Charles and Thomas loitered, just as I’d told them. I could see their hands itching to draw their own weapons, but they bided their time. Good men. Waiting for me to take the first shot.
The time was now. I drew a bead on one of the men, whom I took to be the ringleader. I pulled the trigger and saw blood spray from the back of his head, and he lurched back.
This time my shot was heard, but it didn’t matter, because at the same time Charles and Thomas drew their blades and struck and two more of the guards keeled over with blood fountaining from neck wounds. The gate was in disarray and the battle began in earnest.
I managed to pick off two more of the bandits before abandoning my musket, drawing my sword and running forward, leaping into the fray and standing side by side with Charles and Thomas. I enjoyed fighting with companions for once, and felled three of the thugs, who died screaming even as their companions made for the gates and barricaded themselves inside.
In no time at all, the only men left standing were me, Charles and Thomas, all three of us breathing hard and flicking the blood from our steel. I regarded Thomas with a new respect: he’d acquitted himself well, with a speed and skill that belied his looks. Charles, too, was looking at him, though with rather more distaste, as though Thomas’s proficiency in battle had annoyed him.
Now we had a new problem, though: we’d taken the outside of the compound, but the door had been blocked by those retreating. It was Thomas who was suggested we shoot the powder barrel—another good idea from the man I’d previously dismissed as a drunk—so I did, blowing a hole in the wall, through which we poured, stepping over the torn and ragged corpses littering the hallway on the other side.
We ran on. Thick, deep carpets and rugs were on the floor, while exquisite tapestries had been hung at the windows. The whole place was in semi-darkness. There was screaming, male and female, and running feet as we made our way through quickly, me with a sword in one hand and a pistol in the other, using both, slaying any man in my way.
Thomas had looted a candlestick, and he used it to cave in the head of a bandit, wiping brains and blood from his face just as Charles reminded us why we were there: to find William’s chest. He described it as we raced along more gloomy corridors, finding less resistance now. Either the bandits were staying clear of us or were marshalling themselves into a more cohesive force. Not that it mattered what they were doing: we needed to find the chest.
Which we did, nestled at the back of a boudoir that stank of ale and sex and was seemingly full of people: scantily clad women who grabbed clothes and ran screaming, and several thieves loading guns. A bullet smacked into the wood of the doorway by my side and we took cover as another man, this one naked, raised his pistol to fire.
Charles returned fire around the frame of the door, and the naked man crashed to the carpet with an untidy red hole at his chest, grabbing a fistful of bedclothes as he went. Another bullet gouged the frame, and we ducked back. Thomas drew his sword as two more bandits came hurtling down the corridor towards us, Charles joining in.
“Lay down your weapons,” called one of the remaining bandits from inside the boudoir, “and I’ll consider letting you live.”
“I make you the same offer,” I said from behind the door. “We have no quarrel. I only wish to return this chest to its rightful owner.”
There was a sneer in his voice. “Nothing rightful about Mr. Johnson.”
“I won’t ask again.”
I heard a movement nearby and flitted across the doorway. The other man had been trying to creep up on us, but I put a bullet between his eyes and he flopped to the floor, his pistol skittering away from him. The remaining bandit fired again and made a dive for his companion’s gun, but I’d already reloaded and anticipated his move, and I put a shot in his flank as he stretched for it. Like a wounded animal he jackknifed back to the bed, landing in a wet mess of blood and bedclothes and staring up at me as I entered cautiously, gun held in front of me.
He gave me a baleful look. This can’t have been how he planned for his night to end.
“Your kind has no need for books and maps,” I said, indicating William’s chest. “Who put you up to this?”
“Never seen a person,” he wheezed, shaking his head. “It’s always dead drops and letters. But they always pay, so we do the jobs.”
Everywhere I went I met men like the bandit, who would do anything, it seemed—anything for a bit of coin. It was men like him who had invaded my childhood home and killed my father. Men like him who set me on the path I walk today.
They always pay. We do the jobs.
Somehow, through a veil of disgust, I managed to resist the urge to kill him.
“Well, those days are done. Tell your masters I said as much.”
He raised himself slightly, perhaps realizing I planned to let him live. “Who do I say you are?”
“You don’t. They’ll know,” I said. And let him go.
Thomas began grabbing more loot while Charles and I took the chest, and we made our way out of the compound. Retreating was easier, most of the bandits having decided that discretion was the better part of valour and staying out of our way, and we made it outside to our horses and galloped away.
At the Green Dragon, William Johnson was once again poring over his maps. Straight away he was digging through the chest when we returned it to him, checking that his maps and scrolls were there.
“My thanks, Master Kenway,” he said, sitting back at his table, satisfied that everything was in order. “Now tell me what it is you need.”
Around my neck was the amulet. I’d found myself taking it off and admiring it. Was it my imagination, or did it seem to glow? It hadn’t—not on the night I took it from Miko at the opera house. The first time I had seen it glow was when Reginald held it up at Fleet and Bride. Now, though, it seemed to do in my hand what it had done in his, as though it were powered—how ridiculous it seemed—by belief.
I looked at him, then reached my hands to my neck, removed the amulet from over my head and handed it across the table. He held my gaze as he took it, sensing its importance, then squinted at it, studying it carefully as I said, “The images on this amulet—are they familiar to you? Perhaps one of the tribes has shown you something similar?”
“It appears Kanien’kehá:ka in origin,” said William.
The Mohawk. My pulse quickened.
“Can you trace it to a specific location?” I said. “I need to know where it came from.”