Assassin's Creed: Renaissance Page 80

‘They sent me word by courier that you were on your way, so I thought I’d come down and accompany you back to Forlì myself,’ she said. ‘You were wise, I think, to make the journey in one of Doge Agostino’s galleys, for the roads are often unsafe and we have trouble with brigands. Not, I think,’ she added, casting an appreciative eye over Ezio, ‘that they would have given you much trouble.’

‘I am honoured that you remember me, Signora.’

‘Well, it has been a long time, but you certainly make an impression.’ She turned to Machiavelli. ‘It’s good to see you again too, Niccolò.’

‘You two know each other?’asked Ezio.

‘Niccolò’s been able to advise me… on certain matters of state.’ She changed the subject. ‘And now I hear that you’ve become a fully fledged Assassin. Congratulations.’

They’d arrived at Caterina’s carriage but she told her servants that she preferred to ride, it being a delightful day and the distance not great. The horses were duly saddled and after they had mounted Caterina bade Ezio ride beside her.

‘You’re going to love Forlì. And you will be safe there. Our cannon have protected the city well for over a century and the citadel is all but impregnable.’

‘Forgive me, Signora, but there is one thing which intrigues me -‘

‘Please tell me what it is.’

‘I’ve never heard of a woman ruling a city-state before. I am impressed.’

Caterina smiled. ‘Well, it was in my husband’s hands before, of course. Do you remember him? A little? Girolamo.’ She paused. ‘Well, he died -‘

‘I am so sorry.’

‘Don’t be,’ she said simply. ‘I had him assassinated.’

Ezio tried to conceal his amazement.

‘It was like this,’ put in Machiavelli. ‘We found out that Girolamo Riario was working for the Templars. He was in the process of completing a map which shows the locations of the remaining unretrieved Codex pages -‘

‘I never liked the goddamned son-of-a-bitch, anyway,’ said Caterina flatly. ‘He was a lousy father, boring in bed, and a general all-round pain in the arse.’ She paused reflectively. ‘Mind you, I’ve had a couple of other husbands since – rather overrated, if you ask me.’

They were interrupted by the sight of a riderless horse coming towards them at the gallop. Caterina dispatched one of her outriders to go after it, and the rest of the party carried on towards Forlì, but now the Sforza retainers had their swords drawn. Soon they came upon an overturned wagon, its wheels still spinning in the air, surrounded by dead bodies.

Caterina’s brow darkened, and she spurred her horse on, closely followed by Ezio and Machiavelli.

A little further down the road, they encountered a group of local peasants, some wounded, making their way towards them.

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‘What’s going on?’ Caterina accosted a woman at the head of the group.

‘Altezza,’ said the woman, tears pouring down her face. ‘They came almost as soon as you had left. They’re preparing to lay siege to the city!’

‘Who are?’

‘The Orsi brothers, Madonna!’

‘Sangue di Giuda!’

‘Who are the Orsi?’ asked Ezio.

‘The same bastards I hired to kill Girolamo,’ spat Caterina.

‘The Orsi work for anyone who’ll pay them,’ observed Machiavelli. ‘They’re not very bright, but unfortunately they have a reputation for getting a job done.’ He paused in thought. ‘The Spaniard’ll be behind this.’

‘But how could he possibly know where we were taking the Apple?’

‘They’re not looking for the Apple, Ezio; they’re after Riario’s Map. The Map is still in Forlì. Rodrigo needs to know where the other Codex pages are concealed, and we cannot afford to let him get his hands on the Map!’

‘Never mind the Map,’ cried Caterina. ‘My children are in the city. Ah, porco demonio!’

They kicked their horses into a gallop until they came within sight of the town. Smoke was rising from within the walls and they could see the city gates were closed. Men stood along the outer ramparts under the bear-and-bush crest of the Orsi family. But inside the town, the citadel on its hill still flew the flag of the Sforza.

‘It looks as if they’ve gained control of at least part of Forlì, but not the citadel,’ said Machiavelli.

‘Double-crossing bastards!’ spat Caterina.

‘Is there a way I can get into the city without their seeing me?’ asked Ezio, gathering up his Codex weapons and strapping them on in readiness, keeping the gun and the spring-blade in his satchel.

‘There’s a possibility, caro,’ said Caterina. ‘But it’ll be hard. There’s an old tunnel that leads under the western wall from the canal.’

‘Then I’ll try,’ said Ezio. ‘Be ready. If I can get the city gates open from the inside, be prepared to ride like hell. If we can reach the citadel and your people there see your crest and let you in, we’ll be safe enough to plan the next move.’

‘Which will be to string these cretins up and watch them dangle in the wind,’ growled Caterina. ‘But go on, Ezio, and good luck! I’ll think of something to distract the Orsi troops’ attention.’

Ezio dismounted and ran round to the western walls, keeping low and taking cover behind hillocks and bushes. Meanwhile Caterina stood up in her stirrups and bawled at the enemy within the city walls: ‘Hey, you! I’m talking to you, you spineless dogs. You occupy my city? My home? And you really think I’m going to do nothing about it? Why, I’m coming up there to rip off your coglioni – if you’ve got any, that is!’

Groups of soldiers had appeared on the ramparts now, looking across at Caterina, half-amused, half-intimidated as she kept it up: ‘What kind of men are you? Doing the bidding of your paymasters for handfuls of loose change! I wonder if you’ll think it was worth it after I’ve come up there, cut your heads off, pissed down your necks and shoved your faces up my figa! I’ll stick your balls on a fork and roast them over my kitchen fire! How does that sound?’

By now there were no men on watch along the western ramparts. Ezio found the canal unguarded, and, swimming down it, he located the overgrown entrance of the tunnel. Slipping out of the water, he plunged into the tunnel’s black depths.

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