I put my hand to my neck, which was bandaged from the fight with Pointy-Ears and still painful from the rope burn. “Yes, Edward, I have had first-hand experience of how you treat your men.”
He sighed, waved away Dr. Tennant, who retired, closing the flaps of the tent behind him, then sat heavily, putting one boot to the bed as though to stake his claim on it. “Not my men, Kenway. Criminals. You were delivered to us by the Dutch in the company of a deserter, a man who had gone absent with a companion. Naturally, you were assumed to be the companion.”
“And what of him, Edward? What of the man I was with?”
“This is the man you’ve been asking about, is it? The one Dr. Tennant tells me you’re especially interested in, a—what did he say now?—‘a pointy-eared man.’” He couldn’t keep the sneer out of his voice as he said it.
“That man, Edward—he was there the night of the attack on my home. He’s one of the men we have been seeking these last twelve years.” I looked at him hard. “And I find him enlisted in your army.”
“Indeed—in my army. And what of it?”
“A coincidence, don’t you think?”
Braddock always wore a scowl, but now it deepened. “Why don’t you forget the insinuations, boy, and tell me what’s really on your mind. Where is Reginald, by the way?”
“I left him in the Black Forest. No doubt he’s halfway home by now.”
“To continue his research into myths and old wives’ tales?” said Braddock with a contemptuous flick of his eyes. Him doing that made me feel strangely loyal to Reginald and his investigations, despite my own misgivings.
“Reginald believes that if we were able to unlock the secrets of the storehouse, the Order would be the most powerful it has been since the Holy Wars, perhaps ever. We would be poised to rule completely.”
He gave a slightly tired, disgusted look. “If you really believe that then you’re as foolish and idealistic as he is. We don’t need magic and tricks to persuade people to our cause, we need steel.”
“Why not use both?” I reasoned.
He leaned forward. “Because one of them is a rank waste of time, that’s why.”
I met his gaze. “That’s as may be. However I don’t think the best way to win men’s hearts and minds is to execute them, do you?”
“And has he been put to death?”
“Your friend with—sorry, what was it?—‘pointy ears.’”
“Your ridicule means nothing to me, Edward. Your ridicule means as much to me as your respect, which is nothing. You may think you tolerate me only because of Reginald—well, I can assure you the feeling is entirely mutual. Now, tell me, the pointy-eared man, is he dead?”
“He died on the scaffold, Kenway. He died the death he deserved.”
I closed my eyes and for a second lay there aware of nothing but my own . . . what? Some evil, boiling broth of grief, anger and frustration; of mistrust and doubt. Aware, also, of Braddock’s foot on my bed and wishing I could lash out with a sword and purge him from my life for ever.
That was his way, though, wasn’t it? It wasn’t my way.
“So he was there that night, was he?” asked Braddock, and did he have a slightly mocking tone in his voice? “He was one of those responsible for killing your father, and all of this time he’s been among us, and we never knew. A bitter irony, wouldn’t you say, Haytham?”
“Indeed. An irony or a coincidence.”
“Be careful, boy, there’s no Reginald here to talk you out of trouble now, you know.”
“What was his name?”
“Like hundreds of men in my army his name was Tom Smith—Tom Smith of the country; much more about them we don’t know. On the run, probably from the magistrates, or perhaps having killed his landlord’s son in a duel, or deflowered a landowner’s daughter, or perhaps romped with his wife. Who’s to say? We don’t ask questions. If you were to ask does it surprise me that one of the men we hunted was here among my army all of the time, then my answer would be no.”
“Did he have associates in the army? Somebody that I could talk to?”
Slowly, Braddock took his foot from my cot. “As a fellow Knight you are free to enjoy my hospitality here and you may of course conduct your own enquiries. I hope that in return I can also call upon your assistance in our endeavours.”
“And what might they be?” I asked.
“The French have laid siege to the fortress of Bergen op Zoom. Inside are our allies: the Dutch, Austrians, Hanoverians and Hessians, and of course the British. The French have already opened the trenches and are digging a second set of parallel trenches. They will soon begin their bombardment of the fortress. They will be trying to take it before the rains. They think it will give them a gateway to the Netherlands, and the Allies feel that the fortress must be held at all costs. We need every man we can get. You see now why we do not tolerate deserters. Do you have a heart for the battle, Kenway, or are you so focused on revenge that you cannot help us any more?”
1753, SIX YEARS LATER
7 JUNE 1753
“I have a job for you,” said Reginald.
I nodded, expecting as much. It had been a long time since I’d last seen him and I’d had the feeling that his request to meet wasn’t just an excuse to catch up on tittle-tattle, even if the venue was White’s, where we sat supping an ale each, an attentive and—it hadn’t escaped my notice—buxom waitress keen to bring us more.
To the left of us a table of gentlemen—the infamous “gamesters of White’s”—were playing a rowdy game of dice, but otherwise the house was empty.
I hadn’t seen him since that day in the Black Forest, six years ago, and a lot had happened since. Joining Braddock in the Dutch Republic, I’d served with the Coldstreams at the Siege of Bergen op Zoom, then until the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle the following year, which marked the end of that war. After that I’d remained with them on several peace-keeping campaigns, which had kept me away from Reginald, whose correspondence arrived either from London or from the chateau in France. Aware that my own letters could be read before they were sent, I’d kept my correspondence vague while privately looking forward to the moment I could at last sit down with Reginald and talk over my fears.
But, returning to London, and once again taking up residence at Queen Anne’s Square, I found he was not available. That was what I was told: he had been sequestered with his books—he and John Harrison, another Knight of the Order, and one who seemingly was as obsessed with temples, ancient storehouses and ghostly beings from the past as he was.