Assassin's Creed: Renaissance Page 89

Venice in 1492 was still under the relatively honest rule of Doge Agostino Barbarigo. The city was abuzz with talk of how a Genoese seaman called Christoffa Corombo, whose mad plans to sail westwards across the Ocean Sea had been turned down by Venice, had got funding from Spain, and was about to set out. Had Venice itself been mad not to fund the expedition? If Corombo succeeded, a safe sea passage to the Indies might be established, side-stepping the old land route now blocked by the Ottoman Turks. But Ezio’s mind was far too full of other matters to pay much attention to these matters of politics and trade.

‘We have your news,’ Teodora said. ‘But are you certain?’

‘It’s the only lead I’ve got, and it seems a good one. I am certain that the Apple is here again, in the hands of the monk, Savonarola. I hear he preaches to the masses of the hell and fire to come.’

‘I have heard of this man.’

‘Do you know where he can be found, Teodora?’

‘No. But I’ve seen a Herald drawing crowds in the industrial district, preaching the kind of fire-and-brimstone stuff-and-nonsense you speak of. Perhaps he is a disciple of your monk. Come with me. You will certainly be my guest while you are here, and once you are settled we will go straight to where this man delivers his sermons.’

Both Ezio and Teodora, and indeed all intelligent and rational people, knew why a kind of blood-and-thunder hysteria was beginning to grip the people. The half-millennium year of 1500 was not far off, and many believed that that year would mark the Second Coming, when the Lord would ‘come with clouds, in his own glory, and the glory of his Father, with ten thousand of his saints, even myriads of angels, and shall sit upon the throne of his glory. And before him shall be gathered all nations; and he shall separate them one from another, and shall set the sheep, the Saved, on his right hand, and the goats, the Damned, upon the left‘.

San Matteo’s description of the Last Judgement reverberated through the imaginations of many.

‘This Herald and his boss are really cashing in on the febbre di fine secolo,’ said Teodora. ‘For all I know, they believe in it themselves.’

‘I think they must do,’ said Ezio. ‘The danger is, that with the Apple in their hands, they may actually bring about a world disaster that has nothing to do with God, and everything to do with the Devil.’ He paused. ‘But for the moment they have not unleashed the power they have, and thank God for that, for I doubt if they would know how to control it. For the moment at least they seem content to foretell the Apocalypse – and that ‘ he laughed bitterly, ‘ has always been an easy sell.’

‘But it gets worse,’ said Teodora. ‘Indeed, you might almost believe that the Apocalypse were really at hand. Have you heard the bad news?’

‘I have heard none since I left Forlì.’

‘Lorenzo de’ Medici has died at his villa in Careggi.’

Ezio looked grim. ‘That is indeed a tragedy. Lorenzo was a true friend to my family and without his protecting hand I fear I may never recover the Palazzo Auditore. But that is as nothing compared with what his death may mean to the peace he maintained between the city-states. It was always fragile at the best of times.’

‘There is more,’ said Teodora, ‘And it is, if anything, worse news even than Lorenzo’s death.’ She paused. ‘You must brace yourself for this, Ezio. The Spaniard, Rodrigo Borgia, has been elected Pope. He rules the Vatican and Rome as the Supreme Pontiff, Alexander VI!’

‘What! By what devilry – ?’

‘The Conclave of Rome has only just ended – this month. The rumour is that Rodrigo simply bought most of the votes. Even Ascanio Sforza, who was the most likely candidate standing against him, voted for him! Four mule-loads of silver was his bribe, they say.’

‘What profits him to be Pope? What is it he seeks?’

‘Is such great influence not enough?’ Teodora looked at him. ‘Now we are in the power of a wolf, Ezio. The most rapacious, perhaps, the world has ever seen.’

‘What you say is true, Teodora. But the power he seeks is even greater than that which the Papacy will give him. If he controls the Vatican, he is that much closer to gaining access to the Vault; and he is still on the trail of the Apple, the “Piece of Eden” he needs to give him – the power of God Himself!’

‘Let us pray that you get it back into the hands of the Assassins – Rodrigo as Pope and Master of the Templars is dangerous enough. Once he has the Apple as well…’ She broke off. ‘As you say, he will be indestructible.’

‘It’s odd,’ said Ezio.

‘What is?’

‘Our friend Savonarola doesn’t know it, but he has two huntsmen chasing him.’

Teodora conducted Ezio to the large open square in the industrial quarter of Venice where the Herald was wont to conduct his sermons, and left him there. Ezio, his hood up and his face lowered but watchful, blended in with the crowd that was already gathering. It wasn’t long before the square was packed, the mob thronging around a small wooden stage on to which a man now stepped, an ascetic-looking man with cold blue eyes and hollow cheeks, iron-grey hair and gnarled hands, dressed in a plain grey woollen robe. He started to speak, pausing only when the mad cheers of the crowd obliged him to. Ezio saw how skilfully one man could work hundreds into a state of blind hysteria.

‘Gather, children, and hear my cry! For the End of Days draws nigh. Are you ready for what is to come? Are you ready to see the Light my brother Savonarola has blessed us with?’ He raised his hands, and Ezio, who knew exactly what light the Herald was referring to, listened soberly. ‘Dark days are upon us,’ continued the Herald, ‘But my brother has shown me the path forward unto salvation, unto the heavenly light that awaits us. But only if we are ready, only if we embrace him. Let Savonarola be our guide, for he alone knows what is to come. He shall not lead us astray.’ Now the Herald leant forward earnestly on the lectern before him. ‘Are you ready for the final reckoning, brothers and sisters? Whom shall you follow when the time comes?’ He paused again for effect. ‘There are many in the churches who claim to offer salvation, the summoners, the pardoners, the scatterbrained slaves of superstition… But nay, my children! They are all in thrall to the Borgia pope, all in thrall to “Pope” Alexander, the sixth and most mortgaged of that name!’

The crowd screamed. Ezio, inwardly, winced. He remembered the apparent prophecies he had seen the Apple project in Leonardo’s workshop. Somewhere in the distant future: a time when hell would truly be unleashed upon the earth – unless he could stop it.

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