Assassin's Creed: Renaissance Page 91

‘Impostor!’ he said to Ezio. ‘You shall freeze for ever in the ice of the Fourth Ring of the Ninth Circle. And it is I who will send you there.’ From his robes he produced a keen-edged basilard and ran at Ezio holding it above his head, ready to strike. Ezio, backing, almost fell and was at the Herald’s mercy, but Piero sliced at the man’s legs and Ezio, having regained his feet, unleashed his double-blade – punching the sharp points deep into the man’s abdomen. The herald’s whole frame shuddered with the impact; he gasped, and fell, writhing and twitching, clawing the ground, until at last he was still.

‘Hope that pays you back for the bad turn I’ve done you,’ said Piero, with a rueful smile. ‘Come on! Let’s get to the Doge’s Palace and tell Agostino to send the Watch out to make sure that bunch of lunatics has split up, and that they’ve all gone back to their kennels.’

‘Grazie,’ said Ezio. ‘But I go the other way. I go to Florence.’

Piero looked at him incredulously. ‘What? Into the mouth of hell itself?’

‘I have my own reasons for seeking out Savonarola. But perhaps it’s not too late to undo the damage he’s done to our native city as well.’

‘Then I wish you luck,’ said Piero. ‘Whatever end you seek.’

26

Fra’ Girolamo Savonarola took over the effective government of Florence in 1494, aged forty-two. He was a tormented man, a twisted genius, and the worst kind of fanatical believer; but the most frightening thing about him was that people allowed him not only to lead them, but to incite them to commit the most ludicrous and destructive acts of folly. All based on a terror of hell-fire, and on a doctrine which taught that all pleasure, all worldly goods, and all the works of man, were despicable, and that only by complete self-abnegation could a person find the true light of faith.

No wonder, thought Ezio, pondering these things as he rode towards his home town, that Leonardo stayed put in Milan – apart from anything else, from his friend’s point of view, Ezio had learned that homosexuality, hitherto winked at or punishable by an affordable fine, was once again a capital offence in Florence. And no wonder, too, that the great materialist and humanist school of thinkers and poets who had gathered around the nurturing and enlightened spirit of Lorenzo had broken up, and sought less barren soil than the intellectual desert which Florence was fast becoming.

As he approached the city, Ezio became aware of large groups of black-robed monks and soberly attired laymen heading in the same direction. All looked solemn but righteous. All walked with their heads bent.

‘Where are you bound?’ he asked one of these passers-by.

‘To Florence. To sit at the feet of the great leader,’ said a pasty-faced merchant, before continuing on his way.

The road was broad, and approaching him from the city Ezio saw another mass of people, evidently leaving town. They also walked with their heads bent, and their expressions were serious and depressed. As they passed him, Ezio heard snatches of their conversations, and realized that these people were going into voluntary exile. They pushed carts piled high, or carried sacks, or bundles of possessions. They were refugees, banished from their home either by edict of the Monk, or by choice, since they could bear to live under his rule no longer.

‘If Piero had had only a tenth of his father’s talent, we’d have somewhere to call home…’ said one.

‘We never should have let that madman gain a foothold in our city,’ muttered another. ‘Look at all the misery he’s wrought…’

‘What I don’t understand is why so many of us are willing to accept his oppression,’ said a woman.

‘Well, anywhere’s better than Florence now,’ another woman said. ‘We were just thrown out when we refused to hand over everything we own to his precious Church of San Marco!’

‘It’s sorcery, that’s the only way I can explain it. Even Maestro Botticelli is under Savonarola’s spell… Mind you, the man’s getting old, he must be damned near fifty, maybe he’s hedging his bets with heaven.’

‘Book burnings, arrests, all those endless bloody sermons! And to think what Florence was just two short years ago… a beacon against ignorance! And now here we are again, back mired in the Dark Ages.’

And then a woman said something which made Ezio prick up his ears. ‘Sometimes I wish the Assassin would return to Florence, that we might be free of this tyranny.’

‘In your dreams!’ replied her friend. ‘The Assassin’s a myth! A bogey-man parents tell their children about.’

‘You’re wrong – my father saw him in San Gimignano,’ the first woman sighed. ‘But it was years ago.’

‘Yeah, yeah – se lo tu dici.’

Ezio rode on past them, his heart heavy. But his spirits rose when he saw a familiar figure coming along the road to meet him.

‘Salute, Ezio,’ said Machiavelli, his serious-humorous face older now, but more interesting for the etching of the years.

‘Salute, Niccolò.’

‘You’ve picked a fine time for a homecoming.’

‘You know me. Where there’s sickness, I like to try to cure it.’

‘We could certainly use your help now,’ Machiavelli sighed. ‘There’s no doubt Savonarola couldn’t have got where he is now without the use of that powerful arte-fact, the Apple.’ He held up his hand. ‘I know all about what has happened to you since last we met. Caterina sent a courier from Forlì two years ago, and more recently one arrived with a letter from Piero in Venice.’

‘I am here for the Apple. It has been out of our hands far too long.’

‘I suppose in a sense we should be grateful to the ghastly Girolamo,’ said Machiavelli. ‘At least he kept it out of the new Pope’s hands.’

‘Has he tried anything?’

‘He keeps trying. There’s a rumour that Alexander’s planning to excommunicate our dear Dominican. Not that that’ll change much around here.’

Ezio said, ‘We should get to work on retrieving it without delay.’

‘The Apple? Of course – though it’ll be more complicated than you might think.’

‘Hah! When isn’t it?’ Ezio looked at him. ‘Why don’t you fill me in on things?’

‘Come, let’s go back to the city. I’ll tell you everything I know. There’s little to relate. In a nutshell, King Charles VIII of France finally managed to bring Florence to its knees. Piero fled. Charles, land-hungry as ever – why the hell they call him “the Affable” is beyond me – marched on to Naples, and Savonarola, the Ugly Duckling, suddenly saw his chance and filled the power-vacuum. He’s like any dictator anywhere, tinpot or grand. Totally humourless, totally convinced, and filled with an unshakeable sense of his own importance. The most effective and the nastiest kind of Prince you could wish for.’ He paused. ‘One day I’ll write a book about it.’

Prev Next