Sforza. Act 2 Scenes 1- 3

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

While Sforza and Bianca begin married life in a city under siege, Cosimo Medici plots the future of Italy.


(A chamber. SFORZA is kneeling by an alter seemingly at prayer. Maps on a table.  Enter BIANCA.)

BIANCA:- It is true, the city is completely surrounded by our enemies. I confess my husband this was not the start to married life that I envisaged.

SFORZA:- Our army makes Malatesta's city more than secure.

BIANCA:- What are you doing? You're not really praying are you?

SFORZA:- Of course not, I was merely reflecting upon the large numbers of princes who seem to have met their maker in church.

BIANCA:- Francesco. When we took our vows in St. Sigimund's.  Do you still remember where the windows were and the number of possible exits?

SFORZA:- Naturally.

BIANCA:- And the colour of my dress?

SFORZA:- (stands, rubbing knees) No, but I did gave you a nice wedding procession through Cremona.

BIANCA:- Thirty thousand men. It was more like the entry of an army of occupation.

SFORZA:- At least I spared no expense.

BIANCA:- You mean Cosimo spared no expense. I imagine he is still crying into his ledgers.

SFORZA:- You are in ill-humoured mood today. Has Malatesta upset you again?

BIANCA:- There is a coldness to the eyes, he flatters and smiles, but look to the eyes, they are without humour or compassion. He means to betray us at the first opportunity.

SFORZA:- It is my fault. I was under the impression that Alfonso's attacks on my lands were being masterminded by your father, and that after the wedding, they would stop.

BIANCA:- Father doesn't like you. Have I not mentioned this before?

SFORZA:- Many times.  

BIANCA:- Then how could you have been so naïve?

SFORZA:- I confess it has always been a flaw in my character that I try to see the best in people and then suffer accordingly when they show their worst. 
BIANCA looks round, then walks to the alter and lifts the cloth.

What are you doing?

BIANCA:- I was wondering where your biographer was hiding. For there can be no other reason you say such perverse things.

SFORZA:- Bianca, the military situation is delicate. As you see from the map -

BIANCA:- Enough! As an army wife I know I have to feign some interest in how you spend your days, but there is a limit.  

SFORZA:- You should be flattered your loving husband is seen fit to be challenged by a king.

BIANCA:- That is of small comfort.

SFORZA:- You do know that in the end I will win?

BIANCA:- It is the only reason I married you, it is the bit in-between that I find so tiresome.
SFORZA:- I have to admit Alfonso's improving with age, so there seems to be no sensible alternative, but to wait him out. We have the supplies and the troops to withstand the siege indefinitely. But as you say the problem is with our host.

BIANCA:- Then you probably shouldn't have married your daughter to him should you? You're already thinking you will have to kill him in the end.

SFORZA:- You seem to have an unnatural ability to read my thoughts.

BIANCA:- You may like to remember that when you are eyeing up the local girls.

SFORZA:- I have eyes only for you.

BIANCA:- I will hold you to that. As for our host, if you are too squeamish I could always lend your daughter my little black book. Every wife should have a little black book otherwise her husband might get ideas.

Enter FIA.
FIA:- Have you missed me?

BIANCA:- Dearest Fiammetta, you know it’s always a pleasure to see you.

FIA:- I have been meaning to visit, but you seemed so busy recently. How are the children?

SFORZA:- They are well.

FIA:- I am glad to hear it. Why Bianca, I feel it is so very modern of you not to be concerned. I confess I am not so sure I would be so understanding of Francesco's little indiscretions.

BIANCA:- My husband may have as many mistresses as he pleases, but a loving wife will tolerate no rivals.

FIA:- (as if seeing BIANCA for the first time)  Bianca my dear, have you put on weight? Married life must really be agreeing with you.

SFORZA:- (interrupting quickly) You have travelled far?

FIA:- From Milan.

BIANCA:- And had no trouble crossing the lines?

FIA:- Alfonso was very understanding. I bring news. (hands a letter to each)

BIANCA:- What does mine say?

FIA:- I am sure I wouldn’t know my dear. (Turns to SFORZA.) The Duke has written to Alfonso requesting him to cease his attacks upon your lands.

SFORZA:- I am sure Alfonso will take a lot of notice. (Reads letter.) Not good news two of our generals, Troilus and Brunoro are planning to betray us. How like the Duke, he moves men to betrayal than betrays them instead. I particularly like the way the message arrives just after they are known to have left the city and so beyond my reach.

