Valentino: a play in verse

by David Wisehart

 

ACT ONE, SCENE 2

            Palace of Urbino. Days later. Valentino lounges on his throne, reading.

            Two soldiers enter, swords drawn.


VALENTINO:  Where’s Vitelli?

             (The soldiers advance. Valentino draws his sword and dagger. They fight.)

                                                       Treason! Alarm! Alarm!

            (Valentino kills one soldier, but the other fights on. As they fight:)

            Who are you? Who? Who sent you here and why?

            Give me a name. Surrender and disarm.

            On your knees!

SOLDIER:                      Not a chance.

VALENTINO:                                            Then dance and die.

            (Valentino forces him to the door. Michelotto enters, stabbing the soldier in the back.

                 The man falls dead. Valentino checks the body for a pulse, and papers.)

            Go find Vitelli!

MICHELOTTO:           Are you hurt?

VALENTINO:                                        No harm

            Done. Where’s Vitelli?

MICHELOTTO:                           Coming.

VALENTINO:                                               He’s a spy.

MICHELOTTO:  Don’t be so sure.

VALENTINO:                                     Of course he’ll disavow

            This deed, but someone knew I’d be here now.

            Vitelli’s too obsessed with his vendetta.

            That traitor either turned or talked too much.

            Who turned him? Cloak and dagger, or mozetta?

            This treachery could be a bishop’s touch.

            My Borgia bulls will charge at the muleta

            And kill the man whose cape is in his clutch.

            I’ll make Vitelli tell me what he knows.

            He will confess before we come to blows.

            Wait — where are my guards?

MICHELOTTO:                                         Two are outside, dead.

VALENTINO:  The others?

MICHELOTTO:                      Some, I think, have taken sick.

VALENTINO:  Or taken coin. Go rouse them out of bed.

            You tell them they can die or come here quick.

            Bring me the name of any man who fled —

            I’ll use his carcass for a candlestick.

            Seal off the city — no one in our out.

            Have every highway scoured by a scout.

            These bungling bravos came as errand boys.

            There is some hidden message they convey.

            Vitelli is the key. Who else employs

            Him now? What devil’s leading him astray?

            Discover where he goes — but make no noise.

MICHELOTTO:  Leonardo arrived with him today.

VALENTINO:  I want to see him. Send Vitelli here,

            And then have Leonardo waiting near.

            (Michelotto exits. Valentino drags the corpses behind the throne. He sits down, flipping his dagger. Vitelli enters.)

VITELLI:  Withdraw?

VALENTINO:              You’re late.

VITELLI:                                            Withdraw?

VALENTINO:                                                        I said, you’re late.

VITELLI:  When we had Florence begging on her knees?

VALENTINO:  Vitelli —

VITELLI:                           That’s the end of the debate?

VALENTINO:  There’s no debate.

VITELLI:                                              I hope this will appease

            His majesty the king. One tête-à-tête

            With Louis, and you catch the French disease!

            I thought your balls were made of better stuff.

            I thought you were a man, but no —

VALENTINO:                                                       Enough!

            (Drives the dagger into the tabletop.)

VITELLI:  Your blade has tasted blood.

VALENTINO:                                               Because my foes

            Are out in force. Were those men friends of yours?

            (Vitelli examines the corpses.)

VITELLI:  French soldiers.

VALENTINO:                        So they seem.

VITELLI:                                                           Do you suppose

            They came here in disguise?

VALENTINO:                                          They came as whores,

            Dressed up to turn a trick — Parisian clothes

            To turn two wolves to sheep, to sneak through doors.

            Were they assassins, sent with Louis’ blessing?

            Or just Italian meat, in some French dressing?

VITELLI:  They’re not Italian.

VALENTINO:                             No? Then I’m not Spanish.

            Italians do not want me in their home.

            They’d kill me if they could. Instead, I’ll banish

            Them all to hell. All roads bleed to Rome.

            My cannonades will make their cities vanish

            And turn their fortresses to honeycomb.

            The clouds will burst and rain Italian blood

            Until it fills the Tiber like a flood.

VITELLI:  But I’m Italian. In your military.

            I’m like a brother at your beck and call.

            I’ve always watched your back. You know I’d carry

            You through the fire, and catch you when you fall.

VALENTINO:  “When”? Or “if”? You should learn to be more wary.

            You’ll watch my back? My back’s against the wall.

            This turn of fortune was no twist of fate.

            They came not long ago —

            (Retrieves his dagger.)

                                                               — and you came late.

            (Valentino stalks Vitelli, who reaches for his sword, ready to draw.)

VITELLI:  If I conspired, I never would have come.

