With the Queen of Spain
Rodrigo, the Marquis of Posa — no, now the Duke of Posa, terrible title! — entered the rooms of the Queen of Spain in haste and bowed to her where she sat at her dressing-table. In the light of the morning sun slanting in the windows, she did not look so terribly fragile as she had seemed the night before, fallen next to the King; and yet as always there was a somberness about her, a hint of an indefinable sadness.
He remembered well the first time he had ever seen her, on a visit to the court of France. Then she had been only the Princess Elisabeth, not yet a Queen nor even promised to either King or Infante. The Princess he had met then had been hardly more than a girl, with a girl's qualities: guileless and open and lighthearted. And, perhaps as a result of having seen her then, he saw the Queen now as if through a double vision: the Princess that was, the Queen who now faced him. The Queen had the same lovely face as the Princess-who-had-been, but now it was more closed, more melancholy. And though she had opened to him somewhat since he had started to come to see her, since the King's command to him to attend her, the melancholy had only increased.
But he pushed all of that to the back of his head; there were more important matters, for both of them. "Madam," he said, "I would speak with you on a matter of great import."
The Queen looked up at him, and her face became even more still and unmoving. "Ah, Posa! Much has happened since you came to my rooms last. What is your purpose here?"
Only a few words, but he understood her; between them was the auto-da-fé, Carlos' imprisonment, the Queen stricken at the King's feet. Are you the King's man, or Carlos'? Because of you, Carlos is condemned to death. Is it true, as Carlos told me, that I may trust you?
"It is for Carlos' sake that I have come," said Rodrigo, feeling anew the terrible pain of having to move against Carlos, but knowing there was nothing else he could have done. And yet he rejoiced that it was in his power to save his beloved friend. "He has been imprisoned," he said, "that I might save him; and save him I shall. For Carlos and for Spain a man must die, but I will leave them a happier future!"
"Do not use this dark and mysterious language, Duke, I pray you!" said the Queen, frowning. "Explain yourself more clearly."
Rodrigo did: he detailed his plans to her, the plans to be caught with Carlos' papers upon himself, so that the King would execute him and free Carlos; then, Carlos would go to raise the glorious rebellion in Flanders, to be their savior, to bring them freedom. Thus he would save both Flanders and Carlos. "And you," he said impressively, "must watch over his life!"
As he spoke, a terrible comprehension grew in the Queen's eyes, and she became more and more agitated. As he finished she stood swiftly and said, "I understand you now, Posa. I understand your devotion and your sacrifice, and indeed I share your concern for Flanders, and for Carlos. But I cannot think that this is the best course! Tell me, at least, that you have not already committed yourself to this path."
"I have not yet set the events in motion," he said, "but all is prepared." All he would need to do, now, would be to let slip the nature of the papers which were even now on his person, and all would happen as he had planned.
She relaxed slightly, but there was still alarm in her eyes. "Posa, I beg of you, reconsider before it is too late! Think of the Prince. You know —" she drew in a breath — "how intense are his feelings! Think of how he would take your death! And think, too, of what might come after, how small a needle's eye might needs be threaded with respect to the danger Carlos is in, how your discernment and prudence might be essential. Alas! Posa, Carlos and Spain need you alive, alive to help them."
Rodrigo shook his head. "Ah! No, madam, I will be a sacrifice for Carlos and for Spain, and for Flanders."
"No." The Queen came closer to him. "I see what you are doing, Posa. Your pride makes you wish to do a great deed; you wish to give your life to Carlos, as the greatest of all gifts, as a glorious sacrifice. But it would not be a gift to him."
"That is not what I —" He stopped. Was it? Was it indeed his pride speaking, and not what would be best for his beloved friend? He had not intended that.
The Queen shook her head emphatically. "You are so dear to Carlos," she said, "and though you think your death would be the making of him, it might equally be his unmaking. You make a bid to save him and to save Flanders. Well then! you may yet win the prize! But it may well happen that you might lose both. Can you risk his life, and Flanders too?"
Rodrigo was struck dumb for a moment. He had not thought of it in these terms. He had only thought that here was a way he could give to Carlos what he wanted his friend to have, the leadership and the governance Carlos ought to have; and, more, here was the only path he could see to save both Carlos and Flanders. If she was right, if it might equally happen that they were both lost —
The Queen turned away from him and went to the window, where she gazed outward to the blue sky. "And," she said softly, "even should you save Carlos, and Flanders too — it would destroy Philip to think you had betrayed him."
"Madam!" Rodrigo exclaimed, more profoundly surprised by these words than by anything else she had said. He had seen her, only the night before, lying miserably huddled next to the King, who had driven her to that state. How could her thoughts be of the King's feelings, when the King himself seemed to have no care to spare her own?
She turned back to him, smiling sadly. "Do you think it strange that I care for him, Posa? He is my husband, despite everything. Oh, you know my feelings toward Carlos -- I will not deny it, not to you -- but Philip is the man I am bound to till death. And I pity my husband; in his dark thoughts, he thinks ill of everyone, even those of us who would never betray him. If only --" She broke off. Her face was filled with pain. But as Rodrigo watched, he saw her ruthlessly crushing her emotions down, saw her smooth out her expression until he could only see a hint of the sadness that had been there.
"No, Posa," the Queen said at length, her voice flat. "I would fall on my knees before the King, would it add a minute to Carlos' life, or save your own. I cannot talk to him. He will not trust me in this matter. But you, Posa: the King will listen to you, I think, if you argue for Carlos, where he would not listen to me. Go to him, Posa; plead for Carlos' life."
