Yusuf turned to his fellow members of the Constantinople Chapter of the Assassin Brotherhood. “You see, friends? Our Mentor is not afraid to weep openly in front of his pupils.”
Ezio wiped his cheeks with a gloved hand and smiled. “Do not worry—I will not make a habit of it.”
“The Mentor has not been in our city more than a matter of hours, and already there is news,” Yusuf went on, his face serious. “We were attacked on the way here. It seems the mercenaries are on the move once more. So”—he indicated three men and two women—“you—Dogan, Kasim, Heyreddin; and you—Evraniki and Irini—I want you to make a sweep of the area—now!”
The five silently rose, bowing to Ezio as they took their leave.
“The rest of you—back to work,” Yusuf commanded, and the remaining Assassins dispersed.
Left alone, Yusuf turned to Ezio, a look of concern on his face. “My Mentor. Your weapons and your armor look in need of renewal—and your clothes—forgive me—are in a pitiful state. We will help you. But we have very little money.”
Ezio smiled. “Have no fear. I need none. And I prefer to look after myself. It is time to explore the city alone, to get the feeling of it into my blood.”
“Will you not rest first? Take some refreshment?”
“The time for rest is when the task is done.” Ezio paused. He unslung his bags and withdrew the broken hidden-blade. “Is there a blacksmith or an armorer skilled and trustworthy enough to repair this?”
Yusuf examined the damage, then slowly, regretfully, shook his head. “This, I know, is one of the original blades, crafted from Altaïr’s instructions in the Codex your father collected; and what you ask may be impossible to achieve. But if we cannot get it done, we will make sure you do not go out underarmed. But leave your weapons with me—those you do not need to take with you now—and I will have them cleaned and honed. And there will be fresh clothes ready for you on your return.”
“I am grateful.” Ezio made for the door. As he approached it, the young blond doorkeeper lowered her eyes modestly.
“Azize will be your guide, if you wish her to go with you, Mentor,” Yusuf suggested.
Ezio turned. “No. I go alone.”
In truth, Ezio sought to be alone. He needed to collect his thoughts. He went to a taverna in the Genoese quarter, where wine was available, and refreshed himself with a bottle of Pigato and a simple maccaroin in broddo. He spent the rest of the afternoon thoroughly acquainting himself with the Galata District and avoided trouble, melting into the crowd whenever he encountered either Ottoman patrols or bands of Byzantine mercenaries. He looked just like many another travel-stained pilgrims wandering the colorful, messy, chaotic, exciting streets of the city.
Once he was satisfied, he returned to headquarters, just as the first lamps were being lit in the dark interiors of the shops and they were laying tables in the lokantas. Yusuf and some of his people were waiting for him.
The Turk immediately came up to him, looking pleased with himself. “Praise the heavens! Mentor! I am glad to see you again—and safe. We feared we had lost you to the vices of the big city!”
“You are melodramatic,” said Ezio, smiling. “And as for vices, I am content with my own, grazie.”
“I hope you will approve of the arrangements we have made in your absence.”
Yusuf led Ezio to an inner chamber, where a complete new outfit had been laid out for him. Next to it, neatly arranged on an oak table, lay his weapons, sharpened, oiled, and polished, gleaming as new. A crossbow had been added to the set.
“We have put the broken blade in a place of safety,” said Yusuf. “But we noticed that you have no hookblade, so we have organized one for you.”
“Yes. Look.” Yusuf drew back his sleeve to reveal what Ezio had first taken to be a hidden-blade. But when Yusuf activated it, and it sprang forth, he saw that it was a more complex variant. The telescopic blade of the new weapon ended in a curved hook of well-tempered steel.
“Fascinating,” said Ezio.
“You’ve never seen one before? I grew up using these.”
Yusuf took a new hookblade from one of the Assassins in attendance, who’d held it in readiness, and tossed it over to Ezio. Transferring his good hidden-blade from his right wrist to his left, under the bracer, Ezio strapped the hookblade to his right. He felt its unfamiliar weight and practiced releasing and retracting it. He wished Leonardo had been there to see it.
“You’d better give me a demonstration.”
“Immediately, if you are ready.”
“As I’ll ever be.”
“Then follow me and watch what I do closely.”
They went outside and down the street in the light of late afternoon to a deserted space between a group of tall brick buildings. Yusuf selected one, whose high walls were decorated with projecting horizontal runs of tiled brick at intervals of some ten feet. Yusuf set off toward the building at a run, leaping, when he reached it, onto a couple of water barrels placed close to it, then, springing upward from them, he released his hookblade and used it to grip the first projecting run of tiles, pulling himself up with the hookblade and using his momentum to hook onto the run above, and so on until he was standing on the roof of the building. The whole operation took less than a few seconds.
Taking a deep breath, Ezio followed suit. He managed the first two operations without difficulty, and even found the experience exhilarating, but he almost missed his hold on the third tier and swung dangerously outward for a moment, until he corrected himself without losing momentum and found himself soon afterward on the roof next to Yusuf.
“Don’t stop to think,” Yusuf told him. “Use your instincts and let the hook do the work. I can already see that after another couple of climbs like that, you’ll have mastered it. You’re a quick learner, Mentor.”
“I have had to be.”
Yusuf smiled. He extended his own blade again and showed Ezio the detail. “The standard Ottoman hookblade has two parts, you see—the hook and the blade, so that you can use one or the other independently. An elegant design, no?”
“A pity I didn’t have one of these in the past.”
“Perhaps then you had no need of one. Come!”
He bounded over the rooftops, Ezio following, remembering the distant days when he had chased after his brother Federico across the rooftops of Florence. Yusuf led him to places where he could practice some more, out of sight of prying eyes, and once Ezio had accomplished, with increasing confidence, another three climbs, Yusuf turned to him and said, a glint in his eye: “There’s still enough light left in the day. How about a bigger challenge?”