On the 28th Cesare opened the attack, training his guns upon the citadel; but it was not until a week later that, having found a weak spot in the walls on the side commanding the town, he opened a breach through which his men were able to force a passage, and so possess themselves of a half moon. Seeing the enemy practically within his outworks, and being himself severely wounded in the head, Naldo accounted it time to parley. He begged a three days' armistice, pledging himself to surrender at the end of that time should he not receive reinforcements in the meanwhile ; and to this arrangement the duke consented.
The good' faith of Naldo has been questioned, and it has been suggested that his asking for three days' grace was no better than a cloak to cover his treacherous sale of the fortress to the besieger. It seems, however, to be no more than one of those lightly uttered, irresponsible utterances with which the chronicles of the time abound, for Naldo had left his wife and children at Forli in the hands of the Countess, as hostages for his good faith, and this renders improbable the unsupported story of his baseness.
On December 7, no reinforcements having reached him, Naldo made formal surrender of the citadel, safe conduct having been granted to his garrison.
A week later there arrived at Imola Cesare's cousin, the Cardinal Giovanni Borgia, whom the Pope had constituted legate in Bologna and the Romagna in place of the Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, and whom he had sent to support Cesare's operations with ecclesiastical authority. Cardinal Giovanni, as the Pope's representative, received in the Church of San Domenico the oath of fealty of the city to the Holy See. This was pledged by four representative members of the Council of Thirty ; and by that act the conquest and subjection of the town became a fully accomplished fact.
The lesser strongholds of the territory threw up their gates one by one before the advancing enemy, until only Forli remained to be taken. Cesare pushed forward to reduce it.
On his way he passed through Faenza, whose tyrant, Manfredi, deeming himself secure in the protection of Venice and in view of the circumstance that the republic had sent to Rome the arrears of tribute due from his fief, and anxious to conciliate the Pope, received and entertained Cesare very cordially.
At Forli the case of Imola was practically repeated. Notwithstanding that the inhabitants were under the immediate eye of the formidable countess, and although she sent her brother, Alessandro Sforza, to exhort the people and the Council to stand by her, the latter, weary as the rest of the oppressive tyranny of her family, dispatched their representatives to Cesare to offer him the town.
The Countess's valour was of the sort that waxes as the straits become more desperate. Since the town abandoned and betrayed her, she would depend upon her citadel, and by a stubborn resistance make Cesare pay as dearly as possible for the place. To the danger which she seems almost eager to incur for her own part, this strong minded, comely matron will not subject the son she has kept beside her until now ; and so she packs Ottaviano off to Florence and safety. That done, she gives her mutinous subjects a taste of her anger by attempting to seize half a dozen of the principal citizens of Forli. As it happened, not only did this intent miscarry, but it went near being the means of involving her in battle even before the duke's arrival; for the people, getting wind of the affair, took up arms to defend their threatened fellow citizens.
She consoled herself, however, by seizing the persons of Nicolo Tornielli and Lodovico Ercolani, whom the Council had sent to inform her that their representatives had gone to Cesare with the offer of the town. Further, to vent her rage and signify her humour, she turned her cannon upon the Communal Palace and shattered the tower of it.
Meanwhile Cesare advanced. It was again Tiberti who now rode forward with his horse to demand the surrender of Forli. This was accorded as readily as had been that of Imola, whereupon Cesare came up to take possession in person; but, despite the cordial invitation of the councillors, he refused to enter the gates until he had signed the articles of capitulation.
On December 19, under a deluge of rain, Cesare, in full armour, the banner of the Church borne ahead of him, rode into Forli with his troops. He was housed in the palace of Count Luffo Nomaglie (one of the gentlemen whom Caterina had hoped to capture), and his men were quartered through the town. These foreign soldiers of his seem to have got a little out of hand here at Forli, and they committed a good many abuses, to the dismay and discomfort of the citizens.
Sanuto comments upon this with satisfaction, accounting the city well served for having yielded herself up like a strumpet. It is a comment more picturesque than just, for obviously Forli did not surrender through pusillanimity, but to the end that it might be delivered from the detestable rule of the Riarii.
The city occupied, it now remained to reduce the fortress and bring its warrior mistress to terms. Cesare set about this at once, nor allowed the Christmas festivities to interfere with his labours, but kept his men at work to bring the siege guns into position, On Christmas Day the countess belatedly attempted a feeble ruse in the hope of intimidating them. She flew from her battlements a banner, bearing the device of the lion of St. Mark, thinking to trick Cesare into the belief that she had obtained the protection of Venice, or, perhaps, signifying thus that she threw herself into the arms of the republic, making surrender of her fiefs to the Venetians to the end that she might spite a force which she could not long withstand as Giovanni Sforza had sought to do.
But Cesare, nowise disturbed by that banner, pursued his preparations, which included the mounting of seven cannons and ten falconets in the square before the Church of St. John the Baptist. When all was ready for the bombardment, he made an effort to cause her to realize the hopelessness of her resistance and the vain sacrifice of life it must entail. He may have been moved to this by the valour she displayed, or it may have been that he obeyed the instincts of generalship which made him ever miserly in the matter of the lives of his soldiers. Be that as it may, with intent to bring her to a reasonable view of the situation, he rode twice to the very edge of the ditch to parley with her; but all that came of his endeavours was that on the occasion of his second appeal to her, he had a narrow escape of falling a victim to her treachery, and so losing his life.