They were lucky.
That was the thought that dominated Giovanni’s mind. If Lorenzo had not been forced to return to Firenze early, it was very possible that the farce of a trial would have gone as planned.
Just the idea of that made him glance to his side. To his right walked Lorenzo, but to his left walked two of his sons. Petruccio stood at his side, ignoring his age for a moment to cling to Giovanni’s hand, the other latched onto that of Federico. His youngest child’s face was pale, and it was easy to see the fear that lingered there.
Not that Giovanni looked much better, he was sure of that. Threats to him were one thing. He was an assassin, attempts on his life were almost expected. But to aim those dangers at his sons....
Federico was almost as pale as his baby brother, and Giovanni knew that he and his eldest were in for several long talks. Of all of the children, only Federico had any idea that his father’s activities were not just that of a banker. Though it was far past time to bring Ezio into the family trade as well. Federico had already begun to train for it, even if he did not know all of the details of why his father was training him.
Only luck had kept Ezio free when the guards had come, and if things had gone badly, Ezio would have had to find out the truth from Maria and from Mario.
Giovanni needed to fix that.
Currently, Ezio was off collecting his mother and sister. It was a relief to know that they were safe. He had feared for them both, though the guards had only come for the men. Maria had been fighting with them, and he knew they had not been kind. Something he fully intended on repaying. Nobody touched his wife.
A shiver ran through him as he looked at his children. He was going to have to find the source of this attack. They had tried to kill his -sons-. All of them, even the relatively innocent Ezio and Petruccio. Federico had some idea, but none of the younger three had any clue on just why this had happened.
Whoever Alberti was working for would have killed all of his sons. Without them, Giovanni had no idea what would have happened to his wife and daughter. Even now, he could feel the hangman’s noose on his throat, and it meant he still had to fear for the safety of his family. If Lorenzo had been only a few moments later....
Tightening his fingers on Petruccio’s, Giovanni looked at his sons again.
He was only mortal. Once they were recovered from this, he would talk to Federico and step up his oldest son’s training and begin to train Ezio as well. Plus, he would talk to Maria and see if she would start to teach Claudia the various things she knew. It would not harm his daughter to know how to defend herself properly.
There were messages to send and people to speak to, but.... Later. After he had had the chance to really check on his family. They were the most important thing.
The tone was slightly flirtatious, but Giovanni ignored it easily through long practice, as he knew Paola did not mean anything by it. It was simply long habit, and they had been friends too long for her to put any real feeling behind it. It was simply training. Besides, he had come for Assassin business, and she never brought other games into that.
“Please, it has been a long day.”
The woman poured, offering Giovanni the cup and pushing the bottle to him after she filled her own glass. “What brings you to me, Giovanni? I know you have been visiting many of us around the city.” Paola smiled. “Even our fox has commented on being tracked down.”
Taking a moment to study his glass and settle himself, Giovanni sighed. “I know you are aware of what Alberti has told me, that there is a great conspiracy growing in the city.” There was a faint growl at that, and the man forced himself to take a moment to breath and to calm down. “The first target was myself and my family, but it is not a simple banker war as I had thought might be brewing.”
Such things were lethal, given the right situation, and the tension between the Medici and the Pazzi was not unnoticed by the city. Sides were being drawn and tension rising. A battle was going to happen.
“The Templars are involved. Possibly the higher levels of the Church as well. There is too much that we need to discover to see how far this threat goes.”
Giovanni looked at the leader of the courtesans. “I felt it would be best to spread the word. Keeping secrets only puts all of us in danger.” He gave a slight smile. “In addition, we know that both the thieves and the courtesans are the best at gathering information that people would rather not share.”
That got a laugh from Paola. “Only because we are welcomed places that your banker friends are not. Or, in the case of La Volpe’s people, very good at getting where they are not supposed to be.”
She paused to sip at her wine, obviously thinking of what Giovanni had said. “You know that I will have my girls listen and bring back what details they can. You are only the most obvious danger to Templar plans. If they start to hunt us all, then a great deal of blood will flow in the streets, and not just Firenze’s.”
Another pause, and her eyes traveled over Giovanni, something flickering in the back of them. “If I might ask a question, old friend?”
Giovanni nodded, curious what she was going to ask.
“In this rather delicate time, I cannot see you without all your weapons. Yet one is obviously missing.”
She brushed her hand along her forearm, and Giovanni gave a snort. “I should have known you would have noticed. Unfortunately, that item has been damaged past my ability to repair, and I am unsure of who might have the skill and the...discretion to do it for me.”
A moment of quiet, then Paola chuckled. “Poor Giovanni. You actually have several ties to a man with both those qualities and aren’t even aware of it. I am sure you have heard of Maestro Leonardo. Both your wife and Lorenzo are among his patrons.” Eyes dancing, she drank some more of her wine. “He has also done many small favors for myself and our fox, all very quietly.”
Giovanni frowned. “Are you sure he is to be trusted? In times such as these, I do not have a great deal of faith in people whom I should trust.” Alberti had seen to that.
“I trust him with my life and with the lives of my girls, Giovanni.”
That told him just how much his friend did trust the artist. If there was anything that Paola took seriously, it was the safety of her people.
“Talk to Maria. Leonardo is....” She paused, frowning faintly. “Leonardo is a good man. A very good man. But he is far too intelligent and creative for his own good. He is going to attract the wrong eyes eventually, and with those eyes will come attempts at collecting him. We should have as many holds on him as we can before that happens.” Her expression was serious.
“He is not just an artist. I have had several long talks with him, and while he is young, he is going to do great things. Of that, I have no doubt. He is more curious than any cat, and with a will to follow up on what he wants to learn.”
Shaking her head, Paola looked at him, and Giovanni nodded his understanding. The woman had seen a great many things in her life, and knew many people. She had a talent for reading them that Giovanni could only wish he had. If she said this man was going to do great things, he was going to believe her and react accordingly to the information.
