Assassin's Creed: Renaissance Page 35

Manfredo could see that his rescuer meant every word he had said. He looked into the cold grey eyes, and something in his memory stirred. ‘Do I not know you?’ he said. ‘There’s something about you. You seem familiar.’

‘We have never met before,’ said Ezio. ‘And we need never meet again, unless…’ he broke off. Cristina was waiting at the end of the bridge, looking down. ‘Go to her, and keep your promise.’

‘I will.’ Manfredo hesitated. ‘I really do love her, you know. Perhaps I really have learned something today. And I will do everything in my power to make her happy. I need no threat to my life to make me promise that.’

‘I hope so. Now, go!’

Ezio watched Manfredo climb the embankment for a moment, feeling his eyes irresistibly drawn to Cristina’s. Their gaze met for a moment and he half-raised a hand in farewell. Then he turned and walked away. Not since the deaths of his kinsmen had his heart been so heavy.

Saturday evening found him still cast in deep gloom. At the darkest moments it seemed to him that he had lost everything – father, brothers, home, status, career – and now, wife! But then he reminded himself of the kindness and protection Mario had afforded him, and of his mother and sister, whom he had been able to save and protect. As for future and career – he still had both, except that they were running in a very different direction from that in which he had hitherto imagined they would run. He had a job to do, and no pining over Cristina would help him finish it. It would be impossible for him ever to cut her out of his heart, but he would have to accept the lonely destiny Fate had accorded him. Perhaps that was the way of the Assassin? Perhaps that was what adherence to the Creed involved?

He made his way to the Mercato Vecchio in a sombre mood. The district was shunned by most people he knew, and he himself had only once visited it before. The old market square was dingy and neglected, as were the buildings and streets that surrounded it. A number of people were passing to and fro, but this was no passeggiata. These people walked with a purpose, wasting no time, and kept their heads down. Ezio had taken care to dress simply, and had not worn a sword, though he had buckled on his new wristplate and his original spring-blade dagger too, in case of need. Still, he knew that he must stand out from the crowd around him, and he was on the alert.

He was wondering what course to take next, and was thinking of going into a low alehouse on the corner of the square to see if he could find out obliquely by what means he could make contact with the Fox, when a slim young man suddenly appeared from nowhere and jostled him.

‘Scusi, signore,’ said the young man politely, smiling, and moved swiftly past him. Instinctively, Ezio’s hand went to his belt. His precious belongings he had left safely stowed at his lodgings, but he had brought a few florins with him in his belt-purse, and now it was gone. He spun round to see the young man heading towards one of the narrow streets that led off the square, and gave chase. Seeing him, the thief doubled his pace, but Ezio managed to keep him in sight and ran after him, catching up with him at last and collaring him as he was about to enter a tall, nondescript tenement on Via Sant’ Angelo.

‘Give it back,’ he snarled.

‘I don’t know what you mean,’ retorted the thief, but his eyes were scared.

Ezio, who had been on the point of releasing his dagger, reined in his anger. The man, it suddenly occurred to him, might be able to give him the information he sought. ‘I have no interest in hurting you, friend,’ he said. ‘Just give me back my purse and we’ll say no more.’

After hesitating, ‘You win,’ said the young man, ruefully, reaching for the satchel at his side.

‘There’s just one thing,’ Ezio said.

The man was instantly wary. ‘What?’

‘Do you know where I might find a man who calls himself La Volpe?’

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Now the man looked seriously frightened. ‘Never heard of him. Here, take your money, signore, and let me go!’

‘Not until you’ve told me.’

‘Just a minute,’ said a deep, throaty voice behind him. ‘I may be able to help you.’

Ezio turned to see a broad-shouldered man of similar height to his own but perhaps ten or fifteen years older than he was. Over his head he wore a hood not unlike Ezio’s, which partly obscured his face, but under it Ezio could make out two piercing violet eyes which shone with a strange power, boring into him.

‘Please let my colleague go,’ said the man. ‘I’ll answer for him.’ To the young thief he said, ‘Give the gentleman his money, Corradin, and make yourself scarce. We’ll talk of this later.’ He spoke with such authority that Ezio released his grasp. In a second Corradin had placed Ezio’s purse in his hand and vanished into the building.

‘Who are you?’ Ezio asked.

The man smiled slowly. ‘My name is Gilberto, but they call me many things: murderer, for example, and tagliagole; but to my friends I am simply known as the Fox.’ He bowed slightly, still holding Ezio with those penetrating eyes of his. ‘And I am at your service, Messer Auditore. Indeed, I have been expecting you.’

‘How – how do you know my name?’

‘It is my business to know everything in this city. And I know, I think, why you believe I can help you.’

‘My uncle gave me your name -‘

The Fox smiled again, but said nothing.

‘I need to find someone – to be one step ahead of him as well, if I can.’

‘Who is it you seek?’

‘Francesco de’ Pazzi.’

‘Big game, I see.’ The Fox looked serious. ‘It may be that I can help you.’ He paused, considering. ‘I have had word that some people from Rome recently disembarked at the docks. They are here to attend a meeting which no one else is supposed to know about, but they do not know about me, still less that I am the eyes and ears of this city. The host of this meeting is the man you want.’

‘When is it to take place?’

‘Tonight!’ The Fox smiled again. ‘Don’t worry, Ezio – it isn’t Fate. I would have sent someone to fetch you to me if you hadn’t found me yourself, but it amused me to test you. Very few who seek me succeed.’

‘You mean, you set me up with Corradin?’

‘Forgive me my sense of the theatrical; but I also had to be sure you were not followed. He’s a young man, and it was also a kind of test for him. You see, I may have set you up with him, but he had no real idea of the service he was doing me. He just thought I’d singled out a victim for him!’ His tone became harder, more practical. ‘Now, you must find a way to spy on this meeting, but it won’t be easy.’ He looked at the sky. ‘It is sunset. We must hurry, and the quickest way is over the rooftops. Follow me!’

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