I stood to meet her. The necklace she always wore glinted in the morning sun and her eyes flashed angrily.
“He was alive,” she said. “You lied to me.”
I swallowed. “But, Ziio, I . . .”
“You told me he was dead,” she said, her voice rising. “You told me he was dead so that I would show you the temple.”
“Yes,” I admitted. “I did do that, and for that I’m sorry.”
“And what’s this about land?” she interrupted. “What was that man saying about this land? Are you trying to take it, is that it?”
“No,” I said.
“Liar!” she cried.
“Wait. I can explain . . .”
But she had already drawn her sword. “I should kill you for what you’ve done.”
“You’ve every right to your anger, to curse my name and wish me gone. But the truth is not what you believe it to be,” I started.
“Leave!” she said. “Leave this place and never return. For, if you do, I will tear out your heart with my own two hands and feed it to the wolves.”
“Only listen to me, I—”
“Swear it,” she shouted.
I hung my head. “As you wish.”
“Then we are finished,” she said, then turned and left me to pack my things and return to Boston.
17 SEPTEMBER 1757 (TWO YEARS LATER)
As the sun set, painting Damascus a golden brown colour, I walked with my friend and companion Jim Holden in the shadow of the walls of Qasr al-Azm.
And I thought about the four words that had brought me here.
“I have found her.”
They were the only words on the letter, but they told me everything I needed to know and were enough to transport me from America to England, where, before anything else could happen, I’d met with Reginald at White’s to fill him in on events in Boston. He knew much of what had happened, of course, from letters, but, even so I’d expected him to show an interest in the work of the Order, particularly where it concerned his old friend Edward Braddock.
I was wrong. All he cared about was the precursor site, and when I told him I had new details regarding the location of the temple and that they were to be found within the Ottoman Empire, he sighed and gave a beatific smile, like a laudanum addict savouring his syrup.
Moments later, he was asking, “Where is the book?” with a fidgety sound in his voice.
“William Johnson has made a copy,” I said, and reached to my bag in order to return the original, which I slid across the table towards him. It was wrapped in cloth, tied with twine, and he looked at me gratefully before reaching to untie the bow and flip open the covering to gaze upon his beloved tome: the aged brown leather cover, the stamp of the Assassin on its front.
“Are they conducting a thorough search of the chamber?” he asked as he wrapped up the book, retied the bow then slipped it away covetously. “I should very much like to see this chamber for myself.”
“Indeed,” I lied. “The men are to establish a camp there but face daily attacks from the natives. It would be very hazardous for you, Reginald. You are Grand Master of the British Rite. Your time is best spent here.”
“I see,” he nodded. “I see.”
I watched him carefully. For him to have insisted on visiting the chamber would have been an admission of neglect of his Grand Master duties, and, obsessed as he was, Reginald wasn’t ready to do that yet.
“And the amulet?” he said.
“I have it,” I replied.
We talked some more, but there was little warmth and, when we parted, I left wondering what lay in his heart and what lay in mine. I had begun to think of myself not so much as a Templar but a man with Assassin roots and Templar beliefs, whose heart had briefly been lost to a Mohawk woman. A man with a unique perspective, in other words.
Accordingly, I had been less preoccupied with finding the temple and using its contents to establish Templar supremacy, and more with bringing together the two disciplines, Assassin and Templar. I’d reflected on how my father’s teachings had often dovetailed with those of Reginald, and I’d begun seeing the similarities between the two factions rather than the differences.
But first—first there was the unfinished business that had occupied my mind for so many years. Was it finding my father’s killers or finding Jenny that was more important now? Either way, I wanted freedom from this long, dark shadow that had loomed over me for so long.
And so it was that with those words—“I have found her”—Holden began another odyssey, one that took us into the heart of the Ottoman Empire, where, for years, he and I had tracked Jenny.
She was alive—that was his discovery. Alive and in the hands of slavers. As the world fought the Seven Years War, we came close to discovering her exact location, but the slavers had moved on before we were able to start out after them. After that, we spent several months trying to find her then discovered she’d been passed to the Ottoman court as a concubine at Topkapi Palace and made our way there. Again we were too late; she’d been moved to Damascus, and to the great palace built by the Ottoman governor in charge, As’ad Pasha al-Azm.
And so we came to Damascus, where I wore the outfit of a wealthy tradesman, a kaftan and a turban, as well as voluminous salwar trousers, feeling not a little self-conscious, truth be told, while beside me Holden wore simple robes. As we made our way through the gates of the city and into its narrow, winding streets towards the palace, we noticed more guards than usual, and Holden, having done his homework, filled me in as we ambled slowly in the dust and heat.
“The governor’s nervous, sir,” he explained. “Reckons the Grand Vizier Raghib Pasha in Istanbul has it in for him.”
“I see. And is he right? Does the grand vizier have it in for him?”
“The grand vizier called him the ‘peasant son of a peasant.’”
“Sounds like he has got it in for him then.”
Holden chuckled. “That’s right. So the governor fears being deposed and, as a result, he’s increased security all over the city, and especially at the palace. You see all these people?” He indicated a clamour of citizens not far away, hurrying across our path.
“Off to an execution. A palace spy, apparently. As’ad Pasha al-Azm is seeing them everywhere.”
In a small square thronged with people we watched a man beheaded. He died with dignity, and the crowd roared its approval as his severed head rolled to the blood-blackened boards of the scaffold. Above the square the governor’s platform was empty. He was staying at the palace, according to gossip, and didn’t dare show his face.