VALENTINO:  Take care, my clever friend.

VITELLI:                                                              You read me wrong.

            I’m loyal to the end.

VALENTINO:                         And yet, for some,

            Their end may come today. You won’t last long

            Upon this earth if you consort with scum.

            Their hearts and minds were weak. But were you strong?

            Hm? If you show your blade, I’ll know your heart —

            My naked steel will cut your ribs apart.

            (Vitelli removes his hand from the hilt.)

VITELLI:  If I have done you wrong, then I repent.

VALENTINO:  One more mistake, I’ll make you meet your Maker.

VITELLI:  I heard no warning words of this event,

            But I blame Florence. Why don’t we just take her?

            Let’s kill them all —

VALENTINO:                          My dogs are on the scent,

            Surveying every field and every acre.

            You say you’re no purveyor of this plot?

VITELLI:  I’m not.

VALENTINO:        Your thought runs cold. Your blood runs hot.

VITELLI:  They killed my brother! Labeled him with treason!

            They took his honor. Took his life. Displayed

            His body in the street. I see no reason

            To wipe away the debt before they’ve paid.

            You promised I could take the town this season,

            Avenge his death. Now I’m the one betrayed.

VALENTINO:  I share your pain. They’ve also slain my brother.

            Now you and I rely on one another.

VITELLI:  Then sack their city! Take their territory!

            If we’re like brothers, why do you retreat?

            Please, let my vengeance serve your greater glory.

            Those bastards should be dying in the street.

VALENTINO:  Machiavelli —

VITELLI:                                      — is a snake! Before he

            Arrived, my lord, we drank to their defeat.

VALENTINO:  Vitelli, trust my judgment. Let this go.

            There are some things you do not need to know.

            We’ll rest awhile before we kill —

VITELLI:                                                           Are we

            Too weak to war? Then cut away the tumor!

VALENTINO:  Please, curb your anger — and artillery.

            I hoped to find you in a better humor.

            In time, we’ll put them in the pillory,

            But careless words turn secrets into rumor.

            Soon Florence will get everything she’s earned.

VITELLI:  Then feed her to the worms!

VALENTINO:                                             The worm has turned.

            The Florentines and I have made a deal.

            They’ve bought themselves a temporary truce.

            We’ll give them one more turning of the wheel,

            And then, Vitelli, turn your cannons loose.

            We’ll make them pay before we make them kneel.

            We’ll steal their golden eggs, then cook their goose.

            Are you as loyal as you were before?

VITELLI:  Of course, my lord.

VALENTINO:                             Then question me no more.

            (Vitelli bows and starts to leave, but hesitates at the door.)

VITELLI:  You’re asking patience of a restless man.

VALENTINO:  It’s time to rest.

VITELLI:                                      My brother’s resting now.

            He haunts my dreams. I cannot wait.

VALENTINO:                                                       You can.

VITELLI:  It’s longer than my honor will allow.

            You promised you would help me with my plan.

            My service is contingent on your vow.

            You will not turn my thunder to a thud.

            I will have my revenge. Blood flows to blood.

            (Vitelli exits. Valentino rubs his eyes, collecting himself, then calls out:)

VALENTINO:  Where’s Leonardo?

LEONARDO: (off-stage)                    Coming!

            (Leonardo enters, with books and sketches.)

                                                                                I am here,

            My lord.

VALENTINO:    Did you enjoy Arezzo?

LEONARDO:                                              Look

            At what Vitelli found, to commandeer

            From Sansepolcro. Look! A brilliant book

            By Archimedes!

VALENTINO:                  That old engineer?

            (He swipes the book from Leonardo, who sets the other documents on the table.)

LEONARDO:  You’ve read him?

VALENTINO:                                   Yes. At Pisa, where I took

            Philosophy, and math, and canon law.

LEONARDO:  Splendid!

VALENTINO:                     My head went numb, my eyes went raw.

            (Leonardo extends his hand for the book, but Valentino has no intention of giving it up.)

LEONARDO:  My lord, what other courses have you taken?

VALENTINO:  Too many courses.  First, I had a plate

            Of Plato, with a side of Roger Bacon.

LEONARDO:  A bottle of Aristotle?

VALENTINO:                                       A crate.

            To help me swallow all that godforsaken

            Canon law, learning to pontificate.

            My father groomed me for the papal fanon,

            But I’m a man of quite a different cannon.

            My voice is not well-suited to the choir.

            I’d rather be the impresario,

            For I was born to lead and to inspire.

            I have no interest in the status quo,

            And I don’t care for cardinal’s attire.

            My father’s office gives me vertigo.

            We do God’s work, but we use different tools.

