Cristina absently ran her fingers through her hair as the breeze ruffled it, trying to keep her pins in place. It was another beautiful day, though windy. The market was busy as usual.
She'd always liked strolling through the Florentine bazaar as a young girl. There were always new scents to smell, new sights to see, new people to find
but now as a twenty-six year old woman, she'd found the excitement somewhat dulled. However, the walk did do her troubled mind some good.
It'd been two months since she'd informed Ezio Auditore that she would never see him again. That had been in Venice. And yet whenever she returned home, there'd be another note with that long, sprawled writing on its face, imploring her to meet with him. And so far, she'd managed to ignore every single one.
Except tonight would be different.
The road was mostly empty, as the evening hours were fast approaching. Cristina noted that she was not that far from home (or her new home, as it were), but she didn't want to go back just yet. As she changed her course, she began to ponder tomorrow's plans; what she would wear that night and other trivial matters.
But her wondering did not get far, as two large hands wrapped around her body and she was yanked from the street. A leather glove secured itself over her mouth before she could scream, and her eyes widened as she was lifted off her feet and slung over a man's shoulder.
In the growing darkness it became harder and harder to mark the names of buildings they passed as her captor ran. Cristina tried her best to make eye contact with a guard, or bystander, or anyone who could have helped her, but there were none to be found. Her abductor was using side streets and alleys.
Finally, he began to slow. Brown eyes darting anxiously, Cristina recognized the dilapidated Palazzo Auditore. Her fear slowly turned to curiosity as the stranger set her down gently. She took a moment to gather her breath, but when she looked up she was not surprised to find her former lover staring down at her.
Her mouth opened, but he put a finger to her lips and led her inside.
The Auditore house was just as desolate on the interior. Broken tables, dusty cabinets and ravaged paintings all lay where they were thrown on that day almost ten years ago. The air was thick with mold, and Cristina held a hand to her face as Ezio pulled her through the debris, heading for the fireplace. She watched as his glove wrapped around something she couldn't quite see and yanked downwards. Suddenly there was a click, and the empty hearth before them sank into the ground, revealing a passage.
Cristina followed the Assassin inside, feeling quite adventurous. The path led them to a small yet cozy looking office. In the center sat a desk, swamped with documents. A cursory glance informed her that the desk was mostly unused, as many of the papers were headed with dates prior to 1459. The room was lit by candlelight, and a makeshift bed had been arranged on the floor using pillows and mattresses from the upstairs bedrooms.
do you live here?" She finally asked when she could talk.
"Yes," Ezio replied quietly and pulled his white hood down around his shoulders. "When I'm working in Florence and there's nowhere else to stay."
"Ezio," She sighed and leaned against the desk, gaze drifting to the flickering candle flames, "Enough. I already told you, I don't want to see you anymore."
He nodded distantly, "Si, but
"I don't believe you."
Cristina gritted her teeth, but she was too tired to feel frustration, "Why not? I'm married now, Ezio. And you
? I don't even know what you are."
"Fine," he took a step closer, "So we both accept that it would never work out."
"Good," She said, straightening, "Then that's that."
"No," Ezio blocked her path, his face set firmly, "Cristina, listen to me."
"What is it?" The woman replied impatiently.
"I know we can't be together," He began, "And I promise to leave you alone after tonight. But I want to finish it. I want
" He hesitated, searching for the right word. "
"Closure?" She almost laughed, "You wait eight years before showing up and claiming you want 'closure'?"
"Cristina, please," His hands settled on her shoulders, and the seriousness in his gaze caused her to soften, "Do you think I planned for my family to die? I wanted to marry you, but that choice was out of my control."
He leaned closer. Cristina felt something bubble within her when Ezio's lips brushed hers and he whispered:
"So let us have this one night; the night you denied me Carnevale."
Despite everything she knew was right, every moral she'd been raised with, Cristina could not resist. When he kissed her, deep and passionate just as he'd been in Venice, he took more than just her breath away.
Ezio accepted her moan of pleasure as permission to proceed, straddling her urgently. Cristina floated along, head swimming, thoughts disconnected and all sense of reality quickly leaving her. When her lover tore out the laces in her corset and she pushed him against the bed, they were teenagers all over again. Two ignorant children tangled in each other, just as they had been the night before everything changed.
Cristina didn't realize how much she'd missed his touch. Why had she refused him so many years ago when he'd asked her to come with? They could have been married. She could have fled with him to Spain. There could have been a family.
Could have been
For once, she stopped thinking about the 'could-have-been' and focused on the present. Finally, after a decade of waiting, she and Ezio lay together, face to face, and nothing felt more right.
