Leonardo smiled ruefully. “I’ve had quite enough of Spain and I’ve booked a passage with Alberto. He sails on this afternoon’s tide. I’ll see you back in Rome—if you make it.”
Ezio and Machiavelli looked at each other. Then each solemnly embraced Leonardo.
“Thank you, my dear friend,” said Ezio.
“Don’t mention it.”
“Thank God you didn’t build these things for Cesare,” said Machiavelli.
After Leonardo had gone, they carefully packed the bombs, of which there were exactly ten each, into linen bags, which they slung around their shoulders.
“You take the mercenaries’ encampment; I’ll take the port,” said Ezio.
Machiavelli nodded grimly.
“When we’ve done the job, we’ll meet at the corner of the street where the Lone Wolf is,” said Ezio. “I reckon the Lone Wolf is where Cesare will have his center of operations. There’ll be chaos and he’ll go there to regroup with his inner circle. We’ll try to corner them before they can make their escape—again.”
“For once I’ll back your hunch.” Machiavelli grinned. “Cesare is so vainglorious he won’t have thought to change the Borgia diehards’ hideout. And it’s more discreet than a palazzo.”
“Good luck, friend.”
“We’ll both need it.”
They shook hands and parted on their separate missions.
Ezio decided to go for the troopships first. Blending in with the crowd, he made his way down to the port and, once on the quay, selected his first target. He took out the first bomb, fighting down the insidious doubt that it might not work, and, aware that he’d have to work very fast, flipped its catch, counted to three, and flung it.
He was working at close range and his aim had a deadly accuracy. The bomb landed with a clatter in the belly of the ship. For a few moments, nothing happened, and Ezio cursed inwardly. What if the plan had failed?
But then there was an almighty explosion, the ship’s mast cracked and fell, and splintered wood was tossed high in the air everywhere.
Amid the chaos that followed, Ezio darted along the quay, selecting likely ships and throwing his bombs. In several cases, the first explosion was followed by a mightier one—some of the troopships were evidently already laden with casks of gunpowder. In one case, an exploding ship carrying gunpowder destroyed its two neighbors.
One by one, Ezio wrecked twelve ships, but the chaos and panic were of great value. And in the distance he could hear explosions, and the shouts and screams that followed them, as Machiavelli did his work.
As he made his way to their rendezvous, he hoped his friend had survived.
All Valencia was in uproar, but pushing his way against the flow of the crowd, Ezio made the appointed spot in ten minutes. Machiavelli wasn’t there, but Ezio didn’t have long to wait. Looking a bit shabby, and with a blackened face, his fellow Assassin soon came running up.
“May God reward Leonardo da Vinci,” he said.
“I have never seen such pandemonium,” replied Machiavelli. “The survivors are running away out of town as fast as they can. I think most of them will prefer the plow to the sword after this.”
“Good! But we still have work to do.”
They made their way down the narrow street and arrived at the door of the Lone Wolf. It was closed. Silently as cats, they climbed to the roof. It was a one-story building, bigger than it appeared from the front, and near the top of the slant of the roof there was a skylight. It was open. They approached it and cautiously looked over the edge.
It was a different room from the one in which they had been ambushed. Two men were down below. Micheletto stood at a table. Facing him, seated, was Cesare Borgia. His once-handsome face, now lacerated by the New Disease, was white with fury.
“They have destroyed my plans! Those damned Assassins! Why did you not destroy them? Why did you fail me?”
“Eccellenza, I—” Micheletto looked like a whipped dog.
“I must make good my escape. I’ll go to Viana. Once I’m there, I’ll be in Navarre, just across the border. Let them try to recapture me then! I’m not waiting here for Ferdinand’s men to come and haul me back to La Mota. My brother-in-law is king of Navarre and he will surely help me.”
“I will help you, as I have always helped you. Only let me come with you.”
Cesare’s cruel lips curled. “You got me out of La Mota, sure. You built up my hopes. But now look where you have got me!”
“Master, all my men are dead—I have done what I could.”
Micheletto went white. “Is this my reward? For all my years of faithful service?”
“You dog, get out of my sight. I discard you! Go and find some gutter to die in.”
With a cry of rage, Micheletto hurled himself at Cesare, his huge strangler’s hands flexed to close on his former master’s throat. But they never got there. With lightning speed, Cesare had whipped out one of the two pistols he had in his belt and fired, at point-blank range.
Micheletto’s face was destroyed beyond all recognition. The rest of the body crashed over the table. Cesare sprang back, out of his chair, to avoid being covered in blood.
Ezio had drawn back, to be invisible but not out of earshot. He was preparing to leap from the roof and grab Cesare as he came out through the front door of the inn. But Machiavelli had craned forward the better to witness this dreadful showdown. Now, he inadvertently kicked a tile loose, and the noise alerted Cesare.
Cesare looked up swiftly, drawing his second pistol at the same time. Machiavelli didn’t have time to draw back before Cesare fired, shooting Machiavelli through the shoulder and smashing his collarbone. Then Cesare fled.
Ezio thought of pursuit, but only for an instant, and he had heard that Cesare intended to go to Viana. Well, he would follow him there. But not before he had seen to his wounded friend.
Machiavelli was groaning, apologies of all things, as Ezio managed to haul him off the roof. At least he could walk, but the wound was bad.
Once they had got to the main thoroughfare, Ezio accosted a passerby, having to stop the man by force since the chaos was still raging around them.
“I need a doctor,” he said urgently. “Where can I find one?”
“Many people need a doctor!” replied the man.
Ezio shook him. “My friend is badly wounded. Where can I find a doctor? Now!”