Assassin's Creed: Renaissance Page 55

‘Emilio must be loaded,’ said Ezio. ‘Why not attack again now and relieve him of his money?’

‘Don’t you listen? Our resources are under strain and he is on the alert. We could never overcome him without the element of surprise. Besides, he has two powerful cousins, the brothers Marco and Agostino, to back him up, though I believe Agostino at least to be a good man. As for Mocenigo, well, the Doge is a good man, but he is unworldly, and leaves matters of business to others – others who are already in Emilio’s pocket.’ He looked hard at Ezio. ‘We need help to fill our coffers again. I think you may be able to provide that help. If you do, it will demonstrate to me that you are an ally worth helping. Might you undertake such a mission, Mr Cream-and-Sugar?’

Ezio smiled. ‘Try me,’ he said.

14

It took a long time, and Ezio’s interview with the sceptical Chief Treasurer of the Thieves’ Guild had been uncomfortable, but Ezio was able to use the skills he’d learned from Paola to cut purses with the best of them, and to rob the rich burghers of Venice allied with Emilio of as much as he could get. A few months later, in the company of other thieves – for he was now an Honorary Member of the Guild – he had brought in the two thousand ducati Antonio needed to relaunch his operation against Emilio. But there was a cost. Not all the Guild members had escaped capture and arrest by the Barbarigo Guards. So that, while the Thieves now had the funds they needed, their manpower had been depleted.

But Emilio Barbarigo made an arrogant mistake. To make an example of them, he placed the captured thieves on public display in cramped iron cages around the district he controlled. If he’d kept them in the dungeons of his palazzo, God himself would not have been able to get them out, but Emilio preferred to show them off, deprived of food and water, prodded with sticks by his guards whenever they sought sleep, and meant to starve them to death in full public view.

‘They won’t last six days without water, let alone food,’ Ugo said to Ezio.

‘What does Antonio say?’

‘That it’s up to you to plan a rescue.’

How much more proof of my loyalty does the man need, thought Ezio, before he realized that he already had Antonio’s confidence, to the extent that the Prince of Thieves was entrusting to him this most crucial mission. He hadn’t much time.

Carefully, Ugo and he observed in secret the comings and goings of the Watch. It appeared that one group of guards continuously passed from one cage to the next. Though each cage was constantly surrounded by a clutch of curious rubberneckers, among whom there may well have been Barbarigo spies, Ezio and Ugo decided to take the risk. On the night shift, when there were far fewer observers about, they made their way to the first cage when the Guard was just about to leave for the second. Once the Guard had departed and were out of sight and earshot, they managed to spring the locks, their spirits raised by a desultory cheer from the handful of bystanders, who couldn’t care less one way or the other who had the upper hand so long as they were entertained, and some of whom followed them to the second cage, and even to the third. The men and women they liberated, twenty-seven in number, were already, after two and a half days, in a sorry plight, but at least they had not been individually manacled, and Ezio led them to the wells that could be found in the centre of almost every frequent square, so that their first and most important need – thirst – was satisfied.

At the end of the mission, which took from candlelight until cock-crow, Ugo and his liberated associates looked at Ezio with deep respect. ‘Rescuing my brothers and sisters was more than just an act of charity, Ezio,’ said Ugo. ‘These… colleagues will play a vital role in the weeks to come. And ‘ his tone became solemn, ‘ our Guild owes you an undying debt of gratitude.’

The group had arrived back at the Guild’s headquarters. Antonio embraced Ezio, but his face was grave.

‘How is Rosa?’ asked Ezio.

‘Better, but she was hurt worse than we thought, and she tries to run before she can walk!’

‘Sounds like her.’

‘It’s typical.’ Antonio paused. ‘She wants to see you.’

‘I’m flattered.’

‘Why be? You are the hero of the hour!’

Some days later, Ezio was summoned to Antonio’s office and found him poring over his model of the Palazzo Seta. The little wooden manikins had been redeployed around it, and there was a pile of papers covered in calculations and notes on the table by its side.

‘Ah! Ezio!’

‘Signore.’

‘I have just returned from a little foray of my own into enemy territory. We managed to liberate three boatloads of armoury destined for dear Emilio’s little palazzo. So we thought we might organize a little fancy-dress party, with us dressed in the uniforms of Barbarigo archers.’

‘Brilliant. That should get us into his fortress without any problem. When do we start?’

Antonio held up a hand. ‘Not so fast, my dear. There is a problem, and I’d like to ask your advice.’

‘You honour me.’

‘No, I just value your judgement. The fact is, I have it on the best authority that some of my people have been suborned by Emilio and are now his agents.’ He paused. ‘We cannot strike until the traitors are dealt with. Look, I know I can depend on you, and your face is not well known within the Guild. If I were able to give you certain pointers about the whereabouts of these traitors, do you think you could deal with them? You can take Ugo with you as back-up, and whatever task-force you may require.’

‘Messer Antonio, the fall of Emilio is as important to me as it is to you. Let us join hands in this.’

Antonio smiled. ‘The very answer I expected from you!’ He gestured Ezio to join him at a map table which had been set up near the window. ‘Here is a plan of the city. The men of mine who have defected meet, as my own loyal spies tell me, in a taverna here. It’s called Il Vecchio Specchio. There they make contact with Emilio’s agents, exchange information, and take their orders.’

‘How many?’

‘Five.’

‘What do you want me to do with them?’

Antonio looked at him. ‘Why, kill them, my friend.’

Ezio summoned the group he had hand-picked for the mission the following day at sunset. He had laid his plans. He dressed them all in Barbarigo uniforms from the boats Antonio had sequestered. Emilio, he knew from Antonio, believed that the stolen equipment had been lost at sea, so his people would suspect nothing. Together with Ugo and four others, he descended on Il Vecchio Specchio soon after dark. It was a Barbarigo hangout, but at that time of night only a handful of customers were there, apart from the turncoats and their Barbarigo controls. They hardly looked up as they saw a group of Barbarigo guards enter the inn, and it was only when they were surrounded that their attention turned to the newcomers. Ugo pulled back his hood, revealing himself in the half-light of the taverna. The conspirators made to rise, astonishment and fear written in their faces. Ezio placed a firm hand on the shoulder of the nearest traitor, then with a detached economy of effort thrust his now-released Codex blade between the man’s eyes. Ugo and the others followed suit and dispatched their traitorous brethren.

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