It took them fifteen days to reach Bari, and once there, Ezio bade leave of his old friend hastily, in order not to miss the first available flood tide. He took a ship belonging to the Turkish merchant fleet managed by Piri Reis and his family. Once installed in the after cabin of the large lateen-sailed dhow, the Anaan—a freighter on which he was the only passenger—Ezio took the opportunity to check—once again—the essential gear he had taken with him. Two hidden-blades, one for each wrist, his bracer for the left forearm, to deflect the blows of swords, and the spring-loaded pistol that Leonardo had made for him, along with all his other special armaments, from ancient designs found in the pages of the Codex of the Assassins.
Ezio was traveling light. In truth, he expected to find Masyaf, if he succeeded in reaching it, deserted. At the same time, he admitted to himself that he was uneasy at the scarcity of Assassin intelligence about Templar movements in the present days of apparent, or, at least, relative, peace.
As far as this second leg of the journey, which would take him to Corfu, was concerned, he knew he had little to fear. Piri Reis was a great captain among the Ottomans, and had once been a pirate himself, so his men would know how to handle them if fear of Piri’s name alone didn’t keep them at bay. Ezio wondered if he’d ever meet the great man himself one day. If he did, he hoped Piri, not known for his easygoing nature, would have forgotten the time when the Brotherhood had been constrained to “liberate” some of Piri’s precious maps from him.
The Ottomans themselves now held sway over Greece and much of eastern Europe—indeed, their territories almost touched those of Venice in the west. Not everyone was happy with the situation, and with the presence of so many Turks in Europe; but Venice, after a standoff, had continued to trade with its Muslim neighbors, and la Serenissima had kept control of Corfu, Crete, and Cyprus.
Ezio couldn’t see the situation lasting—the Ottomans had already made unfriendly advances on Cyprus—but for the moment, peace held, and Sultan Bayezid was too preoccupied with internal family squabbles to make any trouble in the west.
The broad-beamed ship, with her great sail of white canvas, cut through the water more like a broadsword than a knife, but they made good time despite adverse headwinds, and the short voyage across the mouth of the Adriatic took little more than five days.
After a welcome from the governor of Corfu, a fat Italian called Franco who liked to be called Spyridon, after the local patron saint, and who long since had clearly abandoned politics for lotus-eating, Ezio had a talk with the ship’s captain as they stood on a balcony fronting the governor’s villa, and looking out over palm trees to the harbor, which nestled under a sky of blue velvet. In exchange for another pouch of Venetian soldi, they agreed between them that Ezio should continue on to Athens.
“That’s our destination,” the captain told him. “We’ll be hugging the coast, I’ve done the trip twenty times, there will be no problem, no danger. And from there it will be easy to take a vessel bound for Crete and even on to Cyprus. In fact, I’ll introduce you to my brother-in-law Ma’Mun when we reach Athens. He’s a shipping agent. He’ll take care of you.”
“I’m obliged,” Ezio said. He hoped the man’s confidence was well placed. The Anaan was taking on an important cargo of spices for transfer to Athens, and Ezio remembered enough from his early days when his father was one of the major bankers of Florence to know that this cargo would make the Anaan a tempting target for any pirate, no matter how great a fear the name of Piri Reis might strike in them. If you fight on a ship, you need to be able to move fast and lightly. In the town, the following morning, he went to an armorer and bought a well-tempered scimitar, beating the man down to one hundred soldi.
“Insurance,” Ezio told himself.
The following day at dawn, the tide was high enough for them to begin their voyage, and they took advantage of it, together with a brisk northerly wind, which filled their sail immediately. They coasted south, keeping the shore about a mile to their port side. The sun sparkled on the steel blue waves, and the warm wind caressed their hair. Only Ezio could not quite bring himself to relax.
They’d reached a point just south of the island of Zante when it happened. They had pulled out farther to sea to take full advantage of the wind, and the water had turned darker and choppier. The sun was dipping toward the western horizon, and you couldn’t look in that direction and see anything without squinting. The mariners were casting a log over the starboard side to take the speed, and Ezio watched them.
Afterward, he couldn’t have said what it was that had caught his attention. A seabird, perhaps, dipping along the side of the ship, attracted his eye. But it was no bird. It was sail. Two sails. Two seagoing galleys, coming in out of the sun, taking them by surprise and almost upon them.
The corsairs had lain alongside almost before the captain had had time to summon his crew to arms and action stations. The pirates threw grappling irons on ropes over the Anaan’s sides and were soon scrambling aboard, as Ezio raced aft to arm himself. Luckily, he had the scimitar already at his side and was able to put it to its first tests, slicing his way through five Berber seamen as he struggled to reach his goal.
He was breathing heavily as he hastily strapped on his bracer and his gun. He had enough faith in the scimitar by then to dispense with his hidden-blades, which he stowed quickly in a hiding place in the cabin, and he judged the bracer and the gun the better weapons for this combat.
He sprang out into the fray—around him the familiar clashing of weapons and already the smell of blood. A fire had started forward, and the wind, which had chosen that moment to turn, now threatened to drag it aft the length of the ship. Commanding two Ottoman sailors to grab buckets, he ordered them back forward to where the ship’s water reservoir was. At that moment, a pirate flung himself from the rigging onto Ezio’s shoulders. One of the sailors yelled out a warning. Ezio spun round, flexed the muscles of his right wrist, and his gun sprang from the mechanism strapped to his forearm, into his hand. Swiftly, with no time to aim, he fired, stepping back immediately to allow the still-falling body to crash past him onto the deck.
“Fill, quickly, and put out the flames before they spread,” he yelled. “The ship will be lost if the fire takes hold.”
He hacked away at three or four Berbers who had raced toward him, sensing already that he was the one man aboard to neutralize, if their attack was to be successful. He then found himself confronted with the corsair captain, a burly brute with an English cutlass in each hand—booty, no doubt, from some earlier unfortunate victims.