She paused. "You may — use me as an argument, if you think it would help," she said to him. Rodrigo saw her draw a little in to herself, and winced slightly in sympathy. "If the King must suspect me, well, let us at least turn it to our advantage."
"I would not slander you to the King, madam —"
"You will, if it saves Carlos," said the Queen sharply.
Rodrigo bent his head to the Queen. But there was something else about her plan he did not like, and he frowned. "If I take your counsel, madam, I can only save Carlos. I have spoken of Flanders already to the King, and he was not receptive. Indeed I hear that he has appointed the Duke of Alva to be sent there."
"O heaven!" exclaimed the Queen with horror, which was very near the reaction Rodrigo himself had had when he had found out, only he had used rather harsher language. The Duke of Alva was not known for his sense of mercy; quite the contrary, and Rodrigo trembled to think of the new devastation Alva might wreak on that already-ruined land.
"Perhaps," he said dubiously, "perhaps if I were able to convince the King to let Carlos go, perhaps he then could still raise the rebellion in Flanders." If he could not give his life, then he could at least give the leadership of the rebellion to Carlos: a smaller thing, but perhaps still worthy of his prince.
"Perhaps," said the Queen, who also looked dubious at this prospect. "I would not depend on this. You might well be able to ask the King for Flanders, if Carlos were abandoned, though I think even Philip's regard for you will only extend to one of those. Perhaps I have mistaken you, Posa. Which would you save if you could save only one, Flanders or Carlos?"
Rodrigo turned from the Queen and was silent for a long moment. He knew that she had not intended the question as a difficult one, but it burned all the same, for the question was one he had refused to ask himself. He had made his entire plan to save Carlos based on not asking that question; he had planned to save Carlos and Flanders together so he would never have to ask himself that question.
He knew in his mind that Flanders was far more important than a single person, that bringing freedom to that land, healing the devastation and torment he had seen there, were of far greater significance than saving one man, though that man were a prince.
He knew it, he knew it well, and he opened his mouth to say Flanders. Yet he could not say it; his traitorous heart would not let him speak the word.
"Carlos," he said, his voice almost a whisper. "God help me, I would that it were not so — but — Carlos."
"Oh," breathed the Queen, and Rodrigo looked back at her, fearing a little what he might see, but in her eyes were only sympathy and a dawning awareness. "Ah, Posa, I begin to see... How long?"
Rodrigo knew what she had seen in his face, and he did not pretend not to understand. "Since I first met him," he said quietly. "Since we were boys together, I have loved him."
The Queen placed a hand on his shoulder for a brief second, and then let her hand drop. "I am sorry," she said. "This has all been difficult for you, I fear."
"No, no," Rodrigo protested, shocked again by the Queen's words. The Queen sorry, when the whole court knew the difficulties of her life, when he himself knew how she grieved in her love for Carlos! "He is the Infante, madam! He once — offered — when we were younger — but he is my prince, and I should never presume so far. I am content. Indeed, I am blessed above all men that he is my dear friend, and I am his."
That day would always be seared on his memory: the tenderness on Carlos' dear face, shading into misery as he understood Rodrigo's refusal; his own yearning, that could not be indulged or even acknowledged to the very Prince of Spain, so far above his station, and the lord of many men other than himself, who might object to the preferment of one. But at the unhappiness he had seen on Carlos' face, he had almost broken; he had almost forgotten himself and taken Carlos in his arms and —
No, no, he would not think of that now. He took a deep breath to re-center himself; he feared that the Queen's sympathy had led him to say things he might not otherwise have voiced, and there were more important matters at hand. "But," he said, "though I save Carlos, if only Flanders could be saved —"
"You need not fear," said the Queen slowly, "that Flanders is without friends, even if you and Carlos are not at their head." She was silent for a while, then continued: "I may see how this could work, how another rather than Alva might be sent to Flanders, to help rather than to destroy." The Queen hesitated, glancing at Rodrigo. "It will not be the glorious rebellion you dreamed of. Freedom will come; slower than revolution, but less bloody too. But --" She looked directly at Rodrigo, an arrow to his heart. "Though it take my whole life, I will work to make Flanders a garden rather than a graveyard, Posa, I swear it."
Was there then another path to freedom past bloodshed and war, even when it seemed that all was crumbling around them? Rodrigo looked at her with pity and something approaching awe. His heart was wrenched within him: she was so young, so full of grief, and yet with such compassion and courage, and swearing herself to a task of years. "I would not have you bind yourself so — I would not leave you to the wretched art of politics," he said in a low voice. He had a sharp pang of regret for the innocent girl he had first met at the French court; that girl had disappeared, had become a Queen. Looking at her, he knew beyond doubt or despair that she would find a way to do what she had promised.
"It would not be my first choice," said the Queen, equally softly, "but we must take what we are given, Posa. I will keep my vow. Do you then keep Carlos safe, for Spain."
"Yes," said Rodrigo; "I will, though I must live to do so."
He took his leave of her, knowing both their tasks must start immediately; and as he left the room, he heard the Queen calling to her page to send the Princess Eboli to her.
With my sweet Eboli
Elisabeth de Valois, Queen of Spain, looked blindly after the Marquis of Posa — the Duke of Posa — as he left her rooms. Her thoughts were whirling with what she had learned, what she had promised.
