake. Juan swims away from them, closing his eyes and diving deep under the water, down and down until he can’t breathe.
When he comes up for air, Lucrezia and Cesare are floating on their backs, fingers knotted together, bodies swaying lazily with the waves, lost to him in a world of their own making.
In the morning he finds them asleep on the riverbank, hair damp, wrapped up in each other, in the towels and cloths Juan left behind.
He brings them tea and cigarettes, and once they’ve accepted his offerings Juan sits down beside them and looks out onto the water, smooth as glass in the still dawn, and ignores the way Cesare’s fingers curl possessively around Lucrezia’s neck, the way she shivers and leans in closer against his side.
ACT III: Cesare
The invitation from his mother arrives on the first of August as it always does, her words bright and forceful on the page. And, as always, she has invited all of her children, but this is the first year Cesare actually considers disobeying his father’s orders and telling Lucrezia and Juan about this fact. He has been party to his father’s deception for years, letting his brother and his sister believe their mother had forgotten them, forsaken them, as their father forsook her, as he wishes her children to.
But now Lucrezia is 15 - almost a woman - and Juan has been a man for some time. They are old enough to make their own decisions, about their mother, and about him.
He has already opened it, of course, but he takes the letter out again at breakfast once they are both sitting beside him. He unfolds the pages deliberately, studying it with care, even adding a few significant sounding sighs until finally Juan snaps, “oh for god’s sake,” and snatches the letter out of Cesare’s hands.
He scans it exasperatedly, rolling his eyes at their mother’s lengthy and effusive pleasantries, and then suddenly Juan drops the letter as though it has been set on fire.
“She writes to once again beseech you to come visit her in Spain. She writes in hopes that this time, you will not come alone.”
Cesare closes his eyes and bows his head against the accusations in Juan’s voice. His own silence is his admission, and Juan stands abruptly, making a noise of poorly suppressed fury, and then stalks out of the room.
Lucrezia watches him go, and then turns back to Cesare, looking placid, removed.
“Will we finally be permitted to go, then, Cesare?”
“I think, perhaps, now is simply the year to stop waiting for permission, dear sis.”
She nods, running a finger absently up and down the delicate stem of her water glass. “I would like to see Momma, again.” She sighs a little, and then shakes herself, finding the strength to muster a smile for Cesare. “It is good to know that she feels the same.”
Cesare smiles back, and knows that this will be the last they speak of it, of what he has kept from her, the time and innocence he has taken.
Juan is harder to placate, but in the end Cesare earns his forgiveness in the proud tradition of their family, with plenty of time spent penitently down on his knees.
Their father is a mix of furious and indulgent when Cesare breaks the news, but Lucrezia and Juan’s tickets have been purchased from his own pocket and Cesare waits until they are all at the train station together to tell him, so there is little he can do.
His vengeance may come upon their return, but Rodrigo admires a strong will, and as his eldest son Cesare’s has been built to withstand anything.
Their mother clutches Lucrezia and Juan to her chest and cries when they arrive. Juan cries too, but Lucrezia and Cesare remain stone-faced, hearts frozen by the sight of their mother, until Gioffre rushes out of the house to greet them, and then Lucrezia drops to the ground to hug him, crying and laughing into his hair. Cesare smiles, finally, watching his family reunited at last, and when he moves to join their collective embrace, their arms close around him instantly and for that one moment he closes his eyes and gives thanks to God.
They are not their mother’s only guests, it transpires. She is also playing host to the son of a distant relative, or possibly an old lover, it’s hard to tell sometimes, the crossover between the two is so great. He’s an aristocrat of some kind as well, complete with the most cliched tastes and excesses.
He and Juan take to each other immediately. Alfonso mocks Juan mercilessly, laughing uproariously at all Juan’s attempts at boasting, and yet for once, his hotheaded little brother fails to take offense. It startles Cesare so much he is distracted by it, so thrown he doesn’t notice the heat passing between them, the smoulder behind the teasing gleam in Alfonso’s eyes, matched by Juan when he gazes back at him.
They spend the evening drinking wine on the terrace, long past when their mother and Lucrezia have retired, and Cesare sits some distance away from Juan and Alfonso, watching them conspire and flirt with an ever increasing frown.
When they finally stumble away from him, limbs entangled, tripping and then catching each other frequently, Cesare is surprised by the depths with which he desires to follow after them and take back what is his, matched only by the desire he has to hold Juan down whilst he cuts Alfonso’s throat.
In the end he does neither, but spends the night awake and watchful, drinking methodically and waiting for his brother to return.
He doesn’t see Juan again until mid-morning, when his brother slinks back into their mother’s house and Cesare is still sitting in the entrance waiting for him.
