San Gimignano, Italy
January 4, 1500
January 4, 1500
In the morning, Shaun opened the door to his chamber and peered out into the hall. He had awoken to find his head resting beside Badr's on the pillow, so close he felt the scratch of the other man's stubble against his cheek when he lifted up his head. Now as he entered the hall where the wounded lay, he found an equally unexpected sight. The scarred Owlet lay where he'd been set, though now with the addition of the Sparrow's lap as a pillow. Looking at his fellow time traveler, the Harrier felt an instant's pity for the crick his neck would have once he awoke and started moving.
The Brit eased himself down to a sit beside the monastery door, keeping his eyes on the world outside. It was a clear day, the clouds white and sparse, the horses grazing in the field nearby. Already, the monks were up and about, preparing for breakfast and morning prayers. Likewise, the Romani women were making their meals.
He heard the doors open down the hall. Amir, Badr, and the Valezes shuffled into the light, Jameel and Badr using the walls for guiding supports. The Harrier shifted his eyes to the pair he'd regarded before. Both were still asleep, dead to the world. He looked between the Assassins and their sleeping comrades. The group paid them no mind, intent on the food the monks had prepared.
The only one who seemed to notice besides him was Ignacio, whose gaze was so fixed on them that he almost spilled the bowl of porrige he was carrying to Luca all over the Rom Baro's head.
"Inigo!" the man exclaimed. "I know Nico's touted the benefits of porridge for the hair, but I'd rather you slop it into my mouth!"
"You'd rather have something in your mouth, all right," the Brit heard the apothecary murmur. The man stared at her for a long moment before grabbing the porridge and stuffing his mouth, stifling further attempts at conversation.
When the smells of food and chatter finally roused him, Lex sighed as he ran a hand over his eyes. They still felt heavy, gritty, and dry from the tears he'd shed. Someone was good enough to pass him some water. He smeared some of it over his face and drained the rest.
He smiled as Maria passed him a small bowl. The oatmeal was sweetened with honey. The Sparrow's eyes rolled up as his mouth watered, enjoying every spoonful. Scars came around a few minutes later, his stomach demanding the food that it needed.
Hours passed as the able-bodied left and returned bearing the dead they could find from the ruins of Monteriggioni.
The some monks fashioned markers for the dead as others gave the dead Last Rites. After this was done, all set to digging graves. Ignacio and Uberto handed Lex, Shaun, and Amir shovels for them to join in. A soft dirge came from one of the men as he tapped a marker down into the dirt. The others took it up. Even Shaun hummed along for a bit before the work they were at stole his voice.
A long, white sheet was found for Majid when they reached him. Wrapping him carefully, the Coal Tit went to the head of the grave with a small book and began to read. Lowering the others into the ground--men, women, children--the workers bowed their heads silently for a long moment before tossing in handfuls of dirt, one handful each into each grave. They then set to work filling the holes back in with earth. The two Assassins moved along the line, joined by Amir, who had finished with their comrade. They assisted the Romani women after some cautious questioning of propriety, who had prepared their dead as well, placing their tools and possessions with them. Most were sobbing, some giving off warbling eululations that set the Assassins' hair on end, the children with them joining in the sounds of grief.
As the bodies were placed gently in the ground, coins were thrown in with the handfuls of dirt before the Assassins covered these graves as well. When the women left and returned with what seemed like offerings of payment, the men protested, but in vain, finally paying a few coins. After finally taking the items, they studied them for a time.
Amir sniffed and rubbed his nose, clutching the whistle he'd been given to his chest as he trotted up the steps to show Luca. Shaun carefully tied the cloth pouch he'd received around his neck with a string of leather; the woman had said it contained a charm against the Evil Eye. Lex fiddled with the turquoise bracelet that had been slipped around his wrist.
All their minds were on the dead, even as they tended to the living and all prepared for departure. Discussion and rediscussions were had; lunch came in the form of cheese, salted ham, and hunks of bread.
"Do you think we would be able to slip into the city somehow? In separate groups?" Shaun asked. The other men looked at him. Badr frowned. "Maybe even get an audience with our friends the Borgia as ambassadors or something of the sort?" The historian's mind was working a mile a minute, drumming up facts, dates, the alliances of the day, who had rivalries with whom.
"Those damn Crows will be everywhere. Your disguise had better be very convincing." Jameel tore into the ham, too hungry to care what sort of meat it was. "I will not go with you if you plan to assault the place. I'm not fit for fighting yet, and they will recognize my face before we even come within five miles of the Vatican."