She had not known that Posa loved Carlos until that moment, but she could not help but respond to the strength of the devotion she had seen in his face. She found herself hoping, if she could not have Carlos herself — and she knew she could not — that there was a way for the two of them to be happy together. But she did not see how it could be so. If Philip did not execute Carlos, he would exile him, she knew, and then he and Posa would be separated by leagues of distance. Still, she knew, it was better than one of them being dead, or (as she had envisioned, when Posa first told her his plan) both.
And now she had promised herself to the cause of Flanders. She had previously sympathized greatly with the people of Flanders, and the hardships they had borne, but she had not known or thought of how to help them, until speaking to Posa. She had then understood in a rush of insight how she might help Posa's cause, but she could not do it herself; it would need the help of the Princess Eboli.
Eboli! Eboli had been her close companion, closest save for her dear Countess; she had shared the many woes and the few joys of her life in Spain with the two of them. And now the one had been sent back to France, and the other had betrayed her. She had planned never to see Eboli again, and did not know how she would feel upon seeing her; Eboli had betrayed her, not once, but twice, and with Elisabeth's own husband.
Her thoughts turned towards her husband then, and they were filled with sadness. She had vowed to be true to Philip till death. She would keep that vow; her sacred promise was part of her as much as her eyes, or her heart. It was part of her no matter what he did, no matter though he broke his vows to her.
She did not want the antagonism that had grown up between them. She knew what had happened; being a naive young girl, not knowing anything but the youthful Carlos she had met in Fontainebleau, she had still grieved her engagement to the prince, and she had not loved Philip immediately, as he had wished. But now she had married Philip in the eyes of God; now she was the Queen, and yet he still feared she would wrong him, though she had given him no reason to think she might. Indeed there were so many things she could love about him, if he only gave her the opportunity to do so; and she knew that when he did give his heart in friendship, as he had done to Posa, he was the most generous of men. She thought that, if he ever came to her in love instead of harshness, she could forgive him for all that had happened between them, but she could not do so while he continued to insult and accuse her.
She sighed. She would have to continue making her plans as if this would never happen, and trust in God that all would yet be well.
Her page broke into her thoughts. "The Princess Eboli," said Thibault, and despite her cares she smiled a little at his high cheerful voice. "She is here now, madam, and awaits your word."
"Let her come in," said Elisabeth, and Eboli appeared and knelt before her. The Princess, who was dressed impeccably and beautifully as she always was, incongruously also wore a long coat over her dress, as if she had been interrupted right before going outside the palace. Elisabeth thought, as she often had before, that there was a sort of fierce grace about Eboli, even in the state of kneeling, as if she were a bird of prey, hooded or captive in the court of Spain. The thought made her heart twist, but it also held her steady. She could do this. She was still angry at Eboli, but she would speak to her and say what needed to be said, and hear her response.
"Princess," she said, and could not prevent her voice from sounding cold, "I told you last night that you had two choices, exile or the veil. I have brought you here again to present you with a third choice, for both my sake and Carlos' sake. But I must be assured of your loyalty."
"Yes, of course," Eboli said, almost inaudibly. She looked up at Elisabeth, cleared her throat, and said, a little louder, "It was such great pain to be taken from you, to know I was never to see you again — "
"Those are a flatterer's words," Elisabeth said, her voice like silk; "do they come with a flatterer's loyalty?"
"No!" said Eboli, looking offended, and Elisabeth relaxed a little. She had wanted to see that; had wanted to see some true emotion behind Eboli's words, not just the blandishments she expected from the court. Eboli rose from her knees and said, her voice not quite level, "I will show you, my lady, how much I care for you, if only you will let me. What is the third choice you speak of; how may I help you?"
Elisabeth inclined her head. "The Infante and the Duke of Posa care very deeply about Flanders, and about bringing freedom to those people, and I have made their cause my own. But you know that the King — "
"The King has appointed the Duke of Alva. Yes, I have heard this."
"And you know what this would mean for Flanders."
Eboli snorted. "Nothing good for the Flemings, I should say. A pity for them. But the King will not retract — you know the King — " She had the grace to look somewhat abashed.
Elisabeth looked away from Eboli. "I know." She tried not to think about how Eboli knew. But Elisabeth did know Philip; she knew his vast pride and obstinacy. It was a beneficial quality as well as a terrible one; once he embarked on a path, there was very little that would cause him to deviate from that path, for ill, but also for good.
She looked back, into Eboli's wide eyes. "I have made a pact with Posa that he will speak to the King, and save Carlos' life." She thought that if anyone could change the King's way, it would be Posa. Philip did not talk to Elisabeth much of his court or his troubles, but he had overcome his usual reticence with her to speak of and praise Posa, the man he had found; from this Elisabeth knew how strongly he felt about the man. And Elisabeth hoped good would come of it.
"Posa!" exclaimed Eboli. "Posa, who caused Carlos to be imprisoned? Posa, the intimate friend of the King?"
There was a bitterness in Eboli's voice that Elisabeth marveled at. She had thought Eboli and Posa were friends, or at least held no ill will toward each other, and she put away the thought to examine later. "Yes, Posa. He has explained all to me, and I understand his thought now as if it were my own. And that he is the favorite of the King is essential; he can speak for Carlos where neither of us may."
"Still, how could you trust him?"
