“Ten ducats.”

“Twenty.”

“Twenty! You’d earn less than that in a week on your back!” snarled Machiavelli.

“Charmer! Do you want the information or not? I can see you’re in a hurry.”

“Fifteen, then,” said Ezio, pulling out his purse.

“That’s better, tesoro.”

“Information first,” said Machiavelli as Camilla held out her hand for the money.

“Half first.”

Ezio handed over eight ducats.

“Generous with it,” said the woman. “All right. Micheletto was here last night. He spent it with me, and I’ve never earned my money harder. He was drunk, he abused me, he half strangled me while we were fucking, and he ran off at dawn without paying. Pistol in his belt, sword, ugly-looking dagger. Smelled pretty bad, too, but I know he had money because I guessed what he’d do and took my fee out of his purse when he finally fell asleep. Of course the bouncers from the brothel followed him, though I think they were a little scared, and kept their distance a bit.”

“And?” said Machiavelli. “None of this is of any use to us so far.”

“But they kept him in sight. He must have chartered a ship the night before because he went straight to a carrack called the Marea di Alba, and it sailed on the dawn tide.”

“Describe him,” said Ezio.

“Big, huge hands—I had them around my neck so I should know—broken nose, scarred face; some of the scars seemed to make him look like he had a permanent grin. Didn’t talk much.”

“How do you know his name?”

“I asked, just to make conversation, and he told me,” she answered, simply.

“And where was he going?”

“One of the bouncers knew one of the seamen, and asked him, as they were casting off.”

“Where?”

“Valencia.”

Valencia. Micheletto was going back to his birth-place—also the hometown of a family called Borgia.

Ezio handed her twelve more ducats. “I’ll remember you,” he said. “If we find you’re lying, you’ll regret it.”

It was already midday. It took them another hour to find a fast caravel available for charter and agree on the price. Another two hours were needed to victual and prepare the ship. Then they had to wait for the next tide. A caravel is a faster ship than a carrack. Even so, it was early evening before the sails were raised. And the sea was choppy and the wind against them.

“Happy birthday,” said Leonardo to Ezio.

FIFTY-EIGHT

The Fates were against them. Their ship sailed well, but the sea remained rough and they encountered squalls that took the sails aback. The hoped-for chance of catching up with Micheletto at sea was long gone when, five days later, their battered caravel put into port at Valencia.

It was a prosperous and booming place, but none of the three—Ezio, Leonardo, or Machiavelli—was familiar with it. The recently built Silk Exchange vied in grandeur with the bell tower, the Torres de Quart, and the Palau de la Generalitat. It was a powerful Catalan city, one of the most important trading cities in the Mediterranean Sea.

But it was also confusing, and teeming with Valencianos, who mingled in the busy streets with Italians, Dutch, English, and Arabs—the languages heard in the streets created a very Babel.

Fortunately the Marea di Alba was still moored near to where the caravel docked, and the two captains were friends.

“Ciao, Alberto!”

“Ciao, Filin!”

“Bad voyage?” said Alberto, a stout man of thirty, as he stood on the poop deck of his vessel supervising the loading of a mixed cargo of silk, and rare and expensive coffee for the return journey.

“Brutissimo.”

“So I see from the state of your ship. But there’ll be a good sea and a fair wind for the next week, so I’m hurrying back as soon as I can.”

“I won’t be so lucky. When did you get in?”

“Two days ago.”

Ezio stepped up. “And your passenger?”

Alberto spat. “Che tipo brutto—but he paid well.”

“Where is he now?”

“Gone! I know he was in the town, asking questions, but he’s well-known here, and he has many friends, believe it or not.” Alberto spat again. “Not of the best sort, either.”

“I’m beginning to wish I hadn’t come,” whispered Leonardo. “One thing I am not is a man of violence.”

“Where has he gone, do you know?”

“He was staying at the Lobo Solitario; you could ask there.”

They disembarked and made straight for the Lone Wolf Inn, after Alberto had given them directions and added darkly, “But it is not a place for gentlemen.”

“What makes you think we are gentlemen?” said Machiavelli.

Alberto shrugged.

Ezio scanned the busy quay. Out of the corner of his eye he saw three or four shady characters eyeing them. He checked his bracer and his hidden-blade. The pistol and the poison-blade were in his satchel. He slung his bag over his shoulder, leaving his arms free for his sword and dagger. Noticing this, Machiavelli did the same. Leonardo looked askance.

They made their way into the town, remaining on the alert. But the shady characters had disappeared.

“Shall we stay at the same place as our quarry?” suggested Ezio. “It’s the best place to be to find out where he is.”

The inn was located in a narrow street of tall tenements that twisted away from one of the main thoroughfares. It was a low, dark building, in contrast to the sparkling newness of most of the rest of the town. The dark wooden door was open, giving on to a dark interior. Ezio entered first, Leonardo, reluctantly, last.

They had reached the center of the vestibule, in which furniture and a long, low counter could only just be made out, when the door behind them banged shut. Ten men who had been lurking in the shadows, their eyes already accustomed to the dark, now pounced, flinging themselves on their victims with guttural cries. Ezio and Machiavelli immediately threw down their bags and in one movement Machiavelli drew his sword and dagger and closed with his first assailant. The glint of blades flashed in the semidarkness of the room. It was big enough for there to be plenty of space to move, and this helped both sides.

“Leonardo!” shouted Ezio. “Get behind the counter! And catch this!”

He threw his sword to Leonardo, who caught it, dropped it, and picked it up again in the space of a second. Ezio unleashed the hidden-blade as one of the men fell on him, stabbing him with it in the side and penetrating his guts. The man stumbled, clutching his belly, blood bubbling between his hands. Meanwhile, Machiavelli strode forward, holding his sword aloft. Quick as a flash he had thrust his sword into the throat of his first man, while simultaneously slicing into the groin of a second man with his other blade. The man fell to the floor with an anguished roar and fumbled vainly at his wound, twitching with agony. Machiavelli closed in and, glancing briefly at his victim, kicked out viciously, silencing the man in an instant.

Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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