Assassin's Creed: Renaissance Page 76

Leonardo breathed deeply. He knew whom Ezio was talking about. ‘Rodrigo Borgia.’ His voice was a whisper.

‘The same!’ Ezio paused. ‘The Cyprus galley arrives tomorrow. I plan to be there to meet it.’

Leonardo embraced him. ‘Good luck, my dear friend,’ he said.

The following dawn found Ezio, armed with his Codex weapons and a bandolier of throwing-knives, standing in the shadows of the colonnade near the docks, watching closely as a group of men, dressed in plain uniforms to avoid attracting undue attention but discreetly displaying the crest of Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, unloaded a plain-looking, smallish crate from a black galley which had recently put in from Cyprus. They handled the crate with kid gloves, and one of their number, under guard, hoisted it on to his shoulder and prepared to set off with it. But then Ezio noticed that several other guards were hoisting similar crates on to their shoulders, five of them in all. Did each crate contain some precious artefact, the second piece, or were all but one of them decoys? And the guards all looked the same, certainly from the distance at which Ezio would be obliged to shadow them.

Just as Ezio prepared to break cover and follow, he noticed another man watching what was going on from a similar vantage-point to his own. He suppressed an involuntary gasp as he recognized this second man as his uncle, Mario Auditore; but there was no time to hail or challenge him, as the Borgia-trooper carrying the crate had already moved off with his guard. Ezio pursued them at a safe distance. However, a question nagged him – had the other man really been his uncle? And if so, how had he got to Venice, and why, at this precise moment?

But he had to put the notion away as he tailed the Borgia guards, concentrating hard to keep the one with the original crate in his line of sight – if that indeed were the one that contained – whatever it was. One of the ‘Pieces of Eden’?

The guards arrived at a square which had five streets leading off it. Each crate-carrying guard, with his escort, here set off in a different direction. Ezio swarmed up the side of a nearby building so that he could follow the course of each guard from the rooftops. Watching them keenly, he saw one of them leave his escort and turn into the courtyard of a solid-looking brick building, place his crate on the ground there, and open it. He was quickly joined by a Borgia sergeant. Ezio bounded over the roofs to hear what was being said between them.

‘The Master awaits,’ the sergeant was saying. ‘Repackage it with care. Now!’

Ezio watched as the guard transferred an object wrapped carefully in straw from the crate to a teak box brought to him from the building by a servant. Ezio thought fast. The Master! In his experience, when Templar minions mentioned that title it could only refer to one man – Rodrigo Borgia! They were clearly repacking the true artefact in an attempt to double their security. But now Ezio knew exactly which guard to target.

He slipped down to street level again and cornered the trooper carrying the teak box. The sergeant had left to rejoin the escort of Cardinal’s guards, waiting outside the courtyard. Ezio had a minute to slit the throat of the trooper, pull the body out of sight, and don his outer uniform, cape and helmet.

He was about to shoulder the box when the temptation to have a quick glance inside it overwhelmed him and he lifted the lid. But at that moment the sergeant re-appeared at the gateway of the courtyard.

‘Get a move on!’

‘Yessir!’ said Ezio.

‘Just look fucking lively. This is probably the most important thing you’ll do in your life. Do you get me?’

‘Yessir.’

Ezio took his place at the centre of his escort and the detail set off.

They made their way through the city north from the Molo to the Campo dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo, where Messer Verrocchio’s recent and massive equestrian statue of the condottiero Colleone dominated the square. Following the Fondamenta dei Mendicanti north again, they arrived at last at a dull-looking house in a terrace overlooking the canal. The sergeant knocked on the door with the pommel of his sword, and it immediately swung open. The group of guards hustled Ezio in first, and followed, and the door closed behind them. Heavy bolts were shot across it.

They were facing an ivy-festooned loggia, in which a beak-nosed man in his mid to late fifties sat, dressed in robes of dusty purple velvet. The men saluted. Ezio did so too, trying not to meet the icy cobalt eyes he knew too well. The Spaniard!

Rodrigo Borgia spoke to the sergeant. ‘Is it really here? You were not followed?’

‘No, Altezza. Everything went perfectly -‘

‘Go on!’

The sergeant cleared his throat. ‘We followed your orders exactly as specified. The mission to Cyprus was more difficult than we had anticipated. There were… complications at the outset. Certain adherents to the Cause… had to be abandoned in the interests of our success. But we have returned with the artefact. And have transported it to you with all due care, as Su Altezza instructed. And according to our agreement, Altezza, we now look forward to being generously recompensed.’

Ezio knew that he could not allow the teak box and its contents to fall into the hands of the Cardinal. At that moment, when the unpleasant but necessary subject of payment for services rendered had come up, and as usual the supplier had to nudge the client for the cash due for the special duties undertaken, Ezio grasped his opportunity. Like so many rich people, the Cardinal could be miserly when the time came for handing over money. Unspringing the poison-blade on his right forearm and the double-bladed dagger on his left, Ezio cut down the sergeant, a single stab to the man’s exposed neck enough to deliver the deadly venom to his bloodstream. Ezio quickly turned on the five guards of the escort with his double-dagger in one hand, and the poison-blade under his right wrist, spinning like a dervish, using quick, clinical movements to deliver single lethal blows. Moments later, all the guards lay dead at his feet.

Rodrigo Borgia looked down at him, sighing heavily. ‘Ezio Auditore. Well, well. It’s been some time.’ The Cardinal seemed completely unruffled.

‘Cardinale.’ Ezio gave an ironic bow.

‘Give it to me,’ said Rodrigo, indicating the box.

‘Tell me first where he is.’

‘Where who is?’

‘Your Prophet!’ Ezio looked around. ‘It doesn’t look as if anyone’s shown up.’ He paused. More seriously, he continued: ‘How many people have died for this? For what’s in this box? And look! There’s nobody here!’

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