            He rules the altar, I alter the rules.

LEONARDO:  My lord, that book is very fragile.

VALENTINO:                                                             This

            Compendium of carnage? This instruction

            For mass destruction? Bible of abyss?

            This ode to power?

LEONARDO:                        Powers of deduction,

            And reason, logical analysis,

            Geometry, philosophy, effluxion —

VALENTINO:  Look closer. There is blood in his designs.

            The ink is black, but red between the lines.

LEONARDO:  The author was a man of peace.

VALENTINO:                                                              His mind

            Was made for battle, bloody rendezvous.

            He worked on war machines of every kind.

            He fought Marcellus, saving Syracuse

            With lever, fulcrum, pulleys. If I find

            One man like that — by God, I’ll never lose.

            In you I see the spark of Archimedes.

            If you design the tricks, they’ll sign the treaties.

            The Greeks relied on rocks and spears and arrows

            Till Archimedes built machines for war.

            He knew the ancient secrets of the Pharaohs,

            Plus many things no man had known before.

            When fifteen thousand Romans sailed the narrows,

            A fleet of sixty war ships came to shore.

            The Greeks were just about to call it quits,

            But Archimedes always kept his wits.

            With massive mirrors focused on the sails,

            He cursed the Romans, burst them into flame.

            The blazing waters filled with cries and wails.

            He kept them churning, burning. Still they came.

            With mighty catapults he sent them hails

            Of heavy stones, to maim their men and claim

            Their bones. The battle raged until they saw

            The terror of the Archimedes Claw —

            An iron hand, suspended from a tower,

            To hook their hulls and lift their ships away,

            Then smash them down with God-like power,

            All roiling, toiling, boiling in the bay.

            Now doomed and damned, they found their final hour

            As sunset met the dying of the day.

            When Archimedes saw that bloody swell,

            He knew he was the architect of hell.

            Surviving Romans cowered in disgrace.

            As Archimedes laughed, dead bodies swirled.

            He stood above the battlements to face

            His fallen enemies with flags unfurled,

            And shouted to the wind, “Give me a place

            To stand and, by God, I will move the world!”

LEONARDO:  Which illustrates the power of the lever.

VALENTINO:  And you, my friend, are equally as clever.

            You are my General of Engineering.

            Come, ride beside me on my noble quest,

            And through the centuries they’ll be revering

            Your name — Leonardo da Vinci! Best

            War engineer since Archimedes! Cheering

            Your genius, which will now be manifest.

            When under fire and standing at the brink,

            Then wonder, “What would Archimedes think?”

            It’s not the force, but where applied, and when.

            Some men believe raw numbers turn the tide.

            I’d rather have the odds against us, ten

            To one, if you’re the one man at my side.

            The greatest wars are won by brilliant men,

            And you will be my weapon, multiplied.

            I love my Spanish sword, and all men praise her,

            But nothing holds an edge like Ockham’s Razor.

            (Returns the book to Leonardo.)

LEONARDO:  My lord, I see you’ve given this some thought.

            I’ll do my best to meet your expectations.

VALENTINO:  So. What is all this bric-a-brac you brought?

LEONARDO:  Some manuscripts. I made some emendations.

            I drew some maps and sketches —

VALENTINO:                                                     Quite a lot

            Of work.

LEONARDO:     I made some further calculations

            While I was in Arezzo, and —

VALENTINO:                                           Ignore

Arezzo. We don’t need her anymore.

            No, what I need are stronger walls and better

            Maps. And perhaps some engines for attack.

            And maybe something in the field to fetter

            Approaching enemies, to turn them back.

            You understand my meaning?

LEONARDO:                                            To the letter.

VALENTINO:  We’ll make them bleed from every bivouac.

            Now what, exactly, does this sketch portray?

            (Leonardo turns the drawing around.)

LEONARDO:  Like so.

VALENTINO:                 It made more sense the other way.

            (Flips through the other sketches.)

            Ah, yes. This one should make a bloody bath.

            They can’t defend against what this defines.

            I’ll let you calculate the aftermath.

            Well done. Yes, I approve of your designs.

            These war machines are off the beaten path.

            We think on parallel and equal lines.

            Now, with your help, the world is in my snare —

            You square the circle, I’ll circle the square.

            There’s one more thing that you could do for me.

LEONARDO:  Just say the word, my lord.

VALENTINO:                                                   “Vitelli.”

LEONARDO:                                                                  What?

VALENTINO:  “Vitelli” is the word. The man.

LEONARDO:                                                        I see.

            I think.

VALENTINO:   A friend of yours? Or is he not?

LEONARDO:  Why, yes. An honest man. Don’t you agree?

