“That’s enough, thank you, Holden,” I said, and let him lead me back to the bed. I climbed in, suddenly feeling . . . I hate to admit it, but “frail,” after my long journey all the way to the window and back again.
Even so, my recovery was almost complete and the thought was enough to bring a smile to my face as Holden busied himself collecting a beaker of water and a used flannel, on his face a strange, grim, unreadable expression.
“It’s good to see you back on your feet, sir,” he said, when he realized I was looking at him.
“I’ve got you to thank, Holden,” I said.
“And Miss Jenny, sir,” he reminded me.
“We were both worried about you for a while, sir. It was touch and go.”
“Quite something it would have been, to have lived through wars, Assassins and murderous eunuchs, only to die at the hands of a slip of a boy.” I chuckled.
He nodded and laughed drily. “Quite so, sir,” he agreed. “A bitter irony indeed.”
“Well, I live to fight another day,” I said, “and soon, maybe in a week or so, we shall take our leave, travel back to the Americas and there continue my work.”
He looked at me, nodded. “As you wish, sir,” he said. “Will that be all for the time being, sir?”
“Yes—yes, of course. Sorry, Holden, to be such a bother these past few months.”
“My only wish has been to see you recover, sir,” he said, and left.
28 JANUARY 1758
The first thing I heard this morning was a scream. Jenny’s scream. She had walked into the kitchen and found Holden hanging from a clothes dryer.
I knew even before she rushed into my room—I knew what had happened. He’d left a note but he hadn’t needed to. He had killed himself because of what the Coptic priests had done to him. It was as simple as that, and no surprise, not really.
I knew from the death of my father that a state of stupefaction is a good index of the grieving to come. The more paralyzed, dazed and numb one feels, the longer and more intense the period of mourning.
1774, SIXTEEN YEARS LATER
12 JANUARY 1774
Writing this at the end of an eventful evening, there is but one question on my mind. Is it possible that . . .
That I have a son?
The answer is I don’t know for sure, but there are clues and perhaps most persistently, a feeling—a feeling that constantly nags at me, tugging on the hem of my coat like an insistent beggar.
It’s not the only weight I carry, of course. There are days I feel bent double with memory, with doubt, regret and grief. Days when it feels as if the ghosts won’t leave me alone.
After we buried Holden I departed for the Americas, and Jenny returned to live in England, back at Queen Anne’s Square, where she has stayed in glorious spinsterhood ever since. No doubt she’s been the subject of endless gossip and speculation about the years she spent away, and no doubt that suits her down to the ground. We correspond, but though I’d like to say our shared experiences had brought us together, the bald fact of the matter is they hadn’t. We corresponded because we shared the Kenway name and felt we should stay in touch. Jenny no longer insulted me, so in that sense I suppose our relationship had improved, but our letters were weary and perfunctory. We were two people who had experienced enough suffering and loss to last a dozen lifetimes. What could we possibly discuss in a letter? Nothing. So nothing was what we discussed.
In the meantime—I had been right—I had mourned for Holden. I never knew a greater man than him, and I never will. For him, though, the strength and character he had in abundance just wasn’t enough. His manhood had been taken from him. He couldn’t live with that, wasn’t prepared to, and so he had waited until I was recovered then taken his own life.
I grieved for him and probably always will, and I grieved for Reginald’s betrayal, too—for the relationship we once had and for the lies and treachery on which my life was based. And I grieved for the man I had been. The pain in my side had never quite gone away—every now and then it would spasm—and despite the fact that I hadn’t given my body permission to grow older, it was determined to do so anyway. Small, wiry hairs had sprouted from my ears and nose. All of a sudden I wasn’t as lithe as I once was. Though my standing within the Order was grander than ever, physically I was not the man I once was. On my return to the Americas I’d found a homestead in Virginia on which to grow tobacco and wheat, and I’d ride around the estate, aware of my powers slowly waning as the years passed. Climbing on and off my horse was harder than it had been before. And I don’t mean hard, just harder, because I was still stronger and faster and more agile than a man half my age and there wasn’t a worker on my estate who could best me physically. But even so . . . I wasn’t as fast, as strong, or as nimble as I had been once. Age had not forgotten to claim me.
In ’73, Charles returned to the Americas, too, and became a neighbour, a fellow Virginian estate owner, a mere half-day’s ride away, and we had corresponded, agreeing that we needed to meet to talk Templar business and plan to further the interests of the Colonial Rite. Mainly we discussed the developing mood of rebellion, the seeds of revolution floating on the breeze and how best to capitalize on the mood, because our colonials were growing more and more tired of new rules being enforced by the British parliament: the Stamp Act; the Revenue Act; the Indemnity Act; the Commissioners of Customs Act. They were being squeezed for taxes and resented the fact that there was nobody to represent their views, to register their discontent.
A certain George Washington was among the discontents. That young officer who once rode with Braddock had resigned his commission and accepted land bounty for helping the British during the French and Indian War. But his sympathies had shifted in the intervening years. The bright-eyed officer whom I had admired for having a compassionate outlook—more than his commander at least—was now one of the loudest voices in the anti-British movement. No doubt this was because the interests of His Majesty’s government conflicted with his own business ambitions; he’d made representations at the Virginia Assembly to try to introduce legislation banning the import of goods from Great Britain. The fact that it was a doomed legislation only added to the growing sense of national discontent.
The Tea Party, when it happened in December ’73—just last month, in fact—was the culmination of years—no, decades—of dissatisfaction. By turning the harbour into the world’s biggest cup of tea, the colonists were telling Great Britain and the world that they were no longer prepared to live under an unjust system. A full-scale uprising was surely just a matter of months away. So, with the same amount of enthusiasm as I tended my crops, or wrote to Jenny, or climbed out of bed each morning—in other words, very little—I decided it was time for the Order to make preparations for the coming revolution, and I called a meeting.