Juan takes a minute to look guilty before he pastes over it with a lecherous grin.
“You look tired, Cesare. I hope it is because you too have been making use of the freedom this city affords us.”
“Is that what you call it? Freedom?”
Juan shrugs. “What else would I call it, brother?”
Cesare has several words, none of them quite so complimentary. He chews on his lip for a moment as he attempts to choke the accusations back. When he finally trusts himself to speak, Cesare’s tone is measured, even, although his words are not.
“I might call it cruelty, brother. Betrayal.”
Juan laughs, so sharp and loud Cesare winces, imagining Lucrezia and their mother waking to such a sound.
“Whom have I betrayed? Our father? You?” His tone leaves Cesare no doubt as to how absurd Juan finds what he is saying.
Cesare stands, and approaches him, hands clenched in fists at his sides. “I had thought perhaps we had... an understanding.”
Juan laughs again, softer, meaner, this time. “Did you. And what of Lucrezia? What good is our understanding when you only have eyes for her?” Juan shakes his head. “You have made your choice, Cesare, as I always knew you would. At least have the decency to let me pretend I am making mine.”
Cesare reaches out for him then, desperate, stunned at how far Juan suddenly is from his grasp. Metaphorically speaking.
But physically, too, it would seem, because Juan jerks back before Cesare can lay a hand on him, face closed off, eyes cold.
“You’ve made your choice,” he repeats, something pleading in his voice now.
Cesare bows his head, only for a moment, to regroup, but it is enough, and when his eyes open again, Juan is gone.
Cesare is still standing in the front hall, mind blank save the confused buzzing at the back of his ears, when Lucrezia finally awakes. She comes up behind him, pressing a kiss to the back of his neck, and he turns automatically into her embrace, burying his face in her golden hair.
She holds him tight, patiently waiting to ask her questions.
Once he is breathing steadily again, she withdraws, watching his face curiously.
“What is it, brother?”
“I have broken a vow I did not realize making, and now it would seem I have lost our brother.”
“Lost?” Lucrezia shakes her head. “You cannot lose what belongs to you, what is apart of your own self.”
“He does not wish to be mine any longer,” Cesare looks away, “Not if I am to have you as well.”
Lucrezia smiles. “And you do have me,” it is still a marvel to him that this is true, that it could be so without any guilt or shame clouding her eyes.
He can’t help but lean into her again, foreheads pressed together before stealing one brief, blinding kiss. “I do.”
She kisses him once more, nipping at his bottom lip the way Juan used to, the way that has always driven Cesare mad.
“I learned that from him,” she admits with a laugh, catching his expression. “I learned a lot from watching you together.”
“I should have known you were spying,” he chuckles, knowing he should be something other than delighted by this knowledge, but unable to muster any other such emotion.
“You did not? Juan certainly did.”
Cesare sighs. “I’m sure. I can’t imagine why he would not tell me, though.” If not to taunt him, if nothing else.
“Perhaps he thought you knew. Perhaps he thought it was the only way you would allow things to continue.”
“Why would he think that?”
“Oh, Cesare, dear brother. Surely you are not so foolish as this, or as cruel. Do you not know the shadow Juan has grown up under? Always second best, always least loved? First our father, our mother, and now you. There is no one who has chosen him, not really.”
“I have chosen him, I do choose him,” Cesare protests.
“Not as he would like to be chosen, not first, not best.”
“But still mine.”
Lucrezia shrugs. “Perhaps you could do better at conveying this fact, then.”
“And you would not object?” Careful, now, not wanting to lose one when trying to regain the other.
She smiles. “Not as long as I can still watch.”
He doesn’t find Juan, but he does find Alfonso.
He’s smoking a cigar in between taking long pulls from a bottle of wine that is cradled in his lap.
Cesare considers taking it from him and bashing Alfonso over the head with it.
He decides against this course of action with some difficultly, electing to sit down beside Alfonso on the stone steps of his mother’s house, glaring at the skyline in what he hopes is an ominous and intimidating manner.
Alfonso takes one sideways glance at Cesare and bursts out laughing.
It’s more of a cackle, really.
“You Borgias are too much, I must say.” He knocks shoulders with Cesare, who is so surprised by this affront that he lets it pass without comment. “You mustn’t take yourself so seriously all the time, my dear boy. At least your brother knows how to have a little fun.”
“It would be in your interest not to seek out my brother’s capacity for.... fun ever again,” Cesare threatens, and it takes no effort at all to sound menacing.
And for a moment, even Alfonso seems to take it seriously, take Cesare seriously, but then he is grinning again, wearing irony and condescension like armour.
