It is pitiable.
This woman standing before you in a prayer of sorts. Only it is not to God she pleads. It is to the law: You. Begging for the life of her brother. You have told her once, twice, again, again, that you cannot – will not – spare him. Your irritation is growing. This blushing novice girl who claims to understand your verdict but will not go.
This is the type of tribulation you were prepared for when the now absent Duke bequeathed his city to you. While it might be suspected that His Excellency was not in his right mind to vanish as mysteriously and wholly as he did; you trust in his decision to leave you in charge. Whether it be a test, or an abdication of sorts you are the ideal candidate to take his place.
Rumours – on occasion – would reach you from the common people. They say you have no need for sleep, that in the small hours of the morning you outdo even the monks at Lauds with a separate ceremony between you and the heavens alone. Or they say you do not eat, that your throat is filled with marble or soapstone; that you are half man, half statue. These whispers are flattering, but now more than ever it is time to give the people reason to believe them.
Like any other man you eat your daily bread but you must teach yourself not to crave it. Every heartbeat must check a potentially rebellious liver. You cannot waste yourself on fears of inadequacy; your path must be clear. A man can only keep what he rules in control as well as himself and not so much as a droplet of sweat can escape without a consensus between the method of your mind, and God-given wisdom you have studied for decades.
The Duke saw this strict harmony within you; and that is why you were chosen as his successor.
Maybe in His Excellency’s heart of hearts he knew, forgiving as he was, that he could not be so harsh to his subjects as to reprimand them in such a way they would learn their lesson. The fact of the matter was: The people ran rampant, indulging weak-minded fantasies in brothels, in alleys, out of wedlock. Dim back lanes behind taverns crawling with greasy salesmen buying and selling cheap pleasures. Maybe a passing guard might make an arrest here and there, but nothing permanent. As much as you admire the Duke, this was not something you could abide.
So no time was wasted on your part. With the ever-efficient Escalus as your second, the Provost at your command, and your word as law your decree was made:
Death to the unfaithful.
The first perpetrator was discovered and tried within a day of your proclamation. A man who not only had had his way with the woman he was courting but had gotten her with child. An easily provable claim with irrefutable evidence garnered a welcome (if not redundant) confession and the trial took all of ten minutes.
Gossip spread like disease among the commons and nobles alike. You held Vienna in one hand the scales of justice in the other. Kings and Dukes since the beginning of time had felt the weight of the crown rest far too heavy on their weary heads, but not you. You rest well on your new laurels.
Then there is this girl. This persistent sister.
Her white-knuckled fingers clasped at her stomach knead each other as she pleads her brother’s case. Clear, watery eyes bore uncomfortably into your own. She seems perpetually torn between wanting to fly from the room, and nail herself to the floor.
You don’t have time for this.
Again, you send her away but suddenly something shifts. Suddenly her fingers no longer rest below her bosom; now they slice through the air in animated anger. Suddenly she has an arsenal of rebuttals with which to thwart your dismissals. You try to regain control of the room slipping so unexpectedly into this girl’s words. Fury takes the place of desperation, in her manner, building until as though an angel were guiding her edict. Unflinchingly advancing towards your powerless person, you have no choice but to shrink.
She has backed you into the wall, a slim index finger grazing your jaw in her tirade and it’s as though the fingertip were electrified, the voltage making you weak and muddled. Her rosary clacks against her heaving chest in time with her righteous rage.
Justice thy name is Isabella with a voice so strong she steals yours and you are lost in the biblical fury of her storm.
Finally you quell the sudden onslaught with a brief possibility of hope. “Come to me tomorrow” you say and with that frantic expulsion she is sated. Fast as it came the angelic wrath subsides and she composes herself neatly, leaving you with a blessing and a room ringing with the absence of her prosecution. Soft and measured footsteps recede until there is only the memory of her hot breath in your face, and the pounding of blood in your ears. Not only your ears.
To your bewilderment, your chagrin, your shame. More places than your ears.
Your face is beaded with sweat; dilapidated you sink to the floor. Your heart pounds in your ears, trying but failing to expel her voice. The thought of it only makes your blood race faster, hotter, ceaselessly beating, pulsing, throbbing…
What is this?
This…sweat, this pain, this urge? This thrill at the thought of conquering such a creature. So pure, so passionate. This yearning to feel her breath against your skin again? To hear her call out to the heavens…
What are you? What has she made you?
No better than the common hoards over which you rule? What right does this…girl have to so capture your senses, liberate your desires long thought controlled? She claims to know your motivations, understand them, even…then proceeds to tear them and you apart with merciless acuity.
She is too minor a concern to bow to, and too enticing to let go.
Your restraint, your devotion, your cleanliness – nothing. Meaningless. At the hands of some novice nun.
Fine. Be it on her head.
For her virtuous mind and unsullied body, you will grant her a gift: An ultimatum
Sister to the convent, or to her brother.
Send her brother to his death and leave her virginity in tact, or render her vows null and surrender her chastity.
When she makes the inevitable decision you will be waiting.