Thursday, 20 November 2008

Chapter Thirty One

From a darkened alleyway, two figures dressed in black watched Silvio fall to the ground, his life blood ebbing away. One of them made as if to intervene immediately, the other restrained them with a hand on the shoulder.

“Wait. It is not yet time”

“He will die if we don’t do something soon”

“It is in the hands of God now. Wait a little while longer”

One of the assailants fired a gun shot into the air, and the loud report scattered the few bystanders from the area from investigating further. Without further delay they fled the scene.

Finally, the two figures in the alley were free to act. They ran quickly and silently from the darkness and picked up the unconscious Silvio by the shoulders and legs. From the square they followed a maze like route of back alleys and small bridges until they reached a particular gate.

The letters above declared it to be the Ghetto Nuovo.

o o o o o o

Silvio awoke in a small room, in the eaves of an old house.

He tried to sit up, but the pain in his back forced him to lie down again immediately. He looked down and saw that his chest was tightly bandaged with strips of linen that were starting to stain with crimson blood.

“I'd stay still, if I were you. You've lost a lot of blood. It's lucky that we found you when we did, and that my father is one of the finest doctors in Venice.”

Silvio gingerly turned his face towards the sound of the voice and saw that the speaker was a young woman with dark shoulder length hair, wearing a long dark dress.

“My name is Rachel - Rachel di Jehuda. We know who you are. We've been keeping an eye on you for a while - the inquisition have been following you like fleas on a dog for days now. We didn't know if we could trust you until you voted in the election. It was a brave but foolish thing to declare your views publicly like that - you have no idea quite how deep the Inquisition have their claws sunk into this city”

Silvio felt utterly bewildered this turn of events. It was as if he had fallen through a mirror into a world that was topsy-turvy and upside down. Just a week ago he had had no concerns beyond the mundane business of running a trading company. Now he was in a world of intrigue, corruption and imminent war, where groups and factions that he had never even suspected the existence of were in deadly conflict.

“What are you talking about? Just what is going on here?” asked Silvio, sounding somewhat more plaintive than he had intended to.

Rachel laughed, not unkindly.

“We are the Fraterna Della Misericordia Degl'Ebrei Todeschi de Venezia - the Brotherhood of Charity of the Ashkenazi Jewish Community of Venice, although I object personally to the word Brotherhood if I may say so. We are sworn to protect ourselves and our community first, and Venice as our home after that. This is one of the very few places in Europe where we are protected and have a home to call our own. Our enemies in the Christian Church wish for nothing less than us to be wiped out in a pogrom. Venice offers us a safe haven, so that is one reason that they wish to control Venice first.”

A realisation dawned in Silvio’s mind at last, as he made a connection.

“The ghetto! I’m in the ghetto, aren’t I”

“Correct! Yes you are, after all it is the one place in Venice where the angels, or should I say the agents of the inquisition, fear to tread.”

The Venetian Ghetto had been instituted almost a hundred years previously, in the year 1516. As merchants, the Jewish people played a vital part in the Venetian economy as traders who could operate between the mutually hostile Christian and Muslim worlds. Restrictions on their movement and permitted occupations varied, but money lending, running pawnshops, dealing in second-hand goods, tailoring, and medicine were common occupations. Unlike most other cities in Europe, a strong faction in Venice argued for the Jewish people to be protected rather than being expelled from the city. The compromise arrangement was to designate an area of the Cannaregio Sestiere formerly used for iron foundries and other industries as a place of containment and refuge. The ghetto was an area surrounded by canals on all sides and was linked to rest of the city by just three bridges, which were controlled by gates that were closed from midnight until dawn, and also during certain Christian Festivals.

Life in the ghetto was cramped, compared to rest of the city, and buildings often reached the precarious heights of five or six stories - a tricky prospect given the shifting ground that Venice was built on. The area prospered though, and most regarded it as a refuge rather than a prison.

However, some feuds were not forgotten. Some looked at the life of the Jews in the ghetto and resented even that restricted presence. Even tolerance and peaceful co-existence was too much and they plotted cruel violence and dreadful vengeance. The Brotherhood was the only thing standing in their way.

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