Elisabeth looked at her without speaking, thinking that she recognized in Posa the honor she hoped for in herself, as well as the love for Carlos that she shared; and because of what she saw in him, she could do no other than to trust him. She did not know if she could trust Eboli to anything like the same level. She did not even know if she was right to trust Eboli with her plans now. She had trusted Eboli before, had trusted their friendship, and Eboli had broken it.
Perhaps Eboli understood something of her thought, for she blushed and looked down. "I will abide by your judgment, of course," she said softly.
"I have been wrong before," said Elisabeth pointedly.
Eboli flinched very slightly. "But," she said, "hear me, my lady; I had another plan to save Carlos. When your page found me, I was on my way to raise the people, street by street; they will rise and demand Carlos be freed. And either he will be freed, or in the tumult he will be able to escape."
"No!" Elisabeth exclaimed, aghast. "Have you thought of what would come after? I would not care to suppose you were endorsing regicide, but unless the King himself were slain, he would never forget nor forgive the people rising in support of Carlos. After all that has happened, he would consider it direct treason to the throne. Carlos might escape for a day or a week, but Philip would hunt him down."
At Eboli's sharp intake of breath, Elisabeth knew that she had not considered the King's reaction. "No," Elisabeth continued, "let us trust in Posa, who is with the King even now. If he does not succeed there, then we will reconsider; then perhaps a desperate plan such as yours is all that we can hope for. But I have his promise, and I think he will succeed. And you asked how you might help: I also have made my own promise, which I will see to the end no matter what happens with Carlos. I have promised to fight for Flanders, though perhaps not in the way Posa would have, or Carlos."
She did worry about Posa a little; she worried that his love for Carlos, his need to give Carlos all, would lead him to some other rashness, that he might after all spurn the King's pardon to try to give Carlos a chance to lead the rebellion in Flanders — but no, she would trust to his vow and his honor, and that he now understood the senselessness of any such action.
"Then what —"
"The Duke of Alva is appointed, and as you say the King will not retract his appointment. But you, Princess, are good friends with the Duchess of Alva."
Eboli's eyes met Elisabeth's. "Ah! I take your meaning. The Duchess has not hitherto interested herself in the politics of her husband, but if I paid a visit to her — "
"This very morning," said Elisabeth. "There is no time to lose."
"Yes," Eboli said abstractedly. Elisabeth could see she was already thinking about how to proceed. This was, she knew, where Eboli was a master and she but haltingly able to follow along; Eboli knew what words to say, how to sum up a situation, how to react in the moment; how to convince and how to persuade. Elisabeth had no doubt that if Eboli had indeed gone to raise the people in the streets, she would have been successful.
Elisabeth herself, she was beginning to realize, was able to see situations as they were, to think ahead, to see what might well follow and what disaster was likely to occur as a result of someone's actions: a skill that, she thought, was more rare than she had previously supposed. "And the other question," said Elisabeth, "is that if Alva does not go to Flanders, who then should be the leader of the force sent there? It profits Flanders nothing should Alva stay in Spain and someone similar go in his place. Is there anyone who would be acceptable to the King, but who would rule with mercy instead of fear, or better yet defer to Margaret of Parma as their governor?"
Eboli tilted her head. "Feria is one whom the King would not object to. He is not as bad as Alva, but — mm, no." She tapped her fingers meditatively against her skirts. "Wait! There is Count Lerma. He too would have the favor of the King, but the Countess mentioned to me only yesterday that Lerma is also in sympathy with Carlos. The King would depend on his judgment, but Lerma knows Margaret of Parma of old, and admires her."
"Lerma!" Elisabeth raised her eyebrows. "I would not have thought of him. Yes."
"And if the Duchess — " Eboli broke off and laughed a little. "If the Duke of Alva, I should say, recommends Lerma to the King, I should think he would take that recommendation."
Elisabeth inclined her head. "I understand you. Very well. Go quickly, and do what needs to be done." Eboli nodded back; Elisabeth had for a second an image in her mind as of a falcon ascending, readying itself for the dive. With the two of them together, she thought, they might move mountains, change worlds, and most importantly for now, save Flanders.
Eboli sank into a deep curtsy at Elisabeth's feet and held it. She said, "It was not flattery, before, when I told you what great pain it was for me to be taken from you. I regret so much what I have done, and I will not squander this chance, my lady." Her voice shook. "I will be true to you, I swear."
Elisabeth wanted her friend back, more than anything; wanted to have their old friendship back. She did not know if it was possible. But, she thought, perhaps in the service of Flanders, they would be able to connect again; perhaps their friendship was not irredeemable.
"Princess," she said simply, and picked up the heavy cross from her table, and placed it around Eboli's neck. She could not find it in her to say more. She felt Eboli take her hand, and then Eboli's lips against the back of her hand, briefly. Her hand closed around Eboli's in response.
"I will live to serve you, my lady," said Eboli.
Elisabeth nodded. She wondered what Eboli would say to the Duchess; and she wondered also what Posa was saying to Philip, and what Philip would say in return.
With the staff God had given me: the lord of Posa
King Philip sat in his study, his desk covered by papers and missives of state. Outside the sun was shining and the day was becoming warmer, so that the fire in the grate was hardly needed. Outside, he knew, it would be a lovely spring day, only a trifle windy, but his cares as monarch would not allow him to take happiness in what a simpler man might easily enjoy.
His restless hand seized on the two papers at the top of the pile: double warrants. He did not look at them; he did not need to, for he knew their contents precisely. The first was one he had had drawn up himself, the execution order for his rebellious son Carlos, and it needed only his last seal.
