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posso alfine, e voglio farti infelice al par di me

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“The King is weeping.”

The alarming announcement spread like a shockwave among the grandees gathered outside of Philip’s study. Count Lerma had been the one to witness those tears and he stood now, surrounded by the tens of prying courtiers who were eager to know more.

Inside, Philip leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes, fingers flexing involuntarily around the papers. He had heard Lerma’s frantic voice announce the King’s pain to everyone waiting in the adjoining hall, could now imagine their astounded faces and hear the hushed tone in which they passed the sensational news between themselves. It probably should have bothered him more, but Philip could not bring himself to care. Let them chew on it, pick it apart, do anything, he was far beyond caring. Running his hand over his eyes Philip wiped the tears away and tossed the letters on the desk. His first impulse had been to consider it a conspiracy, an attempt to knock the new favourite off his pedestal, but there was no doubt about that elegant handwriting, informing William of Orange of the sender’s intention to travel to Brussels at the earliest opportunity and to join the rebellion, as well as of the favour that fell on him unexpectedly.

A desperate sound escaped Philip and he grit his teeth to suppress it.

If he were honest with himself, this turn of events had to be expected. He had allowed himself to be drawn to that exciting man all while knowing everything about his ideas. Nevertheless, he had let himself be blinded, perhaps hoping that Rodrigo would abandon those ridiculous notions of peace and freedom of thought once he entered the King’s service or at least would not act upon them. Alas, he had nobody to blame but himself.

“Sire?” Alba’s voice, trembling with the suppressed hope, tore Philip out of his thoughts.

Philip raised his head and nodded, beckoning the man. He had asked for him earlier and one glance at Alba affirmed that the Duke was already celebrating victory in his heart. Alba moved forward, barely concealing his triumphant expression. Philip suppressed a shudder. It was no mystery to him that Alba was not particularly fond of Rodrigo. Gloat, old intrigant, he thought. Posa was out of the way now, was he not?

Philip threw the letter on the desk and gestured for Alba to read it. The minister - now back in favour, whether Philip liked it or not - reached out to pick up the paper, his jewelled, well-groomed hands twitching with greed; involuntarily Philip thought of a spider, of hairy, spindly legs hastening to grab and weave and use everything to their advantage. But the vision passed and Philip raised his eyes at Alba, who was looking at him expectantly.

“He cannot live,” Philip’s voice sounded hoarse and weak to his own ears; he seemed to be pleading, looking for comfort and reassurance from his minister. But what consolation could Alba, this hardened tactician, old soldier used to nothing but calculations and schemes, give him? What did Alba know of friendship? Perhaps Carlos had been right on that point, perhaps Philip did not understand friendship either, considering whom he chose as his confidant. But Rodrigo, oh, but he had been so bright, so eloquent and candid, Philip could hardly withstand the pull he had felt towards the man.
He wanted to sneer at his sentimentality but something bitter curled in his chest and was squeezing so that could barely breathe. The blow to his pride had been too strong, he could almost sense physical ache come with it.

“He will die,” he repeated, firmer this time.

Alba nodded, a sinister expression flashing across his face so fast Philip would not have noticed it had he not known his minister so well.

“My son is to be freed,” he added.

He loathed to admit that he was guilty before his son. His mistrust for Carlos had allowed him to be convinced of the prince’s treason, while the real rebel and traitor prowled freely about the palace. He would have to let Carlos go at once, lest his imprisonment brought consequences. Philip sighed, feeling the overwhelming weight of his age and mistakes all at once. Maybe it was not too late to repair his relationship with his son. Carlos was still an overly passionate, naive boy, of course, but with suspicion lifted off him, perhaps he would cease to be such a thorn in Philip’s side.

“If you will allow me, Sire,” Alba started and went on as he felt no resistance from Philip, “the crime young Marquis is guilty of is quite grave. One, I would say, deserving of a harsher punishment. A more… public one.”

