Enrico Dandolo awoke in the Venetian embassy, so recently restored to liberty. He knew it from the voices of his fellow emissaries, thick in discussion over his condition. As he stirred and sat upright, groaning, they fell silent. The first words out of his mouth were, “Why is there no light?”
“My dear Dandolo,” said one of his peers with a frown in his voice, “the candle stands just beside you.”
A stab of fear shook Enrico Dandolo as he recalled the recent events – the tour of the city, the vile attack, his own desperate escape. The landing in the cold waters had been a punishment, driving his breath from him. But a Venetian who cannot swim is as a knight who cannot keep his saddle. With luck he had found the surface and lay there, bobbing like a cork upon the heave of the Bosphorus, reclaiming both breath and wits.
But not sight. He could distinguish light and dark well enough, but with the setting of the sun there was little enough that was light around him. But fortune favored him in the form of a small fishing vessel. With his rich robes he was clearly a personage of importance, and his promises of a hearty reward for his return to the Venetian embassy had been believed. It was only when he was firmly settled in the bottom of the vessel that he succumbed to his ordeal and slept.
“I cannot see!” he cried now, striking his hands against his forehead, as if he might undo the damage through further violence.
When they had calmed him and fed him some wine, they pressed his story from him. At the conclusion he was greeted with silence, and not, he thought, a sympathetic one.
“What must we do?” breathed his nearest peer. “How can this be rectified?”
“It cannot,” said another. “This is disaster.”
“Only if we protest,” said a third gravely. “If we concoct another story, report he fell or struck his head upon a stone – if we do that, we may yet salvage all.”
“If we do not protest, if they are free to use one of us so, how might they treat us henceforth?” demanded the first. Wisely, thought Dandolo.
“Should we then lose all chance of trade? Shall we pack up our belongings – those they will permit us to take! – and return to Venice as defeated as our navy?”
“We tell no one,” said the third with granite decision. “It would mean outright war, for the Emperor’s cousin to have so abused a Venetian balio. Did we strive so mightily for the restoration of our rights, did we so recently succeed, only to lose all again for the sake of this one man and his pride?”
“I have not lost the use of my ears,” said Dandolo, forcing himself to level his voice.
“You have placed us in an untenable position,” said a man whom Dandolo had always considered a friend. “We shall see to your needs, you shall never want. But what is done, is done. Surely you are Venetian enough o see that there is no gain in pressing your claim, while there is all to lose.”
Fury tamped heavily down within his breast, Dandolo at last consented to never reveal the cause of his blindness. In their relief they finally sent for doctors, and a meal. “For you never know, the damage may only be temporary! It is a miracle you survived the fall, so why not a second miracle? It is the Lord who can make blind men see?”
Days progressed, and Dandolo recuperated at a remarkable rate for one so old. His bruises purpled, then yellowed, then vanished entirely.
The sadness was that he could not himself see his convalescence. For in that arena alone he failed to heal. Though unmarred in appearance, his eyes were now more ornamental than functional.
The destruction of his sight was not complete. In daylight, he could distinguish raw shapes, and within a handspan of his face he could even make out letters on a page. But the perfection of his vision was gone.
The blessing – or was it a curse? – was what lingered before his mind’s eye, the image he saw when he closed his lids at night or when he sat in his enforced darkness. Hagia Sofia, a glistening perfection in a perfect city. He could trace every detail, every curve of an arch, the magnificent doors and pillars.
The beauty of would haunt Enrico Dandolo for the rest of his days, a goad to spur him in every act from that day forth.
For, as he told himself as he was sailed away from the Golden Horn on his journey home, “If I have seen my last in Constantinople, her last sight will be of me.”