January 14, 1500
January 14, 1500
"A hot drink would be very nice, thanks," said Shaun straight away. The other three men looked at him. "Wot? I'm British. If I don't have tea when it's available, I will well and truly perish."
"And suddenly Shaun has become very rhymey," Uberto muttered.
"Which means shut the hell up, you stupid limey," Lex added, earning himself an elbow in the ribs from Ignacio. The woman laughed softly as she came forward the rest of the way to meet them. Her long black hair hung free to her shoulder blades, her eyes a bright shade of amber.
"Please, don't treat him too harshly. What's mine is yours, and you must be exhausted from your long journey." The men found themselves seats as the woman took her own. The maid they'd seen before left and returned with another young woman, bearing a steaming pot of coffee, cups, a small bowl of what looked to be sugar, and a tray of fine cuts of meat.
"Can you tell us of some of the goings on in Rome?" asked Uberto as they ate.
"Cesare Borgia and his sister have taken hostage Caterina Sforza." Orianna held up her arm, giving a soft whistle. A brown ball flew through the air to land upon it, revealing itself to be a small owl with a missive attached to its leg. "Grazie, Uva." She held up the small piece of parchment, the letter on it more a note than anything else. "I was given this by our new leader, Niccolo Machiavelli. He states that before we make any strikes against the Borgia, we should amplify our forces. While you have traveled here, he and Ezio have already begun the work, allying with courtesans such as myself, thieves, and mercenaries."
"Machiavelli?" Shaun whispered. "The Machiavelli?"
"No, the other one," said Lex, rolling his eyes as he popped yet another sugar cube into his mouth. Ignacio reached over to confiscate the bowl, but received a sharp rap on the knuckles for his pains.
"Oh, well, look who's made of snark today," the Brit countered, stealing a cube and chomping down on it.
"Once all our forces have gathered," Orianna continued, taking the bowl from the pair, "we may work to free our captured comrade and defeat the Borgia."
"About how long do you think that will take, Signora Cavalcanti?" asked the Bear.
"It could take as long as a year, or as short a time as a few months, signore. The length of time I cannot say."
"Uberto." She nodded. "If you could, could you tell me any tidings? It's difficult to hear news of our allies outside of Rome with all the Borgia about." The large monk nodded and began his tale as Orianna gave a signal to another girl who'd appeared when the young men weren't looking. Nodding to them, she led them up the stairs to the second floor and around the landing to their rooms.
When the monk finished his story, Orianna sighed. "Blood and tears. How could I expect things to be different? But thanks to the Almighty, you and most of the others are safe." She crossed herself. "I have heard strange rumors even here about these Crow men, as you call them, especially concerning the poisons used by these bastards." Her face darkened as she seemed to spit the last word. "Poisons which are supposed to tear even the strongest men's minds asunder. Rome has never been a very friendly place, Uberto, but during these last months things become so bad that even the snake-filled deserts of Libya can be considered a safe place in comparison to the Eternal City."
She cleared her throat and continued, "If it is to your liking, you may stay here in my home. If you consider a courtesan's dwellings suitable." Uberto laughed heartily at that.
"More than suitable, signora. I fear my young friend may have his head spinning from the finery."
The woman smiled. "Please, I am Rina to my friends." A little mouse and a big bear. What strange guests I have this time.
X x X
"What are you doing?" Shaun squinted at his companion in the darkness and could've sworn his eyes were glowing golden. Lex had one leg on the windowsill, the other still on the floor, one hand reaching up toward the eaves of the building.
"A night run."
"Love, it's..." Shaun squinted at the face of his watch, trying to make out the hands. "Too bloody dark to even see what time it is. Why are you doing this?" For an instant, the Sparrow's face fell. "You want to get caught, is that it? Or what's your reasoning behind this bit of insanity?"
"Look, don't worry, Mr. Suddenly-I'm-a-Rafiq. I know the rules. I investigate the surrounds, I keep a low profile, and if it gets too hot and I lead people back here, the Bureau door will be locked."
Shaun sighed and leaned his face into his hands. Lifting his head from them, he found the other had disappeared, slipping silently away into the night.
The buildings of Rome were practically stacked one atop the other. It was almost a breeze, apart from the tiled roofs, to traverse from the first to the next and so on. Looking up as a shadow fell across his running form, the Sparrow saw a large wooden structure rising from the city, seeming almost conspicuously out of place with the rest of the area. Atop the tower fluttered a penant with the a family crest emblazoned upon it: a red bull on a yellow and green field, bordered on all sides by what looked from his vantage point below like tiny green flames.
