Scrambling desperately to his feet, Ezio looked round. He could see that the Pazzi had all but surrounded his own men, penning them in against one wall of the church. Feeling some of the strength returning to his legs, he made his way towards his fellows. Ducking under the scything blade of another Pazzi henchman, he managed to connect his fist to the man’s stubbly jaw and had the satisfaction of seeing teeth fly and his would-be assailant fall to his knees, stunned by the blow. He yelled to his own men to encourage them, but in truth his thoughts were turning to ways of beating a retreat with as much dignity as possible, when above the noise of the fight he heard a loud, jovial and very familiar voice calling to him from behind the Pazzi mob.

‘Hey, fratellino, what the hell are you up to?’

Ezio’s heart pounded with relief, and he managed to gasp, ‘Hey, Federico! What are you doing here? I thought you’d be out on the tiles as usual!’

‘Nonsense! I knew you had something planned, and I thought I’d come along to see if my little brother had finally learned how to look after himself. But maybe you need another lesson or two!’

Federico Auditore, a few years Ezio’s senior and the oldest of the Auditore siblings, was a big man with a big appetite – for drink, for love and for battle. He waded in even as he was speaking, knocking two Pazzi heads together and bringing his foot up to connect with the jaw of a third as he strode through the throng to stand side by side with his brother, seeming impervious to the violence that surrounded him. Around them their own men, encouraged, redoubled their efforts. The Pazzi on the other hand were discomfited. A few of the dockyard hands had gathered at a safe distance to watch, and in the half-light the Pazzi mistook them for Auditore reinforcements. That and Federico’s roars and flying fists, his actions quickly emulated by Ezio, who learnt fast, very quickly panicked them.

Vieri de’ Pazzi’s furious voice rose above the general tumult. ‘Fall back!’ he called to his men, his voice broken with exertion and anger. He caught Ezio’s eye and snarled some inaudible threat before disappearing into the darkness, back across the Ponte Vecchio, followed by those of his men who could still walk, and hotly pursued by Ezio’s now triumphant allies.

Ezio was about to follow suit, but his brother’s meaty hand restrained him. ‘Just a minute,’ he said.

‘What do you mean? We’ve got them on the run!’

‘Steady on.’ Federico was frowning, gently touching the wound on Ezio’s brow.

‘It’s just a scratch.’

‘It’s more than that,’ his brother decided, a grave expression on his face. ‘We’d better get you to a doctor.’

Ezio spat. ‘I haven’t got time to waste running to doctors. Besides…’ He paused ruefully. ‘I haven’t any money.’

‘Hah! Wasted it on women and wine, I suppose.’ Federico grinned, and slapped his younger brother warmly on the shoulder.

‘Not wasted exactly, I’d say. And look at the example you set me.’ Ezio grinned but then hesitated. He suddenly became aware that his head was thumping. ‘Still, it wouldn’t hurt to get it checked out. I suppose you couldn’t see your way to lending me a few fiorini?’

Federico patted his purse. It didn’t jingle. ‘Fact is, I’m a bit short myself just now,’ he said.

Ezio grinned at his brother’s sheepishness. ‘And what have you wasted yours on? Masses and Indulgences, I suppose?’

Federico laughed. ‘All right. I take your point.’ He looked around. In the end, only three or four of their own people had been hurt badly enough to remain on the field of battle, and they were sitting up, groaning a bit, but grinning too. It had been a tough set-to, but no one had broken any bones. On the other hand, a good half-dozen Pazzi henchmen lay completely out for the count, and one or two of them at least were expensively dressed.

‘Let’s see if our fallen enemies have any riches to share,’ Federico suggested. ‘After all, our need is greater than theirs, and I’ll bet you can’t lighten their load without waking them up!’

‘We’ll see about that,’ said Ezio, and set about it with some success. Before a few minutes had elapsed, he’d harvested enough gold coins to fill both their own purses. Ezio looked over to his brother triumphantly and jingled his newly claimed wealth to emphasize the point.

‘Enough!’ cried Federico. ‘Better leave them a bit to limp home on. After all, we’re not thieves – this is just the spoils of war. And I still don’t like the look of that wound. We must get it seen to double quick.’

Ezio nodded, and turned to survey the field of the Auditore victory one last time. Losing patience, Federico rested a hand on his younger brother’s shoulder. ‘Come on,’ he said, and without more ado he set off at such a pace that the battle-weary Ezio found it hard to keep up, though when he fell too far behind, or took a wrong turn down an alley, Federico would hold up, or hurry back to put him right. ‘I’m sorry, Ezio. I just want us to get to the medico as soon as we can.’

And indeed it wasn’t far, but Ezio was tiring by the minute. Finally they reached the shadowy room, festooned with mysterious instruments and phials of brass and glass, ranged along dark oak tables and hanging from the ceiling along with clusters of dried herbs, where their family doctor had his surgery. It was all Ezio could do to remain on his feet.

Dottore Ceresa was not best pleased at being roused in the middle of the night, but his manner changed to one of concern as soon as he had brought a candle close enough to inspect Ezio’s wound in detail. ‘Hmmn,’ he said gravely. ‘You’ve made quite a mess of yourself this time, young man. Can’t you people think of anything better to do than go around beating each other up?’

‘It was a question of honour, good doctor,’ put in Federico.

‘I see,’ said the doctor, evenly.

‘It’s really nothing,’ said Ezio, though he felt faint.

Federico, as usual hiding concern behind humour, said, ‘Do patch him up as best you can, friend. That pretty little face of his is his only asset.’

‘Hey, fottiti!’ Ezio hit back, giving his brother the finger.

The doctor ignored them, washed his hands, probed the wound gently, and poured some clear fluid from one of his many bottles on to a piece of linen. He dabbed the wound with this and it stung so much that Ezio almost sprang from his chair, his face screwed up with the pain. Then, satisfied that the wound was clean, the doctor took a needle and threaded it with fine catgut.