Assassin's Creed: Renaissance Page 27

When he returned to Mario’s castle, therefore, he was full of misgivings, and he was aware that these misgivings had grown with time.

At that period, some kind of military preparations had been going on in Monteriggioni, and now they seemed to be coming to a head. The sight of them distracted him. His uncle was nowhere to be seen, but he managed to track Orazio down to the map-room.

‘What’s going on?’ he asked. ‘Where’s my uncle?’

‘He’s preparing for battle.’

‘What? With whom?’

‘Oh, I expect he’d have told you if he’d thought you were staying. But we all know that that is not your intention.’

‘Well…’

‘Listen, your old friend Vieri de’ Pazzi has set himself up at San Gimignano. He’s tripling the garrison there and has let it be known that as soon as he’s ready, he’s coming to raze Monteriggioni to the ground. So we’re going there first, to crush the little snake and teach the Pazzi a lesson they won’t forget in a hurry.’

Ezio took a deep breath. Surely this changed everything. And perhaps it was Fate – the very stimulus he’d unconsciously been seeking. ‘Where is my uncle?’

‘In the stables.’

Ezio was already halfway out of the room.

‘Hey! Where are you off to?’

‘To the stables! There must be a horse for me, too!’

Orazio smiled as he watched him go.

7

Mario, with Ezio riding at his side, led his forces to within sight of San Gimignano in the middle of a spring night in 1477. It was to be the beginning of a tough confrontation.

‘Tell me again what made you change your mind,’ said Mario, still much pleased by his nephew’s change of heart.

‘You just like to hear it.’

‘What if I do? Anyway, I knew it’d take Maria a good while to recover, and they are safe enough where they are, as you well know.’

Ezio smiled. ‘As I’ve already told you, I wanted to take responsibility. As I’ve already told you, Vieri troubles you because of me.’

‘And as I’ve told you, young man, you certainly have a healthy sense of your own importance. The truth is, Vieri troubles us because he is a Templar and we are Assassins.’

As he spoke, Mario was scanning the tall towers, built close together, of San Gimignano. The square-built structures seemed almost to scrape the sky, and Ezio had a strange sense of having seen such a view before, but it must have been either in a dream or in another life, for he had no precise memory of the occasion.

The tops of the towers were each aflame with torch-light, and there were many other torches visible on the battlements of the town walls, and at its gates.

‘He’s well garrisoned,’ said Mario. ‘And to judge by the torches it looks as if Vieri may well be expecting us. It’s a pity, but I’m not surprised. After all, he has his spies just as I have mine.’ He paused. ‘I can see archers on the ramparts, and the gates are heavily guarded.’ He continued to scan the city. ‘But even so, it looks as if he hasn’t got enough men to cover every gate sufficiently. The one on the south side looks less well defended – it must be the place he expects an attack to be least likely. So that is where we’ll strike.’

He raised an arm and kicked his horse’s flanks. His force moved forward behind him. Ezio rode beside him. ‘This is what we’ll do,’ said Mario, his voice urgent. ‘My men and I will engage the guards at the gate, while you must find a way over the wall and get the gate opened from the inside. We must be silent and swift.’

He unslung a bandolier of throwing-knives and handed it to Ezio. ‘Take these. Use them to dispatch the archers.’

As soon as they were close enough, they dismounted. Mario led a group of his best soldiers towards the cohort of guards posted at the southern entrance to the town. Ezio left them, and hurried the last hundred yards on foot, using the cover of bushes and shrubs to conceal his progress, until he found himself at the foot of the wall. He had his hood up, and by the light of the torches at the gate he could see that the shadow cast by his hood on the wall bore a strange resemblance to an eagle’s head. He looked up. The wall rose sheer above him, fifty feet or more. He couldn’t see if anyone was on the battlements above. Slinging his bandolier securely, he began to climb. It was hard, as the walls were of dressed stone and gave few opportunities for footholds, but embrasures near the top allowed him to gain a firm place to lodge himself while he peered warily over the battlements’ edge. Along the rampart to his left, two archers, their backs to him, were leaning over the wall, bows drawn. They had seen Mario’s attack begin, and were preparing to fire down on the Assassin condottieri. Ezio did not hesitate. It was their lives or those of his friends, and now he appreciated the new skills his uncle had insisted on teaching him. Quickly, concentrating his mind and his eye in the flickering semi-darkness, he drew two knives and threw them, one after the other, with deadly accuracy. The first struck an archer in the nape of the neck – the blow fatal in an instant. The man slumped over the crenellations without a whisper. The next knife flew a little lower, catching the second man full in the back with such force that, with a hollow cry, he pitched forward into the blackness beneath.

Below him, at the foot of a narrow stone stairway, lay the gate, but now he appreciated that Vieri’s force was not enough to guard the city with absolute efficiency, for there were no soldiers posted on its interior side. He bounded down the steps three at a time, seeming almost to fly, and soon located the lever that operated the heavy iron bolts which locked the solid, ten-foot-high oak doors. He pulled it, needing all his strength to do so, for it was not designed to yield to the force of just one man, but at last the job was done, and he hauled on one of the massive rings which were set into the doors at shoulder height. It gave, and the gate began to swing open, revealing as it did so that Mario and his men were just completing their bloody task. Two Assassin men lay dead, but twenty of Vieri’s force had been sent to their Maker.

‘Well done, Ezio!’ Mario cried softly. So far, no alarm seemed to have been raised, but it would only be a matter of time.

‘Come on!’ said Mario. ‘Silently, now!’ He turned to one of his sergeants and said, ‘Go back and bring the main force up.’

Then he led the way carefully through the silent streets – Vieri must have imposed some kind of curfew, for there was no one to be seen. Once, they almost fell foul of a Pazzi patrol. Shrinking back into the shadows, they let it pass, before rushing up from the rear to attack the men and bring them down with clinical efficiency.

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