BIANCA:- Father sees such matters in the abstract rather like a chess puzzle. How will you do it?

SFORZA:- That will require a few moments of thought.

FIA:- You have lost me?

BIANCA:- Murder should never be done out of passion. It should be a calculated act, rational, controlled, carefully weighing those factors that are for and those that are against. That is not to say that it is merely a matter of arithmetic for one does like to see to a certain artistry from a man and elegance from a lady.

FIA:- So if I am wronged, I should not kill immediately because that would mean I was acting on impulse and that would be bad? Instead, I should wait and plan most carefully, and then at the most aesthetically pleasing moment, kill the party that offends?

BIANCA:- Well, I suggest you try, as to the success, one can never offer a guarantee.

SFORZA:- I have it. We need to draft a letter to our two former comrades suggesting that they are to pretend to desert to Alfonso and then, at the most opportune time, betray him. We then let the letter fall into Alfonso’s hands.

BIANCA:- How do we do that?

SFORZA:- Dearest Fiammetta.

FIA:- Ah.

BIANCA:- I will see to the document.


SFORZA:- Some might think you and Bianca do not like each other.

FIA:- We are like sisters. And if she feels otherwise then I shall content myself with the knowledge that when I look in the mirror I know I am ahead on points.

SFORZA:- What really brings you here?

FIA:- I tire of intimate pleasures solo and would have you lend a hand.

SFORZA:- I fear that Bianca will never be far enough away for that sort of thing.

FIA:- Pity. Well, since you’re so happily married, to business.

SFORZA:- The rest of the Duke's message?

FIA:- You are up to your neck in trouble. Your supply lines are cut, your cities in revolt, and if Alfonso doesn't take you here, he will mop up in Naples and then take whatever Piccinino and the pope have left in Ancona. Soon you will have  nothing left.

SFORZA:- I will not bend the knee to Alfonso or the pope.  Let them come, I will weather the storm and when it has blown itself out, I will recover what has been lost.

FIA:- The Duke thinks otherwise and would make you an offer.

SFORZA:- He needs you to say this?

FIA:- It is not the kind of offer he feels should be committed to writing.

SFORZA:- One of those kinds of offers, and what does my dear father-in-law ask of me?

FIA:- Cremona.

SFORZA:- It is not mine to give.

FIA:- The Duke thinks it is, in all but name anyway. And since you have such a way with women, he feels you could overcome any objection. One way or the other.

SFORZA:- And he offers in return?

FIA:- His love and affection.

SFORZA:- In short, the Duke would lessen the odds against me?

FIA:- In short, yes. What do you say?

SFORZA:- (thinks for a moment.) You remarked on how well Bianca is looking?

FIA:- Yes.

SFORZA:- She is with child.

FIA:- Really? And does she know about this?

SFORZA:- She will be shortly writing to her father to announce the happy news.

FIA:- A legitimate Sforza child, well, there's a novelty.  

SFORZA:- Ask the Duke how he can make war on his future grandchild? If he recalls Piccinino to Milan, he can pick the name.

FIA:- And Piccinino's army?

SFORZA:- I will deal with that.

FIA:- And what else?

SFORZA:- When Alfonso gets tired of besieging us, the Duke might like to suggest  he try reducing the last of my estate in Naples.

FIA:- And Cremona?

Enter BIANCA hands letter to FIA.

SFORZA:- He will appreciate that there are certain implications that need time to be considered.

Exit FIA.

BIANCA:- Did you get all you wanted from her?

SFORZA:- More or less. You'll be pleased to know you're pregnant.

BIANCA:- And how do we know that exactly?

SFORZA:- It's in the letter you will be writing to your father.

BIANCA:- Somehow I don't think that would be enough for father?

SFORZA:- He wants Cremona back.

BIANCA:- Over my dead body.

SFORZA:- I think that's what he had in mind.

BIANCA:- He wouldn't dare, besides it would violate the treaty with Venice.  Francesco, promise me you won't do anything to provoke him.

SFORZA:- As you have promised not to provoke Malatesta?

BIANCA:- I will be the most humble of wives

Enter MAL.

MAL:- I fail to see why we continue to sit here day-after-day and do precisely nothing. Some might say that you suffering from an excess of caution Count Francesco.

