Chapter Nineteen; Purity
I thought it impossible, but even more time has passed, and my belly has swelled even greater. I can barely walk anymore, but waddle to where I need to be. Granted, I don't even try to walk these days. Giovanni has been home for the past week, with the both of us anxious for the impending birth. I feel terrible for keeping him home, but I am too tired to argue further, and he is persistent. With each passing day he grows more excited and anxious, while I fare restless and worried. Constant thoughts keep buzzing through my head, "It should've been time already." "Is the child alright?" "Am I doing something wrong?" "What if I can't handle the pain?" Whenever I relay these thoughts to my mother, or even Francesca, they both tell me to stay calm and patient, so I listen to them. Or at least, I try to. Because after all, the thing that Auditore's are worst at is to sit still and wait.
So, I force myself off the bed and wobble down the grand staircase, and to the palazzo's courtyards. Ever since our marriage and my moving in, the garden has been faring much better. The vines that stalk the palazzo walls seem to be alive again, and are of the richest green. White flowers rest on the twirled leaves, and there are even some small vines growing on the iron gate. Giovanni has always insisted that the magic that surrounds me has brought the palazzo to life again, but I smile. He's too poetic. Truly, who would've thought?
After Guliette and Tullia help to gather water from the nearby well, I do my best to water the garden, and prune the dead leaves. Growing up in the De' Mozzi palazzo, I never took much of a liking to gardening. I would look out my chamber's window every morning to see my own mother laboring on the flowers, and one day I asked her why. I was still a small girl at the time. I was foolish and innocent, and still blinded by false perfection. So much has changed.
When I look up from the dead leaves I've now plucked, I see a butterfly descending to the iron gate. I smile now as I slowly totter closer. The sun is starting to set, and the ripples of colors in the sky reflect off the gate, and the butterfly's wings. I am close enough now that I can put a hand on the gate, and so I do. The black iron gate is cold as ice. The butterfly's reflective wings are as dark as the midnight heavens. When it notices my presence, it flutters off the gate and far up to the empyrean, where it belongs.
When I close my eyes again, I am stabbed with a fierce pain, as if a dagger itself has dug deep into my belly. I gasp, and my grip on the gate tightens until my knuckles turn white. When the pain subsides, I take a deep breath and ready myself to dart inside the palazzo. I don't know what I intended to do, maybe find help or tell somebody, but instead, the pain returns again. My gasp turns into a small yelp, and my legs wobble until I end up using the gate to support my stance.
"Giovanni," I yell now. Nothing happens. The pain stops, and then returns. Still, no one exits the palazzo. Struck with the shock of the pain again, my yell shifts to a frenzied shout. "Giovanni!"
I hear pounding from the palazzo, as if somebody is rushing from his office and then runs down the stairs. When he comes to the courtyard, his eyes are as panicked as mine.
"Is it-" He starts to ask me. My hands start to shake and my chest begins to burn as if I have been underwater for too long. Anxiety is getting the best of me, and the pain is adding to the disaster.
I didn't mean to scream at him, I really didn't. In all the horror of it, I felt bad for reprimanding him for only being a good husband but instead, I start to shout. "Yes, idiota, what else would it be?"
His eyes widen now, and under any other circumstance he would be amused, but he only rushes to my side and helps to support my weight as we both enter the palazzo. I groan when I am moved and my hands are balled into fists and my eyes are squinted shut, but none of it makes a difference to the pain. Tullia and Guliette rush to help Giovanni bring me up to the guest room, where we already planned for it to be the birthing room. The sheets on the stiff bed are pristine, and there are already two buckets of water waiting and a rough cloth, but none of it helps either. As Giovanni gently sets me on the bed, Tullia and Guliette both rush to do whatever they're supposed to do while you're helping someone birth a child.
As the time passes, the pain only grows more intense. My throat has become dry hours ago, and so I no longer shout. My neck has tired too long ago, so I rest my head on the stiff pillows behind me. The tears that moistened my eyes before have begun to dry as well. My eyes are glazed, and I can hardly comprehend Tullia using a damp washcloth to wipe my forehead, then my neck.
