Ettore had seen the head of law that week. He had avoided Angelo - who, quite conveniently, headed Firenze and the surrounding areas - and instead turned to the captain of Tuscany, Signor Ezio D’Ambrogio. Ettore’s grandfather was close to him and so he seemed like the best chance of conversing about the mysterious assassins.
Pierotto insisted on coming along, since he was the one who had information on the man who attacked him. He seemed quite distracted and fumbling that day, and Ettore began to worry. His older brother’s otherwise olive skin was ashen white and he was perspiring.
“Are you ill, brother?” Ettore asked carefully as they walked up the mammoth marble steps of La Casa di Diritto /the house of law*/. “You really need to sit down.”
Pierotto shook his head tiredly. “No,” he protested. “This needs to be done. We need to be free of this… this terrorist.”
“Why is this so important?” Ettore inquired, walking backwards. The shadows of the Corinthian columns engulfed them, as well as hundreds of other clients. Guards posted around the area marched slowly through the tenants, weaving through, keeping check on all. “What’s at stake?”
“Firstly,” Pierotto answered firmly, “our lives. If our father has been assassinated so mercilessly, and I was attacked, then the remaining of our siblings, you, and I just may not be safe anymore.”
Ettore nodded slowly. “Who would have a grievance towards you?”
Pierotto shrugged after a moment’s pause on the stairs. “While it would be prideful and sinful to say I have done no harm to anyone, I cannot think of one enemy who would want me dead.”
The captain grunted. “Perhaps an enemy of Signor Battaglia’s.” He began walking again.
His older brother caught up to him. “He was your father, too,” he said quietly.
“Since when was he a father to me?” countered Ettore sharply. “Come on. I’d like to get this over with. I am to be deployed soon.”
Pierotto frowned. “Stop thinking like a soldier, Signor di Firenze,” he stressed.
Ettore halted. He sighed relentingly. His head lowered.
“Why did I forget that?” he asked in a feebly sheepish tone, accentuated with a small, listless sweep of the hand.
Pierotto allowed himself a small smile.
Officer D’Ambrogio was a man Ettore liked.
His gravitas commanded respect, not awaiting excuses. Seemed sincere, though. Behind his steely grey eyes was a spark of determination and intention. Very professional.
Ettore sat down across at the desk. According to his hand, as it swept smoothly across the top, cherrywood. Pierotto remained standing, an odd and self-conscious position for the wealthy lord. Alas, in present company, he had the last priority in the midst of a lord of Florence and an officer of the law.
Ezio took his place in the ornamental chair behind the desk.
“Signor Achille Battaglia has died,” the officer said solemnly, “si?”
Ettore lowered his head. Silently he nodded. “Nonno Achille Battaglia died of a troubled heart,” he replied.
The old man grunted, not without emotion. “He was a good friend,” he stated reverently, “and a good ally. I am indebted to the service of his apprentice.” Lightened some, Ezio looked up again and tapped his blunt fingers to the desk. “So, what is this about?”
“I’m reporting an assassination,” answered Ettore.
Silence ensued. Ezio sat unresponsive for a few heartbeats, then his silver brow darkened over his eyes. “On what grounds?”
Ettore motioned to Pierotto. “My half brother was a victim of an attempt on his life,” he stated, “probably from the same person who had killed our father, Lord Neri Battaglia.”
The officer slowly nodded. He understood, yet the problem was alien. Assassination was not unheard of, but, after the emperors of Roma, who had the audacity to pull such a feat by killing a man of office? Oddly enough, not even the mafioso** families seemed interested in murdering the high and mighty.
“Pierotto,” Ezio turned to him, “what can you tell me of this assassin?”
The lord’s son thought a moment. “He was wearing white,” he answered, pensive and far away, “a hood and cape embroidered with red. I couldn’t see his face.”
“Was it night?”
“Where were you?”
Again he thought. “I was outside the villa di Battaglia. I was going inside, and I was choking.” He swallowed, his hand instinctively went to his throat. “A man double my size pinned me down, and he held a stiletto above me.”
“Did he say anything?” asked Ezio.
Pierotto shook his head. “A servant walked out of the house, so the assassin ran away before he could be seen.”
Another pause took place, and Ezio nodded. “Thank you for your time. Now,” his tone was lighter, “allow me to speak with Signor Battaglia.”