Philip winced. The punishment – the execution – Alba was hinting at was the exact danger of which Philip himself had been warning Posa. It would be extremely foul to subject him to that, after all, he had vowed he would protect Rodrigo from the Inquisition. Then again, that had been before he betrayed his trust in such a low, disgraceful manner. Truly, what reasons did Philip have now for protecting him? Still, such humiliation… Philip thought of Posa, publicly disgraced, having lost his brilliance, being forced to repent in front of millions, and shuddered. It would certainly be a spectacle, one that perhaps could even have political influence. After all, a public execution of someone so invested in the Dutch revolt, one of the main supporters of it, would send a very powerful message.

Rodrigo had used his favour, well, Philip would show the boy he was not to be toyed with. Still, before allowing the Inquisition to sink its claws into that tender flesh, he had to speak to him. He would deal with Posa himself before letting anyone else have him, after all, revenge was his by right.

“I have changed my mind,” he said finally, “have Posa brought here.”

A cunning smile, a bow lower than necessary and Alba was gone, leaving Philip to consider his decision.

----------------

Philip watched the guards lead Posa into the study with a twisting sensation in his chest, the familiar warmth at the sight of him now tinged with bitterness of betrayal. Marquis walked in willingly, showing no resistance; Like a sacrificial lamb, Philip thought, if a lamb could assume such dignified, subtly triumphant look. It puzzled Philip - Rodrigo must have known the reason for his sudden arrest and yet he dared to stand there surrounded by the guards, with his hands tied, relaxed as if he was freer than God himself. Perhaps in his proud self-assurance he reckoned he was beyond suspicion and relied on the King’s favour; or perhaps the lamb was eager to be sacrificed. Either way, Rodrigo’s composure and the victorious glint in his eyes discomforted and captivated Philip in equal measure.

Posa was not the only one who seemed pleased with the turn of events. Alba had been beaming and energetic all evening, as if brought alive by the King’s sudden returning favour. At first he had tried to subdue his gloating – either out of respect for Philip or a self-preservation instinct – but later into the evening his elation steadily became more unbearable. Who knew, perhaps after Philip questioned Posa the fortune would turn away from Alba. Philip dared not think about it but some part of him still held out the hope that it had all been a misunderstanding, or a conspiracy against the man upon whom the favour of the King had fallen so suddenly. It could be that he hoped Posa himself would fall to his knees and beg for mercy; and he could not tell what horrified him more – sending Rodrigo to death or forgiving everything for the sake of keeping the young Marquis next to him.

He dismissed everyone with a gesture and seemed to busy himself while the guards and courtiers exited one by one. As the door closed behind the last man, he raised his head to look directly at Rodrigo.

Posa, in his usual manner, met his gaze openly and his dark eyes stung Philip. This bold, fearless demeanour irritated him. Rodrigo, the traitor caught with evidence and brought before his King, stood there as if he was an invited guest, nothing more. Sitting back, Philip allowed himself to study Rodrigo for some time. The gentle candlelight painted his face in warm colours, dancing on his lovely features and giving the whole scene a more intimate air. Philip looked him up and down, took in his beauty, youth, his infuriating coolness. Only the night before this beautiful dark head had reclined on Philip’s cushions, intense eyes softening in the early hours of the morning, lips stretching into what Philip now guessed had been a forced smile. Then it seemed to him the most beautiful vision on Earth. You are mine; say it, he had insisted against Rodrigo’s warm shoulder. You have decided that already, Rodrigo had parried, laughing and breathless.

Old trusting fool, that’s what he had been, but he would never make the same mistake again. He poked at his wound, scrutinised it, forced himself to focus on his pain and growing anger, basking in it and choking down other feelings which arose in him at the sight of Posa.

Once Philip was certain his voice would not disobey him, he jerked his chin towards the letters on the desk.

“Do you know what this is?”

Rodrigo’s eyes darted towards the papers, yet nothing changed in his expression. Surely he recognized the letters - had he expected them to be here, then?

“Of course you do,” Philip continued, grabbing a handful of paper and shaking his fist to accentuate his point, “I hold the proof of your treason, Marquis.”

