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Love, freedom, and the impossible

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The Queen never had a choice. If Carlo would not have defied his father, how much less could he have expected her to do so, she who all her life had been readied to go where she was sent, to marry whom she was told to marry.

She had come obediently to Carlo, knowing nothing of him. She would have married him had he been hero or monster. It was sheer good fortune – ill fortune – that they had fallen in love.

No, he could not fault her – but he could resent her, could look upon her each day with a mixture of desire and anger that scalded his heart, could berate himself for continuing to love her when he knew that she could never be free to love him.

(But if she did love him? What then? If she did love him, he knew, so much the worse for both of them. It was better not to think of it – but he did.)

And then there was Rodrigo – Rodrigo whispering 'liberty, liberty,' as if it were a charm or a love song. Rodrigo, who was all lithe muscle and keen idealism, whose scars were the marks of the fight for freedom. Rodrigo, who was by turns cunningly strategic and gallantly careless, thinking now of the long view, of how one quiet word to King or courtier might move a mountain for his Flanders in a year's time, now of pure principle. Rodrigo, who made him believe that liberty might be possible.

None of them would ever know true freedom in this life. Heaven was wide, and earth was broad, but the King's reach extended across half the old world and half the new one, and, no matter how much Carlo told himself that he had it in him to rebel, he knew that duty would chase all of them around the globe and bring them back.

When Carlo looked at the Queen, he saw a woman freezing, suffocating, deprived little by little of her will and her vitality; a figure who dwindled to a mere puppet, following her husband to prayers, submitting to his increasingly unreasonable strictures without a word of protest. He loved her, he told himself, he would never cease to love her, though he knew that she would never allow herself to admit that his feelings were reciprocated. It was she who kept him trapped in this cold court, this labyrinth of protocol of his father's devising.

When once he escaped, he told himself, it would be different. When he was King, he told himself, it would be different.

And in the meantime, he lay in Rodrigo's arms, melting under the heat of his kisses, and he could believe that liberty might exist for all of them, that the cold, old, world could dissolve in love and be reformed into something new, something new and wonderful.