Ezio liked the tailor, a good-natured fellow a little older than Ezio was himself. The tailor greeted him warmly.

“To what do I owe the honor?” he asked.

“I think I’m due some new clothes,” said Ezio a little ruefully. “Tell me what you think. Be honest!”

“Even if it were not my job to sell you clothes, signore, I would have to advise you that a new suit would be the making of you.”

“I thought as much! Very well!”

“I’ll measure you now. Then you can pick out the colors you’d like.”

Ezio submitted himself to the tailor’s ministrations and chose a discreet dark grey velvet for the doublet, with matching hose in wool.

“Can it be ready by tonight?”

The tailor smiled. “Not if you want me to do a good job on it, signore. But we can try for a fitting toward midday tomorrow.”

“Very well,” replied Ezio, hoping that the meeting he was to attend that evening would not result in his having to leave Monteriggioni immediately.

He was making his way across the main square of the town when he noticed an attractive woman who was struggling with an unwieldy box of red and yellow flowers—clearly too heavy for her to lift. At that time of day there were few people around, and Ezio had always found it difficult to resist a damsel in distress.

“Can I lend you a hand?” he asked, coming up to her.

She smiled at him. “Yes, you’re just the man I need. My gardener was supposed to pick these up for me but his wife’s sick so he had to go home and as I was passing this way in any case I said I’d fetch them—but this box is far too heavy for me. Do you think you could—?”

“Of course.” Ezio stooped and hefted the box onto his shoulder. “So many flowers! You’re a lucky woman.”

“Even luckier now that I’ve run into you.”

There was no doubt that she was flirting with him. “You could have asked your husband to fetch them for you—or one of your other servants,” he said.

“I only have one other servant and she isn’t half as strong as I am,” replied the woman. “And as for a husband—I have none.”

“I see.”

“I ordered these flowers for Claudia Auditore’s birthday.” The woman looked at him.

“That sounds like fun.”

“It will be.” She paused. “In fact, if you’d like to help me out some more, I am rather looking for someone with a bit of class to escort me to it.”

“Do you think I have enough class?”

She was bolder now. “Yes! No one in this entire town walks with greater bearing than you, sir. I am sure Claudia’s brother, Ezio himself, would be impressed.”

Ezio smiled. “You flatter me. But what do you know of this Ezio?”

“Claudia—who is a particular friend of mine—thinks the world of him. But he rarely visits her, and from what I can gather, he’s rather distant.”

Ezio decided it was time to come clean. “It’s true, alas—I have been…distant.”

The woman gasped. “Oh, no! You are Ezio! I don’t believe it. Claudia did say you were expected back. The party’s supposed to be a surprise for her. Promise you won’t say a word.”

“You’d better tell me who you are now.”

“Oh, of course. I am Angelina Ceresa. Now promise!”

“What will you do to keep me quiet?”

She looked at him archly. “Oh, I am sure I can think of several things.”

“I’m longing to hear what they are.”

They had reached the door of Angelina’s house by this time. Angelina’s elderly housekeeper opened it to them and Ezio placed the box of flowers on a stone bench in the courtyard. He faced Angelina and smiled.

“Now are you going to tell me?”

“Later.”

“Why not now?”

“Signore, I assure you it will be worth the wait.”

Little did either of them know that events would overtake them and they would not meet again.

Ezio took his leave and, seeing that the day was drawing in, directed his walk back toward the citadel. As he was approaching the stables, he noticed a child—a little girl—wandering down the middle of the street, apparently alone. He was about to speak to her when he was interrupted by the sound of frantic shouting and the thunder of a horse’s hooves. Quicker than thought, he snatched up the child and moved her to the shelter of a doorway. He’d been in the nick of time. Around the corner a powerful warhorse came at a gallop, fully harnessed but riderless. In less than hot pursuit, and on foot, came Mario’s stable-master, an elderly man called Federico, whom Ezio recognized.

“Torna qui, maledetto cavallo!” yelled Federico helplessly after the disappearing horse. Seeing Ezio, he said, “Can you help me, please, sir? It’s your uncle’s favorite steed. I was just about to unsaddle and groom him—something must have scared him—he’s highly strung as it is.”

“Don’t worry, father—I’ll try and get him back for you.”

“Thank you—thank you.” Federico mopped his brow. “I’m getting too old for this.”

“Don’t worry. Just stay here and keep an eye on this child—I think she’s lost.”

“Surely.”

Ezio raced off after the horse, which he found without difficulty. It had calmed down and was even grazing some hay that was loaded onto a parked wagon. It balked slightly when Ezio approached, but then recognized him and did not run. He laid a comforting hand on its neck and patted it reassuringly before taking its bridle and leading it gently back the way they had come.

On the way, he had the opportunity to do another good deed. He encountered a young woman, frantic with anxiety, who turned out to be the mother of the lost child. Ezio explained what had happened, taking care to tone down the degree of danger the little girl had actually been in. Once he’d told her where the girl was, she ran ahead of him, calling out her child’s name—”Sofia! Sofia!”—and Ezio heard an answering cry of “Mamma!” Minutes later he had rejoined the little group and handed the reins over to Federico, who, thanking him again, begged him not to say anything to Mario. Ezio promised not to, and Federico led the horse back to the stables.

The mother was still waiting with her daughter. Ezio turned to them with a smile.

“She wants to say a thank-you,” said the mother.

Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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