The revelations and power of it all has seemed to fail me. I know that in the end the experience will be well worth it. Giovanni and I will be granted a child, and we will be a family. I never could have imagined Giovanni as a father, cradling a newborn in his arms while he falls asleep, or calming the infant when he cries for his parents. I couldn't imagine myself either, feeding the child, or kissing his forehead while I sing him to sleep. The images however, seem to motivate me to some heights, so I try my best to keep the imagination in my mind and create a calmness inside me.
"Federico," My eyes are squinted shut and my husband's hand falls victim to my iron grip. "Our son, what do you think he will be like?"
"Just like his father, I suppose." Giovanni says.
"Well, he will be wise, cunning, amusing, and charming of course." Giovanni laughs. I smile now. This is how I imagined our son to be as well.
"And I suppose he will be thickheaded and full of himself as well as his father?"
"No," Giovanni shrugs. "He'll get enough of that from his mother."
All it takes from me is an iced glare, and he instantly apologizes for his joke.
"Seven devils all around you
Seven devils in your house
See I was dead when I woke up this morning
I'll be dead before the day is done"
"Uberto Alberti?" The name echoes throughout the cathedral. The small cathedral is only lit with a by a small and meek flame. How fitting, he thought. Twelve hooded figures are seated in their rightful and respected spots. When the foreign name is called, the man stands up. A small frown is imprinted on his chubby face. He wears a cross of the church, but he knows that he is staining the purity of the religion. What he is committing is worth treason, is the most vile of all actions, and is the most shameful of all sins, but he stands up anyways. The robes which are quite too large for him wrinkle when he stands, and the hem is pooled at his feet. A sword is strapped to his waist, and hidden blades are fashioned to his wrists. His skin is as pale as ghosts. He may as well be a ghost anyways. He is worth a ghost. A ghost might even be worth more than he.
"I believe it is time that we accept signore Alberti into our cause. He has proven himself a worthy disciple, and has served unerringly since the day he… stumbled upon us." Some men in the circle snicker, but the man drones on. Each action he lists is supposed to bring forth pride, but each word the old man recites only seems to harbor guilt. "He shall have the ability to share our knowledge and reap all the benefits such a gift implies. His faith to the Assassins only serve as a disguise. He will truly serve us and only our cause, as a double agent. Does any oppose?"
Silence befalls the room.
"Very well." The man sighs as if this isn't worth his time. "Signore Alberti, come. Stand." When the man faces the other, the shadows under the Templar's hood seem to fade, revealing full cheeks, a small frown, and bored eyes. His robes shield the rest of his image from the eyes, but his hand is opened and welcoming. When his speech continues, the rest of the men around the table rise out of their chairs and place their hands behind their backs and face forward and alert, like true soldiers. "Do you swear to uphold the principles of our order and for all that which we stand?"
A small pause.
"And never to share our secrets nor divulge the true nature of our work?"
The slightest of hesitations.
"And to do so until death-whatever the cost?"
The smallest of doubts.
"We welcome you into our fold, brother. Together we will usher in the dawn of the Order, defined by purpose and control."
A small dagger shines in the shadows and reflects against the small candlelight. The Borgia slits his wrist, letting a faint pool of blood glide over the blade. Now taking the new Templar's hand, none too gently, he uses the knife to slit a small cut where his fourth finger meets his palm. Now with both cut, the Borgia lets his wrist lie above the other Templar's with their blood slightly mingling. The Templars don't pay much mind to the pain. To one, it's insignificant, and to the other, it reminds him far too much of another initiation he partook in not many years ago. The scar from the ring of fire is still on his finger, but the new cut will now replace the ring. It's simple rebirth and renewal, nothing more.
"You are a Templar, brother."
Maria cradles him in her arms, and I wrap my arm around Maria's shoulder as I continue my gaze to where hers is headed. He is so small, smaller than he's ever known. His skin is tanned like his mother's. A tuft of dark hair is already grown on his head. He looks most like his mother, and none like me. I suppose it's only right this way. I wouldn't have wanted him to look like a killer. I don't deserve to be spawned. It is until the child awakes, that I am proven wrong. Maria smiles and twirls a strand of his hair around her finger.
"He has your eyes, amore mio." She whispers to me. She is right. His eyes are as bright as golden ambers. He is too innocent to be the child of an Assassin… of a murderer.
