Good, he thought. He liked his mercenary pirates to be a little scared before they died.
And die he did. The pirate’s eyes rolled up as Altaïr buried his blade in his side then sawed quickly to the front, opening a vast gash in his flank as he dropped to the deck, joining his companion. Now the Assassin scaled the ladder and then he was blinking in the sunlight as he found himself on the main deck, casting his eyes around in search of his escapee. Pirates, alerted by the sudden presence of Maria, came running. A shout went up as they saw Altaïr and realization dawned on them. He dashed across the deck, ducking beneath rigging, then running nimbly down the gangplank and on to Kyrenia docks, desperately looking for a place to hide where he could let the threat go by.
And then, he thought angrily, he was going to find Maria. This time he wouldn’t allow her to escape.
He looked around. Another city held by the Templars. It twinkled in the sun. Somehow it was too beautiful to be in the hands of the enemy.
At least finding Maria caused him no difficulty. Trouble came to her like rats to a ship’s hold. Sure enough when Altaïr next crossed paths with her, pirate corpses were strewn at her feet and three local men were standing nearby, flicking blood from their swords and recovering their breath after battle. They tensed as Altaïr appeared and he held up his hands in a gesture of good faith, taking in the scene: Maria, the men, the dead bodies.
Once again, it seemed, she’d had a lucky escape.
‘I thought I’d seen the last of you,’ he said to her, arms still upraised.
She had a gift for refusing to be surprised at any turn of events. ‘If only I were so lucky…’
He frowned at her, then addressed one of the Cypriot men, the likely leader. ‘What is your business with this woman? Are you a Templar lackey?’
‘No, sir,’ stammered the man. He stood with his sword drawn and Altaïr’s hands were empty, but even so, the Cypriot knew a skilled warrior when he saw one. ‘The pirates attacked her and I had to help. But I’m no lackey. I hate the Templars.’
‘I understand. You’re not alone,’ replied Altaïr.
The man nodded gratefully, their common purpose established. ‘My name is Markos, sir. I’ll help in any way I can, if it means ridding my country of these Crusaders.’
Excellent, thought Altaïr. ‘Then I need you to keep this woman safe until I return. I have to find someone before the Templars do.’
‘We’ll be at the harbour all day. She’ll be safe here with us,’ said Markos, and once again Maria was grumbling as the men hauled her away. She’d be all right, thought Altaïr, watching them go. She’d spend the day between a couple of burly Cypriots, watching the world go by in Kyrenia harbour: there were better ways to waste a few hours, but also far worse. At least he knew she’d be safe while he met with Alexander’s Resistance contact, the Barnabas he’d been told about.
He found him at the safe-house, which doubled as a grain store. Walking in, Altair had called out cautiously, hearing nothing but the scuttling of mice and the distant sounds of the street. Then a man had appeared from among the sacks. He had a dark beard and watchful black eyes, and introduced himself as Barnabas. When Altaïr asked him if the safe-house had an area that could be used as a cell, he smiled obsequiously and assured him that of course it did, but then dithered, going first to one door, which he opened and closed, and then to a second, through which he peered before announcing that the drying room had a barred area that could be used as a cell.
‘I’ve been following Armand Bouchart,’ Altaïr told Barnabas, moments later, the two of them now sitting on grain sacks in the storeroom.
‘Ah … Bouchart is in Kyrenia?’ said the Resistance man. ‘He’s probably visiting his prisoners in Buffavento.’
‘Is that a keep nearby?’
‘A castle, yes. It was once the residence of a wealthy Cypriot noblewoman, until the Templars seized her property.’
Altaïr frowned at their greed. ‘Can you take me there?’
‘Well … I can do more than that. I can get you inside without the guards batting an eyelid. But you must do something for me first. For the Resistance.’
‘A familiar request,’ said Altaïr. ‘What is it?’
‘We have a traitor in our midst,’ said Barnabas, darkly.
The traitor was a merchant named Jonas, and after Barnabas had given him the necessary details Altaïr tracked him to an amphitheatre in the centre of the city. According to Barnabas, Jonas was feeding secrets to the Templars. Altaïr watched him for a while, meeting other tradesman, looking for all the world like any other businessman. Then, when he turned to go, the Assassin followed him from the amphitheatre and into the back-streets, noting as the merchant slowly became aware that he was being followed. He cast more and more frequent glances behind him at Altaïr, his eyes wilder and more frightened each time. Suddenly he broke into a run and Altaïr was in pursuit, delighted to see Jonas turn into an alleyway.
He speeded up, and raced after his quarry.
The alleyway was empty.
Altaïr stopped, glanced behind to check he was not seen, then – snick – engaged his blade. He took two steps forward so that he was level with a large, unsteady pile of crates, which was teetering slightly. He bent slightly, then drove his blade through a crate. The wood splintered and there was a scream. The pile toppled down on to Altaïr, who braced himself, almost losing his footing.
He stayed still, though. And when the wood had settled around him he relaxed, looking along the line of his outstretched arm, to where Jonas was pinned by his blade, blood slowly spreading from the wound at his neck. Still in the crouched position he’d adopted to hide, the merchant cut a desperate, pathetic figure. And though Altaïr knew he was a traitor, and that information he gave to the Templars had no doubt been used to kill, capture and torture members of the Resistance, he pitied him, so much so that he removed the blade gently, shoving aside the remnants of the boxes so that he could lay Jonas down and bend to him.
Blood oozed from the neck wound. ‘What’s this?’ wheezed Jonas. ‘An Assassin? Does Salah Al’din have his eyes on poor Cyprus too?’
‘The Assassins have no ties to the Saracen. Our business is our own.’
Jonas coughed, revealing bloodied teeth. ‘Whatever the case, word of your presence is widespread. The Bull has put a bounty on your head … and on the head of your female companion.’