“I will talk to Maria first, to see what she can tell me of him,” he said finally. “But I will take your advice and take the blade to him.”
Happily married and very devoted to his wife, Giovanni still couldn’t help how Paola’s smile made him feel.
They continued to speak of things to do with the assassins, and this new conspiracy. Information was needed, and while Giovanni wanted his father’s blade fixed as soon as possible, this was more important. They had to find out just how far this went.
Later, though, he knew what he would be doing.
When Giovanni finally approached Maria about her artist, he was a bit hesitant. His beloved was still recovering from the rough handling of the guards. Who he -still- needed to track down and teach a few lessons to about how one treated a lady. Especially when that lady was his wife.
Though it seemed as if the question helped focus her, and Maria sat beside him, fingers interlaced with his as she thought about it. Turning his head, he rested his face against her hair, just breathing in the scent of her. He had come so close to losing all of this, and he liked to indulge when he could. He loved this woman with all of his heart, and he could only hope that his children found the same sort of dedicated love. Currently, he had very high hopes for Ezio and his lady Cristina.
“I think it would be a wise idea, taking it to Leonardo.” She did not move, other than to lean into Giovanni’s side more. “He is not merely a painter, and the amount of knowledge he has is quite impressive. I think even you would be a bit amazed at how many books he has managed to fit into that workshop of his, and I do know he is allowed access to the Medici library. If any know how to repair the blade, it would be him.” Maria fell quiet again, but Giovanni knew his wife. She was not done yet.
“To be safe, you might take that page with it.” A small laugh as he tensed at the suggestion. “Oh, do not stiffen so. I promise, the boy is no more Templar than Federico, and even less of a threat. He enjoys challenges. Tease him with the paper, and he will figure it out just to do so. That should give you time to study him yourself, if you choose. Or, if nothing else, give him something to work with when it comes to the blade. A single paper should not tell him much, and given how long it takes to decipher one, you might make your own opinion of him.”
Maria shifted slightly, resting her chin heavily on Giovanni’s shoulder, and he tightened his fingers on hers. This frailness that seemed to spring up now and then frightened him, and he was selfish enough to hope it passed soon. Losing her was not something he could even begin to imagine, nor did he want to.
“If you think it is a good idea, I shall do it,” he said finally, kissing her hair. Then he smiled as he heard her low laugh.
“Our son is watching.”
A glance told him that Ezio was yet again checking in on them. It was a nervous tick the boy had picked up since the trial and the return home. Most likely from actually seeing his family in the noose before Lorenzo’s timely arrival. “I know,” he murmured back, smiling some at the familiar words, and Giovanni felt something in his chest relax. Familiar was good.
After a bit, Ezio vanished, and Maria chuckled as she snuggled in against Giovanni. With a laugh of his own, he pulled her into his lap in a shameless show of affection, arms wrapping tight around her waist.
That earned him a kiss, and life felt very good at the moment for Giovanni.
The man was not what Giovanni had expected. Not that he had a very fixed idea before of what he would be walking into, but this energetic, talkative man was not it.
Though not a fool. He did not miss the studying once over he was given by the younger man. The quick examination only took a moment, and then Giovanni was being led through the clutter of the workshop to a quieter room in the back.
“I do hope that you and your family are doing well, Messer Auditore. Your wife is one of my favorite patrons, and she speaks of you quite often.”
“It has been an...interesting time, Maestro Leonardo.” There was genuine warmth in the other man’s voice, which Giovanni appreciated. With everything that was going on, it was good to know that some people did seem to care, though he had thought that about Alberti as well. As they walked, he saw why Maria came here for so many paintings. While the man did have talent, quite a bit of it to Giovanni’s eye, Maria was always drawn more to people who were personable, which was definitely the case with Leonardo. Both Ezio and Federico, who had met the man while doing errands with their mother, also liked him. “My wife sends her well wishes.”
Giovanni found himself smiling back as Leonardo beamed at him.
“If I might have a moment of your time,” he asked finally, forcing himself to focus on why he had come. “A friend said that you might be able to repair something for me.”
A pause for a moment as Leonardo looked at Giovanni, and he could just -see- the curiosity kicking in. Leonardo’s attention focused on him, and there was something in those eyes that made him hesitate a moment on this. The man was...very intent all at once, and he wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not.
“Ah, of course.” That broke the moment, and Leonardo began to move around. “Is that it?” He gestured at the bundle Giovanni had tucked under an arm, even as he moved to start shifting things on a table. “Let me clear a space.”
There were a few minutes of muttering and rapid movements as the man rearranged things on the table. Giovanni suppressed a bit of a smile at that. In this, he was reminded of nearly every other young man that he had ever known.
Once a spot was opened, Leonardo looked at him, reminding him of a large puppy, one who was waiting to have something interesting happen.
With a flourish, he unrolled the bundle he carried into the cleared spot. His sons had inherited the need to show off from someone, and Giovanni sometimes couldn’t help but play to an audience. Especially one as attentive as Leonardo.
A moment of stillness as the artist looked at the pieces of the hidden blade and the roll of parchment that was the codex page. Now Giovanni took the time to really study the man. There was curiosity, it was impossible to not see that. It practically radiated off of every line of the man’s body. But there was also intelligence. He had met plenty of artists over the years, and far too many of them were brainless. Not the case here, as he could almost see the man’s mind working as he studied each piece carefully, holding up various parts and comparing.
“Fascinating,” Leonardo murmured finally, though there was a bit of a frown on his face. “I do not know if I can repair this. This is quite old, very old, but it is very sophisticated mechanism. The level of construction needed for this is like nothing I have ever seen. Even past things that I see now, which is intriguing, given the age.” He shook his head faintly. “Without the original plans, I am not sure if there is anything I can do. I am sorry.”
