Sunday, 16 November 2008

Chapter Twenty Two

As the Nuncio was leaving the palace on the way to leaving Venice completely, Silvio di Rossini was on his way into the council chamber.

The room was in uproar with voices competing for attention, and groups and factions starting to form. Knots of nobles would gather by one of the marble columns and confer in conspiratorial whispers before dispatching one or more emissaries to another group to see what common ground they might have in their choice of voting members and candidates.

A member of the Council of Ten rose to the dais to speak, banging the lectern with a gavel to command attention.

"The first stage of voting will proceed according to all of the laws and traditions of our republic. The lots will be drawn and votes will be cast. The process will be completed to reflect the will of the people."

A clerk came forward carrying a large box containing the numbered tokens that represented each of the members of the council. More clerks recorded the results as the lots were drawn and each round of voting proceeded according the law. The results were announced to a mixture of groans and gasps as the ramifications of the composition of each voting body became clear - each faction would try to second guess the voting intentions of each elector chosen and try their best to lobby as they saw fit.

The thirty became nine who chose forty. The forty became twelve who chose twenty five. The twenty five became nine who chose forty five. The forty five became eleven who chose the final forty one who would chose the next doge of Venice.

The air in the room was one of fevered excitement, speculation and prediction. The members of the Venetian council, without exception, loved the process of democracy and they almost treated it as a game on a grand scale. For all of its carnival atmosphere, the Venetian system for choosing a Doge had been remarkably successful at picking suitable leaders for hundreds of years. In the entire history of the republic there had only been Marin Falier, the fifty fifth Doge, who had attempted to declare himself a Prince and subvert the will of the people. As punishment he had been beheaded and his name damned in perpetuity. Even his portrait in the sala de maggior consiglio (the hall of the major council) in the palazzo was ordered to be covered with a black cloth for all time as a reminder to all who would contemplate such treachery in the future.

Eventually, the final stage was reached. It had taken many hours of electoral horse trading but the clerk returned to the dais with the list of the forty one council members who would make the final choice. He read them out with due pomp and gravitas and the chamber was silent while he intoned the list in sonorous tones. He reached the final name.

"The forty first and final member of the electing body is ", he paused for theatrical effect, "Silvio di Rossini"

Silvio was jolted out his reverie and looked around in some surprise. He had not been drawn by lot or chosen for any of the earlier rounds, although he had the same chance as any other council member to be picked, so he had not expected to be named at this stage. He felt like an imposter - a inquisitive child intruding on the serious deliberations of the grown ups.

He stood dumbstruck for a moment and then he felt a hand touch his elbow and a voice whisper in his ear.

"Ermolao Barbaro. Remember our arrangement."

He turned around to see who had spoken to him, but all he saw was a figure clad in black clerical robes disappearing into the crowd.

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