VALENTINO:  Of course. But I was asking what you thought.

LEONARDO:  He let me have the Archimedes book.

            And I was there beside him when he took

            Arezzo. But then, you just spoke with him.

            Is something wrong?

VALENTINO:                           I’m playing with a notion,

            A plan. Perhaps it’s just an idle whim —

            It’s time I gave Vitelli a promotion.

LEONARDO:  Oh! Excellent!

VALENTINO:                            But in the interim,

            I must be very sure of his devotion.

LEONARDO:  I can assure you, he is very loyal.

VALENTINO:  I need some time to let the kettle boil.

            If you could somehow help me learn his mind,

            Discover how he thinks, what occupies

            His day, then I would know that he’s the kind

            Of brilliant officer that I surmise.

LEONARDO:  I’m in his confidence.

VALENTINO:                                          He must not find

            Out.

LEONARDO:  It will be our secret.

VALENTINO:                                        A surprise.

            (Leonardo notices the corpses.)

LEONARDO:  What’s this? A pair of excellent cadavers.

VALENTINO:  I had to put an end to their palavers.

            They double-crossed me.

LEONARDO:                                    Will you let them rot?

VALENTINO:  Why not?

LEONARDO:                    I’d like to take them out the door.

VALENTINO:  They’re dead.

LEONARDO:                             I know.

VALENTINO:                                           Don’t give them any thought.

LEONARDO:  I need dead bodies.

VALENTINO:                                        What in heavens for?

LEONARDO:  Experiments. How many have you got?

VALENTINO:  A lot. And I can always make some more.

LEONARDO:  If you don’t mind, could I dissect their glands?

VALENTINO:  Please, Leonardo, take them off my hands.

LEONARDO:  Duke Valentino has a gracious heart.

VALENTINO:  That organ I shall keep in my possession.

            (Leonardo gathers his documents and piles them onto a corpse, which he drags to the door.)

LEONARDO:  I plan to make an anatomic chart.

VALENTINO:  Leonardo, I’m trusting your discretion.

            It is a sin, you know. A morbid art.

LEONARDO:  Another tale to add to my confession.

            Maps, fortresses ... what else is there to do?

VALENTINO:  Give enemies the Archimedes Screw.

            (Leonardo exits, with the corpse.)

            And send in Michelotto!

            (Michelotto enters, followed by Leonardo, who drags out the other corpse.)

MICHELOTTO:                             That was strange.

            You’re making Leonardo dig the graves?

VALENTINO:  He digs inside the bodies.

MICHELOTTO:                                               Why the change?

            I thought you had him tracing architraves.

VALENTINO:  I do, but Leonardo has a range

            Of talents.

MICHELOTTO:     Cutting navels from the knaves?

VALENTINO:  For Leonardo, learning is a lust.

            But you are still the only man I trust.

MICHELOTTO:  You trust your father.

VALENTINO:                                            No. He’s too naive.

            My brother’s murder was a heavy blow.

            It is a crime my father can’t conceive.

MICHELOTTO:  He loves you still.

VALENTINO:                                       And yet the rumors grow.

            He hears, but does not listen, nor believe.

            And he must never know the things you know.

            My father loves the lie that I’ve become —

            He knows a part of me, but not the sum.

MICHELOTTO:  Ramiro’s pacing in the anteroom.

VALENTINO:  Ramiro? Can it wait?

MICHELOTTO:                                      You sent for him.

VALENTINO:  He does not know the reason, I assume.

MICHELOTTO:  He’s in the dark.

VALENTINO:                                    Let’s hope he’s not too dim.

            I want you in this meeting. He may fume.

            Ramiro’s poured my patience to the brim.

MICHELOTTO:  Drink up.

VALENTINO:                       You think this meeting is an error?

MICHELOTTO:  I do.

VALENTINO:              He rules with torture and with terror.

            You’ve heard the stories, too.

MICHELOTTO:                                       Tough times, tough measures.

VALENTINO:  I never should have made him governor.

            Ramiro yearns for military pleasures,

            For rape and pillage. He’s a feral cur.

            Good governors protect, not plunder treasures.

            They learn to leave things better than they were.

            All men believe that they were born to rule,

            But who can wear a crown and not be cruel?

            Ramiro’s come too close, and gone too far.

            It’s time to tame the monster I created.

MICHELOTTO:  But we can only be the men we are.

VALENTINO:  His feast of blood will never leave him sated.

            This war must lead to peace, to heal the scar.

            We may be loved or feared, but never hated.

            I’ll give the man a chance to end his ways,

            But if he can’t, then I will end his days.

            Send him in.