"Oh, don't worry, it will be." Shaun jerked his thumb at Lex, ignoring the looks he was given by Jameel and Amir. "The servant boy'll be attending me."
"Servant boy?" Lex asked around a mouthful of food. "Are you serious?"
"How else are we supposed to make the guards let you in with me? Gentle coaxing?"
"You're a dick." Badr chuckled at the Sparrow's words as they finished their meal in relative silence, the rest of the details being roughly hashed out between bites.
While the teams were formed and the mounts and vardos prepared, the Journeyman went to check on his patient one last time before heading on the trek south. He explained their plan as he changed the dressing on the Owlet's wound.
"I'll be heading out first to scout with Shaun, Uberto, and Inigo. You'll be with Jameel and--" He stopped as a hand settled heavily on his shoulder, looking up at the other man. Scars looked closely into the younger Assassin's eyes. One would have had to have been an idiot of grand magnitude not to see the grief in the taciturn man's face.
"Make me a promise, Hakim." Lex looked at him confusedly. "Make me a promise," he repeated, "that you will take care when you go there. Do not be the next one to follow my brother to the grave. You were there, the one to hear his last words, and I am thankful for that." He paused, their eyes never wavering from where they had locked with one another. The hand on his shoulder tightened to an almost painful degree. "And I want to have you fighting at my side when I take revenge for my brother's death."
Lex nodded, returning the squeeze with one of his own on Scars' shoulder.
"I promise. You too, okay? Don't do anything stupid on the road? You're still healing from taking a bullet to your guts." For a minute, the man considered snapping at him. Stupidity isn't my usual way of tackling a difficult situation! The angry glower vanished as quickly as it had come, restrained.
"I will keep to resting and healing as long as you keep your promise and don't do anything foolish." The time traveler nodded and squeezed his hand as it released his shoulder, which now felt like it would bear a hand-shaped bruise for some time.
"I'll hold you to that." The Owlet followed him slowly down the stairs as he went to his mount, where Jameel stood, braced by a crutch. Shaun was already ahorse with Inigo and Uberto, waiting. The Red Owl looked down at him before taking him into his arms. Lex started, but returned the embrace. After a time, they parted, the Sparrow mounting and trotting after the others as they started off.
Husam exchanged looks with the Night Master as he reached him, then glanced to where the dust the horses' hooves had whirled up was still sinking to the ground.
"Will he be safe, Sayyid?" Jameel nodded, scratching thoughtfully at the stubble at his chin and jaw.
"Inshallah. You never know with songbirds, but so far luck has been kind to him. Let's hope it remains thus."
X x X
The ride that day was long and cold, and soon enough all the members of the little band were fed up with it. Especially the Brit, who had been complaining steadily for what seemed to be seven straight hours. It had gotten to the point where even Ignacio a pleading look during a short pause to relieve themselves, asking if the man couldn't be bound and gagged for at least a little while.
Shaun was neither bound nor gagged, however, and continued his muttering until Lex cried, "Eighties sci-fi movies!"
"What?" was chorused from the other three riders.
"Shaun, what's your favorite eighties sci-fi movie?"
"Do you even know what existed in the eighties, Sparrah?" Shaun countered, wiping grit from his glasses with the sleeve of his robe.
"I loved the movie Dune and the series Children of Dune so much I'm on the hunt for the books."
"May the Force be with you then."
"And may you live long and prosper enough to answer my question."
"You'll get a kick out of this, then. My favorite eighites sci-fi series was called Lexx. Yes, with two Xs, like the beer."
"You're sh*tting me." The young man stared at him. "Awww, c'mon, seriously? No. No way."
"Yes, way." Shaun nodded. "There was even a romantic warrior race that had their own battle hymn. Come to think of it, the man who played the last surviving Brunnen-G was named McManus."
For the span of a heartbeat, the young man was silent. Then, "Teach it to me."
Shaun cleared his throat then and, surprising all of them, began to sing in a deep tenor what sounded like utter gibberish:
Yo way yo...
Yo way yo, home va ray,
Yo way rah, Jerhume Brunnen-G!
Lex joined in tentatively, singing the chorus as Shaun continued with:
Way ro way, ro hannah ro,
a way ro rah, jay hannah ray!
Ignacio shared a worried glance with Uberto as he said, "Are you sure they haven't eaten any of the poisonous mushrooms you pointed out earlier, brother?" Uberto shook his head.
