Friday, 28 November 2008

Chapter Forty Two

Alonso cradled the dying Fletcher in his arms as he lay on the ground.

“Bloody stupid way to die”, said Fletcher weakly, “Always thought that I’d die in bed, an old man”

“You saved the ghetto”, said Alonso, and it was true, for the mob had started to disperse by ones and twos, shocked at the actuality of the bloody violence they had just seen. They were also angry with themselves at having being so easily talked into contemplating mob action against their neighbours by the weasel words of the priests and the clerics. It was as if somebody had held up a mirror to them and they had seen the animals that they had so nearly become for a brief moment.

They didn’t like what they had seen. They would not be fooled so easily again.

o o o o o

In the burning palace, the last few revellers who had been in the Doge’s apartment escaped following the route that Donatella had found. Silvio and his father shepherded them up through the Inquisitor’s chamber and then out on to the lead roof of the piombi where a rope allowed them to climb down on to the roof of the bridge of sighs below, and safety.

Those who had escaped through the courtyard did not stand idly by to watch the fire. Bucket chains were organised to fetch water from the adjacent flooded piazza San Marco to douse the flames, and slowly but surely the blaze was brought under control.

The fire would still smoulder for days to come, but the structure of the palace was still sound. There had been other fires of this magnitude during the long history of the building and it had survived them before. The real damage was in the loss of paintings, artworks and decorations of almost inestimable worth.

o o o o o

As the weak winter sun rose across the Venetian lagoon, the commander of the papal army watched a thin column of smoke rise into the sky. The palace had burned, but word had reached him that the Doge still lived. He had heard nothing from Carmelo and had to presume him dead. He surveyed his depleted forces, still demoralized after the devastating explosion during their assault on the breached wall, and lacking the support of their mercenary battalions, and he made a decision.

The army would withdraw beyond the river boundaries that marked the extent of the Vatican territory, and if the Pope wished to press the campaign against Venice he could come and lead the charge in person, rather than ordering it from the safety of his gilded throne.

He gave the orders to his subordinates to prepare to march away, and the war against the most serene republic of Venice was at an end.

o o o o o

The bell was sounded to signal the start of morning trading at the Rialto.

The atmosphere in the room was one of uncertainty and lack of confidence, with nobody quite sure how to react to the events of recent days. Nobody seemed to be willing to trade with the usual enthusiasm for commerce normally seen in that place.
Antonio di Rossini strode across the floor, his head held high, and climbed the dais to make a general announcement.

“My name is Antonio di Rossini and I speak as a representative of the Rossini Trading Company. I have two announcements to make. Firstly I am retiring and stepping down as chairman of the company and I will be replaced by my son Silvio who will take on all of my responsibilities. Secondly, I wish to confirm that today we have placed the sum of ten million Ducats on deposit with the bank, and that these monies will be available for investment and speculation at favourable rates as of this moment. Long live the Republic!”

There was a moment of surprise, followed by a resounding cavalcade of cheers and applause as the news sunk in, quickly replaced by a buzz of excitement as trading commenced again with a vengeance.

The traders of Venice were doing what they did best – making money.

o o o o o

Silvio di Rossini watched his father climb down from the dais and went over to his side to shake his hand.

“Father”, he said simply.

“The company is yours now, my boy, and it’s well positioned to trade effectively for many years to come. I will give you one piece of advice from my own experience though, If a deal seems too good to be true, then it almost certainly is.”

“I shall bear that in mind” replied Silvio with a grin. “For one thing we will be opening an office inside the ghetto. There are a lot of very talented people there that we can employ, I’m sure. Furthermore, Captain Parese has some very promising suggestions for new markets to explore, and I have given him carte blanche to travel and trade as he sees fit. We have heard from some of Portuguese partners about possible trading contacts with the Japanese, for example.”

“Well, it’s your responsibility. I promise that I shall not interfere, and I now intend to fulfil my proper duties as a lean and slippered pantaloon, sit back in my easy chair, and enjoy my dotage to the full,”

“And I shall return to my office, and draw up draft contracts and trading agreements, and prepare us for one hundred years of prosperity”

Both father and son were happy with their new roles, and they embraced as the mantle of power passed from one generation to the next.

o o o o o

In his room at the di Rossini house Alonso sat a desk and composed a letter to Antonio.

“Signor”, he began, “I am writing to thank you once again for your generosity and hospitality, but I wish to tell you that I intend to return to family in Padua and commence my studies at the University there. I intend to make up for lost time and learn as much as I can about history and philosophy, for I believe that only by understanding the past can we hope to make sense of the events of the present. I remain, your obedient servant ... “

He signed the letter with a flourish, and folded and addressed the single sheet of paper, leaving it propped on the desk.

He patted his pocket and felt the reassuring weight of John Fletcher’s silver flask
within. He would take it to an engraver and see that the roll of honour was finally completed as Fletcher’s name would take its place next to the names of his fallen comrades of old.

Alonso packed the clothes and other essentials that he had been given, and counted the money that he had been given by Antonio. It was more than sufficient for him to pay his way through university for the next few years.

He was ready to embrace the life of an academic and critical thinker, in the true spirit of the renaissance.

o o o o o

In her room in the ghetto, Rachel di Jehuda picked up her father’s text books and started to read. He hadn’t ever been aware of quite how much knowledge she had gleaned over the years as she had nursed his patients under his guidance. Her father’s brutal murder had left her with a steely determination to study the arts of medicine.

Rachel di Jehuda would one day become a physician in her own right.

o o o o o

On the deck of La Serenissima, Captain Benito Parese surveyed the repair work that was already under way. Gangs of carpenters were busy removing the shattered mast and making preparations to replace it with a new one. Other teams were making good the damage to the hull and caulking seams that had been opened by the combination of the storm and the cannon fire.

He saw a familiar looking figure walking along the jetty and waved to her

“Donatella! Welcome aboard!” he yelled

“Thank you.”, she replied with a smile. “Can you keep a secret?” she asked.

“Of course, milady. You know that you can trust me with your life.”

“Good. When La Serenissima sails again, I intend to be on board. I have a desire to see the world, and the far east in particular. My father is content to retire and my brother will busy himself with ledgers and contracts, and I am happy for them both, but I want more than that. If they hear of what I plan, then they will try to stop me, so please don’t let them know.”

“I promise that your secret is safe with me. Anyway, your brother gave me free reign to carry any cargo that I saw fit to deal in, so perhaps that includes you as well?” said Benito.

“You should be a lawyer, not a sea captain!” replied Donatella with a wolfish grin. “Now, be sure to give me ample notice of when you plan to depart and I will be on board, depend on it!”

She looked out over the waters of the lagoon, to the open seas of the Adriatic beyond and knew that her future lay out there somewhere, in the land of the rising sun.

o o o o o

The Doge toured the areas of his palace that were safe to enter and surveyed the ruin that lay around him.

He ordered a clerk to produce an inventory of all that had been lost to the flames and vowed to replace it and supplement it twice over. Art would be commissioned from all over Europe and far beyond, and the patronage of Venice would be legendary.

The palazzo would rise like a phoenix as a symbol of the wealth and power of Venice, the most serene republic – La Serenissima resplendent!

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