The paper rustled unpleasantly in his hand while Rodrigo, stubborn man, only held his head higher.

Philip’s hand itched to wrap around his throat. He knew precisely how it would feel, how his palm would encircle that strong neck, fingers digging into the soft skin. The dark eyes would flutter shut as they had done before with Philip’s fingers three knuckles deep inside Posa but this time Philip longed to see them wide open with fear. Only by reducing Rodrigo to a terrified mess could he ease his own burning sense of humiliation.

“I suppose you will not attempt to deny it,” he said, throwing the crumpled paper back on the desk.

“Why deny? You have all the proof you need.”

“And you admit to it so calmly!” Philip would not expect anything less from Rodrigo but it made his blood boil all the same. He had clearly underestimated how challenging this conversation would be. He had fantasised about a broken man at his feet begging for forgiveness and instead was faced with calm and confident Posa.

“Is this what you have been from the start? A two-faced flatterer? A whore?” The word stung his lips; he could not bring himself to regret saying it.

“Sire!” Rodrigo’s eyes flashed indignantly. Philip wanted to bleed that pride from him until there was nothing left, wanted to trample it under his feet, just like Rodrigo had done with his favours, his trust, his love. Oh but he would still see Rodrigo humiliated, when the flames of the pyre drew closer and the dungeons of the Inquisition seemed inescapable, he would see him on his knees.

Philip breathed to steady himself and took a step forward. “Understand, dear Marquis, what you have done is unforgivable. If you hoped to operate from under my wing as the King’s favourite –”

“I planned nothing of the sort.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Sire, I have never hoped for anything from the King’s favour.” A twist of the mouth, slight flash of those dark eyes and Philip had to remind himself to get a grip.

“You are forgetting yourself, Marquis,” his voice shook with anger, “King’s favour gave you everything, made you who you are and could have given even more, had you not chosen treason. There is nothing I can do for you after that, though, to be quite honest, I do not want to. My only question is why did you do it?” Why could you not have opposed me directly, why ingratiate yourself to me, why make me treasure you?

Not a sound escaped Rodrigo. He did not even look at Philip, his eyes fixed on something behind the King.

“Why?” Philip asked once again, moving closer.

He was met with a pointed silence.

“By God, you will answer me,” Philip snarled, grabbing his chin roughly and jerking his head, forcing Rodrigo to meet his gaze. “Is this how you repay me for all my favours?”

Rodrigo licked his lips and it took all Philip’s restraint not to look down at his mouth, that insolent, infuriating mouth which has spewed revolutionary ideas, gave speeches about peace and liberty and freedom of thought, the same mouth that he had claimed so often. Philip almost trembled with the effort to remain in control.

“I never pretended not to sympathise with the cause,” Rodrigo answered earnestly, disarming Philip in an instant.

He was right, Philip had known about his views, had stood and listened to his passionate talk and even warned him against the Inquisition. Of course Rodrigo could cause much trouble, but Philip conveniently had convinced himself he would not. At Philip’s side he would have everything – influence, wealth, safety, and he foolishly had assumed it would be enough to bind Rodrigo to himself. So, he turned a blind eye to everything else and why? Because Posa dared to challenge him? Because in the moment of weakness he found solace in his company? Because for once in his life instead of tolerance he felt fondness from someone he took to bed?

Throwing away the last shreds of restraint Philip pulled Rodrigo’s face closer and kissed him. It could hardly be called a kiss though, that bruising, rough, cruel press of his mouth. Philip pushed and took and forced Posa’s lips open and claimed what was rightfully his because he wanted to, because he could. Was that not what a king did?
He pressed his lips to Rodrigo’s one last time, so firmly it bordered on pain, and pushed him away with a force that made Posa stumble backwards several paces.

“Traitor,” Philip spat.

“I never betrayed my ideals,” Rodrigo threw back and Philip felt his face grow hot.

