“More lies,” he blazed with sudden passion. “It may have been the third hour, you say. Fool, the gates of Pesaro close at the second hour of night. Where are your wits?”
Outwardly calm, but inwardly in a panic—more for Madonna’s sake than for my own—I promptly held out the hand on which I wore the Borgia ring. In a flash of inspiration did that counter suggest itself to me.
“There is a key that will open any gate in Romagna at any hour.”
He looked at the ring, and of what passed in his mind I can but offer a surmise. He may have remembered that once before I had fooled him with the help of that gold circlet; or he may have thought that I was secretly in the service of the Borgias, and that, acting in their interests, I had carried off Madonna Paola. Be that as it may, the sight of the ring threw him into a fury. He turned on his horse.
“Lucagnolo!” he called, and a man of officer’s rank detached himself from the score of men-at-arms and rode forward. “Let six men escort me home to Cesena. Take you the remainder and beat up the country for three leagues about this spot. Do not leave a house outside Cattolica unsearched. You know what we are seeking?”
The man inclined his head.
“If it is within the circle you have appointed, we will find it,” he answered confidently.
“Set about it,” was the surly command, and Ramiro turned again to me. “You have gone a little pale, good Messer Boccadoro,” he sneered. “We shall soon learn whether you have sought to fool me. Woe betide you, should it be so. We bear a name for swift justice at Cesena.”
“So be it then,” I answered as calmly as I might. “Meanwhile, perhaps you will now suffer me to go my ways.”
“The readier since your way must lie with ours.”
“Not so, Magnificent, I am for Cattolica.”
“Not so, animal,” he mimicked me with elephantine grace, “you are for Cesena, and you had best go with a good will. Our manner of constraining men is reputed rude.” He turned again. “Ercole, take you this man behind you. Assist him, Stefano.”
And so it was done, and a few minutes later I was riding, strapped to the steel-clad Ercole, away from Paola at every stride. Thus at every stride the anguish that possessed me increased, as the fear that they must find her rose ever higher.
IN THE CITADEL OF CESENA
I will not harass you at any further length with the feelings that were mine as we sped northward towards Cesena. If you are a person of some imagination and not destitute of human sympathy you will be able to surmise them; if you are not—why then, my tale is not for you, and it is more than probable that you will have wearied of it and flung it aside long before you reach this page.
We rode so hard that by sunset Cesena was in sight, and ere night had fallen we were within the walls of the citadel. It was when we had dismounted and I stood in the courtyard between Ercole and another of the soldiers that Ramiro again addressed me.