In the depths of night, customs officers board a galley in a harbor and overpower its guards. In the hold they find oil and silver, and a naked boy chained to the bulkhead. Stunningly beautiful but half-starved, the boy has no name. The officers break the boy's chains to rescue him, but he escapes.
Venice is at the height of its power. Duke Marco commands the seas, taxes his colonies, and, like every duke before him, fears assassins better than his own. In a side chapel, Marco's thirteen-year old cousin prays for deliverance from her forced marriage. It is her bad fortune to be there when Moorish pirates break in to steal a chalice, but it is the Moors' good fortune - they kidnap her and demand ransom from the Duke.
As day dawns, Atilo, the Duke's chief assassin, prepares to kill the man who let in the pirates. Having cut the traitor's throat, he turns back, having heard a noise, and finds a stranger crouched over the dying man, drinking blood from the wound. The speed with which the boy dodges a dagger and scales a pillar stuns Atilo. And the assassin knows he has to find the boy. Not to kill him though - because he's finally found what he thought he would never find.
Someone fit to be his apprentice.