There was a pang of disappointment in Giovanni’s chest. He had hoped, given the praise from both Maria and Paola.... “Ah, it is not a great surprise. Given the item....”
He trailed off as it was very clear that Leonardo was ignoring him. That was a bit unusual, at least when Giovanni wasn’t trying to be ignored. While they weren’t one of the highest in the city, the Auditores were a well respected family for the most part. To just be ignored was not something that happened very often.
But Leonardo’s attention was on the codex page that he was unrolling, and Giovanni focused again, watching the man’s reactions. There was definitely more of that curious look, and he wondered if Leonardo was ever not curious. There was also a great deal of delight, and pale eyes were flickering around the page.
“Blueprints,” he said cheerfully. “In code, though. One moment.”
Setting the codex down, he moved to collect a few books, and brought them back. Opening them, he flipped to pages, and picked up the codex page again. Fingertips brushing along the page, Leonardo hummed. Collecting a pen and some paper, he began to scribble out a few things, and Giovanni blinked some at the writing. Was he writing -backwards-? Trying to imagine just how difficult that would be, he supposed it made a sort of sense, given that Leonardo, unusually, wrote with his left hand. How odd. Such things were frowned upon by most people, especially those in the Church.
“If you would like to take a seat,” the man said after a few minutes, “after I finish with this I believe I will be able to repair your blade.” It was a murmur, as he was obviously not paying attention to Giovanni at the moment. “If we transpose the letters and then.... every third one.....” More scribbling, and Leonardo moved, collecting another few books and spreading them out as well. Deciding that this was going to take a bit, Giovanni took a seat.
And it did take a bit longer, but not nearly as long as Giovanni had expected. In far shorter a time than he had thought, less than half of what it had taken him, Leonardo made a pleased sound. “Ah, yes. These are wonderful blueprints. I will have no problem repairing your blade, Messer.”
Giovanni sat there, staring a bit as Leonardo drew the pieces of the hidden blade to him, and then went to collect a bag. From it, he pulled out a variety of tools, and set to work on the blade. Which was just as well, as Giovanni was trying to process this still.
It had taken him at least twice as long to translate the codex page as it had taken Leonardo. At least. Plus, he had more experience at it, having translated several of the others.
Just how far should he trust this man?
Silently, he watched as Leonardo worked. Time drew out, but, eventually, the man was finished. Standing, he moved to Giovanni, holding the newly repaired blade.
Giovanni was going to have to talk to Maria. As well as some of the others in the area. He had been directed this way by Paola, and he wanted to know what others thought of this man. There was something about him that made Giovanni wary. Not the same as a threat, but there was the feeling that he should watch this one.
He had learned to listen to those feelings.
As Leonardo went over the repairs he had made, the Assassin made a mental note to find out more of this man. Anyone who could translate things with such ease was someone that he really needed to keep close.
If he could find a way to make sure the man stayed quiet, Giovanni would much prefer to have his own person trained at decoding.
Just had to find the right handle on the man.
“What is bothering you tonight?”
Standing behind Maria, Giovanni paused as he thought of how to say what he was thinking. Then his hands started up, continuing to run the heavy silver brush through his wife’s hair. It was a soothing ritual for them both, this time to just be together and indulge in some simple contact.
“There are many issues to worry about. I realize that I need to step up training for both Federico and Ezio, as well as letting Federico know more about the Brotherhood.” A long run of the brush through her hair. “Ezio I can wait some on, until he is more settled, but Federico needs to know, in case something does happen. He has a duty to family to continue as an Assassin.”
“Ezio is not happy as a banker. Did you realize it?” Maria turned her head slightly to look at Giovanni over her shoulder. “He has not gone once to meet with Messer Tornabuoni since the incident.” Which was her way of referring to the trial. “Even before, I think he is just too much like his brother to be happy as a banker. He needs something more challenging.” A frown. “And something that will keep him more occupied. I do not want to hear more stories about how he is in beds he should not be in, Giovanni. Perhaps it is amusing to him, but he is going to anger someone too much some day....”
“Ah, I had thought as much. It seems that Petruccio is my last hope for one of my children to take over the bank. Federico and Ezio are both too much like my brother.” And if it wasn’t for the fact that he preferred to have them stay in Firenze, he might send them to Mario. Perhaps later, for some training. “In any situation, that leaves us with Ezio, who we must find something for. Federico can nominally be head of the bank, with everyone knowing the true power is his younger brother. It would not be the first, nor the last time such a thing has happened. But to have both he and Ezio doing such useless work is not acceptable.” A sigh. “Nor is that it. You know I visited your artist today, and I will admit, he is everything that you and Paola said of him. Which is something of a problem.”
Maria laughed softly. “You are looking for some sort of hold on the young man, aren’t you? I must warn you, this is something you’ll have to tread carefully on.” She gave her own sigh. “Leonardo is no fool, and any sudden overtures will have him looking for a reason on why you are making them.” She paused and sat up straight again, head tilting. Giovanni went still, watching her.
“They get along well, Ezio and Leonardo. And while being an artist isn’t exactly the most acceptable of professions at times, it is a great deal more physical than being a banker....” She trailed off, turning in her seat to look at Giovanni again. “Perhaps if you were to talk to Leonardo about a possible apprenticeship. Ezio is older than his students for the most part, but he is a great deal more steady.”
Taking the idea, he began to turn it over in his head. It would give the family a way to be connected to the artist that was not strictly as patrons. They already had that, and it was easy enough to end that from either side. Especially with the fact that Leonardo already had the Medici as patrons as well. Having his son being Leonardo’s apprentice, though, that meant regular visits and talks. He could slowly bring Leonardo around to the idea of joining the Brotherhood, if the man had the strength of character for it. And given the fact Paola had been the first one to direct him that way, he wasn’t sure just how much the woman knew of him.