He did not know why he had not yet taken that last step. Carlos had been a thorn in his side; he knew very well that Carlos loved Elisabeth, and feared Elisabeth's feelings for him. And now, Carlos had raised his sword against his King and father, and though there was no direct proof, he had brought the rebels of Flanders to the court, and there was every possibility he was implicated as the traitor of Flanders! It was not to be borne.
The other warrant — He longed to crumple it up and throw it in the fire, but he did not quite dare to. The other warrant had been sent him by the Grand Inquisitor, after their conversation the previous evening, and demanded Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa, now Duke, to be sent to the Inquisition for questioning and to be put to death for heresy.
Philip had put the old man off, and he would delay in signing the warrant, but he knew he could not put him off forever. Did Posa himself know how much danger he was in? Philip sat at his desk, surrounded by his books and jewels and royal orders of state, and knew himself impotent to save the only thing he wished to save. And yet he could not keep his mind from trying to discover a way. Perhaps Philip could send him away as an ambassador or a viceroy — but no, the Grand Inquisitor would never countenance a royal appointment for the man he had branded a heretic. And Posa, with his great pride, would never consent to secretly fleeing the court merely to save his own life. And, in any case, to send away the man, the friend, he had finally found? He did not want to do it. There was nothing else here for him; there was nothing else here in the court, though he was the King; all the other courtiers were merely sycophants, and there was no help nor comfort from his son or his wife.
Elisabeth. He had been trying not to think about that part of the previous night's events, after the Grand Inquisitor had left him. He had wronged her in accusing her, he knew. In the moment where he accused her and she fell at his feet, he had known that she could not be guilty of breaking her vows.
And yet, he was the King! Should not he be justified in all that he did? If he had accused Elisabeth, was that not a king's prerogative? If she did not love him, was he not justified in suspecting her? If only she could love him! She did not love him; she could not love him, and because she would not love him, was he not justified in being harsh to her, and in taking his own lovers?
He remembered, uneasily, the last words Posa had spoken to him, the night before: Sire, are you the only person you cannot keep in check?
But in Posa's absence, he told himself: I am the King; what I do is right.
Even as he thought this, there was a soft knock at his door. He knew it must in fact be the Duke of Posa; none other except the Queen had the right to enter without being announced, though Posa had never used that privilege, not until today. But he knew it would not be the Queen, not this morning. He frowned. "Come," he said, and Posa came in and bowed before his King.
"Well, Posa," said Philip, "what brings you here?" His hand, as if of its own volition, rested on the warrants, so that Posa would not be able to see them and know them for what they were.
"I have news regarding the task you gave me. You asked me to search out the Queen's heart; so have I done." He drew nearer. "Sire, as you must know, she does remember Carlos with affection, and keep his portrait, for they were once affianced. But to blame her for this is madness! It is unworthy of the King of Spain."
"I know," Philip said, low. He remembered Elisabeth's white, stricken face as he had accused her. He tried to tell himself again that he was justified in what he had done, but in Posa's presence it was hard to think those thoughts.
"The Queen is true to you," Posa continued. "You have no need to worry, and indeed you are the most blessed of husbands, with a wife who is truly virtuous. But — "
Philip had known there would be a caveat. He felt the familiar fear and rage inside of him start again, and he stood up from his table and took a step, two, three, towards Posa.
Posa looked at him steadily and did not move. With an effort Philip mastered his emotions. "Go on," he said harshly.
"I feel very sure that her esteem for Carlos would go no further than a sweet memory that must dwindle over time — save that women will idolize men who are imprisoned against their will, and even more when they die." Posa grimaced slightly as he spoke, as if he hated to say the words. "Then he would be always young, always fair, in her mind." He flung himself to his knees, "So — I argue most strenuously against Carlos' execution on this ground, but even more so on the grounds of all the laws, most holy, of God and man, that forbid such an action."
Carlos, his troublesome son, his traitorous son. Philip could not keep himself from glancing at the warrant on his desk. But if Posa were right — "But," said Philip, echoing the Grand Inquisitor's words to him, "God himself sacrificed His only son for the world; may not a king do the same?"
"Sire!" exclaimed Posa, looking astonished. "God raised up his Son from the dead, who now sits at the right hand of his Father. Then let the King do all these things for his son, should he do one of them."
Philip drew in his breath at Posa's presumption. But Posa still held his gaze, though he still knelt before the King, and Philip was the first to drop his eyes.
"You are proposing Carlos' exile from Spain, then," Philip said flatly, gesturing to Posa to rise. "There is nothing else for him; he cannot stay in my court. And he would go into exile not as a king's son, not as a leader, but as a common man." Philip turned away from Posa, but Posa's earlier words kept ringing in his mind. He could not help but add, "You say that the Queen would forget him, if he were exiled."
"Yes," said Posa, standing and looking straight at Philip. "The Queen's love for you would only grow the more when she saw your mercy — "
Philip suddenly could hardly breathe; his mind had snagged on Posa's words. "You think Elisabeth — cares for me, then?" He could hear the eagerness and trembling in his voice, and internally cursed himself for his weakness, and yet he could not help but wait with anticipation for what Posa would say.
Posa's look at the King was one of startled comprehension, as if he now understood something he had not before. "I know it," Posa said gently, so gently that Philip knew he must be speaking the truth. "O my King, she wants nothing more than to be able to love you, her husband."
