We assembled, all of us together for the first time in over fifteen years, the men of the Colonial Rite with whom I had shared so many adventures twenty years ago.
We were gathered beneath the low beams of a deserted tavern called the Restless Ghost on the outskirts of Boston. It hadn’t been deserted when we’d arrived, but Thomas had seen to it that we soon had the place to ourselves, literally chasing out the few drinkers who were huddled over the wooden tables. Those of us who usually wore a uniform were wearing civilian clothes, with buttoned-up coats and hats pulled down over our eyes, and we sat around a table with tankards close at hand: me, Charles Lee, Benjamin Church, Thomas Hickey, William Johnson and John Pitcairn.
And it was here that I first learnt about the boy.
Benjamin addressed the subject first. He was our man inside Boston’s Sons of Liberty, a group of patriots, anti-British colonists who had helped organize the Boston Tea Party, and two years ago, in Martha’s Vineyard, he’d had an encounter.
“A native boy,” he said. “Not someone I’d ever seen before . . .”
“Not someone you remember seeing before, Benjamin,” I corrected.
He pulled a face. “Not someone I remember seeing before, then,” he amended. “A boy who strode up to me and, bold as brass, demanded to know where Charles was.”
I turned to Charles. “He’s asking for you, then. Do you know who it is?”
“No.” But there was something shifty about the way he said it.
“I’ll try again, Charles. Do you have a suspicion who this boy might be?”
He leaned back in his seat and looked away, across the tavern. “I don’t think so,” he said.
“But you’re not sure?”
“There was a boy at . . .”
An uncomfortable silence seemed to descend on the table. The men either reached for their tankards or hunched their shoulders or found something to study in the fire nearby. None would meet my eye.
“How about somebody tells me what’s going on?” I asked.
These men—not one of them was a tenth of the man Holden had been. I was sick of them, I realized, heartily sick of them. And my feelings were about to intensify.
It was Charles—Charles who was the first to look across the table, hold my gaze and tell me, “Your Mohawk woman.”
“What about her?”
“I’m sorry, Haytham,” he said. “Really I am.”
Of course, I thought. So much death. “When? How?”
“It was during the war. In ’60. Fourteen years ago now. Her village was attacked and burned.”
I felt my mouth tighten.
“It was Washington,” he said quickly, glancing at me. “George Washington and his men. They burned the village and your . . . she died with it.”
“You were there?”
He coloured. “Yes, we’d hoped to speak to the village elders about the precursor site. There was nothing I could do, though, Haytham, I can assure you. Washington and his men were all over the place. They had a lust for blood on them that day.”
“And there was a boy?” I asked him.
His eyes flicked away. “Yes, there was a boy—young, about five.”
About five, I thought. I had a vision of Ziio, of the face I’d once loved, when I was capable of doing such a thing, and felt a dull backwash of grief for her and loathing for Washington, who had obviously learnt a thing or two from serving with General Braddock—lessons in brutality and ruthlessness. I thought of the last time she and I had been together, and I pictured her in our small encampment, gazing out into the trees with a faraway look in her eyes and, almost unconsciously, her hands going to her belly.
But no. I cast the idea aside. Too fanciful. Too far-fetched.
“He threatened me, this boy,” Charles was saying.
In different circumstances, I might have smiled at the image of Charles, all six foot of him, being threatened by a five-year-old native boy—if I hadn’t been trying to absorb the death of Ziio, that was—and I took a deep but almost imperceptible breath, feeling the air in my chest, and dismissed the image of her.
“I wasn’t the only one of us there,” said Charles defensively, and I looked around the table enquiringly.
“Go on, then. Who else?”
William, Thomas, and Benjamin all nodded, their eyes fixed on the dark, knotted wood of the tabletop.
“It can’t have been him,” said William crossly. “Can’t have been the same kid, surely.”
“Come on, ’Aytham, what are the chances?” chimed Thomas Hickey.
“And you didn’t recognize him at Martha’s Vineyard?” I asked Benjamin now.
He shook his head, shrugged. “It was just a kid, an Indian kid. They all look the same, don’t they?”
“And what were you doing there, in Martha’s Vineyard?”
His voice was testy. “Having a break.”
Or making plans to line your pockets, I thought, and said, “Really?”
He pursed his lips. “If things go as we think, and the rebels organize themselves into an army, then I’m in line to be made chief physician, Master Kenway,” he said, “one of the most senior positions in the army. I think that, rather than questioning why I was in Martha’s Vineyard that day, you might have some words of congratulation for me.”
He cast around the table for support and was greeted with hesitant nods from Thomas and William, both of them giving me a sideways look at the same time.
I conceded. “And I have completely forgotten my manners, Benjamin. Indeed it will be a great boost for the Order the day you achieve that rank.”
Charles cleared his throat loudly. “While we also hope that if such an army is formed, our very own Charles will be appointed its commander in chief.”
I didn’t see exactly, as the light in the tavern was so low, but I could sense Charles redden. “We do more than merely hope,” he protested. “I am the obvious candidate. My military experience far outstrips that of George Washington.”
“Yes, but you are English, Charles.” I sighed.
“Born in England,” he spluttered, “but a colonial in my heart.”
“What’s in your heart may not be enough,” I said.
“We shall see,” he returned indignantly.
We would, indeed, I thought wearily, then turned my attention to William, who had been reserved so far, although, as the one who would have been most affected by the events of the Tea Party, it was obvious why.