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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 the icy waters of the moat or on the sharp stones at its edge. Yet, such was the herculean strength in his slight frame that he cleared the ditch altogether, alighting heavily but safely on the faded grass not far from his companions.

"My lord!" Ramiro de Lorqua rushed to assist him to his feet. "Art hurt?"

"Less than I deserve." Cesare smiled wryly. "Gesu! What madness to have ventured upon that bridge!"

"A knavish trick!" de Lorqua grunted.

"Yet one which you will do well to remember. It may prove useful some day." The Duke was never one to criticize trickery. Nor did he hold any particular malice toward the Countess; her ruse was typical of the Cinquecento. Rather was he annoyed at himself for his lack of caution.

"Bid the artillery continue the bombardment, Ramiro," he said. Our strength will more than match the lady's guile."

FOR a fortnight the Duke's seven cannon and ten falconets kept up an uninterrupted fire at the citadel. From her battlements the Countess could see them in the square before the church of St. John the Baptist, belching forth jets of smoke and flame. Finally on the evening of January twelfth a section of the wall began to crumble, forming a breach, and Cesare ordered his men to the assault.

With wild shouts they sprang forward, sturdy Swiss and Burgundian mercenaries, swinging their pikes and great, square-bladed halberts. Working coolly under the rain of missiles from the walls, they tossed bundles of faggots into the moat until a passage was practicable. Over this unstable bridge they pressed, and up the heap of rubble that blocked the breach.

Here they were met by the defenders, fighting valiantly under the eyes of their Countess, and a furious conflict ensued. For over an hour the issue was in doubt. A heavy pall of dust and arquebus smoke hung over the ravelin; through it, vaguely, one could distinguish a whirling, shifting mass of men; red, wild-eyed men, devils incarnate, struggling in a man-made inferno. Not until the ground was littered with some four-hundred corpses did the besieged, stubbornly, step by step, give way.

From her tower in the Maschio, an inner fortress of the citadel, the Countess gave word that the second drawbridge be raised. This Maschio, a great tower of tremendous strength, was considered to be invulnerable and was sufficiently provisioned for a lengthy siege. Even as she gave the order, however, her exhausted men-at-arms, retreating across the bridge, found themselves so closely followed by the Brogia soldiery that any attempts to isolate the tower were impossible. After a half-hour's room-to-room fighting the castle had fallen.

IN HER upper chamber Caterina stood like a pale, wax-work figure, a pallid, tragic wraith against the dark velvet arras. About her were grouped half a dozen of her gentlemen, Paolo Riario, Alessandro Sforza, Scipione Riario and others, their swords drawn, ready to defend her should any of the victorious mercenaries offer violence to her person. From below she could hear the clash of arms, hoarse shouts, loud groans. Suddenly the door flew open and a gory, stern-faced soldier stepped into the room. His uniform proclaimed him to be a Burgundian serving under the Bailie of Dijon; his halbert dripped bright spots of blood upon the stone-flagged floor.

"Yield!" he cried. "You are my prisoners!"

"For an instant Caterina's gentlemen seemed inclined to resist, to overpower this lone soldier. As they stepped forward, the Countess made a gesture of resignation.

"What matter? she exclaimed bitterly. "As well surrender to this knave as to some other There is no hope... now."

"Admission of defeat were a great virtue." The mocking voice came from the doorway. Cesare Borgia, a resplendent figure, his tunic of cloth of gold reversed with ermine, bowed with delicate derision.

"Aye," Caterina retorted wearily "And you're an authority on virtue, are you not, my lord Duke?"

"At least I have the ability to recognize it," he said soberly. Then, to the Burgundian, "The Countess is your prisoner?"

Yes, Excellency." The Soldier saluted deferentially. "There was talk of a reward..."

"Of twenty thousand ducats. You have earned it." Cesare turned to the moon-faced, clerkly man beside him. Draw me an order for this fellow in the full amount."

"But highness..." Agabito, the Dukes secretary made protesting gestures. "This will all but empty your treasury. And since the Swiss are clamoring for their pay..."

"Peace!" Cesare waved his long white fingers in a motion of dismissal. "Have I not given my word? Let us hear no more of the matter..."

"Magnificence!" The Burgundian fell to his knees. "Now may I return go my family at Dijon a rich man. I shall pray for you, my lord..."