“To hell with your ideals. You betrayed me,” His voice was close to breaking and he hated himself for losing control. It was unlike Philip to ask for love, inappropriate even; yet here he was - far too desperate, almost begging.

“I never promised you anything,” Rodrigo retorted. It was fascinating to see - such dignity, even stumbling and tied up. Was there nothing that could break this man?

“Foolish boy,” Philip shook his head, feeling exhaustion wash over him and settle deep into his bones. “You could have had everything. Did you not want it?” What was it that I could not have given you?

“I did not have the need for the titles and treasures you were ready to shower me with, Sire. And you refused me the only thing I asked of you.” There was no malice in Posa’s voice, only melancholy and acceptance that somehow stung more than a slap. And to think that it all could have played out so differently, if only he had stayed loyal to Philip, if only...

“And so you resorted to betrayal?”

“I would have gone to all lengths to secure peace in Flanders,” Rodrigo stated plainly and hesitated for just a fraction of a second, “regardless of your personal feelings for me, my lord,” he added, as an afterthought.

White-hot anger slashed at Philip with renewed force. He, the most powerful man on earth, had been used, reduced to a means to an end, and by whom - this boy, barely out of adolescence, who now dared to stand there and admit it so unabashedly. No, Philip would make sure Posa never plotted anything in his life ever again. He turned away, the sight of Rodrigo’s face suddenly too much to bear.

Philip’s eyes darted to the dagger on the desk. It was a beautiful dagger, the handle a work of the best masters in Spain, and the blade of Toledo steel with no equal. One swift movement, a well-calculated blow and it would all be over within seconds. Nobody would judge him for killing the traitor. His hand slowly reached out towards the dagger. It would be a quick death; that much is certain. The hand drew back. He was not deserving of that. No, Philip thought, if I must suffer, so shall he, and as much as I will. Posa would die, of course, but Philip would make sure it was not an easy death. Still, the promise of great satisfaction urged him to deliver the blow himself, making him shiver in anticipation. What would Rodrigo look like, he wondered. Would he remain equally calm in the face of death or would he finally beg for his life? Would his eyes retain the defiant expression or would they darken with fear at the sight of the blade? Was that how Philip could finally have Rodrigo fall into his arms, by pushing the cold steel into his chest? And would there be room for forgiveness in that generous heart?

Philip grabbed the dagger and made to turn around, when suddenly his vision blurred and the blade cluttered as it fell to the floor. No, he thought, steading himself with one hand on the surface of the desk and passing the other over his eyes, I am not a murderer, I cannot stain my hands with blood. Had Philip said that aloud, Rodrigo would respond that his hands were already stained with the blood of the million innocents, that they only brought death and destruction. But Posa, even if he guessed what was going through Philip’s mind, kept silent and contemplated his King with something akin to pity. If Philip turned at that moment, he would not like the expression on his face; Fortunately, perhaps for them both, the King was leaning on the desk, breathing heavily and trying to calculate his next move.

And as he stood there he thought of another scene in the throne room some time before, of bent knees and flowing tears and desperate cries of please, Father!

“Why you?” he asked, voice rough.

“Pardon?”

Philip finally turned to look at Rodrigo, his eyes bloodshot. “Why you? My son–”

“Your son was not –” Rodrigo started, almost too hastily.

“My son,” Philip interrupted, raising his voice, “was asking for permission to go to Flanders. He begged me to send him, in fact. I do not suppose it was you who inspired him, was it?”

“Prince Carlos has nothing to do with it,” Rodrigo answered firmly but something shifted in his demeanour ever so subtly, making Philip narrow his eyes.

“Why not?” Philip pressed. “He is my son, is he not? Surely, although weak and inexperienced, he would have more influence, especially if the Flemish love him, as he insists.”

“You said it yourself,” Rodrigo seemed to be forcing the words out, “He is not powerful enough.”

“And you suppose you are?” Philip scoffed. “You do think highly of yourself. Carlos is a prince, and that merits something, even if he lacks strength and firmness.”

