Braddock threw up his hands as though this were an easily solved problem, because . . .
“What if I told you I could wipe your troubles away?” he said.
“I’d be wary, for one—”
“Fair enough! But hear me out. The French and their savage companions lay waste to the countryside. The king has commissioned men such as me to raise an army that we might force them back. Join my expedition, and you will be richly compensated. Just a few weeks of your time, and you’ll return loaded with coin and able to open a new store—bigger and better!”
As they were talking, I noticed officers ordering members of the patrol to approach other citizens and start the same patter. Meanwhile, the blacksmith was saying, “Truly?”
Braddock was already handing him commission papers, which he’d fished from his jacket.
“See for yourself,” he said proudly, as though he were handing the man gold, rather than papers to enlist in the most brutal and dehumanizing army I had ever known.
“I’ll do it,” said the poor, gullible blacksmith. “Only tell me where to sign!”
Braddock walked on, leading us to a public square, where he stood to deliver a short speech, and more of his men began wandering off.
“Hear me out, good people of Boston,” he announced, in the tone of an avuncular gent about to impart great news. “The king’s army has need of strong and loyal men. Dark forces gather to the north, desirous of our land and its great bounty. I come before you today with a request: if you value your possessions, your families, your very lives—then join us. Take up arms in service to God and country both, that we might defend all we have created here.”
Some of the townspeople shrugged their shoulders and moved on; others conferred with their friends. Still others approached the redcoats, presumably keen to lend their services—and earn some money. I couldn’t help but notice a definite correlation between how poor they looked and how likely they were to be moved by Braddock’s speech.
Sure enough, I overheard him talking to his officer. “Where shall we head next?”
“Perhaps down to Marlborough?” replied the trusty lieutenant, who, though he was too far away for me to see properly, had a familiar-sounding voice.
“No,” replied Braddock, “its residents are too content. Their homes are nice; their days untroubled.”
“What of Lyn or Ship Street?”
“Yes. Those fresh arrived are often soon in dire straits. They’re more likely to seize upon an opportunity to fatten their purses and feed their young.”
Not far away stood John Pitcairn. I wanted to get closer to him. Looking at the surrounding redcoats, I realized that what I needed was a uniform.
Pity the poor soul who peeled off from the group to relieve himself. It was Braddock’s lieutenant. He sauntered away from the group, shouldered his way past two well-dressed women in bonnets and snarled when they tutted his way—doing a great job of winning local hearts and minds in the name of His Majesty.
At a distance, I followed, until he came to the end of the street, where there was a squat wooden building, a storehouse of some kind, and, with a glance to make sure he wasn’t being watched, he leaned his musket against the timber then undid the buttons of his britches to have a piss.
Of course, he was being watched. By me. Checking to see there were no other redcoats nearby, I drew close, wrinkling my nose at the acrid stench; many a redcoat had relieved himself in this particular spot, it seemed. Then I engaged my blade with a soft chk, which he heard, tensing slightly as he pissed, but not turning.
“Whoever that is, he better have a good reason for standing behind me when I’m having a piss,” he said, shaking then putting his cock back in his britches. And I recognized his voice. It was the executioner. It was . . .
“Slater,” I said.
“That’s my name. And who might you be?”
He was pretending to have trouble with his buttons, but I could see his right hand straying towards the hilt of his sword.
“You might remember me. My name is Haytham Kenway.”
Again he tensed, and his head straightened. “Haytham Kenway,” he rasped. “Indeed—now there’s a name to conjure with, so it is. I had hoped I’d seen the last of you.”
“And me of you. Turn around, please.”
A horse and cart passed in the mud as, slowly, Slater turned to face me, his eyes going to the blade at my wrist. “You an Assassin now, are ya?” he sneered.
“A Templar, Slater, like your boss.”
He sneered. “Your lot have no attraction for General Braddock any more.”
Just as I’d suspected. That was why he’d been trying to sabotage my efforts to recruit a team for Reginald’s mission. Braddock had turned against us.
“Go for your sword,” I told Slater.
His eyes flickered. “You’ll run me through if I do.”
I nodded. “I can’t kill you in cold blood. I’m not your general.”
“No,” he said, “you’re a fraction of the man he is.”
And he went for his sword . . .
A second later the man who had once tried to hang me, whom I had watched help slaughter a whole family at the Siege of Bergen op Zoom, lay dead at my feet, and I looked down at his still-twitching corpse, thinking only that I needed to take his uniform before he bled all over it.
I took it and rejoined Charles, who looked at me with raised eyebrows. “Well, you certainly look the part,” he said.
I gave him an ironic smile. “Now to make Pitcairn aware of our plans. When I give you the signal, you’re to cause a fracas. We’ll use the distraction to slip away.”
Meanwhile, Braddock was issuing orders. “All right men, we move,” he said, and I used the opportunity to slip into the ranks of the patrol, keeping my head down. Braddock, I knew, would be concentrating on the recruitment and not on his men; equally, I trusted that the men of the patrol would be so terrified of incurring his wrath that they would also be too concerned with enlisting new men to notice a new face in their ranks. I fell in beside Pitcairn and, my voice low, said, “Hello again, Jonathan.”
By my side, he started slightly, looked at me and exclaimed, “Master Kenway?”
I shushed him with a hand and glanced up to ensure we hadn’t attracted any unwanted attention before continuing: “It wasn’t easy slipping in . . . but here I am, come to rescue you.”
This time he kept his voice down. “You don’t honestly think we can get away with this?”