Unthinking, he began to climb. The structure seemed hastily built, with enough gaps in the woodwork for hand and footholds aplenty. Splinters dug into his fingertips as he hoisted himself onto the platform where a guard in the same livery as the soldiers from Monteriggioni stood staring out into space. Ducking down as the man passed, he glanced at his surroundings. Below, he saw a large pile of hay, more than likely leftover from the construction. Slipping up behind the man, he quickly padded over and took hold of his legs. The yawn the man had been attempting to make transformed into a screech as he tumbled and landed in the straw.
The Assassin watched as a few more guards came to investigate, then took a look around. He saw a sea of rooftops, the distant haze of what could only be the Coloseum's form in the distance, the pitched stone roof of the Pantheon... An arrow winging its way into the roof above his head broke him away from sight-seeing.
Another nicked his shoulder as it flew up at him. Staggering back, the Sparrow looked about and grabbed the half-guttering torch from the sconce it stood in. Setting fire to the fletches of the arrows, he watched the roof and walls catch before hurling himself out into the night and landing in the hay below. Springing out, he was met with sword thrusts and axe slashes.
X x X
Orianna awoke from her sleep with an uneasy feeling weighing heavily on her shoulders. She hadn't had such dreams in a long time. She closed her eyes a moment and again saw herself frozen upon the windowsill, too afraid to make a single move. She stood and went to the window of her room then, the clamor of the bells about the city reaching her ears.
With swift strides, she went to her wardrobe and took a small dagger from the box therein, tucking it within the folds of her dress. Whistling to Uva, she exited the room, the little owl settling on her shoulder as she strode to the rooms that had been prepared for her guests.
Giving a sign to her maids to calm the two girls, who stood frightened and wide eyed, whispering of attacks and raids and every other possible mishap under the sun, she knocked on the door to the monks' chamber.
"What's the matter?" Inigo asked as he opened the door, his tongue still slurred with sleep, curls falling into his eyes.
"Utter balls!" was heard from the other room. Orianna knocked there loudly as well and entered. Before she could open her mouth to say a word, she spied the open window and that the British man was quite alone.
"Is your friend always of such hasty temperament, Harrier?" She shook her head. He could have at least waited for me to set up a safe meeting with our allies. "No matter. Since the damage has been done, would you mind assisting me with some preparations? Things might develop to be less peaceful than now."
"Oh, please, tell me these preparations involve me taking Lex and strangling him," Shaun whined as he followed the woman out.
X x X
The Sparrow slipped through the crowd of spectators in the plaza before the Pantheon, stumbling and almost crashing into a sword-swallower. The man withdrew the blade from his throat easily, grasping him by the arm and holding him up. The crowd murmured as the man drew him to one side, looking at him closely as he heard a weak, "Sastimos."
"Whose are you?" he replied, leaning the injured young man against the wall. Several cuts layered the Assassin's skin, his hands shaking. Lex ran his tongue over his split lips, stammering, "Orianna's. Luca's. The Red Owl's." He forced himself to his feet as the man began to pull him along, guards appearing on the other side of the sea of heads before them.
"There he is!"
"Go, go now!" Lex staggered into a run as the man shoved him, hurrying on fast as his legs could carry him.
The rest of the words were lost to him as he grasped the end of a tavern sign, scraping his belly against the tiles as he rolled onto the roof. Up on his feet again, he headed for the tall structure of the Coloseum. His heart was pounding up in his ears, leaving him only enough sense to take a glance behind as he heard hooves and feet on the tiles. He picked up the pace, wheezing, chest aching as he threw himself up, high as he could. Scrabbling with his fingers, he could nothing; his nails tore, the tips of his fingers skinned on the stone before he found a ledge and began to climb. A few screams were heard as some of the men attempting to follow lost their holds as well. The Sparrow moved faster, hearing the grunts and curses of those who still clung on enough to keep up behind him.
Lex panted as he reached the top of the Coloseum's walls and drew out his throwing knives, shimmying to the edge and sending them down onto his pursuers. The bodies hit the ground with dull thuds. He stopped when no more faces appeared, looking around for further signs of attackers. The Sparrow grunted as his foot suddenly went from under him, eyes widening as he was hauled backward. He clawed at the mossy surface, but found nothing to grip, letting out a yell as he was tossed downward. The breath left him as he bounced off a lower wall, falling further and further. For an instant, darkness took him. Then the guard was coming down after him.
