Assassin's Creed: Renaissance Page 47

‘I am unarmed,’ he said. ‘I fight with the mind.’

‘To use that, you must remain alive. Can you defend yourself?’

‘Would you kill me in cold blood?’

‘I will kill you because it is necessary that you die.’

‘A good answer! But do you not think I may have secrets that would be useful to you?’

‘I can see that you would not bow under any torture.’

Stefano looked at him appraisingly. ‘I will take that as a compliment, though I am not so sure myself. However, it is of merely academic significance.’ He paused, before continuing in his thin voice. ‘You have missed your chance, Ezio. The die is cast. The Assassins’ cause is lost. I know you will kill me whatever I do or say, and that I shall be dead before the midday Mass is over; but my death will profit you nothing. The Templars already have you in check, and soon it will be checkmate.’

‘You cannot be sure of that.’

‘I am about to meet my Maker – if He exists at all. It will be refreshing to find out. In the meantime, why should I lie?’

Ezio released his dagger.

‘How clever,’ commented Stefano. ‘What will they think of next?’

‘Redeem yourself,’ said Ezio. ‘Tell me what you know.’

‘What do you wish to know? The whereabouts of my Master, Jacopo?’ Stefano smiled. ‘That is easy. He meets our confederates soon, at night, in the shadow of the Roman gods.’ He paused. ‘I hope that makes you happy, for nothing you can do will make me say more. And it is in any case of no significance, for I know in my heart that you are too late. My only regret is that I will not see your own undoing – but who knows? Perhaps there is an Afterlife, and I shall be able to look down on your death. But for the present – let us get this unpleasant business over with.’

The abbey bell was ringing once more. Ezio had little time. ‘I think you could teach me much,’ he said.

Stefano looked at him sadly. ‘Not in this world,’ he said. He opened the neck of his gown. ‘But do me the favour of sending me quickly into the night.’

Ezio stabbed once, deeply, and with deadly accuracy.

‘There are the ruins of a Temple of Mithras to the south-west of San Gimignano,’ said Mario thoughtfully when Ezio returned. ‘They are the only Roman ruins of any significance for miles around, and you say he spoke of the shadow of the Roman gods?’

‘Those were his words.’

‘And the Templars are to meet there – soon?’

‘Yes.’

‘Then we must not delay. We must keep a vigil there from this night on.’

Ezio was despondent. ‘Da Bagnone told me it was already too late to stop them.’

Mario grinned. ‘Well then, it’s up to us to prove him wrong.’

It was the third night of the vigil. Mario had returned to his base to continue his schemes against the Templars in San Gimignano, and left Ezio with five trusted men, Gambalto among them, to keep watch concealed in the dense woods which fringed the isolated, desolate ruins of the Temple of Mithras. This was a large set of buildings developed over centuries, whose last occupant had indeed been Mithras, the god the Roman army had adopted, but which contained more ancient chapels, once consecrated to Minerva, Venus and Mercury. There was also a theatre attached to the complex, whose stage was still solid, though faced by a broken semicircle of terraced stone benches, the home now of scorpions and mice, backed by a crumbling wall and flanked by broken columns where owls had made their nests. Everywhere ivy climbed, and tough buddleia shouldered its way through the cracks it had made in the stained and decaying marble. Over all, the moon cast a ghastly light, and, used though they were to tackling mortal foes unafraid, one or two of the men were distinctly nervous.

Ezio had told himself that they would keep watch for a week, but he knew it would be hard for the men to keep their nerve in this place for that long, for the ghosts of the pagan past were a strong presence here. But towards midnight, as the Assassins ached in every limb from lack of activity and keeping still, they heard the faint tinkling of harness. Ezio and his men braced themselves. Soon afterwards there rode through the complex a dozen soldiers bearing torches and headed by three men. They were making for the theatre. Ezio and his condottieri shadowed them there.

The men dismounted and formed a protective circle round their three leaders. Watching, Ezio recognized with triumph the face of the man he had sought so long – Jacopo de’ Pazzi, a harassed-looking greybeard of sixty. He was accompanied by one man he did not know and another whom he did – the beak-nosed, crimson-cowled, unmistakable figure of Rodrigo Borgia! Grimly, Ezio attached the poison-blade to the mechanism on his right wrist.

‘You know why I have called this meeting,’ Rodrigo began. ‘I have given you more than enough time, Jacopo. But you have yet to redeem yourself.’

‘I am sorry, Commendatore. I have done all that is within my power. The Assassins have outflanked me.’

‘You have not regained Florence.’

Jacopo bowed his head.

‘You have not even been able to strike off the head of Ezio Auditore, a mere cub! And with every victory over us, he gains strength, becomes more dangerous!’

‘It was my nephew Francesco’s fault,’ babbled Jacopo. ‘His impatience made him reckless! I tried to be the voice of reason -‘

‘More like the voice of cowardice,’ put in the third man, harshly.

Jacopo turned to him with markedly less respect than he had shown Rodrigo. ‘Ah, Messer Emilio. Perhaps we would have been better served had you sent us weaponry of quality, instead of the rubbish you Venetians call armaments! But you Barbarigi were always cheapskates.’

‘Enough!’ thundered Rodrigo. He turned again to Jacopo. ‘We put our faith in you and your family, and how have you repaid us? With inaction and incompetence. You retake San Gimignano! Bravo! And there you sit. You even allow them to attack you there. Brother Maffei was a valuable servant of our Cause. And you could not even save your own secretary, a man whose brain was worth ten of yours!’

‘Altezza! Just give me the chance to make amends, and you will see -‘ Jacopo looked at the hardened faces surrounding him. ‘I will show you -‘

Rodrigo allowed his features to soften. He even sketched a smile. ‘Jacopo. We know the best course to take now. You must leave it to us. Come here. Let me embrace you.’

Hesitantly, Jacopo obeyed. Rodrigo put his left arm round his shoulders, and with his right drew a stiletto from his robes and slid it firmly between Jacopo’s ribs. Jacopo pushed his way back off the knife, while Rodrigo looked at him in the same way as a father might regard his errant son. Jacopo clutched his wound. Rodrigo had not penetrated any vital organ. Perhaps –

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