“My lord, you know how he is,” Posa’s indifference had vanished; he seemed to be trying to convince Philip now, “he is simple, impressionable, impulsive, how could he lead a revolt?”

How interestingly their positions had shifted. Philip felt himself on a steadier ground now that Rodrigo seemed to be losing his confidence. There was something he could not quite decipher in Rodrigo’s expression, something desperate hiding behind the resolve in his eyes. With each second Philip felt power return to him, turning him into the interrogator he had determined to be at the start of the conversation. He hummed low in his throat, contemplating Rodrigo, to whom the silence seemed to have been too much because he spoke up again.

“It was all my doing,” Rodrigo straightened proudly, “it was my plan, my scheme, I am the sole person responsible for all of it.” His tone turned demanding, as if he was commanding Philip to give him credit for all his splendid work.

“Sire,” he hastened to continue, after a pause and a moment of a fierce debate with himself, “do you truly believe Carlos is cunning enough to get involved in something so dangerous behind your back?”

The absence of the title did not go unnoticed.

Prince Carlos has many hidden qualities, as I am told,” Philip tilted his head, watching Posa intently.

He was shielding Carlos, Philip was sure of it now. He could not guess the reason but there was no doubt about it. But what could the boy give Rodrigo? What could his meek, impulsive son and this brilliant man have in common? Their friendship could not have flourished in the short time Rodrigo has been in Madrid. Could he have been convinced by something so simple as a bribe, perhaps? Philip dismissed the thought the second it occurred to him. It seemed ridiculous; besides, Carlos would never have been able to pay Rodrigo more than the King’s friendship gave him. So Philip opted for the direct approach.

“Why are you trying to protect my son?” To his delight, this bluntness earned him an instant change in Rodrigo’s expression.

Posa all but flinched; his eyes darted to Philip’s face - he had not been expecting the question. Oh he’s got him, got him, he would break him at last.

“Well?” he prompted.

There was a sound of the door opening and Rodrigo’s eyes shifted from Philip’s face to something past him. Philip turned around sharply to snap at the intruder only to see Lerma standing in the doorway clutching yet another paper.

“What is it?” Philip’s impatience slipped through, coating his words.

With a dirty look in Posa’s general direction Lerma crossed the room with big strides and came to stand at the King’s side. He seemed on edge, more alarmed than when he had brought previous letters and Philip had no choice but to brace himself for the worst.

“Sire,” he leaned closer to Philip’s ear, “another letter, addressed to Prince Carlos.” He had lowered his voice, but evidently not enough, as a choked sound came from where Rodrigo still stood and Philip turned to see fear written clearly across his features for the first time that evening.

“Thank you,” he said, not looking away from Posa, who was attempting to regain control of himself, “you may go.”

After the door closed behind Lerma – for about the hundredth time that evening – Philip leaned toward his desk and brought the paper closer to one of the candles. It might not have been the best lighting but it was enough to make out the words, undoubtedly written by the same hand as before. He willed them to disappear, to change shape, to form other sentences but the light shone unrelenting and the message remained unchanged. Philip ran his eyes across the page again. Words and sentences jumped out at him, each stabbing at him with an increasing force - “Cannot meet”, “your freedom”, “dearest”, “support in Flanders”, “your papers in my possession”, “the King will believe”, were all enough to conclude the message.

Philip’s hand fell to his side, limp and unmoving. He felt physically ill at the realisation that his suspicion had been correct. Being proven right did not bring the satisfaction he had expected, merely settled in his chest like a heavy stone, crushing everything that had been alive in him.

He struggled to comprehend it - Posa had just shown he was not motivated by petty human emotions, that he had always worked and lived for something far bigger and greater and yet here Philip held a piece of paper that proved everything Rodrigo had said was incorrect. Not only was it a testament to Carlos’ guilt, it also showed that Rodrigo’s heart did, in fact, beat not only for humanity as a whole but individuals as well.

“Perhaps he would not be able - or willing - to do it alone,” Philip said in response to Rodrigo’s earlier question, barely aware of his own words, “but if he had someone at his side to inspire and encourage him… Yes, I see now.”

