“Because I believe it’s transmitted, in the first instance, through sex—and we’d all die out if we had to do without that.”

Ezio grew impatient. “Thank you for your time,” he said.

“Don’t mention it,” replied Torella. “And by the way, if you really want to find my former master, I think you could do worse than looking in Spain.”

“In Spain? Where in Spain?”

The doctor spread his hands. “I’m a Spaniard; so is Cesare. Why not send him home? It’s just a hunch. I’m sorry I can’t be more specific.”

Ezio thought, It’ll be like looking for a needle in a haystack…But it may be a start.

FIFTY-FOUR

Ezio no longer kept the location of his lodgings secret. But only a few knew where they were. One of them was Machiavelli.

Ezio was awakened by him at four in the morning. A deliberate, urgent knocking at the door.

“Niccolò! What are you doing here?” Ezio was instantly alert, like a cat.

“I have been a fool.”

“What’s happened? You were working in Florence! You can’t be back so soon.” But Ezio already knew something grave had happened.

“I have been a fool,” said Machiavelli.

“What’s going on?”

“In my arrogance, I kept Micheletto alive.” Machiavelli sighed. “In a secure cell, to question him.”

“You’d better tell me what’s going on.”

“He has escaped! On the eve of his execution!”

“From that place? How?”

“Over the roof. Borgia diehards climbed to it in the night and killed the guards. They lowered a rope. The priest who confessed him was a Borgia sympathizer—he is being burned at the stake today—and smuggled a file into his cell. He sawed through just one bar on the window. He’s a big man, but it was enough for him to squeeze out and climb up. You know how strong he is. By the time the alarm was raised, he was nowhere to be found in the city.”

“Then we must seek him out, and”—Ezio paused, suddenly seeing an advantage even in this adversity—”having found him, see where he runs. He may yet lead us to Cesare. He is insanely loyal, and without Cesare’s support his own power is worthless.”

“I have light cavalry scouring the countryside even now, trying to hunt him down.”

“But there are certainly small pockets of Borgia diehards—like those who rescued him—willing to shelter him.”

“I think he’s in Rome. That’s why I’ve come here.”

“Why Rome?”

“We have been too complacent. There are Borgia supporters here, too. He will use them to make for Ostia, and try to get a ship there.”

“Bartolomeo is in Ostia. He’s fed up, but no one will escape him and his condottieri there. I’ll send a rider to alert him.”

“But where will Micheletto go?”

“Where else but Valencia—his hometown.”

“Ezio—we must be sure. We must use the Apple, now, this minute, to see if we can locate him.”

FIFTY-FIVE

Ezio turned and, in the bedroom of his lodgings, out of sight of Machiavelli, drew the Apple from its secret hiding place and brought the box that contained it back to his principal chamber.

Carefully he drew it out of its container with gloved hands and placed it on the table there.

He concentrated. The Apple began, very slowly at first, to glow, and then its light brightened until the room was filled with a cold illumination. Next, images, dim at first and indistinct, flickered onto the wall and resolved themselves into something the Apple had shown Ezio before—the strange, remote castle in a brown, barren landscape, very old, with a massive outer barbican, four main towers, and an impregnable-looking square keep at its center.

“Where is that rocca? What is the Apple telling us?”

“It could be anywhere,” said Machiavelli. “From the landscape, Syria perhaps?”

“Or,” said Ezio as, with a sudden rush of excitement, he remembered Dr. Torella’s words, “Spain.”

“Micheletto can’t be in Spain.”

“I am certain he plans to go there!”

“Even so, we don’t know where this place is. There are many, many castles in Spain, and many similar to this one. Consult the Apple again.”

But when Ezio once more consulted the Apple, the image remained unchanged: a solidly built castle on a hill, a good three hundred years old, surrounded by a little town. The image was monochrome. All the houses, the fortress, and the countryside were an almost uniform brown. There was only one spot of color, a bright flag on a pole on the very top of the keep.

Ezio squinted at it.

A white flag with a red, ragged cross in the form of an X.

His excitement mounted. “The military standard of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella—of Spain!”

“Yes,” said Machiavelli. “Good. Now we know what country. But we still don’t know where it is. Or why we’re being shown it. Is Micheletto on his way there? Ask the Apple again.”

But the vision faded, to be replaced by a fortified hill town, from whose fort a white flag crisscrossed with red chains, their links filled with yellow, which Ezio recognized as the flag of Navarre. And then a third and final picture: a massive, wealthy seaport, with ships drawn up on a glittering sea and an army gathering. But no clue about the exact location of any of these places.

FIFTY-SIX

Everyone was in place. Couriers rode daily between the points where the Brotherhood had set up bases. Bartolomeo was beginning to enjoy Ostia, and Pantasilea loved it. Antonio de Magianis still held down the fort in Venice. Claudia had returned for the time being to Florence to stay with her old friend Paola, who kept an expensive house of pleasure on which the Rosa in Fiore had been modeled, and La Volpe and Rosa watched over Rome.

It was time for Machiavelli and Ezio to go hunting.

FIFTY-SEVEN

“Leo, we need your help,” Ezio said, coming straight to the point as soon as his friend had, slightly reluctantly, allowed them into his studio.

“You weren’t very pleased with me last time we met.”

“Salai shouldn’t have told anyone about the Apple.”

“I told him in confidence.”

Machiavelli gave a sharp laugh. “In confidence?!”

“He got drunk in a wine booth and blurted it out to impress. Most of the people around him didn’t know what he was talking about but there was an agent of Pope Julius within earshot. He is very contrite.”

Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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