"You will be one of few," Cesare said dryly "Good fortune attend you. I regret the loss of so excellent a soldier." He turned to the Countess. "Observe, madonna, how happy you have made this stout fellow. That should be some consolation for your misfortune."

"Your pleasure offsets it," she answered sharply. "But enough of this idle talk. What next, now that you have stripped me of my possessions... left me penniless?"

BORGIA studied her closely. Very lovely, he thought, her black hair hangingq heavy about her shoulders, her slender figure tense with, emotion.

"You will be my prisoner, madonna, of course, yet your captivity will be mild if you but swear to make no attempts at escape."

For a moment the Countess hesitated, her eyes fixed upon Valentinois' pale face.

"Very well," she said at length. "You have the word of a Sforza."

The Duke considered this thoughtfully. The word of a Sforza, I have found, is apt to be... shall we say... weak! Have you nothing better to offer?"

The word of a Riario, then!" Sudden anger and shame burned in the Countess' dark eyes.

"Scarcely an improvement, I fear," Cesare murmured. "I mind the time when Raffaele Riario..."

"You mock me, sir!" Caterina cried. "What word do you then require?"

"Your word as a woman only," Cesare rep1ied. "I have noticed that women are surprisingly punctilious concerning their word, saving only when it touches upon matters of the heart. And in this there is no question of love"... he smiled slowly... "as yet."

"You have my word as a woman, then," she exclaimed, "not to make any attempts at escape so long as I am your prisoner."

"Excellent." Borgia bent over her hand. "And since I have rendered you penniless, madonna, take this purse of two hundred ducats for any trifling expenses you may incur during the next week."

"My lord!" Agahito objected.

"By the Host!" Cesare cried. "Would you make me a miser, Agabito? The troops can pillage this citadel. That should stay them until my benefices arrive from Rome. Come, madonna. Allow me to escort you to the town."

CATERINA Sforza-Riario, sometime Countess of Forli, gazed from the tall windows of the Nomaglie Palace, eyeing with scant pleasure the pale new grass which grew raggedly between the grey flag-stones, the silver jetting of the little fountains as they wavered in the frail, irresolute winds. In the distance, over the roof-tops of the town, she could see the bare foot hills of the Apennines, gaunt and menacing against the wan sky. A sound hammers, the shouts of workmen from the direction of the citadel informed her that Borgia's troops were repairing its shattered bastions to protect the new garrison.

During the ten days that Caterina had been prisoner of the Duke, her anger and despair had in no whit decreased. To be sure, she was accorded every courtesy, given the freedom of the town; yet in spite of that she conceived a bitter personal hatred in Cesare. His gentleness she mistook for mockery, his favors she despised since it seemed that having despoiled her of her possessions, he merely sought to emphasize her poverty. Above all, she detested the appraising yet admiring glance of those hazel eyes; they seemed, somehow, to strip her naked.

Her thoughts were more bitter than usual, this pale afternoon, as she stared out at the gardens of the Nomaglie Palace. She was just condemning herself for having given her parole, when clanking footsteps on the marble tiles brought her gaze back to the room. A tall man approached her, a heavy set and virilely handsome man, with tanned face, brown moustache, and quick, alert eyes.

"Forgive this intrusion, madonna." He spoke with some trace of accent. "But I wished to confer with you on a matter of importance. I am, as you may know, the Bailie of Dijon."

One of Borgia's, cutthroats," she said scornfully. "What do you desire?"

To talk with you, if you'll listen." The Bailie tugged his steel girdle, the expression on his face impatient. My lord, King Louis of France, placed me in command of these Swiss and Burgundians... cutthroats, as you call them... and hired us out to the Duke of Valentinois. We have served under him as long as the contract provided. Also, this princeling owes us more than a month's pay; You begin to perceive my object, madonna?"

"Aye," she whispered fiercely, all hope now. "You would revolt against him?"

The Bailie's gaze took in her scarlet lips, her-slender, seductive figure.

"I must confess," he murmured, "that since beholding you, my loyalty to the Duke has waned. We French have little interest in his petty quarrels. You, my lady, are temptation enough for any man. But my troops demand pay..."

"WIN me back my town of Forli and I'll see that they're paid." The Countess' black eyes flamed. "Twice Over! The citizens will gladly hire your troops, pay them from the treasury. But have you men enough to defy Borgia?"

"More than enough." The Bailie laughed. "Except for a few of his gentlemen, the army is mine. Even should he recall his Spanish and Italian contingents from Forlimpopoli, we'll still be a match for him. You agree, then, to pay my men from the treasury of Forli?"

