Monday, January 26, 2009

The Simurgh and the Nightingale (Part3)

Chapter 3 
Palazzo Mocenigo, Venice. 23rd October 1630

Dom Giovanni Andrea Angelli Flavio Comneno, Prince of Macedonia and the Duke and Count of Drivasto and Durazzo stepped gingerly from beneath the felze canopy and out of the bissona ferry that had brought him from his own palazzo in Burano to the Ca’Mocenigo Vecchia, one of the two side by side palazzo belonging to the Mocenigo family on this part of the Canal Grande. Despite the strength of the cold bora wind, which was whipping up the waves between the gondola and the mooring jetty and which threatened to topple him at any moment into the pitch-like waters, he could hear the Campanile marangona signalling the end of the day’s work. He leant heavily on one of the coloured palina to regain his balance before handing the chief boatman who had ferried him a small purse. He hurried up the jetty and into the Ca’Mocenigo. Once inside he was brought up the ornate stairs to a beautiful salon on the piano nobile where Giovanni Mocenigo, one of the Procurators of Saint Marks, was waiting to receive him. They greeted each other warmly.
“That is a bitter wind coming from the steppes this evening,” Comneno spoke through puffed out lips and allowed himself a shake of his shoulders as he removed his cape.
“Yes. I fear that given the equally strong sirocco of the past week we should expect a severe aqua alta.” Giovanni Mocenigo remarked sagely as he indicated a chair for his visitor to take a seat. “How fares it with you Giovanni Andrea? I have missed your company this past while.”
With a signal from Mocenigo a servant moved to a nearby console and poured some wine for them both.
“Well, thankfully Giovanni. The. . .” Comneno paused as he accepted the beautiful goblet of gilded Burano crystal and waited until the servant had left the salon. “...the forty days of quarantine passed without incident. Thanks be to God! As the Lazzaretto Nuovo was full the provveditori allowed my family to be isolated in our own residence. For this I was truly grateful as I have always failed to understand the rationale of quarantining both sick and healthy together. In any event, my own families exposure was limited to a brief contact with the maidservant of a visitor, whose sister had reportedly died from the pestilence. I hear that other families that we both know were not so fortunate. Indeed! On the journey here I could see that there were still many houses with the doors cross-barred and the sight of the multitude of boats laden with the pizzicamorti making their way to Lazzaretto Vecchio was a bad enough testimony. Is it as cruel as it seems?”
Mocenigo appeared exhausted and barely touched his wine. “Yes. Unfortunately far worse than the plague in 1576. It is rumoured that it was the retinue of the Duke of Mantua, when driven out by the Austrians to take refuge on San Clemente, who brought the pestilence with them. The Provveditori of the Health Office estimate that about thirty five thousand persons have been taken by the disease so far. It has been particularly bad in the Geto Nuovo at San Hieronimo.”
Comneno smiled trying to lighten the mood. “That will make Patriarch Tiepolo and his Inquisitor’s work easier, no doubt.”
Mocenigo eyes flared slightly as he looked at his visitor. His voice had a sharp edge to it. “I am old enough, Giovanni Andrea, to have lived through the worst days of Rome’s infernal Inquisition here in Venice. Thankfully, as an member of the Esecutori contro la Bestemmia, I was able to introduce guidelines that helped distinguish between heresy and apostasy and thus would not share your simplistic view. The Germanic Jews in particular have been strong supporters of the state. Did you know that the Luzzatti bankers have leant some ten thousand ducats to the Council of Ten for relief of the present pestilence?”
Comneno realised he had upset his friend and quickly moved to repair the damage. “I am sorry Giovanni if I offended you. I have been out of touch with recent events but am well aware of your concerns about Rome’s power here in Venice.”
Mocenigo relaxed a little. “It is true that I am somewhat zealous on the machinations of the Holy Office but I do resent their assumed power, Siamo Veneziani, poi Christiani. ” He paused for a moment. “According to my nephew, our ambassador in Madrid, it seems that even in Spain the Inquisition’s energies may also be somewhat on the wane. I do have my doubts however. The Holy Office appears to have gained a new energy from the recent frenzy of burning witches and this appears to be its preoccupation at present rather than investigating questions of faith.” Comneno remained silent, watching Mocenigo as he took a draft of wine before continuing. “We are not without piety, however, Giovanni Andrea. Only yesterday the Senate resolved unanimously, and with bareheads, to build a church dedicated to the Holy Virgin and to name it Sancta Maria della Salute. With this gesture and our prayers, it is hoped to attract divine intercession to try and rid the city of the pestilence. There are to be devout processions on each of the next fifteen Saturdays.”
Giovanni Andrea Comneno nodded his head. “Yes our prayers are indeed required. My own first port of call on the way here was to San Giorgio degli Schiavoni where I received communion from the Grand Prior.”
Mocenigo stood up to refill their glasses. “How fare the affairs of our Order and what news of the Scrolls?”
Comneno accepted the refilled glass of wine and removed a small piece of sediment from its rim. “That happens to be the main purpose of my visit to you Giovanni. Concerns for the safety of the Scrolls have occupied my thoughts, nearly exclusively, these past weeks. Only you, my son Angelo Maria and I are aware of the Scrolls and where they are being kept. I have increasing doubts about Patriarch Kyrillos Loukaris and the sooner I can recover the Scrolls from that phanariot the happier I will be.” Comneno paused. “There is also intelligence of a new threat. From another quarter I have heard that one of the Spanish orders, probably Sant’Iago, have got wind of the Scrolls’ existence and have sent a spy. We must all be on our guard.” Comneno again waited for a moment to allow Mocenigo to digest the information. He then continued “My other news is better. I am leaving tomorrow for Regensberg as I have it on good authority that the Emperor is, at last, about to recognise our Order. Also, I hear that Marino Caracciolo is unwell and soon the Grand Magistracy will be again in my possession. Once this is so I will be able to bring greater pressure to bear in order to gain the Dogato for yourself.”
Mocenigo smiled weakly. “Thank you Giovanni Andrea, but even after my years as a Procurator it is unlikely that I will achieve my wish. The curti families still blame my grandfather for many of Venice’s misfortunes and they are determined to ensure I will not become Doge.”
Comneno knew this to be the truth. He got up to leave. “I am sorry Giovanni I could not do more these last few years.” He paused briefly at the door and turned to see his visibly older friend staring at the floor.
Mocenigo’s hands were shaking so much that the wine was spilling. He had difficulty speaking. “It is strange and I never thought I would hear myself say it. High office and the crown of the Dogato in particular, is a bitter-sweet gift. For example if I wished to remain a Procurator I would have been forced to leave this beautiful house and to take quarters in the lifeless warren that is the Procuratie Nuovo. No, my friend, I like my freedom. I have the shakes of an old man and my remaining energies are best directed elsewhere.” Mocenigo paused for a moment. “In fact I may be able to offer some practical help in easing your concerns for the safety of the Scrolls. I am endeavouring at present to promote my nephew Pietro for the ambassadorship to England. He is an able and trustworthy fellow who is well connected with some of the Spanish envoys. I will see him tomorrow evening at my sisters and will direct him to seek out as much information, for you, as he able.”

