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voglio averti a me d'accanto

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The royal palace is silent, shrouded in darkness, the only light flickering faintly is that in the window of the King’s bedchambers. At his writing desk, Philip contemplates several documents laid out in front of him, illuminated by candles. He takes one of them and looks it through but it is obvious his attention is elsewhere. Every now and then he lifts his head, his eyes darting towards the door. The words on the paper are invisible to him, his ears straining to catch the slightest sounds from the outside. Moments later he gives up on the paper. Standing up, he lets it fall on the desk and goes to the window instead, setting the candle near the bed.

Posa should have come already and Philip is impatient. He has become attached to the young marquis – no, duke already –and craves his company more than he thought himself capable.

It is not often that a sovereign is able to find a loyal and honest person at court. Philip himself did not have a friend or even a trusted man until recently. Could Alva or other courtiers or even Domingo be called trustworthy? They serve him, of course – they are eager to serve, even, in exchange for the King’s favours, but Philip does not for a second believe in their decency. They cannot compare to Rodrigo. His brilliant, brave, honest and passionate Rodrigo. How different he is from the courtiers that surround Philip – twice the man and twice more human.

A sudden, sharp pain tears Philip from his thoughts. He looks down at his hand; his skin has reddened under the ring he’s been twisting around his finger this entire time. Sighing, with some difficulty he frees his finger from the metal and throws the ring on the bed, once again glancing at the door, which remains firmly closed.

Why is he late? It is true, Posa enjoys more freedom than anyone at court but even he could not have simply decided to refuse his King. And besides, Rodrigo always keeps his word. During their first meeting Posa made an impression of an honest and honourable man and throughout the past week Philip was happy to discover that he had not been wrong in his initial assessment. How could he think otherwise, seeing Rodrigo stand there, looking straight into his eyes with that open and fearless gaze? He was burning with dreams of liberty and freedom and his passion moved Philip. Those were naïve speeches, of course, but Philip felt touched by his enthusiasm.

As for his trustworthiness, Rodrigo proved it well. The sole act of his taking Carlos’ sword and presenting it to Philip said more than enough. He has turned from Carlos – literally and figuratively – and bended his knee before his King, becoming entirely Philip’s. That day Rodrigo genuflected in front of him, the prince’s sword in his outstretched hands, and glanced up with a look that almost scathed Philip, making his breath catch. That intense gaze had caught him from the first moment he spoke to Posa and it continues to ensnare him. Such eagerness, such ardour and sincerity had felt like a gulp of fresh air to Philip, who has been surrounded by dishonest courtiers, flatterers and cajolers his entire life.

The first time Philip had him in his bed the fire in Rodrigo’s eyes grew languid, turned into something more intimate. Philip thinks of the sighs and the moans and the trembling and is desperate to see those fierce eyes grow heavy-lidded and clouded with desire again. Rodrigo is beautiful, he is young and alive and Philip is certain he has never wanted or needed anyone this way before.  

A noise from behind makes him turn and there he is finally, there is Rodrigo. He is breathing heavily, as if he has been running, and looks around, taking in the surroundings swiftly. Philip watches him slip inside and wonders if his expression is really so tense or if it’s the shadows playing on his face. He sees Rodrigo’s attentive eyes sweep the room, foregoing the King at first. Not that he looks afraid – Philip is convinced Rodrigo does not feel fear – but it seems like he is deeply bothered by something. At last Posa notices him and gives a slight smile, yet the uneasy look in his eyes still remains. Philip holds out his hand, beckoning Posa, who crosses the room with big strides and comes to stand in front of the King.

“Where have you been?” Philip asks, looking him over. It seems no harm has come to him, at least physically.

“The Duke of Alva kept me, Sire.”

Philip’s eyes narrow. He has been aware for some time that Alva is scheming behind his back. The Duke might have wanted to rope in Rodrigo as well, now that he is closer to the King than anyone else – especially after Philip demonstrated it so publicly. But looking into those honest eyes, Philip finds it impossible to believe Posa would ever stoop so low as to partake in court intrigues and machinations.