There would definitely be a need to talk to his contacts tomorrow.
As for Ezio being an artist.... True, it -was- a step down from being a banker, but no matter what, Ezio would always be an Auditore, and that would be all he really needed. Mario would probably laugh, but his brother was an idiot at times. Maria thought it was a good idea, or else she would not have mentioned it, and his wife was much better at reading people than he was. If she thought Ezio might at least be somewhat happy working with Leonardo, then he would have to investigate more.
“I think I will talk to some people in the morning,” he said slowly. “I have things to do in the bank tomorrow afternoon, but my morning is free.” He smiled at Maria, who smiled back. Unable to help himself, he leaned in for a kiss.
That was settled, for now. Time for other things.
“Ah, Messer Auditore, I did not expect to see you today.”
The man had probably never expected to see Giovanni again, given the look on his face. But that did not stop Leonardo from rising up and clearing off a spot for him. There were numerous notebooks scattered around, some filled with sketches that caught Giovanni’s attention, though he did not get a chance to really look at them before they vanished as Leonardo moved things and closed them.
There was a bit of a shuffle as Giovanni produced a bottle of wine that he had brought with him. When he saw that the other man had, Leonardo called one of his students and had the boy bring them some bread and good cheese. There was a bit more rearranging, but, finally, they had things in stable locations.
Once they were settled, Leonardo looked at Giovanni, sipping at the wine, expression calm. There was quiet for a bit, and the artist seemed content to let Giovanni start. Not that this wasn’t expected. Leonardo had several apprentices already, and had been part of his master’s workshop for a decade. He had to recognize the wine for what it was, a semi-traditional gift for bringing a request for apprenticeship.
“My wife and I have been discussing many things lately,” he started off finally. “I am a banker, and I have hopes that one of my sons will follow my path. However, there is one who I can see a different life for.”
Leonardo stayed quiet, eyes focused on Giovanni, one brow quirking upwards. Taking that as a sign to continue, he did.
“Ezio, who you have met, is too free a spirit to find contentment at the sort of things I do. My wife suggested a more...flexible option.”
“Have you spoken to young Ezio about this change?” Leonardo asked, fingers playing along the edge of his goblet. “Being an artist is not the most respectable of careers for a young noble. Especially when one is training to be a banker of Firenze.”
“Sometimes,” Giovanni said slowly, “it is not about being respectable. Sometimes,” he paused a bit, trying to put it into words. “Sometimes it is about finding something they will be content with.”
Silence again, and he watched Leonardo watch him.
“There is a very lovely lady who told me that you were someone who could be trusted,” the younger man said after a bit. “And that your family is sacred to you. I do no know why you have decided to do this, but if, -if-, Ezio has some aptitude towards the arts, and if he shows any interest, then yes. I will take him on as a student.”
Glancing at one of the high windows, Leonardo hummed. “Would midday work for you? That is the first free time I have. The Medici have requested my presence in the morning, and I am not sure how long that might take, but no longer than midday. You can bring Ezio here, we can see what he thinks of this, and then perhaps a meal.” He looked back to Giovanni, who nodded after a moment of thought.
“I think that would work. I do have some things to do at the bank in the morning, but the afternoon is free. Tomorrow, then?”
Leonardo smiled. “Tomorrow. Now, perhaps you will turn your attention to this most excellent of cheese. It really is quite good, and I promised the woman who made it that I would share it with those who came by.”
Chuckling some, feeling a bit more relaxed now that Leonardo had given a conditional yes, Giovanni settle back to enjoy the small snack.
Things were going as he hoped.
Feeling restless, Ezio roamed the rooms of his home, wondering where the others were. It was surprisingly quiet, and that made him a bit nervous. There was almost always someone moving around the home, with the only time he had ever seen it really be quiet was after his family had been arrested.
Needless to say, he went to check on them. Again.
Though he knew it would just get a disgusted noise from Claudia, and something of an eyeroll from Federico, he did it anyway. It was apparently starting to annoy both of them to constantly be checked on, but Ezio couldn’t help himself. Coming home to a disrupted house, with his mother in shock and his father and brothers arrested made him...uneasy. Especially when the house was quiet. Something inside drove him to seek the others out, as if to make sure that they were still home. Still safe.
Petruccio didn’t seem to mind when Ezio looked in on him, but the youngest of his siblings was used to such things. As sick as he had been as a boy, and the fact that the illness still lingered meant he was often being checked by his older siblings as well as his parents. So when Ezio stuck his head in, the youngest Auditore just smiled.
“Did you bring me anymore feathers?”
The shameless request reminded Ezio that he had, in fact, collected some feathers while out earlier, and he laughed. “You are too good at this, I think. You have all of us trained to bring you your feathers.” But he did fish them out and offered them to his brother. Petruccio brightened, and looked at them carefully, smiling more.
“Thank you, Ezio.”
Ruffling up his baby brother’s hair, Ezio took a moment to just...touch. He still had nightmares of them with the nooses around their throat. He couldn’t imagine what Federico, or Petruccio, or their father thought of it all, but they all seemed to be handling it better than Ezio. Which was a bit irritating, but he couldn’t help himself. They were his family, and they had almost died.
Speaking of his father.... Ruffling up Petruccio’s hair again, he dropped his hand and turned. “Father?”
With a nod of his head, Giovanni silently asked Ezio to follow, which the teenager did easily enough. Curious to what the man wanted, he blinked when he was lead to his father’s study. There was the hidden door, closed currently, and he wondered if this was when he was going to get more of an explanation for that room and the odd robes. Taking a seat, Ezio look around, curiosity peaked.
“Ezio, are you happy as a banker?”
Well, that was definitely not what he had been expecting, and the young man blinked. “Father?”