Comneno moved to embrace the older man. “Thank you Giovanni. You are a true friend to the Order and to me. Forgive my rudeness for leaving so soon but I have a lot to achieve before I depart for Germany. Give Pietro my best wishes and my thanks for his help in trying to surface the spy. However ask him to be circumspect in the extreme.” The evening had already closed in as Giovanni Andrea Comneno stepped into the waiting boat. The bell of the Campanile announced it was one hour after sunset and he wrapped himself tightly against the biting wind for the journey home, northwards across the lagoon. Somewhere behind him in the darkness of a small waterway he heard a loud cry. "The braves have their first victim of the night," Comneno thought to himself before making a hurried sign of the cross.

©R.Derham 2001,2009

Chapter 4 
Cartagena, SE Spain. 10th December 1630

“Dom Djivo Slavujovic of Ragusa, Knight of Sant’Iago, stand before the bench,” the court clerk called out.
A tall raven-haired man aged about thirty years rose to his feet. His face, mahogany in colour from the long Mediterranean summers, was creased by a pink scar that ran from below his left ear to his jaw. As he pushed back a long lock of hair from his face he touched the scar and could be seen to flinch at its still raw sensations. His stature and bearing brought a sudden increase in the tempo of hand-held fans in the room. Because of the numbers of interested spectators that had packed into the small courtroom the air appeared stuffy to Djivo and yet as it was such an unusually cold day the particled breath of the judge was easily visible. Djivo watched as it came in quick sharp wheezy bursts. He appeared very ill at ease.
The clerk fixed his gaze on Djivo. “You are charged with the unlawful murder of Captain Dom Luis de Bazan of the Squadron of Spain’s galley Sandovala in September of this year of our Lord and with the subsequent attempt to evade arrest and interrogation.” The clerk paused to let the murmuring in the court subside. “How do you plead?”
Before answering Djivo looked around him searching for friendly faces. Sensing none he was comforted by the outstretched hand of his lawyer. “Not guilty!” He made his voice resonate as strong and clear as possible.
“Very well,” The judge who was seated facing him, said gravely. He had not looked up at Djivo, but breathing a little faster made a brief note in the folio opened in front of him. “Prosecutor Nunez proceed with your case.”
Djivo listened intently as the letrado Nunez outlined the facts of the prosecution. How on the 27th of September this year of Our Lord, about one day’s sailing distance from Cartagena, the accused had killed Captain Luis de Bazan and that, after having landed in port, had attempted to escape while being taken to the towns presidio. Djivo noted the dismissive way that Nunez referred to him as ‘the accused’ and watched as a number of mariners were called to support the claim of an apparently unprovoked killing. All appeared nervous and avoided looking at Djivo directly but were resolute and consistent in their stories despite cross-examination by his own lawyer Doctor Perez de Herrera. The day passed slowly but by the time the judge called a halt to the proceedings, Nunez had completed his presentation.
“We will adjourn until tomorrow morning when the defence will begin its case. Sergeant at Arms. Take the prisoner down!” The judge stood up and after gathering his notes, left the courtroom.
Djivo, his legs stiff from standing throughout the trial, was prodded ahead by the two soldiers who had guarded him all day. They were very impatient to get some food and join their friends in the barrio outside the city walls - where the prostitutes were plenty and occasionally free of the pox. His gait was heavy and his chained hands clinked with every forward step. As they passed behind the line of harbour-side buildings and towards the presidio - which stood isolated at the far end of the wharf - Djivo looked up at the fortifications on the hill that lay on the south-western side of the harbour entrance. Their solidity reinforced his isolation. On reaching the jail he was bundled into a cell on his own. Dank straw and a reed mat lay on the ground. There was no window and a bowl in the corner served as his latrine. The smell of sickness was heavy in the air. He was attached by a neck chain to a wall ring and leaving a flagon of water and a plate with a ration of beans and bread the jailers left. Djivo could hear the laughter as they left discussing the night’s sport ahead. Although not having eaten all day Djivo could not bring himself to eat the food. He slid down the icy wall, slumping to the floor, his chest heaving, tears welling up in his eyes. What had brought him to this vile place? Who was to save him?

