Assassin's Creed: Renaissance Page 50

It will be dirty, and human, thought Ezio coldly. Like everywhere else. But he showed his friend an agreeable smile. Leonardo was a dreamer. Dreamers should be allowed to dream.

They had entered a gorge, and their voices echoed off its rocky sides. Ezio, scanning the almost invisible crests of the cliffs that hemmed them in on both sides, was suddenly tense. The outriders had gone on ahead, but he ought to have been able, in this confined space, to hear the clatter of their horses. However, no sound came. A light mist had sprung up, together with a sudden chill, neither of which did anything to reassure him. Leonardo was oblivious, but Ezio could see that the wagoners had become tense too, and were looking warily about them.

Suddenly, a scattering of small pebbles came clattering down the rocky side of the gorge, causing Ezio’s horse to shy. He looked up, squinting against the indifferent sun, high above, against which he could see an eagle soar.

Now even Leonardo was aware. ‘What’s wrong?’ he asked.

‘We’re not alone,’ said Ezio. ‘There may be enemy archers up on the cliffs above us.’

But then he heard the thundering hooves of horses, several horses, approaching them from behind.

Ezio wheeled his horse, to see half a dozen cavalry approaching. The banner they bore was a red cross on a yellow shield.

‘Borgia!’ he muttered, drawing his sword as a crossbow bolt hammered into the side of the wagon. The wagoners themselves were already fleeing up the road ahead, and even the oxen were affected, for they lumbered slowly forward of their own volition.

‘Take the reins and keep them going,’ Ezio cried to Leonardo. ‘It’s me they’re after, not you. Just keep going, whatever happens!’

Leonardo hastened to obey as Ezio rode back to meet the horsemen. His sword, one of Mario’s, was well balanced by its pommel, and his horse was lighter and more manoeuvrable than those of his adversaries. But they were well armoured, and there would be no chance to use his Codex blades. Ezio dug his heels into the flanks of his horse, spurring it on into the thick of the enemy. Ducking low in the saddle, Ezio smashed into the group, the force of his charge causing two of their horses to rear violently. Then the swordplay began in earnest. The protective brace he wore on his left forearm deflected many blows, however, and he was able to take advantage of the surprise of a foeman when he saw that his blow did not land, to get in a meaningful blow of his own.

It was not long before he had unseated four of the men, leaving the two survivors to wheel round and gallop back the way they had come. This time, however, he knew that he must allow no one even the chance of getting back to Rodrigo. He galloped after them, cutting first one, and then the other, down off his horse as he caught up with them.

He searched the bodies swiftly, but neither yielded anything of note; then he dragged them to the roadside and covered them with rocks and stones. He remounted and rode back, pausing only to clear the road of the other corpses and give them a rudimentary burial, at least enough to conceal them, with the stones and brushwood he had at hand. There was nothing he could do about their horses, which by now had run away.

Ezio had escaped Rodrigo’s vengeance once more, but he knew the Borgia cardinal would not give up until he was assured of his death. He dug his heels into his horse’s flanks and rode to rejoin Leonardo. When he caught up, they looked for the wagoners and called their names in vain.

‘I paid them a huge deposit on this wagon and oxen,’ grumbled Leonardo. ‘I don’t suppose I’ll ever see it again.’

‘Sell them in Venice.’

‘Don’t they use gondolas there?’

‘Plenty of farms on the mainland.’

Leonardo looked at him. ‘By God, Ezio, I like a practical man!’

Their long cross-country journey continued, past the ancient town of Forlì, now a small city-state in its own right, and on to Ravenna and its port on the coast a few miles beyond. There they took ship, a coastal galley on its way from Ancona to Venice, and once he had ascertained that no one else on board presented any danger, Ezio managed to relax a little. But he was aware that, even on a relatively small ship like this, it would not be too difficult to slit someone’s throat at night and cast their body into the blue-black waters, and he watched alertly the comings and goings at every little harbour they put into.

However, they arrived several days later at the Venice dockyards without incident. Only here did Ezio encounter his next setback, and that was from an unexpected source.

They had disembarked and were waiting now for the local ferry, which would take them to the island city. It duly arrived, and sailors helped Leonardo move his wagon on to the boat, which wallowed alarmingly under its weight. The ferry captain told Leonardo that some of the Conte da Pexaro’s staff would be waiting on the quay to conduct him to his new quarters, and with a bow and a smile handed him on board. ‘You have your pass, of course, signore?’

‘Of course,’ said Leonardo, handing the man a paper.

‘And you, sir?’ inquired the captain politely, turning to Ezio.

Ezio was taken aback. He had arrived without an invitation, unaware of this local law. ‘But – I have no pass,’ he said.

‘It’s all right,’ put in Leonardo, speaking to the captain. ‘He is with me. I can vouch for him and I am sure that the Conte -‘

But the captain held up a hand. ‘I regret, signore. The rules of the Council are explicit. No one may enter the city of Venice without a pass.’

Leonardo was about to remonstrate, but Ezio stopped him. ‘Don’t worry, Leonardo. I’ll find a way round this.’

‘I wish I could help you, sir,’ said the captain. ‘But I have my orders.’ In a louder voice directed at the crowd of passengers in general, he announced: ‘Attention please! Attention please! The ferry will depart at the stroke of ten!’ Ezio knew that gave him a little time.

His attention was caught by an extremely well-dressed couple whom he had noticed joining the galley at the same time as he had, who had taken the best cabin, and who had kept very much to themselves. Now they were alone at the foot of one of the piers, where several private gondolas were moored, and clearly in the middle of a very acrimonious row.

‘My beloved, please -‘ the man was saying. A weak-looking type, and twenty years older than his companion, a spirited redhead with fiery eyes.

‘Girolamo – you are nothing but a fool! God knows why I ever married you but He also knows how much I’ve suffered as a result! You never cease to find fault, you keep me cooped up like a chicken in your horrible little provincial town, and now – now! You can’t even organize a gondola to get us to Venice! And when I think your uncle’s the bloody Pope, no less! You’d think you’d be able to exert some influence. But look at you – you’ve got about as much backbone as a slug!’

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