Giovanni chuckled and shook his head. “Ezio, it is just a question. I was curious if you were happy learning to run the Auditore bank. Your brother had no real love for it, I know that. Of course, sometimes I wonder if he has any real love for anything besides pulling pranks.”
“It’s what I’ve been training to do....” He said slowly, still not sure where this was going. “Why are you asking this?”
A sigh from his father, and the man leaned back in his chair. “Your mother thinks you would be a better fit elsewhere. I must admit, I don’t know if you would be happy being trapped in a bank for part of the day. Petruccio has shown some interest in the trade, so if you would rather we find you an apprenticeship besides banking, I would like to know. You are still young enough, barely, to be accepted elsewhere.”
Ezio thought about it. He had always expected to be a banker, like his father, but now that there was even the hint of something else being offered, he found himself intrigued. Being a banker would be fine, if that was all he had. But it would be boring, and he hated spending hours already tucked behind a desk and listening to his master talk about money and such. “I...would like to know what you were thinking of, Father.” He did not want to make his father unhappy. Especially not now.
There was silence, and then Giovanni nodded. “All right. We will be going somewhere, and need to be there by midday. Be ready for me sometime late in the morning. Dress well, as we will be meeting a potential master for you.” He rose, smiling faintly.
“Wait, what?” Ezio was confused. “Who?”
“You will see. Now, go. Get out of the house a bit. If your sister comes to me complaining about your lurking again, I will send both of you to go help the nearest stables.”
With that threat, and more than a little confused, Ezio left the study and the house.
New master? What was his father doing now?
Leonardo was waiting for them when the two men arrived. Yelling at Vincenti that he’d be back shortly, he shut the door and met them out in the street.
“Excellent timing. I have only just gotten back myself.” Though it seemed as Ezio looked very confused on why he was here. Ah, well, he would either figure it out, or Giovanni would explain. Either way, it would give Leonardo time to see just how the boy felt. “We shall be going to my Master’s workshop. He has a much more established place, with a variety of projects going on.” Even as he spoke, Leonardo started to walk, assuming that the pair would follow. Which they did.
“Leonardo, what is going on?” It did make him smile to hear Ezio speak so informally. It fit what he had noticed about the teenager before. Ezio had a good heart, and was more than a little clueless about reality.
“My master, Andrea del Verrocchio, is allowing us to borrow a bit of space at his workshop. Though while we are there, he might steal me for a bit. I hope you do not mind. After that, we will have a talk.”
More confused sounds from Ezio, but when neither Leonardo nor Giovanni seemed to notice them, they trailed off. Poor boy, Leonardo thought as they walked, engaging them in conversation about the various going ons around Firenze, he has no idea why his father had brought him.
Leonardo was getting the feeling that Giovanni liked to play things close to the chest. Ah, well, as long as he knew what to expect from the man, he could deal with it. The man was another noble, and Leonardo had plenty of experienced dealing with -that- sort. Though he did keep hearing good things about the man, which was why he was allowing this attempt. While he was new on his own, years of working with his master had given him a reputation. His continued work with the Medici and other nobles of Firenze had only helped spread and secure more of that reputation. Though he already tired of some of the demands of his patrons. Once he saw how a painting was going to end, it was quite difficult to finish it.
Tearing himself out of his thoughts, he smiled when they arrived at his master’s shop. “Come. We shall go around the side, and not distract any of the apprentices working.” At least, he didn’t plan on disturbing them yet. Leading the others to the side door, he slipped in and instantly snagged the attention of one of the men he had trained with. Obviously Maestro Verrocchio had let at least a few of the others know, because he perked up.
“Ah, Leonardo! It is good to see you. Come, Master wishes to speak to you. He wishes to collaborate on yet another piece.” He gave a laugh and punched Leonardo in the shoulder. “Seems none of us can make angels as perfectly as you.”
Perfect. Turning, he gave a short bow to Giovanni and Ezio. “Please, pardon me a bit. Feel free to look around and see if there is anything you like. New patrons are always welcomed to any artist.” Not that he thought his master needed any more patrons. Those he did have were always at his door. But before the two could protest, Leonardo slipped away.
It only took a moment to settle in the loft area that overlooked the workshop with the man who had been willing to take him on. Of course, Leonardo knew it was due to both natural talent, and the fact that his father and Verrocchio were friends.
“So, testing an apprentice, are we?” The older man chuckled. “Seems like I was just taking you on myself, and here you are with students of your own. How the time flies.”
A chuckle, and Leonardo shifted so that he could watch what the pair were doing. “In a way. Messer Auditore thinks his son might have potential. I wish to see what draws the boy’s eye.” A pause. “Other than very pretty ladies.” He snorted a bit at that, given how Ezio had noticed a model being drawn in one corner of the workshop. It was a simple portrait, but the woman was quite lovely.
“Does he have talent?”
“His mother commented a few times that he used to sketch, but then he grew up enough to notice the ladies, and he set aside drawing. So perhaps. She has a good eye, that one.”
Verrocchio chuckled. “Ah, yes, I have met the matriarch of the Auditores. She does have a good eye, and a sharp tongue. I’m sure she had quite a few things to say about her son.”
Leonardo only hummed, not willing to spread that sort of rumor around. “In any case, his father hasn’t given a good reason on why he suddenly has decided to apprentice his son to me, but I think it has to do with the trial.” Something twisted in his chest. “Trials have a way of changing people.”
Personal experience had taught him that, and he frowned, then startled when a hand fell on his shoulder. “I am sorry you went through that, Leonardo. Be happy that it did not end with a guilty verdict.” There was honest regret in his master’s voice, and Leonardo forced himself to relax. “In any case, it seems something besides the lady has caught the boy’s eye.”
Focusing again on the people below, Leonardo studied Ezio. Seems that the boy putting together clockwork pieces for some commission or another had drawn Ezio’s eye. He was watching most intently, and Leonardo smiled.
