The two guards swallowed, exchanged a nervous glance, while Cutter’s gaze roamed the shadows of the building, his jaw set, half in fear, half in frustration. I could see his mind working: was it his own men playing a prank? Kids messing about?
No. It was enemy action.
“What’s going on?” snarled one of the heavies. Both craned their necks to stare into the dark spaces of the warehouse. “Get a torch,” the first snapped at his companion, and the second man darted back into the middle of the room, gingerly lifted one of the braziers, and then was bent over with the weight of it as he tried to move it over.
Suddenly there was a yelp from within the shadows and Cutter was shouting: “What? What the hell is going on?”
The man with the brazier set it down then peered into the gloom. “It’s Greg,” he called back over his shoulder. “He ain’t there no more, boss.”
Cutter bridled. “What do you mean, ‘he ain’t there’? He was there before.”
“Greg!” called the second man. “Greg?”
There was no reply. “I’m telling you, boss, he ain’t there no more.” And just at that moment, as though to emphasize the point, a sword came flying from the dark recesses, skittered across the stone floor and stopped to rest by Cutter’s feet.
The blade was stained with blood.
“That’s Greg’s sword,” said the first man nervily. “They got Greg.”
“Who got Greg?” snapped Cutter.
“I don’t know, but they got him.”
“Whoever you are, you better show your face,” shouted Cutter. His eyes darted to Benjamin, and I could see his brain working, the conclusion he came to: that they were being attacked by friends of the doctor; that it was a rescue operation. The first thug remained where he was by the safety of the brazier, the tip of his sword glinting in the firelight as he trembled. Charles stayed in the shadows, a silent menace. I knew it was only Charles, but to Cutter and his pal he was an avenging demon, as silent and implacable as death itself.
“You better get out here, before I finish your buddy,” rasped Cutter. He moved closer to Benjamin, about to hold the blade to his throat, and, his back to me, I saw my chance and crept out of my hiding place, stealthily moving towards him. At the same time, his pal turned, saw me, yelped, “Boss, behind you!” and Cutter wheeled.
I leapt and at the same time engaged the hidden blade. Cutter panicked, and I saw his knife hand tauten, about to finish Benjamin. At full stretch I managed to knock his hand away and send him flying back, but I too was off balance and he had the chance to draw his sword and meet me face-to-face, sword in one hand, torture knife in the other.
Over his shoulder I saw that Charles hadn’t wasted his opportunity, had come flying out at the guard, and there was the chime of steel as their blades met. In seconds Cutter and I were fighting, too. His features were fixed, but it swiftly became clear he was out of his depth. Good with a knife he may have been, but he wasn’t used to opponents who fought back; he was a torture master not a warrior. And while his hands moved quickly and his blades flicked across my vision, all he showed me were tricks, sleight of hand, moves that might terrify a man tied to a chair, but not me. What I saw was a sadist—a frightened sadist. And if there’s one thing more loathsome and pathetic than a sadist, it’s a frightened one.
He had no anticipation. No footwork or defensive skills. Behind him, the fight was over: the second thug dropped to his knees with a groan, and Charles planted a foot to his chest and withdrew his sword, letting him fall to the stone.
Cutter saw it, too, and I let him watch, stood back and allowed him to see his companion, the last of his protection, die. There was a thumping on the door—the guard from outside had at last discovered the theft of his keys and was trying and failing to get in. Cutter’s eyes swivelled in that direction, looking for salvation. Finding none. Those frightened eyes came back to me and I grinned then moved forward and began some cutting of my own. I took no pleasure in it. I merely gave him the treatment he deserved, and when he at last folded to the floor with a bright red gash open in his throat and blood sheeting down his front, I felt nothing besides a detached sense of gratification, of justice having been served. No one else would suffer by his blade.
I’d forgotten about the banging at the door until it stopped, and in the sudden silence I glanced at Charles, who came to the same conclusion I did: the guard had gone for help. Benjamin groaned and I went to him, sliced through his bindings with two slashes of my blade then caught him as he fell forward from the chair.
Straight away my hands were slick with his blood, but he seemed to be breathing steadily and, though his eyes occasionally squeezed shut as he flinched with pain, they were open. He’d live. His wounds were painful but they weren’t deep.
He looked at me. “Who . . . who are you?” he managed.
I tipped my hat. “Haytham Kenway at your service.”
There were the beginnings of a smile on his face as he said, “Thank you. Thank you. But . . . I don’t understand . . . why are you here?”
“You are a Templar Knight, are you not?” I said to him.
“As am I, and we don’t make a habit of leaving fellow Knights at the mercy of knife-wielding madmen. That, and the fact I need your help.”
“You have it,” he said. “Just tell me what you need . . .”
I helped him to his feet and waved Charles over. Together we helped him to the side door of the warehouse and let ourselves out, savouring the cool, fresh air after the dank smell of blood and death inside.
And as we began to make our way back to Union Street and the sanctuary of the Green Dragon, I told Dr. Benjamin Church about the list.
13 JULY 1754
We were gathered in the Green Dragon, beneath the low, dark beams of the back room that we now called our own, and which we were rapidly expanding to fill, stuffing ourselves into the dusty eaves: Thomas, who liked to lounge in a horizontal position whenever he wasn’t hoisting tankards of ale or bothering our hosts for more; William, whose frown lines deepened as he laboured over charts and maps spread out over a table, moving from that to his lectern and occasionally letting out a frustrated gasp, waving Thomas and his ale-slopping tankard away whenever he lurched too close; Charles, my right-hand man, who took a seat beside me whenever I was in the room, and whose devotion I felt sometimes as a burden, at other times as a great source of strength; and now, of course, Dr. Church, who had spent the last couple of days recuperating from his injuries in a bed that had been begrudgingly provided for him by Cornelius. We had left Benjamin to it; he had dressed his own wounds, and when he at last rose, he assured us that none of the injuries to his face were likely to be permanent.