He rode a little closer, though not close enough to be within crossbow or musket range. But he was alone.

“Come to watch my triumph?” he shouted up at them. “Don’t worry. This isn’t all my strength. Soon, Micheletto will arrive with my armies! But you will all be dead by then! I have enough men to deal with you!”

Ezio looked at him; then, turning, he looked down at the mass of papal troops, Assassin recruits, and condottieri ranged beneath him on the inside of the gate. He raised a hand, and the gatekeepers drew back the wooden staves that kept the gates shut. They stood ready to open them at his next signal. Ezio kept his hand raised.

“My men will never fail me!” cried Cesare. “They know what awaits them if they do! Soon—soon!—you will pass from this Earth, and my dominions will return to me!”

Ezio thought, The New Disease has affected the balance of his mind. He let his hand drop. Below him, the gates swung open and the Roman forces streamed out, cavalry first, infantry running behind. Desperately, Cesare yanked at his reins, forcing the bit hard into his horse’s mouth, and wheeled. But the violence of his maneuver made his mount stumble, and he was quickly overtaken. As for his battalion, it broke and ran at the sight of the oncoming Roman brigades.

Well, well, thought Ezio. My question is answered. These men were prepared to fight for money, but not from loyalty. And you can’t buy loyalty.

“Kill the Assassins!” yelled Cesare frantically. “Uphold the honor of the Borgia!” But it was all in vain. He himself was surrounded.

“Throw down your arms, Cesare,” Ezio called to him.

“Never!”

“This is not your city anymore. You are no longer captain-general. The Orsini and the Colonna families are on the side of the new Pope, and when some of them paid lip service to you, that was all it was—lip service. They were only waiting for the chance to get back the cities and estates you stole from them.”

A small deputation rode out through the gates now. Six knights in black armor, one of them bearing Julius II’s crest—a sturdy oak tree—on a pennant. At their head, on a dapple-grey palfrey—the very opposite of a warhorse—rode an elegantly dressed man whom Ezio instantly recognized as Fabio Orsini. He led his men straight up to the still-proud Cesare.

Silence fell.

“Cesare Borgia, called Valentino, sometime Cardinal of Valencia and Duke of Valence,” Orsini proclaimed, and Ezio could see the triumphant twinkle in his eye. “By order of His Holiness, Pope Julius II, I arrest you for the crimes of murder, betrayal, and incest!”

The six knights fell in next to Cesare, two on each side, one before and one behind. The reins of his horse were taken from him and he was tied to the saddle.

“No, no, no, no!” bawled Cesare. “This is not how it ends!”

One of the knights flicked at Cesare’s horse’s rump, and it started forward at a trot.

“This is not how it ends!” Cesare yelled defiantly. “Chains will not hold me!” His voice rose to a scream. “I will not die by the hand of man!”

Everybody heard him, but nobody was listening.

“Come on, you,” said Orsini crisply.

FORTY-EIGHT

“I was wondering what had happened to you,” Ezio said. “Then I saw the chalked drawing of the pointing hand. So I knew you were signaling me, which is why I sent you a message. And now—here you are! I thought you might have slipped away to France.”

“Not me—not yet!” said Leonardo, brushing some dust off a chair at the Assassins’ Tiber Island hideaway before he sat down. Sunlight streamed in through the high windows.

“I’m glad of it. Even gladder that you didn’t get caught in the dragnet for any last Borgia supporters that the new Pope’s organized.”

“Well, you can’t keep a good man down,” replied Leonardo. He was as finely dressed as ever and didn’t appear to have been affected by recent events at all. “Pope Julius isn’t a fool—he knows who’d be useful to him and who wouldn’t, never mind what they’d done in the past.”

“As long as they were truly repentant.”

“As you say,” Leonardo answered drily.

“And are you prepared to be useful to me?”

“Haven’t I always been?” Leonardo smiled. “But is there anything to worry about, now that Cesare’s under lock and key? Only a matter of time before they take him out and burn him at the stake. Look at the list of arraignments! It’s as long as your arm!”

“Maybe you’re right.”

“Of course, the world wouldn’t be the world, without trouble,” said Leonardo, going off on another tack. “It’s all very well that Cesare’s been brought down, but I’ve lost a valuable patron, and I see they’re thinking of bringing that young whippersnapper Michelangelo here from Florence. I ask you! All he can do is knock out sculptures.”

“Pretty good architect, too, from what I hear. And not a bad painter.”

Leonardo gave him a black look. “You know that pointing finger I drew? One day, soon I hope, it’s going to be at the center of a portrait. Of a man. John the Baptist. Pointing toward heaven. Now that will be a painting!”

“I didn’t say he was as good a painter as you,” added Ezio quickly. “And as for being an inventor…”

“He should stick to what he knows best, if you ask me.”

“Leo—are you jealous?”

“Me? Never!”

It was time to bring Leonardo back to the problem that was bothering Ezio, the reason he’d responded to the signal by seeking out his old friend and getting him to come over. He just hoped he could trust him, but he knew Leonardo well enough to know what made him tick.

“Your former employer…” he began.

“Cesare?”

“Yes. I didn’t like the way he said, ‘Chains will not hold me.’”

“Come on, Ezio. He’s in the deepest dungeon of the Castel Sant’Angelo. How the mighty are fallen, eh?”

“He still has friends.”

“A few misguided creatures may still think he has a future, but since Micheletto and his armies don’t seem to have materialized, I can’t see that there’s any real danger.”

“Even if Micheletto failed to keep the remains of Cesare’s forces together, and I admit that seems likely, since none of our spies out in the countryside have reported any troop movements at all—”

Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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