The electorate of forty one withdrew to an ante chamber adjacent to the main council hall. They had the responsibility and privilege of choosing the next Doge of Venice and they did not intend to take it lightly.
Before the deliberations began they were seated at a grand table and served a simple meal of freshly caught langoustines from the Venetian lagoon, grilled and dressed with extra virgin olive oil and fresh herbs, complemented by a glass of fresh Prosecco wine. This reminded them all of the bounty of the sea that fed them all on a daily basis. Any man they selected as Doge would have to both respect and honour the sea, and he would celebrate the symbolic marriage of Venice by casting a golden ring into the waters of the Adriatic from the deck of the Ducal barge.
They ate the food and drank the wine in comparative silence after the fevered chaos of the main council chamber. The discussions would begin soon enough.
Silvio was troubled by the words that had been whispered into his ear just before he had been sequestered into this room. He paid attention as the cases for the two foremost candidates were presented by speakers for each faction.
Leonardo Donato had been a candidate ten years previously when Mario Grimani had been elected as the popular choice. He had been an ambassador to the Roman court and he was wily and experienced in the ways of Papal political machinations.
His main rival, Ermolao Barbaro, was very different. The Barbaros were a family with a long and distinguished lineage and their forebears included bishops, ambassadors, philosophers and admirals although they had never supplied a family member who had been elevated to the position of Doge. They were well known for their close ties to the Borghese family, relatives of the man who had become Pope Paul the fifth so recently.
The argument between the two factions was a choice between a shrewd politician who would fight for the utmost advantage of Venice and the republic, and a man who would seek an accommodation with the Vatican through personal contacts and influence. It was not an unreasonable choice, and no doubt both candidates were reasonable choices, but a nagging doubt remained in Silvio's mind. Why were the church so keen to see Barbaro elected, and how many other council members had they tried to influence, threaten or bribe?
A few electors argued for other candidates, but after further discussions the choice came down to either Leonardo Donato and Ermolao Barbaro, so it was decided that a vote should be taken without further delay. With forty one votes and no abstentions allowed there was guaranteed to be a victor, and the new Doge would be crowned.
A clerk was called into the room who would draw the names of the electors at random who would then declare their vote publicly. The process proceeded quickly and smoothly, and the numbers of votes were split equally between the two candidates. There was some surprise that people who had been considered likely to vote for Donato made their declaration for his opponent Barbaro instead.
The numbers left to vote dwindled rapidly, and Silvio di Rossini was left to last. He had kept a personal tally on a scrap of paper and realised with a sinking feeling that the counts were split equally with twenty votes for each of the candidates. In effect, he had been left with the casting vote.
Silvio's heart was in his mouth as he rose to speak. His throat was dry and he took a sip of wine from his cup before he could enunciate the words that he needed to say.
“These are dangerous times for the Republic. I believe that we are facing a time of conflict when dark forces will try to assail us from all sides, including in this very election process. I suspect that an attempt has been made to influence the vote by forces of the holy Roman Church, and so I declare my vote for Leonardo Donato”
Gasps rang round the council chamber, and unseen by the majority of the crowd a black clad priest left the room with fury in his heart. The attempt by the inquisition to rig the election of the Doge had failed by just one vote. There would be a terrible revenge for this act of perfidy.