“I, for one, am for the Duke,” said he, and his sword leapt from its scabbard. “I draw my iron for Valentino. Let every loyal man do likewise and seize this traitor.” And with his sword he pointed at Ramiro.
In an instant three others bared their weapons and ranged themselves beside him. The remaining two—of whom was Lucagnolo—folded their hands, manifesting by that impassivity that they were minded to take neither one side nor the other.
The carnifex paused in his labours of undressing me, and the affair promised to grow interesting. But Ramiro did not stand his ground. Fury swelling his veins and crimsoning his huge face, he sprang to the door and bellowed to his guards. Six men trooped in almost at once, and reinforced by the halberdiers that had been guarding me, they made short work of the resistance of those four officers. In as little time as it takes me to record it, they were disarmed and ranged against the wall behind those guards and others that had come to their support—to be dealt with by Ramiro after he had dealt with me.
His fear of Cesare’s coming was put by for the moment in his fierce lust to be avenged upon me who had betrayed him and the officers who had turned against him. Madonna sank back once more in her despair. The little spark that she had so bravely fanned to life had been quenched almost as soon as it had shown itself.
“Now, Federigo,” said Ramiro grimly, “I am waiting.”
The executioner resumed his work, and in an instant I stood stripped of my brigandine. As the fellow led me, unresisting, to the torture—for what resistance could have availed me now?—I tried to pray for strength to endure what was to come. I was done with life; for some portion of an hour I must go through the cruellest of agonies; and then, when it pleased God in His mercy that I should swoon, it would be to wake no more in this world. For they would bear out my unconscious body, and hang it by the neck from that black beam they called Ramiro del’ Orca’s flagstaff.
I cast a last glance at Madonna. She had fallen on her knees, and with folded hands was praying intently, none heeding her.
Federigo halted me beneath the pulleys, and his horrid hands grew busy adjusting the ropes to my wrists.
And then, when the last ray of hope had faded, but before the executioner had completed his hideous task, a trumpet-blast, winding a challenge to the gates of the Castle of Cesena, suddenly rang out upon the evening air, and startled us all by its sudden and imperious note.
For just an instant I allowed myself to be tortured by the hope that a miracle had happened, and here was Cesare Borgia come a good eight hours before it was possible for Mariani to have fetched him from Faenza. The same doubt may have crossed Ramiro’s mind, for he changed colour and sprang to the door to bawl an order forbidding his men to lower the bridge.