The Pillared Sepulchre

By Alexis Larkin

A crash of tiles greeted Rapallino at the entrance of St. Mark’s Basilica. He yelled a curse that involved the foreman’s finest goat and ugliest sister, but didn’t quite translate from his native Genoese. Inside, Rapallino navigated the construction to reach a cluster of pillars in the right arm of the church’s Greek cruciform layout. There he found his assistant and a young priest engaged in intense discussion.

“Why did you drag me out, Bragadin? I was about to win the rotolamento pot. Forgive me, Padre.”

Padre Matteo nodded solemnly. “Were you holding fives?”

“A 6-7 split.”

The priest crossed himself.

“The workers found something while repairing this section.” Bragadin bent down and pulled up a large cloth, uncovering a series of buckets filled with bones.

Rapallino knelt to inspect the remains. They were human, the bones of a grown man. An amulet perched on the sternum caught Rapallino’s eye: it was made of alternating columns of rubies and pearls arranged in an ornate gold setting.

“Where were the bones found?”

“The men were disassembling this cluster when an arm suddenly extended from that pillar. They fetched Padre Matteo, continued to excavate, and found the rest of the bones.”

Rapallino rose slowly, taking a moment to collect his thoughts.

“Padre, when was the cluster last repaired?”

“It hasn’t been touched since the construction of the new basilica, thirty years ago.”

“You’ve been very helpful,” Rapallino said. The priest blessed both men and excused himself.

“I recognize the amulet’s pattern. It is from the family Bezzelini,” Bragadin said.

“They lost their eldest son three decades ago if I remember correctly.” Rapallino had immersed himself in Venetian history since moving here to marry his beloved. While not in the minor consiglio to the doge as befitted the rank of his wife’s family, Rapallino had assisted the republic in matters of increasing importance.

“Exactly,” said Bragadin, “but according to the inquisition papers, Bezzelini was such a scoundrel that no one save his elderly father cared whether he was found. The youngest son of a noble, but poor, family was questioned. There were even rumors that Donna Orseolo, Bezzelini’s betrothed, had fallen in love with this young man and wished to escape her boorish suitor.”

“But with no body–”

“With no body, no witnesses, and the young nobleman’s quiet entry into the priesthood, it seemed the matter was lost to the history of Venice,” Bragadin said with a sigh, recovering the buckets.

Rapallino stifled a laugh and patted his assistant on the back.

“Shall I fetch Donna Orseolo?” Bragadin asked.

“She is still alive?”

“Yes, we attend the same parish church. You know, she never married after Bezzelini disappeared.”

“So much for rumors.”

Rapallino agreed it was worth her identifying the amulet, especially if the loss had such an impact on the poor woman’s life.

Bragadin returned an hour later, escorting Donna Orseolo, who, though old and frail, exuded elegance in her carriage. A cadre of black-clad ladies-in-waiting followed. She wore her mourning clothes of black tulle and lace in the manner befitting a dogaressa. As she lifted her veil during Bragadin’s introductions, Rapallino could easily understand how men could have fought over this woman.

“I am sorry, but we must ask something that may distress you,” Rapallino said.

She raised a delicate hand. “At my age, I can hardly be shocked. I am at your disposal.”

Rapallino nodded to Bragadin, who ripped the cloth off the buckets.

“No!” Rapallino cried, “the amulet only.” He looked to Donna Orseolo fearing the worst, but found her in a state of peace. She made the sign of the cross and dropped to her knees in prayer as Bragadin tried to recover the buckets.

“Stop. Let me be in their presence.”

“Then you can identify your—”

“The earthly remains of my patron Saint Mark, the guardian of all Venetians. His relics were thought to be lost again to theft or fire, but you have found them.” Donna Orseolo collapsed in a heap of wails and tears. Her ladies-in-waiting crossed themselves and knelt in prayer. Rapallino turned to smile only to himself.

“Please look at the amulet. Doesn’t it belong to your betrothed who went missing all those years ago?” Bragadin asked.

“That cannot be. My dearest wore opal. This amulet clearly contains pearls, which he always described as merda del mare. Besides, signori, can’t you feel the Holy Spirit emanating from these remains? My ladies, can’t you feel yourselves infused with the presence of God himself?”

She continued after being helped to her feet, “I must thank you for remembering my particular devotion to St. Mark. I am blessed to confirm the miracle you discovered. It will be my pleasure to recommend you to Doge Faliero as he honors the recovery of our saint’s remains. Now after all this excitement, I will have my ladies escort me home.”

Rapallino quieted Bragadin’s protestations as Donna Orseolo left, but he never took his eyes off her. She walked delicately around the construction to meet an elderly priest at the church’s exit. She gave the priest a nod. He imagined she must have taken that priest’s arm with the same gentleness when they left here together thirty years ago.

“As my grandmother used to say, ‘Fortune and misfortune are two buckets in the same well.’ Are we off to report to the Doge? Once he compares the amulet to the records, he will find this was the murdered Bezzelini regardless of Donna Orseolo’s delusions.”

“No, Bragadin.”

“Signore—”

“Perhaps a little Genoese saying could help you: ‘It is not necessary to fish up every bucket that falls into the well.’ Come, let me stake you to a throw or two in rotolamento, and we’ll decide how to tell Venice and her doge of its rediscovered saint.”

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Alexis Larkin lives and writes in northern New Jersey. Her poetry and short fiction has been selected for publication in the Fat City Review, Barnstormer, Pea River Journal, Prompt Literary Magazine, and Treehouse.

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