“That,” he said after a minute, “was surprisingly simple.” There was a sharp curiosity in Ezio’s eyes, and that, -that-, Leonardo could work with.
“Come,” Verrocchio said with a laugh. “Introduce me to your newest student. And make sure to drive a hard bargain with his father. He’s a noble, he can afford it.”
Leonardo laughed. “Yes, yes he can.”
But that bargaining would come later. Right now, he was too busy smiling at the delight on Ezio’s face.
“So, what danger should I expect your son to bring onto my home, Messer Auditore?”
Leonardo’s question was unexpected, and Giovanni paused, looking at the man with startled eyes. They had been working out the terms of the apprenticeship, and then Leonardo had pushed the paperwork aside and leaned forward, resting his chin on a hand, eyes intent. “I beg your pardon?”
“There is something going on here, and while I do not pretend to know all of it, I know there is something. I can only assume that it has ties to that farce of a trial, and I am no fool. There is something going on, and while I do not ask for details, I do need to know this. Your son is not my only student, and I want to know if they will be in danger from whatever activities that brought Alberti’s wrath down upon you.”
There was something in the man’s eyes that made Giovanni take a closer look, something in how he said Alberti’s name. “You have had issues with him before?”
There was a moment of shifting as the man obviously debated answering, then he sighed. “I am surprised you did not know, given how you seem to have the urge to investigate things. I was part of the Saltarelli situation earlier this year.”
Ah, that...explained a lot about some of the man’s mannerisms. In a vague recollection, he remembered Lorenzo talking about it, as one of his family had been involved.
“There should be no direct harm to your students. Ezio is...unconnected with things, other than some training. I’m not sure why the people went after my sons, but they really are unaware of things.” Currently, at least, though he planned on changing that.
Blue eyes met his, and Leonardo tugged the contract towards himself. A glance over it, and he added something to it, being careful to not drag his sleeve into the wet ink. Then pushed it to Giovanni so that he could read over the change. Taking the paper, he looked at the change. Surprise made him arch his brows and he looked at the man. “Any particular reason for this?”
“For most apprentices, room and meals are part of the contract. While it is true that Ezio will be living in your home, given how close my workshop is to your residence, it is still something that I felt should be added. He will be one of my students, Messer Auditore, and I do place a great deal in that fact. My students come to me to learn, and to learn, they must be safe. If he needs someplace beside your home to be safe from time to time, then it is perfectly understandable that he comes here, is it not? After all, it is part of the contract that I board him.” A wave at the paper, and Leonardo smiled faintly.
Giovanni wondered just how much this man -knew-, and he knew that it was unlikely he would ever find out unless Leonardo allowed him to. Though the fact the man brought up his inability to protect his children rankled, he admitted that Leonardo had a point.
The man was too smart for his own good, and that made it even more important that the Assassins had him under their shadow now, before the Templars realized more about him.
There was another moment of hesitation, then Giovanni looked at Leonardo. He had to ask, because this made no sense otherwise, and Giovanni liked logic. It helped things run much smoother in his life.
“Because I saw the light in his eyes, Messer Auditore. There was a hunger there that I do not see as often as I wish, and now that I know he has it, I cannot ignore it.” Simple words, but there was a wealth of emotion there. If only he could figure out what the emotions were.
But no matter. He had what he needed. Giovanni signed the contract. Leonardo did the same.
“I shall have this copied and filed,” said the artist. “Send Ezio over tomorrow, around midday again. I can give him the copy to bring back to you if you wish, and I will start his training.”
Feeling vaguely as if he had made a deal with a devil, Giovanni took his leave and walked for home, mulling this over in his mind.
Maria trusted Leonardo, and Giovanni trusted Maria. That would simply have to be enough.
The angry voice was all the warning he got before Ezio found his arm being hit. It hurt, but not nearly as bad as he was used to getting hit. Of course, he wasn’t usually being hit by women.
“Cristina!” He turned and scooped her into a hug, ignoring the fact she was trying to hit his arm more. “Ah, bella signora, I am so happy to see you again!” He spun her some, pretending to not hear the indignant noises she was making.
“Don’t you bella signora me, Ezio! No messages, no visits, not even one of your group of friends to stop by and let me know if you lived or died! All I hear about is some sort of scandal of a trial that was full of false information, and -nothing- from you!”
Ah, Ezio knew he was in trouble, but his beloved lady never looked more attractive than when she was in a mood like this. And given just how attractive Cristina was most of the time, that was saying something. Though he did set her down and hung his head a bit. “I apologize. I should have sought you out and seen you sooner. Things have been very busy, though. After Lorenzo and Father got settled, they were trying very hard to find out who had set up that...attempt at murder.”
Because he refused to call it anything else. Someone had tried to -murder- his family. The urge to check on them again reared its head, but he managed to force it down. Cristina would be even more angry at him if he ran off on her now.
“Everyone is all right, are they not?” Now that she had him, and had vented some at him, Cristina was visibly calming down, and Ezio relaxed some as well. While she was so very, -very- attractive when mad, he still preferred her being happy with him.
Linking his arm with hers, he started to walk, feeling her fall into step beside him. It was good to know she was willing to go along with him. “Mother was mishandled some by the guards, though I know Father has had...a discussion with them over how one should treat a lady. But she is mostly recovered, and the rest of us were unharmed, other than a great deal of fright.” He tightened his arm on hers. “It was...a very startling issue. Things have been quite chaotic at home as Father worked at trying to restore the peace of the house. Plus, there were several repairs we needed to do, as the guards who collected Father and my brothers did a great deal of damage to the inside of the house.”
“They tell me you have not been at the bank since the trial. It was one of the first places I looked.” She scowled at him faintly, looking irritated again. Ezio did feel a pang of guilt for not finding her earlier. He really did love her, and there were thoughts that had been tickling around in his brain, mostly encouraged by his brother, about perhaps making the next move.