            (Michelotto exits, and returns with Ramiro.)

                                    Welcome, my friend! You look hale

            Today.

RAMIRO:         Bad weather seems to do me good.

VALENTINO:  Are storm clouds on the way?

RAMIRO:                                                                A lusty gale

            To send a shiver through the neighborhood.

            The weak are washed away, the strong prevail.

            I’d muster up a bluster if I could.

            Foul weather is a war — each lightning bolt

            A torch to light the hovel and the holt.

            God grant me blood and thunder!

VALENTINO:                                                  Demons scatter

            At your footsteps. Your timing is exquisite.

RAMIRO:  You’re looking well, my lord.

VALENTINO:                                                Let’s kill the chatter.

            How’s life in the Romagna?

RAMIRO:                                              All’s well.

VALENTINO:                                                          Is it?

RAMIRO:  Yes.

VALENTINO:     Are my people happy?

RAMIRO:                                                      Does it matter?

VALENTINO:  Yes, of course. Do I need to make a visit?

RAMIRO:  No need, my lord. It’s under my control.

            The people understand that heads will roll.

VALENTINO:  I see. Then we’re at peace? No cause for strife?

RAMIRO:  A little trouble here and there.

VALENTINO:                                                   Then we’re

            In trouble? Is that the news? Are we rife

            With rebels?

RAMIRO:                   No. I had them killed.

VALENTINO:                                                    I hear

            You burned some homes, put neighbors to the knife.

RAMIRO:  Jews. Marranos. I’m teaching them to fear.

VALENTINO:  Ramiro, killing Jews is not your mission.

            We’re Spanish. We are not the Inquisition.

            The Jews have burned enough. Remove the heat.

            I will not hold the torch for Torquemada.

            Those days are gone. Those jobs are obsolete.

RAMIRO:  Then send them back to Spain, back to Granada.

            My lord, the Jews are sleeping in the street.

VALENTINO:  Then give them beds. Their home is our posada.

            Let’s welcome their Sephardic exodus.

            Imagine we were them, and they were us.

RAMIRO:  I’m not a Jew.

VALENTINO:                     And that is not my meaning.

            I will not have them harried and harassed.

RAMIRO:  Perhaps a quarantine —

VALENTINO:                                          No quarantining.

            They are my people now.

RAMIRO:                                          A wretched caste.

VALENTINO:  But who can say which way the future’s leaning

            When all men live in exile from their past?

            The Caesars never dreamed that Rome would fall,

            Yet tides of time make beggars of us all.

            Where will you live when you have lost your home,

            Your livelihood, and all of your possessions?

            The pope has opened up the gates of Rome.

            I’m honoring my father’s intercessions.

            Ramiro, give them shelter, and shalom.

RAMIRO:  My lord —

VALENTINO:                I’ll brook no further indiscretions.

            I know you have a different point of view,

            But tell me, what was Christ, if not a Jew?

RAMIRO:  I did not take you for a people pleaser.

VALENTINO:  But Caesar tolerated Jews. They say,

            When Caesar died, Judea wept to ease her

            Sorrow. My father named me Cesare —

            He knew, of course, to name me after Caesar.

            It is the role that I was born to play,

            And I intend to follow his example.

            The people are not here for us to trample.

            Ramiro, am I making a connection?

RAMIRO:  You mean to treat the Jews like Christians, then?

VALENTINO:  I do. The Jews are under my protection.

            Your sword is no replacement for my pen.

RAMIRO:  You ordered me to put down insurrection.

VALENTINO:  The law should be a leveler of men.

RAMIRO:  It is. I’ve leveled many men, my lord.

VALENTINO:  Yes. Nothing is more sordid than your sword.

            What happened in Faenza?

RAMIRO:                                              Happened where?

VALENTINO:  A lovely little town just down the road,

            Where happy people frolic in the square,

            Where playful pups abide in each abode.

            You know the one? I left it in your care.

             You did not tell me of that episode.

RAMIRO:  Faenza?

VALENTINO:            Are you deaf or am I dumb?

            Faenza, yes. That thing beneath your thumb.

RAMIRO:  You mean about the hanging?

VALENTINO:                                                    Yes, I do.

RAMIRO:  We caught the thief at once.

VALENTINO:                                               You hanged him twice.

RAMIRO:  The first time broke the rope. The people threw

            A riot, said the man had paid his price.

            My soldiers fought the crowd, and killed a few

            Insurgents.

VALENTINO:          Did that strategy suffice?

RAMIRO:  The thief escaped. We made a thorough search

            And found the bastard hiding in a church.

VALENTINO:  Did the man claim sanctuary?

RAMIRO:                                                               He did.

