Assassin's Creed: Renaissance Page 43

‘It is a hatred I reciprocate.’

‘Rest first – then tell me all.’

That evening the two men sat down together in Mario’s study. Mario listened intently as Ezio told him all he knew of the events that had passed in Florence. He returned Vieri’s Codex page to his uncle, and then passed over the one he had been given by Lorenzo, describing the design it contained for the poison-blade, and showing it to him. Mario was duly impressed, but fixed his attention on the new page.

‘My friend was not able to decipher more than the description of the weapon,’ said Ezio.

‘That is as well. Not all the pages contain such instructions, and only those that do should be of any interest to him,’ said Mario, an underlying note of caution in his voice. ‘In any case, only when the pages are reunited shall we be able to understand fully the meaning of the Codex. But this page, when we place it, together with Vieri’s, with the others, should bring us a step further.’

He rose, walked over to the bookcase that concealed the wall on which the Codex pages hung, swung it back, and studied where the new pages might go. One of them connected with those already in place. The other touched a corner of it. ‘It is interesting that Vieri and his father should have owned pages that were evidently close together,’ he said. ‘Now, let us see what…’ He broke off, concentrating. ‘Hmmn,’ he said at last, but his voice was troubled.

‘Does this bring us any further, Uncle?’

‘I’m not sure. We may be just as much in the dark as ever, but there is definitely some reference to a prophet – not from the Bible, but either a living prophet, or one who is to come…’

‘Who could it be?’

‘Let’s not go too fast.’ Mario brooded over the pages, his lips moving, speaking a language Ezio did not understand. ‘As far as I can make out, the text here roughly translates as “Only the Prophet may open it…” And here, there’s a reference to two “Pieces of Eden”, but what that means, I do not know. We must be patient, until we have more pages of the Codex.’

‘I know the Codex is important, Uncle, but I have what is for me a more pressing reason to be here than to unravel its mystery. I seek the renegade, Jacopo de’ Pazzi.’

‘He certainly travelled south after fleeing Florence.’ Mario hesitated before continuing. ‘I had not meant to talk of this with you tonight, Ezio, but the matter is as urgent to me as I see it is to you, and we have to start our preparations soon. My old friend Roberto has been driven out of San Gimignano and it has become once more a stronghold of the Templars. It is too close to Florence, and to us, to remain so. I believe that Jacopo may seek refuge there.’

‘I have a list of the names of the other conspirators,’ said Ezio, taking it from his wallet and handing it to his uncle.

‘Good. Some of these men will have far less to fall back on than Jacopo, and may be easy to root out. I’ll send spies out into the countryside at dawn to see what they can discover about them, and in the meantime we must prepare to retake San Gimignano.’

‘By all means make your men ready, but for me there is no time to waste if I am to bring these murderers down.’

Mario considered. ‘Perhaps you are right – a man alone can often breach walls which an army cannot. And we should bring them down while they still think they are safe.’ He considered for a moment. ‘So, I give you my permission. You go on ahead and see what you can discover. I know you are more than able to look after yourself these days.’

‘Uncle, my thanks!’

‘Not so fast, Ezio! I grant you this leave on one condition.’

‘Which is?’

‘That you delay your departure for a week.’

‘A week?’

‘If you are to go out into the field alone, with no back-up, you will need more than these Codex weapons to help you. You are a man now, and a brave fighter for the Assassins. But your reputation will make the Templars even hungrier for your blood, and I know that there are still skills which you lack.’

Ezio shook his head impatiently. ‘No, Uncle, I am sorry, but a week – !’

Mario frowned, but raised his voice only slightly. It was enough. ‘I have heard good things of you, Ezio, but also bad. You lost control when you killed Francesco. And you allowed sentiment over Cristina to tempt you from your path. Your whole duty now is to the Creed, for if you neglect it, there may be no world left for you to enjoy.’ He drew himself up. ‘I speak with your father’s voice when I command your obedience.’

Ezio had watched his uncle grow in stature, even in size, as he spoke. And painful as it was to accept, he acknowledged the truth of what he had been told. Bitterly, he bowed his head.

‘Good,’ said Mario, more kindly. ‘And you will thank me for this. Your new combat training begins in the morning. And remember, the preparation is all!’

A week later, armed and ready, Ezio rode out for San Gimignano. Mario had told him to make contact with one of the condottieri patrols he had posted within sight of the town to keep track of its comings and goings, and he joined one of their encampments for his first night away from Monteriggioni.

The sergeant in command, a tough, battle-scarred man of twenty-five, whose name was Gambalto, gave him a slab of bread with pecorino and a mug of heavy Vernaccia, and while he was eating and drinking told him the news.

‘I think it’s a shame Antonio Maffei ever left Volterra. He’s got a bee in his bonnet about Lorenzo and thinks the Duke crushed his home town, whereas all he did was bring it under the wing of Florence. Now Maffei’s gone mad. He’s set himself up at the top of the cathedral tower, surrounded himself with Pazzi archers, and spends each day spouting scripture and arrows in equal measure. God knows what his plan is – to convert the citizens to his cause with his sermons, or kill them off with his arrows. The ordinary people of San Gimignano hate him, but as long as he continues his reign of terror, the city is powerless against him.’

‘So he needs to be neutralized.’

‘Well, that would certainly weaken the Pazzi power-base in the city.’

‘How well defended are they?’

‘Plenty of men on the watchtowers and at the gates. But they change the guard at dawn. Then, a man like you might be able to get over the walls and into the city unseen.’

Ezio mused, wondering whether this was a distraction from his own mission to hunt down Jacopo. But he reflected that he must be able to see the bigger picture – this Maffei was a Pazzi supporter and it was Ezio’s wider duty as an Assassin to unseat this madman.

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