“That is another thing that Father has been working on.” Ezio shook his head. “He changed who he had me apprenticed under.” A bit of a sheepish smile as he looked at her from the corner of his eye. “It seems that he noticed I was not the most...er....attentive of students at the bank. Not that I think it came to any great surprise to him. He tells me I am too much like Federico at times. I told him that at least I did not misplace money as a joke. But he thought that I might have a better fit at another career.”
She was looking up at him as they walked easily with the flow of the crowd. There wasn’t any great rush to go anywhere, and the weather was pleasant, if a bit of the cool side, so walking was rather enjoyable. “You are no longer going to be a banker?” Cristina’s voice was a bit surprised. “But the Auditore family is a banking family.”
“I think Father has hopes for Petruccio. He is the one among us that is most likely to enjoy that. Petruccio enjoys numbers almost as much as his feathers, and he is not nearly as...active as Federico or myself.” He gave a bit of a helpless shrug. “I’m not sure how Father does it, though he does mutters sometimes about how we seem to favor Uncle Mario more at times. Mother takes great joy in teasing him over it.”
That got a small chuckle from Cristina. “I can imagine she does. Your mother must despair at times over you and Federico. Both of you are lunatics at times.” She gave him a teasing smile.
“Yes, but I am your lunatic. Or at least I hope I am.” Now Ezio gave her his best puppy eyes, and brought her hand up to brush a kiss along it. Cristina gave a small sniff of almost dismissal, but Ezio saw her cheek darken slightly.
“I suppose I should keep a claim on you. Otherwise who knows what madness you’ll get up to without a keeper.” She curled her fingers around his, smiling at him. “Though what is it that you do now, if not learning to be a banker?”
“It seems that I might have some small talent at the arts. Maestro Leonardo da Vinci has agreed to take me on as his student.” He couldn’t help but bounce a bit. “You should see some of his paintings, Cristina. I did not care so much when I had to haul a box of them home, but after Father and Leonardo worked out an agreement, I looked at the ones that Mother has. He is very skilled, even one like myself can tell.”
Cristina was looking at him with a surprised expression. “You will be learning art? I did not know you were interested in such things?” She smiled. “Perhaps I will be able to model for you in the future.”
Her voice definitely carried a sly tone, and Ezio smiled at her, raising her hand to brush his lips along the back of it again, smiling against skin. “I will have to learn quickly, then. There are many interesting myths that should be put on canvas.” A grin. “Many of them involve goddesses who are missing articles of clothing.”
That got a laugh, muffled behind Cristina’s other hand, and her eyes were dancing as they met his. “I doubt my father would approve of such things, Ezio. He might send the guards after you. Yet again.”
“It might take a while, sadly. I will admit, my skills at sketching are only adequate, nowhere near to Leonardo’s standards for letting other people work. Most of my focus is on various other things, though. He had me trying a variety of things, and I must confess, I prefer the idea of sculpting or working with clockwork more than the idea of sketching.”
“You do seem to like doing things more than simply sitting around,” Cristina pointed out. “Is that not the issue you had with banking? The fact you sat for so many hours while doing it?”
He had complained on that often enough, and just nodded. “Banking could be exciting. Just not often. The idea of making things, though, that is interesting. Leonardo has gone on about how he doesn’t just want to paint, that he wants to change the world, and I wonder if the man might not do that, someday. He has a great many ideas, and I have only been working with him for a week now.” Ezio shook his head. “How his mind does not explode from all the things he is constantly writing down and coming up with amazes me.”
Cristina shook her head. “It sounds like you are enjoying this new apprenticeship.”
“I am. Though it is very annoying to be starting all over again. If Father had decided this years ago, I think I would have been much better off. Plus, I would have been past this boring part already, and actually making things for myself. Not simply playing general assistant, like the other boys. Though I think Leonardo has only recently been able to start taking on students of his own, so we are all around the same level of training. I am a bit behind, but not by much. Already I am doing more because I am older and stronger than the other students.” He was a bit proud of that, actually.
“I think that I have heard of this Leonardo of yours. Does he work for the Medici?”
“Yes. Though they employ so many artists, it is hard to find one that hasn’t worked for them at some point.”
“Ah, but I do think I remember hearing about him. There were a great many compliments for some of his work at one of the more recent parties I attended. Clarice, Lorenzo’s wife, was most appreciative of a drawing he did for her.”
Ezio grinned. “I was about to ask if you wanted to meet him, but now I am afraid that if I do, you’ll ignore me. That would simply break my heart.”
Another laugh from Cristina, and she swatted his arm lightly. “I think you owe me a great many things for ignoring me the last few weeks. Introduce me to your new teacher, and I might consider forgiving you for such cruelty.”
“Forgiveness is a virtue,” he said with a smile back. “But I suppose that if someone could be convinced to forgive me, I might be willing to introduce her to Leonardo.”
Cristina stepped on his foot, the smile never leaving her face.
Whatever she had expected when Ezio had finally taken her to the workshop, it was not what she had seen.
Leonardo was...passionate about his work. Not just the painting, but everything. There were designs everywhere, half built projects that confused Cristina on what they were ever going to be. Drawings of things she couldn’t even begin to imagine.
Too often, the painters she met were more.... She wasn’t sure how to describe it. For most of them, it wasn’t a calling, it was a job. They did it because they were good enough to survive doing it, which actually took quite a bit of talent in Firenze. Artists without talent did not last long, not with so many who could draw and paint decently.
But Leonardo, who had been warm and gracious and willing to talk about his ideas with her, was -good-. Very good. Even in a city filled with talent, what she could see of his work was amazing. He did not limit himself to painting, but to a variety of things. Here was a bit of jewelry, there was a carving of some sort. Scattered in one corner were gears and fabric stretched out on a frame that made no sense to her.
