Coming into port in Venice, Italy
I will now give you a brief description of a scintillating conversation I had about an hour ago with one of the crewmen.
"Row, row, row your boat, gently down the Adriatic," I said to him.
"It's not a ship you row, cazzo," he replied.
Clearly my scathing wit had become tiresome.
Shaun shut the journal and tucked it safely away in his bag. This he then kept a grip on after swinging it over both his shoulders and heading up into the air again. So, this was La Republica Serenissima, Venezia.
"Did various somethings die while we were at sea?" asked the Englishman, stumbling a bit as the ship bumped against the moorings and dropped anchor.
"Ah, canals." Lex was beside him, shaking his head and looking up at him with a wry sort of look. "Don't you just love 'em?" The men leaned against the rail as the little Coal Tit hopped onto it and chirped. The docks were crawling with guards, both Lion Cub and Crow. Fortunately, they did not pay the boat any heed, it being just one of many. Overhead, a murder of crows flew by.
Lex shuddered as the gangplank was lowered, the crew beginning to unload their cargo. Amir trotted down and waved them on. The Sparrow was borne down by the flow of men, left to stand and stare at the Cubs as his feet touched the solid stone of the dock, breathing quickening. One of the men turned toward him and stared back through the eye-holes for his helm.
"What're you looking at, boy? Never seen a man in armor?" The young man opened his mouth; no sound came out but a whoosh of air. "Stop gawking and keep moving, peasant, or I'll have your eyes for my soup!"
"Not recommended, signore." The Cub looked up, Lex stumbling as Shaun took hold of his arm. "One does not simply eat this boy's eyes. No telling where he's been. Not even I know. And would any of your friends want to look at you with that helm off should you catch some dreadful malady?"
"I'll have you catch some dreadful malady, poxy Roman! Be off and take your dumb Turk with you!" Shaun did as bidden, dragging the Sparrow away. Putting his arm around the younger man, the Brit set a course after Amir, who was hopping up and down and calling, "This way, this way, this way!"
The two followed him, winding their way through streets that were almost familiar to both men, if more choked with men in armor than either remembered. Lex kept his head lowered, gripping Shaun's waist with trembling fingers.
"Easy now, mate," the taller man whispered as they came to a square, an entire cluster of guards making their rounds before them. "Just make like the penguins and smile and nod." He nodded to the guards as they went by, smiling himself, the marching men paying him absolutely no mind. Once they were beyond the pair, they skittered after Amir, hurrying through the door of the building and shutting it behind them.
Inside, the air smelled of herbs and soaps and food somewhere. Lex was immediately struck with a vicious case of deja vu. Of course you'd have deja vu. You spent three months of your life here.
Once their eyes adjusted to the dust and light spilling in from the back and front windows, the time travelers saw Amir was cheeping atop a man sprawled on the floor. His black hair was streaked with white, gray hair just made out by the pair, traced along the upper side of his lower jaw near his ears, beneath his chin, on his upper lip, a sharp contrast with his tan skin and the dark brown eye, the other a cloudy greenish color.
"You only came for the pancakes, didn't you?" asked the Spaniard, grinning.
"No, I came for Brother and the English one to eat the bacon and so they can see how you're stealing my hair," Amir chirped.
"Nico?" The apothecary turned her head, blinking at the Sparrow with her good left eye. "What the ******** happened to your eye?"
"Hippocrates called it glaucoma; Sams-ad-din called it migraine of the eye. I call it a pain in my a**." The apothecary stood with the Sparrow's help and clasped him tightly around the back. "Welcome back, my friend. I trust you came for the food and not my medicines."
"Food sounds great, but--"
"We're sort of on a mission," Shaun finished for him. Nico turned her head his way, frowning. "Well, don't look at me like I'm the five-hundred-pound elephant in the room."
"It would be nice if the five-hundred-pound elephant in my room would bend down so I could see his great wrinkly face clearly." The small woman folded her arms and raised both brows. Shaun sighed and crouched. "Ah, a white elephant. I've never heard of one with red hair, though."
"Comes with the territory. If you're going to stand out, stand our spectacularly."
"Better in these times to be hidden in plain sight, amico."
"So as not to harm any innocents?"
"So as not to compromise the Brotherhood. Of which I and my wife--" Nico stopped as the door was opened. A woman stood there in the door. She was dressed plainly in a white shirt with brown bodice and green skirt, her graying brown hair, touched with white in places, hanging down her back in a braid, peeking out from beneath the scarf that covered it at the back and the front. A babe was nestled in her arms, a basket on the one. She was only a little heavier than Lex remembered.
The woman thrust the babe into Amir's arms, approaching Nico, who the Englishman now saw was clad in shades of brown and white as well: a sandy-cream colored shirt beneath a brown vest, laced and belted shut, khaki colored pants fitted snugly into scuffed, worn brown leather boots. We look severely overdressed.
"Wer ist der Mann? Warum ist er hier?"
