Assassin's Creed: Renaissance Page 90

‘Our new Pope Alexander is not a spiritual man; he is not a man of the soul. Men like him buy your prayers and sell your benefices for profit. All the priests of our churches are ecclesiastical merchants! Only one among us is a true man of the spirit, only one among us has seen the future, and spoken with the Lord! My brother, Savonarola! He shall lead us!’

Ezio thought: had that mad monk opened the Apple, as he had himself? Had he unleashed the same visions? What was it Leonardo had said about the Apple - unsafe for weaker brains?

‘Savonarola shall lead us to the light,’ the Herald was concluding. ‘Savonarola shall tell us what is to come! Savonarola shall carry us to the front door of heaven itself! We shall not want in the new world that Savonarola has borne witness to. Brother Savonarola walks the very path to God we have been seeking!’

He raised his hands again, as the mob yelled and cheered.

Ezio knew that the only way to find the monk was through this acolyte. But he had to find a way to reach the man without arousing the suspicions of the devoted crowd. He made his way forward cautiously, acting the role of the meek man seeking conversion to the Herald’s flock.

It wasn’t easy. He was jostled aggressively by people who could see he was a stranger, a newcomer, a person to be regarded with reserve. But he smiled, bowed, and even, as a last resort, threw money down, saying, ‘I want to give alms to the cause of Savonarola and those who support him and believe in him.’ And money worked its usual charm. In fact, Ezio thought, money is the greatest converter of them all.

At last the Herald, who’d observed Ezio’s progress with a mixture of amusement and contempt, bade his minders step aside and beckoned to him, leading him to a quiet place, a little piazzetta off the main square, where they could have a private conversation. Ezio was pleased to see that the Herald clearly thought he’d made an important and wealthy new addition to his flock.

‘Where is Savonarola himself?’ he asked.

‘He is everywhere, brother,’ replied the Herald. ‘He is at one with all of us, and all of us are at one with him.’

‘Listen, friend,’ said Ezio, urgently. ‘I seek the man, not the myth. Please tell me where he is.’

The Herald looked at him askance, and Ezio clearly saw the madness in his eyes. ‘I have told you where he is. Look, Savonarola loves you just as you are. He will show you the Light. He will show you the future!’

‘But I must talk to him myself. I must see the great leader! And I have great riches to bring to his mighty crusade!’

The Herald looked cunning at that. ‘I see,’ he said. ‘Be patient. The hour is not yet come. But you shall join us in our pilgrimage, brother.’

And Ezio was patient. He was patient for a long time. Then, one day, he received a summons from the Herald to meet him at the Venice dockyards at dusk. He arrived early and waited impatiently and nervously, until finally he saw a shadowy figure approaching through the evening mists.

‘I was not sure you would come,’ he greeted the Herald.

The Herald looked pleased. ‘The quest for Truth is passionate in you, brother. And it has withstood the test of time. But now we are ready, and our great leader has assumed the mantle of command he was born to. Come!’

He motioned ahead of him, and led Ezio to the quayside where a large galley waited. Near it, a crowd of the Faithful waited. The Herald addressed them:

‘My children! It is time at last for us to depart. Our brother and spiritual leader Girolamo Savonarola awaits us in the city he has at last made his own!’

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‘Yes, he has! The son-of-a-bitch bastard has brought my town and my home to its knees – to the brink of insanity!’

The crowd and Ezio turned to look at the person who had spoken, a long-haired young man in a black cap, with full lips and a weak face, now contorted in anger.

‘I have just escaped from there,’ he continued. ‘Thrown out of my dukedom by that prick King Charles of France, whose meddling has caused me to be replaced by that Dog of God, Savonarola!’

The crowd’s mood turned ugly, and they would surely have seized the young man and thrown him into the lagoon if the Herald had not stayed them.

‘Let the man speak his mind,’ ordered the Herald, and, turning to the stranger, asked: ‘Why do you take Savonarola’s name in vain, brother?’

‘Why? Why? Because of what he’s done to Florence! He controls the city! The Signoria are either behind him, or powerless against him. He whips up the mob, and even people who should know better, like Maestro Botticelli, follow him slavishly. They burn books, works of art, anything which that madman deems immoral!’

‘Savonarola is in Florence now?’ asked Ezio intently. ‘You’re sure?’

‘Would it were otherwise! Would he were on the moon or in hell’s mouth! I barely got away with my life!’

‘And who might you be exactly, brother?’ asked the Herald, impatient now and showing it.

The young man drew himself up. ‘I am Piero de’ Medici. Son of Lorenzo, Il Magnifico, and rightful ruler of Florence!’

Ezio clasped his hand. ‘Well met, Piero. Your father was my staunch friend.’

Piero looked at him. ‘Thank you for that, whoever you may be. As for my father, he was lucky to die before all this madness broke like a giant wave over our city.’ He turned heedlessly to the angry crowd. ‘Do not support that wretched monk! He is a dangerous fool with an ego the size of the Duomo! He should be put down like the mad dog that he is!’

Now, as one, the crowd growled in righteous fury. The Herald turned to Piero and yelled, ‘Heretic! Seeder of evil thoughts!’ To the crowd he cried, ‘This is the man who must be put down! Be silenced ! He must burn!’

Both Piero and Ezio, by his side, had their swords out by now, and faced the menacing mob.

‘Who are you?’ asked Piero.

‘Auditore, Ezio,’ he replied.

‘Ah! Sono grato del tuo aiuto. My father spoke of you often.’ His eyes flickered over their adversaries. ‘Are we going to get out of this?’

‘I hope so. But you weren’t exactly tactful.’

‘How was I to know?’

‘You’ve just destroyed untold effort and preparation; but never mind. Look to your sword!’

The fight was hard but short. The two men let the mob beat them back to an abandoned warehouse, and it was there that they took their stand. Luckily, though enraged, the crowd of pilgrims were far from being seasoned fighters, and once the boldest of them had retreated nursing deep cuts and slashes from Ezio’s and Piero’s longswords, the rest of them fell back, and fled. Only the Herald, grim and grey, stood his ground.

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