And the morning after, nothing would feel more wrong.
Cristina awoke the next day with a foggy mind. She was home again, wondering if her memories were only a dream. But once she had dressed and gone down to meet her husband, he'd enveloped her in a tight hug.
"Thank god, Cristina! I was afraid you wouldn't wake."
"Manfredo?" She frowned, disconnecting herself from the man she suddenly knew she would never love, "What happened?"
He chewed his lip, anxiously replying, "I returned home very late last night, and heard a prowler in the house. He was in the bedroom, standing over you!"
"I was already in bed?"
Manfredo nodded, concerned, "Are you alright, my love? You were not hurt, si?"
She smiled sadly at him. "No, I was not hurt."
As she moved about her day, Cristina wondered how early Ezio had to have awakened to bring her home undetected. She blushed when she considered how long he lay staring at her, brushing her cheek perhaps.
But soon he was gone from Florence, as she knew he would be. He'd wanted 'closure', but that night stirred every emotion but peace in Cristina's heart. How had one man so completely ruined her life? When he'd wanted her, she'd turned him away. Now, the one time he'd sworn to stay away from her, she desired him more than ever.
Recollections of that mysterious night faded with time. Ezio did not enter her mind again until Cristina found herself with her head in the Arno, offering the river her breakfast.
"How do you feel, madonna?" Her servant asked, the girl's small hand pressing into Cristina's back in a reassuring manner.
Cristina only whimpered and coughed up the last of her semi-digested food. She allowed her friend and maid to clean her up with a handkerchief and bring her a drink of water to wash her mouth with. When Cristina felt well enough, she lamented:
"What's wrong with me, Francesca? I have been like this all week." She sighed, a palm pressing against the clammy skin of her forehead, "Soon I will be forced to abandon breakfast all together."
"Madonna," Francesco whispered vitally, eyes darting about before she spoke, "it is not my place to say, but I have an idea."
Cristina's eyebrows rose, but she caught onto her servant's sudden secrecy and leaned closer.
"Have you and the master been
busy in the bedroom?"
The former Vespucci's eyes widened and an indignant blush heated her cheeks, "No! Not at all, amica!"
However Francesca's serious expression did not change; it only seemed to grow more concerned.
"Try to think, madonna. Have you made love to anyone recently?"
Cristina was not often short with people, but even she felt the need to smack her prying servant when the realization dawned on her. Her jaw dropped along with her stomach.
" the name had not left her lips in weeks. "No, that's impossible."
"Scusi?" her companion asked.
"Francesca," Cristina swallowed, "Could I
could I be pregnant?"
The servant nodded gravely. "Yes, madonna. You very well could be."
Convincing Manfredo that the baby was his was out of the question. The man was rarely ever home, and when he was Cristina was too tired to put up with him. He was not a cruel husband, merely a boring one. Cristina could not recall any time they had slept together out of love since their wedding.
Her servants suggested many varieties of wine and spices. Francesca told her a special recipe that many a maid had used to prevent an unwanted result of their master's affection. But Cristina could not kill it. No, she thought, she would not murder Ezio's child.
So what was to be done? The question plagued the noblewoman for the remainder of the month. At one point she'd even attempted subterfuge, trying to seduce Manfredo into at least climbing into bed with her so there could be some suspicion.
"You are not well, my love," he had winced as he said it, carefully removing her fingers from his shoulders, "The doctors don't recommend it and I do not want to hurt you."
Finally running out of options, Cristina wrote a letter to the baby's father. She hadn't the first clue where to address it, or who to sign as.
So it was to her great shock that she received a visitor that night who not only knew Ezio's name, but also already knew she was pregnant with his child.
The caped man had been sitting in her window as she sealed the envelope. Cristina hadn't even noticed him until he cleared his throat.
"Well, it seems the eagle has finally laid an egg."
She gasped and nearly tumbled from her chair, eyes bulging at the hooded figure that stepped casually into her room.
The older man paused, examining his nails.
"Even if it fell from the nest as he took flight."
"Who are you?" Cristina choked out, clutched the letter to her chest.
The stranger turned his stare on her and smiled. Cristina shuddered.
"Someone who knows Ezio Auditore."
She relaxed slightly, but was aware that not all of her lover's associates were as innocent as they seemed.
"Do not worry, bella. I am not here to kill, only to watch."
"What do you want?" Cristina demanded, though it seemed more of a plea than a command.
"I think the question is, what do you want from me?" The man with the violet eyes corrected, "Did I not just state who I am?"
His cryptic words and hidden smiles made her head hurt. Cristina fingered the letter and hesitantly held it out.
