The other men drew back for a moment, surprised that their ambush had not already achieved its purpose, and at the alacrity of their intended victims. But then they renewed their attack with redoubled vigor. There was a cry from Machiavelli as he was cut in his sword arm from behind, but in a moment Ezio was upon his friend’s assailant, plunging his dagger straight into the man’s face.
The next thing Ezio knew was that a big man, who smelled of prison straw and stale sweat, had crept up behind him and thrown a garrote over his head and around his neck. He choked and dropped his dagger, raising his hand to tear at the rope being tightened on his windpipe. Machiavelli leapt over and stabbed at the big man, cutting into him and causing him to cry out in sudden pain, but Machiavelli had missed his true aim and the man thrust him away. But he had lost his grip on the garrote, and Ezio was able to spring free.
The light was too dim to make out the black-cloaked forms of the surviving attackers but the failure of their immediate assault seemed temporarily to have unnerved them.
“Get them!” an unpleasant, guttural voice said. “We are still five against three!”
“Sancho dieron en el pecho!” shouted another, as Ezio smashed his heavy dagger into the sternum of a flabby creature who had tried to close with him, splitting it as neatly as he would have split a chicken breast. “We are four against three. Nos replegamos!”
“No!” ordered the first man who had spoken. “Aguantels mentres que m’escapi!”
The man had spoken in Catalan. The big man who had tried to strangle him. The man who still had the stink of prison clinging to him. Micheletto!
Moments later, the door to the street was flung open and slammed shut again as Micheletto made his escape, momentarily silhouetted in the streetlight. Ezio rushed after him, but he was confronted by one of the three surviving attackers, who blocked his path, holding a scimitar aloft to bring down on him to split his head in two. He was too close to the man to wield either of his weapons in time, so he threw himself to the side, out of the way. As he rolled to momentary safety, the scimitar came swinging down, but the man had struck so violently, expecting the sword’s path to be interrupted by its victim’s body, that it continued its path and buried itself in the man’s own genitals. With a howl, he dropped the sword and fell to the ground, clutching his smashed manhood in an attempt to stop the fountaining blood and writhing in agony.
The last two men almost struggled with each other to reach the door in order to escape, and one succeeded; but the second, somehow already wounded in the fight, was tripped by Machiavelli and crashed to the ground as Leonardo threw himself across his body to prevent his rising. When it was clear he would not, Leonardo stood clear and Ezio knelt and turned him over, pressing the point of the hidden-blade into his nostril.
“I am Ezio Auditore, Mentor of the Assassins,” he said. “Tell me where your master is bound and I will show you mercy.”
“Never!” croaked the man.
Ezio pressed the point of the blade in farther. Its razor-sharp edges began slowly to slit the man’s nose.
“All right! He is going to the Castillo de La Mota.”
“What is there?”
“That is where Cesare is held prisoner.”
Ezio pushed the blade.
“Have mercy! I speak the truth! But you will never succeed in thwarting us! The Borgia will still return to power and rule all Italy with an iron fist! They will swarm into the south and throw the filthy Spanish monarchy out! And then they will destroy the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile and rule them, too!”
“How do you know where Cesare is? It is a dark secret known only to Pope Julius and his council, and to King Ferdinand and his!”
“Do you not think we have spies of our own? Even in the Vatican? They are good, these spies. This time, better than yours!”
With a sudden movement, the man brought up his right arm. In it was a small knife, which he aimed at Ezio’s heart. Ezio just had time to block the blow with his left arm, and the knife skittered harmlessly off the bracer and away onto the floor.
“Long live the Royal House of Borgia!” the man cried.
“Requiescat in pace,” said Ezio.
“Welcome to Valencia,” Leonardo muttered.
The Lone Wolf Inn was deserted but there were beds of a sort and as it was late by the time Ezio and his companions had recovered from the bloody tussle with Micheletto’s diehards, they had no choice but to spend the night there. They did find wine, water, and food—bread, onions, and some salami—and even Leonardo was too hungry to refuse it.
The following morning, Ezio rose early, eager to find horses for the journey ahead of them. Their ship’s captain, Filin, was at the docks seeing to the refitting of his battered ship, and he knew of the remote Castle of La Mota and gave them directions, as far as he could, as to how to find it. But it would be a long and arduous journey of many days. Filin also helped organize their horses but preparations still took another forty-eight hours, since they had to provision themselves as well. The journey would take them northwest across the brown sierras of central Spain. There were no maps, so they traveled from one town or village to another, using the list of names Filin had given them.
They passed out of Valencia and after several days’ hard riding on their first set of horses—Leonardo complaining bitterly—passed into the beautiful mountain country around the tiny hill town of Cuenca. Then down again onto the flat plain of Madrid, and through the royal city itself, where the bandits who tried to rob them soon found themselves dead on the road, and so north to Segovia on its hill, dominated by its Alcazar, where they spent the night as the guests of the seneschal of Queen Isabella of Castile.
Then on again through open country—attacked and almost robbed by a gang of Moorish highwaymen who had somehow slipped through the fingers of King Ferdinand and survived in the open country for twelve years. Ferdinand, king of Aragon, Sicily, Naples, and Valencia, founder of the Spanish Inquisition and scourge of the Jews—to dire effect on his nation’s economy—through his Grand Inquisitor, Tomás de Torquemada; but who through marriage to his equally ugly wife, Isabella, united Aragon and Castile and started to make Spain a single nation.
Ferdinand had ambitions on Navarre. Ezio wondered how far the bigoted king’s designs would have an impact on that country, where Cesare had such close family ties, being the brother-in-law of its French king.