Assassin's Creed: Renaissance Page 30

‘If you want a job doing well, do it yourself,’ Vieri said. ‘Sometimes I wonder what I pay these so-called bodyguards for. Goodbye, Ezio!’ And he closed on his enemy.

The heat of pain had seared through the young man’s body as the axe had slashed his hand, making his head swim and his vision white-out. But now he remembered all that he had been taught, instinct taking over. He shook himself, and in the moment when Vieri poised himself to deliver the fatal blow on his supposedly unarmed opponent, Ezio flexed his right hand, spreading his fingers up and open. Instantaneously, the mechanism of his father’s concealed dagger clicked, the blade shooting out from under his fingers, extending to its full and lethal length, the dull metal belying the vicious edge.Vieri’s arm was raised. His flank was open. Ezio plunged the dagger into his side – the blade slipping in without the least resistance.

Vieri stood for a moment transfixed, then, dropping his weapons, fell to his knees. Blood flowed like a waterfall from between his ribs. Ezio caught him as he sank to the ground.

‘You don’t have much time, Vieri,’ he said urgently. ‘Now it is your chance to make your peace with God. Tell me, what were you discussing? What are your plans?’

Vieri answered him with a slow smile. ‘You will never defeat us,’ he said. ‘You will never conquer the Pazzi and you will certainly never conquer Rodrigo Borgia.’

Ezio knew he had only moments before he’d be talking to a corpse. He persisted with even greater urgency. ‘Tell me, Vieri! Had my father discovered your plans? Is that why your people had him killed?’

But Vieri’s face was ashen. He grasped Ezio’s arm tightly. A trickle of blood spilled from the corner of his mouth and his eyes were beginning to glaze. Still, he managed an ironic smile. ‘Ezio, what are you hoping for – a full confession? I’m sorry, but I just don’t have… the time…’ He gasped for breath and more blood flowed from his mouth. ‘A pity, really. In another world, we might even have been… friends.’

Ezio felt the grip on his arm relax.

But then the pain of his wound welled up again, together with the stark memory of the death of his kinsmen, and he was riven with a cold fury. ‘Friends?’ he said to the corpse. ‘Friends! You piece of shit! Your body should be left on the side of a road to rot like a dead crow! Nobody will miss you! I only wish you’d suffered more! I -‘

‘Ezio,’ said a strong, gentle voice behind him. ‘Enough! Show the man some respect.’

Ezio stood and whirled round to confront his uncle. ‘Respect? After all that’s happened? Do you think, if he’d won, he wouldn’t have hanged us from the nearest tree?’

Mario was battered, covered with dust and blood, but he stood firm.

‘But he didn’t win, Ezio. And you are not like him. Do not become a man like he was.’ He knelt by the body, and with a gloved hand reached down and closed its eyes. ‘May death provide the peace your poor, angry soul sought,’ he said. ‘Requiescat in pace.’

Ezio watched in silence. When his uncle stood up, he said, ‘Is it over?’

‘No,’ replied Mario. ‘There is still fierce fighting. But the tide is turning in our favour, Roberto has brought some of his men over to our side, and it is only a matter of time.’ He paused. ‘You will I am sure be grieved to know that Orazio is dead.’

‘Orazio – !’

‘He told me what a brave man you were before he died. Live up to that praise, Ezio.’

‘I will try.’ Ezio bit his lip. Though he did not acknowledge it consciously, this was another lesson learned.

‘I must rejoin my men. But I have something for you – something that will teach you a little more about your enemy. It’s a letter we took from one of the priests here. It was intended for Vieri’s father, but Francesco, evidently, is no longer here to receive it.’ He handed over a paper, the seal broken open. ‘This same priest will oversee the funeral rites. I’ll get one of my sergeants to make the arrangements.’

‘I have things to tell you -‘

Mario raised his hand. ‘Later, when our business here is finished. After this setback, our enemies won’t be able to move as fast as they’d hoped, and Lorenzo in Florence will be very much on his guard. For the moment, we have the advantage of them.’ He stopped. ‘But I must get back. Read the letter, Ezio, and reflect on what it says. And see to your hand.’

He was gone. Ezio moved away from Vieri’s body and sat beneath the tree he had hidden behind earlier. Flies were already hovering round Vieri’s face. Ezio opened the letter and read:

Messer Francesco:

I have done as you requested and spoken with your son. I agree with your assessment, though only in part. Yes, Vieri is brash, and prone to act without forethought; and he has a habit of treating his men like playthings, like chesspieces for whose lives he shows no more concern than if they were made of ivory or wood. And his punishments are indeed cruel: I have received reports of at least three men being disfigured as a result.

But I do not think him, as you put it, beyond repair. Rather, I believe the solution to be a simple matter. He seeks your approval. Your attention. These outbursts of his are a result of insecurities borne of a sense of inadequacy. He speaks of you fondly and often, and expresses a desire to be closer to you. So, if he is loud and foul and angry, I believe it is simply because he wants to be noticed. He wants to be loved.

Act as you see fit on the information I’ve given you here, but now I must ask that we end this correspondence. Were he to discover the nature of our discourse, I candidly fear what might become of me.

Yours in confidence,

Father Giocondo

Ezio sat for a long while after having read the letter, thinking. He looked at Vieri’s body. There was a wallet at his belt he had not noticed before. He walked over and took it, returning to his tree to examine its contents. There was a miniature picture of a woman, some florins in a pouch, a little notebook that had not been used, and, carefully rolled, a piece of vellum. With trembling hands, Ezio opened it, and immediately recognized what it was. A page of the Codex…

The sun rose higher, and a group of monks appeared with a wooden stretcher on which they laid Vieri’s body, and carried it away.

As spring turned to summer again, and the mimosa and azaleas had given way to lilies and roses, an uneasy peace returned to Tuscany. Ezio was content to see that his mother continued in her recovery, though her nerves had been so shattered by the tragedy that had struck her that now it seemed to him she might never leave the peaceful calm of the convent. Claudia was considering taking the first vows that would lead to her novitiate, a prospect that pleased him less, but he knew that she had been born with as stubborn a streak as his own, and that to try to thwart her would merely strengthen her resolve.

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