They were seated, drinking sharbat, in Ma’Mun’s office in the port. The Turk now turned to a huge iron-bound chest that stood against the far wall, taking from it a map. “This is precious, as all maps are, but it is a special gift from me to you. It is a map of Cyprus drawn up by Piri Reis himself. You will have time there—” He held up his hands as Ezio began to object, as politely as he could. The farther east you traveled, the less urgency there seemed to be about time. “I know! I am aware of your impatience to reach Syria, but the kogge will only take you so far, and we must arrange your onward transport from Larnaka. Fear not. You saved the Anaan. We will be suitably grateful for that act. No one will get you to your destination faster than we.”

Ezio unrolled the map and examined it. It was a fine, detailed work. He thought that if he was indeed obliged to spend time on that island, he knew from clues he had already picked up in his father’s archives that Cyprus was not without interest to the Assassins, in the history of their eternal struggle with the Templars, and that it could well be that there he would find clues that might help him.

He would make good use of his time at Cyprus, but he hoped he would not have to tarry there long, effectively controlled as it was by the Templars, whatever appearances might be to the contrary.

But it was to be a longer journey than anyone might have anticipated. Hardly had they set sail from Crete after their brief landing at Heraklion—a matter of no more than three days—than the winds began to rage again. Southerly this time, fierce and warm still from their long journey out of North Africa. The Qutayah battled them bravely, but by degrees she was beaten back north up the Aegean, fighting her retreat through the tangle of islands of the Dodecanese. It was a week before the storms abated, not before claiming the lives of five mariners and an uncounted number of galley prisoners, who drowned at their oars. At last, the ship put into Chios for a refit. Ezio dried his gear and cleaned his equipment of any rust. The metal of his special weapons had never shown the least sign of tarnish in all the years he had had them. One of the many mysterious properties they had, which Leonardo had attempted to explain to him in vain.

Three precious months had been lost before the Qutaybah at last limped into the harbor of Larnaka. The envoy, who’d lost twenty pounds on the voyage, through seasickness and vomiting, and who’d long since missed his conference, made immediate arrangements to travel back to Athens by the most direct route, traveling overland as far as he could.

Ezio wasted no time in looking up the Larnaka agent, Bekir, whose name Ma’Mun had given him. Bekir was welcoming and even deferential. Ezio Auditore da Firenze. The famous rescuer of ships! He was already the talk of Larnaka. Auditore effendi’s name was on every lip. Ah—the question of passage to Tortosa. The nearest mainland port to Masyaf. In Syria. Yes, yes of course. Arrangements will be placed in hand immediately—this very day! If the effendi will be patient, while the necessary wheels are set in motion . . . The best possible accommodations will be at his disposal . . .

The lodgings arranged for Ezio were indeed splendid—a large, light apartment in a mansion built on a low hill above the town, overlooking it and the crystal sea beyond. But after too much time had passed, his patience grew thin.

“It is the Venetians,” explained the agent. “They tolerate an Ottoman presence here, but only in a civil sense. The military authorities are, regrettably, wary of us. I feel that”—the man lowered his voice—“were it not for the reputation of our sultan, Bayezid, whose authority stretches far and whose power is mighty, we might not be tolerated at all.” He brightened: “Perhaps you could help in your own cause, effendi.”

“In what way?”

“I thought, perhaps, that as a Venetian yourself . . .”

Ezio bit his lip.

But he was not a man to let time hang idly. While he waited, he studied Piri Reis’s map, and something drew him, something half-remembered that he had read, to hire a horse and ride down the coast to Limassol.

Once there, he found himself wandering through the motte and bailey of the deserted castle of Guy de Lusig-nan, built during the Crusades but currently neglected, like some once-useful tool whose owner has forgotten to throw it away. As he walked through its empty, drafty corridors and looked at the wildflowers growing in its courtyards, and the buddleia that clung to its crumbling ramparts, memories—at least, they seemed to be memories—prompted him to explore more deeply, to delve into the bowels of the keep and explore the vaults beneath it.

There, shrouded in crepuscular gloom, he found the desolate and empty remains of what had undoubtedly once been a vast archive. His lonely footfalls echoed in the dark labyrinth of rotting, empty shelving.

The only occupants were scuttling rats, whose eyes glinted suspiciously at him from dark corners as they scurried away, giving him slanting, evil looks. And they could tell him nothing. He made as thorough a search as he could, but not a clue of what had been there remained.

Disheartened, he returned to the sunshine. The presence of a library there reminded him of the library he sought. Something was prompting him though he could not put his finger on what it was. Stubbornly, he remained at the castle two days. Townspeople looked oddly at the dark, grizzled stranger who roamed their ruin.

Then Ezio remembered. Three centuries earlier, Cyprus had been the property of the Templars.

SIX

The Venetian authorities—or someone behind them—were clearly blocking his onward passage. This became clear to him as soon as he had confronted them. Florentines and Venetians might have been rivals, might have looked down on one another, but they shared the same country and the same language.

That cut no ice at all with the governor there. Domenico Garofoli was like a pencil—long, thin, and grey. His black robes, exquisitely cut in the most costly damask, nevertheless hung from him like rags from a scarecrow. The heavy gold rings, set with rubies and pearls, clattered loosely on his bony fingers. His lips were so narrow that you could hardly say they were there at all, and when his mouth was closed, you could not see where it was in his face.

He was, of course, unfailingly polite—Ezio’s action had done much to warm Ottoman-Venetian relations in the region—but he was clearly unwilling to do anything. The situation on the mainland eastward—beyond the coastal towns that clung to the shore of the Mediterranean like the fingertips of a man hanging from a precipice—was fraught with danger. The Ottoman presence in Syria was mighty, and further Ottoman ambitions westward much feared. Any mission not sanctioned by official diplomacy could trigger an international incident of the most dire proportions. That, at least, was Garofoli’s excuse.

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