Assassin's Creed: Renaissance Page 29

‘Don’t count your chickens, Capitano,’ said Ezio. Roberto spun round to see what his men had already discovered: that they were surrounded by Assassin mercenaries, all armed to the teeth.

‘Ah,’ said Roberto, sinking down again. All the fight seemed to have gone out of him.

Once the Pazzi guards had been manacled and taken to the citadel’s dungeon, Roberto, provided with a fresh bottle, sat with Ezio at a table in a room off the courtyard, and talked. At last Roberto was convinced.

‘You want Vieri? I’ll tell you where he is. It’s all up with me anyway. Go to the Palazzo of the Dolphin in the square near the northern gate. There’s a meeting being held there…’

‘Who is he meeting? Do you know?’

Roberto shrugged. ‘More of his people from Florence, I think. Supposed to be bringing reinforcements with them.’

They were interrupted by Orazio, looking worried. ‘Ezio! Quickly! There’s a battle going on over by the cathedral. We’d better get going!’

‘All right! Let’s go!’

‘What about him?’

Ezio looked at Roberto. ‘Leave him. I think he may have chosen the right side at last.’

As soon as he was out in the square, Ezio could hear the noise of fighting coming from the open space in front of the cathedral. Drawing nearer, he saw that his uncle’s men, their backs to him, were being forced to retreat by a large brigade of Pazzi troops. Using his throwing-knives to clear a path, he fought his way to his uncle’s side and told him what he’d learned.

‘Good for Roberto!’ said Mario, barely missing a beat, as he cut and sliced at his attackers. ‘I always regretted his going over to the Pazzi, but he’s turned up trumps at last. Go! Find out what Vieri’s up to.’

‘But what about you? Will you be able to hold them off?’

Mario looked grim. ‘For a while at least, but our main force should have secured most of the towers by now, and then they’ll be here to join us. So make haste, Ezio! Don’t let Vieri escape!’

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The palazzo lay in the extreme north of the city, far from the fighting, though the Pazzi guards here were numerous – probably the reinforcements of whom Roberto had spoken – and Ezio had to pick his way carefully to avoid them.

He arrived just in time: the meeting appeared to be over, and he could see a group of four robed men making their way to a group of tethered horses. Ezio recognized Jacopo de’ Pazzi, his nephew, Francesco, Vieri himself, and – he let out a gasp of surprise – the tall Spaniard who had been present at his father’s execution. To his further surprise, Ezio noticed the arms of a cardinal embroidered on the shoulder of the man’s cloak. The men drew to a halt by the horses, and Ezio managed to reach the cover of a nearby tree to see if he could catch anything of their conversation. He had to strain, and the words came in snatches, but he overheard enough to intrigue him.

‘Then it’s settled,’ the Spaniard was saying. ‘Vieri, you will remain here and re-establish our position as soon as possible. Francesco will organize our forces in Florence for the moment when the right time comes to strike, and you, Jacopo, must be prepared to calm the populace once we have seized control. Do not hurry things: the better planned our action is, the greater the likelihood of success.’

‘But, Ser Rodrigo,’ put in Vieri, ‘what am I to do with that ubriacone, Mario?’

‘Get rid of him! There is no way that he must learn of our intentions.’ The man they called Rodrigo swung himself up into the saddle. Ezio saw his face clearly for a moment, the cold eyes, the aquiline nose, and guessed him to be in his mid-forties.

‘He’s always been trouble,’ snarled Francesco. ‘Just like that bastardo of a brother of his.’

‘Don’t worry, padre,’ said Vieri. ‘I will soon reunite them – in death!’

‘Come,’ said the man they called Rodrigo. ‘We have stayed too long.’ Jacopo and Francesco mounted their steeds beside him, and they turned towards the northern gate, which the Pazzi guards were already opening. ‘May the Father of Understanding guide us all!’

They rode out and the gates closed again behind them. Ezio was wondering whether now would be a good opportunity to try to cut Vieri down, but he was too well guarded, and besides, it might be better to take him alive and question him. But he carefully made a mental note of the names of the men he had overheard, intending to add them to his father’s list of enemies, for clearly a conspiracy was afoot in which they were all involved.

As it was, he was interrupted by the arrival of a further squad of Pazzi guards, the leader of which approached Vieri at a run.

‘What is it?’ snapped Vieri.

‘Commandante, I bring bad news. Mario Auditore’s men have broken through our last defences.’

Vieri sneered. ‘That’s what he thinks. But see,’ he waved at the strong force of men around him, ‘more men have arrived from Florence. We will sweep him out of San Gimignano before the day is done like the vermin he is!’ He raised his voice to the assembled soldiers. ‘Hurry to meet the enemy!’ he cried. ‘Crush them like the scum they are!’

Raising a harsh battle-cry, the Pazzi militia formed up under their officers and moved away from the north gate southwards through the city to encounter Mario’s condottieri. Ezio prayed that his uncle would not be taken unawares, for now he would be severely outnumbered. But Vieri had remained behind, and, alone now except for his personal bodyguard, was making his way back into the safety of the palazzo. No doubt he still had some business pertaining to the meeting to conclude there. Or perhaps he was returning to strap on his armour for the fray. Either way, soon, the sun would be up. It was now or never. Ezio stepped out of the darkness, pulling back the cowl from over his head.

‘Good morning, Messer de’ Pazzi,’ he said. ‘Had a busy night?’

Vieri rounded on him – a combination of shock and terror flickering across his face for an instant. He regained his composure, and blustered, ‘I might have known you’d turn up again. Make your peace with God, Ezio – I’ve more important things than you to deal with now. You’re just a pawn to be swept off the board.’

His guards rushed Ezio, but he was ready for them. He brought down the first of them with his last throwing-knife – the small blade scything through the air with a devilish zinging sound. Then he drew his sword and battle-dagger and closed with the rest of the guards. He cut and thrust like a madman in a swirl of blood, his movement economical and lethal, until the last, badly wounded, limped away to safety. But now Vieri was on him, wielding a cruel-looking battleaxe he’d seized from the saddle of his horse, which still stood where the others had been tethered. Ezio swerved to avoid his deadly aim, but the blow, though it glanced off his body-armour, still sent him reeling and he fell, letting his sword drop. In a moment, Vieri stood over him, kicking the sword out of reach, the axe raised above his head. Summoning his remaining strength, Ezio aimed a kick at his opponent’s groin, but Vieri saw it coming and jumped back. As Ezio took the chance to regain his feet, Vieri threw his axe at his left wrist, knocking the battle-dagger out of it and cutting a deep wound in the back of his left hand. Vieri drew his own sword and dagger.

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