“Alva’s scheming does not bother me,’ he scoffs, ‘he and Domingo are convinced they can plot and manipulate without repercussions, but they’re terrified of me. But you – you are different. You are not afraid of me, are you, Rodrigo?” No, he is not; and that is why he is so remarkable.

But Rodrigo’s smile is distracted, his mind obviously preoccupied with something else. Philip clasps his hands behind his back and contemplates Posa, head tilted to the side.

“Well, what can I do for you?” he asks, echoing their first conversation.

“You’ve already made me a duke.”

“Yes, a reward for loyalty. One of the many, I expect.” With a smile he hopes is benevolent enough, he reaches forward and twists a strand of Rodrigo’s hair between his fingers.

“A fine reward, certainly,” comes Posa’s bitter response and Philip snatches his hand back.

“What do you mean?”

“Sire, you’ve praised my honesty before; allow me to speak freely once more.” Rodrigo rushes to continue, without waiting for a response, “I think you were wrong to dismiss the Flemish deputies whom Ca-- who came to you today. Their plea was reasonable and you had the chance to establish peace, which you ignored completely. Instead you imprisoned the prince – your own son - and rewarded me for it.”

Philip sighs. Rodrigo is mistaken, his ideas are unrealistic, Philip sees it well, and yet, the accusation in Posa’s voice discomforts him.

“I have told you, there will be no peace as long as the Flemish rebel against their King.” He states calmly. Not a single word about Carlos. He is not particularly inclined to talk about him.

“You dismissed them without a question and that, Sire, is a careless mistake on your part.”

“They have nothing to tell me if they are not ready to surrender.” He turns away. Those deputies were led by his son, which certainly did not help their case. Why is that boy everywhere, making his life more difficult in every aspect? Not even his marital bed is safe from Carlos’ shadow.

“My lord, you could at least hear them out. This is pure obstinacy.”

That gets Philip to face Rodrigo again.

“Be quiet! Foolish boy, what do you know about ruling an empire?” He rounds on Rodrigo but the latter is calm as he stands his ground.

“I know that this way you’ll lead it into ruin,” Posa snaps.

Before he notices it, the King has grabbed Rodrigo by the front.

“You-“

Philip towers above Rodrigo but the latter doesn’t drop his gaze. His face is flushed and his eyes are blazing and it’s maddening. There is a challenge in his gaze but Philip is not sure he can accept it. Taking a deep breath to steady himself, he steps back.

“I’ve heard enough. You’re young, you dream of impossible things, I understand that.” Rodrigo makes an indignant noise but Philip holds up his hand. “I’ve allowed you freedom – too much freedom perhaps – but do not forget who you’re speaking to, Duke. I am still your King.”

Rodrigo is glaring daggers but Philip releases his shoulder and moves towards the bed, grabbing the ring.

“Come here,” he beckons and Posa takes a step forward, his shoulders squared, still giving him a dirty look for which Philip would have at least demoted any other courtier. But Rodrigo is not just any courtier and Philip still is not sure whether to accept that as a blessing or a curse.

“I had other reasons for refusing them,” he says, wanting, needing for Rodrigo to understand. “Let us speak of that no more today. You are right, I have praised your boldness before and I appreciate it still. But I would advise you to be more careful in the future. I cannot promise to always be as forgiving.”

Rodrigo does not respond, although Philip notices his scowl has cleared away.

“You have not lost the favour of the King,” Philip says. You are far too dear to me, he has to restrain himself from adding.

Philip takes Rodrigo’s hands. Those are the soldier's hands, calloused but young, much younger than his, still slender and beautiful. He presses the ring into Rodrigo’s palm and his soft sound of surprise almost misses Philip. While Posa looks up at him, a question written in his open face, Philip allows himself the liberty of putting the ring on Rodrigo’s finger.

“Wear it openly,” he insists softly, “as the sign of the King’s favour.”

