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Authors: Marina Fiorato

The Venetian Contract

BOOK: The Venetian Contract
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Also by Marina Fiorato

 

The Glassblower of Murano

 

The Madonna of the Almonds

 

The Botticelli Secret

 

Daughter of Siena

 

The Venetian

Contract

 

MARINA FIORATO

 

www.johnmurray.co.uk

First published in Great Britain in 2012 by John Murray
An Hachette UK Company

Text and illustrations copyright © Marina Fiorato 2012

The right of Marina Fiorato to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.

All characters in this publication – other than the obvious historical figures – are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.

A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library

ISBN 978-1-84854-566-3

John Murray
338 Euston Road
London NW1 3BH

www.johnmurray.co.uk

Contents

 

Cover

Also by Marina Fiorato

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Epigraph

Part I

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Part II

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Part III

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Part IV

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Part V

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Part VI

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Epilogue

Historical Note

Acknowledgements

To Ileen Maisel, who first suggested that I write about Palladio

When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, ‘Come and see!’ I looked and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.

 

REVELATION
6:7–8

PART I

 

 

The Black Horse

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

Venice

 

Christian Year 1576

S
ebastiano Venier, Doge of Venice, gazed from the stone quatrefoil window, with eyes that were as troubled as the ocean.

His weather-eye, sharpened by many years at sea, had seen the storm approaching for three days, clotting and clouding on the horizon and rolling in across the sickly amethyst waves. Now the maelstrom was here, and it had brought with it something more malign than ill weather.

With his flowing white beard and noble countenance, the Doge had been immortalized by Tintoretto and been compared to Neptune who also ruled a seabound kingdom. He had even, in hushed tones, been compared to the Almighty. A profoundly devout man, the Doge would have been deeply troubled, for different reasons, by each comparison; but today he would have given anything to have the omnipotence to save Venice from her darkest hour.

He watched as six figures, huddled together against the elements, hurried along a dock already glazed with water at every flow of the tide, the ebb tugging at the hems of their black robes. The cloaks and cowls gave them a monastic look, but these six men were men of science, not religion. They dealt in life and death. They were doctors.

As they drew closer he could see their masks clearly;
bone-white beaks curving in a predatory hook from the dark cowls. The masks were frightening enough, but the reason for them even more ominous.

They were his
Medico delle Peste
. Plague doctors.

They were six scholars, men of letters from good families, all schooled at the best medical academies, one for each of the six
sestieri
of Venice. To see the Doctors together was an ill omen. Doge Sebastiano Venier doubted that they had ever even met together before; and they seemed to him to swoop like a murder of crows at a graveside. Perhaps his own. His shoulders dropped for an instant; he felt very old.

He watched the doctors wade along the peerless Riva degli Schiavoni, one of the most wondrous streets in the world, and knew that any minute now they would enter his great white palace. The Doge’s skin chilled as if sea-spray had doused him. He leaned his head against the cool quarrels of glass, and shut his eyes for one blessed instant. If he hadn’t done so, he might have seen a Venetian galleass sailing swiftly away on the dark and swelling waters; but he did close his eyes for a couple of heartbeats, just to be still and breathe in the salt ether.

The smell of Venice.

Sebastiano Venier straightened up, reminding himself who he was, where he was. He looked at the delicate stonework of his windows, the finest Venetian glazing keeping the thunder of the sea from his ears. He looked up, tilting his noble head to the ceiling and the peerless frescoes of red and gold painted over hundreds of years by the finest Venetian artists, covering the cavernous, glorious space above. And yet, all the riches and the glory could not keep the Pestilence from his door.

The Doge settled in his great chair and waited for the
doctors to be announced. They filed in, dripping, and semicircled him like vultures, the red crystal eyepieces set into their masks glittering hungrily, as if ready to peck the very flesh of him. But the moment they began to speak, the Doge ceased to be afraid of them.

‘We had expected it, my lord,’ said one. ‘In the botanical gardens of the
Jesuiti
, there have been of late unusual numbers of butterflies – hundreds upon thousands of them.’

BOOK: The Venetian Contract
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