I made Holden comfortable then stood and looked up the hill towards the monastery. I checked the mechanism of my blade, strapped a sword to my waist, primed two pistols and pushed them into my belt, then primed two muskets. Next I lit a taper and torch and, taking the muskets, made my way back up the hill, where I lit a second and third torch. I chased the horses out then tossed the first torch into the stables, the hay going up with a satisfying whoomph; the second torch I threw into the vestibule of the chapel, and when both that and the stables were nicely ablaze I jogged across to the dormitory, lighting two more torches on the way, smashing rear windows and tossing the torches inside. And then I returned to the front door, where I’d leaned the muskets against a tree. And I waited.
Not for long. In moments, the first priest appeared. I shot him down, tossed the first musket aside, picked up the second and used it on the second priest. More began to pour out, and I emptied the pistols then dashed up to the doorway and began attacking with my blade and sword. Bodies fell around me—ten, eleven or more—as the building burned, until I was slick with priest blood, my hands covered in it, trails of it running from my face. I let the wounded scream in agony as the remaining priests inside cowered—not wanting to burn, too terrified to run out and face death. Some chanced it, of course, and came charging out wielding swords, only to be cut down. Others I heard burning. Maybe some escaped, but I wasn’t in the mood to be thorough. I made sure that most of them died; I heard the screams and smelled the burning flesh of those who hid inside, and then I stepped over the bodies of the dead and dying and left, as the monastery burned behind me.
25 SEPTEMBER 1757
We were in a cottage, at a table, with the remains of a meal and single candle between us. Not far away, Holden slept, feverish, and every now and then I’d get up to change the rag on his forehead for a cooler one. We’d need to let the fever run its course and only then, when he was better, continue our journey.
“Father was an Assassin,” Jenny said as I sat down. It was the first time we’d spoken about such matters since the rescue. We’d been too preoccupied with looking after Holden, escaping Egypt and finding shelter each night.
“I know,” I said.
“Yes. I found out. I’ve realized that’s what you meant all those years ago. Do you remember? You used to call me ‘Squirt’ . . .”
She pursed her lips and shifted uncomfortably.
“. . . and what you said about me being the male heir. How I’d find out sooner or later what lay in store for me?”
“I remember . . .”
“Well, it turned out to be later rather than sooner that I discovered what lay in store for me.”
“But if you knew, then why does Birch live?”
“Why would he be dead?”
“He’s a Templar.”
“As am I.”
She reared back, fury clouding her face. “You—you’re a Templar! But that goes against everything Father ever . . .”
“Yes,” I said equably. “Yes, I am a Templar, and no, it doesn’t go against everything our father believed. Since learning of his affiliations I’ve come to see many similarities between the two factions. I’ve begun to wonder if, given my roots and my current position within the Order, I’m not perfectly placed to somehow unite Assassin and Templar . . .”
I stopped. She was slightly drunk, I realized; there was something sloppy about her features all of a sudden, and she made a disgusted noise. “And what about him? My former fiancé, owner of my heart, the dashing and charming Reginald Birch? What of him, pray tell?”
“Reginald is my mentor, my Grand Master. It was he who looked after me in the years after the attack.”
Her face twisted into the nastiest, most bitter sneer I had ever seen. “Well, weren’t you the lucky one? While you were being mentored, I was being looked after, too—by Turkish slavers.”
I felt as if she could see right through me, as though she could see exactly what my priorities had been all these years, and I dropped my eyes then looked across the cottage to where Holden lay. A room full of my failings.
“I’m sorry,” I said. As if to them both. “I’m truly sorry.”
“Don’t be. I was one of the lucky ones. They kept me pure for selling to the Ottoman court, and after that I was looked after at Topkapi Palace.” She looked away. “It could have been worse. I was used to it, after all.”
“I expect you idolized Father, did you, Haytham? Probably still do. Your sun and moon? ‘My father my king’? Not me: I hated him. All his talk of freedom—spiritual and intellectual freedom—didn’t extend to me, his own daughter. There was no weapons training for me, remember? No ‘Think differently’ for Jenny. There was just ‘Be a good girl and get married to Reginald Birch.’ What a great match that would be. I dare say I was treated better by the sultan than I would have been by him. I once told you that our lives were mapped out for us, remember? Well, in one sense I was wrong, of course, because I don’t think either of us could have predicted how it would all turn out, but in another sense? In another sense, I couldn’t have been more right, Haytham, because you were born to kill, and kill is what you have done, and I was born to serve men, and serve men is what I have done. My days of serving men are over, though. What about you?”
Finished, she hoisted the beaker of wine to her lips and glugged. I wondered what awful memories the drink helped suppress.
“It was your friends the Templars who attacked our home,” she said when her beaker was dry. “I’m sure of it.”
“You saw no rings, though.”
“No, but so what? What does that mean? They took them off, of course.”
“No. They weren’t Templars, Jenny. I’ve run into them since. They were men for hire. Mercenaries.”
Yes, mercenaries, I thought. Mercenaries who worked for Edward Braddock, who was close to Reginald . . .
I leaned forward. “I was told that Father had something—something that they wanted. Do you know what it was?”
“Oh yes. They had it in the carriage that night.”
“It was a book.”
Again I felt a frozen, numb feeling. “What sort of book?”
“Brown, leather-bound, bearing the seal of the Assassins.”
I nodded. “Do you think you’d recognize it if you were to see it again?”