“But, Sire –“

“I am not in the habit of hiding my affections,” Philip cuts him off with finality and Rodrigo falls silent. He looks away, focusing on some distant point in space and time while Philip disengages his hand from Posa’s. Philip hooks two fingers under his chin and tilts his head, searching his face. Rodrigo schools his expression as soon as his eyes meet the King’s and frankly, Philip does not have the time to start looking for more reasons for that frown. He called Posa for a completely different purpose. His thumb slides across Posa’s chin and his jaw. Rodrigo is so beautiful, so brilliant; must belong to him alone. He lightly skims his fingers over Posa’s neck, twists his hand into his soft hair and almost draws him forward for a kiss but no – he needs Rodrigo to do it himself. What is the point in having Rodrigo in his bed if he will be as distant and unresponsive as his wife? Philip wants to be wanted , God damn it. So instead, he runs his hand down Posa’s chest and tugs at his doublet.

“Off with this.” Despite being phrased as an order, there is a desperate edge to the King’s voice and a quick glance at Rodrigo’s face affirms that he has caught it as well.

When Philip pulls him into the bed, the ring on Rodrigo’s finger gleams in the candlelight as his hands wind around Philip’s neck. And when with a slight moan Posa’s mouth finds his, Philip’s heart soars.

Afterwards, while Rodrigo sleeps soundly, his breaths calm and his hair thrown all over the King’s pillows, Philip lays awake, staring up at the shadowy canopy. As usual, sleep eludes him, his thoughts drifting towards the dark tombs of Escorial and the eternal peace awaiting him there. In the early morning hours he feels more acutely his age and his loneliness. At least tonight he is not entirely alone.

Philip glances over at Rodrigo. For someone so horrified by Philip’s words and actions he certainly seems comfortable sleeping in the King’s bed. Philip smiles slightly. In the dim light Posa’s face is peaceful and open and Philip feels a rush of affection for the man. Rodrigo is still so young. His bold speeches, his passion and idealism are dear to Philip but he knows it will all change as Rodrigo ages and his heart hardens against the world. The change is inevitable - Philip has seen it happen to far too many men around him to think otherwise. For now, though, he cannot help but admire his youthful exuberance. Despite himself he is touched by that sincere, brave soul. Rodrigo certainly has a way with words – Philip recalls how compelled he was the first time they spoke. No, this man is destined for great things and God knows Philip will do whatever is in his power to help him achieve greatness. Sometimes Philip thinks there is not a single thing he would not give Posa, were he only to ask. But as he considers this, fear grips him, the ever-present horror of the blade that always hangs above him, ready to drop. The Inquisition has eyes and ears everywhere – no matter how much Philip tolerates Rodrigo’s rebellious sentiments, he is well aware the Inquisition will never be so charitable. The fear of losing the man who - in the span of only a few days – has become irreplaceable, is too much to bear.

Surely he must know – although he reassured Philip he is not a protestant, those speeches of his - bordering on heresy -  will cost him far too much. Posa is too clever not to understand that. There is not a single corner in the kingdom where the Inquisition cannot reach and Philip trembles at the thought of its iron claws sinking into Rodrigo.

Rodrigo’s anger worries him as well – he seemed genuinely upset by Carlos’ imprisonment. His old paranoia, the bone-deep instinct to not trust anyone tells Philip to beware, warns him to be careful. And Philip would listen, were he not so torn between the old habit of mistrust and suspicion, whispering to him to be wary of everyone, and this newfound trust and loyalty and – dare he name it? – friendship. Being alert (perhaps too much) comes naturally to Philip, almost comforting him the way an unpleasant yet familiar bed would, but looking at Rodrigo he cannot imagine him being a traitor. Posa would not betray him, not after Philip opened his heart and laid bare his entire soul. Rodrigo holds terrible power over him – never before has he trusted anyone so fully, so blindly. He cannot betray that trust, must not abandon him. He wouldn’t dare – surely he knows how much he is needed. In any case, what other matters can be more important than his King? Philip is willing to forgive the rebellious beliefs which, he knows, would offend the Church, but if – and he does not want to consider this case – if Rodrigo betrays him, the vengeance will be swift and horrible.

Philip vows to protect Rodrigo from the Inquisition but not even God himself will save Posa if he dares to betray his King.