“Can I help you?” I heard the guard say, his voice drifting over the quad just as John kneed him in the bollocks. With a low groan like an animal in a trap, he dropped his pikestaff and fell to his knees. Straight away John was feeling at his waist and retrieving a key ring then, with his back to the quad, he opened the door, grabbed a torch from a bracket outside and disappeared inside.
I glanced around. None of the guards had seen what was going on at the stockade. Those on the battlements were diligently staring out to sea; those inside had their attention diverted by Charles and Thomas.
Looking back at the door of the stockade, I saw John reappear then usher out the first of the prisoners.
And suddenly one of the troops on the battlements saw what was happening. “Oi, you there, what’s your game?” he shouted, already levelling his musket, and the cry went up. Immediately I dashed over to the battlements, where the first redcoat was about to pull the trigger, bounded up the stone steps and was upon him, thrusting my blade under his jaw in one clean move. I dropped into a crouch and let his body fall over me, springing from beneath it to spear the next guard in his heart. A third man had his back to me, drawing a bead on William, but I whipped my blade across the backs of his legs then delivered the coup de grâce to the back of his neck when he fell. Not far away, William thanked me with a raised hand then turned to meet another guard. His sword swung as a redcoat fell beneath the blade, and when he turned to meet a second man his face was stained with blood.
In moments, all of the guards were dead, but the door to one of the outbuildings had opened and Silas had appeared, already angry. “An hour of quiet was all I asked,” he roared. “Instead I’m awakened not ten minutes later by this cacophonous madness. I expect an explanation—and it had best be good.”
He was stopped in his tracks, his outburst dying on his lips as the colour drained from his face. All around the quad were the bodies of his men, and his head jerked as he looked across to the stockade, where the door hung open, natives pouring out and John urging them to move more quickly.
Silas drew his sword as more men appeared from behind him. “How?” he shrieked. “How did this happen? My precious merchandise set free. It’s unacceptable. Rest assured, I’ll have the heads of those responsible. But first . . . first we clean up this mess.”
His guards were pulling on tunics, strapping swords to their waists, priming muskets. The quadrangle, empty but for corpses a moment ago, was suddenly filled with more troops, eager for retribution. Silas was beside himself, screaming at them, frantically waving at the troops to take up their arms, calming himself as he continued: “Seal the fort. Kill any who try to escape. I don’t care if they be one of us or one of . . . them. To approach the gate is to be made a corpse! Am I understood?”
The fighting continued. Charles, Thomas, William, John and Benjamin moved among the men and made the most of their disguises. The men they attacked were reduced to fighting among themselves, not sure which man in an army uniform was friend and which an enemy. The natives, unarmed, sheltered to wait the fighting out, even as a group of Silas’s redcoats formed a line at the entrance to the fort. I saw my chance—Silas had positioned himself to one side of his troops and was exhorting them to be ruthless. Silas, it was clear, did not care who died as long as his precious “merchandise” was not allowed to escape, as long as his pride was not damaged in the process.
I motioned to Benjamin, and we moved up close to Silas, saw that he had spotted us out of the corner of his eye. For a moment I could see the confusion play across his features, until he realized that, firstly, we were two of the interlopers and, secondly, he had no means of escape, as we stood blocking him from reaching the rest of his men. To all intents and purposes we looked like a pair of loyal bodyguards keeping him from harm.
“You don’t know me,” I told him, “but I believe the two of you are well acquainted . . .” I said, and Benjamin Church stepped forward.
“I made a promise to you, Silas,” said Benjamin, “one I intend to keep . . .”
It was over in seconds. Benjamin was far more merciful with Silas than Cutter had been with him. With their leader dead, the fort’s defence broke up, the gates opened and we allowed the rest of the redcoats to pour out. Behind them came the Mohawk prisoners, and I saw the woman from earlier. Rather than escaping, she’d stayed to help her people: she was courageous as well as beautiful and spirited. As she helped members of her tribe away from the accursed fort, our eyes met, and I found myself entranced by her. And then she was gone.
15 NOVEMBER 1754
It was freezing, and snow covered the ground all around us as we set off early this morning and rode towards Lexington in pursuit of . . .
Perhaps “obsession” is too strong a word. “Preoccupation,” then: my “preoccupation” with the Mohawk woman, from the cart. Specifically, with finding her.
If Charles had asked me, I’d have told him that I wanted to find her because I knew her English was good and I thought she would be a useful contact within the Mohawk to help locate the precursor site.
That’s what I would have said if Charles had asked me why I wanted to find her, and it would have been partly the truth. Partly.
Anyway, Charles and I took one of my expeditions, this one out to Lexington, when he said, “I’m afraid I have some bad news, sir.”
“What is it, Charles?”
“Braddock’s insisting I return to service under him. I’ve tried to beg off, to no avail,” he said sadly.
“No doubt he’s still angry about losing John—to say nothing of the shaming we gave him,” I responded thoughtfully, wondering if I could have finished it then, when I had the chance. “Do as he asks. In the meantime, I’ll work on having you released.”
How? I wasn’t sure. After all, there was a time when I could have relied on a stiff letter from Reginald to change Braddock’s mind, but it had become clear that Braddock no longer had any affinity with our ways.
“I’m sorry to trouble you,” said Charles.
“Not your fault,” I replied.
I was going to miss him. After all, he had already done a lot to locate my mystery woman, who, according to him, was to be found outside Boston in Lexington, where she was apparently stirring up trouble against the British, who were led by Braddock. Who could blame her, after seeing her people imprisoned by Silas? So Lexington was where we were—at a recently vacated hunting camp.