"If you know Ezio," she began, "could you give this to him? It is very important."
"Of course, madonna." He bowed and was gone with a swish of his brown cape.
Cristina hugged Manfredo closely that night. Whether it was the pregnancy or her own fear, she felt very cold.
Two months after Ezio had abducted her, Cristina's belly began to grow. Her own husband said nothing, probably attributing it to her sudden interest in thick cream cakes. She knew the older man would figure it out eventually, but how long she had could not be said.
Three and a half months into the pregnancy, Cristina still did not know how to tell her husband. The cloaked stranger (La Volpe, as he'd cryptically instructed she call him) took more letters for Ezio, but never brought any back. Finally, one evening, as Cristina lay in her bed rubbing her stomach, Manfredo asked her:
"Darling, what's wrong? You've been so sick recently
He sat on the mattress beside her, but Cristina remained silent. Her husband took her hand, smoothing her skin with his thumb.
"Manfredo," she whispered, "I am with child."
She felt him freeze. There was silence between them for a few charged seconds, until he spoke again.
"Why did you not tell me at once?"
Cristina bit her lip. She stared at the ceiling when she answered, "I wanted to be sure."
Finally, he relaxed. The smile in his voice was evident as he quietly proclaimed, "Finally, mi amore. A baby."
Yes, she thought, a baby. But to what family?
As time passed, Ezio's child only continued to confound its mother. The cravings were particularly awful, and Cristina often wondered how the Assassin would have responded to her sudden needs for cinnamon and sausage (occasionally combined). However, Manfredo was a compliant father, and was usually able to provide his wife with the sustenance she required. He even joked about it, pondering what could be giving his son such a unique diet. Perhaps he will be an artist, said the merchant, or an entertainer.
Or a killer, Cristina's head reminded her.
One night at the beginning of the summer, La Volpe brought a letter back. Cristina was anxious to read it, fumbling with the envelope's lid as she endeavored to read her lover's words. She did not know what to think of him; at times, Cristina wanted nothing more than to be cradled in his arms and feel his lips on her skin. And yet, she also wanted to beat him, scream at him, and tear those honeyed words from his throat.
"My angel, I can hardly believed what has happened. After all these years
you deserve a piece of happiness, a part of yourself that will last for ever."
Cristina's eyes widened as she read on, and pain of the worst kind filled her heart.
"But I cannot return to Firenze. Not yet. My work is here too urgent, amore mio. Please understand; hundreds of lives are hinged on my actions in the next few months. Venezia is in ruin, and for me to leave her now would be unforgivable."
Tears were dropping from her eyes, and she did not remember summoning them. He spoke of Venice as though it were another woman. Unforgiveable? She wanted to cry. If only he would return to Florence, she would tell him what was 'unforgivable'.
"Though I am unable to see you, rest assured that I will keep in contact until the baby is born. I apologize for my lateness in responding, tesora, but since the death of the Doge all has been hectic here. If you wish to raise the child as Manfredo's, I will bear you no ill will. What I did was wrong, and I will take responsibility for that if your husband should grow angry."
But it was right, Cristina screamed silently. You were right.
"Stay strong, Cristina. We will see each other again someday.
Six months into the ordeal, Cristina began to gain hope. La Volpe visited weekly, probably under Ezio's request. Although the man was eerie and odd, Cristina almost enjoyed his company. He was sly and charming, and he always brought news of the Assassins' work in Venezia.
At one point, La Volpe had come to her far later than normal. She had dozed off in her chair, and awakened to the sound of footsteps on the terraces floor.
"There you are," She greeted the fox with a yawn, "I have been kept waiting."
"Mi despiace," He murmured, "There has been trouble."
Cristina's jaw set and her stomach churned. "What form of trouble?"
Volpe paused and for the first time since Cristina had met him, he looked uncomfortable. A few moments of silence told Cristina all she needed to know.
"Oh, my god," She whispered, paling, "What's happened?"
"Ezio has been hurt," La Volpe hesitated again, and Cristina imagined he was gauging how much to divulge, "badly."
" She covered her face with her hands and she felt her eyes growing wet. Ezio wouldn't die, though. It couldn't happen.
It could. Not. Happen.
"I will not pretend anything, little Vespucci," The Fox continued warily, "his condition is an unstable one. But he is a strong man, and he will pull through."
"Yes," Cristina sniffed, "Of course he will."
The thief was gracious enough to take back another letter from her, this one wishing Ezio a full recovery and much health in the future.
Two weeks later, a reply came. It was very long; almost six pages of writing popped out of the envelope Cristina had labored to open. The introduction clarified much.
