But it did not collapse.

Ezio steadied himself and pressed the trigger. With a loud roar, a long tongue of flame instantly shot forth, and he played it across the yards and decks of the three ships riding between him and Piri’s dhow. The fire he’d set sprang up in a moment. Ezio kept pressing the trigger until all the oil in the tank was used up, then, abandoning the weapon, he leapt down onto one of the barges riding beneath the jetty, sprinting its length and vaulting from it to catch hold of the outer gunwale of the first burning ship, hauling himself up onto the deck with his hookblade and there managing to fight off two desperate sailors who came toward him with belaying pins. He scaled the foremast from the burning deck and was just in time to zipline down a yard and hurl himself from it onto the second ship in line before the mast behind him snapped in the fire and collapsed in a chaos of flame onto the deck of the ship he’d just left.

The second ship, too, was burning fiercely, and beginning to sink at the after end. He ran toward the prow, pushing aside a handful of panicking mariners, and ran along its bowsprit to leap from there to the third ship, less damaged than the first two, where the crew was preparing to turn their cannon onto the red dhow, now only twenty yards distant. To Ezio’s alarm, he saw Piri shouting orders to make sail, and his sailors were letting out the sheets frantically, in order to catch the wind and get out of firing range.

Ezio raised his voice and called for aid from the Brotherhood, but when he looked around, he saw that a number of his fellow Assassins had already followed his perilous route and were right behind him, ready to pounce.

Between them, they set on the gun crews, and a fierce and bloody skirmish followed, leaving several Assassins and all the mariners on the blockade ship dead. On the red dhow, Piri had raised an arm to halt operations and was bellowing to Ezio to make haste though his voice was lost in the tumult over the cannon.

But at last, Ezio stood at the gunwale of the blockade ship. He used his crossbow to fire a line over to the dhow, which Piri’s crew secured, then he ziplined across the choppy water.

Behind him, the surviving Assassins waved their farewell before taking to the doomed ship’s boats and making for the shore.

Ezio saluted back, catching his breath and wheezing a little. He flexed his joints, which were just a little stiff. Then he was surrounded by a handful of Piri’s men, who checked him over for wounds and conducted him to the wheelhouse, where Piri stood before the now-fully-unfurled foresail.

“You took your time,” said Piri Reis with a broad grin that was not unmixed with concern.

“Yes. Sorry for the delay.”

The men at the prow were already hauling up the anchors, and, moments later, the dhow picked up the wind and made its way, gingerly but unimpeded, past rows of burning blockade ships—the wind that carried them forward had also seen to it that the fire started by Ezio had spread, and the ships had been anchored too close together for safety.

“Lucky I was upwind of that lot,” Piri said. “But I expect you noticed that from the beginning.”

“Naturally,” Ezio said.

“Well,” said Piri, as the red dhow eased out of the Horn and into the Bosphorus, steering a southbound course. “This should be an interesting trip.”

PART II

The sounds I heard brought back into my mind

the same impression that we often get

when organs play, accompanying a voice.

Now, yes, we hear the words; now, no we don’t.

—DANTE , PURGATORIO

FIFTY-EIGHT

At Mersin, Ezio took his leave of the Turkish admiral. The sun sparkled on the sea.

“May Allah protect you, my friend,” said the seafarer.

“My thanks, Piri Reis.”

“I will await your return here. But I cannot stay forever.”

“I know.”

“Will you not take some of my men with you?”

“No—it is best that I travel alone.”

“Then at least allow me to arrange a horse for you. You will travel faster, and more safely.”

“I will be grateful for that.”

“You are a brave man, Ezio Auditore, and a worthy follower of the great Mentor, Altaïr.”

“You do me too much honor.” Ezio looked inland, his face set. “If I have not returned within two courses of the moon . . .”

Piri Reis nodded, gravely. “Go with whichever God guides you,” he said, as they shook hands in farewell.

The two-week voyage was followed by a further two-week trek north, first across the Taurus Mountains, then, after breaking his journey at Nigde, between the Taurus and the Melendiz ranges, on north again through the low brown hills to Derinkuyu, where Ezio knew Manuel Palaiologos’s rebel army was massing.

He broke his journey again in the grim little village of Nadarim, within sight of the city that was his goal. The foulness of the place contrasted with the beautiful countryside in which it was situated. Few people were about, as it was just before dawn, and the few who were eyed Ezio warily as he rode into the central square, which was flanked on one side by a church.

There was no sign of any military activity, and Ezio, after having stabled his horse, decided to scale the church’s bell tower, to get a better view of Derinkuyu itself.

He peered through the lightening sky with eagle eyes, scanning the low buildings that comprised the not-far-distant city, a few spires piercing its profile. But there was no obvious sign of any garrison there either.

But, as he knew, there could be a reason for that.

He descended again. The square was deserted, and Ezio was immediately on his guard. His intention had been to ride on, but now he wondered if it would be safe to retrieve his horse. His suspicions mounted as he spied a figure lurking in the shadows of the neglected church walls. He decided to approach.

As he did so, the figure spun round to face him, brandishing a dagger. It was a young woman. Tough, wiry, tanned. Almost feral.

“Not so close, adi herif!” she growled.

Ezio raised his hands. “Who are you calling a pig?” he asked, calmly. He saw doubt flicker in her eyes.

“Who are you? One of Manuel’s scum?”

“Easy, now. Tarik sent me.”

The girl hesitated, then lowered her blade. “Who are you?”

“Auditore, Ezio.”

She relaxed some more. “We had word from the young prince,” she said. “As we had news of Tarik’s end. A bad business, and just when he was so close. I am Dilara,” she added. “Tarik’s principal agent here. Why have they only sent you? Why not more? Did they not get my reports in Kostantiniyye?”

Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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