It had been hours. A doctor had been summoned, Grandfather was rushed into one of the rooms of the estate, and the party was disbanded. Ettore had waited long enough outside the room in which the doctor was with Grandfather. He sat at the bedside and he observed how sick the man who raised him was. The doctor said his heart had stopped, but somehow, Ettore’s thoughtless reasoning kept him alive a little longer.
The room was silent and dark.
Ettore sighed and bent in a little closer, knelt at the footboard, fingers flying swiftly across his Rosary. Each prayer was one heartbeat. He couldn't stop. Desperation had him in a trance of Hail Marys. He constantly had his Rosary, and relatively frequently he prayed it, but not with this stubborn fire in his soul that fueled the quickness this time around.
There is not much hope for a man whose heart is tired, the doctor said. Perhaps there was hope for Grandfather, though. There had to be. He would have absolutely no one if his grandfather left him.
Pierotto had to share his space? His half brother had come and was fervently praying alongside him, his eyes never leaving their mutual relative. Ettore heard Pierotto mumble the prayers at a mile a minute.
The sun was gone and a servant came in to light a few candles, distracting Ettore.
“How could we lose our father just this year, and then our grandfather?” breathed Pierotto when they had both finished a prayer.
Ettore sat back tiredly on his haunches. “How did Father die?” he asked. Lord Neri wasn't around, so no one would reprimand him for calling him ‘father’. He was told never to call Lord Neri anything but ‘Signor’ or ‘my Lord’, but it seemed more comforting to call anyone ‘Father’. Ettore liked the sound of the word.
Pierotto frowned. His salted black beard glistened in the candlelight as he pensively rubbed it. “I never knew much. He died of unnatural causes. They said they found his carriage overturned on the path from Grandfather’s and a stiletto knife was flung in his chest. Not even the servants were spared. The two footmen and the coach were killed as well, and the horses were half dead with their knees busted in the ravine.” He shuddered. “I couldn't wish that on anyone.”
“Assassinated?” Ettore said incredulously. “Lord Neri was assassinated?”
This just became a case for himself, as a soldier, to tend to.
Pierotto nervously looked around. “Perhaps this assassin is after us, now,” he said, his voice low. “I would have concerns about that.”
The soldier scoffed. “I'm not afraid of dying. I never have been.” That’s because I’m not worth killing.
“I’m a little more afraid than I should be,” Pierotto said. “I’ve lived my life. I married a beautiful woman, had a beautiful daughter…” He shook his head. “Why must we think of this?”
“I didn’t begin the conversation, Pierotto.”
Pierotto sighed and stood, rubbing his stiff legs. The middle-aged man seemed to usually need a few stretches now and then, given how tall he was. “I ought to get the doctor,” he said tiredly. He took one last glance at Grandfather, sadly, then disappeared outside the room.
Grandfather’s eyes peeped open. “Ettore,” he wheezed, his voice sounding like carriage wheels grinding glass. He weakly squeezed Ettore’s hands.
The young man’s eyes widened and he excitedly knelt at the bedside. “Are you feeling better, Nonno /Grandfather/?” he asked hastily.
Grandfather took in a deep gurgling breath and shook his head. “See, Ettore, you won’t always have me,” he began, but he didn’t finish.
Ettore clutched his grandfather’s nightshirt and swallowed back tears. “I can’t have you gone,” he choked, “I’m not ready.”
“Ettore,” he gurgled, “I’m ready. God calls me home, and who am I to deny?” He smiled weakly. “I’m very proud of you, Ettore, and where you have come.” He frowned. “There is a dark secret shrouding the Battaglias,” he whispered.
Ettore’s brow knitted in confusion. “What do you mean?”
“Someone sent an assassin after your father,” he said, “but Lord Neri had never finished his will. It was a hasty action. Whoever sent the assassin regrets it now, for no one receives anything except the villa.” He sighed out. “All of his possessions, since they weren’t distributed, are in my will.” Grandfather stared Ettore square in the eyes. “My will shall be disclosed tomorrow morning. This is opportune timing for one of your half siblings.”
Ettore felt anger boil in his chest. He could imagine any of his half siblings killing for inheritance, but it was a matter of which one did it.
Grandfather closed his eyes and sighed. “I’m very proud of you,” he whispered.
His grip went loose.
“No, no, no, Grandfather,” Ettore heaved, “Don’t leave me.”
Signor Achille Battaglia di Firenze was dead.
Falconero huffed and cocked back his crossbow.
“Waste of time,” he growled as he latched the weapon in its clutch on his back. The old man was dead before he had the pleasure of doing it himself. It was always a disappointment when that happened. Indeed, as that brat of a soldier wailed and mourned, Achille Battaglia turned ashen white. The heart attack had knocked him out for good.
He thought he’d have some time, given they left the ball earlier than the others, but his leisure left the old man’s demise to its own devices. It was bound to happen, whether it was by his hand or by nature. He just wished it was the former.
The assassin stood from the crouch and slid down the shingled roofs to the cobblestone ground, unseen. Shrouded in his black cloak and hood, Falconero melted into the background as he soared through the silent streets of Firenze.
“The old one’s dead,” he reported as he unceremoniously barged into the upper room of the commoner’s inn.
His colleague pulled off his own hood and sat down at the table, where he beckoned Falconero. “This is good news,” he said. “And Lord Neri’s possessions are matched up with Achille’s, correct?”
“That’s what he said,” Falconero affirmed as he took a long drink. He flipped back his hood with a jerk of his neck. He trusted Lupo with everything, including his face. “However, Lupo, the young one - that Ettore - will be hard to catch when his time comes. He’s fresher than us, off the line from the Army. Trained with a sword and the such.”
“We’re long range. Easy as Tuscany.”
“Si, si, but the day comes when we assassinate face to face. Ettore Battaglia is said to be quite cunning. He may know we’re there and he will take us out of the shadows.”
Lupo nodded slowly and leaned back in his chair as he took a long sip of his drink. Falconero hadn’t an idea what they were drinking, but it kept him up long enough. “Is that a promise?”
“A well educated prediction.”
The assassin nodded a second time and held his flagon up for a toast. “To the final blow to Ettore Battaglia.”