Assassin's Creed: Renaissance Page 23

She listened, cleared her throat, pulled away from him a little, and looked up at him. ‘Yes.’

‘Then we must make our preparations now. Go and pack what you need, but bring little with you – we must leave on foot – a carriage would be too dangerous to organize. Wear your simplest clothes – we must not draw attention to ourselves. And hurry!’

Claudia left with their mother and Annetta.

‘You should bathe and change,’ said Paola to him. ‘You’ll feel better.’

Two hours later their travel papers were ready and they could leave. Ezio checked the contents of his satchel carefully one last time. Perhaps his uncle could explain the contents of the documents he had taken from Alberti, which had clearly been of such vital importance to him. His new dagger was strapped to his right forearm, out of sight. He tightened his belt. Claudia led Maria into the garden and stood by the door in the wall by which they were to leave, with Annetta, who was trying not to cry.

Ezio turned to Paola. ‘Goodbye. And thank you again, for everything.’

She put her arms round him and kissed him close to his mouth. ‘Stay safe, Ezio, and stay vigilant. I suspect the road ahead of you is yet long.’

He bowed gravely, then drew up his hood and joined his mother and sister, picking up the bag they had packed. They kissed Annetta goodbye, and moments later they were in the street, walking north, Claudia with her arm linked through her mother’s. For a while they were silent, and Ezio pondered the great responsibility he had now been obliged to shoulder. He prayed that he would be able to rise to the occasion, but it was hard. He would have to remain strong, but he would manage it for the sake of Claudia and his poor mother, who seemed to have retreated completely into herself.

They had reached the centre of the city when Claudia started to speak – and she was full of questions. He noticed with gratification, though, that her voice was firm.

‘How could this have happened to us?’ she said.

‘I don’t know.’

‘Do you think we’ll ever be able to come back?’

‘I don’t know, Claudia.’

‘What will happen to our house?’

He shook his head. There had been no time to make any arrangements, and if there had been, with whom could he have made them? Perhaps Duke Lorenzo would be able to close it up, have it guarded, but that was a faint hope.

‘Were they… Were they given a proper funeral?’

‘Yes. I… arranged it myself.’ They were crossing the Arno and Ezio allowed himself a glance downriver.

At last they were approaching the southern city gates, and Ezio was grateful that they had got this far undetected, but it was a dangerous moment, for the gates were heavily policed. Thankfully the documents in false names which Paola had provided them with passed muster, and the guards were on the lookout for a desperate young man on his own, not a modestly dressed little family.

They travelled south steadily all that day, pausing only when they were well clear of the city to buy bread, cheese and wine at a farmhouse and to rest for an hour under the shade of an oak tree at the edge of a cornfield. Ezio had to rein in his impatience, for it was almost thirty miles to Monteriggioni and they had to travel at his mother’s pace. She was a strong woman at the beginning of her forties, but the massive shock she had sustained had aged her. He prayed that once they reached Uncle Mario’s she would recover, though he could see that any recovery would be a slow one. He hoped that, barring any setback, they would reach Mario’s estate by the afternoon of the following day.

That night they spent in a deserted barn, where at least there was clean, warm hay. They dined on the remains of their lunch, and made Maria as comfortable as possible. She made no complaint, indeed she seemed completely unaware of her surroundings; but when Claudia tried to take Petruccio’s box from her when getting her ready for bed, she protested violently and pushed her daughter away, swearing at her like a fishwife. Brother and sister were shocked at that.

But she slept peacefully, and seemed refreshed the next morning. They washed themselves in a brook, drank some of its clear water in lieu of breakfast, and continued on their way. It was a bright day, pleasantly warm but with a cooling breeze, and they made good progress, passing only a handful of wagons on the road and seeing no one except the odd group of labourers in the fields and orchards they walked by. Ezio was able to buy some fruit, enough at least for Claudia and his mother, but he wasn’t hungry anyway – he was too nervous to eat.

At last, in mid-afternoon, he was heartened to see the little walled town of Monteriggioni bathed in sunshine on its hill in the distance. Mario effectively ruled the district. Another mile or two, and they would be within his territory. Heartened, the little group quickened their pace.

‘Nearly there,’ he told Claudia, with a smile.

‘Grazie a Dio,’ she replied, returning it.

They’d just started to relax when, at a turn in the road, a familiar figure, accompanied by a dozen men in blue-and-gold liveries, blocked their way. One of the guards carried a standard bearing the hated, familiar emblem of golden dolphins and crosses on a blue ground.

‘Ezio!’ the figure greeted him. ‘Buon’ giorno! And your family – or at least, what’s left of it! What a pleasant surprise!’ He nodded to his men, who fanned out across the road, halberds at the ready.


‘The same. As soon as they released my father from custody, he was more than happy to finance this little hunting party for me. I was hurt. After all, how could you think of leaving Florence without saying a proper goodbye?’

Ezio advanced a pace, ushering Claudia and his mother behind him.

‘What do you want, Vieri? I should have thought you’d be satisfied with what the Pazzi have managed to achieve.’

Vieri spread his hands. ‘What do I want? Well, it’s hard to know where to begin. So many things! Let’s see… I’d like a larger palazzo, a prettier wife, much more money and – what else? – Oh, yes! Your head!’ He drew his sword, motioning his guards to stay ready, and advanced on Ezio himself.

‘I’m surprised, Vieri – are you really going to take me on all alone? But of course your bully boys are right behind you!’

‘I don’t think you’re worthy of my sword,’ retorted Vieri, sheathing it again. ‘I think I’ll just finish you off with my fists. Sorry if this distresses you, tesora,’ he added to Claudia, ‘but don’t worry – it won’t take long, then I’ll see what I can do to comfort you – and who knows, maybe your little mamma as well!’

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