“Indeed . . .” said Reginald carefully.

“Then what need did I have of his journal?”

“It contains his writings. They are of interest to us.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Haytham, I had reason to believe that Juan Vedomir’s treachery went beyond the matter of his adherence to the doctrine. I think he may have advanced to working with the Assassins. Now tell me the truth, please, do you have his journal?”

I pulled it from my bag, gave it to him, and he moved over to one of the candlesticks, opened it, quickly flicked through, then snapped it shut.

“And have you read it?” he asked.

“It’s in cypher,” I replied.

“But not all of it,” he said equably.

I nodded. “Yes—yes, you’re right, there were some passages I was able to read. His . . . thoughts on life. They made interesting reading. In fact, I was particularly intrigued, Reginald, by how much Juan Vedomir’s philosophy was consistent with what my father once taught me.”

“Quite possibly.”

“And yet you had me kill him?”

“I had you kill a traitor to the Order. Which is something else entirely. Of course, I knew your father felt differently from me concerning many—perhaps even most—of the tenets of the Order, but that’s because he didn’t subscribe to them. The fact that he wasn’t a Templar didn’t make me respect him less.”

I looked at him. I wondered if I had been wrong to doubt him. “Why, then, is the book of interest?”

“Not for Vedomir’s musings on life, that much is certain,” said Reginald, and gave me a sideways smile. “As you say, they were similar to your father’s, and we both know our feelings about that. No, it’s the cyphered passages I’m interested in, which, if I’m right, will contain details of the keeper of a key.”

“A key to what?”

“All in good time.”

I made a sound of frustration.

“Once I have decyphered the journal, Haytham,” he pressed. “When, if I’m right, we’ll be able to begin the next phase of the operation.”

“And what might that be?”

He opened his mouth to speak, but I said the words for him. “‘All in good time, Haytham,’ is that it? More secrets, Reginald?”

He bristled. “‘Secrets’? Really? Is that what you think? What exactly have I done to deserve your suspicion, Haytham, other than to take you under my wing, sponsor you in the Order, give you a life? You know, I might be forgiven for thinking you rather ungrateful at times, sir.”

“We were never able to find Digweed, though, were we?” I said, refusing to be cowed. “There never was a ransom demand for Jenny, so the main purpose of the raid had to be Father’s death.”

“We hoped to find Digweed, Haytham. That’s all we could ever do. We hoped to make him pay. That hope was not satisfied, but that doesn’t mean we were derelict in our attempt. Moreover, I had a duty of care to you, Haytham, which was fulfilled. You stand before me a man, a respected Knight of the Order. You overlook that, I think. And don’t forget that I hoped to marry Jenny. Perhaps in the heat of your desire to avenge your father, you see losing Digweed as our only significant failure, but it’s not, is it, because we’ve never found Jenny, have we? Of course, you spare no thought for your sister’s hardship.”

“You accuse me of callousness? Heartlessness?”

He shook his head. “I merely request that you turn your stare on your own failings before you start shining light on mine.”

I looked carefully at him. “You never took me into your confidence regarding the search.”

“Braddock was sent to find him. He updated me regularly.”

“But you didn’t pass those updates to me.”

“You were a young boy.”

“Who grew up.”

He bent his head. “Then I apologize for not taking that fact into account, Haytham. In future I will treat you as an equal.”

“Then start now—start by telling me about the journal,” I said.

He laughed, as though caught in check at chess. “You win, Haytham. All right, it represents the first step towards the location of a temple—a first-civilization temple, thought to have been built by Those Who Came Before.”

There was a moment’s pause in which I thought, Is that it? Then laughed.

At first he looked shocked, perhaps remembering the first time he’d ever told me about Those Who Came Before, when I’d found it difficult to contain myself. “Those who came before what . . . ?” I’d scoffed.

“Before us,” he’d replied tightly. “Before man. A previous civilization.”

He frowned at me now. “You’re still finding it amusing, Haytham?”

I shook my head. “Not amusing so much, no. More”—I struggled to find the words—“hard to fathom, Reginald. A race of beings who existed before man. Gods . . .”

“Not gods, Haytham, first-civilization humans who controlled humanity. They left us artefacts, Haytham, of immense power, such that we can only dream of. I believe that whoever can possess those artefacts can ultimately control all of human destiny.”

My laugh dwindled when I saw how serious he had become. “It’s a very grand claim, Reginald.”

“Indeed. If it were a modest claim then we would not be so interested, no? The Assassins would not be interested.” His eyes gleamed. The flames from the cressets shone and danced in them. I’d seen that look in his eyes before, but only on rare occasions. Not when he’d been tutoring me in languages, philosophy, or even in the classics or the principles of combat. Not even when he taught me the tenets of the Order.

No, only when he talked about Those Who Came Before.

Sometimes Reginald liked to deride what he saw as a surfeit of passion. He thought of it as a shortcoming. When he talked about the beings of the first civilization, however, he talked like a zealot.

ii

We are staying the night in the Templar headquarters here in Prague. As I sit here now in a meagre room with grey stone walls, I can feel the weight of thousands of years of Templar history upon me.

My thoughts go to Queen Anne’s Square, to which the household returned when the work was done. Mr. Simpkin had kept us abreast of developments; Reginald had overseen the building operation, even as we moved from country to country in search of Digweed and Jenny. (And yes, Reginald was right. Failing to find Digweed: that fact eats at me; but I almost never think of Jenny.)

Source: www.StudyNovels.com