VALENTINO:  And did you grant it?

RAMIRO:                                               No. That law does not

            Apply. It does not matter where he hid.

            The man’s a thief — convicted, tried, and caught.

VALENTINO:  In that order?

RAMIRO:                                  The point is that we’re rid

            Of one more criminal.

VALENTINO:                             The prior fought

            To keep him?

RAMIRO:                     Yes.

VALENTINO:                       But changed his mind?

RAMIRO:                                                                        Of course.

VALENTINO:  And how did you convince the man?

RAMIRO:                                                                           By force.

VALENTINO:  Show me.

RAMIRO:                            What?

VALENTINO:                                  Pretend I’m him. Show me how

            You forced the prior. Show me how you fight

            Inside a church. Show me the way you cow

            A man of God. Show me your blade can bite.

RAMIRO:  But I cannot vacate my scabbard now.

            If I draw on you, you’ll kill me.

VALENTINO:                                          Quite right.

            Seems all the world has heard about this pother,

            And yet I had to hear it from my father.

            He thinks that I’m a man who rapes and rends

            A town when they surrender, one who tears

            The fabric of the city he defends.

            It’s time for reparations and repairs.

            These people are my people now — my friends.

            Ramiro, they are mine, and I am theirs.

            What do I have to do to make you see

            That what you do to them, you do to me?

RAMIRO:  They’re pigs! You have not seen them at their worst.

VALENTINO:  It’s up to us to break the curse of Circe.

            I’ll fight until their fortunes are reversed.

            You might have ended all this controversy

            By coming here to hear my counsel first,

            By giving me the chance to give him mercy.

RAMIRO:  Mercy? To a thief?

VALENTINO:                              There are many ways

            To win a town. And sometimes mercy pays.

            Did I not say my people are the rock

            Beneath my realm? Did I not say that fear

            Can be a friend, but hate is not? My flock

            Is not for you to fleece. Did you not hear

            Me, then? My throne is not your butcher block.

            Did I not make that absolutely clear?

            Have I commended tyrants to the dead

            To put another tyrant in their stead?

            Explain to me about the grain report.

RAMIRO:  The grain?

VALENTINO:                The grain.

RAMIRO:                                          We lost some wheat

            In transit.

VALENTINO:      Our supplies are running short.

            When winter comes, what will the people eat?

RAMIRO:  The times are hard.

VALENTINO:                                Ramiro, that retort

            Is not an answer. Our stores were once replete.

            What happened?

RAMIRO:                           Some of it, my lord, did vanish.

VALENTINO:  No. Someone sold the harvest to the Spanish.

RAMIRO:  A thief?

VALENTINO:          No doubt.

RAMIRO:                                    I’ll find out who’s to blame.

            I promise justice will be satisfied.

            Before the day is dusk, I’ll have a name.

            I’ll catch that thief, wherever he may hide.

            I’ll kill the bastard —

VALENTINO:                           Do not play that game

            With me. I do not wish your suicide.

RAMIRO:  My lord?

VALENTINO:            My towns have gone from bad to worse,

            And now you’d starve the poor to feed your purse?

RAMIRO:  My lord, you’re misinformed —

VALENTINO:                                                    I know your guilt.

            Confess, or your next breath will be your bane.

            I will not let you burn what I have built.

            Ramiro, say it now and say it plain.

            Take up my time, and I’ll take up my hilt.

            Confess. Your. Sins. What happened to the grain?

RAMIRO:  Nothing....

VALENTINO:                 You test my patience. And belief.

            (Valentino draws his sword. Ramiro drops to his knees.)

RAMIRO:  No, wait! Mercy, please!

VALENTINO:                                        Mercy? To a thief?

RAMIRO:  We had so much. I did not see the harm.

            Forgive me....

VALENTINO:               And the truth shall make you free.

            I would have made you fertilize the farm.

            But if you swear to honor my decree,

            Then I will spare you from the beggars’ barm.

RAMIRO:  I’m at your service, and will always be.

VALENTINO:  Good. That is what I hoped to hear you say.

            Ramiro, you just saved your life today.

            (Sheathes his sword.)

            Of course, you will resign your current title.

RAMIRO:  Resign? You mean to put me on the shelf?

VALENTINO:  Acquittal cannot come without requital.

RAMIRO:  Please, give me one more chance to prove myself.

VALENTINO:  I tried to let you run without a bridle,

            But now I find you pilfering the pelf.

RAMIRO:  I missed the mark, but give me one more shot.

VALENTINO:  I tried to make you something that you’re not.

            I cannot solve this problem from Urbino.

            I need someone to clean up all this mess,

            Another man beneath the baldachino.

