Assassin's Creed: Renaissance Page 5

‘Is that the best you can do?’ Ezio said through gritted teeth.

‘Shut your mouth or by God I’ll kill you!’

Ezio laughed. ‘I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to see you trying to force yourself on a nice girl who clearly thinks you’re a complete ball of dung – given the way your pappa tries to force his banking interests on Florence!’

‘You fool! It’s your father who needs to be taught a lesson in humility!’

‘It’s time you Pazzi stopped slandering us. But then, you’re all mouth and no fist.’

Vieri’s lip was bleeding badly. He wiped it with his sleeve. ‘You’ll pay for this – you and your whole breed. I won’t forget this, Auditore!’ He spat at Ezio’s feet, stooped to retrieve his dagger, then turned, and ran. Ezio had watched him go.

He remembered all this, standing there on the church tower and looking across at Cristina’s house. He remembered the elation he’d felt as he’d turned back to Cristina and seen a new warmth in her eyes as she’d thanked him.

‘Are you all right, signorina?’ he’d said.

‘I am now – thanks to you.’ She’d hesitated, her voice still trembling with fear. ‘You asked me my name – well, it’s Cristina. Cristina Calfucci.’

Ezio bowed. ‘I am honoured to meet you, Signorina Cristina. Ezio Auditore.’

‘Do you know that man?’

‘Vieri? Our paths have crossed now and then. But our families have no reason to like one another.’

‘I never want to see him again.’

‘If I can help it, you won’t.’

She smiled shyly, then said, ‘Ezio, you have my gratitude – and because of that, I am prepared to give you a second chance, after your bad start!’ She laughed gently, then kissed him on the cheek before disappearing into her mansion.

The small crowd that had inevitably gathered had given Ezio a round of applause. He had bowed, smilingly, but as he’d turned away he’d known that he might have made a new friend, but he had also made an implacable enemy.

‘Let Cristina sleep,’ Federico said again, drawing Ezio back from his reverie.

‘Time enough for that – later,’ he replied. ‘I must see her.’

‘All right, if you must – I’ll try to cover for you with Father. But watch yourself – Vieri’s men may still be about.’ With that, Federico shinned down the tower to the roof, and bounded off that into a hay-wagon parked in the street which led home.

Ezio watched him go, then decided to emulate his brother. The hay-wain looked very far below him, but he remembered what he’d been taught, controlled his breathing, calmed himself, and concentrated.

Then he flew into the air, taking the greatest leap of his life so far. For an instant he thought he might have misjudged his aim, but he calmed his own momentary panic and landed safely in the hay. A true leap of faith! A little breathless, but exhilarated at his success, Ezio swung himself into the street.

The sun was just appearing over the eastern hills but there were still very few people about. Ezio was just about to start off in the direction of Cristina’s mansion when he heard echoing footsteps and, desperately trying to conceal himself, he shrank into the shadows of the church porch and held his breath. It was none other than Vieri and two of the Pazzi guards who rounded the corner.

‘We’d better give up, chief,’ said the senior guard. ‘They’ve long gone by now.’

‘I know they’re here somewhere,’ snapped Vieri. ‘I can practically smell them.’ He and his men made a circuit of the church square but showed no sign of moving on. The sunlight was shrinking the shadows. Ezio cautiously crept into the shelter of the hay again and lay there for what seemed an age, impatient to be on his way. Once, Vieri passed so close that Ezio could practically smell him, but at last he motioned his men with an angry gesture to move on. Ezio lay still for a while longer, then climbed down and let out a long sigh of relief. He dusted himself off, and quickly covered the short distance that separated him from Cristina, praying that no one in her household would yet be stirring.

The mansion was still silent, though Ezio guessed that servants would be preparing the kitchen fires at the back. He knew which Cristina’s window was, and threw a handful of gravel up at her shutters. The noise seemed deafening and he waited, heart in mouth. Then the shutters opened and she appeared on the balcony. Her nightdress revealed the delicious contours of her body as he gazed up at her. He was at once lost in desire.

‘Who is it?’ she called softly.

He stood back so she could see him. ‘Me!’

Cristina sighed, though in a not unfriendly way. ‘Ezio! I might have known.’

‘May I come up, mia colomba?’

She glanced over her shoulder before answering in a whisper. ‘All right. But just for a minute.’

‘That’s all I need.’

She grinned. ‘Indeed?’

He was confused. ‘No – sorry – I didn’t mean it quite like that! Let me show you…’ Looking round himself to make sure the street was still deserted, he gained a foothold in one of the large iron rings set into the grey stonework of the house for tethering horses, and hoisted himself up, finding relatively easy handholds and footholds in the rusticated masonry. In two winks of an eye he had hoisted himself over the balustrade and she was in his arms.

‘Oh, Ezio!’ she sighed as they kissed. ‘Look at your head. What have you been doing this time?’

‘It’s nothing. A scratch.’ Ezio paused, smiling. ‘Perhaps now I’m up, I could also come in?’ he said gently.

‘Where?’

He was all innocence. ‘To your bedchamber, of course.’

‘Well, perhaps – if you’re sure a minute is all you need…’

Their arms around each other, they went through the double doors into the warm light of Cristina’s room.

An hour later, they were awakened by the sunlight streaming in through the windows, the bustling noises of carts and people in the street, and – worst of all – the sound of Cristina’s father’s voice as he opened the bedroom door.

‘Cristina,’ he was saying. ‘Time to get up, girl! Your tutor will be here at any – What the devil? Son of a bitch!’

Ezio kissed Cristina, quickly but hard. ‘Time to go, I think,’ he said, seizing his clothes and darting to the window. He shinned down the wall and was already pulling on his suit when Antonio Calfucci appeared on the balcony above. He was in a white rage.

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