Philip was well aware of the effect Rodrigo had on people, had experienced it firsthand. It was impossible not to be drawn in by that brilliance, not to be affected by those blazing eyes and confident voice. His presence alone was enough to light up the surroundings and his passion seemed contagious.

“And you would die for him,” his voice was once again failing Philip, “you would give your life, willingly…” he trailed off, the truth of the matter settling in.

The paper burned his skin. The letter was not addressed to a friend or an ally - that much was clear. It was full of words on which Philip himself had choked so often, the endearments and confessions which had never been his to use.

“I see,” he repeated, more to himself than Posa.

Something shifted at the edge of his vision and he glanced sideways to see Rodrigo standing near, looking at him with an expression that almost pushed him to gouge at Posa’s eyes. Rodrigo opened his mouth to say something but was cut off before he had a chance to get a single word out.

“Be quiet.” Philip hissed, the venom in his heart slipping out and dripping from his words. “Spare me, whatever it is.” He was lashing out like a wounded animal but there was nothing he could do about it.

“I will not beg for my life,” Rodrigo said, disregarding Philip’s remark entirely, “but I will plead for Carlos.”

“Is that so?” Philip narrowed his eyes. Rodrigo must have known that he was digging a grave for himself with those words.

“I will fall to your feet if that is what you desire, Sire, but please - you cannot execute your own son.”

Philip felt a strange desire to laugh; the urge was out of place, certainly, but so was the idea of Rodrigo having the gall to bargain in his position. At the same time, something dark and cruel unfurled in him. Philip understood all too well what feelings were behind Posa’s words and it pushed him to feel more keenly his own.

“It is slightly too late for pleading, now,” he sneered, painfully aware of two entwined lives he held in his hands. Ire shot up from his stomach to his chest, engulfing him entirely. “And your days of advising me are long past.”

With grim satisfaction Philip noticed Rodrigo’s eyes flash with irritation and worry. He held on to his cruelty like a drowning man clinging on to a straw, afraid of what he would be left with if he let go. He delighted in his anger, determined to wear it like armour for the rest of the night.

“I believe we have nothing else to speak about,” Philip said, turning his back on Rodrigo. “Lerma,” he called out, moving toward the door and throwing it open, “Lerma!”

Seconds passed before the Count appeared in the room.

“Where is my son?” and without waiting for an answer, “Search for him, he is as guilty as this man here. And send for the Cardinal Inquisitor,” he turned to fix his eyes on Rodrigo, “let him know the Inquisition shall have a double sacrifice.”

To his credit, Rodrigo did not pale; Philip did not expect him to.

----------------

Some time after people were dispatched to search for Carlos, Rodrigo was escorted out by the same guards who delivered him. From his seat Philip quietly watched him go and remained watching even after the door closed. Some time passed; the defences he had put up crumbled eventually and Philip dropped his head onto his hands, tremor running through his body. He would not sleep tonight; it seemed futile to even try.

“My brilliant boy,” he murmured, “you were the best of them; and you must die.”

Although - deep in his heart Philip had always known Rodrigo was never destined to be his. He was meant to die for something great and Philip was doomed to mourn the one truly bright soul in the kingdom.

He allowed himself a brief respite and a few minutes of private grief, moving again only when one of the pages announced the Inquisitor.

Quiet and sinister as a ghost (or death itself), the Grand Inquisitor appeared in the doorway, walking slowly between two Dominican friars. The crimson of his robe stood out starkly against the dark interior and his eyes, although unseeing, pierced Philip better than any living pair. Philip stifled the involuntary shiver; in all these years he had never quite managed to suppress fear the Inquisitor instilled in him. He crossed the room in several paces and knelt for the blessing.

“Do I stand before the King?” came a brittle, yet authoritative voice. Old, shrivelled fingers brushed his head.

Philip stood and took him by the elbow, waving away the Dominicans.

“Yes, I sent for you. Come, father.”