4 AUGUST 1755
My decision has been made for me because, this morning, we had a visitor.
We were at camp, about five miles from Lexington, where we hadn’t seen anyone—not another human being—for several weeks. I heard him, of course, before I saw him. Or, rather, I should say that I heard the disturbance he caused: a fluttering in the distance as the birds left the trees. No Mohawk would have caused them to behave in such a way, I knew, which meant it was another: a colonial, a patriot, a British soldier; perhaps even a French scout, a long way out of his way.
Ziio had left the camp almost an hour ago to hunt. Still, I knew her well enough to know that she would have seen the disturbed birds; she, too, would be reaching for her musket.
I shimmied quickly up the lookout tree and scanned the area around us. There, in the distance—there he was, a lone rider trotting slowly through the forest. His musket was slung across his shoulder. He wore a cocked hat and a dark buttoned-up coat; no military uniform. Reining his horse, he stopped and I saw him reach into a knapsack, retrieve a spyglass and put it to his eye. I watched as he angled the spyglass upwards, above the canopy of trees.
Why upwards? Clever boy. He was looking for the tell-tale wisps of smoke, grey against the bright, blue, early-morning sky. I glanced down at our campfire, saw the smoke that curled its way up to the heavens then looked back at the rider, watching as he moved his spyglass around the skyline, almost as if . . .
Yes. Almost as if he had divided the search area into a grid and was moving methodically across it square by square, exactly the same way that . . .
I did. Or one of my pupils did.
I allowed myself to relax slightly. It was one of my men—probably Charles, judging by his build and clothes. I watched as he saw the wisps of smoke from the fire, replaced his spyglass in his knapsack and began trotting towards the camp. Now he was near, I saw that it was Charles, and I let myself down the tree and into camp, wondering about Ziio.
Back at ground level I looked around, and saw the camp through Charles’s eyes: the campfire, the two tin plates, a canvas strung between trees, under which were the skins that Ziio and I covered ourselves with for warmth at night. I flipped the canvas down so that the skins were obscured then knelt by the fire and collected the tin plates. A few moments later, his horse came into the clearing.
“Hello, Charles,” I said, without looking at him.
“You knew it was me?”
“I saw you are using your training: I was very impressed.”
“I was trained by the best,” he said. And I heard the smile in his voice, looked up at last to see him gazing down at me.
“We’ve missed you, Master Kenway,” he said.
I nodded. “And I you.”
His eyebrows lifted. “Really? You know where we are.”
I pushed a stick into the fire and watched the tip of it glow. “I wanted to know that you are able to operate in my absence.”
He pursed his lips and nodded. “I think you know we can. What’s the real reason for your absence, Haytham?”
I looked up sharply from the fire. “What might it be, Charles?”
“Perhaps you are enjoying life here with your Indian woman, suspended between two worlds, responsible to neither. It must be nice to take such a holiday . . .”
“Careful, Charles,” I warned. Suddenly aware that he looked down on me, I stood to meet his eye, to be on more equal terms. “Perhaps instead of concerning yourself with my activities, you should concentrate on your own. Tell me, how are matters in Boston?”
“We have been taking care of those matters you would have us attend to. Concerning the land.”
I nodded, thinking of Ziio, wondering if there was another way.
“Anything else?” I asked.
“We continue to look for signs of the precursor site . . .” he said, and raised his chin.
“I see . . .”
“William plans to lead an expedition to the chamber.”
I started. “Nobody has asked me about this.”
“You haven’t been there to ask,” said Charles. “William thought . . . Well, if we want to find the site, then that’s the best place to start.”
“We will enrage the natives if we begin setting up camp in their lands.”
Charles gave me a look as though I had taken leave of my senses. Of course. What did we, the Templars, care about upsetting a few natives?
“I’ve been thinking about the site,” I said quickly. “Somehow it seems less important now . . .” I looked off into the distance.
“Something else you plan to neglect?” he asked impertinently.
“I’m warning you . . .” I said, and flexed my fingers.
He cast a look around the camp. “Where is she anyway? Your Indian . . . lover?”
“Nowhere you need concern yourself with, Charles, and I would thank you to remove that tone from your voice when you speak of her in the future, else I might find myself compelled to remove it forcibly.”
His eyes were cold when he looked at me. “A letter has arrived,” he said, reaching into his knapsack and dropping it so that it landed at my feet. I glanced down to see my name on the front of the envelope, and recognized the handwriting immediately. The letter came from Holden, and my heart quickened just to see it: a link with my old life, my other life in England and my preoccupations there: finding my father’s killers.
I did or said nothing to betray my emotions on seeing the letter, adding, “Is there more?”
“Yes,” said Charles, “some good news. General Braddock has succumbed to his injuries. He is dead at last.”
“When was this?”
“He died soon after he was injured but the news has only just reached us.”
I nodded. “Then that bit of business is at an end,” I said.
“Excellent,” said Charles. “Then I shall return, shall I? Tell the men that you are enjoying life here in the wilds? We can only hope that you grace us with your presence sometime in the future.”
I thought of the letter from Holden. “Perhaps sooner than you think, Charles. I have a feeling I may soon be called away on a business. You have proven yourself more than capable of dealing with matters.” I gave him a thin, mirthless smile. “Perhaps you will continue to do so.”
Charles pulled on the reins of his horse. “As you wish, Master Kenway. I will tell the men to expect you. In the meantime, please give your woman our regards.”
And, with that, he was gone. I crouched a little longer by the fire, the forest silent around me then said, “You can come out now, Ziio, he’s gone,” and she dropped down from a tree, came striding into the clearing, her face like thunder.