SFORZA:- They might say that but they would be wrong. The art of winning is seldom achieved by great victories, but by slowly wearing down your opponent, accumulating the tiny advantages that present themselves until your position has become so overwhelmingly superior that the matter can then be liquidated to your profit with the minimum of risk.

MAL:- That would be the prudent thing to do.

BIANCA:- Francesco is nothing if not prudent, perhaps it is time we ate, things always look different on a full stomach.  Don’t you agree Sigismond?’

MAL:- And what of glory?

SFORZA:- Ah, the thirst for glory, but can you drink it?

MAL:- Better a noble death than to crawl away into the night.

SFORZA:- History belongs to those that outlive their enemies. Pay someone enough to write about your times and you can have glory in abundance, later.

MAL:- It is not the same thing.

SFORZA:- Five hundred years from now who would know the difference?

MAL:- We must do something about Alfonso before it is too late!

BIANCA:- We must do nothing.

MAL:- Who is master here?

BIANCA:- Looking at the troops on your walls that would appear to be us.

Exit MAL angrily.

SFORZA:- So much for not upsetting him.

Lights Down.


(Room with tables and maps. COSIMO is studying one of the maps. FIA is holding a letter.)

FIA:- Lost again I hear?

COSIMO:- It is what Florence does best and I did advise the government against going to war.

FIA:- So what happened to Florence's Grand Campaign this time?

COSIMO:- When the Duke's men advanced, ours ran away. They even give condottiere a bad name. Three more cities lost to the Duke. I confess, I need cheering up.

FIA:- News of Francesco. When Alfonso moved to plunder Sforza lands in Naples, he broke the siege and then crushed Piccinino's army.

COSIMO:- That is good. And relations with the Duke?

FIA:- They are one big happy family.

COSIMO:- That is not so good. The reason?

FIA:- Bianca has given birth to a boy, named by the Duke, Galeazzo Maria.  I confess I did have doubts about the pregnancy.

COSIMO:- I imagine there's not much to do in a city under siege. In your many travels did you have time to stop off in Ferrara?

FIA:- I had a word with Uncle Niccolo. He is very pre-occupied with expensive renovations to his palace.

COSIMO:- You mean the price has gone up. By how much?

FIA:- Trebled.

COSIMO:- Some might consider that somewhat excessive.

FIA:- In response I would remind you of the three cities. And if your plan fails the Duke will wipe the d'Este from the earth.

COSIMO:- Fair points. Very well, twelve thousand florins subsidy per year for the next ten years. And what of the messenger?

FIA:- Five thousand, paid in advance and a titled husband with some property.

COSIMO:- The property?

FIA:- Pesaro. I'm told it's a nice place.

COSIMO:- Desired by Malatesta owned by his enemy Federico Montefeltro . The husband?

FIA:- Alessandro Sforza.

COSIMO:- Sister-in-law to our future Duke. You do aim high.  Alessandro has no title and I fear has eyes for another.

FIA:- I am patient and many people die before their time.

COSIMO:- I will do what I can about the title and the property. But I will not intervene in the course of true love.

FIA:- Agreed.

COSIMO:- The letter?

FIA:- (produces a letter)  The Duke's letter to Sforza's general.

COSIMO:- Which one?

FIA:- Ciarpello. He offers him the position of Captain General of the forces of Milan.

COSIMO:- (reads letter) One almost feels sorry for Piccinino. The letter is to go to Federico and suggest that he invite Francesco and Bianca to visit.

FIA:- In the meantime?

COSIMO:- Return to the Duke, say you have talked to Francesco and that he is deciding what to do about Cremona. However, there are two conditions to his current silence. Firstly, Sforza's son Galeazzo Maria is to be named as Count of Pavia.

FIA:- And the second?

COSIMO:- Bianca is never to know. The Duke will agree to both conditions.

FIA:- And the promise to his grandson?

COSIMO:- The Duke will have no intention of keeping it. Thinking he has an agreement, the Duke will take his time in deciding how to to betray Francesco. While he is doing that Federico will give Francesco the letter. The proof of a treacherous general will win Franceso's favour and will thereby place Federico in debt to me.

FIA:- Pesaro to Alessandro by any chance?

COSIMO:- I imagine I will have to provide the financing.

FIA:- You're assuming Francesco will execute Ciarpellio. Your forgetting his outmoded notions of personal honour might preclude him from such an act.  (Pause.)  You've already written to Bianca and she won't hesitate.


