She clung to the shadows, tried to melt into them so that no one would notice her, and she would not be discovered. A stray curl of golden hair escaped from her cloak, and automatically, she prodded it back inside the sanctuary of the hood. She kept her hand in front of her face, lingering for just a moment more.
The night air was chill but quiet, with only the thump-thump-thumping of her heart and the soft swish of the water, eternally ebbing in the canal, sounding in her ears. She had been standing there for hours, it seemed, but perhaps it was only one hour, waiting for the gates of the Ghetto to close without her so she could escape to see her lover.
She had to walk carefully, never daring to look up, measuring her progress by watching her feet pass from pavement to wood as she crossed bridges to follow along the wider fondamenta that was slick with muck. She did not wear the high platform shoes of the aristocrats, so her soft leather slippers were not immune to the puddles of filth in her path which, in her hurry, she found difficult to avoid.
Mattia, Mattia, she whispered the melody of his name, and closed her eyes, conjuring his warm smile and his soft touch, as she urged herself onward.
As she slipped along the unlit calles towards his studio, her skin tingling, sweating more than she should, she wondered at her sudden daring. Never before had she done anything like this, and unlike the rest of her family she was never willing to take risks. What had happened to her? Loving Mattia was forbidden, both in his world and in hers, but she knew if it were discovered, it would be her life, not his, that would be in danger.
These calles were dark and little traversed at night, could harbor thieves or cutthroats, but nevertheless, she felt safer in them than in open view on the main canal. She could not stop from trembling each time someone appeared in her path, and she huddled in her cloak, grateful when they ignored her as they aimed for the lights of the tavern up ahead.
She was barely conscious of gliding past the fish market, passing along one narrow canal and then another, over two bridges and around two churches, until she stood in a small campo with a bridge leading to a modest palazzo known as the Ca' Vendramin. It was here Mattia lived and where he had beguiled her, and it was the thought of his warm brown eyes gazing at her as he painted her that kept her determined to reach his studio.
She moved quickly across the campo, controlling the instinct to turn at each burst of noise or shout that spilled out of the nearby tavern as she passed. Only a few steps more and she would be out of danger. She had not made a sound, but stopped to listen for footsteps, when suddenly she was grabbed from behind, and pulled through a rusty gate into a deserted courtyard. Desperate in her hope to get away, she pulled and scratched and attempted to bite the strong forearm around her neck, but his grasp was tight. She felt his hot breath as he pulled aside her hood to whisper, “Diana”. At the sound of her name, she felt all energy, all hope, drain from her body.
Whoever held her, knew who she was and where she had come from, and now had her completely in his power.
Diana believed she would know when her time had come, and now she had the vague sense that she was not in immediate danger. The man who held her, his velvet cap pulled low over his eyes, did not seem to be a ruffian. He began to laugh, and when he threw back his head, his face caught the light of a nearby torch. She gasped when she recognized her younger brother, Marino, who had not been seen in several months.
“It’s good to see that it is not only his sons that our father, the great rabbi of Venice, will have to worry about. What are you up to, Diana?”
Marino loved to tease her, and Diana could not stop herself from lightly slapping him, just as she had when they were children. How dare he frighten her so! She had feared she was in the hands of an enforcer of the Council of Ten, bound for the darkness of the Pozzi, while he had played his childish prank.
Getting caught, at night, out of the Ghetto had filled her thoughts for most of the day, and she had assessed one explanation after another to decide which seemed most plausible. She had woven her story from as many elements of truth as possible, and held her head high when she answered her brother’s challenge.
“Brother, you think you are the only one who can help fill the family’s coffers,” she said, trying to sound more self-assured than she was, “I was tasked to create a potion, and now I am on my way to deliver it—although not to a lady.”
“How unlike you, Diana, to venture out alone, especially at night. Whoever demands such a service must surely make it worth your while,” Marino smiled at her slyly in the semi- darkness.
Of course, he did not believe a word of her story, since she was not like their father, who would tempt Fate for only a few ducats.
“He is an artist,” she said, determined not to reveal any hint of their relationship by keeping her voice calm, “his maid followed me in the fish market by the Rialto. Her master must have a potion, she claimed, to help him in his conquest of a woman he adores. This servant knew of such potions, concocted in the Ghetto, and she bade me to bring some to her master’s rooms. Tonight, she said, he must have this potion tonight.”
“You jeopardize not only your own safety, but our father’s position in the community, for a maidservant? Is your table at home so empty that you feel you must do this?”
Diana refused to be baited by her younger brother, and kept to her story. “It should not be known that I have been selling medicines to the Gentiles, and so my activities are best cloaked by night. We have no money for the rent once again, and this I could do on my own, instead of hiring a messenger who would take my coin and not hesitate to gossip.”
Marino’s wide smile brightened his face with the optimism she suspected drove him to attempt such daring exploits.
“You have a bit of the gambler in you, after all,” he said, making reference to their father, who had been threatened with excommunication by the community if he did not cease his visits to the gaming rooms.
Diana didn’t like the comparison to her father, and huddled deeper inside her cloak with shame.
She thought Marino was sorry for teasing and interfering with her one nocturnal adventure, and was glad to see he had no intention of preventing her from completing her mission.
“Come, brave sister,” he said, as he linked his arms in hers, ‘I am out and about tonight because I have to take care of some unfinished business. Tonight, I will be the Cautious One. Please, pull close the hood of your cloak and let your brother accompany you in safety to this patron of yours.”
Diana had to confess that she was relieved to be walking in the company of her brother, especially since he was dressed in the manner of any other young nobleman. Specifically, missing was the distinctive yellow hat Jews were required to wear at all times.
“Where did you get those clothes? They do not look like anything I’ve seen in the secondhand shops in the Ghetto or even in the Cannaregio. What have you been up to, Marino?”
Marino strutted a bit and swirled his short cloak above his arm flamboyantly. “If all goes well with my plans, we will all have such clothes. You’ll see someday...”
When Diana rolled her eyes at his fantastical visions of the future, Marino did not continue his recital of his plans, or how he had managed to wrangle such fashionable attire. She assumed that Marino was plotting another daring scheme— he was addicted to danger just as her father was addicted to gambling and often lost their rent money at the gaming tables. She hoped he was not attempting to follow their older brother, Isaak, who she suspected was a smuggler and a pirate and rarely made an appearance in his home city.
Diana pushed her worry over Marino from her thoughts; not wanting to think of the possible troubles he could bring upon their family once again. She was grateful of her brother’s escort even though she knew that she would not be able to spend the evening with Mattia. She would have to be satisfied with seeing him for a few minutes at his door.