Assassin's Creed: Renaissance Page 9

‘What will happen to him?’

‘There’ll be a trial. I imagine your father may be a key witness, when our own Duke Lorenzo returns.’

Ezio looked restless.

‘Don’t worry, you’ve nothing to fear. And I’m not going to ask you to do anything you wouldn’t like – in fact, I want you to accompany me on an errand I have to run. It won’t take long, and I think you may even find it enjoyable.’

‘I’ll be happy to help you, Mamma.’

‘Come, then. It’s not far.’

They left the palazzo on foot together, arm in arm, and walked in the direction of the cathedral, to the small quarter near it where many of the artists of Florence had their workshops and studios. Some, like those of Verrocchio and the rising star Alessandro di Moriano Filipepi, who’d already acquired the nickname Botticelli, were large, busy places, where assistants and apprentices were busy grinding colours and mixing pigments, others, humbler. It was at the door of one of these that Maria halted and knocked. It was opened immediately by a handsome, well-dressed young man, almost dandified but athletic-looking, with a shock of dark brown hair and a luxuriant beard. He might have been six or seven years older than Ezio.

‘Madonna Auditore! Welcome! I’ve been expecting you.’

‘Leonardo, buon’ giorno.’ The two exchanged formal kisses. This artist must be well in with my mother, thought Ezio, but already he liked the look of the man. ‘This is my son, Ezio,’ continued Maria.

The artist bowed. ‘Leonardo da Vinci,’ he said. ‘Molto onorato, signore.’


‘Not quite that – yet,’ smiled Leonardo. ‘But what am I thinking of? Come in, come in! Wait here, I’ll see if my assistant can find some wine for you while I go and get your paintings.’

The studio was not large, but the clutter in it made it look even smaller than it was. Tables were heaped with the skeletons of birds and small mammals, while jars filled with colourless fluid contained organic objects of one kind or another, though Ezio was hard put to it to recognize any of them. A broad workbench at the back held some curious structures painstakingly crafted in wood, and two easels bore unfinished paintings whose tones were darker than usual, and whose outlines were less clearly defined. Ezio and Maria made themselves comfortable, and, emerging from an inner room, a handsome youth appeared with a tray bearing wine and small cakes. He served them, smiled shyly, and withdrew.

‘Leonardo’s very talented.’

‘If you say so, Madre. I know little of art.’ Ezio thought that his life would consist of following in his father’s footsteps, even though, deep within him, there was a rebellious and adventurous streak which he knew would sit ill in the character of a Florentine banker. In any case, like his older brother, he saw himself as a man of action, not as an artist or a connoisseur.

‘You know, self-expression is a vital part of understanding life, and enjoying it to the full.’ She looked at him. ‘You should find an outlet yourself, my dear.’

Ezio was piqued. ‘I have plenty of outlets.’

‘I meant apart from tarts,’ retorted his mother matter-of-factly.

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‘Mother!’ But Maria’s only answer to that was a shrug and a pursing of her lips. ‘It would be good if you could cultivate a man like Leonardo as a friend. I think he has a promising future ahead of him.’

‘From the look of this place, I’m inclined to disagree with you.’

‘Don’t be cheeky!’

They were interrupted by Leonardo’s return from his inner room, carrying two boxes. He set one down on the ground. ‘Do you mind carrying that one?’ he asked Ezio. ‘I’d ask Agniolo, but he has to stay and guard the shop. Also, I don’t think he’s strong enough for this kind of work, poor dear.’

Ezio stooped to pick up the box, and was surprised at how heavy it was. He almost dropped it.

‘Careful!’ warned Leonardo. ‘The paintings in there are delicate, and your mother’s just paid me good money for them!’

‘Shall we go?’ said Maria. ‘I can’t wait to hang them. I’ve selected places which I hope you’ll approve of,’ she added to Leonardo. Ezio baulked at this a little: was a fledgling artist really worth such deference?

As they walked, Leonardo chatted amiably, and Ezio found that despite himself he was won over by the other man’s charm. And yet there was something about him that he instinctively found disquieting, something he couldn’t quite put his finger on. A coolness? A sense of detachment from his fellow beings? Perhaps it was just that he had his head in the clouds, like so many other artists, or so Ezio was told. But Ezio felt an instant, instinctive respect for the man.

‘So, Ezio, what do you do?’ Leonardo asked him.

‘He works for his father,’ Maria replied.

‘Ah. A financier! Well, you were born in the right city for that!’

‘It’s a good city for artists too,’ said Ezio. ‘All those rich patrons.’

‘There are so many of us, though,’ grumbled Leonardo. ‘It’s hard to attract attention. That’s why I am so indebted to your mother. Mind you, she has a very discerning eye!’

‘Do you concentrate on painting?’ asked Ezio, thinking of the diversity he’d seen in the studio.

Leonardo looked thoughtful. ‘That’s a hard question. To tell the truth, I’m finding it difficult to settle down to anything, now I’m on my own. I adore painting, and I know I can do it, but… somehow I can see the end before I get there, and that makes it hard to finish things sometimes. I have to be pushed! But that’s not all. I often feel that my work lacks… I don’t know… purpose. Does that make any sense?’

‘You should have more faith in yourself, Leonardo,’ said Maria.

‘Thank you, but there are moments when I think I’d rather do more practical work, work that has a direct bearing on life. I want to understand life – how it works, how everything works.’

‘Then you’d have to be one hundred men in one,’ said Ezio.

‘If only I could be! I know what I want to explore: architecture, anatomy, engineering even. I don’t want to capture the world with my brush, I want to change it!’

He was so impassioned that Ezio was more impressed than irritated – the man clearly wasn’t boasting; if anything, he seemed almost tormented by the ideas that simmered within him. Next thing, thought Ezio, is that he’ll tell us he’s involved with music and poetry as well!

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