Despite Francesco Sforza’s protestations of support for the Treaty of Lodi, the status-quo, and peace throughout Lombardy, the Duke of Parma did not trust him. Milan’s history of aggression would not permit it. His eldest son’s marriage lost all its value after the Treaty replaced the Visconti with the Sforzas in Milan. He had done what he could to secure a defensive alliance with Mantua by arranging for his younger son to marry Mantua’s third daughter. Neither was ever likely to rule, but you could never be certain. Now he was almost out of ammunition. He had but one daughter left to fortify an alliance with Modena. The trouble was that there was so much competition. Modena had but one son but geography and peace, it seemed, had put a premium on his head. On the other hand, the same misgivings that led him to want to ally Parma with Modena must hold also for Modena. An alliance with Naples, or even France, would be worth less than one with nearby Parma: geography and history again.
Luciana’s father selected his ambassador slyly. He did not choose one of his subjects but rather the Florentine tutor. The man Polacchio had gained some renown as a scholar, which the culturally ambitious court of Modena would respect. He was well-spoken and crafty, like all Florentines. The Duke calculated that not being one of his subjects would count in the man’s favor as well. On top of this, the tutor could be counted on to present his clever pupil’s charms and accomplishments not only with eloquence but sincerity.
Meanwhile, everyone in Parma, except her father, knew of the romance between his daughter and the good-looking young courtier Guido d’Ostiglia. Guido was popular, of good family, fashionable, honorable, and a free-spender. When news got out that Luciana’s father was planning to marry her to the Duke of Modena’s heir, people began to speculate on whether the story was to be a fairy tale, a tragic play, or a farce. Odds were given and betting was lively. a) She would take the veil rather than marry a man she didn’t love. b) She and d’Ostiglia would elope; some bet on Naples, others favored Piedmont. c) The girl would impetuously kill herself. d) She would poison her father. e) She would poison the son of the Duke of Modena. f) Guido d’Ostiglia would arrange his rival’s assassination. g) The Duke’s willful daughter would put up a holy fuss then give in with a bad grace.
At sixteen, Guido d’Ostiglia was a fully developed specimen, all he would ever be. He had money, beauty, physical strength, high connections, a first-rate wardrobe, and a fair education. He liked horses, hunting, swords and weapons in general, political gossip, also polyphonic music and Petrarchan sonnets. His feelings for Luciana da Parma were socially irregular but culturally impeccable. He sent her nosegays and quatrains, made secret assignations during which he sighed and listened worshipfully, even to the most astonishing things she said.
“I’m much like my brothers, save in one respect.”
“And that would be?”
“I’m more masculine.”
“The Pope spends more than he prays. In fact, I calculate the ratio at something over 100:1.”
“Don’t you agree that patriotism is among the highest of virtues, My Lady?”
“Certainly, one should always cherish the merits of one’s own land.& Florence for brains, Rome for extravagance, Venice for intrigue, Naples for skullduggery, Modena for vinegar, and Parma for cheese.”
Guido initially behaved toward Luciana with deference because of her position, with tenderness because of her youth. He was a little conceited, even vain, but an adept courtier and not without perception. He soon developed a deeper respect for her, something less artificial. Most ladies, he thought, look best when they are still and silent, like statues. Luciana’s beauty blazed up with animation. Even her scorn, he admitted, was always well placed. He could see that she was her father’s daughter and, though a female, made for command. Guido also took after his father, an off-and-on condottiero during the wars, now commander of the Duke of Parma’s forces.
One night when both were thought to be asleep, they met at their usual tryst, a corner of the garden with an old Roman bust on a new pedestal.
“This marriage to Modena, Luciana—it isn’t just a rumor, is it?”
“No. My father has sent Polacchio off to strike the bargain, if he can.”
Guido, fingering his linen sleeve, paused to control his voice. “You’ll obey?”
Luciana also waited to reply, and for the same reason. “I don’t know.”
Guido thereupon put his hand over his heart and recited four lines of Petrarch, verses he had memorized long before, but whose full meaning he felt for the first time.
She ruled in beauty o'er this heart of mine,
A noble lady in a humble home,
And now her time for heavenly bliss has come,
'Tis I am mortal proved, and she divine.