Assassin's Creed: Renaissance Page 25

Ezio nodded. He would see them settled and persuade Claudia that it was the best temporary solution, for he could not see her wanting to remain long in such seclusion.

They were approaching the little town.

‘I thought Monteriggioni was an enemy of Florence,’ Ezio said.

‘No so much of Florence as of the Pazzi,’ his uncle told him. ‘But you are old enough to know about alliances between city-states, whether they are big ones or small ones. One year there is a friendship, the next, enmity; and the following year there is friendship again. And so it seems to go on for ever, like a mad game of chess. But you’ll like it here. The people are honest and hard-working, and the goods we produce are solid and hard-wearing. The priest is a good man, doesn’t drink too much, and minds his own business. And I mind mine, around him – but I’ve never been a very devoted son of the Church myself. Best of all is the wine – the best Chianti you will ever taste comes from my own vineyards. Come, just a little further, and we’ll be there.’

Mario’s castle was the ancient seat of the Auditori and had been built in the 1250s, though the site had originally been occupied by a much more ancient construction. Mario had refined and added to the building, which nowadays had more of the appearance of an opulent villa, though its walls were high, many feet in thickness, and well fortified. Before it and in place of a garden was a large practice-field, where Ezio could see a couple of dozen young armed men engaged in various exercises to improve their fighting technique.

‘Casa, dolce casa,’ said Mario. ‘You haven’t been here since you were a little boy. Been some changes since then. What do you think?’

‘It’s most impressive, Uncle.’

The rest of the day was filled with activity. Mario showed Ezio around the castle, organized his accommodation, and made sure that Claudia and Maria had been safely housed in the nearby convent, whose abbess was an old and dear friend (and, it was rumoured, long ago a mistress) of Mario. But the following morning he was summoned early to his uncle’s workroom, a large, high-ceilinged place, whose walls were festooned with maps, armour and weapons, and furnished with a heavy oak table and chairs.

‘You’d better get into the town quickly,’ Mario said one day soon afterwards in a businesslike voice. Get yourself properly kitted out. I’ll send one of my men with you. Come back here when you’ve finished and we’ll begin.’

‘Begin what, Uncle?’

Mario looked surprised. ‘I thought you’d come here to train.’

‘No, Uncle – that was not my intention. This was the first place of safety I could think of once we had to flee Florence. But my intention is to take my mother and sister further still.’

Mario looked grave. ‘But what about your father? Don’t you think he’d want you to finish his work?’

‘What – as a banker? The family business is over – the House of Auditore is no more, unless Duke Lorenzo has managed to keep it out of Pazzi hands.’

‘I wasn’t thinking of that,’ began Mario, and then interrupted himself. ‘Do you mean to say Giovanni never told you?’

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‘I am sorry, Uncle, but I have no idea what you are talking about.’

Mario shook his head. ‘I don’t know what your father must have been thinking of. Perhaps he judged the time not to be right. But events have overtaken any such consideration now.’ He looked hard at Ezio. ‘We must talk, long and hard. Leave me the documents you have in your pouch. I must study them while you go into the town and get yourself equipped. Here’s a list of what you’ll need, and money to pay for it.’

In a confused mood, Ezio set off for the town in the company of one of Mario’s sergeants, a grizzled veteran called Orazio, and under his guidance acquired from the armourer there a battle-dagger, light body-armour, and – from the local doctor – bandages and a basic medical kit. He returned to the castle to find Mario waiting impatiently for him.

‘Salute,’ said Ezio. ‘I have done as you requested.’

‘And quickly too. Ben fatto! And now, we must teach you properly how to fight.’

‘Uncle, forgive me, but as I told you, I have no intention of staying.’

Mario bit his lip. ‘Listen, Ezio, you were barely able to hold your own against Vieri. If I hadn’t arrived when I did…’ He broke off. ‘Well, leave if you must, but at least first learn the skills and knowledge you’ll need to defend yourself, or you won’t last a week on the road.’

Ezio was silent.

‘If not for me, do it for the sake of your mother and sister,’ Mario pressed him.

Ezio considered his options, but he had to admit that his uncle had a point. ‘Well, then,’ he said. ‘Since you’ve been kind enough to see me kitted out.’

Mario beamed and clapped him on the shoulder. ‘Good man! You’ll live to thank me!’

In the following weeks the most intensive instruction in the use of arms followed, but while he was learning new battle skills, Ezio was also finding out more about his family background, and the secrets his father had not had time to divulge to him. And, as Mario let him have the run of his library, he gradually became troubled by the fact that he might be on the verge of a far more important destiny than he had believed possible.

‘You say my father was more than just a banker?’ he asked his uncle.

‘Far more,’ replied Mario gravely. ‘You father was a highly trained killer.’

‘That cannot be – my father was always a financier, a businessman… how could he have possibly been a killer?’

‘No, Ezio, he was much more than that. He was born and bred to kill. He was a senior member of the Order of Assassins.’ Mario hesitated. ‘I know you must have found out something more about all this in the library. We must discuss the documents that were entrusted to you, and which you – thank God! – had the wit to retrieve from Alberti. That list of names – it isn’t a catalogue of debtors, you know. It carries the names of all those responsible for your father’s murder – and they are men who form part of a still greater conspiracy.’

Ezio struggled to take it all in – everything he thought he knew about his father, his family, it all now seemed to be a half-truth. How could his father have kept this from him? It was all so inconceivable, so alien. Ezio chose his words with care – his father must have had a reason for this secrecy. ‘I accept that there was more to my father than I ever knew, and forgive me for doubting your word, but why is the need for secrecy so great?’

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