‘And how do I get inside?’ he asked.
Alexander told him about Osman, a Templar whose sympathies lay with the Cypriot Resistance. ‘Kill the captain of the guard,’ he said. ‘With him dead it’s likely Osman will be promoted to the post. And if that happens, well, you could walk straight in.’
‘It’s a start,’ said Altaïr.
As he moved through the streets of the city he marvelled at how quiet it was. As he walked, he thought of Maria and the Apple. He had brought it with him, of course – it remained in the cabin of his ship. Had it been foolish, perhaps, to bring the Treasure into such close proximity with the enemy? Only time would tell.
At the marketplace he located the Templar captain of the guard, who had kindly made himself easy to spot, wearing a red tunic over chainmail and looking as imperious as a king. Altair looked around, seeing other guards in the vicinity. He lowered his head, drawing no attention to himself, avoiding the gaze of a guard who watched him with narrowed, suspicious eyes. When he passed on, he did so looking for all the world like a scholar. Then, very carefully, he began to work his way around, manoeuvring himself to the rear of the captain, who stood at the other end of the lane, barking orders at his men. Apart from the captain and now his killer, the lane was empty.
Altaïr took a throwing knife from the sheath at his shoulder, then, with a flick of his wrist, set it free. The captain sank to the stone with a long groan, and by the time the guards came running, Altaïr had taken an adjoining alley and was melting into the empty side-streets. His task fulfilled, he had now to go in search of Osman, just as Alexander had instructed.
Stealthy and fast, he made his way across the rooftops of the sun-bleached city, scuttling catlike across the wooden beams, until he found himself overlooking a courtyard. There below him was Osman. A Templar, he nevertheless had Assassin sympathies, and Altaïr waited until he was alone before lowering himself into the courtyard.
As he did so, Osman looked from Altaïr to the wall above them, then back again, regarding his visitor with amused eyes. At the very least he had a high regard for the Assassin’s stealth.
‘Greetings, Osman,’ said Altaïr. ‘Alexander sends his regards, and wishes your grandmother a joyous birthday.’
Osman laughed. ‘The dear lady, may she rest in peace. Now, how may I help you, friend?’
‘Can you tell me why the Templars purchased Cyprus? Was it to set up another exchequer?’
‘I don’t rank high enough to know for certain, but I have heard talk of an archive of some kind,’ said Osman, as he looked left, then right. If he was seen talking to Altaïr he would almost certainly be put to death in the market square.
‘An archive? Interesting. And who is the ranking Templar in Limassol?’
‘A knight named Frederick the Red. He trains soldiers in Limassol Castle. A real brute.’
Altaïr nodded. ‘With the castle guard dead, what would it take to get me inside?’
‘Assuming I’m appointed to his position, I could find an excuse to reduce the castle watch for a short time. Would that work?”
‘I’ll make it,’ said Altaïr.
Things were moving quickly.
‘Osman is making the arrangements,’ he told Alexander later, back at the safe-house. While he’d been out, Maria had spent much of the day in the storeroom where she had kept Alexander entertained with a string of insults and wisecracks, her infuriation only increasing when he had asked her to repeat them, a fan of her English diction. Now, however, she had been allowed out to eat and sat on an unsteady wooden chair, glaring at Altaïr and Alexander, who sat talking, and shooting angry glances at any other Resistance men who happened to pass through.
‘Excellent. Now what?’ said Alexander.
‘We give him some time,’ said Altaïr. He turned to Maria. ‘He also told me about the Templar archive. Have you heard of such a thing?’
‘Of course,’ said Maria. ‘That’s where we keep our undergarments.’
Altaïr despaired. Turning back to Alexander, he said, ‘Cyprus would be a good location to safeguard both knowledge and weapons. With the right strategy, it’s an easy island to defend.’
He stood. Osman would have had time to clear the castle walls by now. It was time to infiltrate the castle.
A short while later he found himself in the courtyard of Limassol Castle, ready for the infiltration. Staying in the shadows, he looked up at the forbidding stone walls, noting the arches that were guarded and timing the movements of the men on the ramparts.
He was pleased to note that there were just a few men: Osman had done his work well. The fortress wasn’t completely insecure but Altaïr could get in. And that was all he needed.
He scaled a wall to the ramparts, then crept into the castle. A guard screamed and fell, one of Altaïr’s throwing knives in his neck. Another heard the commotion and came running along the hallway, only to meet the Assassin’s blade. Altaïr lowered the guard to the stone, placed his foot to his back and retrieved his blade, which dripped blood to the floor. Then he continued making his way through the sparsely inhabited castle, disposing of guards when he saw them. Osman really had done his job efficiently. Not only had there been fewer guards on the walls but there seemed to be an absence of men inside as well. Altaïr ignored the uncertainty that formed in his gut. The twinge of disquiet.
Up and up he went, further and further into the castle’s inner sections until he came to a balcony overlooking a large courtyard used as a training square.
There he saw Frederick the Red, a huge, bearded giant presiding over a duel between two of his men. The sight of him made Altaïr smile. The genial spy Osman had been right. Frederick the Red was indeed a brute of a man.
‘No mercy, men,’ he was roaring. ‘This is an island of superstitious heathens. Remember, they do not want you here, they do not like you, they do not understand the true wisdom of your cause, and they are scheming at every turn to cast you out. Stay on your guard, and trust no one.’
Both in full armour, the two knights battled it out, the sound of their swords ringing around the yard. Staying out of sight on the balcony above, Altair listened to the Templar leader as he spurred them on.
‘Find the chinks in your opponent’s armour. Strike hard. Save your celebrations for the tavern.’
Now Altaïr stood and took a step up to the wall, in plain sight of the three men in the training yard below. Still they remained engrossed in the battle. He gauged the height from where he stood to the stone below, then took a deep breath, stretched out his arms and jumped.