The surviving fifth man, a Templar corporal, barked a desperate order to the workman, but the workman did nothing, too petrified to move. Then, seeing Ezio turn on him, the corporal backed away, his mouth slavering, until the wall behind him arrested his retreat. Ezio approached, intending merely to knock the Templar unconscious, but then the corporal, who’d been waiting for his moment, struck a treacherous dagger blow toward Ezio’s groin. Ezio sidestepped and seized the man by the shoulder, near the throat.

“I would have spared you, friend. But you give me no choice.” With one swift stroke of his razor-sharp scimitar, Ezio severed the man’s head from his body. “Requiescat in Pace,” he said, softly.

Then he turned to the stonemason.

THIRTEEN

The man was about Ezio’s age, but running to fat and not in the greatest shape. At the moment, he was trembling like an outsize aspen.

“Don’t kill me, sir!” the man pleaded, cowering. “I’m a workingman, that’s all. Just some poor nobody with a family to look after.”

“Got a name?”

“Adad, sir.”

“What kind of work is it you do? For these people?” Ezio stooped to wipe his blades on the tunic of the dead corporal and sheathed them. Adad relaxed a fraction. He was still holding his hammer and chisel, and Ezio had kept a careful eye on them, but the stonemason seemed to have forgotten they were in his hands.

“Digging, mostly. Wretched hard work it is, too, sir. It’s taken me a year just to find this chamber alone.” Adad scanned Ezio’s face, but if he’d been looking for sympathy, he hadn’t found it. After a moment’s silence, he went on. “For the past three months, I’ve been trying to break through this door.”

Ezio turned away from the man and examined the door himself. “You haven’t made much progress,” he commented.

“I haven’t made a dent! This stone is harder than steel.”

Ezio ran a hand across the glass-smooth stone. The seriousness of his expression deepened. “I doubt if you ever will. This door guards objects more valuable than all the gold in the world.”

Now that the menace of death was past, the man’s eyes gleamed involuntarily “Ah! Do you mean—gemstones?”

Ezio regarded him mockingly. Then he turned his gaze to the door and examined it closely. “There are keyholes here. Five of them. Where are the keys?”

“They tell me little. But I know the Templars found one beneath the Ottoman sultan’s palace. As for the others, I suppose their little book will tell them.”

Ezio looked at him sharply. “Sultan Bayezid’s palace? And what is this book?”

The mason shrugged. “A journal of some kind, I think. That ugly captain, the one with the scarred face, he carries it with him wherever he goes.”

Ezio’s eyes narrowed. He thought fast. Then he appeared to relax, and, taking a small linen pouch from his tunic, he tossed it to Adad. It jingled as the man caught it.

“Go home,” said Ezio. “Find other work—with honest men.”

Adad looked pleased, then doubtful. “You don’t know how much I’d like to. I’d love to leave this place. But these men—they will murder me if I try.”

Ezio turned slightly, peering back up the chute behind him. A thin ray of light came down it.

He turned back to the mason. “Pack your tools,” he said. “You will have nothing to fear now.”

FOURTEEN

Sticking to the less-frequented stairways and corridors of the castle, Ezio regained the high battlements unseen, his breath pluming in the cold air. He made his way round them to a point that overlooked the village of Masyaf, crouching in the castle’s shadow. He knew there would be no way of leaving the castle by either of its heavily guarded gates, but he had to track down the scarred, shaven-headed captain. He guessed that the man would be outside, supervising the search for the escaped Assassin. Templars would be scouring the countryside, which explained the relative absence of men within the confines of the fortress. In any case, Ezio knew that the next step in his mission lay beyond Masyaf’s walls. But first he had to leave the place.

Once he had a clear view of the village, he could see that Templar guards were making their rounds of it, interrogating its inhabitants. Making sure that the sun was at his back, obscuring any clear view of him from below, he unstrapped his bags and took out the parachute, unfolding it and erecting it with as much speed as care would allow, for his life would depend on it. The distance was too far and the descent too dangerous for even the most daring Leap of Faith.

The parachute took the form of a triangular tent, or pyramid, of strong silk, held in place by struts of thin steel. Ezio attached the rope from each of its four corners to a quick-release harness, which he buckled round his chest, then, pausing to gauge the wind and to ensure that no one below was looking up, hurled himself into the air.

It would have been an exhilarating feeling if Ezio had had the leisure to enjoy it, but he concentrated on guiding the device, using the convection currents and thermals as best he could, imitating an eagle, and brought himself to a safe landing a dozen yards from the nearest building. Swiftly stowing the parachute, he made his way into the village.

Sure enough, the Templars were busy harassing the villagers, pushing them around and beating them without mercy if they showed the slightest sign of not answering clearly and instantly. Ezio blended in with the people of the village, listening and watching.

One old man was pleading for mercy as a Templar bravo stood over his cowering form. “Help me, please!” he begged anyone who would listen, but no one was.

“Speak, dog!” the Templar shouted. “Where is he?” Elsewhere, a younger man was being beaten by two thugs even as he implored them to stay their hand. Another cried, “I am innocent!” as he was clubbed to the ground.

“Where is he hiding?” snarled his assailants.

It wasn’t only the men who were being cruelly handled. Two other Templar cowards held down a woman as a third kicked her mercilessly, stifling her cries as she writhed on the ground, piteously beseeching them to stop: “I know nothing! Please forgive me!”

“Bring us the Assassin, and no further harm will come to you,” sneered her tormentor, bringing his face close to hers. “Otherwise . . .”

Ezio watched, aching to assist but forcing himself to concentrate on his search for the captain. He arrived at the front gate of the village just in time to see the object of his search mounting a horse-drawn wagon. The captain was in such a hurry to be gone that he flung the driver out of his seat, onto the ground.

Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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