Seeing her again brings back memories like the moon can bring about the tide. Lucrezia is his moon, always has been. Just as he'll always be the helpless sea, growing or recoiling at her behest.
In her light, everything and everyone else pales and fades. Even Charlotte, his beautiful wife, now somewhere in the Valentinois, has never seemed so far and forgotten.
His sister comes to greet him, and Cesare kisses her brow chastely, and then cracks a sad melancholic smile. “My felicitations, sister.”
“You will address her as Duchess from now on, dear brother! She's your equal now that I've married her!” Alfonso d'Este's ringing laughter is a slap in Cesare's face.
He might be the best out of all Lucrezia's former husbands, but this still does not mean he's worthy of her.
No living man is worthy of her.
Borgia tightens his grip around d'Este's shoulder, and forcibly pulls him into his hug.
“She's always been my equal. And I am not your brother.” He hisses to his ear, all the while never dropping his strained smile. Lucrezia is still watching.
The Duke of Ferrara is taken aback by the viciousness of his new brother-in-law, and, as soon as he's able to, pulls away from the embrace in shock.
Lucrezia witnesses the brief exchange with a poised smile and mild appeased eyes, although it is very likely that she might have caught up on what is going on between her brother and her husband, despite their efforts to conceal their mutual alacrity.
She's a Borgia too, after all, every ounce as vicious as her brother, albeit not looking the part, and she knows a farce when she sees one.
“Well... I'll leave you two to discuss family business then. I suppose you have a lot to catch up on.” That's the only sensible idea that Alfonso d'Este has ever had, according to Cesare.
Borgia raises his eyes to the heavens when he kisses his wife on the lips. Then, with a subtle bow of the head, the two men dismiss each other, and the Duke of Ferrara is finally out of the way.
“Have you seen Father yet?” She inquires perfunctorily.
Once, perhaps, she would have taken Cesare's arm to fold her own in it, but now they walk side by side, elbows brushing, but still not touching.
“How could I not see him? He is the Pope. And under that canopy of cloth-of-gold, he's a sight to put even Jesus Christ to shame.”
She pretends to laugh at the hyperbole with a coldness that it's not her own. Who is this woman and what has she done to his Lucrezia?
“Naturally you have seen him, but I mean, have you met him? He should like to see you have come and have a few words with you.”
“I will go to him later. I wanted to see you first and foremost. Do you have nothing to say to your brother Cesare?” He prompts her with an empty, and yet hopeful tone.
All the while he does not dare meeting her gaze, for she is too bright, and like the sun, he's afraid she will bedazzle him and steal his wits.
“We all have heard of your advancements and they have made us so proud.” The Borgia woman remarks, never taking the eyes off the guests at the wedding feast.
“Us? You and who else? You are starting to sound like Father. Always we, we, we.” The Duke of Valentinois snaps with an aggressive snort that would frighten anyone, but her.
She just halts her walking and stares at him unmoved, waiting for him to be done with his act. “Is there nothing you have to say for yourself, Lucrezia Borgia? You are still her, aren't you? Aren't you still my Lucrezia? You certainly look like her.”
Cesare takes hold of her arms so they can finally stand face to face, grey eyes reflected into hazel.
She averts her gaze soon enough though, painfully aware of all the attention they have attracted with that sudden intimate conjunction.
“You stop it, Cesare. We are no longer in Rome, here, and if you bothered to exchange a few words with Father, you'd know that his power is thinning and it no longer protects us as it used to. We have to make our own in this world, and plan for when the Lord calls him back to him...” Her words come out strained, from a tight-lipped mouth. Cesare can feel that every fibre of her muscles is fighting against his to be released. So he unwillingly lets her go.
“Why do you think I am doing all this for? I plan to unite Italy under my sole dominion so that when Father dies, I can still keep you safe. Way safer than this knucklehead Alfonso d'Este can.”
She shakes her head, dismissing his hopes and ambitions as less than nothing. That hurts more than any blow he's ever suffered in battle.
“What?” He brings himself to ask in a crushed, half sob.
“Until you succeed, I must protect myself. You will always be my dear, stubborn, beloved Cesare, but now Alfonso's family must be my family as well. So there lies your answer: there is only a we now. Myself and them, the Este. Lucrezia Borgia will live on in your fond childhood memories, brother mine, but here in Ferrara only Lucrezia d'Este survives.”
Cesare Borgia weights the meaning of these words for half a moment. He can feel his heart breaking in his chest with the sharp clarity of mortality. Then he bursts out in a thunderous laugh that causes all the guests to turn in their direction. “Spoken like a true Este! Now you must excuse me, Duchess, but I think I see the Pope waiting for my audience over there.”