The book that Reginald had given me: I’d spent much of my time aboard the ship poring over it; I must have read it no fewer than two dozen times, and still I’m not sure I have made sense of it.
One thing I do know, though. Whereas before, I’d thought of Those Who Came Before with doubt, as would a sceptic, an unbeliever, and considered Reginald’s obsession with them to be at best an irritation, at worst a preoccupation that threatened to derail the very workings of our Order, I no longer did. I believed.
The book seemed to have been written—or should I say written, illustrated, decorated, scrawled—by a man, or maybe several of them: several lunatics who had filled page after page with what, at first, I took to be wild and outlandish claims, fit only for scoffing at then ignoring.
Yet, somehow, the more I read, the more I came to see the truth. Over the years, Reginald had told me (I used to say “bored me with”) his theories concerning a race of beings that predated our own. He’d always asserted that we were born of their struggles and thus obliged to serve them; that our ancestors had fought to secure their own freedom in a long and bloody war.
What I discovered during my passage was that all of this originated from the book, which as I read it, was having what I can only describe as a profound effect upon me. Suddenly I knew why Reginald had become so obsessed with this race. I’d sneered at him, remember? But, reading the book, I felt no desire to sneer at all, just a sense of wonderment, a feeling of lightness inside me that at times made me feel almost giddy with an excitement and a sense of what I can describe as “insignificance,” of realizing my own place in the world. It was as though I had peered through a keyhole expecting to see another room on the other side but seen a whole new world instead.
And what had become of Those Who Came Before? What had they left behind, and how could it benefit us? That I didn’t know. It was a mystery that had confounded my Order for centuries, a mystery I’d been asked to solve, a mystery that had brought me here, to Boston.
“Master Kenway! Master Kenway!”
I was being hailed by a young gentleman who appeared from within the throng. Going over to him, I said, carefully, “Yes? May I help you?”
He held out his hand to be shaken. “Charles Lee, sir. A pleasure to make your acquaintance. I’ve been asked to introduce you to the city. Help you settle in.”
I had been told about Charles Lee. He was not with the Order but was keen to join us and, according to Reginald, would want to ingratiate himself with me in the hope of securing my sponsorship. Seeing him reminded me: I was Grand Master of the Colonial Rite now.
Charles had long, dark hair, thick sideburns and a prominent, hawk-like nose and, even though I liked him straight away, I noticed that, while he smiled when he spoke to me, he reserved a look of disdain for everybody else on the harbour.
He indicated for me to leave my bags, and we began to thread our way through the crowds of the long pier, past dazed-looking passengers and crew still getting their bearings on dry land; through stevedores, traders and redcoats, excited children and dogs scuttling underfoot.
I tipped my hat to a pair of a giggling women then said to him, “Do you like it here, Charles?”
“There’s a certain charm to Boston, I suppose,” he called back over his shoulder. “To all of the colonies, really. Granted, their cities have none of London’s sophistication or splendour, but the people are earnest and hardworking. They’ve a certain pioneer spirit that I find compelling.”
I looked around. “It’s quite something, really—watching a place that’s finally found its feet.”
“Feet awash in the blood of others, I’m afraid.”
“Ah, that’s a story old as time itself, and one that’s not likely to change. We’re cruel and desperate creatures, set in our conquering ways. The Saxons and the Franks. The Ottomans and Safavids. I could go on for hours. The whole of human history is but a series of subjugations.”
“I pray one day we rise above it,” replied Charles earnestly.
“While you pray, I’ll act. We’ll see who finds success first, hmm?”
“It was an expression,” he said, with a wounded edge to his voice.
“Aye. And a dangerous one. Words have power. Wield them wisely.”
We lapsed into silence.
“Your commission is with Edward Braddock, is it not?” I said, as we passed a cart laden with fruit.
“Aye, but I figured I might . . . well . . . I thought . . .”
I stepped nimbly to the side to avoid a small girl in pigtails. “Out with it,” I said.
“Forgive me, sir. I had . . . I had hoped that I might study under you. If I am to serve the Order, I can imagine no better mentor than yourself.”
I felt a small surge of satisfaction. “Kind of you to say, but I think you overestimate me.”
Not far away, a red-faced newsboy wearing a cap yelled out news of the battle at Fort Necessity: “French forces declare victory following Washington’s retreat,” he bawled. “In response, the Duke of Newcastle pledges more troops to counter the foreign menace!”
The foreign menace, I thought. The French, in other words. This conflict they were calling the French and Indian War was set to escalate, if the rumours were to be believed.
There was not an Englishman alive who didn’t detest the French, but I knew one Englishman in particular who hated them with a vein-bulging passion, and that was Edward Braddock. That’s where he would be, leaving me to go about my own business—or so I hoped.
I waved away the newsboy when he tried to extort sixpence from me for the broadsheet. I had no desire to read about more French victories.
Meanwhile, as we reached our horses and Charles told me that we were to ride for the Green Dragon Tavern, I wondered what the other men would be like.
“Have you been told why it is I’ve come to Boston?” I asked.
“No. Master Birch said I should know only as much as you saw fit to share. He sent me a list of names and bade me ensure you could find them.”
“And have you had any luck with that?”
“Aye. William Johnson waits for us at the Green Dragon.”
“How well do you know him?”
“Not well. But he saw the Order’s mark and did not hesitate to come.”
“Prove yourself loyal to our cause and you may yet know our plans as well,” I said.
He beamed. “I should like nothing more, sir.”