Federico is not sure what he’s supposed to do.
The feather is as long as his forearm and as wide as his wrist and in such a pristine white that he is sure that doves would cry at the sight of it. Federico handles it with caution, and confusion. Among the blood and ruin of the Palazzo Alberti, it seems to be the only thing to have been spared.
There is no sign that all of this chaos is that of someone searching eagerly. No, none of Uberto’s possessions seem to have been taken, and that which one would expect to be overturned-- the desk, the chest tucked into the corner where Federico found a number of hidden missives, the loose floorboard beneath the overturned bed-- hadn’t been so much as touched before Federico got here. If this was an enemy of Alberti, they came here to send a message. If this was an Assassin…
Father couldn’t have known, Federico decides as he flips through the letters he had found. There was a pinch between Father’s brows, when he’d sent Federico out this morning. Something more stressed than concerned. Had he known this was going to happen, he would have sent Federico to clean up, not to gather information. And he must not have known about Uberto’s arrangements with the Pazzi, then, or with the Salviati, or the Maffei. The Baroncelli. The list goes on. The more names Federico gleans from the letters, the further his stomach sinks.
This could have been an Assassin, Federico thinks. One working beyond his father’s reach. One with knowledge they didn’t yet possess. Wouldn’t have possessed, if Uberto Alberti had his way with them. The Auditore would have died here, all of them. Giovanni, Ezio, Federico himself: even little Petruccio would not be spared. An end to Auditore. An end to the Brotherhood.
Federico takes the letters, and the feather, and escapes onto the rooftops and the late-morning sun. The guard have been replaced, but they don’t often look up, and it’s easy enough to slip over their attention and back into the city. Some of the faces Federico is sure he has seen around Palazzo Pazzi. He tries to swallow back the bile that rises in his throat, but the taste sticks and lingers.
It was a violent death. Merciless. Vengeful, almost. Federico might be a stranger to the Assassin’s bloody work himself, but he is no stranger to anger, the desire to strangle someone with your bare hands. To rip out their throat with your teeth. There’s a righteousness to that kind of anger, right up until it burns you up from the inside out, leaving your hollow and staggering in its wake. Or, at least, that’s what Mother says.
Uberto Alberti was no longer a friend of the Brotherhood. He had not been for a long time. And yet, Federico stumbled to a stop against the cool plaster of a wall and vomits onto the tiles beneath him. Uberto had been their friend , trusted confidant. He’d been there for more birthdays than Federico could remember. When Federico was old enough, it had been Uberto who’d suggested a blacksmith to craft the less sensitive parts of his hidden blade. Some not-so small part of Federico is just glad that the bodies had already been moved, that he did not have to see-- that he did not have to see.
Paper crumples in his hand, and the sharp quill digs into Federico’s palm, and it’s the latter that has him gasping back into himself. He’s all but ruined the lower vane. Petruccio would be so upset, Federico thinks, and tries to push the barbs back into alignment.
In the days of old, of Altaïr and Masyaf, Assassins did not work alone. They had informants, bureaus, Dais who knew the area and who knew which were allies and which were enemies. Who checked and double checked, constantly, who could be trusted. And though Federico knows those times to be long gone, he cannot help but long for them now-- he wants to go to Paola, to his thief contacts, to anyone who might know more about last night’s occurrences, but now he finds himself hesitating. If Alberti could betray them, who else would follow?
Paola, with her razor wit and shrewd mind? She is loyal to the Auditore because they are loyal to the Medici. If the tides of power turned, who’s to say she would not turn with them? She must be a businesswoman first, after all, and ally to the Assassins second. She has too many people relying on her to be otherwise.
And the thieves? Most of them are loyal to La Volpe, but how many of them are not? If Alberti could hide his true nature so thoroughly, how many of the thieves could as well? It only takes a single spoiled apple to ruin the bunch.
That Alberti didn’t burn these letters says that he did not trust his associates. He betrayed the Assassins, yes, betrayed Maria and Giovanni’s confidence, but he betrayed the Templars too. Or, at least, he had planned to, the moment the tables shifted. It’s not-- that doesn’t make it any better , but it’s enough that Federico does not feel so much like he’s drowning on dry land.
He stands, and the world does not shift beneath him. Nothing has changed: Federico is an Assassin, and now he has a target. Targets . A list of names, to investigate and suss out, and kill if need be. Federico takes a steadying breath and lets that certainty fortify him for the moment.
Federico needs to get back. Back to Palazzo Auditore. Father will know what to do, where to start, and, if he does not, then certainly Mother will have some ideas. Federico is smart enough to know his own limits, and this. He is the furthest thing from prepared for this.
There is no small amount of shouting in the courtyard.
Federico winces and tries to keep to the shadows as he creeps around towards the window to Father’s office. Bernardo Baroncelli-- Federico would recognize that voice from across the city, if only for how loudly the man speaks. Shouting, he could surely be heard in Rome. An enemy of the Medici, outspoken of his hatred of the Medici and all who support the Medici. And, apparently, a Templar.
The sting of betrayal is less sickening, now that Federico has had a moment to clear his head. Still, knowing what the Templars had been planning makes Baroncelli’s wild accusations curl cold under Federico’s skin. He crouches behind the sill of the window, just far enough out of sight to watch Maria’s hand snap out in a single, brisk motion. A small woman Lady Auditore might be, but she is no less of a firebrand than her husband. No less of an Assassin. Federico wishes he could vocalize more often how fiercely proud he is of that.
Baroncelli looks furious, his mouth gaping and closing like a fish. Still, there is little he can do. Though his hand twitches for his sword, even he is not stupid enough to draw a blade here. He is standing in Palazzo Auditore , before the Matron and Patron of the Auditore family, and he has already pushed past the limits of their hospitality. And, from the shift of Maria’s body and the tilt of her head, she has noticed her son’s return, and she is done entertaining Bernardo Baroncelli.
“Get out,” she says, voice carrying clear through and up from the courtyard. “Your grief I understand, Messere Baroncelli, but to carry such accusations here? Into my home? Think of my children!”
Her shrill anger follows Baroncelli and his guards out of the courtyard and into the street. Federico makes no effort to conceal his mirth. Even in his grief, Baroncelli will be the laughing stock of Florence for days, if not the week. A stupid and reckless manuvere, though Federico cannot tell if it was brought on by true grief or just desperation. He turns the thought over idly in his mind.
Baroncelli and Alberti were working closely for a good while, if the comfort of their correspondence is to be believed. But if there is someone out there hunting Templars, or supposed Templars… Well, Bernardo Baroncelli is a rat of a man. It would not be surprising for him to put his own survival before anything else.
Something trickles into Federico’s awareness. A feeling, just under his skin, smooth and calming, and if he focuses on it, he can almost tell that Ezio is in his room, and Claudia is cleaning up the kitchen, and Petruccio is sitting with Claudia. Federico closes his eyes and tips his head in the direction of where he thinks he can feel Ezio. If he just focuses a bit more…
The door to the office opens with such force that it bounces off the wall, and Federico jumps, cursing as he scrambles to hold onto that feeling, but by the time he thinks he is closing his mind around it, it’s gone again. Father’s face is lined with concern, and though it softens at the sight of Federico, the stress still lines the space between his brows. Auditores have always aged gracefully, and Giovanni had never so much looked his age. Federico’s heart aches at the sight.
“An eventful morning, then?” Federico jokes, and though it falls flat to his own ears his Father smiles.
“I can only hope your morning has been more productive, my son,” Giovanni says, and though it is jovial he falls heavily into his chair behind his desk. It seems as though white has streaked his hair overnight, and from the way he sags heavily into his own hands, Federico does not think his father slept easily last night.
“Bernardo does have a way of making mountains out of molehills,” Mother says as she sweeps into the room. There is still flour on her skirt, from where the apron didn’t catch it all, and the lines around her eyes seem deeper than they were when she sent Federico to bed last night. Still, she stands tall, unyielding, and moves with an Assassin’s smoothness. “Auditore have never been friends of Baroncelli, but we have always been friends of Alberti. It was foolish and hasty of him to carry such accusations here before anything is even known about Uberto’s death.”
She stops at Giovanni’s shoulder, smiling gently as she presses a kiss to the top of her husband’s head. They are so gentle with each other. Federico only hopes that, someday, he will find a love like that.
They talk about nothing of particular importance for a bit. Federico is almost shaking with the knowledge shoved in his satchel, but they should be sure that anyone Baroncelli may have left behind will no longer be paying attention-- Claudia’s love-life is not that interesting to anyone outside of the family, except perhaps to Claudia herself, and to Duccio, though some of the rumors Federico has been hearing suggest that Duccio may not be as loyal as he has sworn to be.
Besides, it is nice to pretend to be normal, for however long it can last. To talk about Petruccio’s health is faring, or how late Ezio came back last night, and whether or not they should be expecting a visit from Messere Vespucci soon. Federico throws his head back and laughs at Father’s pinched expression at the idea of having to placate Vespucci (again).
Mother sits on the corner of the desk, looking at Federico with expectant eyes, and Federico silently prays that these will not be the last of the good times.