Assassin's Creed: Renaissance Page 93

Death only standeth fast for evermore.

Ezio let the book of Lorenzo’s sonnets fall from his hand. The death of Cristina made him all the more determined to remove its cause. His city had suffered long enough under the rule of Savonarola, too many of his fellow citizens, from every conceivable walk of life, had fallen under his spell, and those who disagreed were either discriminated against, driven underground, or forced into exile. It was time to act.

‘We have lost to exile many people who might have helped us,’ Machiavelli explained to him. But even Savonarola’s chief enemies outside the city-state, I mean the Duke of Milan and our old friend Rodrigo, Pope Alexander VI, haven’t been able to dislodge him.’

‘And what of these bonfires?’

‘The most insane thing of all. Savonarola and his close associates organize groups of their followers to go from door to door, demanding the surrender of any and all objects they deem to be morally questionable, even cosmetics and mirrors, let alone paintings, books considered to be immoral, all sorts of games including chess, for God’s sake, musical instruments – you name it; if the Monk and his followers think they distract from their take on religion, they’ve been brought to the Piazza della Signoria, placed on huge bonfires, and burned.’ Machiavelli shook his head. ‘Florence has lost much of value and much of beauty in this way.’

‘But surely the city must be getting weary of this kind of behaviour?’

Machiavelli brightened. ‘That is true, and that feeling is our best ally. I think Savonarola genuinely believes that the Day of Judgement is at hand – the only trouble is, it shows no sign of coming, and even some who started out believing in him fervently are beginning to falter in their faith. Unfortunately there are many of influence and power here who still support him without question. If they could be removed…’

So began for Ezio a frenetic period of hunting down and dispatching a series of such supporters, and they did indeed come from all walks of life – there were an artist of note, an old soldier, a merchant, several priests, a doctor, a farmer, and one or two aristocrats, all of whom clung fanatically to the ideas imbued in them by the Monk. Some saw the folly of their ways before they died; others remained unshaken in their conviction. Ezio, as he carried out this unpleasant task, was more often than not threatened with death himself. But soon the rumours began to filter through the city – talk heard in the late hours, mutterings in illicit tavernas and back alleys. The Assassin is back. The Assassin has come to save Florence…

It saddened Ezio to the core to see the city of his birth, his family, his heritage so abused by the hatred and insanity of religious fervour. It was with a hardened heart that he plied his trade of death – a cold icy wind cleansing the bastardized city of those who had pulled Firenze from her glory. As ever, he killed with compassion, knowing that no other way was possible for those who had fallen so far from God. Through these hours of darkness, he never once swerved from his duty to the Creed of the Assassin.

Gradually the general mood of the city wavered, and Savonarola saw his support ebbing, as Machiavelli, La Volpe and Paola worked in tandem with Ezio to organize an uprising, an uprising guided by a slow but forceful process of enlightenment of the people.

The last of the ‘targets’ for Ezio was a beguiled preacher, who at the time Ezio tracked him down was preaching to a crowd in front of the church of Santo Spirito.

‘People of Florence! Come! Gather round. Listen well to what I say! The end approaches! Now is the time to repent! To beg God’s forgiveness. Listen to me, if you cannot see what is happening for yourselves. The signs are all around us: Unrest! Famine! Disease! Corruption! These are the harbingers of darkness! We must stand firm in our devotion lest they consume us all !’ He scanned them with his fiery eyes. ‘I see you doubt, that you think me mad. Ahhhh… but did the Romans not say the same of Jesus? Know that I, too, once shared your uncertainty, your fear. But that was before Savonarola came to me. He showed me the truth! At last, my eyes were opened. And so I stand before you today in the hope that I might open yours as well!’ The preacher paused for breath. ‘Understand that we stand upon a precipice. On one side, the shining, glorious Kingdom of God. On the other – a bottomless pit of despair ! Already you teeter precariously on the edge. Men like the Medici and the other families you once called masters sought earthly goods and gain. The abandoned their beliefs in favour of material pleasures, and they would have seen you all do the same.’ He paused again, this time for effect, and continued: ‘Our wise prophet once said, “The only good thing that we owe Plato and Aristotle is that they brought forward many arguments which we can use against the heretics. Yet they and other philosophers are now in hell.” If you value your immortal souls you’ll turn back from this unholy course and embrace the teachings of our prophet, Savonarola. Then you will sanctify your bodies and spirits – you will discover the Glory of God! You will, at last, become what our Creator intended: loyal and obedient servants!’

But the crowd, already thinning out, was losing interest, and the last few people were now moving away. Ezio stepped forward and addressed the beguiled preacher. ‘Your mind,’ he said. ‘I sense it is your own.’

The preacher laughed. ‘Not all of us required persuasion or coercion to be convinced. I already believed. All I have said is true!’

‘Nothing is true,’ replied Ezio. ‘And what I do now is no easy thing.’ He unsprung his wrist-blade and ran the preacher through. ‘Requiescat in pace,’ he said. Turning away from the kill, he pulled his cowl close over his head.

It was a long, hard road, but towards the end Savonarola himself became the Assassins’ unwitting ally, because Florence’s financial power waned: the Monk detested both commerce and making money, the two things which had made the city great. And still the Day of Judgement did not come. Instead, a liberal Franciscan friar challenged the Monk to an ordeal by fire. The Monk refused to accept, and his authority took another knock. By the beginning of May 1497, many of the city’s young men marched in protest, and the protest became a riot. After that, taverns started to reopen, people went back to singing and dancing and gambling and whoring – enjoying themselves, in fact. And businesses and banks reopened as, slowly at first, exiles returned to the city quarters now liberated from the Monk’s regime. It didn’t happen overnight, but finally, a year almost to the day after the riot, for the man clung doggedly to power, the moment of Savonarola’s fall seemed imminent.

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