If Elisabeth could indeed care for him — if it was even possible, after all that had happened between them — was it possible? He had thought, from the instant she came from France, that it was not possible, that she never would. But suddenly, at Posa's words, a new world seemed to open up before him, one in which, perhaps, they could heal all the terrible things that had happened between them. That he had done to her, a small voice in the back of his head said. He had always quieted that voice by remembering she did not love him, but with Posa's words it had become louder and more insistent.
"But, Sire, Carlos --"
Recalled to the substance of their discussion, Philip shook his head. His son was a different matter, even if it that matter were bound up with Elisabeth. "Almost you persuade me, Posa. But he has rebelled against me in the matter of Flanders, and he has drawn his sword against his King. How would I know he would not plot and conspire to rise up against me again? The only way I could bring myself to pardon him is if there were one with him, one to keep him from rebellion, one whom I trusted — "
And then a thought like a blinding flash of lightning came to him, and though Posa had opened his mouth to speak, Philip forestalled him with a gesture.
Philip stared at Posa, not seeing the man himself but rather seeing the Grand Inquisitor as he had been in his chambers earlier, demanding Posa. He saw in his mind's eye Posa captive in the Inquisition's hands, and shuddered. His soul withered when he thought of it, and yet he had not seen a way out of the trap the Grand Inquisitor had made.
But here, like a miracle, was placed in his hands a means of escape, if only he stretched out his hand to take it. It would mean he would lose Posa. But he was bound to lose Posa one way or another; at least this way Posa's life would be saved, at least he would not go to his death knowing that his King had betrayed him to the Inquisition.
He took a minute to gather his strength. If he could have Elisabeth, if Elisabeth could love him, he thought, perhaps he would not need Posa as much; perhaps he could bear to send him away.
Finally he said hoarsely, "Will you go with him, Posa? Would you consent to going into exile with the Prince, to protect him and to watch him? It would have to be tonight, under cover of darkness. Swiftly and secretly, away from the court?"
Posa's eyes widened. "I? ...Yes. Yes! Sire, I would more than gladly go with him, if such be your wish." He knelt again.
Philip placed a hand on his head. "My strange dreamer," he said softly. "Yes, I will let Carlos go, if you are with him. But you must swear to me to keep him away from the Queen, and safe from conspiracy against my throne. I will pardon my son this once, and though he goes into exile not as the Infante, I do not say that at some later time he may not again be my heir. But if he foments rebellion against me again, my retribution will be swift and final."
Philip felt under his hand a shiver run all through Posa, who was then silent for a long moment, his head bowed so Philip could not see his face. "We must take what we are given," he murmured finally, his voice for the first time unsteady. He seized Philip's hand and held it to his forehead. "I swear it," he said.
Posa released Philip's hand and kept his head bent. "But — there is one more thing," he said. "One last thing, and I shall leave the court. Sire, may I speak freely?"
"You may," said Philip, waving his hand at him to continue.
Posa looked up at the King, though he continued to kneel. "The Queen — Sire, forgive me for my words — she has been much offended at your hands. Dismissing the Countess d'Aremberg, your unjust suspicions of her, the Princess Eboli: these things are not worthy of her. Love does not flourish in this soil, my King. And for the Queen's sake as well as yours — O Sire, she is deserving of all trust and devotion. Will you promise me, before I go, that you will be kind to her? That you will love her as she deserves to be loved?"
To speak to him so boldly, and of his own wife! To ask for his promise! Philip was not sure for a moment whether he was angry or admiring. But as it had before, admiration won out, not least because he knew, deep in his heart, that Posa was right.
"I will," Philip said, the words sounding strange in his mouth, for he knew there would be no retracting his words, that it was a promise he would be bound to: the promise of a King.
Posa rose and bowed to Philip. Philip thought but did not say: Go, Posa; go from the court, with my son if you must; but only go quickly, and live.
With you, my Carlos
It was quiet in the King's dungeon, and gloomy and dark even at midday; now that the sun was going down, only the guttering torches on the wall gave a fitful light that threw creeping black shadows everywhere. There was nothing for Carlos to do there but to think. He liked to take action, liked to have tasks engaging his attention, and his time in the court of Spain, effectively doing nothing, had been hard to endure; this was much worse, for there were many things he did not want to think about, and his enforced idleness made it hard to avoid them.
He had thought for a long time about Rodrigo, about what had happened at the auto-da-fé, about how Rodrigo had demanded his sword. Though at the time he had felt forsaken and aghast at Rodrigo's actions, he now understood that his friend could have done no other, caught between his prince and his king, caught between Carlos and his hopes for Flanders.
For he understood it all, now. He understood that saving Flanders was of paramount importance for him and for Rodrigo; that Rodrigo could not save both him and Flanders, and that therefore he, Carlos, must die; that for Rodrigo and Flanders' sake he must be willing to sacrifice himself. He accepted that, and was glad that he could help his friend and his friend's cause by his own death.
He wished Rodrigo would come. He was sure that Rodrigo was still his friend; it was only that Flanders was more important, and he understood that; but then, why was he not here?
He put his head in his hands and tried to think of Elisabeth: Elisabeth, to whom he had been promised; Elisabeth, to whom he had pledged his heart; Elisabeth, for whom he had declared he would die of love.
