Assassin's Creed: Renaissance Page 45

‘The people will bless you, Capitano.’

‘I am no captain.’

‘To us you are,’ said Gambalto, simply. ‘Take a detachment of men from here. Salviati is heavily guarded and the mansion is an old, fortified building.’

‘Very well,’ said Ezio. ‘It is good that the eggs are close together, almost in one nest.’

‘The others cannot be far away, Ezio. We will endeavour to find them during your absence.’

Ezio selected a dozen of Gambalto’s best hand-to-hand combat fighters, and led them on foot across the fields that separated them from the mansion where Salviati had taken refuge. He had his men fanned out, but within calling distance of one another, and the Pazzi outposts Salviati had put into position were easily either avoided or neutralized. But Ezio lost two of his own men in the approach.

Ezio had hoped to take the mansion by surprise, before its occupants were aware of his attack, but when he came close to the solid main gates a figure appeared on the walls above them, dressed in the robes of an archbishop, gripping the battlements with claw-like hands. A vulturine face peered down, and was quickly withdrawn.

‘It’s Salviati,’ Ezio said to himself.

There were no other guards posted outside the gates. Ezio beckoned to his men to come up close to the walls, so that archers would not have enough of an angle to fire down at them. There was no doubt that Salviati would have concentrated what remained of his bodyguard inside the walls, which were high and thick enough to seem unbreachable. Ezio was wondering whether he should once again attempt climbing up and over the walls, and open the gates from the inside to admit his troops, but he knew that the Pazzi guards inside would be alerted to his presence.

Motioning to his men to stay out of sight, huddled against the walls, he crouched low and made his way back through the tall grass the short distance to where the body of one of their enemies lay. Quickly he stripped and donned the man’s uniform, bundling his own clothes under his arm.

He rejoined his men, who at first bristled at the sight of a supposed Pazzi approaching, and handed his clothes over to one of them. Then he banged on the gates with the pommel of his sword.

‘Open!’ he cried. ‘In the name of the Father of Understanding!’

A tense minute passed. Ezio stood back so that he could be seen from the walls. And then he heard the sound of heavy bolts being drawn.

As soon as the gates began to open, Ezio and his men stormed them, heaving them back and scattering the guards within. They found themselves in a courtyard, around which the mansion formed itself in three wings. Salviati himself stood at the top of a flight of stairs in the middle of the main wing. A dozen burly men, fully armed, stood between him and Ezio. More occupied the courtyard.

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‘Filthy treachery!’ cried the archbishop. ‘But you will not get out again as easily as you have got in.’ He raised his voice to a commanding roar: ‘Kill them! Kill them all!’

The Pazzi troops closed in, all but surrounding Ezio’s men. But the Pazzi had not trained under such a man as Mario Auditore, and despite the odds against them, Ezio’s condottieri engaged successfully with their opponents in the courtyard, while Ezio sprang towards the stairs. He released his poison-blade and slashed at the men surrounding Salviati. It didn’t matter where he hit; every time he struck and drew blood, be it only at a man’s cheek, that man died in a heartbeat.

‘You are indeed a demon – from the Fourth Ring of the Ninth Circle!’ Salviati spoke in a shuddering voice as at last he and Ezio confronted one another alone.

Ezio retracted the poison-blade, but drew his battle-dagger. He grasped Salviati by the scruff of his cope and held the blade to the archbishop’s neck. ‘The Templars lost their Christianity when they discovered banking,’ he said, evenly. ‘Do you not know your own gospel? “Thou canst not serve God and Mammon!” But now is your chance to redeem yourself. Tell me – where is Jacopo?’

Salviati glared in defiance. ‘You will never find him!’

Ezio drew the blade gently but firmly across the man’s gizzard, drawing a little blood. ‘You’ll have to do better than that, Arcivescovo.’

‘Night guards us when we meet – now, finish your business!’

‘So, you skulk like the murderers you are under cover of darkness. Thank you for that. I will ask you once more. Where?’

‘The Father of Understanding knows that what I do now is for the greater good,’ said Salviati coldly, and, suddenly seizing Ezio’s wrist with both his hands, he forced the dagger deep into his own throat.

‘Tell me!’ yelled Ezio. But the archbishop, his mouth bubbling blood, had already sunk at his feet, his gorgeous yellow-and-white robes blossoming red.

It was to be several months before Ezio had further news of the conspirators he sought. Meanwhile, he worked with Mario to plan how they might retake San Gimignano and free its citizens from the cruel yoke of the Templars, but they had learned a lesson from the last time, and maintained an iron grip on the city. Knowing that the Templars would also be searching for the still-missing pages of the Codex, Ezio roamed far and wide in quest of them himself, but to no avail. The pages already in the possession of the Assassins remained concealed, under Mario’s strict guard, for without them, the secret of the Creed would never yield to the Templars.

Then, one day, a courier from Florence rode up to Monteriggioni bearing a letter from Leonardo for Ezio. Quickly, he reached for a mirror, for he knew his friend’s habit, being left-handed, of writing backwards – though the spidery scrawl would have been difficult for the most talented reader, unfamiliar with it, to decipher in any circumstances. Ezio broke the seal and read eagerly, his heart lifting at every line:

Gentile Ezio,

Duke Lorenzo has asked me to send you news – of Bernardo Baroncelli! It seems that the man managed to take ship for Venice, and from thence secretly made his way, incognito, to the court of the Ottoman sultan at Constantinople, planning to seek refuge there. But he spent no time in Venice, and did not learn that the Venetians had recently signed a peace with the Turks – they have even sent their second-best painter, Gentile Bellini, to make a portrait of Sultan Mehmet. So that when he arrived, and his true identity became known, he was arrested.

Of course then you can imagine the letters that flew between the Sublime Porte and Venice; but the Venetians are our allies too – at least for now – and Duke Lorenzo is nothing if not a master diplomat. Baroncelli was sent in chains back to Florence, and once here, he was put to the question. But he was stubborn, or foolish, or brave, I know not which – he withstood the rack and the white-hot tongs and the floggings and the rats nibbling his feet, only telling us that the conspirators used to meet by night in an old crypt under Santa Maria Novella. Of course a search was made but yielded nothing. So he was hanged. I have done rather a good sketch of him hanging, which I will show you when we next meet. I think it is, anatomically speaking, quite accurate.

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