Cristina read through her lover's message with a relieved smile. Ezio had suffered wounds to his back and to his legs. Such injuries had put him out of commission and into his bed for longer than he liked, and to pass the time he wrote to Cristina. The former Vespucci even laughed at his words, as the Assassin's almost playful impatience was evident in his writing.
Manfredo continued on with his life, oblivious to his partner's secret correspondence. At first he'd been delighted with Cristina's round stomach, but after another month the novelty was stale. Cristina tried hard not to bother him, but she was aware that at times the pregnancy made her a complete nuisance to be around. She would be sitting in the dining room with a cup of tea, and if she happened to see Manfredo passing into the kitchen, she would suddenly need another. Five sugars. And cream, if you would. Why not a little cake to go with it? Not this cake, the other cake. Yes, thank you. And some meat? A sausage would be splendid. No, no that one. No, a different one please. No- Al diavolo, you idiot, it is not a difficult request!
Some days she felt they would kill each other before the poor baby was born.
The kicking began seven months in. Cristina had been at the market with her husband when the first pangs attacked her. She gripped Manfredo's arm tightly and gasped.
"What? What is wrong?"
In one of the rarest moments between them, Cristina looked up and suddenly he knew.
Manfredo's eyes widened and his mouth opened. When they walked home that afternoon, he smiled as he told her: "It will not be long now, mia cara."
From that day on, the baby's kicking was a normal occurrence. It could come at any time, and Cristina would probably have loved it if the only act of communication her child knew wouldn't hurt so much. Another letter from Ezio appeared, carrying with it happiness that the little one was healthy and encouragement for the labor that was to come. The Auditore promised he'd be there for the child's birth, no matter the cost.
Cristina wanted so badly to believe him.
For the remainder of the month, Cristina saw curiously little of Manfredo. Whenever she prodded, he insisted that there was work to be done and that his suppliers were in somewhat of a complicated situation, or some other nonsense. The man was hardly ever inclined to put much effort into his work, and the pained look he gave her when she doubted him only made her more suspicious. When she was alone, Cristina would laugh at the irony. She was afraid her husband was seeing puttane when she herself was the soul of infidelity. Oh, but this is different, she would tell herself. She had never wanted to marry Manfredo. It was her father's choice, not hers.
But in the end, who was to blame for the child in her stomach? Ezio, for being the lover she scorned? Manfredo, for being the boring husband who didn't care enough about her? Messer Vespucci, for forcing his daughter into a reluctant marriage? Or was it herself, for being the wretched, insecure girl she'd always been? When these questions plagued her, Cristina almost always answered with tears. Manfredo's absence only made them come more often, and to help ease her mind Cristina took often to the gardens and the markets.
It happened in early autumn. Cristina stepped into the dining room after having spent the day outside with one of her friends. Manfredo was sitting at the table, a grave look on his face. His fingers tapped against the silk cloth anxiously, and beside them sat a small chest. A platter was already set out for her, along with a glass of water.
"Manfredo?" She called as she stepped closer, "Are you alright?"
Cristina obeyed, and a terrible feeling took root in her chest. Manfredo asked her to eat and drink, insisting that she must be tired from the afternoon's activities. The wife said nothing. She only appeased her quivering stomach silently.
Finally, Manfredo spoke. His words were cold and calculated, not at all like the jovial man he'd been recently.
"Whose child is it?"
Cristina faltered. "Yours, naturally."
"Cristina, please." Manfredo chuckled, an awful mockery of a laugh. His voice was filled with pain and he turned to her with red, puffy eyes. "You do not need to carry on like this. It is bad enough I did not pay attention these past few months."
"I do not need a calendar to tell me that we were never intimate that spring. We had just returned from Venice, and you were tired. Something happened there," his voice cracked, and he took a moment to recompose himself, "and it changed you."
She would not interrupt him, though the words of protest were already rising in her throat.
"We have been married for eight years, and right now I am asking you as your husband: who did you sleep with in my place?"
Cristina could no longer deny him. Again, Manfredo was not a cruel man. He did not deserve the secrecy and the lies.
"Ezio Auditore." She admitted, looking down into her lap in defeat.
"I remember him," Manfredo sniffed, folded his hands on the table, "before we married, he asked if I loved you. Do you know what I said?" Another tear slid down his nose, and his voice was shaking again, "I answered, 'kill me here, and I will die loving her'."
"What I have I done to betray you, Cristina?" He cried, "Please, tell me where I have wronged you! I was always the kindest husband, was I not?"
" Cristina sighed, "It's not your fault."
"I figured as much," Manfredo said softly, rubbing his face with his hands. After a few moments, he continued. Manfredo looked up at her, his cheeks dark and stained, "I love you, Cristina."