X x X
"Are you ready?" Shaun asked, his hand on the doorknob. The monks already had their items prepared. Rina's had been sorted through as well, the woman gathering some vials together and giving him a necklace containing what looked like little red and blue capsels. Red for analgesic, blue for vomit, he reminded himself. The Harrier looked at the silver pendant again. I like the red one more. Who'd rather not feel pain than ruin their new shoes?
As they opened the door to the building and made to step into the street, prepared to face the worst, all four jumped back, a shadowy shape landing in front of them, four eyes aglow. It took Shaun a minute to realize that it was two shape and not one, and even longer to see that one set was golden, the other purple. Stepping back further, the shape moved in, materializing into an brown-cloaked man, dressed beneath in a yellow doublet, brown belt and boots, and what looked to the Brit to be orange leather leggings and a matching undershirt.
"Signora Cavalcanti," the man greeted, his eyes returning to a slightly-more-normal shade of purple. "I believe this is yours." He nudged his cloak aside, revealing the Sparrow held beneath his arms like some kind of parcel. The Journeyman's eyes, too, had become their normal brown.
"So formal tonight, Gilberto," the woman responded, her arms folded across her chest. "I thought we had gone passed this."
"I didn't know you'd already introduced yourself to your guests, Rina."
"Where was he?" Ubero, Shaun, and Orianna interrupted as Ignacio went to gather some supplies from the room they'd left.
"I was on my way to pay some bills for my inn when one of my thieves saw him staggering out of the Coloseum, looking bloodier than if he'd just participated in a Passion play." La Volpe looked down his aquiline nose at the woman as she snorted. "What? You don't believe I could scoop this little mite up and take him along on a ride?"
"I never thought I'd hear of you paying bills."
"Well, you must know who I pay them to." He set the Sparrow down. "And if you'll excuse me, I must return on my errand." He went to the door, pausing and looking back at Lex. The thief gave the bedraggled young Assassin a wink as he took hold of the door and shut it behind him. "Ciao, bello passero."
The room grew deadly silent as the three turned to look at him. Lex held up his hands as if to ward off whatever was coming toward him next.
"I can explain."
"Vaffanculo a tu, il tuo padre, e' la tua madre!" Uberto and Shaun jumped. Orianna took a few deep breaths, supressing the rest of the swears that threatened to leave her tongue. "Lex, or Passero, or whatever names you're given, listen to me. I may not be one of your superiors and thus it may not be my place to command you, but listen to me now, for I will only say this once to you. If you want to risk your own life, it is fine. I will not forbid you."
She took a step forward, closing the distance between them. "But prancing around, possibly luring the guards to our allies and my friends, putting their lives at risk...that is intolerable. You could have waited, and I could have set up a safe place for us to meet. I want to rid this city of its vermin as much as you, but with ourselves or our allies dead, we will not cleanse Rome. Think about that, for the Lord did not grant you a head simply so you might carry your fancy Assassin hood on it!" Orianna turned on her heel and stopped, the door halfway open to admit her into the night beyond.
"I will take my leave to see what can be saved. All of you, stay indoors for the rest of the night. And you." The courtesan looked at the younger man, taking in the bloodstains on his clothes. "You may be gifted somehow, but believe me, I have seen Roman streets where our brethren lay, and the memory still haunts me. Take care for now." She left, swift and silent as La Volpe had been.
Uberto sighed, turning back toward the Sparrow, only to find the Harrier pinning him to the wall, having lifted him by the scruff and slammed him into place.
"Now you listen to me, you sodding pillock," he hissed through his teeth, nose to nose with Lex. "You're going to abide by that damned Creed of yours and mine and all of ours, and do it to the letter, or so help me...so f*cking help me, if you risk yourself and my best chance at having some time to actually form a decent relationship with someone important, I will wring your scrawney neck and throw you off the Sistine Chapel roof! Do you hear?" He brought him away from the wall and slammed him back again to emphasize each word. "The Sistine Chapel roof!" Lex grunted as he was dropped hard onto his ass. "Or have you forgotten where we are? This isn't some historical playland. This is real and this is serious."
The rest of the building's occupants were quiet as Shaun stormed up the stairs and slammed the door to their room. Ignacio padded by Uberto, kneeling to tend to the various cuts on their companion's body. The Bear leaned againt the wall.
"You've earned yourself a nickname."
"Really? What is it?" The monk pushed the hair back from the Sparrow's forehead, dabbing a cut over his eye.
"I suppose that makes us the strangest beings in God's menagerie."
"No, not the strangest." Uberto knelt down to help pull the Journeyman to his feet. He was slack, staring at nothing. "Not the strangest at all."