Turning his head slightly, he was able to look up at me. “I tried to do what was right, Haytham,” he said. His eyebrows knitted together. “Surely you can understand that?”
I looked down upon him and I grieved, but not for him—for the childhood he’d taken from me.
“No,” I told him, and, as the light faded in his eyes, I hoped he would take my dispassion with him to the other side.
“Bastard!” screamed Jenny from behind me. She had pulled herself to her hands and knees, where she snarled like an animal, “Count yourself lucky I didn’t take your balls,” but I don’t think Reginald heard her. Those words would have to remain in the corporeal world. He was dead.
From outside there was a noise, and I stepped over the body and pulled the door open, ready to meet more guards if need be. Instead I was greeted by the sight of Monica and Lucio passing by on the landing, both clutching bundles and being ushered towards the stairs by Holden. They had the pale, gaunt faces of the long-incarcerated, and when they looked over the rail to the entrance hall beneath, the sight of the bodies made Monica gasp and clutch her hand to her mouth in shock.
“I’m sorry,” I said, not quite sure what I was apologizing for. For surprising them? For the bodies? For the fact that they had been held hostage for four years?
Lucio shot me a look of pure hatred then looked away.
“We don’t want your apologies, thank you, sir,” replied Monica in broken English. “We thank you for setting us free at last.”
“If you wait for us, we’ll be leaving in the morning,” I said. “If that’s all right with you, Holden?”
“I think we would rather set off as soon as we have gathered together what supplies we need to return home,” replied Monica.
“Please wait,” I said, and could hear the fatigue in my voice. “Monica. Lucio. Please wait, and we shall all travel together in the morning, to ensure you have safe passage.”
“No, thank you, sir.” They had reached the bottom of the stairs, and Monica turned her face to look up at me. “I think you have done quite enough. We know where the stables are. If we could help ourselves to supplies from the kitchen and then horses . . .”
“Of course. Of course. Do you have . . . do you have anything to defend yourselves with, should you run into bandits?” I bounded quickly down the stairs and reached to take a sword from one of the dead guards. I handed it to Lucio, offering him the handle.
“Lucio, take this,” I said. “You’ll need it to protect your mother as you make your way home.”
He grasped the sword, looked up at me, and I thought I saw a softening in his eyes.
Then he plunged it into me.
27 JANUARY 1758
Death. There had been so much of it, and would be more to come.
Years ago, when I had killed the fixer in the Black Forest, it was my mistake to stab him in the kidney and quicken his demise. When Lucio thrust his sword into me in the entrance hall of the chateau, he had quite by chance missed any of my vital organs. His blow was struck with ferocity. As with Jenny, his was an action born of years of pent-up anger and vengeful dreams. And, as I myself was a man who had spent my entire life seeking revenge, I could hardly blame him for it. But he didn’t kill me, obviously, for I’m writing this.
It was enough to cause me serious injury, though, and for the rest of the year I had lain in bed at the chateau. I had stood on a precipice over death’s great infinity, drifting in and out of consciousness, wounded, infected and feverish but wearily fighting on, some weak and flickering flame of spirit within me refusing to be doused.
The roles were reversed, and this time it was Holden’s turn to tend to me. Whenever I recovered consciousness and awoke from thrashing in sweat-soaked sheets, he would be there, smoothing out the linen, applying fresh cold flannels to my burning brow, soothing me.
“It’s all right, sir, it’s all right. Just you relax. You’re over the worst now.”
Was I? Was I over the worst?
One day—how long into my fever I’ve no idea—I woke up and, gripping Holden’s upper arm, pulled myself into a sitting position, staring intensely into his eyes to ask, “Lucio. Monica. Where are they?”
I’d had this image—an image of a furious, vengeful Holden cutting them both down.
“Last thing you said before you blacked out was to spare them, sir,” he said, with a look that suggested he wasn’t happy about it, “so spare them’s what I did. We sent them on their way with horses and supplies.”
“Good, good . . .” I wheezed, and felt the dark rising to claim me again. “You can’t blame . . .”
“Cowardly is what it was,” he was saying ruefully as I lost consciousness again. “No other word for it, sir. Cowardly. Now just you close your eyes, get your rest . . .”
I saw Jenny, too, and even in my feverish, injured state couldn’t help but notice the change in her. It was as though she had achieved an inner peace. Once or twice I was aware of her sitting by the side of my bed, and heard her talking about life at Queen Anne’s Square, how she planned to return and, as she put it, “take care of business.”
I dreaded to think. Even half-conscious I found it in my heart to pity the poor souls in charge of the Kenways’ affairs when my sister Jenny returned to the fold.
On a table by the side of my bed lay Reginald’s Templar ring, but I didn’t put it on, pick it up, even touch it. For now, at least, I felt neither Templar nor Assassin, and wanted nothing to do with either Order.
And then, some three months after Lucio had stabbed me, I climbed out of bed.
Taking a deep breath, with Holden gripping my left forearm in both of his hands, I swept my feet out from underneath the sheets, put them to the cold wooden floor and felt my nightclothes slide down to my knees as I stood upright for the first time in what felt like a lifetime. Straight away, I felt a twinge of pain from the wound at my side and put my hand there.
“It was badly infected, sir,” explained Holden. “We had to cut away some of the rotted skin.”
“Where do you want to go, sir?” asked Holden, after we’d walked slowly from the bed to the doorway. It made me feel like an invalid, but I was happy for the moment to be treated like one. My strength would soon return. And then I would be . . .
Back to my old self? I wondered . . .
“I think I want to look out of the window, Holden, please,” I said, and he agreed, leading me over to it so that I could gaze out over the grounds where I’d spent so much of my childhood. As I stood there, I realized that, for most of my adult life, when I’d thought of “home,” I’d pictured myself staring out of a window, either over the gardens of Queen Anne’s Square or the grounds of the chateau. I’d called both of them home and still did, and now—now that I knew the full truth about Father and Reginald—they’d come to acquire an even greater significance, a duality almost: two halves of my boyhood, two parts of the man I became.