“He’s dead,” I said simply, and looked at Reginald.
“I tried to save him, Haytham, but the poor soul was too far gone.”
“How?” I said sharply.
“Of his wounds,” snapped Reginald. “Look at him, man.”
Digweed’s face was a mask of drying blood. His clothes were caked with it. The knifeman had made him suffer, that much was certain.
“He was alive when I left.”
“And he was alive when I arrived, damn it,” seethed Reginald.
“At least tell me you got something from him.”
His eyes dropped. “He said he was sorry before he died.”
With a frustrated swish of my sword I slammed a beaker into the fireplace.
“That was all? Nothing about the night of the attack? No reason? No names?”
“Damn your eyes, Haytham. Damn your eyes, do you think I killed him? Do you think I came all this way, neglected my other duties, just to see Digweed dead? I wanted to find him as much as you did. I wanted him alive as much as you did.”
It was as though I could feel my entire skull harden. “I doubt that very much,” I spat.
“Well, what happened to the other one?” asked Reginald back.
Reginald wore an ironic look. “Oh, I see. And whose fault was that, exactly?”
I ignored him. “The killer, he is known to Braddock.”
Reginald reared back. “Really?”
Back at the clearing I’d stuffed the papers into my coat, and I brought them out now in a handful, like the head of a cauliflower. “Here—his enlistment papers. He’s in the Coldstream Guards, under Braddock’s command.”
“Hardly the same thing, Haytham. Edward has a force fifteen hundred strong, many of them enlisted in the country. I’m sure every single man has an unsavoury past and I’m sure Edward knows very little about it.”
“Even so, a coincidence, don’t you think? The storekeeper said they both wore the uniform of the British Army, and my guess is the rider we saw is on his way to them now. He has—what?—an hour’s head start? I’ll not be far behind. Braddock’s in the Dutch Republic, is he not? That’s where he’ll be heading, back to his general.”
“Now, careful, Haytham,” said Reginald. Steel crept into his eyes and into his voice. “Edward is a friend of mine.”
“I have never liked him,” I said, with a touch of childish impudence.
“Oh, pish!” exploded Reginald. “An opinion formed by you as a boy because Edward didn’t show you the deference you were accustomed to—because, I might add, he was doing his utmost to bring your father’s killers to justice. Let me tell you, Haytham, Edward serves the Order, is a good and faithful servant and always has been.”
I turned to him, and it was on the tip of my tongue to say, “But wasn’t Father an Assassin?” when I stopped myself. Some . . . feeling, or instinct—difficult to say what it was—made me decide to keep that information to myself.
Reginald saw me do it—saw the words pile up behind my teeth and maybe even saw the lie in my eyes.
“The killer,” he pressed, “did he say anything else at all? Were you able to drag any more information out of him before he died?”
“Only as much as you could get from Digweed,” I replied. There was a small stove at one end of the cabin and by it a chopping block, where I found part of a loaf, which I stuffed into my pocket.
“What are you doing?” said Reginald.
“Getting what provisions I can for my ride, Reginald.”
There was a bowl of apples, too. I’d need those for my horse.
“A stale loaf. Some apples? It isn’t enough, Haytham. At least go back to the town for supplies.”
“No time, Reginald,” I said. “And, anyway, the chase will be short. He only has a short head start and he doesn’t know he’s being pursued. With any luck I can catch him before I have need of supplies.”
“We can collect food on the way. I can help you.”
But I stopped him. I was going alone, I said, and before he could argue I’d mounted my steed and taken her in the direction I’d seen the pointy-eared man go, my hopes high I could catch him shortly.
They were dashed. I rode hard, but in the end the dark drew in; it had become too dangerous to continue and I risked injuring my horse. In any case, she was exhausted, so reluctantly I decided to stop and let her rest for a few hours.
And as I sit here writing, I wonder why, after all the years of Reginald’s being like a father to me, a mentor, a tutor and guide—why did I decide to ride out alone? And why did I keep from him what I’d discovered about Father?
Have I changed? Has he changed? Or is it that the bond we once shared has changed?
The temperature has dropped. My steed—and it seems only right that I should give her a name and so, in honour of the way she’s already starting to nuzzle me when in need of an apple, I’ve called her Scratch—lies nearby, her eyes closed, and seems content, and I write in my journal.
I think about what Reginald and I talked of. I wonder if he’s right to question the man I have become.
15 JULY 1747
I rose early in the morning, as soon as it was light, raked over the dying coals of my fire and mounted Scratch.
The chase continued. As I rode I mulled over the possibilities. Why had Pointy-Ears and the knifeman gone their separate ways? Were they both intending to journey to the Dutch Republic and join Braddock? Would Pointy-Ears be expecting his confederate to catch him up?
I had no way of knowing. I could only hope that, whatever their plans, the man ahead of me had no idea I was in pursuit.
But if he didn’t—and how could he?—then why wasn’t I catching him?
And I rode fast but steadily, aware that coming upon him too quickly would be just as disastrous as not catching him at all.
After about three-quarters of an hour I came upon a spot where he had rested. If I’d pushed Scratch longer, would I have disturbed him, taken him by surprise? I knelt to feel the dying warmth of his fire. To my left, Scratch nuzzled something on the ground, a bit of discarded sausage, and my stomach rumbled. Reginald had been right. My prey was much better equipped for the journey than I was, with my half a loaf of bread and apples. I cursed myself for not going through the saddlebags of his companion.
“Come on, Scratch,” I said. “Come on, girl.”
For the rest of the day I rode, and the only time I even slowed down was when I retrieved the spyglass from my pocket and scanned the horizon, looking for signs of my quarry. He remained ahead of me. Frustratingly ahead of me. All day. Until, as light began to fade I started becoming concerned I had lost him altogether. I could only hope I was right about his destination.