There was no way Ezio was going to find allies among his countrymen on Crete.
Ezio listened, and listened, sitting politely, with his hands on his knees, as the governor droned on in a desiccated voice. And decided to take matters into his own hands.
That very evening, he made his first reconnaissance of the docks. There were ships aplenty moored there, dhows from Araby and North Africa bumping against Venetian roccafortes, galleys, and caravels. A Dutch fluyt looked promising, and there were men working aboard, loading thick bales of silk under an armed guard. But once Ezio had recognized the cargo, he knew that the fluyt would be homeward bound, not outward, and he needed a ship sailing east.
He wandered farther, keeping to the shadows, a dark form still as lithe and fluid as a cat. But his search yielded him nothing.
Several days and nights passed in reconnoitering. He always took all his essential equipment with him, in case he struck it lucky and could get away there and then. But each foray ended with the same result. Ezio’s notoriety had marked him, and he had to go to some lengths to keep his identity secret; but even when he succeeded, he found that no ship’s master was headed in precisely the direction he wanted, or that they were—for some reason—unwilling to take him, no matter how big the bribe offered. He considered returning to Bekir but resisted this in the end. Bekir already knew too much about his intentions.
The fifth night found him again at the docks. Fewer ships by then, and apart from the Night Watchmen and their crews, who passed seldom, their lanterns swinging on long poles and their swords or truncheons always at the ready, no one else was about. Ezio made his way to the most distant quaysides, where smaller vessels were tied up. The distance to the mainland was not that great. Perhaps if he could . . . acquire . . . some boat of his own, he might be able to sail the seventy-five leagues or so alone.
Cautiously, he set foot on a wooden jetty, its black boards shiny with seawater, along which five small single-sail dhows were ranked, fishing boats from the smell of them, but sturdy, and two of them had all their gear stowed aboard, as far as Ezio could see.
Then the hairs on the back of his neck prickled.
Too late. Before Ezio had time to turn, he was knocked flat on his face by the force of the weight of the man who’d thrown himself on him. Big man, that much Ezio could sense. Very big. He was pinning Ezio down by the size of his body alone; it was like struggling under a massive, muscular eiderdown. Ezio wrenched his right hand free so that he could unleash his hidden-blade, but his wrist was instantly grasped in a grip of iron. He noticed out of the corner of his eye that the hand that held his wrist was cuffed with a manacle from which two broken chain links dangled.
Gathering his strength, Ezio twisted violently and suddenly to his left, digging his left elbow hard into a part of the eiderdown that he hoped was tender. He was fortunate. The man pinioning him grunted in pain and relaxed his hold a fraction. It was enough. Following through, Ezio heaved with his left shoulder and managed to roll the body off his own. Like lightning, he was up on one knee, his left hand on the man’s throat, his right poised to strike.
Ezio’s moment of triumph was short. The man knocked his right hand away, the iron manacle on the man’s left hand, similarly adorned with a couple of chain links, striking Ezio’s wrist painfully despite the protection of the hidden-blade’s harness, and Ezio found his left wrist now caught in another viselike grip, which slowly but inexorably forced his hold on the man’s throat to weaken.
They rolled over, each trying to get the better of the other, putting in blows where they could, but although his assailant was bulky, he was quick, and Ezio’s blade never found a mark. At last they separated and stood, grunting, out of breath, hunched, facing each other. The man was unarmed, but the iron manacles could do a lot of damage used as weapons.
Then, from a short distance away, there was a flash of light from a lantern and a cry.
“The Watch!” said the man. “Down!”
Instinctively, Ezio followed the big man’s lead as they dived into the nearest dhow, flattening themselves in its bottom. Ezio’s mind was racing. In the flash of light from the lantern, he had seen the man’s face and recognized him. How could it be?
But there was no time to worry about that. They could hear the footfalls of the Watch scurrying toward the jetty.
“They saw us, may Allah blind them,” said the man. “Better see to them. You ready?”
Astonished, Ezio nodded mutely in the dark.
“I’ll finish you off once we’ve seen to them,” the man added.
“I wouldn’t bet on it.”
There was no time for any more talk as the five men of the Watch were already upon them. Fortunately, they hesitated before throwing themselves down into the dark well of the boat, where Ezio and his unlikely ally now stood, and contented themselves with standing on the jetty, waving their weapons and yelling threats.
The big man regarded them. “Easy meat,” he said. “But we’d better take them now, before they attract too much attention.”
In reply, Ezio braced himself, crouched, and leapt up to the jetty, catching its edge and hauling himself onto it in one—these days—not-quite-fluid movement. In the moment it took him to catch his breath, three of the Watch were upon him, bludgeoning him to the ground with heavy truncheons, while a fourth man approached, swirling a short but wicked-looking sword. He raised it for the coup de grace, but in that instant he was lifted bodily by the scruff of the neck from behind and hurled, howling, backward and upward, to land with a sickening crash a long way farther down the jetty, where he lay moaning, several of his bones broken.
At the moment that Ezio’s three other attackers were distracted by this, Ezio sprang to his feet and snapped out his hidden-blade, slicing down two of them in two quick, efficient strokes. Meanwhile, the big man was struggling with the lampholder, another giant, who had thrown his pole aside and drawn a massive Damascus, which he waved threateningly over the head of his opponent, who held him in a wrestler’s body grip. Ezio could see that at any moment the thick blade would come down square into the broad back of the big man. He cursed himself for not having strapped on his gun, but it was too late for that. He grabbed a fallen truncheon and, shoving the remaining watchman aside with his elbow, hurled it at the head of the lanternman.
His aim had—thank God!—been true. The truncheon struck the lanternman square between the eyes and he staggered back, falling to his knees. Then Ezio felt a sharp pain in his side. The surviving member of the Watch had drawn a dagger and stabbed him. He sank, and before his world went black, he saw the big man running toward him.