"Have I not said so? Although my people surrendered the city to avoid bloodshed, they are still loyal to me. Thus we shall overcome"... she broke off suddenly. "Gesu! I gave my word to attempt no evasion..."

The Bailie shrugged. "A woman's word," he murmured.

"Which I have yet to break," she retorted sharply.

"But consider, madonna!" He stared at her, amazed. "You'll refuse this chance of escape because of a word given... under duress? I offer yo your freedom and your city once more. Surely you cannot mean to..."

"I gave my word," she replied, he eyes barren.

The Bailie shook his head. Although scarcely a gallant, he had some knowledge of a woman's stubborn ways.

"As you wish," he answered stiffly "I had hoped to serve you. You will, trust, not reveal this matter to anyone. I bid you a very good morning."

He turned toward the door, an erect soldierly figure in his leather hacketon, his velvet mantle, severely plain.

"STAY." Caterina's voice shook wit excitement. "I... I have a plan.

"Yes?" He swung around, faced he questioningly.

The Countess' fingers traced an aimless design on the top of a small bronze table. She was, it seemed, wrestling with a question of ethics.

"Suppose, sir," she said at length, "you and your men were to seize this palace, capture me? That, I believe, would in no way violate my word."

"True." He smiled with some contempt at this sophistry. "But since you will pay my men for the service..."

"Nay!" She laughed, an odd, wide laugh. "Not pay, sir. Ransom! You, a bold, unscrupulous villain, will slay the Duke and his officers, imprison me. Unquestionably the town will pay a sizable ransom to free me from your clutches. Thus at one bold stroke I shall be rid of my captor, regain my lands while your men will be well paid. And my word will remain intact."

The Bailie pondered the question a time in silence. Subtle, to be sure, yet a woman's way of handling matters. He preferred a more direct and open attack. Still, it varied little from the original plan unless...

"You agree?" She stepped forward, laid her hand upon his arm. He could not but notice the low cut of her gown across her bosom, the slimness of her waist, emphasized by a silver girdle with a beryl clasp. The faint trace oi perfume which she wore, an intoxicating perfume, set his brain on fire.

"I'll agree to anything you propose, madonna," he whispered, "Tonight you shall be freed!"

"Tonight, then." She slipped away from him, smiling. "God be with you!"

* * * * *

THE great library was quiet that evening, devoid of those crowds of Forlivese who thronged to the Nomaglie Palace seeking favors or audiences with the Duke. Wearied of public affairs, he had refused all petitioners, preferring to spend a few hours in the company of his lovely prisoner. A lofty room, that library, its ceiling bright with Mantegna frescoes, its walls hung with rich tapestries, its floors covered with thick Byzantine carpets. Tall candles lit those portions of the room unilluminated by the roaring fire. Cesare, magnificent in sapphire-colored hose and jewelled doublet, played the host with all of that charm and graciousness which he was capable of exerting when occasion demanded.

"More wine, madonna?" he murmured. "Tuscan sunlight is imprisoned in this flagon. No? Let me show you, then, this copy of Appollodorus, wonderfully illustrated by the good monks of San Giovanni. Or perhaps you would enjoy music. Shall I summon the players?"

The Countess shook her head; she was in no mood for such diversions. Already it approached the third hour of the night. Where, she wondered, was the Bailie? Had Cesare learned of the plot... did he mock her?

"You are quiet tonight, my lady," the Duke observed. "Almost I might believe you indisposed."

"Nay." She gripped the edge of the table, fiercely. "What have I to say to one who has stolen from me all that I possess?"

"Ill temper will not win it back." Cesare's gaze swept the soft form. "Since through no fault of yours, I am victorious and your cause lost, why cannot we be friends?"

Caterina watched his pale, graceful fingers as they idly turned the pages of the book. She found it increasingly difficult to resist the charm of the man, the almost diabolical attraction of his bold, yet caressing glances. And he was so young, so handsome... She forced herself to think of the ruined citadel, the slaughter of her faithful garrison.

"You try so hard to hate me." No man was more adept at reading faces. "Yet I am curious to see if I can change that hate to... love."

