“Welcome to the Galata District.” Yusuf beamed. “For centuries, it has been a home to orphans from Europe and Asia alike. You won’t find more diversity anywhere else in the city. And for that very good reason, we Assassins have our headquarters here.”
Yusuf nodded eagerly. “Kesinlikle, Mentor. At once! The Brotherhood here is impatient to meet the man who put the Borgia out to grass!” He laughed.
“Does everyone in the city already know I’m here?”
“I sent a boy ahead as soon as I spotted you. And in any case, your Holy Land tussle with the Templars did not go unnoticed. We didn’t need our spy for that!”
Ezio looked reflective. “When I first set out, violence was far from my mind. I sought merely wisdom.” He looked at his new lieutenant. “The contents of Altaïr’s library.”
Yusuf laughed again though less certainly. “Not realizing that it’s been sealed shut for two-and-a-half centuries?”
Ezio laughed a little himself. “No. I assumed as much. But I admit that I never quite expected to find Templars guarding it.”
Yusuf now became serious. They were reaching less populous streets, and they relaxed their pace. “It is very troubling. Five years ago, Templar influence here was minimal. Just a small faction, with dreams of restoring the throne to Byzantium.”
They’d reached a small square, and Yusuf drew Ezio to one side to point out a knot of four men crowded in a dark corner. They were dressed in dull grey armor over rough red woolen tunics and jerkins.
“There’s a group of them now,” Yusuf said, lowering his voice. “Don’t look in their direction.” He glanced around. “They’re growing in number, day by day. And they know what we all know, that Sultan Bayezid is on his way out. They’re watching, waiting for their moment. I believe they may try something dramatic.”
“But is there no heir to the Ottoman throne?” Ezio asked, surprised.
“That’s the trouble—there are two of them. Two angry sons. It’s a familiar pattern with these royals. When the sultan coughs, the princes draw their swords.”
Ezio pondered this, remembering what the young man on the ship had told him. “Between the Templars and the Ottomans, you must be kept busy,” he said.
“Ezio, efendim, I tell you in truth that I barely have time to polish my blade!”
Just then, a shot rang out, and a bullet embedded itself in the wall inches to the left of Yusuf’s head.
Yusuf dived behind a row of spice barrels, with Ezio close behind him.
“Talk of the devil, and there he is!” Yusuf said, tightlipped, as he raised his head just enough to see the gunman reloading across the square.
“Looks like our Byzantine friends over there didn’t take kindly to being stared at.”
“I’ll take care of the guy with the musket,” said Yusuf, measuring the distance between himself and his target as he reached back and plucked one of his throwing knives from the scabbard at his back. In a clean movement he threw it and it hurtled across the square, rotating three times before it found its mark, burying itself deep in the man’s throat, just as he raised his gun to fire again. Meanwhile, his friends were already sprinting toward them, swords drawn.
“Nowhere to run,” said Ezio, drawing his own scimitar.
“Baptism of fire for you,” said Yusuf. “And you’ve only just arrived. Çok üzüldüm.”
“Don’t think about it,” replied Ezio, amused. He’d picked up just enough Turkish to know that his companion in arms was saying sorry.
Yusuf drew his own sword, and together they leapt from their hiding place to confront the oncoming foe. They were more lightly clad than their three opponents, which left them worse protected but more mobile. Ezio quickly realized, as he joined with the first Byzantine, that he was up against a highly trained fighter. And he had yet to get used to using a scimitar.
Yusuf kept up his banter as they fought. But then he was used to this enemy, and a good fifteen years Ezio’s junior. “The whole city stirs to welcome you—first the regents, like me—and now, the rats!”
Ezio concentrated on the swordplay. It went against him badly at first, but he quickly attuned himself to the light, flexible sword he was using and found its curved blade improved the swing incredibly. Once or twice, Yusuf, keeping an eye on his Mentor, shouted helpful instructions, and ended up casting him an admiring sidelong glance.
“Inanilmaz! A master at work!”
But he’d allowed his attention to falter for a second too long, and one of the Byzantines was able to slice through the material of his left sleeve and gash his forearm. As he fell back involuntarily and his assailant pressed his advantage, Ezio shoved his own opponent violently aside and went to his friend’s aid, getting between Yusuf and the Byzantine and warding off with his left-arm bracer what would have been a fatal follow-up blow. This move wrong-footed the Byzantine just long enough for Yusuf to regain his balance and, in turn, fend off another mercenary who was closing in on Ezio’s back, dealing the attacker a mortal blow at the same time as Ezio finished off the second man. The last remaining Byzantine, a big man with a jaw like a rock face, looked doubtful for the first time.
“Tesekkür ederim,” said Yusuf, breathing heavily.
“Bir sey degil.”
“Is there no end to your talents?”
“Well, at least I learned ‘thank you’ and ‘you’re welcome’ on board that baghlah.”
The big Byzantine was bearing down on them, roaring, a big sword in one hand and a mace in the other.
“By Allah, I thought he’d run away,” said Yusuf, sidestepping and tripping him up, so that, carried by the weight of his own momentum, he careered forward and crashed heavily into one of the spice barrels, falling headlong into a fragrant heap of yellow powder, where he lay immobile.
Ezio, after looking around, wiped his sword clean and sheathed it. Yusuf followed suit.
“You have a curious technique, Mentor. All feint and no fight. It seems. But when you strike . . .”
“I think like a mongoose—my enemy is the cobra.”
Yusuf glanced around again. “We’d better go. I think that’s enough fun for one day.”
The words were scarcely out of his mouth when another squad of Byzantine mercenaries, attracted by the sound of the fight, came boiling into the square.