"I assume this is normal for the two. Well, I hope so. In any case, you never know with foreigners." The man looked at him then. "But what about you, my friend? You look like a yolk is laying on your shoulders." Ignacio shrugged and looked away, back at the others. Uberto nodded. If he does not wish to speak now, he may do so when the time is right for him. The grizzled monk turned his head toward the other riders, smiling a little and allowing himself to join in their chorus.
Yo way yo! Home va ray!
Yo way rah, Jerhume Brunnen-G!
Yo way rah! Jerhume Brunnen-G!
X x X
Jameel and Husam rode alongside the wagon Luca lay in. The man had wanted to ride on his own, but between his protesting ribs and Amir's glaring pout, he'd been forced to ride. The boy trotted ahead, then back, drawing near to Fajera. The war mare pinned her ears back, but didn't snap, looking almost as annoyed as the Rom Baro felt.
The man shifted himself lower in the wagon, trying to ignore the glances of his band and avoid being stepped on by his children. The elder boys and girls kept nearer to their mother, who sat in the driver's position, the younger ones crawling or scurrying about the back where he was.
Closing his eyes, he settled on turning over the events of earlier that morning.
"Inigo." The young monk had been up before the dawn, doing what had seemed twenty things at once. Parchment was in his hand, a quill as well. Soon enough, pigeons were flying out the door. He went to the candles in the chapel and lit them. "Inigo." Despite his calls, the other seemed deaf. "Inigo!"
"Si, amico?" the younger man asked as if he'd just now only heard his voice. Luca was propped against a wall, his chest aching when he breathed. The monk went to his side, kneeling down. "Are you in pain?"
"Yes, but it's not that." The man gritted his teeth and forced himself to sit higher. "I need you to contact your associates in Rome. I know some people there. Give them a message of our coming."
"I will." The two fell silent, the stillness only broken by Luca's labored breathing. He gasped as he struggled to rise, the mousy little man taking him by the shoulders and lowering him down onto his back once more. "Stay still!"
The first brush of their lips was almost accidental, caused by their closeness and his movement. The next was deliberate, though he was too weak to hold his own head up for long. His eyes shut on the third attempt, their mouths joining as the monk's thin fingers dug their nails into his shoulders, his own hands clutching at the hempen belt at Ignacio's waist.
Their breathing was loud as cannonfire when they finally parted, the little monk wiping the line of spittle from his lips and hurrying off to finish his duties.
X x X
"Looks like somebody's thinking about you," Shaun said as Ignacio hiccuped again. The young man shook his head and took another drink from Uberto's flask.
The journey had taken them over a week, and every one of them was saddle sore and aching. The sight of the Eternal City brought more a sense of relief than awe.
"You have the address where we are supposed to ask for shelter?" Uberto asked once they had passed the guards at the city gates. Lex nodded, pulling the paper they'd torn from Shaun's journal out of his pocket. It was still a shock to hear such a question. Does this mean we could've just Google Mapped our way out?
Ignacio leaned over, looked at the address, and frowned.
"This is in the brothel quarter. Can we really be expected to--Ouch!" Uberto had given him a swift smack upside the head.
"Allies are allies. Told you so when we were still on the battlefield. And if help and a warm shelter are offered, I for one will not refuse." The tall monk stretched the soreness from his back and shoulders as Ignacio muttered under his breath. The group continued on, weaving through the crowded streets, more often than not having to take the reins from Shaun, who kept stopping to gawk at every historic landmark they rode by.
The dwelling they found at the address they'd been given wasn't what the men had expected. The dwelling had no gaudy baubles or ornamentation and none of the characteristic red lights the Englishman and American had heard so much of in their own time. Instead, what they looked upon was a two story brick building that could easily have belonged to a wealthy citizen.
As the men dismounted and hitched their horses to a nearby post, the door to the building swung open. A young woman stepped out and greeted them, "Signores?" She lifted a brow questioningly, though from the way she stood, the slight upturn the historian saw in her lip, almost a crooked smile, she didn't seem surprised that four monks would be standing on the doorstep.
Ignacio was the first to respond, pressing the crumpled paper into her hand, his face red. The woman nodded. "My mistress has been waiting for you. Come inside." The maid led the four weary men into a well-furnished anteroom that reminded Shaun somewhat of the Villa Auditore. He breathed in deeply then, noting the strong scent of perfume. Sniffing again, he noted the odd hints of herbs and something that reminded him of his last cup of Earl Grey.
"Safety and peace be upon you all. Please, feel at home under this roof." Steps were heard before the four men looked up to see their owner of the voice descending the stairs to meet them. "Now, tell me." The woman looked down upon them, a tall, slender figure in a form-fitting green gown. "What can Orianna Cavalcanti do for you?"