"I know." She said. I do not love you back.
"And that is why I want to fix this."
She hesitated, frowning now. There was something in his speech that transformed with that last sentence, something different and-
"How do you mean?"
"Cristina," He said quietly, "do not be alarmed. I suspected you might have been with someone else for a while now, but I have taken all the precautions. The doctors told me you would not be harmed-"
"Manfredo, what are you talking about?" Cristina shouted, eyes narrowed. An instinct she'd never known was taking hold of her, some matronly feeling she did not recognize. Suddenly, she understood. She knew that this man intended to hurt her baby. "What have you done?"
"What needed to be." He replied strongly, glaring at her. "I will not raise a whore's child in my house."
A slap to the face would have hurt less. Cristina rose, feeling bold despite her circumstances.
"You would kill your own son?"
"He is not mine!" Manfredo lashed out angrily, "And I will not suffer any such delusions!"
"You cannot do this," Cristina threatened lowly, "Ezio will not let you. I will send him a letter-"
"Like he sent you these?" Manfredo challenged, pulling the pages from his pocket easily. Cristina paled in disbelief, and her husband watched smugly. "I have read them through, Cristina. I've seen his promises of affection, his love and admirations."
At once, Cristina began to feel unwell. She backed away, encouraging Manfredo to stand and approach her, like an animal with his prey. She listened in horror as he described the relationship she and Ezio had maintained as their child had grown.
"And he wants to be here for the boy's birth," Manfredo spat vehemently, "I will not allow it."
"There's nothing you can do-" She tried to protest, but Cristina's throat was closing in around her.
"There is plenty I can do," Manfredo retorted, "This is my home, and I am the master of it. All I want is to protect myself from the dangers that lay outside, and of course," he paused, delivering the next words with a sneer, "you as well, my dear wife."
She couldn't take it any more. Cristina turned and ran, bolting for the door and barreling out into the street. Manfredo yelled behind her, but she could not stop to decipher his rant. Cristina ran as long as her bouncing belly allowed her, desperately attempting to escape the invisible demons that chased her. She would outrun Manfredo, her father, her own immorality, Ezio, and finally the abomination in her womb.
And then her feet gave way beneath her and she tumbled to the ground. The moment her head hit the pavement, everything went dark.
Her vision stayed that way for some time. Cristina's body felt heavy, and there was terrible aching between her legs. She remembered moaning and crying out for her mother, but nothing comforted her but the blackness and the pain. Suddenly, her thighs felt wet, and there was pressure from all sides. Muddled sounds entered her ears- shouts of doctors, women, even Manfredo's voice was heard. But nothing seemed right.
Finally, the edges wore away and Cristina opened her eyes. She was lying in her bed at home, covered beneath many blankets. After a small bout with her weariness, Cristina sat up and looked around. To her surprise, Manfredo sat at her bedside, snoring softly into his hand. He was disheveled; still wearing day clothes despite the rooster's first crows outside.
The man awoke with a small start, but seemed relieved by her condition.
"Cristina? Oh, thank god."
Immediately he leaned over and embraced her, and Cristina was too numb to repel him.
"What's happened? I cannot remember."
Manfredo moved from his seat in the chair to the bed. His fingers stroked her cheek as he began to explain, "Cristina, you
"Poisoned?" She repeated, dumbfounded. At once, memories flashed behind her eyes. The pain in her stomach, Manfredo's jealousy, Ezio's face as they lay side by side. "The baby-!"
"The baby is gone, amore. I'm sorry."
The baby is gone.
Those words cut her more than any knife ever could. It was not just the baby that had left; it had taken a very large portion of its mother along with it. All the plans she had, the look on Ezio's face when they gazed upon their child as new parents
or had it been Manfredo's face?
Manfredo sighed, allowing her to grieve in silence. Soon, however, he spoke again:
"There is more. Cristina, there's something you should know."
Cristina looked up at her husband with empty eyes.
"The doctor said that you may never have another child," He bowed his head, unable to face her directly, "It was so late in the pregnancy and the strain of the stillborn
"Manfredo," She whispered in a voice that cracked into a million pieces, "I don't want to hear any more."
"Of course, of course."
He seemed hesitant, but he obeyed. Even when she was alone, Cristina found she could no longer shed any tears. She felt as though her entire life had just been ripped from her hands, leaving her a vacant shell. She did not want anyone or anything- not Ezio, not the baby, not Manfredo. She just wanted to sleep, to wake and find that it was all a terrible nightmare and she and Ezio would depart for Monteriggioni tomorrow.
She was twenty-six, and she would never have another child.