FIA:- She will be displeased about Cremona and when she is displeased, people tend to suffer permanent injury.

COSIMO:- Bianca is nothing if not flexible and if makes her Duchess of Milan she will forgive, eventually.

FIA:- So an innocent man dies because he was offered a better job. The Duke will take it as a personal insult and move on Cremona in retaliation. But Venice won't fight a war to enforce the terms of a previous treaty and even if they did, the Duke has many good generals and would offer Venice terms to settle anyway.

COSIMO:- They will fight and this time they will not settle. For they will believe they have a chance to nail the Duke to the wall once and for all. As for generals, Piccinino will be offered employment by the pope and Micheletto Attendolo will be employed by Venice. As for the Duke's other generals, one or two have been fatally indiscreet.

FIA:- What will the good Alfonso be doing while all this is going on?

COSIMO:- Taking Ancona.  Francesco will have no option but to abandon any lingering sentimental attachments and sell what remains to the pope.  After that there will be no more distractions from him becoming the Duke of Milan

FIA:- All this sounds very expensive.


FIA:- Where will you find the money? Medici resources are considerable but they are not limitless.

COSIMO:- The government of Florence was kind enough to contribute.

FIA:- You are the government of Florence after the last defeat. (Pause.) You lent money to the previous government to finance the campaign, then paid the army to lose it.

COSIMO:- As I said, I did advise them against going to war.

Lights Down.


(Chamber of Federico. FEDERICO and SFORZA sit either side of a table which has wine on it.)

FEDERICO:- This is a meeting a long time coming.

SFORZA:- No less welcome for that.

FEDERICO:- You do not hold my friendship with Piccinino and my hatred of Sigismond Malatesta against me.

SFORZA:- These days, I hold dislike of my son-in-law, to be a virtue.

FEDERICO:- (pours them both some wine) And here? Does it concern you to be my house-guest? You have not heard the stories?

SFORZA:- Your brother assassinated and then you seize the Lordship of Urbino?

 FEDERICO:- People have assumed that success in the latter enterprise has been due to my participation in the former.  

SFORZA:- You ask this of a man who has been twice excommunicated. Perhaps it is I, who should ask whether you would want so infamous a house-guest?

FEDERICO:- (hands over wine) Let us drink to poverty and ill-repute.

SFORZA:- So what are your plans now that you are now lord of Urbino?

FEDERICO:- In truth, I had hoped to find the affairs of Urbino in a more secure state. My council would not wish me to confess weakness to the greatest soldier of the age, but a ruler must face reality. We have no money. So it seems I must fight the wars of other states in order to preserve my own.

SFORZA:- There are worse ways to earn a living, so you're looking for a contract?

FEDERICO:- You know of one?

SFORZA:- Oh I expect one might turn up.

FEDERICO:- But first there is a matter that may stand between us.

SFORZA:- You refer to the letter?  It was inevitable the Duke would make some move.

FEDERICO:- He is dead?

SFORZA:- Bianca employed a Greek, it was quite educational, I can well understand why men write books upon the subject.

FEDERICO:- It crossed my mind you may blame me for this.

SFORZA:- Because Cosimo is plotting?

FEDERICO:- I desire to be his friend but I desire to be yours more. And I would not wish to come between you.

SFORZA:- Cosimo is a realist, he knows the right men have to get mud on their boots.
FEDERICO:- How is the Lady Bianca?

SFORZA:- Mother and child prosper. She will joining us shortly.

FEDERICO:- The Duke must be pleased?

SFORZA:- He has given permission for a new banner, his Viper to be quartered with my Lion.

FEDERICO:- I had heard as much. A mark of favour. Changing the subject, your brother seems to be standing in the garden holding a flower. And is that not Constanza da Varano with him?

SFORZA:- I believe Alessandro met her a couple of years ago and has been pinning for her ever since, much to the amusement of the rest of the family.

FEDERICO:- Love would appear to need a helping hand.

SFORZA:- The lady is under your protection?

FEDERICO:- She is.

SFORZA:- And would love find favour?

FEDERICO:- There would have to be some provision for her future accommodation. He is without estate at the moment?

SFORZA:- He is, but that can be remedied. You have a proposal?

FEDERICO:- The city of Pesaro and its land could be transferred to your brother; there could be no objection to your brother’s situation then.