RAMIRO:  Another man?

VALENTINO:                      Not given to excess.

            Antonio del Monte San Savino.

RAMIRO:  Antonio? That paper pusher?

VALENTINO:                                                  Yes.

            We should be pushing papers, not the people.

            The time has come to build, not burn the steeple.

            I need a man who’ll keep my people fed,

            And you don’t have the temper for that work.

            I need a man who thinks two steps ahead,

            Anticipating troubles where they lurk,

            A man who’s well-respected and well-read,

            But you prefer to dally with a dirk.

            The winds are shifting. Listen to the chimes.

            The times have changed. Start changing with the times.

            Tomorrow blooms, while yesterday decays.

            Life is in the moment, not some memento.

            The old man pines, while the younger man plays.

            Ramiro, step into the cinquecento.

            The wise man strides, while the foolish man stays —

            Goodbye, so long, farewell, and à bientôt.

            Morning stirs, to bedazzle and bedizen.

            Arise, my friend, to face the new horizon.

            My empire will not flow with blood, but wine.

            I’ll turn the people’s bane into a boon,

            A cornucopia where all may dine,

            A home where harps, not trumpets, play the tune.

            This empire will be great — and will be mine.

            Not yesterday, and not today, but soon.

RAMIRO:  So this is it. You’re getting rid of me.

VALENTINO:  I need you, too.

RAMIRO:                                      What would you have me be?

VALENTINO:  Be a man, Ramiro. A man who knows

            That honor does not need an honorific.

            The battlefield is where your talent shows.

            I know your edge — your sword has been prolific.

            Let others trade. I want you trading blows.

            You’ll be a general, to be specific.

RAMIRO:  I’m getting old.

VALENTINO:                       I need you, all the same.

RAMIRO:  Campaigning is a younger fellow’s game.

VALENTINO:  Be a soldier. Take up your sword and shield.

            Don’t sit around desponding in despair

            While lesser men are playing in the field.

            You’re growing fat, a cat without a care,

            Still dreaming what the idle years might yield.

            Be a soldier. Let cannons wake the air,

            To sear the blood-red sky with crack and fire,

            To rattle heaven’s gate, till you retire.

            Be a soldier — the hero of the age.

            The glory goes to those who bear the brunt,

            The paragons upon the poet’s page.

            Your metal must be sharp when words are blunt.

            Set out, and let adventure vent your rage.

            One cannot keep the hunter from the hunt.

            Ride, and ride with God. Mount your horse and saddle

            To field the cross across the field of battle.

            Be a soldier. Put on your heraldry

            And rise above the rabble down below.

            Uncage your courage and ferocity.

            Imagine it. You’re camped on a plateau

            And there, not very far ahead, you see

            The foe on the March. You march on the foe.

            Closer. Closer. The air is ripe. And then —

            A thunderclap of steel, the test of men.

            Two men meet on the field, two matadors

            Who came prepared to win, not compromise.

            They might have shared some wine before the wars.

            They see themselves in one another’s eyes.

            Two men. Your life in his, and his in yours.

            Two men determining who lives, who dies,

            United in the devil’s own endeavor.

            Just one man leaves. The other? Stays forever.

            Be a soldier. Dismiss all your dismay.

            If you would brave the danger in the dawn,

            If you would lose the night to win the day,

            If you would ride across the Rubicon,

            If you would lead your brothers to the fray,

            If you would be remembered when you’re gone,

            Then yearn to fight and earn the right to hold your

            Head up high. Live or die, you’ll be a soldier.

RAMIRO:  As you command, my lord.

VALENTINO:                                            Good. You may go.

            (Ramiro bows and exits. Valentino slumps back into his throne.)

            At least we got that part out of the way.

MICHELOTTO:  My lord....

VALENTINO:                         Yes?

MICHELOTTO:                                 Nothing.

VALENTINO:                                                      Something. Apropos

            Of what? Speak up. What did you mean to say?

            I’m trusting you to tell the truth, you know.

MICHELOTTO:  You’re making lots of enemies today.

VALENTINO:  We just killed two. There’s room for several more.

MICHELOTTO:  You cannot eat what that man has in store.

VALENTINO:  You think Ramiro’s cooking up a plot?

MICHELOTTO:  There’s something on the fire. And in the air.

            It’s simmering, but time will make it hot.

            You could get burned. There’s fury in that flare.

            There’s something growing out among the rot.

            Some new surprise. Be wise, my lord. Beware.

            You’ve tasted easy game and victories,

            But conquest brings out bitter enemies.

            You should have killed him now.

VALENTINO:                                                 I disagree.

            It’s time the turncoats made their presence known.