“What more do you need, Officer?” Pierotto asked, still sitting.
Ezio slowly shook his head and motioned to Ettore. “I meant this Signor Battaglia.”
Pierotto sheepishly nodded and stood. “Officer, Ettore.”
Submission was not his usual style. Was he all right? Ettore’s brow furrowed. Had he not gotten over the fact that he almost lost his life?
Then he thought again. Not everyone was used to being held at knifepoint. He shrugged and turned to the officer.
Ezio’s light demeanor melted away when the door at last clicked closed. His dark eyes met Ettore with worry and a characteristic frown.
“Do you know against whom we stand?” his voice was lower than his usual gravelly tone, as if he were speaking of serious things in the presence of a child.
Ettore’s brow furrowed. He shook his head, but the motion was almost imperceptible. His eyes flicked downwards a moment, feeling slightly ashamed for not knowing. As Signor di Firenze, he had to stay on top of things.
Ezio took in a ragged breath, placing a hand over his bearded mouth. His eyes were centered on his desk, and the fine polished gleam. He wasn’t satisfied. A nervous hand dusted off its surface, attempting to find any place where his servant missed varnishing.
“It’s L’Addio,” he finally said, as hushed as a Summer breeze.
Ettore’s face didn’t change from his curious, listless raised-brow expression.
“La Who?” He squinted.
“L’Addio,” Ezio stressed. He pushed himself from the desk and stood. He did not have an impressive height, and yet his presence still demanded respect and all seriousness. “The Farewell. They’re dangerous, and you would do well not to entangle yourself further with this affair.”
Ettore’s brow furrowed, his chin cocking. “I want to help him,” he protested softly. “He doesn’t need me to just leave him.”
“May I remind you that Pierotto is a grown man?” Ezio’s tone was simple, as if he was convincing a child against something dangerous. “He can defend himself. You, on the other hand-”
“I am a trained captain of the Italian army,” Ettore cut in. He stood his full, impressive height. “Also the Signor di Firenze. Pierotto is not either of these.”
“You can’t defend him against L’Addio,” the officer growled.
“Why not?” countered the lord.
“L’Addio rules Firenze!” exclaimed Ezio.
Ettore stood back, awaiting an explanation, confused beyond the outburst. The officer held himself shamefully. His eyes harbored a certain uneasiness.
With a small breath in, Ezio met his superior’s gaze. “L’Addio is a crime band. Assassins, mainly. The most hired criminals in all of Europe.”
“How many are their numbers?” inquired Ettore, leaning on the desk. He was an easy man, and yet, he still felt worried.
Ezio shrugged. “We’ve only intercepted three names ever, so perhaps those are their numbers.” With a straightforwardly stressed hand gesture, he sighed out, a hand braced on his waist. “Their weapon is a stiletto, they wear white - most likely to return to their hideout, showing blood on themselves - and are as dangerous as a maelstrom.” His eyes returned to Ettore. “We can’t risk killing you off for the sake of saving your brother. If Pierotto found himself in their sights, then there is nothing we can do for him.”
Ettore’s brow furrowed as he folded his arms over his chest. “I don’t like those odds,” he complained. “There has to be something I can do.”
Ezio paused, as if he was seeing the Lord Battaglia for the first time. “Forgive my bluntness,” he muttered. “But since when was he on your side?”
“We are brothers.”
“Half brothers,” Ezio countered softly. “That’s how you always put it until recently.”
Another silence. Ettore hung his head. “He-”
A scream came from outside the door. Shouts of anger and panic ensued.
“Cosa sulla- /what on-/” exclaimed Ezio.
Neither officer nor soldier wasted time in running out of the office.
Ettore’s eyes bulged at the sight of blood. It was only appropriate on the battlefield, not in the homeland.
The woman was dead for certain, but Ettore still knelt down and pressed his ear to her chest, praying for a heartbeat. None. Bystanders screamed and ran all over the place, and guards circled around the body. Ettore's hands were covered in blood as he checked the body for wounds.
There was one in the back of her neck, where most assassins went for.
And there was Pierotto, standing above a dead woman, his face equally surprised.
“I swear, I have no grievances against anyone!” Pierotto exclaimed as they carried him off. “I did not kill that woman!”