As he said this, he stepped quickly forward, swept her into his arms. Caterina could feel his lips tight against hers, the jewelled buckle of his doublet cutting into her breast. Blood roared in her ears, increasingly loud; she forgot, or disregarded the fact that this man was her enemy. Her breath came in swift, frenzied gasps; suddenly, with a small moan, she sank limp in his arms. Then, as one in a dream, she heard the sound of shouts, of clashing weapons. Cesare's arms relaxed their grip; he stepped back, listening. Footsteps in the hall outside, the jingling of accoutrements. The Duke stood like a marble image, his eyes fastened on the door. All at once the room was full of men, rough. bearded fellows, Swiss and Burgundians, with the Bailie at their head.

"TO what happy circumstances do I owe this visit?" Cesare's voice was like brittle ice.

"You are my prisoner," the Bailie answered curtly.

"Prisoner?" With great deliberation Borgia lifted his cup, sipped daintily of the wine. "Perhaps you'll be good enough to enlighten me?"

"I'll leave that to the stranglers." The Bailie waved his men forward. "Seize him! And the lady as well. Her ransom will pay our wages."

"Stay!" Cesare shook off the men. "Fools! Kill me and you sign your own death warrant!"

"Say rather that all Romagna will hail me as its deliverer." The Bailie grinned, his face flushed with triumph.

"But in the matter of back pay"... Valentinois was growing desperate... "so soon as we reach Cesena..."

"Aye, and at Imola last month it was wait until we reach Forli! I've enough of your lying promises! Take him away!"

Two tall men-at-arms sprang forward, their faces ruddy in the firelight. With a crash the cup of wine fell from Borgia's hand; gripping the edge of the table with his pale, deceptively fragile fingers, he toppled it into the advancing mercenaries. In a confused tangle of arms and legs they fell to the floor.

Cesare sprang back, tore his light, jewelled sword from its scabbard; his eyes flicked from side to side in search of some avenue of escape. A warning shout from the Bailie sent men to the tall windows, the door. The remaining men-at???arms, some half dozen in number, closed in on the Duke, their heavy halberts gleaming murderously.

Cold and white as a death mask, Borgia leaped to meet them. His blade licked out, found the throat of a burly Swiss. A gurgling scream echoed through the room and the man pitched forward on his face. Whirling, Cesare had barely time to deflect a chopping halbert stroke aimed at his legs. Quick as the flicker of candlelight he followed the parry with a deadly downward lunge which transfixed the halbertier's thigh. Streaming blood, the wounded man caught at a comrade's arm for support, an instinctive gesture yet one which dragged down his companion's guard. Again the bloodstained steel shot out, and a third mercenary slumped to the ground, pierced through the lungs. Thirty seconds had not elapsed, yet three men lay wallowing on the floor.

The Bailie, standing well clear of the struggle, felt something akin to panic. Those rumors he had heard of the Borgias' pact with the Evil One...

"Forward!" he shouted quaveringly. "Will you let one man put a troop to flight?"

None too willingly the three remaining men-at-arms renewed their attack, hampered by the bodies of their companions, unsteady on; a floor slippery with blood; Spangles of sweat dotted the Duke's brow; he seemed content to remain on the defensive, to await an opening. His sword an arc of steel before him, he began to edge, a step at a time, toward the Bailie.

CATERINA, huddled limply against the wall, watched with growing admiration. Cesare, his doublet cut to ribbons, stained by a dozen crimson patches, was unquestionably a gallant figure, the more so in comparison to-the furious, red-faced Bailie. The Countess shook her head, faint from the smell of leather, of sweat, of spilled blood, and gripped the mantel for support.

Slowly Borgia continued to approach the Bailie. Steel rang on steel, deafeningly, as the Duke's light blade warded off the ponderous halberts. The men-at-arms stationed by the windows and door began to close in, fingering their swords, glancing at their leader for the signal to join in the fray. The Bailie was about to motion them forward when Borgia, a thin smile clinging to his lips, sprang to the attack. His free left hand caught the edge of a chair, swung it, in a herculean burst of energy, at his opponents. Two of them went down, knocked sprawling; the third, hesitating, fell back with a swordthrust through the shoulder. In an instant Cesare was at the Bailie's side, his blade pressing insistently at that worthy's breast.

"Yield!" he gasped, breathless. "Call off these mutinous dogs or..."

That was as far as he got. One of the Swiss, but momentarily stunned by the blow from the chair, leaped up, a savage grin on his leathery, bearded countenance. Before Borgia could straighten out his arm to run the Bailie through, the Swiss plunged forward, snatched the sword from Cesare's grasp.

