I smiled. “Have you no faith in me?”
“I hardly know you—”
“You know enough.”
“Look,” he whispered, “I’d very much like to help. But you heard Braddock. If he catches wind of this, you and I are both finished.”
“I’ll take care of Braddock,” I reassured him.
He looked at me. “How?” he asked.
I gave him a look to say I knew exactly what I was doing, put my fingers in my mouth and whistled loudly.
It was the signal Charles had been waiting for, and he came rushing from between two buildings into the street. He’d taken his shirt off and was using it to obscure his face; the rest of his clothes were in disarray, too: he’d used mud on himself so that he looked nothing like the army officer he truly was. He looked, in fact, like a madman, and promptly behaved like one, standing in front of the patrol, which came to a disorganized halt, too surprised or bemused even to raise weapons, as Charles began to shout, “Oi! You’re thieves and scoundrels one and all! You swear the empire will . . . will reward and honour us! But in the end you deliver only death! And for what? Rocks and ice, trees and streams? A few dead Frenchmen? Well, we don’t want it! Don’t need it! So take your false promises, your dangled purses, your uniforms and guns—take all those things that you hold so dear, and shove them up your arse!”
The redcoats looked at one another, open-mouthed with disbelief, so taken aback that, for a moment, I worried they weren’t going to react at all. Even Braddock, who was some distance away, simply stood, his jaw hanging open, not sure whether to be angry or amused by this unexpected outburst of pure lunacy.
Were they simply going to turn around and carry on? Perhaps Charles had the same worry, because all of a sudden he added, “Fie on you and your false war,” then added his crowning touch. He reached, scooped up a piece of horseshit and flung it in the general direction of the group, most of whom turned smartly away. The lucky ones, that was—General Edward Braddock not included.
He stood, with horseshit on his uniform, no longer undecided about whether to be amused or angry. Now he was just angry, and his roar seemed to shake the leaves in the trees: “After him!”
Some of the men peeled away from the group and went to grab Charles, who had already turned and was now running, past a general store, then left from the street between the store and a tavern.
This was our chance. But instead of seizing it, John merely said, “Damn it.”
“What’s wrong?” I said. “Now’s our chance to escape.”
“I’m afraid not. Your man just led them into a dead end. We need to rescue him.”
Inwardly, I groaned. So it was a rescue mission—just not of the man I had intended to rescue. And I, too, went running towards the passageway: only I had no intention of satisfying our noble general’s honour; I simply had to keep Charles from harm.
I was too late. By the time I got there he was already under arrest, and I stood back, cursing silently as he was dragged back into the main thoroughfare and brought to stand before a seething General Braddock, who was already reaching for his sword when I decided things had gone too far.
“Unhand him, Edward.”
He turned to me. If it was possible for his face to darken more than it already had, then it did. Around us, breathless redcoats gave each other confused looks, while Charles, held by a redcoat on either side and still shirtless, shot me a grateful look.
“You again!” spat Braddock, furious.
“Did you think I wouldn’t return?” I replied equably.
“I’m more surprised about how easily you were unmasked,” he gloated. “Going soft, it seems.”
I had no wish to trade insults with him. “Let us go—and John Pitcairn with us,” I said.
“I will not have my authority challenged,” said Braddock
His eyes blazed. Had we really lost him? For a moment I pictured myself sitting down with him, showing him the book and watching the transformation come over him, just as it had with me. Could he feel that same sense of suddenly knowing that I had? Could he return to us?
“Put them all in chains,” he snapped.
No, I decided he couldn’t.
And, again, I wished for Reginald’s presence, because he would have nipped this argument in the bud: he would have prevented what happened next.
Which is that I decided I could take them; and I made my move. In a trice my blade was out and the nearest redcoat died with a look of surprise on his face as I ran him through. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Braddock dart to the side, draw his own sword and yell at another man, who reached for his pistol, already primed. John reached him before I did, his sword flashing down and chopping at the man’s wrist, not quite severing the hand but slicing through the bone, so that for a moment his hand flapped at the end of his arm and the pistol fell harmlessly to the ground.
Another trooper came at me from my left and we exchanged blows—one, two, three. I pushed forward until his back was against the wall, and my final thrust was between the straps across his tunic, into his heart. I wheeled and met a third man, deflected his blow and swept my blade across his midriff, sending him to the dirt. With the back of my hand I wiped blood from my face in time to see John run another man through and Charles, who had snatched a sword from one of his captors, finish the other with a few confident strokes.
Then the fight was over and I faced the last man standing—and the last man standing was General Edward Braddock.
It would have been be so easy. So easy to have ended this here. His eyes told me that he knew—he knew that I had it in my heart to kill him. Perhaps, for the first time, he realized that any ties that had once bound us, those of the Templar, or mutual respect for Reginald, no longer existed.
I let the moment hang then dropped my sword. “I stay my hand today because you were once my brother,” I told him, “and a better man than this. But should we cross paths again, all debts will be forgotten.”
I turned to John. “You’re free now, John.”
The three of us—me, John and Charles—began to walk away.
“Traitor!” called Braddock. “Go on then. Join them on their fool’s errand. And when you find yourself lying broken and dying at the bottom of some dark pit, I pray my words today are the last that you remember.”
And, with that, he strode off, stepping over the corpses of his men and shouldering his way past bystanders. You were never too far from a redcoat patrol on Boston’s streets and, with Braddock able to call on reinforcements, we decided to make ourselves scarce. As he left, I cast my eye over the bodies of the felled redcoats lying in the mud and reflected that, as recruitment drives go, it had not been the most successful afternoon.