Assassin's Creed: Renaissance Page 83

Ezio, having armed himself this time with the double-blade on his left forearm with his metal arm-guard, and the pistola on his right, as well as a light arming-sword hung from his belt, was dressed simply in a peasant’s woollen cloak which hung down below his knees. He pulled his hood up to avoid recognition, and, dismounting some way outside the village and keeping a weather-eye out for Orsi scouts, he slung a fardel of kindling borrowed from an outhouse on to his back. Stooping beneath it, he made his way into Santa Salvaza.

The residents of the village tried to go about their business as they normally did, despite the military presence that had been foisted on to them. Naturally, no one was particularly enamoured of the Orsi mercenaries, and Ezio, unnoticed by the latter but almost instantly recognized as a stranger by the locals, was able to gain their support in his mission. He made his way to a house at the end of the village, larger than the others and set slightly apart. It was there, he’d been told by an old woman carrying water from the river, that one of the children was being held. Ezio was grateful that the Orsi soldiery was pretty thinly spread. Most of the force were busy laying siege to Forlì.

But he knew he had very little time to rescue the children.

The door and windows of the house were firmly shut, but as he made his way round the back, where two wings of the building formed a courtyard, Ezio heard a young, firm voice delivering a severe lecture. He climbed on to the roof and peered down into the courtyard, where Bianca Sforza, the miniature image of her mother, was giving two surly Orsi guardsmen a dressing-down.

‘Are you two sorry-looking specimens all they could rustle up to guard me?’ she was saying regally, drawn up to her full height and showing as little fear as her mother would have done. ‘Stolti! It won’t be enough! My mamma is fierce and would never let you hurt me. We Sforza women are no shrinking violets, you know! We may look pretty to the eye, but the eyes deceive. As my pappa found out!’ She drew breath, and the guards looked at each other nonplussed. ‘I hope you don’t imagine I’m scared of you either, because if you did you’d be very much mistaken. And if you touch one hair of my little brother’s head, my mamma will hunt you down and eat you for breakfast! Capito?’

‘Just button it, you little fool,’ growled the older of the guards. ‘Unless you want a clip round the ear!’

‘Don’t you dare talk to me like that! In any case, it’s absurd. You’ll never get away with this, and I’ll be safe at home within the hour. In fact, I’m getting bored. I’m surprised you don’t have anything better to do, while I wait for you to die!’

‘All right, that’s quite enough,’ said the older guard, reaching out to grab her. But at that moment Ezio fired his pistola from the rooftop, hitting the soldier squarely in the chest. The man was launched from his feet – crimson blossoming through his tunic even before he hit the ground. Ezio mused for a second that Leonardo’s powder mix must be improving. In the flurry of confusion that followed the guard’s sudden death, Ezio leapt down from the rooftop, landing with the grace and power of a panther, and with his double-blades quickly rounded on the younger guard, who fumbled in drawing an ugly-looking dagger. Ezio slashed precisely at the man’s forearm, shearing through tendons as though they were ribbons. The man’s dagger dropped to the ground, sticking point first in the mud – and before he could muster any further defence, Ezio had brought the double-blade under his jaw, stabbing through the soft tissue of the mouth and tongue, into the cavity of the skull. Ezio calmly withdrew the blades, leaving the corpse to slump to the ground.

‘Are they the only two?’ he asked the undismayed Bianca as he quickly reloaded.

‘Yes! And thank you, whoever you are. My mother will see that you are amply rewarded. But they’ve got my brother Ottaviano too -‘

‘Do you know where he is?’ asked Ezio, swiftly reloading his pistol.

‘They’ve got him in the watchtower – by the ruined bridge! We must hurry!’

‘Show me where, and stay very close!’

He followed her out of the house and along the road until they came upon the tower. They were just in time, for there was Lodovico himself, dragging the whimpering Ottaviano along by the scruff of his neck. Ezio could see that the little boy was limping – he must have twisted his ankle.

‘You!’ shouted Lodovico when he saw Ezio. ‘You’d better hand the girl over and go back to your mistress – tell her we’ll finish the pair of them if we don’t get what we want!’

‘I want my mamma,’ bawled Ottaviano. ‘Let me go you, you big thug!’

‘Shut up, marmocchio!’ Lodovico snarled at him. ‘Ezio! Go fetch the Apple and the Map or the kid gets it.’

‘I need to pee!’ wailed Ottaviano.

‘Oh, for God’s sake, chiudi il becco!’

‘Let him go,’ said Ezio firmly.

‘I’d like to see you make me! You’ll never get close enough, you fool! The minute you make a move, I’ll slit his throat as easily as winking!’

Lodovico had dragged the little boy in front of him with both hands, but now had to free one hand in order to draw his sword. At that moment Ottaviano tried to break free, but Lodovico grasped him firmly by the wrist. Nevertheless, Ottaviano was no longer between Lodovico and Ezio. Seeing his opportunity, Ezio sprang out his pistol and fired.

Lodovico’s enraged expression was transformed to one of disbelief. The ball had hit him in the neck – cutting the jugular. His eyes goggling, he let go of Ottaviano and sank to his knees, clutching his throat – the blood seeping through his fingers. The boy ran forward to be embraced by his sister.

‘Ottaviano! Stai bene!’ she said, hugging him close.

Ezio moved forward to stand over Lodovico, but not too close. The man hadn’t fallen yet and his sword was still in his hand. Blood oozed down on to his jerkin, a trickle becoming a torrent.

‘I don’t know what Devil’s instrument has given you the means to get the better of me, Ezio,’ he panted. ‘But I am sorry to tell you that you will lose this game whatever you do. We Orsi are not the fools you seem to take us for. If anyone is a fool, you are – you and Caterina!’

‘You are the fool,’ said Ezio, his voice cold with scorn, ‘To die for a bagful of silver. Do you really think it was worth it?’

Lodovico grimaced. ‘More than you know, friend. You’ve been outwitted. And whatever you do now, the Master will gain his prize!’ His face contorted in agony at the pain from his wound. The bloodstain had spread. ‘You’d better finish me, Ezio, if you have any mercy in you at all.’

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