"Maria, Frau, lass mich--"
"Wir wissen nichts--"
"Maria, novia, querida, amor de mi vida, por favor, dejame decir que--"
"Nein, du bist nicht--"
The two continued to cut one another off as Shaun and Lex looked over at the young woman who'd come in after Maria, shaking her head, arms folded over her ample chest. She looked like the Maria Lex remembered, but for the darker skin and finer boned features, cheek bones a little higher, eyes a little more narrow. The woman looked at them in return, giving a smile that said, "Yes, this is normal."
Shaun looked down as Amir put the baby in his arms. The little swaddled thing looked back at him with large brown eyes and smiled a smile only a baby could, nuzzling against his chest. The man let out a less than dignified squeal as the little one began to root against his chest for something she was certain should be there, giving him a confused pet when nothing was produced.
"Cheep!" The squeal and cheep combination broke the two out of their moment. "Brother came for pancakes, Maria!" The gray-haired woman looked at the young, black-and-white-haired one, then at his brother.
"Passero?" He was dressed the same as he'd been when he'd left in plain Assassin robes of white with red here and there, the hood down.
"In the flesh." Lex smiled and stepped over to her as she went toward him, folding him in her arms and kissing his cheeks.
"Ach, what have they been feeding you? Worms?"
"This will never do! But who's this with you?"
"I'm Shaun Hastings and I would like assistance! Assistance if you would be so kind," cried the Brit, trying to detach the baby from his gray sweater-vest. "I don't have what you want, you silly thing! Let go!"
"Forgive her, messire," the younger woman laughed. "She's not used to someone who doesn't have a teat that she can suckle." Taking the little one into her arms, she bared her breast and took a seat to let her at her meal. Shaun's face turned a shade darker than his hair before he looked away. Lex tilted his head as he looked from Maria to the woman and back again twice.
"Nadya?" The woman looked up as her name was said. She frowned at the young man. A small, breathless laugh escaped him. "Wow. The last time I saw you, you were tiny and crawling over my face and pulling my hair."
"Is this the Sparrow I've heard so much of?" she asked the two women, who nodded. She looked back at Lex. "Odd. I thought you'd be..."
"Taller?" Lex suggested.
She shook her head. "Older." The young man looked at the two old people who not so long ago for him had been young and racing to Monteriggioni beside him, a soundless sigh leaving him.
"Tis a long story on that account, Herz," said Maria. The older woman looked at the rich man standing before her, dressed in his grays, whites, and blacks. "You said your name was...?"
"Shaun. Shaun Hastings. And I feel very overdressed here. I mean, very overdressed."
"I think I can find you some clothing, signore." A young man stood in the doorway. He and the young woman beside him were wearing a pair of tunics--his cream and hers light blue--and brown pants and shoes that reached to their ankles. The girl's wrist glinted with a copper braclet. The man, by contrast, had leather around both his own. A scarf covered the girl's hair, similar to her mother's, while the young man wore a bandana tied around his head. His features were dark, dark skin and dark hair, seeming to take after Nico where the girl looked more northern European like her German mother, lighter skinned and with pale rather than dark brown or black hair.
Between the girl and the other side of the door was a man as tall as Shaun, dressed much like Nico in browns and and greens, sporting dark, curly hair and brown eyes with a dark goatee covering his chin. He smiled and went to his wife, wrapping his arms around them as they conversed quietly.
The Sparrow looked at the two others as they went to Nico and Maria, hugging them and kissing their cheeks.
"Alessio," Nico paused, looking at Shaun.
"Shaun," he supplied.
"Alessio, Nino, these are our other children. Ricardo and little Rawney."
"I'm not that little, Papa," the girl moaned before the apothecary's words registered with her. "Alessio?"
"Il passero?" Her brother grinned as he stepped forward, clasping the two men's arms. "Bienvenutto, amici." Lex nodded, feeling like his tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth. Other children? When did this happen? Why are they so excited to see me?
"Grazie," he heard Shaun say as the man who'd gone to Nadya turned to Nico.
"What did you find out, Daniele?" asked the apothecary.
"The Templars are swarming the harbor, especially those Beaks in Black, as you call them. If the Red Owl is truly being sent to the port--"
"What did you say about the Red Owl?" Lex moved forward, finding his voice instantly. The man looked down at him snidely.
"What does it matter to you, ragazzo?" The next moment the man found a hidden blade nearly coring his Adam's apple.
"Alessio!" the apothecary and his wife shouted in one voice as Lex snarled, "The last person to talk to me like that didn't live very long. Now repeat what you said about Jameel, or so help me--" The Sparrow flailed as Shaun lifted him bodily, kicking at the air. "Let go of me you ******** Li--" Dropping him down, the Brit grasped him by the shirt and held him on his toes, choking off his words with a sharp, "Listen to me!"
Shaun took in a harsh breath and asked in a more even tone, "Do you remember Castlevania? The original Castlevania?" Lex nodded stiffly. "What did its levels make you do?"
"Really? Very good. Put that same strategy to use in this instance and keep your mouth shut and blades away while doing so!" He released him with a light push. "Please, forgive him. I think it's been a long day, personally, but that's not the point of the matter here, since that point is he's being a little t**t. When are the Templars getting here with their cargo?"
