“Not in this life, Ahmet,” Ezio replied, evenly.
Ahmet snorted impatiently and made to leave. Ezio didn’t attempt to stop him. At the door, the prince turned to him once more. “Bring the keys to the Galata Tower,” he said. “Do this, and Sofia Sartor will be spared.” He paused. “And do not delay, Ezio. My brother’s army will be here before too long. When it arrives, everything will change. And I need to be ready for that.”
With that, Ahmet left. Ezio watched him go, signaling to his men not to hinder him.
His thoughts were interrupted by a polite cough behind him. He turned—and saw Prince Suleiman standing before him.
“How long have you been here?” he demanded.
“Long enough. Behind that arras. I heard your conversation. But then, I’ve had my dear uncle followed closely ever since he returned from his little trip abroad. In fact, I’ve been keeping an eye on him ever since he tried to have me killed—an attempt you so usefully foiled with your lute shard.” He paused. “Nevertheless, I never expected to hear . . . all this.”
“And what do you think?”
Suleiman pondered a moment before replying. Then he said, with a sigh, “He is a sincere man; but this Templar fantasy of his is dangerous. It flies in the face of reality.” He paused. “Look, Ezio. I have not lived long, but I have lived long enough to know that the world is a tapestry of many colors and patterns. A just leader would celebrate this, not seek to unravel it.”
“He fears the disorder that comes from differences.”
“That is why we make laws to live by—a kanun that applies to all in equal measure.”
They were interrupted by the arrival of a patrol of Janissary guards the Assassins outside had let pass, since this cohort was loyal to Suleiman. But when their lieutenant saw Ezio, he drew his scimitar.
“Stand back, my prens!” said the officer, making to arrest Ezio.
“Hold, soldier,” said Suleiman. “This man is not our enemy.”
The lieutenant wavered for a moment, then ordered his men out, muttering an apology.
Suleiman and Ezio smiled at one another.
“We have come a long way since that first voyage,” said Suleiman.
“I was thinking, what a challenge it would be, to have a son like you.”
“You are not dead yet, friend. Perhaps you will yet have a son worthy of you.”
Suleiman had started to take his leave when a thought struck him. “Ezio, I know you will be under extreme pressure, but—spare my uncle, if you can.”
“Would your father?”
Suleiman did not hesitate. “I hadn’t thought about that—but, no.”
Ezio made his way to the Istanbul Assassins’ headquarters at all possible speed. Once there, he took the four keys he’d already retrieved in the city and added the one he’d taken from Manuel in Derinkuyu to their number. Packing them safely in a shoulder satchel, he slung it round him. He strapped his hookblade to his right wrist and his pistol to his left, and, in case a quick escape from the top of the Tower should prove necessary, placed Leonardo’s parachute in a backpack.
But before he went to the Tower, there was a quick duty he had to perform. He hastened to the Galata cemetery, where Yusuf’s body had already been taken for burial. It was Dogan who had taken over as acting captain of the Istanbul Assassins, and he stepped forward to greet Ezio.
“Mentor,” said Irini, coming up in her turn to salute him.
Ezio addressed them briefly, standing by the coffin. “Now should be a time for remembrance and mourning, I know. But our enemies do not permit us that luxury.” He turned to Dogan. “I know that Yusuf thought highly of you, and I find no reason to question his judgment. Do you have it in your heart to lead these men and women, and to maintain the dignity of our Brotherhood, as Yusuf did with such passion?”
“It would be an honor,” Dogan replied.
“As it will continue to be an honor to work for our cause, and to support the Creed,” said Evraniki, who stood beside him.
“Bene,” said Ezio. “I am glad.” He stepped back and looked over the buildings that surrounded the cemetery, to where the Galata Tower stood. “Our enemy is close,” he continued. “When the obsequies are done, take up your positions around the Tower and there await my command.”
He hurried away. The sooner Sofia was safe, the better.
He came upon Ahmet, flanked by a single guard, on a rampart near the Tower’s foot.
“Where is she?” he demanded.
Ahmet smiled that irritating smile of his, and replied. “I admire you, Ezio; but your bloodlust makes it hard for me to call you a friend.”
“Bloodlust? That is a strange insult, coming from the man who ordered an attack on his own nephew.”
Ahmet lost some of his sangfroid. “He was to be kidnapped, Assassin; not killed.”
“I see. Kidnapped by the Byzantines, so that his uncle could rescue him, and be heralded a hero. Was that the plan?”
Ahmet shrugged. “More or less.”
Then he nodded. At once half a dozen Templar soldiers appeared from nowhere and surrounded Ezio.
“Now, Messer Auditore—the keys, if you please.”
Ahmet extended his hand.
But Ezio made a signal of his own. Behind the semicircle of Templars, a larger number of Assassins materialized, scimitars in their hands. “The girl first,” said Ezio in a cold voice.
Ahmet chuckled. “She’s all yours.”
He made a gesture skyward. Ezio followed the direction of his arm and saw, atop the tower, a woman standing next to a guard, who was clearly poised to throw her over the edge. The woman was wearing a green dress, but her head was covered in a burlap sack. She was bound hand and foot.
“Sofia!” Ezio gasped involuntarily.
“Tell your men to back off!” snapped Ahmet.
Fuming, Ezio signaled the Assassins to do so. Then he threw Ahmet the satchel containing the keys. He caught it adroitly and checked its contents. Then he grinned. “As I said, she’s all yours!”
With that, he disappeared from the rampart, his men following. He boarded a waiting carriage, which sped off through the city, heading toward the North Gate.
Ezio had no time to watch him go. He took a running jump at the Tower and began his ascent.
Anxiety and anger speeded him, and in a matter of minutes he was on the topmost battlement, at the side of the woman. The guard backed away, toward the stairway which led downward.