"Ah!" The Bailie, color flooding back into his face, was suddenly the epitome of valor. "So we have an end, then, to your dramatics! Seize him! We'll test his bravado with the stranglers!"

Somewhat hesitantly two of the mercenaries stepped forward. Cesare, sensing their reluctance, was taken with a swift inspiration.

"THE stranglers!" he cried scornfully. "A curse upon your drunken stupidity! You forget that I am Gonfalonier of the Church... forget that His Holiness the Pope is my natural father. Do you dare suppose he'd let the murder of his Captain-General, his son, go unavenged? You risk excommunication, my friend!"

"Excommunication?" The Bailie crossed himself in superstitious awe.

"Exactly. No marriage for you, no christening of your children, no masses at your death... and the fires of hell through eternity! This for you... and your troops!"

The two Burgundian men-at-arms who held Borgia fell back, their eyes bleak with fear.

The Bailie shuddered.

"Release him," he muttered. "What harm can one man do us? But the Countess we take." Then, to Cesare, "I give you until noon tomorrow to collect your personal effects and leave Forli. Come, gentlemen."

"Your generosity overwhelms me." Valentinois bowed them from the room. As they left, Caterina, remembering her role, protested loudly, although naturally to no avail. For a half hour after they had gone, Cesare stood immobile by the fireplace, waiting until he was sure they had returned to their quarter: in the market place. Then, going to the door, he summoned Agabito.

The secretary's round moon face shook with anxiety.

"My lord," he began. "Permit me to offer my sympathy for this terrible blow to your hopes...."

"Peace, man!" The Duke waved an impatient hand. "Get you to the house of Messer Venanzio, Head of the Council. Bid him come here at once. If he demurs, inform him that these drunken mercenaries have revolted and carried off the Countess, perhaps to offer her violence. Those tidings should drag him from his bed. Go now, and quickly."

IN the house of a linen-draper overlooking the market place, Caterina Sforza-Riario dressed with sleepy clumsiness. It was early, earlier, in fact, than it was her custom to rise, yet she deemed it advisable to be up and about on so momentous a day. In a few hours the "ransom" would be paid and she would have regained her city in addition to having a force of stalwart men-at-arms to defend it should the Borgia succeed in raising more troops. And in a way she was glad that the Duke had escaped death....

A sharp knock interrupted her musing.

"A moment!" She added a few last touches to her toilette, opened the door.

"By the Host!" The Bailie shot a low-lidded, wine-whipped glance at her. "As beautiful as a rose at dawn! You'll pardon this early intrusion, I trust. I wished to see you before leaving for the Communal Palace, and discover if there is aught I can do for your comfort."

"Already you have been too kind," she smiled. "I shall be forever indebted. Your kindness and pity..."

"Kindness and pity have not influenced me in your case, madonna," he exclaimed. "Something more... infinitely greater. But of this, later. I must seek the Council at once and demand the 'ransom.'"

"And what news of Borgia?" she asked, anxious to change the topic.

"Having not yet been abroad in the town, I am unable to say." The Bailie shrugged contemptuously. "What have we to fear from one man ?"

"And yet..." Caterina shook her head "... while he remains in Forli, I shall know no rest. He is cunning, treacherous..."

The Bailie crossed the room, flung open a window.

"Behold, madonna!" he cried. "The sight should ease your mind."

She approached the casement. Drawn up in close array across one end of the broad market place was the Bailie's army, some four thousand stout Swiss and Burgundians, great burly fellows, professional soldiers. Early morning sunlight flashed ruddily upon their helmets, glinted from their polished swords and halberts.

"Where," the Bailie said proudly, "could he raise a force to equal these?"

"A magnificent body of men!" she cried. "Their presence reassures me. I'll not delay your visit to the Council longer, sir."

"I shall make haste." He turned toward the door. "I would speak with you concerning that other matter on my return. Farewell, madonna."

FOR some moments after he left Caterina stood at the window staring down into the sun???lit square. Thus she saw him step from the door of the shop, confer with his captains. Observing her, he dotted his cap, bowed, a tall, graceful figure, albeit a trifle florid.

