So I decided to lend a hand. Each guard had responsibility for a pie-slice of the farmyard. Thus, the one nearest to me would move slowly back and forth across a distance of about twenty-five yards. He was good; he made sure that even while he was scanning one section of his area the rest of it was never fully out of sight. But he was also on the move and, when he was, I had a precious few seconds in which to move closer.
So I did. Bit by bit. Until I was close enough to see the guard: his bushy, grey beard, his hat with the brim covering eyes like dark shadows, and his musket slung over his shoulder. And while I couldn’t see or hear the marauding Genoese soldiers yet, I was aware of them, and soon he would be, too.
I could only assume that the same scene was being played out on the other side of the hill, which meant I had to work fast. I drew my short sword and readied myself. I felt sorry for the guard and offered up a silent apology. He had done nothing to me but be a good and diligent guard and he did not deserve to die.
And then, there on the rocky hillside, I paused. For the first time in my life, I doubted my ability to go through with it. I thought of the family on the port, cut down by Braddock and his men. Seven senseless deaths. And all of a sudden I was struck by the conviction that I was no longer prepared to add to the death toll. I couldn’t put this guard, who was no enemy of mine, to the sword. I couldn’t do it.
The hesitation almost cost me dear, because at that same moment the clumsiness of the Genoese soldiers finally made its presence felt, and there were the sounds of clattering rock and a curse from further down the hill that was carried on the night air, first to my ears, then to the sentry.
His head jerked, and straight away he was reaching for his musket, craning his neck as he strained his eyes, staring down the hill. He saw me. For a second our eyes locked. My moment of hesitation was over and I sprang, covering the distance between us in one leap.
I led with my empty right hand outstretched in a claw, and my sword held in my left. As I landed I grabbed the back of his head with my right hand and plunged the sword into his throat. He had been about to alert his comrades, but the shout died to a gurgle as blood gushed over my hand and down his front. Holding his head secure with my right hand, I embraced him then lowered him gently and noiselessly to the dry dirt of the farmyard.
I crouched. About sixty yards away was the second guard. He was a dim figure in the dark, but I could see that he was about to turn and, when he did, he was likely to spot me. I ran—so fast that, for a moment, I could hear the rush of the night, and caught him just as he turned. Again, I took the back of the man’s neck with my right hand and slammed the sword into him. Again, the man was dead before he hit the dirt.
From further down the hill I heard more noise from the Genoese assault troop, which was blissfully unaware that I had prevented their advance being heard. Sure enough, though, their comrades on the other side had been just as inept, and without a Kenway guardian angel had been heard by the sentries on their side. Straight away the cry went up and, in moments, lights were being lit in the farmhouse and rebels were pouring out carrying lit torches, pulling boots on over their britches, dragging jackets across their backs and passing each other swords and muskets. As I crouched, watching, I saw the doors to a barn thrown open and two men begin pulling out a cart by hand, already piled high with supplies, while another hurried across with a horse.
The time for stealth was over and the Genoese soldiers on all sides knew it, abandoning their attempts to storm the farm quietly and rushing up the hill towards the farmyard with a shout.
I had an advantage—I was already in the farmyard, plus I was not in the uniform of a Genoese soldier, and in the confusion I was able to move among the running rebels without attracting suspicion.
I moved towards the outhouse where Lucio was quartered and almost ran into him as he came darting out. His hair was untied but otherwise he was dressed, and he was calling to another man, exhorting him to make his way to the barn. Not far away was the Assassin, who ran, pulling his robes across his chest and pulling his sword at the same time. Two Genoese raiders appeared around the side of the outhouse and straight away he engaged them, calling back over his shoulder, “Lucio, run for the barn.”
Excellent. Just what I wanted: the Assassin’s attention diverted.
Just then I saw another trooper come running on to the plateau, crouch, raise his musket and take aim. Lucio, holding the torch, was his target, but the soldier didn’t get a chance to fire before I had darted over and was upon him before he even saw me. He gave a single, muted cry as I buried my sword hilt deep in the back of his neck.
“Lucio!” I yelled, and at the same time jogged the dead man’s trigger finger so that the musket discharged—but harmlessly, into the air. Lucio stopped, shielding his eyes to look across the yard, where I made a show of tossing away the limp corpse of the soldier. Lucio’s companion ran on, which was just what I wanted. Some distance away, the Assassin was still fighting, and for a second I admired his skills as he fended off the two men at the same time.
“Thank you,” called Lucio.
“Wait,” I responded. “We’ve got to get out of here before the farmyard’s overrun.”
He shook his head. “I need to make my way to the cart,” he called, “Thank you again, friend.” Then he turned and darted off.
Damn. I cursed and took off in the direction of the barn, running parallel to him but out of sight in the shadows. To my right I saw a Genoese raider about to come off the hillside and into the yard, and was close enough to see his eyes widen as our gazes met. Before he could react, I’d grabbed his arm, span and thrust my sword into his armpit, just above his chest plate, and let him fall, screaming, backwards to the rock, snatching his torch at the same time. I kept going, staying parallel with Lucio, making sure he was out of danger. I reached the barn just ahead of him. As I passed by, still in the shadows, I could see inside the still-open front doors, where two rebels were tethering a horse to the cart while two stood guard, one firing his musket while the other reloaded then knelt to fire. I continued running then darted close to the wall of the barn, where I found a Genoese soldier about to let himself in through a side door. I thrust the sword blade upwards at the base of his spine. For a second he writhed in agony, impaled on the blade, and I shoved his body through the door ahead of me, tossed the lit torch into the back of the cart and stayed back in the shadows.
“Get them!” I called, in what I hoped was an approximation of the voice and accent of a Genoese soldier. “Get the rebel scum.”