“And how long will that take?”

“I wouldn’t like to say.”

“Hours?”

The clerk pursed his lips.

“Days?”

“That all depends. Of course, for a consideration . . . something might be arranged . . .”

“To hell with that!”

The clerk became less friendly. “Are you trying to impede me in my duties?” he barked. “Get out of the way, old man! And don’t come back if you know what’s good for you!”

Ezio swept him aside and bounded over the counter. He seized the wooden map tube and turned to leave. But the clerk was frantically blowing a whistle, and several of his colleagues, some of them members of the heavily armed dockyard guard, responded instantly.

“That man!” yelped the clerk. “He tried to bribe me, and when that failed, he resorted to violence!”

Ezio took a stand on the counter as the customs men surged forward to grab him. Swinging the weighty wooden map tube round, he cracked a few skulls with it and leapt over the heads of the rest of them, running toward the exit and leaving confusion in his wake.

“That’s the only way to deal with petty officialdom,” he said to himself, contentedly. He had disappeared into the twisting labyrinth of streets north of the docks before his pursuers had had time to collect themselves. Without Sofia’s papers, which he still had safely stowed in his tunic, they’d never be able to trace her.

THIRTY-THREE

Toward noon, he entered the bookshop west of Haghia Sofia.

She looked up as he came in. The shelves were far more orderly now than they had been when he’d first visited. In the back room, he could see her worktable, with his map from the cisterns neatly laid out alongside a number of thick books of reference.

“Salute, Ezio,” she said. “That was a lot quicker than I expected. Any luck?”

Ezio held up the wooden map tube and read from the label: “Madamigella Sofia Sartor, libraia, Costantinopoli. Is that you?”

He handed her the tube with a smile. She took it gladly, then examined it closely, her face turning sour. “Oh, no! Look at the damage! Did they use this to fight off pirates, do you suppose?”

Ezio shrugged, a little sheepishly. Sofia opened the tube and withdrew the map within. She inspected it. “Well, so far, so good.”

Taking it over to a table, she spread it out carefully. It was a copy of a map of the world.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” she said.

“Indeed.” Ezio stood next to her, and they both pored over it.

“It’s a print of a map by Martin Waldseemüller. It’s still quite new—he only published four years ago. And look—here on the left! The new lands Navigatore Vespucci discovered and wrote about only four or five years before the map was drawn.”

“They work fast, these Germans,” said Ezio. “I see he’s named the new lands after Vespucci’s Christian name—Amerigo.”

“America!”

“Yes . . . Poor Cristoforo Colombo. History has a strange way of unfolding.”

“What do you make of this body of water—here?” She pointed to the oceans on the far side of North and South America. Ezio leaned forward to look.

“A new ocean, perhaps? Most of the scholars I know claim the size of the globe has been underestimated.”

Sofia sounded wistful. “It’s incredible. The more we learn about the world, the less we seem to know.”

Quite taken with the thought, they both fell silent for a moment. Ezio considered the new century they were in—the sixteenth. And only near its beginning. What would unfold during it, he could only guess; and he knew that, at his age, he would not see very much more of it.

More discoveries, and more wars, no doubt. But essentially the same play repeating itself—and the same actors, only with different costumes and different props for each generation that swallows up the last, each thinking that it would be the one to do better.

“Well, you honored your promise,” said Sofia. “And here is mine fulfilled.”

She led the way to the inner room and picked a piece of paper up from the table. “If I am correct, this should show you the location of the first book.”

Ezio took the paper from her and read what was on it.

“I must admit,” Sofia went on, “my head is swimming at the prospect of actually seeing these books. They contain knowledge the world has lost and should have again.” She sat at the table and cupped her chin in her hands, daydreaming. “Perhaps I could have a few copies printed to distribute myself. A small run of fifty or so . . . That should be enough . . .”

Ezio smiled, then laughed.

“What’s there to laugh about?”

“Forgive me. It is a joy to see someone with a passion so personal and so noble. It is . . . inspiring.”

“Goodness,” she replied, a little embarrassed. “Where is this coming from?”

Ezio held up the piece of paper. “I intend to go and investigate this immediately,” he said. “Grazie, Sofia—I will return soon.”

“I’ll look forward to that,” she replied, watching him go with a mixture of puzzlement and concern.

What a mysterious man, she thought, as the door closed after him, and she returned to the Waldseemüller map, and her own dreams of the future.

THIRTY-FOUR

Sofia’s calculations had been correct. Hidden behind a wooden panel in an old, deserted building in the Constantine District of the city, Ezio found the book he was looking for.

It was an ancient but well-preserved copy of On Nature, the poem written over two thousand years earlier by the Greek philosopher Empedocles, outlining the sum of his thoughts.

Ezio lifted the book from its hiding place and blew the dust from the small volume. Then he opened it to a blank page at its front.

As he watched, the page began to glow, and within the glow, a map of Constantinople revealed itself. As he looked closer, and concentrated, he discerned a pinpoint on the map. It showed the Maiden Tower, the lighthouse on the far side of the Bosphorus, and, as Ezio peered closer still, a precise spot there, within the cellars built into its foundations.

If all went well, this would be the location of the second key to Altaïr’s library at Masyaf.

He made his way in haste through the teeming city to the Maiden Tower. Slipping past the Ottoman guards and crossing over in a “borrowed” boat, he found a doorway from which steps led downward into the cellars. He held the book in his hand and found that it was guiding him. Guiding him through a maze of corridors lined with innumerable doorways. It didn’t seem possible that there could be so many in such a relatively confined space. But at last he came to a door, identical to all the others but through whose cracks a faint light seemed to emanate. The door opened at his touch, and there, on a low stone plinth before him, a circular stone had been placed, slim as a discus and, like the first he had discovered, covered with strange symbols, as mysterious as the first set, but different. The form of a woman—a goddess, perhaps—who looked vaguely familiar, indentations that might either have been formulae, or possibly notches that might slot into pegs—maybe pegs within the keyholes in the library door at Masyaf.

Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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