"Condottieri Condottieri!" Mario looked up from the piece of the Codex Giovanni had lent him and was in the middle of attempting to decipher. It was a coded language he could not for the life of him begin to understand, but continued to try regardless.
"I'm over here, boy. No need to shout!" The ol assassin an condottieri f Tuscana smiled at the sight of the panting courier entering his doorway. Jacopo had always been enthusiastic when it came to his work, often travelling nonstop at break-neck speeds in order to ensure that the correspondences entrusted to him were delivered as swiftly as possible. As a result, it was not uncommon for him to be quite out of breath upon reaching his destination.
"C-condottieri! I have – a message – fro I-Il Magnifico n – Firenze." Jacopo handed over the sealed letter, bent over so he could support himself on his bent knees, taking huge gulps of air. "And &ndash Messere artolomeo is here – as well." Mario let out a huge booming chuckle at the news.
"Is he now? Very well, I shall receive him now. As for you Jacopo, here is your pay, and as always, feel free to use one of the spare rooms to recover your strength. I am sure I will have something for Lorenzo in the morning." The youth nodded gratefully and hauled his aching body up the stairs as he had so many times before. As the courier left a tall, moustached man entered, his weatherworn skin crinkling around his eyes as he smiled.
"Mario! How are you old friend?" The tw mercenari ave each other a firm hug, laughing as they pulled apart.
"I am well, you sly dog. I did not know that you were coming to visit! Not that I mind, I simply would have gotten us something to drink." Bartolomeo brushed him off.
"I was simply passing through and thought I would visit you. Now tell me, how fare the Auditore in Firenze? I have not heard from Giovanni in quite some time."
"You are just in time, it would seem! I have received a letter from Lorenzo, which will no doubt contain news of my brother. He knows that it is the only way I will remain civil with him in my replies." With a slight chuckle, Mario sits, gesturing Bartolomeo to do the same.
Mario peels off the Medici seal and pulls out the parchment and, before he reads even the first word, a sense of foreboding trickles coolly down his spine. He has seen Lorenzo's steady hand many times before, and has often joked that he could read the man's mood from his penmanship. If he is feeling cool and officious, as he often is, the writing is impeccable, made of slightly slanting loops. If he is annoyed or angry, the writing straightens itself, though is no less fanciful. Should the man be furious, his writing is decidedly void of any fancy or decorum.
This letter, however, is written in a way Mario can never recall seeing before. He spends a moment dissecting the penmanship, not even reading the words. The discrete code therein would prove to be more revealing than any of the hollow words on the page.
The letters are neither straight nor slanted, and this worries him, fills him with a sense of dread. Lorenzo's hand has been many things, but it has never been unsteady or faltering. This letter is both. The lines are halting and staggered, some words broken as if the hand that wrote them were shaking too much and had to pull away before continuing.
In that moment he knows. He has not read the letter, but he has deciphered the message.
"Mario? Is everything alright?" He knows that he has to read it. H must, bu Santa Maria e does not want to! Reading it will make it real, will make what he knows must have happened true. Still, it must be done.
"Read this to me, Bartolomeo." He surrenders the letter with a slightly shaking hand. "Tell me..." The Venetia condottieri ooks concerned, but accepts the proffered document regardless.
"Dear Mario," he begins. "It is with the utmost regret that I must impart this news to you. I am afraid I have been betrayed. We have all been betrayed. In my absence, the case against the Pazzi was dropped, and your brother accused as the traitor." Bartolomeo looks up at Mario, who is staring ahead of him at nothing, his gloved fists clenched uneasily. Bartolomeo continues to read.
"Giovanni was hung for his supposed treason by Umberto, regardless of the evidence presented to him by your nephew Ezio." Bartolomeo stops, as the words have become too much to bear.
"Tell me..." Mario's voice is cold and distant, whispered hollowly through his lips. "Per l'amor de Dio, Bartolomeo." His eyes are dead as he looks at his friend. The silence stretches on, and the old Assassin can tolerate it no further. "TELL ME!" he shouts, banging his fist on his desk.