SFORZA:- The city is at your disposal?

FEDERICO:- As good as. I expect good news from my army within the hour.

SFORZA:- How much?

FEDERICO:- Forty five thousand florins.

SFORZA:- It’s not worth more than five. And that's before your troops damage the place.

FEDERICO:- Forty. And I'll tell my troops to respect your future property.

SFORZA:- Its walls will be in a shocking state. Ten.

FEDERICO:- Walls? It’s a development opportunity. Thirty three.

SFORZA:- More like a renovation. Fifteen.

FEDERICO:- A blank canvas, with a little imagination who knows what could be achieved. Twenty eight.

SFORZA:- I am not sure Alessandro has that much imagination. Eighteen.

FEDERICO:- Twenty and you pay for the wedding.

SFORZA:- Done.

FEDERICO:- I will make arrangements.

Exit FEDERICO. SFORZA, trying to enjoy a monts peace,  places feet on chair and drinks some wine. Enter BIANCA waving a piece of paper.

BIANCA:- Father has declared war on me! This is the type of conduct that gives parents a bad name. I wonder, when we are older will we embarrass our children like this?

SFORZA:- No doubt they will think it so. Your father thinks he can regain the dowry.

BIANCA:- Obviously, but Cremona is mine.

SFORZA:- Ours my love.

BIANCA:- I hold it by legal title.

SFORZA:- It is my troops that enforce that title.

BIANCA:- Well, it is the least a loving husband can do for his wife. I never expected he would keep his word to you, but this, you are no doubt taking pleasure in this.

SFORZA:- (clearly lying)  We are one, and to insult you is to insult us both. It's just politics.

BIANCA:- (paces about the room)  No, this is personal, he is trying to control me, just like always.

SFORZA:- One of the differences between Sforza and Visconti is how the Visconti always take things personally.

BIANCA:- He would not seek advantage like this if I were a man.

SFORZA:- You think your sex deserves some favoured status?

BIANCA:- I am his daughter!

SFORZA:- You think that counts for anything with your father?

BIANCA:- I wish it did, but I know it does not. I swear no daughter of mine will ever be treated thus.

SFORZA:- I think any daughter of yours will be more than a match for her poor father. Bianca my love, even the best of families can fall out over property.

BIANCA:- I will not allow him to get away with this.

SFORZA:- I hope you are not going to keep me up all night with your plotting.

BIANCA:- Dearest husband, I would not dream of troubling you with my inconsequential affairs.

SFORZA:- What will you do, write to him?

BIANCA:- Father has gone too far for that. This is a problem that requires a more permanent solution.

SFORZA:- That does not bode well for father.

BIANCA:- You have talked to Federico?

SFORZA:- I have. For one so young he is surprisingly knowledgeable about the comparisons and relative merits of wrought iron versus whole bronze casting and like me he favours the grouping of canon and culverin into standard sizes.

BIANCA:- Which is a subject that you have been known to talk about at inordinate length. At times it's a mystery how we are still married. Did you talk about anything important?

SFORZA:- I bought a city. Pesaro.

BIANCA:- What with? You don't have any money.

SFORZA:- Cosimo has.

BIANCA:- Do you really think he will lend you any more?

SFORZA:- No, but I am sure he'll lend it to you.

BIANCA:- And why should I help you?

SFORZA:- Cremona.

BIANCA:- That would take an another army. And where you are going to find that pray?

SFORZA:- Something tells me that should not be too difficult.

BIANCA:- You've employed Federico and his army. It's more money you haven't got.

SFORZA:- Then you will have to tell Cosimo that Pesaro cost a lot more than it did.

BIANCA:- Fortune and misfortune are different sides of the same coin. Fortune brings us  Pesaro and Federico, the reverse will bring Malatesta's treachery. There may be unintended consequences to that.

SFORZA:- You and Cosimo have much in common. It's a mystery to me that you did not corresponded more than you say you do.

BIANCA:- (pause.) You know my dear husband that as the most dutiful of wives I would never do anything without your knowledge and approval.

SFORZA:- You words ever re-assure me. Speaking of Cosimo, he has written to say that he has concluded the sale of what's left of our territory in Ancona.

BIANCA:- Francesco. Do you really trust him?

SFORZA:- As assuredly as I trust you my most dutiful of wives.

Lights Down.

Submitted: January 12, 2018

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