Thursday, 20 November 2008

Chapter Twenty Eight

From the portico of the palazzo the new Doge appeared before the people of Venice.
He was wearing the corno ducale - the ceremonial crown that was the well-known symbol of the Doge of Venice. It was a stiff horn-like bonnet, which was made of gemmed brocade and worn over the camauro, a fine linen cap. Every Easter Monday the doge headed a procession from San Marco to the convent of San Zaccaria where the abbess presented him a new camauro crafted by the nuns.

The voice of a herald rang out across the expanse of the piazza San Marco.

"This is your doge, if it please you," and to a man and a woman the crowd responded with boisterous cheers and thunderous applause. Leonardo Donato was truly recognised as a servant of the people. He acknowledged their support with a wave before retiring to the council chambers for their was much work to be done.

His first duty as Doge was to read the papers left by the Papal Nuncio, and according to the laws and traditions that were in place to prevent the undue accumulation of powers he had to accompanied by other representatives of the council before even opening the letters. He had noted the words of Silvio di Rossini during the voting process, and he summoned him to chamber now.

A clerk read the missive aloud. Given the Republic's intransigence in the matter of the two imprisoned priests the whole of Venice and her people was to be placed under interdict and face excommunication. This meant that the Papal states could now attack Venice with impunity and no further regard for the niceties of diplomatic negotiation.

The Doge turned to Silvio.

“It seems that the Pope is determined to wage war upon us. If you believe that you have any information regarding their intentions or tactics you should share it with us now”

Silvio explained the series of events that had transpired. The disappearance of his father, the threats and insinuations made by Father Vittorio Carmello and the other priests, and the strong suspicions that certain council members had been bribed into changing their votes.

The Doge nodded gravely.

“Furthermore we have been informed that a large army of the Papal states, supported by condottieri, is preparing to attack Mestre, and a fleet of ships is moving towards our lagoon. We can choose to surrender to the whim of the Pope, or we can choose to fight. We choose to fight”

He looked around the table to see if any one would dissent in this matter. No one did. There was no triumphalism or glory in this course of action, rather there was a grim acknowledgement of the fact that if Venice were to continue as a free and independent republic it must face down its enemies.

“Summon the Papal Nuncio - we need to speak to him regarding this matter urgently”

o o o o o o

The nuncio appeared before the doge, his head bowed like a naughty school child about to admonished for some minor transgression. The doge spoke, in vigorous tones.

"Monsignore! You must know that we are, every one of us, resolute and ardent to the last degree, not merely the government but the whole nobility and the population of our state. Your excommunication we make light of and hold it as nought. now just see where this resolution would lead to if our example were followed by others."

"Your Eminence", replied the nuncio, "His Holiness the Pope is merely acting as the Holy Ghost has inspired him to"

"In which case ", snapped back the doge, "the Holy Ghost has inspired Venice to ignore the edicts of the Pope. We will not be bullied into submission. You are dismissed from this court."

o o o o o o

Silvio left the palace in a daze, barely aware of the fabulous art and sculpture on display around him. All of the gilded splendour was as naught compared to the looming storm clouds of war. Wars and rumours of wars were nothing new to the people of Venice, but this time felt different. This was a clash of two ideologies - the freebooting individualism of the Republic was now in direct conflict with the theocracy of the Pope.

He walked along the pathway to the jetty, lost in his thoughts and paying little heed to his surroundings and before he could cry out he realised that he was surrounded by three men - two behind him to either side and the third who had cut in front of him impeding his progress. He felt the prick of a dagger in the small of his back and realised that he was trapped.

A dark voice beside him said “You were warned, and yet you ignored us. You will now pay the price”

One of the men behind Silvio moved to grab his throat as if to strangle him. Almost without thinking, Silvio took half a pace to the left, took hold of the hand of his assailant and then straightened his right leg throwing him to the floor with a sickening crunch. The man in front threw a punch directly at Silvio's face, which he avoided by ducking and driving his head into the mans stomach, knocking the wind out of him.

Two down. The third man was the charm though, he realised that the situation was spiralling out of control rapidly so he drove his dagger hard into Silvio's back just above his kidneys. This gave his companions time to recover, and he fired his pistol into the air to disperse the small crowd that was beginning to form. All three then made a run for the jetty where they had stashed their boat earlier.

Meanwhile, Silvio was lying face down on the flagstones, losing blood with every breath and dying by degrees.

No comments: