“Yes, sir!”

Out he went through the postern, which was then firmly locked behind him, and limped through the moonlight and the sweet night air to the town. What joy to feel the night around him, and the air, after so long. He’d been confined in this dump for more than a year. But he was free now; he was still only thirty; he’d get it all back. And he’d take such vengeance on his enemies, especially the Assassin Brotherhood, that Caterina Sforza’s purges at Forlì would make her look like a nursemaid.

He heard and smelled the horses at the appointed rendezvous. Thank God for Micheletto. Then he saw them. They were all there, in the shadows of the church wall. They had a fine black beast ready for him. Micheletto dismounted and helped him to the saddle.

“Welcome back, Eccellenza,” he said. “And now, we must hurry. That bastard Assassino, Ezio Auditore, is on our heels.”

Cesare was silent. He was thinking about the slowest death he could devise for the Assassin.

“I’ve put matters in hand already at Valencia,” continued Micheletto.

“Good.”

They rode off into the night, heading southeast.

SIXTY-ONE

“He’s escaped?” Ezio had ridden the last miles to La Mota without sparing himself, his companions, or their horses, with an ever-deepening sense of apprehension. “How?”

“It was carefully planned, signore,” said the hapless lieutenant of the castle, a plumpish man of sixty with a very red nose. “We are holding an official inquiry.”

“And what have you come up with?”

“As yet…”

But Ezio wasn’t listening. He was looking around at the Castle of La Mota. It was exactly as the Apple had depicted it. And the thought led him to remember another vision it had vouchsafed him: the gathering army at a seaport…The seaport had been Valencia!

His mind raced frantically.

He could only think of getting back to the coast as fast as possible!

“Get me fresh horses!” he yelled.

“But, signore…”

Machiavelli and Leonardo looked at each other.

“Ezio! Whatever the urgency, we must rest, at least for a day,” said Machiavelli.

“A week.” Leonardo groaned.

As matters turned out, they were delayed, since Leonardo fell ill. He was exhausted, and he missed Italy badly. Ezio was almost tempted to abandon him, but Machiavelli counseled restraint:

“He is your old friend. And they cannot gather an army and a fleet in less than two months.”

Ezio relented.

Events were to prove him right.

And to prove Leonardo invaluable.

SIXTY-TWO

Ezio and his companions were back in Valencia within a month. They found the city in a state of uproar. Machiavelli had underestimated the speed with which things could happen in such a wealthy town.

Men had been secretly mustering and now, just outside Valencia, there was a huge camp of soldiers, maybe one thousand men. The Borgia were offering mercenaries good wages, and word had got around fast. Budding soldiers were coming in from as far away as Barcelona and Madrid, and from all over the provinces of Murcia and La Mancha. And Borgia money ensured that a fleet of perhaps fifteen ships, quickly run-up troopships with half a dozen small warships to protect them, was in the process of being built.

“Well, we don’t need the Apple to tell us what our old friend Cesare is planning,” said Machiavelli.

“That’s true. He doesn’t need a vast army to take Naples, and once he’s established a bridgehead there, he’ll recruit many more men to his cause. His plan is to conquer the Kingdom of Naples, and all Italy.”

“What are Ferdinand and Isabella doing about this?” asked Machiavelli.

“They’ll be getting a force together to crush it. We’ll enlist their aid.”

“Take too long. Their army has to march from Madrid. The garrison here must have been put out of action. But you can see that Cesare’s in a hurry,” rejoined Machiavelli.

“Might not even be necessary,” put in Leonardo musingly.

“What do you mean?”

“Bombs.”

“Bombs?” asked Machiavelli.

“Quite little bombs—but effective enough to, say, wreck ships or disperse a camp.”

“Well, if they’ll do that for us…” said Ezio. “What do you need to make them?”

“Sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate. And steel. Thinnish steel. Flexible. And I’ll need a small studio and a furnace.”

It took them a while, but fortunately for them, Captain Alberto’s ship, the Marea di Alba, was tied up at its usual quay. He greeted them with a friendly wave.

“Hello again!” he said. “The people who aren’t gentlemen. I don’t suppose you heard about the fracas at the Lone Wolf shortly after you arrived?”

Ezio told him what they needed.

“Hm. I do know a man here who has the facilities, and he might be able to put ticks on your shopping list.”

“When do you return to Italy?” asked Leonardo.

“I’ve brought over a cargo of grappa, and I’m taking back silk again. Maybe two, three days. Why?”

“I’ll tell you later.”

“Can you get what we need arranged quickly?” asked Ezio, who suddenly had a sense of foreboding. But he couldn’t blame Leonardo for wanting to leave.

“Certainly!”

Alberto was as good as his word, and within a few hours everything had been arranged and Leonardo settled down to work.

“How long will it take you?” asked Machiavelli.

“Two days, since I don’t have any assistants. I’ve enough material here to make twenty, maybe twenty-one, bombs. That’s ten each.”

“Seven each,” said Ezio.

“No, my friend, ten each—one lot for you, and one for Niccolò here. You can count me out.”

Two days later, the bombs were ready. Each was about the shape and size of a grapefruit, encased in steel and fitted with a catch at the top.

“How do they work?”

Leonardo smiled proudly. “You flip this little catch—actually, it’s more of a lever—you count to three, and you throw it at your target. Each of these is enough to kill twenty men and, if you hit it in the right place, to disable a ship completely, even sink it.” He mused. “It’s a pity there isn’t time to build a submarine.”

“A what?”

“Never mind. Just throw it after a count of three. Don’t hold on to it any longer, or you’ll be blown to pieces yourself!” He rose. “And now, goodbye, and good luck.”

Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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