Assassin's Creed: Renaissance Page 54

He found himself in a shabby courtyard surrounded by high, streaky grey walls, which were punctuated by windows. Two wooden staircases ran up on either side to join wooden galleries that ran all round the walls at first- and second-floor level, and from which a number of doorways led.

A handful of people, some of whom Ezio recognized from the mêlée outside the Palazzo Seta earlier, gathered round. Ugo was already issuing orders. ‘Where’s Antonio? Go get him! – And clear some space for Rosa, get a blanket, some balsam, hot water, a sharp knife, bandages…’

A man raced up one of the staircases and vanished through a first-floor doorway. Two women unrolled a very nearly clean mat and laid Rosa tenderly down on it. A third disappeared to return with the medical kit Ugo had requested. Rosa recovered consciousness, saw Ezio, and reached a hand out to him. He took her hand and knelt down by her.

‘Where are we?’

‘I think this must be your people’s headquarters. In any case, you’re safe.’

She squeezed his hand. ‘I’m sorry I tried to rob you.’

‘Think nothing of it.’

‘Thank you for saving my life.’

Ezio looked anxious. She was very pale. They would have to work fast if they were indeed going to save her.

‘Don’t worry, Antonio will know what to do,’ Ugo told him as he stood up again.

Hurrying down one of the staircases came a well-dressed man in his late thirties, a large gold earring in his left earlobe and a scarf on his head. He made straight for Rosa and knelt by her, snapping his fingers for the medical kit.

‘Antonio!’ she said.

‘What’s happened to you, my little darling?’ he said in the harsh accent of the born Venetian.

‘Just get this thing out of me!’ snarled Rosa.

‘Let me take a look first,’ said Antonio, his voice suddenly more serious. He examined the wound carefully. ‘Clean entry and exit through your thigh, missed the bone. Lucky it wasn’t a crossbow bolt.’

Rosa gritted her teeth. ‘Just. Get it. Out.’

‘Give her something to bite on,’ said Antonio. He snapped off the arrow’s fletching, wrapped a cloth round the head, soaked the points of entry and exit with balsam, and pulled.

Rosa spat out the wadding they’d placed between her teeth and screamed.

‘I am sorry, piccola,’ said Antonio, keeping his hands pressed on both points of the wound.

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‘Go fuck yourself with your apologies, Antonio!’ yelped Rosa, as the women held her down.

Antonio looked up to one of his entourage. ‘Michiel! Go and fetch Bianca!’ He cast a sharp eye on Ezio. ‘And you! Help me with this! Take those compresses and hold them on the wounds as soon as I remove my hands. Then we can bandage her properly.’

Ezio hastened to obey. He felt the warmth of Rosa’s upper thigh under his hands, felt the reaction of her body to them, and tried not to meet her eyes. Meanwhile Antonio worked quickly, elbowing Ezio aside at last, and finally gently articulating Rosa’s immaculately bandaged leg. ‘Good,’ he said. ‘It’ll be a while before we have you scaling any battlements again, but I think you’ll make a full recovery. Just be patient. I know you!’

‘Did you have to hurt me so much, you clumsy idiota?’ she flared at him. ‘I hope you catch the plague, you bastard! You and your whore of a mother!’

‘Take her inside,’ said Antonio, smiling. ‘Ugo, go with her. Make sure she gets some rest.’

Four of the women picked up the corners of the mat and carried the still-protesting Rosa through one of the ground-floor doors. Antonio watched them go, then turned again to Ezio. ‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘That little bitch is most dear to me. If I had lost her -‘

Ezio shrugged. ‘I’ve always had a soft spot for damsels in distress.’

‘I’m glad Rosa didn’t hear you say that, Ezio Auditore. But your reputation goes before you.’

‘I didn’t hear Ugo tell you my name,’ said Ezio, on his guard.

‘He didn’t. But we know all about your work in Florence and San Gimignano. Good work too, if a little unrefined.’

‘Who are you people?’

Antonio spread his hands. ‘Welcome to the headquarters of the Guild of Professional Thieves and Whoremongers of Venice,’ he said. ‘I am de Magianis, Antonio – the amministratore.’ He gave an ironic bow. ‘But of course we only steal from the rich to give to the poor, and of course our whores prefer to call themselves courtesans.’

‘And you know why I am here?’

Antonio smiled. ‘I have an idea – but it’s not one I’ve shared with any of my… employees. Come! We should go to my office and talk.’

The office reminded Ezio so vividly of Uncle Mario’s study that at first he was taken aback. He didn’t know what he had expected exactly, but here he was confronted by a book-lined room, expensive books in good bindings, fine Ottoman carpets, walnut and boxwood furniture, and silver-gilt sconces and candelabras.

The room was dominated by a table at its centre, on which sat a large-scale model of the Palazzo Seta and its immediate environs. Innumerable tiny wooden manikins were distributed around and within it. Antonio waved Ezio to a chair and busied himself over a comfortable-looking stove in one corner, from which a curiously attractive but unfamiliar smell wafted.

‘Can I offer you something?’ Antonio said. He reminded Ezio so much of Uncle Mario that it was uncanny. ‘Biscotti? Un caffè?’

‘Excuse me – a what?’

‘A coffee.’ Antonio straightened himself. ‘It’s an interesting concoction, brought to me by a Turkish merchant. Here, try some.’ And he passed Ezio a tiny white porcelain cup filled with a hot black liquid from which the pungent aroma came.

Ezio tasted it. It burned his lips, but it wasn’t bad, and he said so, but added, injudiciously, ‘It might be better with cream and sugar.’

‘The most certain way to ruin it,’ snapped Antonio, offended. They finished their coffees, however, and Ezio soon felt a certain nervous energetic buzz that was new to him. He would have to tell Leonardo about this drink when he next saw him. As for now, Antonio was pointing at the model of the Palazzo Seta.

‘These were the positions we had planned if Rosa had succeeded in getting in and opening one of the postern-gates. But as you know, she was seen and shot and we had to withdraw. Now we will have to regroup, and in the meantime Emilio will have time to strengthen his defences. Worse than that, this operation was costly. I am almost down to my last soldo.’

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