"Yes, but he is as beautiful as his mother." I reply and kiss her forehead as I use my finger to also graze the child's forehead. Instead, he grabs my finger with the whole of his hand. It shouldn't be possible, newborns shouldn't have such strength, but it only causes his mother to laugh more.
"He is as stubborn as his father." She giggles. She then sighs and turns her head to face me. Her smile is brighter than any other I've seen her display. Her eyes are dampened as if she's only shed a tear just recently. Her black hair is perfectly fixed, as if she hasn't given birth only a night before. After laboring a day and a half, the child has struggled into the world already with a harsh start. "Would you like to hold him, amore mio?"
"I… I don't…" I try to object, but she doesn't pay me any mind. Instead, she only lifts her arms a little, and I take the child from her grasp. My eyes widen as I gaze upon my child… my son. I don't try to touch him or even cradle my arms some more. He's too small and fragile, what if I crush him? Maria laughs again when she notices how much attention I'm putting into learning how to hold the child. The child seems to laugh as well, as much as an infant can.
"Dio mio, you are hopeless." Maria's happiness seems to make her glow, and our son has gained the trait from her. Both mother and son laugh at the father. "You won't crush him by holding him, Giovanni."
I only frown and instead decide to just hold my son as lightly as I can. When the infant looks comfortable, Maria leans over and tickles his cheek.
"Federico, you are loved. You are so loved." She whispers to him as she tickles his stomach now. "Your mama loves you, and so does your papa."
Our son only laughs in response.
"Maria, you do know he can't understand you." I am quick to remind her of reality, but she only pouts and continues to sing to our son. It is a soft lullaby, and I faintly remember my own mother singing it to me and my brother as we were small children. The memory almost brings tears to my eyes as I look upon our son, now falling asleep in my own arms.
"Dormi, dormi, dormi, o bel bambin." Her voice is as soft as a morning's whisper, and as sweet as honey. When her lullaby is finished, our son seems to stop stirring, and the only movement he proceeds is the rise and fall of his small chest.
"He's asleep," I whisper to her, half as a question.
"Yes, he is."
"So, what now?" I ask, clueless.
"Go put him in the crib." She tells me. I stand up from the bed, careful not to disturb Federico too much, and place him in the small wooden crib fashioned next to our bed. Before I blow out the flickering candle, I kiss my son's forehead and whisper to him.
"Your mother is right, Federico. You are loved." With that, I return to bedside and blow out the last of the candles. Maria is still weak and fatigued, so she rests her head on my chest before she falls asleep.
"I heard you talking to him." She says. "I thought you said he can't understand us."
"I thought I might as well tell him anyways." I whisper back. She smiles in approval and brushes her hair out of her face.
"Goodnight, amore mio." She says. Her voice is already barely audible, and I assume she has already drifted off to sleep before I can reply.
I close my eyes as well. I try to fall asleep, but the memory of my own mother and Mario are still fresh in my mind.
My mother died when Mario and I were still small children, and we barely understood the meaning of death. With Mario being the older brother, he didn't cry, or at least he tried not to when I was around. I would spend all day and night in the church, praying to God to let her come back. I didn't quite understand the finality of death, and I thought that if I prayed hard enough, she would come back. But no such thing happened. While Mario was learning to ride a horse and when my father finally realized he hasn't seen me for so long, he went searching for me one day in Monteriggioni. When he found me in the church, he reprimanded me for being so foolish. I cried more.
I didn't understand he was already starting to mold my emotions into those of an Assassin. I didn't understand he was being so harsh because he wanted me to grow emotionless one day.
I didn't realize I was praying until I started forming the words in my head.
Please, don't let my son's life be influenced by the conspiracies.
Let him be free and pure.
A/N: And I'll leave you off with that heartbreaking note.
I almost cried while writing parts of this chapter. This is getting too emotional for me.
On the part with the Templar Initiation, I had to make a bit of it up and go off of the AC3 sequence as well, since they never really showed us a real Renaissance Initiation... sorry if my imagination is a bit off.
Just wanted to mention how this chapter is a bit odd compared to others with the switches of Points of View and added lyrics. I decided to put in the lyrics to represent the change of mood without explicitly announcing the new character...
The first song lyrics are from Seven Devils by Florence and the Machine