            Ramiro is the bait. Let’s wait and see.

            Whatever they attain, they will atone.

            But if I kill all men who injure me,

            One day I’ll have to walk this world alone.

MICHELOTTO:  There are some crimes that you should not forgive.

            You cannot wound that man and let him live.

            (Valentino notices an object on the floor — an assassin’s dagger, dropped in the melee.

            He picks it up.)

VALENTINO:  (amused)

            I might have been the sheath that fit this blade.

            My future might have fallen on this edge.

            The hand that held this hilt might have been made

            To be the hand that pushed me from the ledge.

            This tip once tried to turn my shell to shade

            And send me to a home beneath the hedge.

            It seems there’s not much time to build a life

            While trading in the nipple for the knife.

            (Hands it to Michelotto.)

MICHELOTTO:  My lord, I’ve put more guards outside your door.

VALENTINO:  Are they Spaniards?

MICHELOTTO:                                     Yes, of course.

VALENTINO:                                                                     No new faces.

MICHELOTTO:  The best men from Valencia.

VALENTINO:                                                           Restore

            My former guards, return them to their places.

            Make sure to use the same men as before.

            I want to put them through their normal paces.

MICHELOTTO:  Why?

VALENTINO:                 When a friend becomes an enemy,

            It’s best to keep him close, not set him free.

            This war will not be fought upon the field

            But in the very hearts and minds of men.

            Intelligence will henceforth be our shield,

            Till we have drawn the devil from his den,

            Till every foul infection has been healed,

            Till women walk in safety once again.

            We must not falter, and we will not pause,

            Till anarchy surrenders to our laws.

            It’s time to stir the fire with the fan.

            Disguise, subvert, surprise — alert our spies.

            I’ll slaughter every plotter, to a man.

            I will not rest until the villain dies.

            What devil plays the pipe for this pavan?

            There is a cancer where the answer lies.

MICHELOTTO:  This looks, to me, to be the work of Venice.

VALENTINO:  Perhaps.

MICHELOTTO:                Who else?

VALENTINO:                                        An even greater menace.

MICHELOTTO:  The French?

VALENTINO:                             It’s possible.

MICHELOTTO:                                                 Would they betray

            Our trust so soon, make enemies pell-mell?

VALENTINO:  I know the king will turn on me some day.

            The king knows that I’ll turn on him, as well.

MICHELOTTO:  A necessary move.

VALENTINO:                                         The final play.

MICHELOTTO:  But is it time yet?

VALENTINO:                                     Difficult to tell.

            His motive is not easy to discern.

            It is, I think, too soon for him to turn.

            Cui bono? King Louis does not gain

            From this.

MICHELOTTO:     Then Venice put this plot in motion.

            The French will side with Venice if you’re slain.

            Venetian cups have poison in their potion.

            We cannot let their city-state remain.

            If we take Venice, we could rule the ocean —

VALENTINO:  Patience. We’ll test their mettle by degrees.

            We’ll seize their steel before we steal their seas.

            There is another answer to this riddle.

MICHELOTTO:  Naples?

VALENTINO:                      They blame me for Alfonso’s tomb —

            A crime for which I will not seek acquittal.

            Alfonso should have never left the womb.

            Now Naples plays all sides against the middle,

            But in the spring, their scarlet blood will bloom.

            We’ll topple Naples with a little shove,

            And then the boot will fall into my glove.

MICHELOTTO:  But what if Florence paid those hired swords?

            They have the money, and you gave them cause.

VALENTINO:  They owe me money, based on our accords.

            But if that clause was show, I’ll show my claws.

            They’ll pay the price that treachery affords,

            And if they give me pains, I’ll give them pause.

            I’ll grind those vermin into vermicelli

            And knock the mock out of Machiavelli.

MICHELOTTO:  And what about our enemies at home?

            The Vatican is overrun with rats.

            We can’t afford to turn our back on Rome.

VALENTINO:  I’ll send my father’s faithless theocrats

            To catechism — in a catacomb.

            I do not fear the devil’s diplomats

            So long as my dear father is alive.

            The bees may buzz. My father rules the hive.

MICHELOTTO:  And what about Vitelli?

VALENTINO:                                                He’s a traitor,

            Although I think he does not know it yet.

            His loyalty is weak — his passion’s greater.

            His heart is ruled by rage. His mind is set.

            I want him watched. Who’s his collaborator?

            Behind Vitelli, there’s a greater threat.

            Colonna? Della Rovere? Orsini?

            Who pulls the strings behind this fantoccini?

            (Blackout.)




Valentino: a play in verse © 2007 by David Wisehart.  All Rights Reserved.