Altaïr saw the life bleeding out of him. ‘I’m worth more and more every day,’ he said, and delivered the killing blow.
When he stood up, it was not with the satisfaction of a job well done, but with a terrible sense that something was amiss. The Bull Jonas had mentioned. Whoever he was, he was loyal to Armand Bouchart and he knew of Altaïr and Maria’s presence in Kyrenia. Was that the source of Altaïr’s disquiet?
He took to the rooftops, meaning to find Markos and Maria at once.
‘Well, Maria, it seems there’s a hefty price on both our heads,’ said Altaïr, when he’d found her. Just as he’d imagined, she was sitting on a stone bench between Markos and another Resistance man, wearing the glowering look to which he was becoming accustomed.
‘A price? Damn Bouchart. He probably thinks I’m your apprentice.’
‘Someone called the Bull has dispatched his men to search for us.’
Maria jumped as though stung. ‘The Bull? So they gave that zealot his own parish?’
‘Is he a friend of yours?’ said Altaïr, wryly.
‘Hardly. His name is Moloch. He’s a pious blowhard with arms like tree trunks.’
Altaïr turned to Markos. ‘Do you know the Resistance safe-house in the Commons District?’
‘I know where it is, but I’ve never been inside.’ Markos shrugged. ‘I’m just a foot soldier for the Resistance.’
Altaïr thought, then said, ‘I can’t be seen with Maria, so you’ll have to take her. Keep her out of sight, and meet me there when you’re safe.’
‘I know some back alleys and tunnels.’
‘It may take longer, but we’ll get her there in one piece.’
Separately they made their way to the safe-house, Altaïr arriving first. Barnabas had spread out sacks of grain and had been relaxing, but he pulled himself to his feet as Altaïr entered, stifling a yawn as though roused from slumber.
‘I just had word that someone found poor Jonas’s body,’ he said, with a sneer in his voice. ‘What a waste, eh?’ He brushed grain from his robes.
‘You knew him better than I did,’ replied Altaïr. ‘I’m sure he understood the risk of working for both sides.’ He looked at Barnabas carefully, taking note of the crooked smile he wore. Altaïr took no pleasure from death – any death – and he was apt to look poorly on those who did, whether they be Templar, Assassin or Resistance. On the one hand Barnabas was an ally. On the other … If Altaïr knew one thing it was to trust his instincts and his instincts were nagging him now; just a low, hushed nagging, but insistent nonetheless.
Barnabas was continuing: ‘Yes … unfortunately, this has complicated things. Jonas was a respected Cypriot and his death has sparked riots near the Old Church. The public is hungry for revenge and the Bull will tell them you were responsible. You may lose the support of the Resistance.’
What? Altaïr stared at him, hardly able to believe his ears. That instinct of his: it moved from nagging to outright harassment. ‘But Jonas was a traitor to the Resistance. Did they not know?’
‘Not enough of them, I’m afraid,’ Barnabas admitted. ‘The Resistance is quite scattered.’
‘Well, you’ll have the chance to tell them yourself,’ said Altaïr. ‘Some men are on their way to us now.’
‘You’re bringing people here?’ Barnabas looked concerned. ‘People you can trust?’
‘I’m not sure who I can trust right now,’ said Altaïr, ‘but it’s worth the risk. Right now I need to see these riots for myself.’
‘As for our bargain, I’ll see what I can do about getting you close to Bouchart. A deal’s a deal, eh?’ said Barnabas. He smiled again.
Altaïr didn’t care for that smile. He liked it less and less each time he saw it.
Altaïr paid a visit to the church and his heart sank at the sight of the unrest. Templar guards had formed a cordon and were holding back marauding citizens, who had been prevented from moving out of the immediate area of the church and were smashing everything in sight. Crates and barrels had been splintered and there were scattered fires on the streets. Streetside stalls had been attacked and dismantled, and the smell of trampled produce mingled with the smoke. Men had gathered in groups and were chanting slogans to the beat of drums and the constant rattle of cymbals, trying to goad the lines of Templar knights, who watched them carefully from behind makeshift barriers, overturned carts and stalls. Every now and then small squads of soldiers would make short, ruthless sorties into the mob, dragging out men who kicked and yelled, and either clubbing them with the hilts of their swords or throwing them behind the barrier to be taken to the cells – not that their raids did anything to frighten the rioters or dampen their temper.
Altaïr watched it all from up high, squatting on the edge of a roof, shrouded in despair. Something had gone wrong. Something had gone terribly wrong. And if the Bull decided to make an announcement naming him as the killer, then things were going to get even worse.
He made his decision. The Bull had to die.
When he arrived back at the safe-house, he looked in vain for Barnabas, who was nowhere to be seen. Now Altaïr was certain that he had been wrong to trust him and was cursing himself. He’d listened to his instinct. Just not hard enough.
Markos was there, though, as was Maria, who had been deposited in the cell, a much sturdier design than the makeshift gaol they had been using in Limassol. The door between the drying room and the storeroom was open so they could see her: she sat behind bars with her back against the wall, occasionally kicking her feet among the rushes spread out on the floor and regarding all goings-on with a baleful, sardonic expression. Altaïr watched her, musing upon all the trouble she had caused.
He learned that she, Markos and several other Resistance men had arrived at the safe-house to find it deserted. Barnabas had been gone when they had got there. How convenient, thought Altaïr.
‘What’s going on out there?’ Markos had exclaimed. ‘The city is in turmoil. I’ve seen riots.’
‘The people are protesting the death of a citizen, a man named Jonas. Have you heard of him?’
‘My father knew him well. He was a good man. How did he die?’
Altaïr’s heart sank even further, and he found himself avoiding Markos’s eyes as he replied, ‘Bravely. Listen, Markos, things have become complicated. Before I find Bouchart, I need to eliminate the Bull and put an end to his violence.’