But the compound was very large, and Ezio took full advantage of the fact that, in their uniforms and with their almost identical mustaches, one Janissary looked very like another. Leaving confusion in his wake, he soon picked up Tarik’s trail again and located him in a quiet corner of the barracks, where the senior officers’ map-rooms were to be found.
Ezio watched as Tarik entered one of the map-rooms; he glanced around to ensure that the man was alone and that he himself had thrown off the last traces of pursuit, and followed Tarik in. He closed and bolted the door behind him.
Ezio had already collected all the information he believed he needed. He knew that Tarik planned to rendezvous with Manuel at Bursa, and he knew that the arms shipment had arrived at Manuel’s garrison in Cappadocia. So when Tarik immediately drew his sword and flung himself at him, he did not need to ask questions first. He stepped neatly aside to his left as Tarik thrust with his sword, then unleashed his left-hand hidden-blade and plunged it into the right-hand side of the Janissary captain’s back, ripping through the kidney as he cut in hard with the blade before withdrawing it.
Tarik crashed forward onto a map table, scattering the charts that covered it and drenching those that remained with blood. He caught his breath and, drawing on his last reserves of strength, heaved himself up on his right elbow and half turned to look at his attacker.
“Your villainy is finished, soldier,” said Ezio, harshly.
But Tarik seemed resigned, almost amused. Ezio was suddenly seized by doubt.
“Ah, what bitter irony,” said Tarik. “Is this the result of Suleiman’s investigation?”
“You collude with the sultan’s enemies,” said Ezio, his confidence ebbing. “What did you expect would come of such treachery?”
Tarik gave him a regretful smile. “I blame myself.” He paused, his breathing painful, as blood flowed steadily from his unstaunched side. “Not for treason, but hubris.” He looked at Ezio, who had drawn closer to catch his voice, which had now sunk to little more than a whisper. “I was preparing an ambush. Preparing to strike the Byzantine Templars at the precise moment they felt safest.”
“What proof do you have of this?”
Painfully, Tarik pulled a map from his belt with his left hand. “Take it,” he said.
Ezio did so.
“This will lead you to the Byzantines in Cappadocia,” Tarik continued. “Destroy them if you can.”
Ezio’s voice had sunk to a whisper, too. “You have done well, Tarik. Forgive me.”
“There is no blame,” Tarik replied, struggling with the effort of speaking at all. But he forced himself to go on, knowing that his next words would be his last. “Protect my homeland. Allah ashkina! In God’s name, redeem the honor we have lost in this fight.”
Ezio put Tarik’s arm over his shoulder and lifted him onto the table, where he hastily tore the scarf from his neck and tied it as tightly as he could around the wound he had made.
But he was already too late.
“Requiescat in Pace,” said Ezio, sadly.
Outside, he heard the hue and cry for him taken up once more, and close by. There was no time to repine over his mistake. Hastily, he tore off the uniform until he was stripped down to the simple grey tunic and hose he wore underneath. The map-room was close to the barracks wall. With the help of his hookblade, he knew the wall would be climbable.
It was time to go.
Ezio regained Assassin headquarters, changed, and returned to Topkapi Sarayi with a heavy heart. The guards had clearly been given orders to let him pass, and he was ushered into a private antechamber, where, after a few minutes had passed, Suleiman came to meet him. The young prince seemed surprised to see him—and agitated.
Ezio forestalled the question in his eyes. “Tarik was no traitor, Suleiman. He, too, was tracking the Byzantines.”
“What?” Suleiman’s distress was evident. “So, did you—?”
Ezio nodded, gravely.
Suleiman sat down heavily. He looked ill. “God forgive me,” he said, quietly. “I should not have been so quick to judge.”
“Prince, he was loyal to your grandfather to the end; and through his efforts, we have the means to save your city.” Ezio briefly explained what he had found out, told him what he had learned from listening to the Janissaries, and showed him the map Tarik had given him.
“Ah, Tarik,” whispered Suleiman. “He should not have been so secretive, Ezio. What a terrible way to do a good thing.”
“The weapons have been taken to Cappadocia. We must act immediately. Can you get me there?”
Suleiman snapped out of his reverie. “What—? Get you there? Yes, of course. I will arrange a ship to take you to Mersin—you can travel inland from there.”
They were interrupted by the arrival of Prince Ahmet. Fortunately, he called out to Suleiman in an impatient voice before he arrived, so Ezio had time to withdraw to a corner of the room, where he would be less conspicuous.
Ahmet entered the room and wasted no time at all in coming to the point. “Suleiman, I have been set up and made to look like a traitor! Do you remember Tarik, the Janissary?”
“The man you quarreled with?”
Ahmet showed signs of getting seriously angry. “He has been murdered. It is no secret that he and I were at odds. Now the Janissaries will be quick to accuse me of the crime.”
“This is terrible news, Uncle.”
“It is indeed. When word of this reaches my father, he will banish me from the city!”
Suleiman could not suppress a nervous glance over his uncle’s shoulder at Ezio. Ahmet noticed this and spun round. His manner immediately became more reserved. “Ah. Forgive me, nephew. I was not aware that you had a guest.”
Suleiman hesitated, then said: “This is . . . Marcello. One of my European advisers in Kefe.”
Ezio bowed low. “Buona sera.”
Ahmet made an impatient gesture. “Marcello, my nephew and I have a private matter to discuss,” he said, sternly.
“Of course. Please excuse me.” Ezio bowed again, even lower, and backed his way to the door, exchanging a quick glance at Suleiman, who, he prayed, would get them out of this. Luckily, the young prince picked up his cue perfectly and said to Ezio in a clipped, official voice:
“You know your orders. As I’ve said, there will be a ship waiting for you when you are ready to leave.”
“Grazie, mio principe,” Ezio replied. He left the room then but lingered just outside it, wishing to hear how the conversation would end. What he heard did not convince him that he was out of the woods at all: