Hyde Park at this time of the day was chill and quiet, completed by the early morning dew and subtle chatter Leonardo found comforting. The aristocracy defined their entrances to be later around ten o'clock, so he and the young master took on a leisurely pace as they followed the winding roads without the need to uphold every social grace. For a while, nothing was spoken, only brief neighs and the clatter of hooves filling the hiatus, yet it was not a silence of discomfort, in the least, for it was understood to be the traditional prerequisite before anything was to be stated.
He absentmindedly petted his beloved horse before he inhaled the morning air and sighed serenely: fuchsia, olive, and ochre, lavender— the colors around him were ones he perceived in everything he saw, tones that reminded him of his palette lying back in his studio on his desk. Strong determination to come back here later on, perhaps in the noon with his pastels in tow, registered immediately, judging by the nostalgic itch in his fingers as they neared the western wing of Kensington Palace. Leonardo urged his ride onwards to the left and followed Ezio's cue to sweep back into one of the gardens: A diminutive smile was soon coaxed out of him as Kadar swished his tail and docilely followed the lord's mare, Theodora.
"I take that you like it here, sir?" The first line was spoken.
"I-I beg your pardon?"
Sitting languidly on the saddle was Lord Ezio of the Auditore, who pressed his mount closer to the artist's own and restated the question. "Hyde Park without traffic. It is a rarity."
"Ye-Yes. Of course," Leonardo hastily replied, inwardly chiding himself for daydreaming. "To be honest, it is my first time here, so I-I am quite taken by the extraordinary scenery." A small bird that was situated on a branch not too far away seemed to chirp in agreement. "Newnham Regis never had anything like this."
Kadar picked up Theodora's urge to trot, and he eased himself next to his companion, allowing the older man to take in the other's full profile: aristocratic, fine, no definite angles set due to the lingering presence of youth, fitted well with black riding breeches and a polished pair of hessians. Said being's disposition was a compliment to the cool and simple atmosphere of Hyde Park, Leonardo noted as they neared a small field dotted with roses and chamomiles, and he seemed a natural rider to not show any signs of discomfort on a horse so large. And as Ezio guided his mount into the tall hedges that made up an intricate maze, the artist was compelled to remind himself of how much the seventeen-year-old had matured since he had arrived in London six years past. The way the eldest Auditore carried himself could not be rivaled by any other man, and his notorious epithets seemed an embodiment of all that he mastered, that he did not scorn nor reject what others branded him as, to understand that his charisma was an undeniable pull no one could combat. He nearly ran poor Kadar into one of the bushes because of his usual tendency to lose himself in deep thought—if it had not been for Theodora lightly pushing her head against his arm, he would have never allowed himself to guide his poor creature again.
"This maze has only been constructed recently, but I have gone through it several times, so we should not be lost." The young noble veered to the left when there was a clearing with split paths, and the artist dutifully followed. "I presume that you shall enjoy what the eastern area has to offer."
Why not the center of it all? Leonardo mentally questioned, raising his hand to shield his eyes from the glare of the incoming sun. Did one not aim for the middle of mazes, the hidden treat?
However, as they wound through turns and more of the repetitive scenery of verdant shrubbery, he found himself pushing away the puzzling matter and instead think about random things once more—surely, the lord knew what he was doing, that there was a motive behind his actions. Colors and stroke techniques flittered through his mind while Grecian statues placed every now and then in corners highlighted his enjoyment: Ezio seemed to notice that he was growing more and more pleased with the ethereal scenery, so the temperate pace he now set for the two of them only heightened Leonardo's expectations for their final destination to be much grander.
He spoke out when an ecstatic robin flew past him, just to circle back once more and land on his shoulder. "Oh, such a beautiful bird."
"It seems to take to you," Ezio commented, slightly turning to the side before he allowed his lips to tug upwards. "Not that anyone could not, especially at the first glance."
Tightening his grip on the reins, the older being combated an overwhelming blush and barely remembered to loosen his hold for the sake of unfortunate Kadar, who whinnied in protest. He instinctively lowered his gaze and stuttered incomprehensible words while his mount regained its momentum, and simply hearing the cheerful chirp from his feathery friend solely darkened the tint on his cheeks. It did not help that the wind carried the last bits of Ezio's chuckles to his heated ears: Truly, the comment appeared to be one of simplicity, but the undertone Leonardo distinguished revealed much more than one could take.
The regaining of his poise was interesting for the whole five minutes it took, the artist grudgingly observed. In fact, even the most offhand inputs seemed to capture the extremities of his persona, and he somewhat flinched at how shaky his tone seemed to be when he dared to speak.
"There certainly are many birds here, my lord. This robin here is one of the many that flutter about." Fixation was apparent in the style his eyes softened at the stout body and soft feathers. "This garden is Eden itself."
"I agree—Hyde Park, and this particular maze that spans for miles, indubitably has no competition when it comes to aesthetics. However," the young master added, balancing his crop on the horn of his saddle, "the area that I am about to show you is more 'clandestine' and exquisitely baroque due to many not knowing the greater gem it has to offer. Patience will pay off very soon, I assure you, for we are almost there."
Leonardo nodded in approval. "Anticipation is all that I have."
And Ezio responded, "That is what I appreciate most about you, my good sir."
Which, of course, brought another bright wash of color to the older man's face, making him all the more aware of his indescribably foolish state in the noble's presence, that he was like another man at the start of that particular voice. "I-I thank you kindly."
He caught the slight tilt of the other's head in acknowledgement before he looked back to his left shoulder to spot his eager companion open and ready to converse: Yes, it was the strangest creature he had ever seen—not because it sang without reserve in front of a completely different specie, but because it seemed glued to him and kept to zipping up and down, right to left, as if Leonardo was the center of it all. Resuming their previous conversation helped the next ten minutes pass by very quickly, and soon, the artist was perfecting his birdcalls and immensely enjoying himself, with the robin chirping back amicably. Only when the clear voice of his patron's son was heard did he wrestle himself out the exchange.
And nearly have his breath robbed.
"I present to you," Ezio stated, "Sanctus Ortus—the hidden Eden that cannot be surpassed."
Leonardo believed every word of it.
Because it was something ethereal, lucid, indescribable; because the air was so much sweeter, the flowing body of water split into two to mirror the Tigris and Euphrates rivers; because there colors the artist had never seen, plants and butterflies that served as nymphs, and even the basal foliage took on an emerald shade that coerced his eyes to flutter shut in clear incredulity. He did not bother to stifle the gasp that escaped his lips, nor did he mask any wild emotion that overtook him, not when he could not register sliding off of his horse, only to tremble at the faint crunch of his riding boots on the grass. His senses were stolen at the untamed birdcalls and the playful tugging of his hair by the wind, and by the time his consciousness returned to him, the tugs in his fingers were relentless, urging him to paint even the most diminutive of details. It was as if this very sacred place was Eden regenerated: There was no fashion in which he could perfectly describe the Italian architecture of the main temple, benches, and statues, pristinely white against the verdant base that brought him back to texts about the Renaissance, perhaps even older epochs; there was no need to understand the ethereal in this very portal—the very splendor of London was shallow in comparison to Sanctus Ortus, the very exquisiteness of Europa could not have bested where he stood in awe.
Or, mayhap his declaration was solely fortified when he caught a gaze that reflected his very image.
He, for those breathless seconds—or had it been minutes? He could not tell—that captured them both, felt a surge of jumbled sentiments he could not place into any order: For, most definitely, to see his very reflection in the young master's gaze, palms unfurled in speechless reverence, with the clearest of expressions that held no ulterior motives to ensnare, was captivated by the very distance between them that seemed only the closest of positions. Silence was their connection; inexpressible comprehension was their link: And this was why he would lie—had lied—to be here, away from the Spaniard who demanded his very soul, away from prying eyes, slander, and libel. Such revelations could solely pull his throat tight and coerce him to acknowledge the surge of honor—and something else he dare not say—that left him winded.
"My lord," he heard himself start, his breath catching at the mollification of those eyes, "this is beautiful."
Yet, even through the most intricate of flowers and celestial gorgeousness of the scene before them, Ezio replied, "You are beautiful." His words, the warmth of that gaze, elevated the truth to something Leonardo actually believed in—to an axiom he had no choice but to believe in. "You are beautiful."
That is why he looked into the other, to see the garden that was invariably established before man ever set foot into the physical ground, and perceived a blossom take root into the very depths of his heart.
For the seed was sown years ago, he realized. For the seed was more beautiful than anything else.
And Leonardo smiled.