Within the palace the fire was taking hold with furious speed.
The crowds of revellers from the lower levels were able to make their way safely out through the main courtyard, but the stair case leading to the Doge's apartment was now an inferno. The narrow space was acting as a chimney, drawing flames and smoke upwards and feeding them with air.
The fire consumed everything within its path. Priceless and irreplaceable paintings by Tintoretto burned, statues toppled, furnishings and fabrics vanished in an instant. Rare books, maps and globes, and treasures from the furthest corners of the Venetian trading empire were similarly destroyed.
In the apartment upstairs the smoke was rapidly becoming choking. Donatella grabbed her brother's arm and spoke into his ear.
"We have to get these people to safety. We can't go down, so you have to lead them up to the roof and then find a way down from there. I'm going to go ahead, after the plague doctor. I think that he is the key to this situation"
Silvio took charge of the frightened revellers, getting them to duck under the thickening smoke to where the air was slightly clearer and took care to close the doors to the stairs leading down. That should buy them a little extra time before the fire could break through.
Donatella went ahead through the crowd, via a series of rooms that led into the inquisitor's chamber where the council of ten would deliberate on their secret trials of those who had transgressed against the republic. This was the only route up to the lead roofed piombi cells above, where the prisoners would be taken to serve out their terms.
Donatella’s suspicions were proven correct when she saw the figure that she had been seeking – the man in the black costume of the plague doctor. He was standing by a tapestry depicting the harbour, and he had a tinderbox and oil. He was clearly attempting to start a second fire here, so that the people attempting to escape from the fire below would be trapped here and surely perish.
Donatella shouted and the man gave a start, dropping his bottle of oil which shattered at his feet soaking his robe. He turned to face Donatella, and his eerie bird mask with its spectacled eyes looked directly at her.
“It’s you! Why do you thwart me at every turn, thou thorn in my side?”. He abandoned his attempt to set a fire and made a break for the stairs leading up and Donatella gave chase after him. They ascended another flight of stairs until they were at roof level and Donatella saw that the man had prepared his escape route in advance, with a ladder leading up from the space outside the cells to a hole giving access out on to the lead roof. He was just disappearing through the hole when Donatella reached the foot of the ladder
As Donatella climbed, the man tried to shove the ladder away with a vicious kick. Donatella reacted quickly and caught the sole of shoe and pushed up with all of her strength sending him sprawling backwards on to the roof. This gave her the chance to follow him out into the night air. The man climbed to his feet and they confronted each other.
The man gave a brief, humourless laugh and reached up to remove his mask. Underneath was the aquiline face of Father Vittorio Carmelo.
“Father Carmelo?” said Donatella, not really surprised at what she was seeing.
“Yes, and I would have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for your meddlesome interference, child!” he said, and laughed again. He continued.
“So, I suppose that you think that you’ve won? Do you have any idea of just how much trouble you have caused me? I have waited for this opportunity for years, until God chose a pope who would be sympathetic to my cause and my ambitions. A word in the right ear, a bribe in the right pocket, and Venice would have been mine for the taking. The people would have begged for me to ascend to the throne and wear the Corno Ducale. And I would have humbly accepted, and then banished far away all pretence at so called, self styled democracy” He spat the last word with venom.
Donatella asked just one question with one single word.
“What does it matter? Power, influence and money, of course, but more important than those Europe would be freed from the Jewish taint in a cleansing fire, and from the ashes a new Holy Roman Empire would arise to rule the world, as is its manifest destiny.”
He coughed as a swirl of smoke rose up from below and blew into his face.
“It will happen one day. Our order will watch and wait until the time is right and then we will strike again, I promise you.”
He laughed again, a laugh of doomed madness, and took his tinder box from within his robe, and struck a spark.
“Time to die”, he said as his oil soaked robe caught afire, and then he screamed like a banshee as the flames consumed him. He ran for the edge of the roof and jumped, falling like Lucifer banished from heaven, a fiery meteor that plunged into the canal far below.
Father Carmelo was no more.