Beneath the tree trunk I closed my eyes and cursed as the men picked Braddock up and took him away.
Later, I rejoined Ziio. “It’s done,” I told her. She nodded.
“Now I’ve upheld my part of the bargain, I expect that you will honour yours?” I added.
She nodded again and bade me follow her, and we began to ride.
10 JULY 1755
We rode overnight, and at last she stopped and indicated a dirt mound ahead of us. It was almost as if it had appeared from the forest. I wondered if I would even have seen it had I been here by myself. My heart quickened, and I swallowed. Did I imagine it, or was it as though the amulet suddenly woke up around my neck, became heavier, warmer?
I looked at her before walking to the opening then slid inside, where I found myself in a small room that had been lined with simple ceramic. There was a ring of pictographs around the room, leading to a depression on the wall. An amulet-sized depression.
I went to it and took the amulet from around my neck, pleased to see it glow slightly in my palm. Looking at Ziio, who returned my gaze, her own eyes wide with trepidation, I approached the indentation and, as my eyes adjusted to the dark, saw that two figures painted on the wall knelt before it, offering their hands to it as though to make an offering.
The amulet seemed to glow even more brightly now, as though the artefact itself were anticipating being reunited with the fabric of the chamber. How old was it? I wondered. How many millions of years before had the amulet been hewn from this very rock?
I had been holding my breath, I realized, and let it out in a whoosh now, as I reached up and pressed the amulet into the hollow.
I looked at Ziio. Then from her to the amulet, where its former glow was beginning to fade, almost as though mirroring my own deflating expectations. My lips moved, trying to find words. “No . . .”
I removed the amulet then tried it again, but still nothing.
“You seem disappointed,” she said at my side.
“I thought I held the key,” I said, and was dismayed to hear the tone in my own voice, the defeat and disappointment. “That it would open something here . . .”
She shrugged. “This room is all there is.”
“I expected . . .”
What had I expected?
“. . . more.
“These images, what do they mean?” I asked, recovering myself.
Ziio went to the wall to gaze at them. One in particular seemed to catch her eye. It was a god or a goddess wearing an ancient, intricate headdress.
“It tells the story of Iottsitíson,” she said intently, “who came into our world and shaped it, that life might come. Hers was a hard journey, fraught with loss and great peril. But she believed in the potential of her children and what they might achieve. Though she is long gone from the physical world, her eyes still watch over us. Her ears still hear our words. Her hands still guide us. Her love still gives us strength.”
“You’ve showed me a great kindness, Ziio. Thank you.”
When she looked back at me, her face was soft.
“I am sorry you did not find what you seek.”
I took her hand. “I should go,” I said, not wanting to go at all, and in the end she stopped me: she leaned forward and kissed me.
13 JULY 1755
“Master Kenway, did you find it, then?”
They were the first words Charles Lee said to me when I entered our room at the Green Dragon Tavern. My men were all assembled, and they looked at me with expectant eyes, then faces that dropped when I shook my head no.
“It was not the right place,” I confirmed. “I fear the temple was nothing more than a painted cave. Still, it contained precursor images and script, which means we are close. We must redouble our efforts, expand our Order and establish a permanent base here,” I continued. “Though the site eludes us, I am confident we will find it.”
“Truth!” said John Pitcairn.
“Hear, hear!” chimed Benjamin Church.
“Furthermore, I believe it is time we welcomed Charles into the fold. He has proven himself a loyal disciple—and served unerringly since the day he came to us. You should be able to share in our knowledge and reap all the benefits such a gift implies, Charles. Are any opposed?”
The men stayed silent, casting approving looks at Charles.
“Very well.” I went on: “Charles, come, stand.” As he approached me I said, “Do you swear to uphold the principles of our Order and all of that for which we stand?”
“Never to share secrets nor divulge the true nature of our work?”
“And to do so from now until death—whatever the cost?”
The men stood. “Then we welcome you into our fold, brother. Together we will usher in the dawn of a new world, one defined by purpose and order. Give me your hand.”
I took the ring I’d removed from Braddock’s finger and pushed it on to Charles’s.
I looked at him. “You are a Templar now.”
And at that he grinned. “May the father of understanding guide us,” I said, and the men joined me. Our team was complete.
1 AUGUST 1755
Do I love her?
That question I find difficult to answer. All I knew was that I enjoyed being with her and came to treasure the time we spent together.
She was . . . different. There was something about her I had never experienced in another woman. That “spirit” I spoke of before, it seemed to come through in her every word and gesture. I’d find myself looking at her, fascinated by the light that seemed permanently to burn in her eyes and wondering, always wondering, what was going on inside? What was she thinking?
I thought she loved me. I should say, I think she loves me, but she’s like me. There’s so much of herself she keeps hidden. And, like me, I think she knows that love cannot progress, that we cannot live out our lives together, either in this forest or in England, that there are too many barriers between us and our lives together: her tribe, for a start. She has no desire to leave her life behind. She sees her place as with her people, protecting her land—land they feel is under threat from people like me.
And I, too, have a responsibility to my people. The tenets of my Order, are they in line with the ideals of her tribe? I’m not sure that they are. Asked to choose between Ziio and the ideals I have been brought up to believe, which would I choose?
These are the thoughts that have plagued me over the last few weeks, even as I have luxuriated in with these sweet, stolen hours with Ziio. I have wondered what to do.