“Yes. Too old for him by then! But let’s hurry.”

They made their way north through the narrow streets in the direction of the Quirinale.

On the way, Machiavelli noticed that Ezio was looking increasingly uneasy.

“What’s the matter?” he asked.

“Have you not noticed anything?”

“What?”

“Don’t look around!” Ezio was terse.

“No.”

“Then I think we’re being followed—by a woman.”

“Since when?”

“Since we left Vannozza’s palazzo.”

“One of her people?”

“Perhaps.”

“Alone?”

“Think so.”

“Then we’d better shake her.”

Impatient though they were to get on, they slowed their pace, looking in shop windows, even pausing at a wine booth. There, over the rim of his beaker, Ezio caught sight of a tall, athletically built blond woman dressed in a good but unassuming dark green robe of some lightweight material. She’d be able to move fast in clothes like that if the need arose.

“I’ve got her,” he said.

They both scanned the wall of the building against which the booth was erected. It was a new place, constructed in the fashionably rusticated style of large roughened slabs of stone separated by sunken joints. At intervals, iron rings for tethering horses had been set into the wall.

It was perfect.

They made their way to the back of the booth but there was no way out there.

“We’ll have to be quick,” said Machiavelli.

“Watch me!” replied Ezio, putting his beaker down on a table near the entrance. A few seconds later he was halfway up the wall, with Machiavelli close behind. Bystanders gaped as the two men, their capes fluttering in the breeze, disappeared over the rooftops, leaping across alleyways and streets, and sending tiles skittering down, to smash on the cobbles or flop in the mud of unmade lanes as the people below ducked or jumped out of the way.

Even if she’d been able to, the woman couldn’t climb vertical walls, however conveniently easy they were, in a long skirt, but Ezio saw that her dress had a carefully disguised slit to the thigh on one side, enabling her to run, and she was tearing through the streets after them, thrusting aside anyone who got in her way. Whoever she was, she was well trained.

But at last they lost her. Breathing hard, they came to a halt on the roof of San Niccolò de Portiis and lay down flat, keenly scanning the streets below. There seemed to be no one unduly suspicious among the various citizens in the streets, though Ezio thought he recognized two of La Volpe’s thieves working the crowd, using sharp little knives to cut purses. Presumably two not selected to go out into the surrounding countryside, but he’d have to ask Gilberto about it later.

“Let’s go down,” suggested Machiavelli.

“No—it’s easier to stay out of sight up here and we haven’t far to go.”

“She didn’t seem to have much trouble following us. Lucky for us there was that roof with a high wall around it, where we could change direction without her noticing.”

Ezio nodded. Whoever she was, she’d be reporting back by now. He wished she were on his side. As things stood, they’d have to get to the large apartment Giulia kept in Rome fast, and then out of the Quirinale district. Maybe he should detail a couple of his recruits to watch their backs on any future forays. The Borgia diehards were lying low under the new Pope’s tough regime—but only to lull the authorities into a false sense of security.

Giulia’s first husband, Orsino Orsini, had been happy to wink at the affair his nineteen-year-old wife had embarked on with the sixty-two-year-old Rodrigo Borgia. She had a daughter, Laura, but no one knew if she was the child of Orsino or Rodrigo. Rodrigo, despite being a Valencian by birth, had risen through the Church until he came to control the Vatican’s purse strings, and he had shown his gratitude to his delicious young mistress by installing her in a brand-new house (which she’d long since been obliged to quit) conveniently close to the Vatican, and by making her brother, Alessandro, a cardinal. The other cardinals called him “the Cardinal of the Skirts” behind his back, and of course never in Rodrigo’s presence. Giulia they called “the Bride of Christ.”

Ezio and Machiavelli dropped to the ground in the piazza that Giulia’s apartment block fronted. A couple of papal guards stood nearby. Otherwise the square was deserted. The guards’ tunics bore, on their shoulders, the crest of the della Rovere family—a massive oak tree, root and branch, now surmounted by the papal triple tiara and the keys of Saint Peter. But Ezio recognized the men. Six months earlier, they’d been in mulberry-and-yellow livery. Now, times had changed. They saluted him. He acknowledged them.

“Fuckers,” said Machiavelli under his breath.

“A man’s got to work,” said Ezio. “I’m surprised that you, of all people, can take issue with such a bagatelle.”

“Come on!”

They’d arrived without due notice and it took some trouble to convince the Farnese attendants—six blue fleurs-de-lis ranged on a yellow background on their capes—to admit them, but, as Ezio knew, Signora Farnese was at home. She received them in a room that was half as gaudy but twice as tasteful as La Vannozza’s. At thirty, she had more than retained the beauty of her youth and the intelligence that informed it. Immediately, though they were unexpected guests, she had Moscato and panpepati e mielati served for them.

But she knew nothing, and it was clear that she was innocent of any Borgia taint, despite her previous closeness to that execrable family (as Machiavelli called them). Machiavelli saw that she had moved on, and when he and Ezio asked her about her once-close friendship with Lucrezia, all she could say was, “What I saw of her was her good side. I think she fell too much under the bullying sway of her father and her brother. I thank God she is rid of them.” She paused. “If only she had met Pietro Bembo earlier. Those two were soul mates. He might have taken her to Venice and saved her from her dark side.”

“Do you see her still?”

“Alas, Ferrara is so far to the north, and I have my hands full, running Carbognano. Even friendships die, Ezio Auditore.”

An image of Caterina Sforza blew into his mind before he had a chance to extinguish it. Ah, God! How the thought of her caught at his heart still!

It was late afternoon by the time they left. They kept a close eye out for anyone shadowing them, but there was nobody.

Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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