Assassin's Creed: Renaissance Page 67

‘Ladies and gentlemen!’ he announced after clearing his throat a little nervously. ‘I think you’ll all agree that we’ve enjoyed a hard and fairly fought battle today.’

The crowd cheered.

‘And on such an occasion it’s hard to choose a real winner -‘

The crowd looked puzzled. Ezio exchanged glances with Teodora, who was standing on its fringe.

‘It’s been a hard job for the judges and myself,’ continued the Master of Ceremonies, sweating slightly and mopping his brow, but a winner there has to be, and, on aggregate, mind, we have picked one.’ Here he stooped and with difficulty raised Dante to a sitting position. ‘Ladies and gentlemen – I give you the winner of the Golden Mask – Signore Dante Moro!’

The crowd hissed and booed, yelling their disapproval, and the Master of Ceremonies, together with the judges, had to beat a hasty retreat as the bystanders began to pelt them with any rubbish they could lay their hands on. Ezio hurried across to Teodora and the two of them watched as Silvio, a twisted smile on his livid face, helped Dante off the rostrum and bundled him away down a side-alley.


Back at Teodora’s ‘convent’, Ezio struggled to contain himself as Teodora herself and Antonio watched him with concern.

‘I saw Silvio bribe the Master of Ceremonies,’ said Teodora. ‘And no doubt he lined the judges’ pockets too. There was nothing I could do.’

Antonio laughed derisively and Ezio cast him an irritable look.

‘It’s easy to see why Silvio was so determined to get their man to win the Golden Mask,’ Teodora went on. ‘They’re still on the alert and they don’t want to take any chances with Doge Marco.’ She looked at Ezio. ‘They won’t rest until you are dead.’

‘Then they’ll have a lot of sleepless nights.’

‘We must think. The party’s tomorrow.’

‘I’ll find a way of shadowing Dante to the party,’ decided Ezio. ‘I’ll get the mask off him somehow, and -‘

‘How?’ Antonio wanted to know. ‘By killing the poor stronzo?’

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Ezio turned on him angrily. ‘Do you have a better idea? You know what’s at stake!’

Antonio held up his hands, deprecatingly. ‘Look, Ezio – if you kill him, they’ll cancel the party, and Marco will retreat back into the palazzo. We’ll have wasted our time – again! No, the thing to do is steal the mask, quietly.’

‘My girls can help,’ put in Teodora. ‘Plenty of them will be going to the party themselves – as entertainers! They can distract Dante while you acquire the mask. And once you’re there, have no fear. I will be there too.’

Ezio nodded reluctantly. He didn’t like being told what to do, but in this instance he knew that Antonio and Teodora were right. ‘Va bene,’ he said.

The following day, as the sun was setting, Ezio made sure he was in place near where Dante would pass by on the way to the party. Several of Teodora’s girls loitered nearby. At last the big man appeared. He’d gone to some lengths with his clothes, which were expensive but flashy. The Golden Mask hung at his belt. As soon as they saw him the girls cooed and waved, moving up to either side of him, two of them linking arms with him, making sure the mask swung behind him, and walking him to the large, cordoned-off area by the Molo where the party was taking place, and had, indeed, already begun. Timing his action precisely, Ezio chose the last possible minute to cut the mask free of Dante’s belt. He snatched it away and ducked ahead of Dante, to appear with it before the guardsmen who were controlling entrance to the party. Seeing it, they let Ezio in, but when, a few moments later, Dante appeared, and reached behind him to put the mask on, he found that it had gone. The girls who’d escorted him had melted into the crowd and put on their own masks, so he would not recognize them.

Dante was still arguing with the guards at the gate, who had their inflexible orders, as Ezio made his way through the revellers to make contact with Teodora. She greeted him warmly. ‘You made it! Congratulations! Now, listen. Marco remains very cautious indeed. He’s staying on his boat, the Ducal Bucintoro, on the water just off the Molo. You won’t be able to get all that close to him, but you should find the best vantage-point for your attack.’ She turned to summon three or four of her courtesans. ‘These girls will help cover your movements as you make your way through the party.’

Ezio set off, but as the girls, radiant in shimmering silver and red satins and silks, moved through the sea of guests, his attention was taken by a tall, dignified man in his mid-sixties, with clear, intelligent eyes and a white spade beard, who was talking to a Venetian noble of similar age. Both wore small masks which covered little of the face, and Ezio recognized the first of them as Agostino Barbarigo, the younger brother of Marco. Agostino might have a lot to do with the fate of Venice if anything untoward should happen to his brother, and Ezio thought it expedient to manoeuvre himself into a position from which he could overhear the man’s conversation.

As Ezio edged up, Agostino was laughing gently. ‘Honestly, my brother embarrasses himself with this display.’

‘You have no right to speak of him that way,’ replied the noble. ‘He is the Doge!’

‘Yes, yes. He is the Doge,’ replied Agostino, stroking his beard.

‘This is his Party. His Carnevale, and he’ll spend his money as he sees fit.’

‘He’s the Doge in name only,’ Agostino said rather more sharply. ‘And it’s Venetian money that he’s spending, not his own.’ He lowered his voice. ‘There are larger things at stake, and you know it.’

‘Marco was the man chosen to lead. It’s true your father may have thought that he’d never amount to much, and so transferred his political ambitions to you, but that hardly matters now, does it, given how things stand?’

‘I never wanted to be Doge -‘

‘Then I congratulate you on your success,’ said the nobleman, coldly.

‘Look,’ said Agostino, keeping his temper. ‘Power is more than wealth. Does my brother truly believe he was chosen for any other reason than his riches?’

‘He was chosen for his wisdom and his leadership!’

They were interrupted by the beginning of the firework display. Agostino watched it for a moment, then said, ‘And this is what he does with such wisdom? Offer a light show? He hides away in the Ducal Palace while the city comes apart at the seams, and then thinks some expensive explosions will make people forget all their problems.’

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