Assassin's Creed: Renaissance Page 92

‘And the Apple was the means to his end?’

Machiavelli spread his hands. ‘Only in part. A lot of it, I hate to say, is down to his own charisma. It isn’t the city itself he’s enthralled, but its leaders, men possessed of influence and power. Of course some of the Signoria opposed him at first, but now -‘ Machiavelli looked worried. ‘Now they’re all in his pocket. The man everyone once reviled suddenly became the one they worshipped. If people didn’t agree, they were obliged to leave. It’s still happening, as you’ve seen today. And now the Florentine council oppress the citizens and ensure that the mad Monk’s will is done.’

‘But what of decent ordinary people? Do they really act as if they had no say at all in the matter?’

Machiavelli smiled sadly. ‘You know the answer to that as well as I do, Ezio. Rare is the man willing to oppose the status quo. And so – it falls to us to help them see their way through this.’

By now the two Assassins had reached the city gates. The armed guards of the city, like all police, serving the interest of the state without reference to its morality, scrutinized their papers and waved them through, though not before Ezio had noticed another pack of them busy piling up the corpses of some other uniforms who carried the Borgia crest. He pointed this out to Niccolò.

‘Oh yes,’ said Machiavelli. As I said, friend Rodrigo – I’ll never get used to calling the bastard Alexander – keeps trying. He sends his soldiers into Florence, and Florence sends them back, usually in pieces.’

‘So he does know the Apple’s here?’

‘Of course he does! And I must admit, it’s an unfortunate complication.’

‘And where is Savonarola?’

‘He rules the city from the Convento di San Marco. Almost never leaves it. Thank God Fra’ Angelico didn’t live to see the day Brother Girolamo moved in!’

They dismounted, stabled their horses, and Machiavelli arranged lodgings for Ezio. Paola’s old house of pleasure was shut down, along with all the others, as Machiavelli explained. Sex and gambling, dancing and pageantry, were all high on the list of Savonarola’s no-nos. Righteous killing, and oppression, on the other hand, were fine.

After Ezio was settled, Machiavelli walked with him towards the great religious complex of Saint Mark. Ezio’s eyes ranged the buildings appraisingly. ‘A direct assault against Savonarola would be dangerous,’ he decided. ‘Especially with the Apple in his possession.’

‘True,’ agreed Machiavelli. ‘But what other option is there?’

‘Aside from the city leaders, who doubtless have vested interests, are you convinced that the people’s minds are fundamentally their own?’

‘An optimist might be inclined to take a bet on it,’ said Machiavelli.

‘My point is, they follow the Monk not by choice, but by dint of force and fear?’

‘No one apart from a Dominican or a politician would argue with that.’

‘Then I propose we use this to our advantage. If we can silence his lieutenants and stir up discontent, Savonarola will be distracted, and we’ll have a chance to strike.’

Machiavelli smiled. ‘That’s clever. There ought to be an adjective to describe people like you. I’ll speak with La Volpe and Paola – yes, they’re still here, though they’ve had to go underground. They can help us organize an uprising as you free the districts.’

‘Then it’s settled.’ Ezio was troubled, though, and Machiavelli could see it. He led him to the quiet cloister of a little church nearby, and sat him down.

‘What is it, friend?’ he asked.

‘Two things, but they are personal.’

‘Tell me.’

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‘My old family palazzo – what’s become of it? I hardly dare go to look.’

A shadow passed across Machiavelli’s face. ‘My dear Ezio, be strong. Your palazzo stands, but Lorenzo’s ability to protect it lasted only as long as his own power, his own life. Piero tried to follow his father’s example but after he was kicked out by the French the Palazzo Auditore was requisitioned and used as a billet for Charles’s Swiss mercenaries. After they had moved south, Savonarola’s men stripped it of everything that was left in it, and closed the place down. Have courage. One day you will restore it.’

‘And Annetta?’

‘She escaped, thank God, and joined your mother at Monteriggioni.’

‘That at least is something.’

After a silence, Machiavelli asked, ‘And what is the second thing?’

Ezio whispered, ‘Cristina -‘

‘You ask me to tell you hard things, amico mio.’ Machiavelli frowned. ‘But you must know the truth.’ He paused. ‘My friend, she is dead. Manfredo would not leave, as many of their friends left after the twin plagues of the French and Savonarola. He was convinced that Piero would organize a counter-offensive and get the city back. But there was an horrific night, soon after the Monk came to power, when all those who would not voluntarily commit their belongings to the bonfires of the vanities which the Monk organized to burn and destroy all luxurious and worldly things, had their houses ransacked and put to the torch.’

Ezio listened, making himself stay calm, though his heart was bursting.

‘Savonarola’s fanatics,’ Machiavelli went on, ‘forced their way into the Palazzo d’Arzenta. Manfredo tried to defend himself, but there were too many pitted against him and his own men… And Cristina would not leave him.’ Machiavelli paused for a long moment, fighting back tears himself. ‘In their frenzy, those religious maniacs cut her down too.’

Ezio stared at the whitewashed wall in front of him. Every last detail, every last crack, even the ants moving across it, all were thrown into dreadful focus.


How every hope of ours is raised in vain,

How spoiled the plans we laid so fair and well,

How ignorance throughout the earth doth reign,

Death, who is mistress of us all, can tell.

In song and dance and jousts some pass their days,

Some vow their talents unto gentle arts,

Some hold the world in scorn and all its ways,

Some hide the impulses that move their hearts.

Vain thoughts and wishes, cares of every kind

Greatly upon this erring earth prevail

In various presence after nature’s lore;

Fortune doth fashion with inconstant mind,

All things are transient here below and frail,

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