Djivo Slavujovic was an architect by training and the scion of a wealthy Ragusan family. Although surrounded by the Ottoman Turks, his and the other noble families of Ragusa had negotiated a mutually beneficial trade treaty with the Sultan which had maintained their independence for the cost of an annual tribute of ten thousand zecchins and one boatload of pitch to be paid yearly, in Constantinople. This had also ensured that Ragusa had remained intensely Catholic and an ally of Spain. Indeed Djivo’s own father had equipped two ‘men of war’ in 1588 to sail with Philip II’s armada against England and as a reward was given a Spanish title and became a Knight of Sant’Iago . 
Immediately after receiving his doctorate at Salamanca, and almost before the splattered blood of the butchered bulls of his graduation corrida had time to congeal, Djivo had departed to join Philip IV’s army in Naples. Here he had been delegated to help design and engineer the enlargement of the Castel Sant’Erasmo. In due course he also had been admitted into the Sant’Iago order. It was because of the urgency and absolute secrecy of a mission on behalf of the Order that he had approached Captain de Bazan to obtain a quick passage to Spain on the galley Sandovala. Leaving from Salerno they had called at Scalea and Parghelia. After that it had been onto Messina, Palermo and Trapani before making a straight dash for Sardinia.
Luis de Bazan was the son of one of Spain’s greatest admirals, Dom Alvarez, the Marquis of Santa Cruz. Djivo, however, found him to be a coarse individual, harsh on his paid crew and cruel in the extreme to the slave oarsmen of the chusma. This had first become evident on the Sardinia passage. The route they were taking was dangerous and usually only attempted in high summer. The lack of wind and fear of corsairs meant that instead of the normal quarter mode used for long passages de Bazan had ordered the oarsmen to work for extended periods at passé-vogue pace and by the time they had docked in Cagliari seven of the forzados and two of the slaves had died, still chained to their oars. Once discovered the broken bodies were dumped, with little ceremony, overboard. The whipping of the forzados and the dousing of their wounds with vinegar and salt was unremittingly merciless. Djivo pleaded with the Captain to restrain his cruelty but de Bazan had taken great offence at the intrusion and thereafter the feelings of mutual hatred intensified. Leaving Cagliari and rounding Cape Spartivento a more favourable levante wind took them swiftly over three days and nights to the Baleares. After landfall in Porto Petra, Palma and Eivissa the mainland was finally reached at Calpe two weeks after leaving Salerno. De Bazan’s final destination was Cartagena and when he decided to bypass the badly needed night’s respite in Alicante and press on, Djivo could feel mutiny in the air.
This was particularly evident among the Negro esclavos del rey and they protested loudly. When de Bazan was informed of this, his anger exploded and ordering the isolation of the supposed ringleader personally cut off the man’s nose. Even this act did not appease his rage and he further ordered a whipping of the deck-master. Seeing this Djivo could not restrain himself any longer. He caught up with the captain at the bow palmetto and pulling at his shoulder, in full view of the watching crew, ordered him to desist. De Bazan, his dagger already drawn, turned, his face contorted by a cruel smile and began an attack on Djivo. Caught off guard by the aggression Djivo had to retreat backwards along the central corsia between the benches of the oarsmen. They had finally clashed near the main mast and fought each other furiously back and forth along the corsia. After what seemed an eternity the two men suddenly separated and there were excited shouts from the chusma as de Bazan’s body went limp. He collapsed to the deck, dying, blood streaming from his mouth and the wound where Djivo’s dagger had lodged in his chest. 
Djivo had looked down for sometime at the lifeless corpse of the Captain before walking to the aft cabin. Nobody said anything in the hours that followed but on reaching port, word of the fight spread rapidly and a troop of soldiers soon arrived to arrest him. Djivo tried to resist, aware of the urgency of his Order’s mission, but was soon overpowered.