Daniele rubbed his throat, staring at Lex before answering, "Three, four days. We will have time to prepare. Signore da Vinci--"
A screech not unlike that of a pterodactyl shook the room and made the little girl scream as well.
"Shaun! Stop fangasming!" Amir shouted. "You're scaring the baby!" Turning to the two older Assassins, he said with an annoyed cheep, "Can I take them upstairs to the rooms?" Taking silence as assent, he took the two up the stairs to the nearest free room.
X x X
Shaun looked up as their door was opened. The younger girl, Rawney, stepped into the room, bearing a tray that she set at the foot of the bed atop the trunk there, avoiding setting it on Lex, who'd sprawled onto the bed as soon as they'd entered. Bread and dried sausage were the gifts she'd brought them.
"Mother asks if there is something you wish, signores." The Brit shook his head and bit a hunk from the bread and meat both. Shaun blinked, pushing his glasses up higher as he noticed her staring at his hair.
"No," he said, swallowing a mouthful of what tasted like salami, "my head's not on fire." When she looked at him disbelievingly, he added, "Go on, have a feel." Rawney smiled shyly and ruffled the stranger's spiky hair, which felt unexpectedly soft.
"Well, as strange as your fire-hair is to me, it must be stranger for you that we have two mothers."
"Two mothers?" Shaun tilted his head. The pieces clicked half a second later. Oh. Right then. "No, not really. Happens a lot where we come from."
"Oh, yeah." And so the questions began.
X x X
"I can't believe this is the man our mothers spoke so highly of." Shaun stalled as he heard Nadya, leaning against the wall and peering around the corner into the room.
"Well, maybe your husband shouldn't have acted the boar and spoken to our guest so," Ricardo suggested, shooting a look at Daniele, who wrinkled his nose.
"Oh, you'd like it if the boy stuck his blade through my apple and roasted it over a spit, eh?"
"Possibly. Your voice grates sometimes. It's a surprise my sister even has anything to give you, your cries are so--" The man broke off with a grin at the smoldering glare the man's wife threw him. "But you know how they are as well, sweet sister, so no need for me to go on."
Nadya sighed. "In all the tales, he was a charming young man. Why do you think he broke our hospitality in such a way? Even if he did apologise the other day to Mother when she came with some broth for him, he can't really be--"
"At all preoccupied with the fact that his lover has been in the enemy's clutches for a year?" The apothecary's brood looked up at Shaun as he moved into the doorway. "Of course not. I'm sure you wouldn't be, right, Nadya, if your husband was held by a bunch of drug addicts who like to dress up as Plague doctors?"
"I wouldn't be!" Ricardo said, to which his sister responded by punching him in the arm. "Ow!"
"Even if," said Daniele, "he still has no right." Shaun pursed his lips, rubbing his chin, which had begun to show some healthy red stubble even then, and nodded.
"Of course, of course. I mean, naturally, no man would ever forget himself if he learned that news and had been given the news a few days earlier that his mother had been murdered by our enemies. Y'know, I can't think of that having any adverse effects on the psyche myself, so you must have the right of it."
The others were silent as he finished, the barbs sinking deep. They looked at one another, at him, until finally Daniele spoke again.
"Forgive me, my friend. Forgive us, really. I...we..."
"Nope." Shaun held up his hands. "I'm not the one you're supposed to say this to." He walked off, leaving them to their decision.
Lex was sitting at the front table when Daniele found him a little while later, grinding up measures of herbs and putting them into pouches.
The man cleared his throat. The Sparrow looked up and turned to face him, getting to his feet.
"Si?" His voice was hoarse from disuse. The taller man sighed.
"Forgive me for the other day, signore. I didn't know..." He trailed off as the smaller man raised a hand and set it on his arm.
"Fratello, non c'è niente da perdonare."
X x X
Leonardo smiled as the group entered his shop, hugging the small boy who came in yelling "CHEEPCHEEPCHEEPCHEEP!" to his chest.
"It seems my little muse has returned and brought company!" The aging artist smiled, his hair having turned a silvery shade of its former blonde. "Daniele has told me of your plan. I believe I may know a way to assist you. My things are to be brought to the same harbor tomorrow for my voyage. Perhaps you might act as my helpers."
"How're we going to sneak in without being noticed?" Lex asked. "It's not like we don't stand out. At least, Shaun stands out with his hair."
"Hmm." The man chuckled. "You won't stand out, amico. Not if you're in disguise."
Somewhere in the Adriatic
The black crates shifted in the hold as the boat creaked and groaned, the man inside swearing in his native tongue as his head jarred yet again on the corner. The curses had been loud and numerous for several hours. Head pounding, he yelled through the thin spaces between the slats that allowed him air, "I'll kill you all, I swear it! You're all dead! Dead!"
Pain followed as the crate was opened, light lancing into his eyes. He saw a beaked face for an instant before the Crow cracked him over the head with the butt of his weapon. The Assassin slumped against the wood as the lid was snapped shut.