There was a pause. I completed the next square of land, then the next.
“When was the killing of innocents ever part of your teaching, Haytham?” said Reginald.
I gave a snort. “Just because you taught me to kill, Reginald, it doesn’t give you the final say on whom I kill and to what end.”
“I taught you honour. I taught you a code.”
“I remember you, Reginald, about to dispense your own form of justice outside White’s all those years ago. Was that honourable?”
Did he redden slightly? Certainly he shifted uncomfortably on his horse. “The man was a thief,” he said.
“The men I seek are murderers, Reginald.”
“Even so,” he said, with a touch of irritation, “perhaps your zeal is clouding your judgement.”
Again I gave a contemptuous snort. “This from you. Is your fascination with Those Who Came Before strictly speaking in line with Templar policy?”
“Really? Are you sure you haven’t been neglecting your other duties in favour of it? What letter-writing, what journalling, what reading have you been doing lately, Reginald?”
“Plenty,” he said indignantly.
“That hasn’t been connected with Those Who Came Before,” I added.
For a moment he blustered, sounding like a red-faced fat man given the wrong meat at dinner. “I’m here now, aren’t I?”
“Indeed, Reginald,” I said, just as I saw a tiny plume of smoke coming from the woodland. “I see smoke in the trees, possibly from a cabin. We should head for there.”
At the same time there was a movement not far away in a crop of fir trees and I saw a rider heading up the furthest hill, away from us.
“Look, Reginald, there. Do you see him?”
I adjusted the focus. The rider had his back to us of course and was a distance away, but one thing I thought I could see was his ears. I was sure he had pointed ears.
“I see one man, Haytham, but where is the other?” said Reginald.
Already pulling on the reins of my steed, I said, “Still in the cabin, Reginald. Let’s go.”
It was perhaps another twenty minutes before we arrived. Twenty minutes during which I pushed my steed to her limit, risking her through trees and over wind-fallen branches, leaving Reginald behind as I raced towards where I’d seen the smoke—to the cabin where I was sure I’d find Digweed.
Alive? Dead? I didn’t know. But the storekeeper had said there were two men asking for him, and we’d only accounted for one of them, so I was eager to know about the other one. Had he gone on ahead?
Or was he still in the cabin?
There it was, sitting in the middle of a clearing. A squat wooden building, one horse tethered outside, with a single window at the front and tendrils of smoke puffing from the chimney. The front door was open. Wide open. At the same time as I came bolting into the clearing I heard a scream from inside, and I spurred my steed to the door, drawing my sword. With a great clatter we came on to the boards at the front of the house and I craned forward in my saddle to see the scene inside.
Digweed was tied to a chair, shoulders sagging, head tilted. His face was a mask of blood, but I could see that his lips were moving. He was alive, and standing over him was the second man, holding a bloodstained knife—a knife with a curved, serrated blade—and about to finish the job. About to slit Digweed’s throat.
I’d never used my sword as a spear before and, take it from me, it’s a far-from-ideal use for it, but at that exact moment my priority was keeping Digweed alive. I needed to speak to him, and, besides, nobody was going to kill Digweed but me. So I threw it. It was all I had time to do. And though my throw had as little power as it did aim, it hit the knifeman’s arm just as the blade arced down, and it was enough—enough to send him staggering back with a howl of pain at the same time as I threw myself off the horse, landed on the boards inside the cabin, rolled forward and snatched out my short sword at the same time.
And it had been enough to save Digweed.
I landed right by him. Bloodstained rope kept his arms and legs tied to the chair. His clothes were torn and black with blood, his face swollen and bleeding. His lips still moved. His eyes slid lazily over to see me and I wondered what he thought in the brief moment that he took me in. Did he recognize me? Did he feel a bolt of guilt, or a flash of hope?
Then my eyes went to a back window, only to see the knifeman’s legs disappearing through it as he squeezed himself out and fell with a thump to the ground outside. To follow through the window meant putting myself in a vulnerable position—I didn’t fancy being stuck in the frame while the knifeman had all the time in the world to plunge his blade into me. So instead I ran to the front door and back into the clearing to give chase. Reginald was just arriving. He’d seen the knifeman, had a better view of him than I did, and was already taking aim with his bow.
“Don’t kill him,” I roared, just as he fired, and he howled in displeasure as the arrow went wide.
“Damn you, man, I had him,” he shouted. “He’s in the trees now.”
I’d rounded the front of the cabin in time, feet kicking up a carpet of dead and dry pine needles just in time to see the knifeman disappear into the tree line. “I need him alive, Reginald,” I shouted back at him. “Digweed’s in the cabin. Keep him safe until I return.”
And with that I burst into the trees, leaves and branches whipping my face as I thundered on, short sword in hand. Ahead of me I saw a dark shape in the foliage, crashing through it with as little grace as I was.
Or perhaps less grace, because I was gaining on him.
“Were you there?” I shouted at him. “Were you there the night they killed my father?”
“I didn’t have that pleasure, boy,” he called back over his shoulder. “How I wish I had been. I did my bit, though. I was the fixer.”
Of course. He had a West Country accent. Now, who had been described as having a West Country accent? The man who had blackmailed Digweed. The man who had threatened Violet and shown her an evil-looking knife.
“Stand and face me!” I shouted. “You’re so keen for Kenway blood, let’s see if you can’t spill mine!”
I was nimbler than he was. Faster, and closer now. I’d heard the wheeze in his voice when he spoke to me, and it was only a matter of time before I caught him. He knew it, and rather than tire himself further he decided to turn and fight, hurdling one final wind-fallen branch, which brought him into a small clearing, spinning about, the curved blade in his hand. The curved, serrated, “evil-looking” blade. His face was grizzled and terribly pockmarked, as though scarred from some childhood disease. He breathed heavily as he wiped the back of his hand across his mouth. He’d lost his hat in the chase, revealing close-cropped, greying hair, and his coat—dark, just as the storekeeper had described it—was torn, fluttering open to reveal his red army tunic.