By now Djivo was gulping down his food. Sleep did not come and it seemed an eternity before the returning jailer announced a new dawn.

The courthouse was even more crowdwed with spectators this day. Djivo, with gentle prodding from his lawyer, related his story of the fight. This was supported, despite threats to their lives, by two brave buenos boyas, the non-convict salaried oarsmen on board. Written testimony of statements obtained from some of the forzados had also been submitted. Perez de Herrera, Djivo’s lawyer, was standing in front of the judge. “Under the Maritime Ordinances of Trani, Section 27, no master may beat a mariner. For the purposes of this voyage Dom Djivo Slavujovic was considered a mariner as no fare of passage had been demanded or contracted. When attacked by Captain de Bazan he had the right to escape and did so by moving from the bow to the chain of rowers. You have testimony to the fact that my client was heard to utter on three occasions to the Captain. ‘ In the name of the Lord do not touch me’. ” 
At this point de Herrera paused and looked first at Djivo and then at the crowd. He raised his voice. “In the name of the Lord do not touch me.” The lawyer waited for a moment before turning back to face the judge. “In the name of the Lord do not touch me.” De Herrera raised his left hand and pointed at Djivo. “Dom Slavujovic said this three times but Captain de Bazan continued to press his frenzied attack. In these circumstances it is accepted that a mariner may defend himself and even in self-defence kill the master if necessary.” The lawyer smiled as he looked directly at the judge who now appeared even more agitated than usual. He would have to accept the legal argument that Djivo was to be considered a mariner and not a passenger and Perez de Herrera for his part, was relishing the judge’s obvious discomfort. He expected a recess to be called.
De Herrera was not to know however, that the judge’s powerful position as auditor de las galeras had been secured for him by Alvaro de Bazan, the dead captain’s father and no amount of legal argument would remove that obligation. Sweating profusely despite the stinging cold air the judge suddenly closed his folio of notes, and without looking up at either de Herrera or Djivo, began delivering his judgement. “Djivo Slavujovic, on the count of unlawful murder I find you not guilty.” There were gasps of astonishment throughout the court. “However . . .” He waited for silence and then resumed, this time raising his eyes to cast a sneer at de Herrara before fixing Djivo with a menacing glare. “. . . on the charge of evading arrest you are found guilty and I sentence you to four years banishment as a desterrado in the presidio of Oran. You will be taken to the Alcazar in Toledo to await transfer in the spring and pending your leave to appeal this sentence. Take the prisoner away.” 
Djivo slumped visibly, his shoulders sagged and a heavy fatigue finally overpowered him. He was not to notice the quick and silent exit of two members of the Fratres de Caceres from the back of the courtroom.

©R.Derham 2001,2009

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