And yet, his thoughts still turned back to Rodrigo. He remembered Rodrigo comforting him for his love for Elisabeth, and Rodrigo arranging for his audience with the Queen. He remembered even longer ago, raising his hand to cup it around Rodrigo's cheek, and Rodrigo catching it in his — the split second where he had been consumed by joy, and then realizing Rodrigo was pulling away, the Marquis turning aside the Prince his lord, alluding to Carlos' great station as Infante so gently and compassionately that Carlos had only loved and admired him the more. And Carlos had turned to his betrothed Elisabeth instead, and lavished all the frustrated affection of his heart on her, and thought that there was to be his love forever.
But he did not want to think of any of those things. He tried to divest his mind of any thoughts whatsoever, and in so doing he slid into a fitful doze.
It seemed that he saw a dark figure walking in and out of dark mists toward him. The figure sometimes touched his face or arm gently, sometimes took his hand, and then would disappear. Every time it returned he felt an aching yearning toward it. If only it would stay, he thought, if only he could hold it, grasp it, keep it in his arms, he could be happy. Or even if he could name it: was it Elisabeth, or Rodrigo, or even his father, or some other entirely? But in the way of dreams, he could not call out or beg the figure to stay, or ask for its name, and it wandered off and dissipated into the dark mists.
Gradually, he became aware of his actual surroundings: the dark cold stone and the iron bars. Only then did he realize that there was indeed a dark figure in front of him, black-cloaked, but with the hood thrown back so that he could see it was Rodrigo who knelt in front of him, holding out his hand in truth and not merely in dream. "I am here, my Carlos," he said.
"My Rodrigo!" he said, taking Rodrigo's hand. "My only friend! My thanks that you have come to visit me in this tomb." He was not angry, only grateful that Rodrigo had come to him.
"Carlos!" Rodrigo said, and his voice was pensive, a note of sorrow in it that Carlos did not understand.
Carlos shook his head. "I understand everything, my friend. My love for Elisabeth has sapped my strength, so that I am of no more use to the living, but you can still save them! I know you are the King's favorite; and there is a need of a sacrifice of the King's rebellious son. Then you may convince my father that Flanders, without me, is deserving of mercy. I will willingly sacrifice myself for that end."
"Ah, no!" said Rodrigo, his voice full of suppressed emotion. "No! My Carlos, I pray you will learn how much affection I have for you." He pulled Carlos to his feet. "I am glad to embrace you once more, and tell you: I have saved you!"
"How? Rodrigo, what do you mean?"
"Come," said Rodrigo quietly, and still with his hand in Carlos' they went up the dungeon stairs together. At the top Rodrigo spoke quietly to the guard and showed him a paper; the guard nodded and waved them through.
Outside, Carlos breathed in the cool evening air, marveling at its freshness. While he had dozed, the sun had gone down, and twilight was darkening into night. "Ah," Carlos said softly, seeing the two horses tied to a post outside the prison; "we are headed for Flanders, yes?"
"If you wish it," Rodrigo said, and again Carlo could hear the pensiveness in his words, "I have arranged passage on a ship there. We will journey towards the port, in any case, and we will speak more of it when we have ridden for a while."
Carlos wondered at Rodrigo's preoccupied tone, as well as at his uncharacteristic lack of fire when Flanders was mentioned, but then another thought smote him. "If only I could speak to Elisabeth!"
"I knew you would wish to speak to her," said Rodrigo. "I am sorry, my dear friend, but you must not. We must be off at once, and I will tell you all presently."
"Ah, I understand," Carlos said, repentant, "and I have not even thanked you for rescuing me from prison, my Rodrigo! It is a small thing, truly, and I will follow your counsel."
Rodrigo nodded, and brought Carlos' hand to his lips and kissed it without looking at him, and turned away to mount his own horse.
They rode for several hours in silence. It reminded Carlos of when they had been younger, when they had often done nighttime rides such as this; sometimes when traveling between various places, such as the court and Rodrigo's home, and sometimes only for the sheer joy of it, their horses' hooves thundering beneath them the only sound in the darkness.
He glanced over at Rodrigo, astride his own horse with the relaxed look of a born horseman. Carlos had himself had trouble with riding for a while as a boy, and Rodrigo had had to help him, steady him. Those days were long over, of course, and Carlos was now a competent if not skilled rider. But still it was soothing to watch Rodrigo beside him, Rodrigo who was perhaps the best horseman at the Spanish court: his easy grace, his poise; the lips, just visible in the moonlight, which had just kissed Carlos' hand —
No. Carlos was not going to think about that. He had put those feelings away. Of course he had wanted Rodrigo in those long-ago days; who would not have wanted that most noble and attractive of youths, the bravest and most accomplished of men? But Rodrigo had made it clear that the Infante was not to pursue that. No, Carlos loved Rodrigo, and he would never do anything that Rodrigo did not wish him to do.
Engrossed in these thoughts, he scarcely noticed when Rodrigo slowed his horse, and only when Rodrigo softly called to him did he realize that they had come to a clearing next to a forest that would be suitable for spending the night. With only a few words between them they agreed to set up camp in the clearing, and Rodrigo took out the bedrolls while Carlos started a fire.
They sat by the fire, side by side, their shoulders almost touching. There was a slight chill to the air, and Carlos, his arms wrapped around his knees, welcomed the fire's warmth. Rodrigo, sitting cross-legged and straight-backed, turned his head to him and said, his voice controlled and low, "Carlos, we are away from the court, and we may talk. I have won your life from your father; now let me tell you the price of it." The firelight cast shadows on his face, and Carlos could not see what was in his eyes. "You do not go into exile as a king's son, no longer a prince nor the King's heir, but as a common man only, though the King told me he has not closed the path for you to be his heir again someday… And more: you must no longer see nor communicate with the Queen, and you must not intrigue for rebellion in Flanders, neither with conspiracy nor with compromising letters. And I am sworn to keep you from it, both to the King and to the Queen."
