Assassin's Creed: Renaissance Page 40

‘I will go,’ said Ezio. ‘I have unfinished business with Messer Francesco as it is.’

Lorenzo looked at him. ‘You have done enough.’

‘Not until this job is finished, Altezza. And Angelo is right – he has a more important task to perform – getting you to the safety of your palazzo.’

‘Signori,’ the Medici messenger put in. ‘I have more news. I saw Francesco de’ Pazzi leading a troop to the rear of the Palazzo Vecchio. He’s seeking a way in on the Signoria’s blind side.’

Poliziano looked at Ezio. ‘Go. Arm yourself and take a detachment from here, and hurry. This man will go with you and be your guide. He will show you where it is safest to leave this church. From there, it will take you ten minutes to reach the Palazzo Vecchio.’

Ezio bowed, and turned to leave.

‘Florence will never forget what you are doing for her,’ said Lorenzo. ‘Go with God.’

Outside, the bells of most of the churches were ringing, adding to the cacophony of clashing steel, and of human cries and groans. The city was in turmoil, wagons set afire blazed in the streets, pockets of soldiery from both sides ran hither and yon, or faced each other in pitched mêlées. The dead were scattered everywhere, in the squares and along the roadways, but there was too much tumult for the crows to dare to fly in for the feast they regarded with their harsh black eyes from the rooftops.

The western doors of the Palazzo Vecchio stood open, and the noise of fighting came from the courtyard within. Ezio brought his little troop to a halt and accosted a Medici officer who was running towards the palazzo in charge of another squad.

‘Do you know what’s going on?’

‘The Pazzi broke in from the rear and opened the doors from within. But our men inside the palazzo are keeping them off. They haven’t got beyond the courtyard. With luck we’ll be able to hem them in!’

‘Is there news of Francesco de’ Pazzi?’

‘He and his men are holding the back entrance of the Palazzo. If we could gain control of that we’d have them trapped for sure.’

Ezio turned to his men. ‘Let’s go!’ he shouted.

They rushed across the square and down the narrow street which ran along the north wall of the palazzo, where a very different Ezio had climbed to his father’s cell window long ago, and, taking the first right from it, quickly encountered the Pazzi troop under Francesco guarding the rear entrance.

They were immediately on their guard, and when Francesco recognized Ezio he cried, ‘You again! Why aren’t you dead yet? You murdered my son!’

‘He tried to murder me!’

‘Kill him! Kill him now!’

The two sides engaged fiercely, hacking and cutting at each other in near-desperate fury, for the Pazzi knew full well how important it was to protect their line of retreat. Ezio, cold rage in his heart, muscled his way towards Francesco, who took a stand with his back to the palazzo door. The sword Ezio had taken from the Medici armoury was well balanced and its blade was of Toledo steel, but the weapon was unfamiliar to him and, as a consequence, his blows were a fraction less effective than he’d normally inflict. He had maimed rather than killed the men who had stood in his way. This Francesco had noticed.

‘You think yourself a master swordsman now, do you, boy? You can’t even make a clean kill. Let me give you a demonstration.’

They fell on each other then, sparks flying from their blades as they clashed; but Francesco had less room to manoeuvre than Ezio and, twenty years his senior, was beginning to tire, even though he had seen less action that day than his opponent.

‘Guards!’ he cried at last. ‘To me!’

But his men had fallen back before the Medici onslaught. He and Ezio now faced each other alone. Francesco looked desperately around for a means of retreat himself, but there was none save through the palazzo itself. He threw open the door behind him and went up a stone staircase that ran up the inside wall. Ezio realized that as most of the Medici defenders would be concentrated at the front of the building where most of the fighting was, they probably didn’t have enough men to cover the rear as well. Ezio raced up after him to the second floor.

The rooms here were deserted, since all the occupants of the palazzo, save for half a dozen frightened clerks who ran away as soon as they saw them, were down below, fighting to contain the Pazzi in the courtyard. Francesco and Ezio fought their way through the gilded, high-ceilinged staterooms until they reached a balcony high above the Piazza della Signoria. The noise of battle reached up to them from below, and Francesco called out hopelessly for aid, but there was no one to hear him, and his last retreat was cut off.

‘Stand and fight,’ said Ezio. ‘It’s just us now.’

‘Maledetto!’

Ezio slashed at him, drawing blood from his left arm. ‘Come on, Francesco, where’s all the courage you showed when you had my father killed? When you stabbed Giuliano this morning?’

‘Get the hell away from me, you spawn of the devil!’ Francesco lunged, but he was tiring, and his aim went far too wide. He staggered forwards, his balance thrown, and Ezio stood deftly aside, raising his foot and bringing it firmly down on Francesco’s sword blade, pulling the man down with it.

Before Francesco could recover, Ezio stamped on his hand, making him let go of the hilt, grabbed him by the shoulder and heaved him over on to his back. As he struggled to get up, Ezio kicked him brutally in the face. Francesco’s eyes rolled as he struggled into unconsciousness. Ezio knelt down and proceeded to frisk the old man while he was half-awake, ripping off body-armour and his doublet, revealing the pale, wiry body beneath. But there were no documents, nothing of importance on him. Just a handful of florins in his purse.

Ezio flung aside his sword and released his spring-blade dagger. He knelt, put an arm under Francesco’s neck and pulled him up so that their faces were almost touching.

Francesco’s eyelids flickered open. His eyes expressed horror and fear. ‘Spare me!’ he managed to croak.

At that moment a great cry of victory rose from the courtyard below. Ezio listened to the voices, and caught enough to understand that the Pazzi had been routed. ‘Spare you?’ he said. ‘I’d as soon spare a rabid wolf.’

‘No!’ shrieked Francesco. ‘I beg you!’

‘This is for my father,’ said Ezio, stabbing him in the gizzard. ‘And this is for Federico,’ stabbing him again, ‘And this for Petruccio; and this for Giuliano!’

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