Assassin's Creed: Renaissance Page 72

‘My name is Auditore, Ezio.’

‘Bartolomeo d’Alviani. Delighted.’

‘We haven’t got time for this,’ Ezio snapped. ‘As you well know.’

‘Don’t try to teach me my job, acrobat,’ said Bartolomeo, still quite genially. ‘Anyway, I owe you one for this!’

But they had already wasted too much time. Someone must have noticed from the ramparts what was going on, for now alarm bells started to ring and patrols emerged from the buildings nearby to close on them.

‘Come on, you bastards!’ bellowed Bartolomeo, swinging fists that made Dante Moro’s look like panelling hammers. It was Ezio’s turn to look on admiringly, as Bartolomeo ploughed into the oncoming soldiers. Together, they beat their way back to the wicket gate, and at last were clear.

‘Let’s get out of here!’ Ezio exclaimed.

‘Shouldn’t we break a few more heads?’

‘Perhaps we should try to avoid conflict for now?’

‘Are you afraid?’

‘Just practical. I know your blood’s up, but they do outnumber us by one hundred to one.’

Bartolomeo considered. ‘You have a point. And after all, I’m a commander. I ought to think like one, not leave it to some whippersnapper like you to make me see sense.’ And then he lowered his voice and said in a concerned tone, ‘I just hope my little Bianca is safe.’

Ezio didn’t have time to question or even wonder about Bartolomeo’s aside. They had to make tracks, and they did, racing through the town back towards Bartolomeo’s headquarters on San Pietro. But not before Bartolomeo had made two important diversions, to the Riva San Basio and the Corte Nuova, to alert his agents in those places that he was alive and free, and to summon his scattered forces – those who had not been taken prisoner – to regroup.

Back at San Pietro at dusk, they found that a handful of Bartolomeo’s condottieri had survived the attack and had now emerged from their hiding-places, moving among the already fly-blown dead and attempting to bury them and put matters in order. They were elated to see their Captain again, but he was distracted, running here and there in his encampment, calling mournfully, ‘Bianca! Bianca! Where are you?’

‘Who’s he after?’ Ezio asked a sergeant-at-arms. ‘She must be worth a lot to him.’

‘She is, Signore,’ grinned the sergeant. ‘And far more reliable than most of her sex.’

Ezio ran to catch up with his new ally. ‘Is everything all right?’

‘What do you think? Look at the state of this place! And poor Bianca! If something’s happened to her…’

The big man shouldered a door, already half off its hinges, on to the ground and entered a bunker which, from the look of it, must have been a map-room before the attack. The valuable maps had been mutilated or stolen, but Bartolomeo sifted through the wreckage until, with a cry of triumph –

‘Bianca! Oh, my darling! Thank God you’re all right!’

He had pulled a massive greatsword clear of the rubble and brandished it, roaring, ‘Aha! You are safe! I never doubted it! Bianca! Meet… What’s your name again?’

‘Auditore, Ezio.’

Bartolomeo looked thoughtful. ‘Of course. Your reputation goes before you, Ezio.’

‘I am glad of it.’

‘What brings you here?’

‘I too have business with Silvio Barbarigo. I think he’s outstayed his welcome in Venice.’

‘Silvio! That turd! He needs flushing down a fucking latrine!’

‘I thought I might be able to rely on your help.’

‘After that rescue? I owe you my life, let alone my help.’

‘How many men do you have?’

‘How many survivors here, Sergeant-at-Arms?’

The sergeant-at-arms Ezio had spoken to earlier came running up and saluted. ‘Twelve, Capitano, including you and me, and this gentleman here.’

‘Thirteen!’ shouted Bartolomeo, waving Bianca.

‘Against a good two hundred,’ said Ezio. He turned to the sergeant-at-arms. ‘And how many of your men did they take prisoner?’

‘Most of them,’ the man replied. ‘The attack took us completely by surprise. Some fled, but Silvio’s men took far more away with them in chains.’

‘Look, Ezio,’ said Bartolomeo. ‘I’m going to supervise rounding up the rest of my men who are at liberty. I’ll get this place cleaned up and bury my dead and we’ll regroup here. Do you think in the meantime you can see to the business of liberating the men Silvio’s taken prisoner? Since that’s a thing you seem to be very good at?’

‘Intensi.’

‘Get back here with them as soon as you can. Good luck!’

Ezio, his Codex weapons buckled on, headed westward again towards the Arsenal but wondered if Silvio would have kept all Bartolomeo’s men prisoner there. He hadn’t seen any of them when he had gone to rescue their Captain. At the Arsenal itself he stuck to the shadows of the falling night and tried to listen to the conversations of the guards stationed along the perimeter walls.

‘Have you ever seen bigger cages?’ said one.

‘No. And the poor bastards are crammed into them like sardines. I don’t think Captain Barto would have treated us like that, if he’d been the victor,’ said his comrade.

‘Of course he would. And keep your noble thoughts to yourself, if you want to keep your head on your shoulders. I say finish them off. Why don’t we just lower the cages into the basins, and drown the lot of them?’

At that, Ezio tensed. There were three huge rectangular basins inside the Arsenal, each designed to hold thirty galleys. They were on the north side of the complex, surrounded by thick brick walls and covered by heavy wooden roofs. Doubtless the cages – larger versions of the one which had imprisoned Bartolomeo – were suspended by chains over the water in one or more of the bacini.

‘One hundred and fifty trained men? That’d be a waste. For my money, Silvio’s hoping to turn them to our cause,’ said the second uniform.

‘Well, they’re mercenaries like us. So why not?’

‘Right! They just need to be softened up a little first. Show them who’s boss.’

‘Spero di sì.’

‘Thank God they don’t know their boss has escaped.’

The first guard spat. ‘He won’t last long.’

Ezio left them and made his way to the wicket gate he’d discovered earlier. There was no time to wait for any changing of the guard, but he could judge the time by the distance of the moon from the horizon and he knew he had a couple of hours. He flicked the spring-blade out – his original Codex weapon and still his favourite – and slashed open the throat of the fat old guard Silvio had seen fit to put on duty alone there, pushing him clear before any of the man’s blood could get on to his clothes. Quickly he wiped the blade clean on the grass and exchanged it for his poison-blade. He made the sign of the Cross over the body.

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