“The Templars don’t wait, and nor can I,” he replied. “Thank you again, and goodbye.”

“Go with God.”

He leapt from the balcony down to the street, wincing at the impact, and darted across the square dominated by the disintegrating palace in the direction of the church. Twice he lost sight of the tower and had to double back. Three times he was accosted by leprous beggars and once confronted a wolf, which slunk away down an alley with what may have been a dead child between its jaws, but at last he was in the open space before the church. It was boarded up, and the limestone saints that adorned its portal were deformed by neglect. He didn’t know whether he could trust the rotten stonework, but there was nothing for it—he had to climb.

He managed it—though he lost his footing on several occasions and once his feet fell free over an embrasure that collapsed under them, leaving him hanging by the tips of his fingers. But he was still a very strong man, and he managed to haul himself up, out of danger—and at last he was on the top of the tower, perched on its lead roof. The dome of the mausoleum glinted dully in the moonlight several blocks away. He’d go there now and wait for Machiavelli to arrive.

He adjusted his hidden-blade and his sword and dagger, and was about to make a leap of faith down to a hay wain parked in the square below when his wound shrieked and he doubled up in pain.

“The contessa dressed my shoulder well, but she was right—I must see a doctor,” he said to himself.

Painfully he clambered down the tower to the street. He had no idea where to find a medico, so he first made his way to an inn, where he obtained directions in exchange for a couple of ducats; the money also bought him a beaker of filthy Sanguineus, which nevertheless assuaged his pain somewhat.

It was late by the time he reached the doctor’s surgery. He had to knock several times, and hard, before there was a muffled response from within. Then the door opened a crack to reveal a fat, bearded man of about sixty, wearing thick eyeglasses. He looked the worse for wear and Ezio could smell drink on his breath. One eye seemed larger than the other.

“What do you want?” said the man.

“Are you Dottor Antonio?”

“And if I am…?”

“I need your help.”

“It’s late,” said the doctor, but his eyes had wandered to the wound on Ezio’s shoulder, and his eyes became—cautiously—more sympathetic. “It’ll cost extra.”

“I am not in a position to argue.”

“Good. Come in.”

The doctor unchained his door and stood aside. Ezio staggered gratefully into a hallway whose beams were hung with a collection of copper pots and glass vials, dried bats and lizards, mice and snakes.

The doctor ushered him through into an inner room with a huge desk untidily covered with papers, a narrow bed in one corner, a cupboard whose open doors revealed more vials, and a leather case, also open, containing a selection of scalpels and miniature saws.

The doctor followed Ezio’s eyes and barked out a short laugh. “We medici are just jumped-up mechanics,” he said. “Lie down on the bed and I’ll have a look. Before you do, it’s three ducats—in advance.”

Ezio handed over the money.

The doctor undressed the wound and pushed and shoved so that Ezio virtually passed out with the pain.

“Hold still!” the doctor grumbled. He poked around some more, poured some stinging liquid from a flask over the wound, dabbed at it with a cotton wad, then produced some clean bandages and bound it back firmly.

“Someone your age cannot recover from a wound like this with medicine.” The doctor rummaged about in his cupboard and produced a vial of treacly looking stuff. “But here’s something to dull the pain. Don’t drink it all at once. It’s another three ducats, by the way. And don’t worry. You’ll heal over time.”

“Grazie, Dottore.”

“Four out of five doctors would have suggested leeches, but they haven’t proven effective against this sort of wound. What is it? If they weren’t so rare, I’d say it was from a gunshot. Come back if you need to. Or I can recommend several good colleagues around the city.”

“Do they cost as much as you do?”

Dr. Antonio sneered. “My good sir, you’ve got off lightly.”

Ezio stomped out into the street. A light rain had begun to fall, and the streets were already turning sticky and muddy.

“‘Someone your age,’” grumbled Ezio. “Che sobbalzo!”

He made his way back to the inn. He’d seen they had rooms for rent. He’d stay there, eat something, and make his way to the mausoleum in the morning. Then he’d just have to wait for his fellow Assassin to show up. Machiavelli might at least have left some kind of rendezvous time with the contessa. But Ezio was aware of Machiavelli’s passion for security. He’d no doubt turn up at the appointed spot every day at regular intervals. Ezio shouldn’t have too long to wait.

Ezio picked his way through the wretched streets and alleys, darting back into the darkness of doorways whenever a Borgia patrol, easily recognized by the charging black bull device on their breastplates, passed clatteringly by.

It was midnight by the time he reached the inn again. He took a swig from the vial of dark liquid. It was good. He hammered on the inn door with the pommel of his sword.

FOURTEEN

The following day, Ezio left the inn early. His wound felt stiff but the pain was duller and he was far better able to use his arm now. Before leaving, he practiced a few strokes with the hidden-blade and found he could use it without difficulty, as well as more conventional sword-and-dagger work. It was just as well he hadn’t been shot in the shoulder of his sword arm.

Not being sure whether the Borgia and their Templar associates knew he had escaped the battle of Monteriggioni with his life, and noting the high number of soldiers armed with guns and dressed in the dark mulberry red and yellow livery of the Borgia, he took a roundabout route to the Mausoleum of Augustus. The sun was high by the time he reached it.

There were fewer people here, and after having scouted around, assuring himself that no guards were watching the place, Ezio cautiously approached it, slipping through a ruined doorway into the gloomy interior.

As his eyes quickly accustomed themselves to the darkness, he made out a figure dressed in black, leaning against a stone outcrop, and still as a statue. He glanced to each side to ascertain that there was somewhere to duck behind before the figure noticed him, but apart from tussocks of grass among the fallen stones of the ancient Roman ruin, there was nothing. He decided on the next best thing and swiftly but silently started to move toward the deeper darkness of the mausoleum’s walls.

Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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