Golden Chains can be found in






THE state chamber of the Communal Palace of Forli was filled with excited whisperings; the Council of Forty... there were ten for each quarter of the town... wheezed and mumbled among themselves, their eyes fixed upon the slender, sombrely-clad figure who stood before them. A young man, the Duke of Valentinois, and handsome; his pale face, raw-gold hair. and hazel eyes were attractive, yet diabolical in their brilliant coldness.

Messer Venanzio, Head of the Council, arose, his multiple chins quivering with excitement.

"My lord Duke"... he bowed... "Forli has capitulated. What more do you ask of us?"

"Yet your Countess remains within her citadel and defies me!" Cesare Borgia's voice was harsh.

"But, excellency"... Venanzio waved fat hands... "we are no traitors! We surrendered the town, it is true, but only to avoid bloodshed, to spare our wives and children the horrors of a siege. Surely you do not expect us to attack our Countess, now she has retired with her troops to the keep?"

"A niceness of ethics I'd not have suspected in you," the Duke sneered. "Inspired, no doubt, by her large force rather than natural loyalty. You will not command the citizens to assist my men in an assault?"

"There was no word of this in the articles of capitulation." Venanzio glanced questioningly at the other members of the Council, who nodded in agreement. "We have," he went on more boldly, "surrendered the town. quartered your troops in our houses. Beyond that we do not feel..."

"Yours is the choice!" Cesare turned toward the door. "But by the Bones of the Saints, if my men should get out of hand, come not whining to me for redress!"

Messer Venanzio considered, stroking his pudgy cheeks. The position was beyond doubt a ticklish one. Before he could arrive at any decision, however, the door swung open and a tall, dark-skinned officer burst into the room.

"Pardon, highness!" he exclaimed. "A matter of the greatest import! The besieged wish to parley!"

You'll excuse me, gentlemen." Cesare bowed mockingly to the Council. "And rest assured I'll remember your... co-operation." With a short, hard laugh he strode from the chamber.

THE great grey citadel of Forli towered like a clumsy giant above the surrounding city; Borgia's artillery had made little impression upon its massive walls. Now, however, the guns were silent while Valentinois rode .to the edge of the moat to hear the garrison's proposals.

As the Duke waited, accompanied by only three or four of his men, there was a grinding of machinery and the "drawbridge swung down across the ditch. Standing before the heavy, iron-studded gates at the other end of the bridge was a woman, her richly embroidered cloak drawn tight as protection against the biting winter wind. She was beautiful, this Countess of Sforza-Riario, in spite of her tragic life. In her brief thirty-odd years she had married three husbands, all of whom had died; two by violence. Besides this, her brother and father had both fallen at the hands of assassins. Yet while this sorrow and bloodshed had left bitter marks upon her heart, her face was that of a young girl. A net of golden cord held her blue-black hair in place; soft, olive skin made a perfect setting for her dark eyes, her scarlet mouth. Now and again the wind would whip aside her heavy cloak, revealing slender thighs, firm, up-tilted breasts. She made a small yet gallant figure, standing there before the entrance to her castle. "

Cesare studied her with a connoisseur's eye, moved closer to the edge of the moat.

"You would speak with me, madonna?" he called.

"Speak, yes." The Countess' voice, carried away by the wind, was faint. "But not shout. It were impossible to discuss terms at such a distance."

Cesare hesitated, his long white lingers playing with the gold pomander ball which hung about his neck. Distrust was natural with him, as befitted one who lived by ambiguity and guile.

Will you, meet me at the centre of the bridge?" The lady Caterina took a step in that direction. "Surely you do not fear an unarmed woman!" Cesare flushed;, strode onto the drawbridge. No sooner had his feet touched the massive beams, when, with a clank of chains, the bridge began to rise. The Countess, prepared for this move, had stepped back to solid ground and stood waiting for the moment when Borgia must inevitably tumble down the steepening incline and fall at her feet. Already he was some distance in the air, with the angle increasing each second. The Duke, however, was not one to be taken prisoner without an effort at escape. Recovering from his initial surprise, he poised himself on the end of the drawbridge, knees bent. Then, with a mighty effort, he leaped for the opposite bank.

To those watching it seemed certain that he must land in ...

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