“John,” I said gently, “please calm yourself. I was not followed from Italy. Nobody knows I’m here.”
“Well, I should bloody well hope not.”
“Below stairs, with the prisoners.”
“Monica and Lucio.”
“I see. I had no idea they were considered prisoners.”
But a door had opened beneath the stairs, and Reginald appeared. I knew that door; it led down to the cellar, which, when I lived there, was a dank, low-ceilinged room, with mouldering, mainly empty wine racks along one side and a dark, damp wall along the other.
“Hello, Haytham,” said Reginald, curtly. “You were not expected.”
Not far away lingered one of the guards, and now he was joined by another. I looked from them back to Reginald and John, who stood like a pair of concerned clergymen. Neither was armed, but even if they had been, I thought I could probably take all four. If it came to it.
“Indeed,” I said, “John was just telling me how surprised he was by my visit.”
“Well, quite. You’ve been very reckless, Haytham . . .”
“Perhaps, but I wanted to see that Lucio was being looked after. Now I’m told he is a prisoner here, so perhaps I have my answer.”
Reginald chortled. “Well, what did you expect?”
“What I was told. That the mission was to reunite mother and son; that the decypherer had agreed to work on Vedomir’s journal if we were able to rescue her son from the rebels.”
“I told you no lies, Haytham. Indeed, Monica has been working on decoding the journal since being reunited with Lucio.”
“Just not on the basis I imagined.”
“The carrot doesn’t work, we use the stick,” said Reginald, his eyes cold. “I’m sorry if you had formed the impression that there was more carrot than stick involved.”
“Let’s see her,” I said, and with a short nod, Reginald agreed. He turned and led us through the door, which opened on to a flight of stone steps leading down. Light danced on the walls.
“Regarding the journal, we’re close now, Haytham,” he said, as we descended. “So far, we’ve been able to establish that there exists an amulet. Somehow it fits with the storehouse. If we can get hold of the amulet . . .”
At the bottom of the steps, iron cressets on poles had been set out to light the way to a door, where a guard stood. He moved to one side and opened the door for us to pass through. Inside, the cellar was as I remembered it, lit by the flickering light of torches. At one end was a desk. It was bolted to the floor and Lucio was manacled to it, and beside him was his mother, who was an incongruous sight. She sat on a chair that looked as though it had been brought into the cellar from upstairs especially for the purpose. She was wearing long skirts and a buttoned-up overgarment and would have looked like a churchgoer were it not for the rusting iron restraints around her wrists and the arms of the chair, and especially the scold’s bridle around her head.
Lucio swivelled in his seat, saw me and his eyes burned with hatred, then he turned back to his work.
I had stopped in the middle of the floor, halfway between the door and the decypherers. “Reginald, what is the meaning of this?” I said, pointing at Lucio’s mother, who regarded me balefully from within the scold’s bridle.
“The branks is temporary, Haytham. Monica has been somewhat vocal in her condemnation of our tactics this morning. Hence we have moved them here for the day.” He raised his voice to address the mother and son. “I’m sure they can return to their usual residence tomorrow, when they have recovered their manners.”
“This is not right, Reginald.”
“Their usual quarters are much more pleasant, Haytham,” he assured me testily.
“Even so, they should not be treated this way.”
“Neither should the poor child in the Black Forest have been scared half to death with your blade at his throat,” snapped Reginald.
I started, my mouth working but lost for words. “That was . . . That was . . .”
“Different? Because it involved your quest to find your father’s killers? Haytham . . .” He took my elbow and led me out of the cellar and back out into the corridor, and we began to climb the steps again. “This is even more important than that. You may not think so, but it is. It involves the entire future of the Order.”
I wasn’t sure any more. I wasn’t sure what was more important but said nothing.
“And what happens when the decoding is over?” I asked, as we reached the entrance hall once again.
He looked at me.
“Oh no,” I said, understanding. “Neither is to be harmed.”
“Haytham, I don’t much care for your giving me orders . . .”
“Then don’t think of it as an order,” I hissed. “Think of it as a threat. Keep them here when their work is over if you must, but if they are harmed then you will have me to answer to.”
He looked at me long and hard. I realized that my heart was hammering and hoped to God it wasn’t somehow visible. Had I ever gone against him like this? With such force? I didn’t think so.
“Very well,” he said, after a moment, “they will not be harmed.”
We spent dinner in near silence, and the offer of a bed for the night was made reluctantly. I leave in the morning; Reginald promises to be in touch with news concerning the journal. The warmth between us, though, is gone. In me, he sees insubordination; in him, I see lies.
18 APRIL 1754
Earlier this evening I found myself at the Royal Opera House, taking a seat next to Reginald, who was settling in for a performance of The Beggar’s Opera with evident glee. Of course, the last time we’d met, I’d threatened him, which wasn’t something I had forgotten, but evidently he had. Forgotten or forgiven, one of the two. Either way, it was as though the confrontation had never taken place, the slate wiped clean, either by his anticipation of the night’s forthcoming entertainment or by the fact that he believed the amulet to be near.
It was inside the opera house, in fact, around the neck of an Assassin who had been named in Vedomir’s journal then tracked down by Templar agents.
An Assassin. He was my next target. My first job since acquiring Lucio in Corsica, and the first to feel the bite of my new weapon: my hidden blade. As I took the opera glasses and looked at the man across the hall—my target—the irony of it suddenly struck me.