Ettore was still frozen. His eyes had not left the dead woman. She was pretty, with dark hair and a soft face, which were quickly covered in lime and a linen cloth.
“Requiescat in pace, /rest in peace/” the chorus whispered. All those present made a Sign of the Cross as the guards carried the body away.
Ettore was sluggish to do so. His mind was racing and his body wasn’t listening. His thoughts had better things to do.
Pierotto had killed someone?
“Ettore,” he heard his brother’s voice. He was begging. “Ettore, please look at me.”
“Get in place,” a guard growled, and Ettore heard the sound of a hilt on flesh. Pierotto grunted.
“I don’t have a weapon!” cried the poor man. “Search me all you want, you’ll find nothing!”
Ettore breathed in a breath of hope. A sobbing woman was mopping up the blood, so the lord turned slowly.
Pierotto’s silver-embroidered jerkin was stained with the woman’s blood, as were his trousers. His dark face was painted with fear, his eyes filled with surprise and panic. He seemed to be a completely different sort of man as one guard held his arms behind him and the other searched him for a weapon.
His brother was confident in the thought that they would have no evidence. That was one clue to his innocence.
Ezio watched with a stern, angry expression. He was the only one who didn’t seem surprised.
Everyone halted as the guard - fear in his eyes - pulled a stiletto from Pierotto’s belt.
The man was silent, evidently his stomach churning. “That’s not mine,” he muttered. “That was not there before, someone’s trying to frame me!”
Ezio took the stiletto. Despite being covered in the woman’s blood, it was a fine weapon with an ivory hilt and silver leaf laden in the crossguard. Glossed over with nacre, and finished with an embossed image of a fox.
“La Volpe,” the officer growled, “the insignia of L’Addio.”
Pierotto shook his head. “I am not part of L’Addio,” he pleaded, “I don't even know what L'Addio is! Please, don’t do this!”
Ezio looked to Ettore, whose eyes were locked with his brother’s.
“This is your call, Signor,” the officer stated. “He is under your protection or condemnation.”
How could he have trusted Pierotto? Their friendship was fragile as it was, before he went and murdered an innocent woman. He hated him. Again.
On the other hand, this man had a genuine fear about him. What if he was innocent?
No, there was no evidence of another murderer escaping.
“It was him,” the woman who had cleaned up the blood cried, “he murdered my child! He did it!”
Pierotto shook his head. “Someone did this, someone wants me dead!” He collapsed to his knees. “Please, Ettore, don’t let them kill me!”
Riles of the crowds took place in the Casa di Diritto. Most of them weren’t witnesses, just wanting a little of the fun. They prodded the Signor, and they jeered and spat on the heir.
No one could understand the betrayal Ettore felt. It had not been that long, but the lord finally thought he had a friend. Now, that friend was at his mercy for a heinous crime.
What about all those years he had persecuted you? Ettore thought. Have you forgotten more than half of your life?
Pierotto still did not look hospitable. His face was the same as his enemy’s all those years back. He hadn’t changed.
There was no hope for him to change.
“Arrest him,” he ordered to Ezio. “Allow him a week to repent.”
The cries went to cheers in a heartbeat. The guards dragged the traumatized Pierotto away.
Why did he look betrayed?
“Falconero is the master of disguise!” exclaimed Veleno, throwing the uniform hat of the guard in the air.
Lupo nodded and smiled. “Let us celebrate!” He poured himself a pint and repeated for young Veleno.
The innkeeper raised a brow. “Without Falco?” he inquired.
“Falco needs to be present until the execution,” he explained as he guzzled his ale down. A satisfied ‘ah’ left his lips. This was a good brew, better than the others. Perhaps near victory made it taste sweet. “He’ll be here by the end of the month. Pierotto’s got to die before he comes back.”
Veleno frowned. “When will we have our meetings, then, Lupo?” he wondered out loud. He sipped his drink.
Lupo smirked slowly. “Not with Falco, not this time,” he said. “Rather, with Ettore.”
Veleno almost spat out the contents in his mouth. After a short gulp, he said excitedly, “We have il Signor di Firenze on our side?”
His superior chuckled with a shake of the head. “No, he never would. Besides, I have an urge to murder him any time soon.” His smile was still natural and light. “We will schedule a meeting with him before then.”
Veleno nodded his shaggy brown head. “Yes, sir.”
Here comes the real mystery!