They are frozen like that in a tableau for one second, and then two, before all of the anger drains from Mario as he collapses back into his chair (he doesn't recall rising) and holds his head in his hands. "Per favore, I must know what has happened to them. To the rest of my family." Bartolomeo looks guilty as he continues to read.
"His sons Federico and Petruccio were also hung. The Villa Auditore was ransacked and deserted by the time my men were able to search it. We have no news of the whereabouts of Maria, Claudia, or Ezio. My men continue to scour Firenze, but there is no trace of them, and I cannot be certain that they still remain within my walls. Yours, Lorenzi di Medici Il Magnifico f Firenze." The letter is placed feather light on the desk.
Mario is still as the words fade to nothing. He does not twitch, he does not blink, he is hardly even breathing Giovanni. Fratello! Caro Dio, non i miei nipoti...not Federico ... Petruccio, little Petruccio ... uick as a viper he grabs the letter opener and stabs the letter, wishing he could make it bleed. He stands and almost-runs out of his office and out of his Villa. Already th condottieri s the streets by the time Bartolomeo is able to catch up with him.
"Mario amici, what are you doing?" The Venetian grabs the man by his elbow, forcing him to slow his vigorous pace. He is rewarded with a vice-like grip wrenching his fingers away, the force of it bruising.
"What am I doing?" Bartolomeo is shoved away as Mario glares at him with his one good eye. "What am I doing? hat does it look like I am doing, Alvaniano? I am going to save what little there is left of my family, and then I am going to murder th bastardo ho dared kil mi fratello."
Again Bartolomeo reaches out to halt his advance, but Mario is in no mood to tolerate such gestures. As soon as he feels a hand on his shoulder, he grabs the arm, curving his back and bending at the knees, using his hips to flip his fello condottier onto his back. Bartolomeo, however, was expecting this and rolls into his fall, holding Mario and bringing the shorter man down with him.
Winded, Mario is last to rise to his feet. He would feel embarrassed, or playfully amused at such an occurrence, but not today. Today he is furious, he is violent, and Bartolomeo has all but offered to play the role of punching bag.
The street clears as the two men begin to brawl. Mario is fiercely aggressive, far more so than he would be, but his movements are tight and controlled with a lifetime of training. Bartolomeo, for the most part is defensive, allowing the less damaging blows to fall, face grim and neutral. As the fight wears on, th condotierri's attacks grow more sloppy, less precise and furious, his shoulders dropping the barest fraction and a look of pained sorrow leaks into his features.
When the fight has left Mario, the Venetian guides him back to the villa, his eyes dim with sympathy. The assassin (head of the order now, he supposes, now that Giovanni is...) manages to keep his composure until th condotierri re both in the study again.
Mario sees the damnable letter and tears it from the desk with a faint tearing noise, crumpling it up before tossing it to the flames. He falls to his knees as it lights, a puppet cut from his string. His breaths are shuddering, but there is no other sign of grief. He is empty, painfully hollow and lost.
"What am I to do?" He whispers to his friend. "What am I going to do?" Bartolomeo is once more at his side, hand gripping his shoulder comfortingly, crouched down to look into his face.
"You will be ready," he sais, eyes lighting with a righteous fire, hoping to ignite the Tuscan assassin's spirit. "Your nephew, Maria and Claudia are not dead. If they were, those Templar bastards would have let us know." A bit of steel return to Mario's spine, making him hold his head higher.
"Your family will come to you, Mario, and likely with some of thos lurido porcos n their tail. They will need your help, Mario. They will need your strength." The grip on his shoulder tightens, leeching resolve into the man. "Then, once they are safe again, we may begin to make those Templar pay for what they have done."
Mario remains kneeling for a minute longer before he rises once more, a look of grim determination hardening his features. He turns to Bartolomeo and claps him on the arm, giving him a nod and a tight smile. That was all the Venetian could ask for.
"I shall ready my men."