Sunday, 23 November 2008

Chapter Thirty Four

A storm was coming to Venice.

Out in the waters of the Adriatic a weather system was forming, with cold air from the Balkan mountains meeting the warmer waters flowing from the south. Together they formed a dark, roiling, turbulent mass of air that was forced to the west by the constraints of geography which funnelled the storm directly towards the city. As it approached the land the storm grew in intensity, the winds howling and the clouds flecked with flashes of lightning. The combination of low pressure and seasonal high tide was generating a lethal storm surge of water that would soon engulf the city.

In the city itself a different storm was brewing.

The infection from his knife wound raced through Silvio’s body like a forest fire in a dry pine wood, and sweated through a fever dream barely aware of his surroundings. The eminent physician Solomon Benjamin di Jehuda inspected the wound in Silvio’s back and pronounced himself satisfied. He instructed his daughter Rachel to clean the wound again, and then apply another hot poultice to draw out the poisons.

“The fever will break soon. He will be weak, but he will survive, I am sure of it” he said, as Rachel began her ministrations.

“I have to go now. I have been summoned to treat a sick child of the Borghese family - I fear that she will not live to see the dawn, but at least I can ease her passing. The wasting sickness is not kind to one so small.”

“Father, please be careful. The city is a dangerous place at this time of night. We have many enemies. Just look at what happened to poor Silvio”

Solomon Benjamin di Jehuda sighed heavily and regarded his daughter with a weary eye.

“Oy veh! I have been walking the streets at night to visit sick patients for more years than I care to remember. I will be as careful as I always am, be assured. Now do as I have instructed you, and I will be back in the morning.”

“Yes father, but please make sure that you return safe.”

“I will”

o o o o o

Although the curfew was in force from midnight until dawn, as a physician Solomon was allowed to walk the streets freely to go about his ministrations. The guard on the gate recognised him as he crossed the bridge.

“Solly! It’s a filthy night and no mistake. The Piazza San Marco will be flooded in the morning, I’ll be bound.”

“Indeed it is”. Both Solomon and the guard who had recognised him wore heavy cloaks to protect them from the elements.

The rain was lashing down, and the water in the canals was rising rapidly. The Piazza San Marco is the lowest point in Venice, and was usually flooded by any storm surge or heavy rain. These floods were called the Acqua Alta, the "high water", and were little more than an irregular nuisance to the Venetians, because the waters quickly drained into the grand canal. Tonight, the flood waters had nowhere to go and they were starting to rise.

Solomon had barely reached the end of the street when he was approached by two men.

"Solomon di Jehuda? You are going to treat a child, yes?" one of them asked.

"That is my name, and yes, that is the business that that I am about" Solomon replied

"Please come with us" said the other man. It wasn't a request. They positioned themselves on either side of Solomon, pinning his arms, and hustled him towards a side alley way off of the main street.

"What is the meaning of this?" Solomon demanded.

"You'll be treating no one, old man" said a third man who emerged from the shadows and thrust a canvas bag over Solomon's head.

"You have crimes to answer for", and with that they carried Solomon Benjamin di Jehuda off into the darkness.

o o o o o

After what seemed like an age of being pushed, pulled and turned around as he was manhandled through the streets of Venice, Solomon was finally given one last shove in the back which made him stumble forward, and then the bag was torn from his head by somebody standing behind him.

He looked around to find himself in large, dimly lit room with a table set up at one end. Three men in clerical dress were sat at the table facing him, like members of a tribunal or a jury. The one in the middle spoke.

"Solomon Benjamin di Jehuda. You are accused of occult practices in the furtherance of your career as a physician, you are accused of harbouring enemies of the Holy Roman Church, you are accused of desecrating a consecrated host stolen from the Church of Saint Mark. Furthermore you are accused of using human blood for purpose or ritual unknown. Do you have anything to say against these charges?"

Solomon was dumbfounded.

"These are lies! There must be some misunderstanding or mistake? Who has accused me?"

"Silence! The prisoner will remain silent unless asked a direct question" shouted one of the guards stationed close behind Solomon.

The priest in the centre of the three spoke again.

"The charges are not contested, because the word of a Jew counts as nothing when compared to the accusation of a true Christian in the eyes of this court. You are hereby found guilty, and I pronounce that, by the power vested in me, Father Vittorio Carmello of the Holy Inquisition, your body is to be scourged with the same punishments that your people inflicted on our blessed Lord Jesus Christ in the hour of his passion."

“This is monstrous!” shouted Solomon

“I said silence!” said the guard, and clubbed Solomon hard across the back of his head with a wooden cudgel.

Solomon Benjamin di Jehuda, physician of the most serene republic of Venice, knew nothing more.

o o o o o

The dawn broke over the city of Venice, though the rains continued with a vengeance.

The streets were a washed out grey colour, and the flood waters were already lapping across the expanse of the Piazza San Marco and bubbling up through the drains bringing with them the sour, rotten smell of the drains.

In the garret room high above the streets of the ghetto, Silvio was eating a bowl of warm soup which seemed to fill his body with blessed life. He felt weak and tired, but he was alive, by God!

In the streets below a dreadful cry was heard. Bloody murder had been done, and the ripples of shock and horror spread through the community until they reached the ears of Rachel di Jehuda. She followed the cries through the street until she arrived at one of the three gates that enclosed their community.

What she saw shocked her beyond comprehension.

Her father had been found, severely beaten, whipped, stabbed in the side and then crucifed on the gate of the ghetto. He was naked, except for a loin cloth, and a crown of thorns had been cruelly pressed into his scalp. The puddled rain waters at his feet were stained crimson with his blood.

A stark note was pinned to the gate beside him.

“Such is the fate of all Christ Killers”

o o o o o

Rachel did not cry. Not at that moment. She walked back to the house, her face blank and unreadable. She climbed the stairs and entered the room where Silvio had been nursed back to health. Silvio was out of bed and getting dressed, buttoning up his shirt. He winced slightly at a sharp pain from the wound in his back that was now tightly bandaged with fresh linen bandages. He looked at Rachel, and his pleasure at seeing her turned to immediate concern.

“What's wrong? What was the commotion in the street outside? What's happened?” he asked.

“It's my father. He's dead. He has been killed by those Roman sons of whores. It is time to fight back.”

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