Assassin's Creed: Renaissance Page 26

Mario paused before replying. ‘Are you familiar with the Order of the Knights Templar?’

‘I have heard of them.’

‘They were founded many centuries ago, soon after the First of the Crusades, and became an elite fighting force of warriors for God – effectively they were monks in armour. They took a pledge of abstinence and a vow of poverty. But the years rolled by, and their status changed. In time, they became involved in international finance, and very successful they were at it, too. Other Orders of Knights – the Hospitallers and the Teutonic Knights – looked on them askance, and their power began to be a cause for concern, even to kings. They established a base in southern France, and planned to form their own state. They paid no taxes, supported their own private army, and began to lord it over everyone. At last, nearly two hundred years ago, King Philip the Fair of France moved against them. There was a terrible purge, the Templars were arrested and driven away, massacred, and at last excommunicated by the Pope. But they could not all be rooted out – they had fifteen thousand chapters throughout Europe. Nevertheless, with their estates and properties annexed, the Templars seemed to dis appear, their power apparently broken.’

‘What happened to them?’

Mario shook his head. ‘Of course, it was a ruse to ensure their own survival. They went underground, hoarding the riches they had salvaged, maintaining their organization, and bent more than ever now on their true goal.’

‘And what was that?’

‘What is that, you mean!’ Mario’s eyes blazed. ‘Their intention is nothing less than world domination. And only one organization is devoted to thwarting them. The Order of the Assassins, to which your father – and I – have the honour to belong.’

Ezio needed a moment to take this in. ‘And was Alberti one of the Templars?’

Mario nodded solemnly. ‘Yes. As are all the others on your father’s list.’

‘And – Vieri?’

‘He is one as well, and his father Francesco, and all the Pazzi clan.’

Ezio pondered this. ‘That explains much…’ he said. ‘There is something I haven’t shown you yet -‘

He rolled up his sleeve to reveal his secret dagger.

‘Ah,’ said Mario. ‘You were wise not to reveal that until you were sure you could trust even me completely. I was wondering what had become of it. And I see that you have had it repaired. It was your father’s, given to him by our father, and to him by his. It was broken in… a confrontation your father was involved in many years ago, but he could never find a craftsman skilled or trustworthy enough to restore it. You have done well, my boy.’

‘Even so,’ said Ezio. ‘All this talk of Assassins and Templars sounds like something from an ancient tale – it reeks of the fantastic.’

Mario smiled. ‘Like something from an old parchment covered in arcane writing, perhaps?’

‘You know of the Codex page?’

Mario shrugged. ‘Had you forgotten? It was with the papers you handed over to me.’

‘Can you tell me what it is?’ Ezio was somehow reluctant to involve his friend Leonardo in this unless it became strictly necessary.

‘Well, whoever repaired your blade must have been able to read at least some of it,’ said Mario, but he raised his hand as Ezio was about to open his mouth. ‘But I will ask you no questions. I can see that you wish to protect someone, and I will respect that. But there is more to the page than the working instructions for your weapon. The pages of the Codex are scattered now throughout Italy. It is a guide to the inner workings of the Assassins’ Order, its origin, purpose and techniques. It is, if you will, our Creed. Your father believed that the Codex contained a powerful secret. Something that would change the world.’ He paused for thought. ‘Perhaps that is why they came for him.’

Ezio was overwhelmed at this information – it was a huge amount to take in all at once. ‘Assassins, Templars, this strange Codex -‘

‘I will be your guide, Ezio. But you must first learn to open your mind, and always remember this: nothing is true. Everything is permitted.’

Mario would tell him nothing more then, though Ezio pressed him. Instead, his uncle continued to put him through the most rigorous process of military training, and from dawn to dusk he found himself exercising with the young condottieri on the practice-ground, falling into bed each night too exhausted to think of anything but sleep. And then, one day…

‘Well done, nephew!’ his uncle told him. ‘I think you are ready.’

Ezio was pleased. ‘Thank you, Uncle, for all you’ve given me.’

Mario’s answer was to give the boy a bear-hug. ‘You are family! Such is my duty and desire!’

‘I’m glad you persuaded me to stay.’

Mario looked at him keenly. ‘So – have you reconsidered your decision to leave?’

Ezio returned his gaze. ‘I am sorry, Uncle, but my mind is made up. For the safety of Mamma and Claudia – I still intend to make for the coast and take ship for Spain.’

Mario did not hide his displeasure. ‘Forgive me, nephew, but I have not taught you the skills you now have either for my own amusement or your exclusive benefit. I have taught you so that you may be better prepared to strike against our enemies.’

‘And, if they find me, so I will.’

‘So,’ Mario said bitterly. ‘You want to leave? To throw away everything your father fought and died for? To deny your very heritage? Well! I cannot pretend to you that I am not disappointed – highly disappointed. But so be it. Orazio will take you to the convent when you judge the moment to be right for your mother to travel, and he will see you on your way. I wish you buona fortuna.’

With that, Mario turned his back on his nephew and stalked away.

More time passed, as Ezio found he had to allow his mother enough peace and quiet to pave the way to her recovery. He himself made his preparations for leaving with a heavy heart. At last he set out to pay what he imagined might be his last visit to the convent to visit his mother and sister before taking them away, and found them better than he’d dared to hope. Claudia had made friends with some of the younger nuns, and it was clear to Ezio, to his surprise and not greatly to his pleasure, that she was beginning to be attracted to the life. Meanwhile his mother was making a steady but slow recovery, and the abbess, on hearing of his plans, demurred, advising him that rest was what she still badly needed, and that she should not be moved again just yet.

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