“Let go of me! You could try el médico Acosta. His rooms are just down the street. There’s a sign outside.”
Ezio grabbed the near-fainting Machiavelli and supported him. He took his scarf from his tunic and with it stanched the wound as best he could. Niccolò was losing a lot of blood.
The minute he saw the wound, Acosta had Machiavelli sit in a chair. He took a bottle of alcohol and some swabs and carefully dressed it.
“The ball went right through the shoulder,” he explained in broken Italian. “So at least I won’t have to dig it out. And it’s a clean wound. But as for the collarbone, I’ll have to reset it. I hope you’re not planning on traveling any time soon.”
Ezio and Machiavelli exchanged a glance.
“I have been a fool again,” said Machiavelli, forcing a grin.
“Shut up, Niccolò.”
“Go on. Get after him. I’ll manage.”
“He can stay here with me. I have a small annex that needs a patient,” said Acosta. “And when he’s healed, I’ll send him after you.”
“Perhaps two weeks, maybe more.”
“I’ll see you in Rome,” said Machiavelli.
“All right,” replied Ezio. “Take care of yourself, my friend.”
“Kill him for me,” said Machiavelli. “Though at least he spared us the trouble of Micheletto.”
The Firstborn of the New Age is already on his way from high heaven down to earth.
—VIRGIL, ECLOGUES, IV
Ezio once again traveled across Spain on a long, lonely journey, almost due north to Viana. He arrived there in the month of March. The city that he saw, a mile or so distant, looked exactly like the one in the vision accorded him by the Apple, with strong walls and a well-fortified citadel at its center, but there was a difference.
Even before he crossed the border into Navarre, Ezio’s practiced eye told him that the city was under siege. When he came to a village, most of the locals just shook their heads dumbly when he questioned them, but when he sought out the priest, with whom he was able to converse in Latin, he learned the whole picture.
“You may know that our king and queen have designs on Navarre. It’s a rich land, and they want to incorporate it into ours.”
“So they want to take Viana?”
“They’ve already taken it! It’s occupied by the Count of Lerin on their behalf.”
“And the besiegers?”
“They are Navarrese forces. I think they will be the victors.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Because they are under the command of the brother-in-law of the king of Navarre, and he is an experienced general.”
Ezio’s heart beat faster, but he still needed confirmation: “His name?”
“He’s very famous, apparently. The Duke of Valence, Cesare Borgia. They say he once commanded the army of the Pope himself. But the Spanish troops are brave. They have taken the fight out to the enemy, and there have been bloody battles in the fields outside the town. I would not go any farther in that direction, my son; there lies only devastation and blood.”
Ezio thanked him and spurred his horse forward.
He arrived at the scene to find a pitched battle going on right in front of him, as a fog grew around them. In its midst Cesare Borgia was taking a stand, hacking down any foe who came at him. And suddenly Ezio him -self had to fight another horseman--a Navarrese, with his crest of a red shield crisscrossed with yellow chains. They cut and slashed at each other with their swords until finally Ezio was able to split the man’s right shoulder down to the chest, and he fell, without a cry, to be finished off by Spanish infantrymen.
Cesare was on foot, and Ezio decided that it would be easier to get close to him undetected if he were also on foot, so he dismounted and ran through the fray toward him.
At last he stood face-to-face with his deadly foe. Cesare’s face was streaked with blood and dust, and strained with exertion, but when he saw Ezio his expression took on a new determination.
“Assassin! How did you find me?”
“My thirst to avenge Mario Auditore led me to you.”
They sliced at each other with their swords until Ezio managed to knock Cesare’s out of his hand. Then, sheathing his own, he flung himself on the Borgia, putting his hands around his throat. But Cesare had learned a few things from Micheletto about the art of strangling and managed to free himself by thrusting Ezio’s arms away. Ezio unleashed the hidden-blade, but once again Cesare managed to defend himself successfully, as the battle raged about them.
But then the Spanish trumpets sounded the retreat. Triumphant, Cesare yelled to the nearest Navarrese troops: “Kill him! Kill the Assassin! Tear the maldito bastardo into pieces!”
But the fog had increased, and Cesare melted into it. The Navarrese soldiers closed in on Ezio. He fought them off hard and long. They left him for dead.
Later, Ezio came to, to find himself in the middle of the battlefield. He was lying on his back. He had to push a corpse off him before he could sit up.
The battlefield lay under a cloudy, bloodred sky. In the distance the sun burned angrily. Dust hung in the air over a wide, unmade road, littered with the dead.
Ezio saw a crow standing on a corpse’s chin, pecking hungrily at his eye. A riderless horse stampeded by, driven mad by the smell of blood. Broken banners snapped in the breeze.
Groaning with the effort, he stood up and, painfully at first, walked through the field of the dead. He found that he had lost his sword and dagger, though the hidden-blade and the bracer had not been found and looted.
His first job was to replace his weapons. Near him, he noticed a peasant sifting through the battlefield, looting. The peasant looked at him.
“Help yourself,” he said. “There’s more than enough to go around.”
Ezio looked for fallen officers and knights, as they would be better armed, but in every case someone had got there before him. At last he found a dead captain with a fine sword and a dagger similar to his own. These he took gratefully.
He made his way off the battlefield. He had to find a horse. It would be quicker to get around that way.
He was in luck. Not half a mile from the edge of the battlefield, well away from the Navarrese camp, he came across a warhorse, its back bloodstained, but not with its own blood, and fully saddled and bridled, grazing in a green field. Talking to it gently, he mounted it. It kicked a little at first, but he soothed it quickly and, turning it, rode back the way he had come.