Altaïr nodded. ‘Thank you, Markos. You have served the country well.’
‘God speed, Altaïr.’
Later, Altaïr found his way to a ship that would return him to Limassol. There, he hoped to unravel the mystery of the Templars’ intentions, to root out the truth about Alexander.
He pondered on it during the crossing, writing in his journal,
I remember my moment of weakness, my confidence shaken by Al Mualim’s words. He, who had been like a father, was revealed to be my greatest enemy. Just the briefest flicker of doubt was all he needed to creep into my mind with this device. But I vanquished his phantoms, restored my self-confidence, and sent him from this world.
Limassol was much as he’d had left it, rife with Templar men and soldiers, a resentful populace carrying on as normal, discontent on their faces as they continued with their business.
Wasting no time, Altaïr located the new Resistance safe-house, a disused warehouse, and entered it, determined to confront Alexander with what he had learned in the conversation he’d overheard between Bouchart and Shalim. But when he entered the building it was Alexander who reacted to him.
‘Stay back, traitor. You have betrayed the Resistance and sold out our cause. Have you been working with Bouchart all this time?’
Altaïr had been prepared for a confrontation with Alexander, perhaps even to meet him in combat, but the sight of the Resistance man in such a state calmed him, made him think that he had misinterpreted what he had seen. All the same he stayed cautious.
‘I was about to ask the same of you, Alexander. I overheard Bouchart mention your name. He delivered a package to you, did he not?’
With narrowed eyes, Alexander nodded. The furniture in the safe-house was sparse but there was a low table nearby and on it the small sack Altaïr had seen handed to Shalim by Bouchart in Kyrenia.
‘Yes,’ said Alexander, ‘the head of poor Barnabas in a burlap sack.’
Altaïr walked to it. He pulled the drawstring on the sack and the material fell away to reveal a decapitated head, but …
‘This was not the man who met me in Kyrenia,’ said Altaïr, staring sadly at the severed head. It had begun to discolour and emitted a powerful, unpleasant smell. The eyes were half closed, the mouth hanging slightly open, the tongue visible inside.
‘What?’ said Alexander.
‘The real Barnabas had been murdered before I arrived, replaced by a Templar agent who did much damage before he vanished,’ said Altaïr.
‘God help us. The Templars have been equally brutal here, with captains roaming the market, the ports and Cathedral Square arresting anyone they see fit.’
‘Don’t despair,’ said Altaïr. ‘Kyrenia has already shaken off the Templars. We will expel them from Limassol, too.’
‘You must be careful. Templar propaganda has turned some of my men against you, and most others are wary.’
‘Thank you for the warning.’
Altaïr conducted a fruitless search of the city for Bouchart, but when he returned to share the bad news with Alexander he found the safe-house empty except for a note. It sat on the table and Altaïr picked it up. Alexander wanted to meet him in the courtyard of the castle. So the note said, anyway.
Altaïr thought. Had he ever seen Alexander’s script? He didn’t think so. Anyway, the Bureau man might have been coerced into writing a note.
As he made his way to the rendezvous, all his instincts told him that this could be a trap, and it was with a sinking heart that he came across a body in the courtyard where they were due to meet.
No, he thought.
Straight away he looked around him. The empty ramparts surrounding the courtyard stared emptily back. Indeed, the whole area was far quieter than he would have expected. He knelt to the body, his fears realized as he turned it over to see Alexander’s lifeless eyes staring back at him.
Then from above him came a voice and he straightened, spinning to see a figure on the ramparts overlooking the courtyard. Dazzled by the sun he put up a hand to shield his eyes, still unable to make out the face of the man standing there. Was it Bouchart? Whoever it was, he wore the red cross of the Crusader and stood with his legs slightly apart, his hands on his hips, every inch of him the conquering hero.
The knight pointed at Alexander’s corpse. His voice was mocking: ‘A friend of yours?’
Altaïr hoped soon to make the knight pay for that scorn. Now the man shifted slightly and Altaïr was at last able to see him clearly. It was the spy. The one who had called himself Barnabas in Kyrenia – who was probably responsible for killing the real Barnabas. Another good man dead. Altaïr hoped to make him pay for that too. His fists clenched and the muscles in his jaw jumped. For the time being, though, the spy had him at a disadvantage.
‘You,’ he called up to him. ‘I didn’t catch your name.’
‘What did I tell you in Kyrenia?’ chuckled the knight – the spy. ‘Barnabas, wasn’t it?’
Suddenly a great shout went up and Altaïr turned to see a group of citizens enter the courtyard. He had been set up. The spy had put out the word against him. Now he was being framed for the murder of Alexander, the angry mob having been timed to arrive at exactly the right moment. It was a trap and he had walked straight into it, even though instinct had told him to exercise caution.
Once again he cursed himself. He looked around. The sandstone walls loomed over him. A set of steps led to the ramparts but there at the top stood the spy, grinning from ear to ear, enjoying the show that was about to start in earnest as the citizens came running towards Altaïr, their blood up, the need for revenge and justice burning in their eyes.
‘There’s the traitor!’
‘String him up!’
‘You’ll pay for your crimes!’
Altaïr stood his ground. His first impulse was to reach for his sword but no: he could not kill any citizen. To do so would be to destroy any faith they had in the Resistance or the Assassins. All he could do was protest his innocence. But they were not to be reasoned with. Desperately he searched for the answer.
And found it.
It was as though it was calling to him. Suddenly he was aware of it in the pack at his back and he brought it out now, holding it so that it was facing towards the crowd.
He had no idea what he was trying to do with it and was not sure what would happen. He sensed that the Apple would obey his commands; that it would understand his intent. But it was just a sense. A feeling. An instinct.