“And what would be in Juan’s best interest, I wonder? You’ve already damned him to hell, after all. The least you could do is allow him to enjoy the journey.”
Cesare leans in close, his voice a seductive whisper in Alfonso’s ear, “You would do well to focus on delaying your own day of judgment as long as you can, and leave worrying about my brother’s soul to me.”
With that, Cesare claps Alfonso warningly on the shoulder and takes his leave, satisfied when Alfonso’s mocking laughter doesn’t follow after him.
Juan evades him for the remainder of the day and stays missing for the following sleepless, torturous night. Cesare and Lucrezia spend it together, searching the dark passages of their mother’s home, venturing out into the dim streets come sunrise, but still they do not find Juan.
By midday Cesare is ready to burn the city down if it will reveal where his brother is hiding.
A press of Lucrezia’s hand on his arm is enough to soothe him, however, and he acquiesces when she begs him to return home with her, to see if Juan has found his own way back to them.
They weave through the city with hands clasped tightly, and Cesare would be sorry for how painfully he is gripping his sister’s hand, except that she is holding on just as tightly.
When they return, they discover that Juan has come and gone whilst they were out searching for him.
Cesare curses under his breath, a pale shadow of the screaming rage he wishes to release. But Lucrezia is there again to calm him, to anchor him, and he presses his face into her hair and breathes until he is steady once more.
“Please tell our brother that we request the pleasure of his company this afternoon, Momma. We will be out in the vineyard, near the east wall, waiting for him at the hour of three, will you tell him that, if you see him?”
Cesare stares at his sister, as surprised as their mother by her request.
“Of course, child,” she says, smiling over her confusion.
Lucrezia nods decisively and turns on a heel, pausing only to glance back at Cesare expectantly before exiting the room. Silently, obediently, Cesare follows after her.
They make a picnic from their mother’s best wine and cheese, choosing all of Juan’s favorites and sampling their own as they go.
Lucrezia finds a blanket and wicker basket somewhere in the deep recesses of the cellar and Cesare donates his last package of Benson & Hedges to the cause.
They hike up to the promised waiting spot together, faces hot and red from laughter and exertion. They spread out the blanket and food methodically, and Cesare watches Lucrezia smooth the corners of the blanket over and over as if the success of their mission depends entirely upon it.
He smiles at her, and is about to lean down to steal a kiss when suddenly Juan’s voice sounds behind them.
“What’s all this, then?” he demands, obviously trying for flippant and falling well shy, coming off petulant and more than a little angry.
Cesare steels himself, and then turns to face his brother.
“This is my choice, Juan,” he announces, waving a hand expansively. “I choose you, I choose us.”
Juan raises a skeptical eyebrow, turning his attention to Lucrezia. “And what is your choose, dear sis?”
She smiles. “The same. Cesare, you, us.”
Juan shakes his head, taking a step away from them.
“You would have us share him, then?”
“And each other,” she adds softly, and Cesare is warmed to hear how sincerely she means it.
Juan must hear it too, although it has the opposite effect as Cesare would have liked, causing Juan to take two more shaky backward steps.
“This is quite a turn, sister. Have you forsaken God along with your jealousies?”
Cesare winces, and braces himself for Lucrezia’s reaction, but when it comes he is pleasantly surprised.
Lucrezia throws her head back, and laughs, and when she is done she smiles up at Juan and says, “I suppose you could say that I serve another holy trinity, now, brother, and this time, I do so gladly.”
At this, Juan sits down, although perhaps it would be more accurate to say he falls down in a vaguely coordinated manner. Cesare cannot blame him, the strength in his own legs has gone out as well, and his only advantage over Juan is that he was already sitting down when Lucrezia spoke.
With Juan close enough to touch, now, Cesare does so greedily, taking hold of Juan’s arm and hauling him closer, nearly crushing several bunches of grapes and a baguette along the way.
Juan squawks in protest, but lets himself be manhandled, pulled against Cesare’s side and tucked proprietorially under his arm.
Lucrezia is already pressed against him, likewise, on his other side.
“I can’t help but notice this arrangement seems to be working out best for you, brother,” Juan notes dryly, nodding at the tableau, the three of them spread on a checkered blanket, Cesare in the middle, surrounded by the two people he will always love most, even if he will never be able to love them equally.
“I hope it will work out for all of us,” he replies honestly, voice grave with sincerity, and presses a kiss to the crown of Juan’s head, before turning and doing the same to Lucrezia.
She laughs a little, and cranes her neck behind him, beckoning Juan over to her with the raise of her chin, and Cesare feels it, although he cannot see it, when their lips press together.
Juan’s cheek is pressed against his back as they kiss, and Cesare closes his eyes and raises his face to the heavens, smiling triumphantly into the sun.