"What!" Carlos could not help but exclaim. "To Elisabeth as well?"
"Yes. And she bids me tell you that she is reconciled with the King." Rodrigo looked marginally happier. "Ah, and I have a message from her I promised to give to you, her last letter to you." He rose and took a letter out of his saddlebags, and proffered it to Carlos, sitting back down beside him.
Carlos broke the seal and read it in the flickering firelight. My son: forget me, and live, and be happy. I also pledge to do this; for our tasks are only beginning. Your loving mother, Elisabeth.
Carlos sat for a minute in silence, absorbing it. He could not be unreservedly happy if Elisabeth had reconciled with his father, could he? That she would now and forever only be his mother? And yet, if she could be happy, as her letter had said -- was that not what he wanted for her? Surely, if he loved her, surely it must be, even if that happiness was with Philip and not with him.
And, belatedly, another thought came to him: "But Rodrigo, what of Flanders? Surely we cannot abandon them to the oppression you have described to me! And to Alva, my God!"
"No!" Rodrigo said, the old fire that Carlos remembered and loved so well coming back into his voice. "No, surely not! I heard from the Queen before we left that it is now Count Lerma who will be leading the King's expedition to Flanders — "
"Ah!" said Carlos, cheered. "I wonder how that came about? Count Lerma is a good man. To be sure, almost anyone would have been better than Alva, but Lerma will be particularly excellent. Flanders is in good hands. But Rodrigo, then, what will you do?"
"There is still much to do in Flanders, much suffering to alleviate, and I will go to help as I may," said Rodrigo. "But what of you, my prince? You must leave Spain, but the Queen has given me letters that would give you asylum at the French court, should you wish."
"I would come with you," said Carlos. He noticed that Rodrigo still frowned, and there were deep furrows in his brow, as if he were troubled. "My Rodrigo, you are sorrowful. Will you tell me why?"
"It is nothing. It is only that I did not want to tell you that you could not be the leader of Flanders. I have saved you, but for nothing. I would rather have died for you, so that you would live and fulfill your great destiny, that you yourself might be the savior of Flanders and of Spain — "
Carlos shuddered. "I am glad you did not," he said with feeling, placing an arm around Rodrigo's shoulders. "Did we not pledge to be together in life and death? Without you, I am sure I would have been lost. Ah, Rodrigo!" He said, a little more slowly, "I had a great deal of time to think on this matter, while I was imprisoned. I did indeed desire to be the leader of the Flemish people, but I had to come to terms with knowing that this was likely not to be. And I came to see: in the end it matters not whether it is you, or I, or Lerma, who is the savior of Flanders, as long as Flanders is saved." He laid his other hand on Rodrigo's own. "My dear friend, let us not raise rebellion, since you are sworn against it; but let us go to help the people of Flanders as common soldiers, to do what we can for them. I am ready for anything," Carlos said gently, "as long as it is with you, my Rodrigo."
He was not used to comforting Rodrigo; it had always before been Rodrigo comforting him, helping him. But with some satisfaction he saw the lines on Rodrigo's brow smooth out, saw him essay a smile. "I also, my Carlos," said Rodrigo, "and it will be my joy and honor to help the people of Flanders at your side." He looked as if he were going to say more, but the words were interrupted by an enormous yawn. Rodrigo sighed, unfolded his legs, and leaned a little against Carlos' shoulder. "I had not realized how tightly strung I have been… I think I could sleep for a week."
Carlos grinned fondly at Rodrigo's dark head a little below his own. He thought that his friend must be very tired, for he had never leaned on Carlos like that before. "O Rodrigo, my dearest friend!"
Rodrigo raised his head and smiled at him, a smile of such sweetness that Carlos' heart twisted in his chest and his breath came faster. He and Rodrigo had embraced a hundred times, a thousand, but this was different. He was abruptly very conscious of Rodrigo's muscular arms, his hand on Rodrigo's shoulder, the line of Rodrigo's jaw.
He thought of Elisabeth for a fraction of a moment -- but she was gone, she was beyond him, with no thought of their ever being together again until, perhaps, they met again in heaven. But Rodrigo and he were both alive, blessedly alive, and Rodrigo was here, right here, so close to him --
Rodrigo's smile receded and he became very still. He swallowed. "Infante?" he said in a small voice. His eyes were huge and dark, and Carlos' breath caught as he saw the yearning in them. In that moment he knew that Rodrigo wanted him as much as he wanted Rodrigo; that all he had said about Carlos' title and position was only truth, and the only thing that separated them.
"I am not the Infante now," Carlos whispered, suddenly and immensely glad of it. Carlos saw Rodrigo tremble as Carlos reached up to smooth a curl of hair away from Rodrigo's face. "My Rodrigo --"
Rodrigo drew in a shuddering breath. "My Carlos," he said, his voice rough with longing; and he curled his fingers in Carlos' hair, pulling him close, and kissed him. And Carlos felt a vast joy rise up in him as he pulled Rodrigo even closer, until he thought he could feel the beating of Rodrigo's heart, their two hearts aflame with the same fire.