Even if she did not understand all of what the man was saying, Cristina could appreciate the fact he was talking to her as if she had a mind. Too often, she ran into men who thought that because she was a woman, she was mindless. Especially as an attractive woman. Having met plenty of the sort, she could almost understand that expectation, but it was still frustrating to live with at times.
It was interesting watching Leonardo and Ezio interact. Already they had an easy back and forth, though Ezio had apparently only recently started his apprenticeship. They honestly seemed to like each other, and she had to smile. Leave it to Ezio to make friends with his teacher.
Of course, it seemed like being friends with Leonardo would be an easy thing. He was bright, interesting, and willing to talk about anything if one could keep up with his mind. There were insights that popped up in conversation that he seemed to think nothing about, but it made her pause and try to grasp what he was saying.
Though, Cristina was not shy to admit, at least in her own mind, that the man was...quite attractive. Which was probably at least part of her interest in talking to him. Not like Ezio, they were very different, actually. Where Ezio was dark haired and golden eyed, Leonardo had the palest blue eyes she had ever seen, and she couldn’t decide if his hair was really brown or blond. It was that frustrating shade that said it could be either, really, if one got into the sun more.
Absently, she wondered how one could get him outside more, because she was sure that he would be quite pretty with paler hair.
No, bad woman.
But it was a very pretty picture, watching the pair talk. Ezio was not as tall as Leonardo, though he was broader in the chest. Both were energetic, hands moving as they got into a discussion on a certain point of local banking politics. It did not hold much interest for her, but she wondered just how Leonardo knew of such things. Sometimes, the bankers of Firenze were a secretive lot, given their hold on the politics of the city. Between them and the Church, the people who were nominally in charge all had masters. That much she did know, and she kept a careful eye on the shifting tides of power in the city itself. The banks themselves only mattered to her in the fact of who had more power, because those people became much more dangerous. The financial side of things did not actually catch her attention much. Her family was well off, and she was expected to make a good marriage.
Her father had been making more noises about that lately, but she was young still, and ignored him. Besides, the one she was most interested in was currently arguing that not everyone could live on corn and if that was all farmers grew, there would be a glut in the system.
Smiling, she watched Ezio and his teacher, who was grinning as he listened to Ezio talk, then the man just teased him about being a banker at heart. Which got a disgruntled look, and she couldn’t help but giggle at that expression. Which just drew their attention again, and Leonardo smiled at her.
“Ah, my apologies. I did not mean to ignore you. Would you care for anything else to drink?” He gestured at the bottle of wine that he had pulled out when they had arrived, and Cristina shook her head with a smile.
“No, Leonardo, I am fine. Any more, and it shall go to my head, even with that excellent cheese and bread you have given us.” She smiled a bit more at him, and was a bit delighted to notice that Ezio looked a bit more disgruntled. If only for a moment, then he shamelessly was stealing the bottle and pouring himself some more wine.
“I admit, it has been a most fascinating conversation that I have been having, but I must drag you both to a more business-like mind.” Leonardo settled back in his chair, and he glanced from Cristina to Ezio and back again. “I have been commissioned for a painting recently, and been having a...difficult time finding the proper faces for it.”
“He means he’s being picky again.” That got a bit of bread bounced off the side of Ezio’s head. The younger man caught it after it bounced and threw the piece back at Leonardo. Who retaliated with more bits of bread.
Settling back out of the line of fire, Cristina smiled. Yes, this fit her Ezio much better than being a banker did. The son of a noble, he did not have to depend so much on the fortunes of being an artist, and if he did show talent, there would be many patrons for him. Firenze loved her artists, and the nobles loved artists who were also noble. Plus, it seemed as if Ezio and Leonardo got along well, and as long as Ezio was happy, she was going to be happy for him.
Even if it did mean having to deal with two adults acting like children.
Clearing her throat, she managed to not smile at the sheepish looks the boys wore, then nodded at Leonardo. “You said something about business?”
“I wished to ask if I might be able to convince the pair of you to pose.” He glanced between the pair of them again, and Cristina thought about it, and waited for him to continue.
“It is a commission for a painting based off the legend of Psyche and Cupid. I wish to do the scene where Psyche has looked upon the face of her husband. Many have painted it earlier in the story, but I have an image for the later moment.” Leonardo paused, and glanced at Ezio again. “It is very hard to find faces for them both, as Psyche was said to be so beautiful as to make a goddess jealous, and Cupid was inhumanly handsome.” A shrug, and he looked to Cristina again. “The pair of you would be quite good for the piece.”
For a moment, she thought he was flirting. Then Cristina realized that Leonardo really thought that. It wasn’t flirting for him, he was simply being honest.
She felt her cheeks warm. Ooh, this man was a dangerous person, simply because he was so earnest.
Suddenly, she hoped that Ezio stayed a student a long time, because she liked this man. A great deal. Charming, who didn’t dismiss her intelligence, and was quite attractive himself.
She loved Ezio, but nothing was wrong with a girl having another man to think about now and then.
“I think that it would be fun. Ezio?”
He paused, and looked at her, then smiled. “If it is what you want, bello, then I cannot see why not.”
“Excellent!” Leonardo exclaimed. “Then we shall have to plan a time for this. But for now, I am afraid, I must steal your companion, as he has much work to do. I can provide an escort home for you, if you wish.”
Cristina’s lips quirked up at the corners. “If you would be so kind, it would be greatly appreciated. I must invite you over at some point, because I think my parents would love to hear more of your ideas, and they are always looking for a good artist.”
If this man was going to be teaching Ezio, then it was good to give him more patrons. Besides, she liked him.
Smiling as Ezio started to complain about always working, Cristina sat in her seat and listened. Things were going to be interesting from here on out, she thought.