It was at this precise instant that the noise reached their ears. A roaring noise, it seemed, a swelling cry from thousands of throats, which came from the direction of the Communal Palace. The Bailie straightened up, snapped a command to his men, who immediately drew their swords, deployed into fighting order. Nearer and nearer came the voices. Caterina could distinguish shouts of "Contessa!" "Contessa!" A puzzled look crept into her eyes. Had her people learned of Borgia's downfall and come to hail her? But she was supposedly a captive of the Bailie's.... She leaned from the window, anxiously awaiting a solution to this mystery.

Suddenly from the Street of the Fletchers came a tall, erect figure on horseback, a spare figure with soft fair hair and pallid face set in a grim smile. Beside him rode the corpulent Messer Venanzio, brandishing an ancient mace. They were followed, these two, by a host of citizens, sketchily equipped, it is true, yet firm in their determination to free the Countess from those rapacious mercenaries. Thousands upon thousands poured over the square, into the adjoining houses, clogging the streets behind, a. tumultuous wave, angrily shaking their weapons and shouting hoarse threats at the Bailie.

That worthy, amazed at the unbelievable turn of events, stood at the head of his men, uncertain and, no shame to him, frightened.

"So, sir..." a sudden silence fell over the square as Cesare spoke "... I come to adjust our recent differences. These good people of Forli, aroused by your acts of violence against their Countess, demand your surrender. An answer is expected at once."

THE Bailie considered these tidings a brief space. Then, aware of Caterina's gaze from the window, he swung about to order his men to the attack. Before he could utter a word, however, the mercenaries, in no way relishing the prospect of a hopeless and unprofitable battle, lowered their arms with a shout of "Duca!" "Duca!"

"That would seem to be the answer," Cesare said dryly.

"Indeed, my lord," the Bailie choked, "I am compelled to treat. Shall we discuss the terms of surrender?"

"Terms!" Cesare leaned forward in his saddle. "Body of God! Here's audacity! You dare talk to me of terms! Why, did I not value the friendship of your master, King Louis of France, I'd hang you from the nearest window! Ho, there"... he motioned to several of the citizens... "take me this fellow into custody and guard him well until such time as I pack him off to France! As for you"... this to the Bailie's thoroughly cowed troops... "you'll receive your pay at Cesena and a higher rate thereafter."

From the casement Caterina listened with increasing hopelessness, her lovely face drawn in harsh lines. The irony of the situation appalled her. Twelve hours before, the Duke had been alone, one man against thousands. Now the tables were turned, with the Bailie tasting of that same bitter medicine. And... this was the cream of Cesare's jest... the Countess' own people had rescued her from supposed captivity. Her stratagem to gain freedom without breaking her word had been thwarted by the loyal townsmen of Forli. Tears of anger, of frustration, stung her eyes.

It was some few moments later when Cesare, accompanied by Messer Venanzio, entered the room.

"My apologies, madonna," Cesare observed ironically, "for the conduct of my troops. I trust you have suffered no hardships during your captivity."

"Aye." Venanzio bowed pudgily. "At the request of my lord Duke we have rescued you from those villainous knaves."

"In order," she cried contemptuously, "to hand me over once more to the Borgia!"

"Not of a necessity." The Head of the Council shot a hostile glance at Cesare. "I am in power here. Say but the word, my lady, and your people..."

"True," Cesare interrupted. "I admit my present numerical weakness, with the town in arms. Fortunately the lady has given me her word to attempt no escape and she, of course"... he smiled sardonically... "will not violate it. Furthermore, I sent a message last night to Forlimpopoli commanding the return of the two thousand men quartered there. These should be here within the hour, and added to my four-thousand Swiss..."

"since the Countess has given her word," Venanzio put in hastily, "there is no need for further discussion. I go to inform the townspeople of her decision." He left the room with a flurry of bows.

Cesare was smiling as he turned to the Countess.

"No doubt you are wearied from this crying experience, madonna," he murmured. "Permit me to conduct you once more to the Nomaglie Palace."

Caterina took his arm. She was indeed wearied... wearied of the hopeless struggle against this invincible man who possessed the cunning of a devil and, she reflected glancing at him obliquely, the beauty of an angel. There was no fight left in her as she leaned heavily... more heavily than was necessary... upon his strong right arm.

Thus it was that when a month later Cesare entered Rome in triumph, the Countess Sforza-Riario rode in the procession, a black-gowned figure on a white horse, her wrists shackled by light golden chains. Among the thousands who crowded the streets there were many who wondered at the lack of anger or despair on her countenance, not knowing that she was bound to Cesare by stronger ties than golden ones.