Marcantonio and Ezio stood on the threshold side by side.
“Ready little brother?”
Ezio smiled nervously. “As I’ll ever be.”
Marcantonio squeezed his shoulder and chuckled. “Come on, you’ll be fine. Just follow my lead.”
“I always do,” Ezio muttered, tugging on his embroidered collar.
Before Marcantonio could jibe him further, the heavy panelled doors in front of them opened, and they stepped forward. A herald’s voice echoed through the long mirrored chamber.
“Your Most Serene Highness, may I present, my Lords Marcantonio and Ezio Barbaro.”
They bowed before the Doge, the elected sovereign of Venice, with smirks on their faces.
“Why do we have to be announced to our own cousin?” Ezio asked through gritted teeth in the middle of his deep bow.
Marcantonio, much more inured to ducal etiquette, bowed with a flourish. “Just play the game. He enjoys it. You would too if you were doge.”
They straightened and found the Doge smiling bemusedly at them. “Cousins, welcome.”
He beckoned them forward and they waited at his side while more guests were announced. They surveyed the room – the long sala privata with its painted ceilings and walls of alternating mirrors and windows.
To see and be seen, Marcantonio thought wryly.
Gold leaf glimmered under the light of hundreds of candles, and the writhing figures in the paintings seemed to come alive. Dancers swirled to and fro in time to the sultry voices of the lute, viola da gamba, and harpsichord. As silk skirts and masked faces swam around them, Marcantonio sighed.
She isn’t here. No one commands a room like her. . . Not even the Doge.
“A charming scene,” the Doge said.
“Yes, Your Grace,” Marcantonio said. “A testament to your illustrious rule.”
“Most illustrious,” Ezio said, tugging again at his collar.
The music ended and as everyone bowed, curtsied, and clapped the Doge leaned into Marcantonio’s ear.
“I know who you’re looking for. You do know, if she comes, I’ll have to arrest her.”
“For brazen indecency.”
Marcantonio scowled. “She dressed as a man. . . If that is being brazenly indecent we should all be charged, right this instant.”
The Doge rolled his eyes. “Normally I would turn a blind eye – especially as I know you two are innamorati – but it was in Piazza San Marco, and she knows the law. She did it willfully.”
As she does everything, Marcantonio thought, scanning the crowd once more, although he knew she wasn’t there.
The Dogaressa came over and greeted Marcantonio and Ezio, then kissed her husband on the cheek. “Amore mio, are you keeping your kinsmen hostage over here? There are some lovely ladies who would like to dance with your handsome cousins.”
“Ah you see, by inviting them up here and discussing urgent matters with them, I have aroused even more interest in them.”
Marcantonio chuckled as Ezio’s ears went pink. There were indeed several ladies gathered around the dais and glancing in their direction with increasing boldness. The Dogaressa took Ezio’s arm.
“Come, let me introduce you to some of the Empire’s most beautiful signorine.”
Marcantonio followed as the Dogaressa led Ezio around the room and exchanged pleasantries with different ladies. Some were charming and pretty, others were just pretty. Marcantonio chatted with Elena, their neighbor and childhood friend. She’d just had her second child with her elderly husband, but was accompanied tonight by her lover, Alvise, who smiled at Marcantonio in greeting. To flaunt one’s cicisbeo was a purely Venetian practice – one that the ladies of Padua or Verona would never do.
Well, not so openly anyway…
Marcantonio nudged Ezio to dance with the angelic Maddalena Mocenigo, the newest beauty among the noble families. They made a handsome couple as they swept across the floor to the rousing rhythm of the frottola. Marcantonio turned to the window to watch the city come to life, as it always did at night.
Where is she? With some other lover? Or purposefully staying home in protest at not receiving an invitation? But he knew her, he knew she would sooner pluck out all of her beloved chestnut hair than miss one of the Doge’s parties.
The Dogaressa, and many others, joined him at the windows as the first crack-boom of fireworks erupted outside. Showers of blue and green, red and gold, flowered over the tiled roofs, silhouetting the bell tower of San Marco against the sky. Gasps and sighs spilled from the crowd, but the Dogaressa exchanged a frown with the Doge over everyone’s heads.
“They are lovely,” Marcantonio said.
“Si, but we did not arrange them,” she said.
“Oh? Who did?”
The main doors opened in answer, along with an explosion of fireworks outside. The musicians – seemingly in on the act – switched songs to something grand and alluring. And there, through the candlelight-drenched hall, she appeared in the doorway.
A murmur rippled through the room as everyone craned their necks to see. Gold confetti rained around her, the music swelled, and despite there being a hundred eyes on her, her gaze found his, and only his.
“For you,” her kohl-rimmed eyes seemed to say. “It’s all for you.”
Ezio ran up to him. “Brother, have you seen-”
“Yes, I know. It’s her. La Syrena.”
This is a continuation of a story I posted exactly a year ago, and both are snapshots from one of my WIPs set in 17th-century Venice. Hope you enjoy!
Meredith is a writer and art historian who loves to obsess over books, films, TV shows and music. She writes adult historical fiction and is currently working on a series set during the 17th-century Scottish Civil Wars, as well as a stand-alone set at the end of the American Revolution. Originally from the US of A, she now lives in London and has a PhD in Venetian art history. You can follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, where she posts about feminism, books, and other lovely things. You can read all of her Muses stories here.