Balthasar was dogged, but while he was loyal and solid, he was no runner; Roggocio’s friend was as fast and lean as a greyhound set on deer, and as nimble. He used the crowds, carts, and obstructions to slow us, and within only a short distance I’d caught my servant and passed him, yet had not gained a step on the man running ahead.
The throng in the street was slowing me too much.
“Keep after!” I shouted to Balthasar, and turned sharply toward a stack of wooden crates beside a wine seller’s shop. I no longer feared exciting comments on my acrobatic skills. There was far worse to be risked. I leaped and made the top of the first crate, then
vaulted up to the next. From there, it was a leap to grasp the ledge of the roof, and I scrambled up, heedless of the birds that flapped in agitation at my boldness. Once on the low, flat roof, I raced without opposition.
The next building was built close, but still separated, and I sped faster and leaped the distance, risking a glance to the side as I did to see that Balthasar had fallen farther back, and the man we pursued still had half the street on us. He seemed to know where he was bound, which was worrying; I did not, and it was hard to form a strategy without a clear objective, except to catch and kill.
The next rooftop was more treacherous, littered with bottles left by someone who did their drinking in secret, and probably by moonlight; I managed to avoid them, and when I made the next leap, to a pitched tile roof, I saw that I’d gained on my target.
If I’d been thinking of my danger, I might have hesitated at the next jump, which was wider and to a higher point, but now I was fiercely committed, and I had forgotten caution. I could see that only half the next building’s length separated me from my quarry now. He’d run into a funeral procession, and though he was pressing through, to the outraged cries of mourners, he had lost his lead on me.
I put all I had into the dash to the edge, and launched myself into the gap, aiming for the next roof.
The rise was higher than I’d thought, and the gap farther, and as I realized I’d miss the roof itself, I saw that I would instead fall inside a small stone balcony with a closed door. There was no real choice to make; I braced myself, landed hard, and threw myself forward with my shoulder as lead.
The balcony door slammed back, and I stumbled into a bedchamber. No one was inside save an old woman embroidering by an open window; she blinked at me as if I were a phantom, and I did not wait to see what she might do, but moved out and into the hallway. It ran straight the length of the house to another balcony, the mirror of the one I’d landed on.
I burst out into the sunlight, put both hands on the hot stonework, and vaulted over and down. I landed hard, rolled, and ignored the aches and bruises, because only a few feet ahead was the bravo I’d been chasing.
He glanced back and saw me. His eyes went wide, and he dodged to the right, down another street and away from the choking crowds. I raced after, but I tangled with a fat old priest and went down hard enough to leave me bruised and dazed.
I shook the impact away, scrambled up, and dashed in pursuit.
He was just throwing himself through the doors of a laundry when I spotted him at the corner, and I ran after. My breath was coming in fast pumps now, sweat soaking my Montague finery; I smelled the strong soaps and lye of the vats, and saw him as he shoved aside a burly washerwoman and ducked behind some hanging wet bedsheets.
I yanked them aside. Another door. I plunged through and had just enough time to see that he’d decided to make a stand; he’d hoped to catch me surprised, and he almost did, but I knocked his blade up with my elbow as I spun, and drew a dagger with my left hand. He was fast, faster than I, and he avoided the slash and turned to run on.
I aimed and threw the dagger, but he veered and it missed its mark, merely slicing a wound in his arm and then ending its course in the wood of a barrel. I snatched it free as I ran after him.
Our pursuit burst out into the open streets surrounding the Piazza delle Erbe, to shouts and cries and flocks of pigeons making for the skies, and as I dodged the fountain, I felt a hand grab at my shoulder.
I spun, blindly striking with the dagger, and it was a lucky thing that Mercutio was just as quick, or I’d have opened his throat. That earned me an instant response as he stepped back and put a hand on the hilt of his sword. There was unreasoning black murder in his eyes. “That was ill considered,” he said. “What game have you
“A quick and deadly fox,” I said, and pushed into a run as I shouted back, “If you’re going with me, keep your head!”
I did not think he would do it—he was more drunken now than he had been before, when he’d left me in disgust—but he laughed, and easily caught up and paced me. “You’re like one of those fellows who enters a tavern, claps his sword upon the table, and says, ‘God send me no need of thee . . .’ and by the second cup, you’ll draw it
for no reason!”
I had little breath for it, but I grinned and said, “Oh, am I such a fellow?”
“You’re as hot a Jack in your moods as any in Italy, and as soon moved to be moody,” he said, and dodged a squawking rooster that fluttered in his path. “And as soon moody to be moved!”
He went on, firing quick and razor-edged barbs at me, and he was not wrong in most of what he said. I had a bad temper, a black one when it moved over me. I had quarreled with a man once for coughing in the street, and with a tailor—but not for wearing his
new Easter suit before Easter. I could not remember the quarrel rightly, in this blood-hot
But he was right: I was a dangerous man when put into this evil mood.