Assassin's Creed: Renaissance Page 49

‘One of the most powerful families in La Serenissima. Are you saying this man is dangerous?’

‘He is allied to Rodrigo.’

Lorenzo considered for a moment, then spread his hands. ‘I let you go with the utmost regret, Ezio; but I know that I shall never be out of your debt, which means in turn that I have no power to command you. Besides, I have a feeling that the work you are engaged on will in the long run be of benefit to our city, even though I may not live to see it.’

‘Don’t say that, Altezza.’

Lorenzo smiled. ‘I hope I am wrong, but living in this country at this time is like living on the rim of Vesuvius – dangerous and uncertain!’

Before leaving, Ezio brought news and gifts to Annetta, though it was painful to him to visit his former family home, and he would not enter it. He also studiously avoided the Calfucci mansion, but he did call on Paola, and found her gracious, but distracted, as if her mind were somewhere else. His last port of call was at his friend Leonardo’s workshop, but when he got there he found only Agniolo and Innocento about, and the place had the look of being closed up. There was no sign of Leonardo.

Agniolo smiled and greeted him as he arrived. ‘Ciao, Ezio! It’s been a long time!’

‘Too long!’

Ezio looked about him, questioningly.

‘You’re wondering where Leonardo is.’

‘Has he left?’

‘Yes, but not for ever. He’s taken some of his material with him, but he couldn’t take it all, so Innocento and I are looking after it while he’s away.’

‘And where has he gone?’

‘It’s funny. The Maestro was in negotiations with the Sforza in Milan, but then the Conte de Pexaro invited him to spend some time in Venice – he’s to complete a set of five family portraits…’ Agniolo smiled knowingly. ‘As if that’ll ever happen; but it seems that the Council of Venice is interested in his engineering work, and they’re providing him with a workshop, staff, the lot. So, dear Ezio, if you need him, that is where you’ll need to go.’

‘But that is exactly where I’m going,’ cried Ezio. ‘This is splendid news. When did he leave?’

‘Two days ago. But you’ll have no difficulty catching up with him. He’s got a huge wagon absolutely loaded with his stuff, and a couple of oxen to draw it.’

‘Any of his people with him?’

‘Just the wagoners, and a couple of outriders, in case of trouble. They’ve taken the Ravenna road.’

Ezio took with him only what he could pack into his saddlebags, and, travelling alone, had been riding only a day and a half when, at a bend in the road, he came upon a heavy ox-drawn cart equipped with a canvas canopy beneath which any amount of machinery and models was carefully stowed.

The wagoners stood at the side of the road, scratching their heads and looking hot and bothered, while the outriders, two slightly built boys armed with crossbows and lances, kept watch from a nearby knoll. Leonardo was nearby, apparently setting up some kind of leverage system, when he looked up and saw Ezio.

‘Hello, Ezio! What luck!’

‘Leonardo! What’s going on?’

‘I seem to have run into a bit of trouble. One of the cartwheels…’ He pointed to where one of the rear wheels had worked its way off the axle. ‘The problem is that we need the wagon lifted clear so that we can refit the wheel but we just don’t have the manpower to do it, and this lever I’ve botched together isn’t going to lift it high enough. So do you think…?’

‘Of course.’

Ezio beckoned to the two wagoners, heavily built men who’d be more use to him than the lissom outriders, and between the three of them they were able to hoist the wagon up high enough and hold it there long enough for Leonardo to slip the wheel back on to the axle and peg it securely. While he was doing this, Ezio, straining with the others to keep the wagon up, looked in at its contents. Among them, unmistakably, was the bat-like structure he’d seen before. It looked as if it had undergone many modifications.

Once the wagon had been repaired, Leonardo took up his seat on its front bench with one of the wagoners, while the other walked at the head of the oxen. The outriders patrolled restlessly both ahead and to the rear. Ezio kept his horse at a walk, next to Leonardo, and they talked. It had been a very long time since their last meeting, and they had much to talk about. Ezio was able to bring Leonardo up to date, and Leonardo talked of his new commissions, and of his excitement at the prospect of seeing Venice.

‘I am so delighted to have you as a travelling companion! Mind you, you’d get there much faster if you didn’t travel at my pace.’

‘It’s a pleasure. And I want to make sure you get there safely.’

‘I have my outriders.’

‘Leonardo, don’t misunderstand me, but even highwaymen still wet behind the ears could flick those two away as easily as you’d flick away a gnat.’

Leonardo looked surprised, then offended, then amused. ‘Then I’m doubly glad of your company.’ He looked sly. ‘And I have an idea it’s not just for sentimental reasons that you’d like to see me get there in one piece.’

Ezio smiled, but did not reply. Instead he said, ‘I notice you’re still working on that bat-contraption.’


‘You know what I mean.’

‘Oh, that. It’s nothing. Just something I’ve been tinkering away at. But I couldn’t leave it behind.’

‘What is it?’

Leonardo was reluctant. ‘I don’t really like to talk about things before they’re ready…’

‘Leonardo! You can trust me, surely.’ Ezio lowered his voice. ‘After all, I’ve trusted you with secrets.’

Leonardo struggled with himself, then relaxed. ‘All right, but you must tell no one else.’


‘Anyone would think you mad if you did tell them,’ Leonardo continued, but his voice was excited. ‘Listen. I think I have found a way to make a man fly!’

Ezio looked at him and laughed in total disbelief.

‘I can see a time coming when you might want to wipe that smile off your face,’ said Leonardo, good-naturedly.

He changed the subject then and started to talk about Venice, La Serenissima, aloof from the rest of Italy and often looking eastwards more than westwards, both for trade and in trepidation, for the Ottoman Turks held sway as far as halfway up the northern Adriatic coast these days. He talked of the beauty and the treachery of Venice, of the city’s dedication to moneymaking, of its richesse, its weird construction – a city of canals rising out of fenland and built on a foundation of hundreds of thousands of huge wooden stakes – its ferocious independence, and its political power: not three hundred years earlier, the Doge of Venice had diverted an entire Crusade from the Holy Land to serve his own purposes, to destroy all commercial and military competition and opposition to his city-state, and to bring the Byzantine Empire to its knees. He talked of the secret, ink-dark backwaters, the towering, candlelit palazzi, the curious dialect of Italian they spoke, the silence that hovered, the gaudy splendour of their dress, their magnificent painters, of whom the prince was Giovanni Bellini, whom Leonardo was eager to meet, of their music, their masked festivals, their flashy ability to show off, their mastery of the art of poisoning. ‘And all this,’ he concluded, ‘I know just from books. Imagine what the real thing will be like.’

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