8.

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"We have all experienced much pain and loss in the last several months," the doge said as Nicco's heart beat more and more rapidly in his chest at the uncertainty of where this was leading. "And while we must make time to mourn, there should also still be time left to celebrate. Life shall go on for the living even as it ends for the dearly departed, which is why I have given my blessing as both a father and as Doge to my elder son Niccolo Grimani to marry the daughter of your fellow patrician Bartolomeo Michiel. Let us acclaim their forthcoming union!"

At the doge's lead, the chamber erupted into applause, but instead of joining in, Nicco snapped his head to the far end of the dais where the Council of Ten sat. There, in the middle of the pack, was his future father-in-law. With a gold-trimmed stole draped on his shoulders reflecting his recent ambassadorship, he was one of the younger members of the secretive group responsible for imposing punishment on lawbreaking nobles. But by the surprised look on his face—or at least the part visible under his neatly trimmed beard—Michiel was the one left out of a secret today. Because while agreement on the engagement had been made months ago between the two families, it was understood that no public announcement would come until next summer.

As someone who had already gone thirty years without a wife and who had no great urge to rectify that deficiency, Nicco didn't object. His father's unexpected reveal now, however, worried him that much more. Hopefully this would be the extent of the attention the doge deemed necessary to thrust on his older child because it was much safer for him to deal in the shadows. Thankfully, Nicco didn't have to wait long to find out; as soon as his father stopped clapping, so did everyone else in the room, which allowed him to speak once again.

"As I said, both of my sons have made me proud so if you would indulge me to share one final development. I have received just a few hours ago this letter from His Holiness Urban the eighth," Grimani said, gesturing toward a page. The boy held a parchment that, when un-scrolled, revealed an unmistakable papal rota on the bottom. As the onlookers ooh-ed and aah-ed at the unexpected honor of being addressed—even if only in writing—by the Supreme Pontiff, the doge continued. "Along with the venerated greetings sent to this Great Council by the Holy Father, he also asks me to convey the blessed news of the appointment of a new Cardinal to serve the Church in Rome, in the person of none other than Francisco Grimani."

The ensuing silence was nothing if not eerie. No cheers of support. No boos of disapproval. No reaction whatsoever, except that of stunned shock. Nicco knew the hesitation would not last long, and he scanned the faces in the room to see who would break first.

Gabriele Memmo? No, he had political ambitions that needed the Doge's support. Marcello Badoer, perhaps? Unlikely since he held outstanding debts to half the families represented on the dais. Or Antonio Foscari? Definitely not, seeing as his own son was one of the newest inductees into the Council today.

When Tommaso Delfini stood, Nicco held back a smile. Now this was interesting. Delfini was still rebuilding his family's reputation, and yet, he still felt emboldened to speak up. What could compel a man already on an unsure social footing to risk his status for a moment of public integrity? Nico couldn't say. He'd certainly never put himself in such a position.

"Tyranny!" Delfini exclaimed while thrusting his index finger in the air. "Such willful acceptance of a papal appointment for the progeny of a sitting doge goes against one of this chamber's strictest prohibitions. And to brazenly boast about it, as well! Do my fellow councilors not see the abuse of power inherent in such an act?"

Whether or not anyone agreed, they all mostly stayed quiet. It was Bartolomeo Michiel who—after clearing his throat to garner the room's attention—responded.

"Signore Delfini, I'm afraid you're misconstruing a gesture made out of respect and love for our great Republic, as though it were done for personal gain," he said, addressing his political peer without the requisite title inherent of Delfini's position. The omission was obvious and calculated, likely learned through years of foreign diplomacy. Leaning back and crossing his arms, Michiel continued, "Who are we to question the Holy Father's judgement, especially in these trying times?"

While the question was no doubt meant to be rhetorical, Delfini appeared to be a man on some type of self-destructive mission. "We, signore, are the sons of the Veneto who've laid our allegiance to these small, but precious islands within the great lagoon first and then to Rome second," he said to increasing rumbles from those around him. One man (by the look of his robes a Procurator) even moved from his seat to get farther away from the agitator.

Michiel scoffed. "You speak of allegiance, yet you dare question the sincerity of the man you supported to lead our government? Or did you vote against His Most Excellent Prince Grimani?"

Delfini momentarily appeared shocked at the direct accusation of disloyalty, but he gathered his composure quickly, replacing it with a look of anger. "How dare—"

"Silence! That is enough," the doge bellowed, standing to exert his full authority. The hounds—who'd been sleeping at his feet—also jumped up, ready to protect their master. "I do not recall having opened this topic up for discussion, as it requires none. The Senate has already ratified Cardinal Grimani's appointment in special conclave earlier today, along with a decree that all meetings of this Great Council are suspended until further notice as an additional precaution to shield its members from the plague. Guards, lead Councilor Delfini off the palace grounds. He may only return when duly summoned after the Council of Ten has had a chance to deliberate regarding his actions today. That is all. This session is now closed."

The discomfort of the attendees over this final exchange was mirrored in how quickly they emptied the chamber. And while Nicco Grimani usually relished the apprehension of others, he sat in stunned amazement for a few extra minutes before realizing the sheer brilliance of what had just transpired.

His father had always been a man of cunning and design, and Nicco liked to think that he'd inherited some of those traits himself. Yet even he didn't foresee the masterful way Doge Grimani would weave the threads in today's proceedings to end up with a fabric that perfectly covered his own table, while unraveling those of everyone else's.

There were two announcements that the doge needed to make to the Great Council, both of which would have been seen as unpalatable to the majority. By revealing Nicco's engagement to Ottavia Michiel ahead of schedule, Grimani publicly bound the girl's father to his side. When the news of Francisco's papal appointment were made, Bartolomeo Michiel had no choice, but to support his ruler—and future fellow father-in-law—against any objections.

The stir created during the subsequent backlash (because Grimani had counted on its inevitability) successfully masked any challenge to the dissolution of the Great Council at the Doge's whim. Why, most of the councilors were probably still too busy whispering judgement about Delfini's outbursts to even grasp the severity of the final proclamation. While they quietly debated the value of decorum over morality, their liberty had been stripped away.

As Nicco finally left the chamber, he gleefully rubbed his gloved palms together. Tonight he may have to attend an engagement party instead of a card game, but his father had just given him the ultimate winning hand.

 Tonight he may have to attend an engagement party instead of a card game, but his father had just given him the ultimate winning hand

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