Assassin's Creed: Renaissance Page 71

Guided at last by the sounds of merriment and mocking laughter, he found his way to the side of one of the main dry-docks, into which a massive galley was drawn. On the side of one of the dock’s massive walls, an iron cage had been hung. In it was Bartolomeo, a vigorous bear of a man in his early thirties and so just four or five years’ Ezio’s senior. Around him was a crowd of Silvio’s mercenaries, and Ezio thought how much better employed they’d have been patrolling than triumphing over an enemy they’d already rendered helpless, but he reflected that Silvio Barbarigo, Grand Inquisitor though he was, was not experienced in matters of handling troops.

Ezio didn’t know how long Bartolomeo had been chained up in his cage; certainly for many hours. But his anger and energy seemed unaffected by his ordeal. Given that he’d almost certainly been given nothing to eat or drink, this was remarkable.

‘Luridi codardi! Filthy cowards!’ he was shouting at his tormentors, one of whom, Ezio noticed, had dipped a sponge in vinegar and was pushing it up to Bartolomeo’s lips on the tip of a lance in the hope that he’d think it was water. Bartolomeo spat it away. ‘I’ll take you all on! At the same time! With one arm – no, both arms – tied behind my back! I’ll fucking eat you alive!’ He laughed. ‘You must be wondering how such a thing could be even possible, but just let me out of here and I’ll gladly demonstrate! Miserabili pezzi di merda!’

The Inquisitor’s guards howled in derision, and poked at Bartolomeo with poles, making the cage swing. It had no solid bottom, and Bartolomeo had to grip hard with his feet on the bars beneath to keep his balance.

‘You have no honour! No valour! No virtue!’ He summoned enough saliva into his mouth to spit down at them. ‘And people wonder why the star of Venice has begun to wane.’ Then his voice took on almost a pleading tone. ‘I’ll show mercy to whomever here has the courage to release me. All the rest of you are going to die! By my hand! I swear it!’

‘Save your fucking breath,’ one of the guards called out. ‘No one’s going to die today but you, you fucking turdbag.’

All this time Ezio, sheltered by the shadow of a brick colonnade that skirted a basin where some of the smaller war-galleys were moored, was working out a way of saving the condottiero. There were ten guards around the cage, all with their backs to him, and there was none other in view. What was more, they were off-duty and had no armour on. Ezio checked his poison-dagger. Dispatching the guards should present no difficulty. He’d timed the passing of the on-duty patrols and they came by every time the shadow of the dock wall lengthened by three inches. But there was the additional problem of releasing Bartolomeo, keeping him quiet while doing so, and making quick work of it. He thought hard. He knew there wasn’t much time.

‘What sort of man sells his honour and dignity for a few pieces of silver?’ Bartolomeo was bellowing, but his throat was getting dry and he was running out of steam despite his iron will.

‘Isn’t that what you do, fuckwit? Aren’t you a mercenary like us?’

‘I have never been in the service of a traitor and a coward, as you are!’ Bartolomeo’s eyes glittered. The men standing beneath him were momentarily cowed. ‘Do you think I don’t know why you’ve chained me up? Do you think I don’t know who your boss Silvio’s puppet-master is? I’ve been fighting the weasel who controls him since most of you boys were puppies suckling your mothers’ teats!’

Ezio was now listening with interest. One of the soldiers picked up a half-brick and threw it angrily. It bounced harmlessly off the bars of the cage.

‘That’s right, you fuckers!’ Bartolomeo yelled hoarsely. ‘You just try it on with me! I swear, once I’m free of this cage I’m going to make it my mission to sever each and every one of your fucking heads and shove them up your fucking girlie arses! And I’ll mix and match the heads too, because you little tykes clearly don’t know your heads from your arses anyway!’

The men below were getting seriously angry now. It was clear that only orders prevented them from stabbing the man to death with their pikes, or shooting arrows at him, as he hung defencelessly above them in his cage. But by now Ezio had seen that the padlock which secured the door of the cage was relatively small. Bartolomeo’s captors relied on the fact that the cage was hung high. No doubt they intended that the harsh sun of the day, and chill of the night, coupled with dehydration and starvation, would finish him off, unless he broke down and agreed to talk. But from the look of him, that was something Bartolomeo would never do.

Ezio knew he had to act fast. An on-duty patrol would pass by very shortly. Releasing the spring on his poison-blade, he moved forward with the speed and grace of a wolf, covering the distance in a matter of seconds. He scythed through the group and had sliced death into the bodies of five men before the others knew what was happening. Drawing his sword, he savagely killed the rest, their vain blows glancing off the metal guard on his left forearm, while Bartolomeo watched open-mouthed. At last, silent, Ezio turned and looked up.

‘Can you jump from there?’ he asked.

‘If you can get me out, I’ll jump like a fucking flea.’

Ezio grabbed one of the dead soldiers’ pikes. Its point was iron, not steel, and cast, not forged. It would do. Balancing it in his left hand, he prepared himself, crouched, and sprang into the air, at last clinging to the outer bars of the cage.

Bartolomeo looked at him pop-eyed. ‘How in buggery did you do that?’ he asked.

‘Training,’ said Ezio, smiling tightly. He forced the point of the pike through the hasp of the lock and twisted. It resisted at first, then broke. Ezio pulled the door open, free-falling to the ground as he did so, and landing with the grace of a cat. ‘Now you jump,’ he ordered. ‘Be quick.’

‘Who are you?’

‘Get on with it!’

Nervously, Bartolomeo braced himself against the open door of the cage and then flung himself forwards. He landed heavily, the breath knocked out of him, but when Ezio helped him to his feet, he shook his rescuer off proudly. ‘I’m all right,’ he huffed. ‘I’m just not used to doing fucking circus tricks.’

‘No bones broken, then?’

‘Fuck you, whoever you are,’ said Bartolomeo, beaming. ‘But you have my thanks!’ And to Ezio’s surprise, he gave him a bear-hug. ‘Who are you anyway? The Arch-fucking-angel Gabriel or what?’

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