Assassin's Creed: Renaissance Page 68

The noble made a dismissive gesture. ‘The people love the spectacle. It’s human nature. You’ll see…’

But at that moment Ezio spotted the burly figure of Dante, in the company of a posse of guards, barging through the party, doubtless looking for him. He continued to make his way to an unexposed spot from where he might gain access to the Doge if ever he left the Bucintoro, moored a few yards out from the quay.

There was a fanfare and for now the fireworks ceased. The people fell silent, then broke into applause as Marco came to the portside of his state barge to address them, and a page introduced him: ‘Signore e signori! I present to you the beloved Doge of Venezia!’

Marco began his address: ‘Benvenuti! Welcome, my friends, to the grandest social event of the season! In peace or at war, in times of prosperity or paucity, Venezia will always have Carnevale!...’

As the Doge continued to speak, Teodora rejoined Ezio.

‘It’s too far,’ Ezio told her. ‘And he’s not going to leave the boat. So I’ll have to swim out there. Merda!’

‘I wouldn’t try it,’ said Teodora in hushed tones. ‘You’d be spotted right away.’

‘Then I’ll have to fight my way out th—’

‘Wait!’

The Doge was continuing. ‘Tonight, we celebrate what makes us great. How brightly our lights shine over the world!’ He spread his arms, and there was another short firework display. The crowd cheered and roared their approval.

‘That’s it!’ said Teodora. ‘Use your pistola! The one you stopped the murderer with in my bordello. Use the sound of the fireworks when they start again to cover the noise of your gunshot. Time it right, and you’ll walk out of here unnoticed.’

Ezio looked at her. ‘I like the way you think, Sister.’

‘You’ll just have to be very careful how you aim. You’ll only get one chance.’ She squeezed his arm. ‘Buona fortuna, my son. I’ll be waiting for you back at the bordello.’

She vanished among the partygoers, among whom Ezio could also see Dante and his goons still searching for him. Silent as a wraith, he made his way to a point on the quay as close as he dared get to the spot where Marco was standing on the barge. Fortunately, his resplendent robes, bathed in the lights of the party, made him an excellent target.

The Doge’s speech continued, and Ezio used it to prepare himself, listening carefully for the resumption of the fireworks. His timing would have to be accurate if he was to get his shot off undetected.

‘We all know we have come through troubled times,’ Marco was saying. ‘But we have come through them together, and Venezia stands a stronger city for it… Transitions of power are difficult for all, but we have weathered the shift with grace and tranquillity. It is no easy thing to lose a Doge in the prime of life – and it is frustrating to see our dear brother Mocenigo’s assassin still roam free and unpunished. However, we may comfort ourselves with the thought that many of us were beginning to grow uncomfortable with my predecessor’s policies, to feel unsafe, and to doubt the road he was guiding us down.’ Several voices in the crowd were raised in agreement, and Marco, smiling, held up his hands for silence. ‘Well, my friends, I can tell you that I have found the right road for us again! I can see down it, and I know where we are going! It’s a beautiful place, and we are going there together! The future I see for Venezia is a future of strength, a future of wealth. We will build a fleet so strong that our enemies will fear us as never before! And we will expand our trade routes across the seas and bring home spices and treasures undreamed of since Marco Polo’s time!’ Marco’s eyes glittered as his voice took on a minatory tone. ‘And I say this to those who stand against us: be careful which side of the line you choose, because either you are with us or you are on the side of evil. And we will harbour no enemies here! We will hunt you down, we will root you out, we will destroy you!’ He raised his hands again and declaimed: ‘And Venezia shall always stand – the brightest jewel in all civilization!’

As he let his arms fall in triumph, a mighty display of fireworks went up – a grand finale which turned night into day. The noise of the explosions was deafening – Ezio’s little lethal gunshot was quite lost in it. And he was well on his way out through the crowd before the people in it had had time to react to the sight of Marco Barbarigo, one of the shortest-reigning doges in Venetian history, stagger, clutching at his heart, and falling dead on the deck of the Ducal Barge. ‘Requiescat in pace,’ Ezio muttered to himself as he went.

But once the news was out, it travelled fast, and reached the brothel before Ezio did. He was greeted with cries of admiration from Teodora and her courtesans.

‘You must be exhausted,’ said Teodora, taking his arm and leading him away from the others towards an inner room. ‘Come, relax!’

But first Antonio offered his congratulations. ‘The saviour of Venice!’ he exclaimed. ‘What can I say? Perhaps it was wrong of me to doubt so readily. Now at least we’ll have a chance to see where the pieces fall…’

‘Enough of that now,’ said Teodora. ‘Come, Ezio. You’ve worked hard, my son. I feel your tired body is in need of comfort and succour.’

Ezio was quick to catch her meaning, and played along. ‘It is true, Sister. I have such aches and pains that I may need a great deal of comfort and succour. I hope you are up to it.’

‘Oh,’ grinned Teodora, ‘I don’t intend to ease your pain single-handed! Girls!’

A gaggle of courtesans slipped smilingly past Ezio into the inner room, at the centre of which he could see a truly massive bed, by whose side was a singular contraption like a couch, but with pulleys and belts, and chains. It reminded him of something out of Leonardo’s workshop, but he couldn’t imagine what possible use it might be put to.

He exchanged a long look with Teodora and followed her into the bedroom, closing the door firmly behind him.

A couple of days later Ezio was standing on the Rialto Bridge, relaxed and refreshed, and watching the crowds go by. He was just considering leaving to go and drink a couple of glasses of Veneto before the ora di pranzo, when he saw a man he recognized hurrying towards him – one of Antonio’s messengers.

‘Ezio, Ezio,’ the man said as he came up. ‘Ser Antonio wishes to see you – it’s a matter of importance.’

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