“He said he planned to ensure an end to Master Johnson’s schemes, stop him claiming these lands for the Templars.”
“Did William respond?”
“Indeed he did, sir, he told his killer that the Templars had tried to claim the land in order to protect the Indians. He told the boy that neither King George nor the colonists cared enough to protect the interests of the Iroquois.”
I rolled my eyes. “Not an especially convincing argument, given that he was in the process of slaughtering the natives when the boy struck.”
The soldier bowed his head. “Possibly not, sir.”
If I was a little too philosophical when it came to William’s death, well, there were extenuating factors. William, though diligent in his work and dedicated, was never the most good-humoured of people and, by meeting a situation that called for diplomacy with force, he’d made a pig’s ear of the negotiations. Though it pains me to say it, he’d been the architect of his own downfall, and I’m afraid I’ve never been one for tolerating incompetence: not as a young man, when I suppose it was something I’d inherited from Reginald; and now, having passed my fiftieth birthday, even less so. William had been a bloody fool and paid for it with his life. Equally, the project to secure the native land, while important to us, was no longer our main priority; it hadn’t been since the outbreak of war. Our main task now was to assume control of the army and, fair means having failed, we were resorting to foul—by assassinating Washington.
However, that plan was dealt a blow when the Assassin next targeted John, our British army officer, striking at him because of John’s work weeding out the rebels. Again, though it was irritating to lose such a valuable man, it might not have affected our plans but for the fact that in John’s pocket was a letter—unfortunately, one that detailed plans to kill Washington, naming our very Thomas Hickey as the man elected to do the deed. In short order, the youthful Assassin was making haste to New York, with Thomas next on his list.
Thomas was counterfeiting money there, helping to raise funds as well as preparing for the assassination of Washington. Charles was already there with the Continental Army, so I slipped into the city myself and took lodgings. And no sooner had I arrived than I was given the news: the boy had reached Thomas, only for the pair of them to be arrested and both of them tossed in Bridewell Prison.
“There can be no further mistakes, Thomas, am I understood?” I told him when I visited him, shivering in the cold and revolted by the smell, clamour and noise of the jail, when, suddenly, in the cell next door, I saw him: the Assassin.
And knew. He had his mother’s eyes, the same proud set of his chin, but his mouth and nose were Kenway. He was the image of her, and of me. Without a doubt, he was my son.
“It’s him,” said Charles, as we left the prison together. I gave a start, but he didn’t notice: New York was freezing, our breath hung in clouds, and he was far too preoccupied with keeping warm.
I knew exactly what he meant of course.
“What the hell are you talking about, Charles?” I said crossly, and blew into my hands.
“Do you remember me telling you about a boy I encountered back in ’60, when Washington’s men attacked the Indian village?”
“Yes, I remember. And this is our Assassin, is it? The same one as at Boston Harbour? The same one who killed William and John? That’s the boy who’s in there now?”
“It would seem so, Haytham, yes.”
I rounded on him.
“Do you see what this means, Charles? We have created that Assassin. In him burns a hatred of all Templars. He saw you the day his village burned, yes?”
“Yes—yes, I’ve already told you . . .”
“I expect he saw your ring, too. I expect he wore the imprint of your ring on his own skin for some weeks after your encounter. Am I right, Charles?”
“Your concern for the child is touching, Haytham. You always were a great supporter of the natives . . .”
The words froze on his lips because, in the next instant, I’d bunched some of his cape in my fist and thrust him against the stone wall of the prison. I towered over him, and my eyes burned into his.
“My concern is for the Order,” I said. “My only concern is for the Order. And, correct me if I’m wrong, Charles, but the Order does not preach the senseless slaughter of natives, the burning of their villages. That, I seem to recall, was noticeably absent from my teachings. Do you know why? Because it’s the kind of behaviour that creates—how would you describe it?—‘ill will’ among those we might hope to win over to our way of thinking. It sends neutrals scuttling to the side of our enemies. Just as it has here. Men are dead and our plans under threat because of your behaviour sixteen years ago.”
“Not my behaviour—Washington is—”
I let him go, took a step back and clasped my hands behind me. “Washington will pay for what he has done. We will see to that. He is brutal, that is clear, and not fit to lead.”
“I agree, Haytham, and I’ve already taken a step to ensure that there are no more interruptions, to kill two birds with one stone, as it were.”
I looked sharply at him. “Go on.”
“The native boy is to be hanged for plotting to kill George Washington and for the murder of the prison warden. Washington will be there, of course—I plan to make sure of it—and we can use the opportunity to kill him. Thomas, of course, is more than happy to take on the task. It only falls to you, as Grand Master of the Colonial Rite, to give the mission your blessing.”
“It’s short notice,” I said, and could hear the doubt in my own voice. But why? Why did I even care any more who lived or died?
Charles spread his hands. “It is short notice, but sometimes the best plans are.”
“Indeed,” I agreed. “Indeed.”
I thought. With one word, I would ratify the execution of my own child. What manner of monster could do such a thing?
“Do it,” I said.
“Very well,” he replied, with a sudden, chest-puffed satisfaction. “Then we won’t waste a single moment more. We shall put the word out across New York tonight that tomorrow a traitor to the revolution meets his end.”
It is too late for me to feel paternal now. Whatever inside me that might once have been capable of nurturing my child had long since been corrupted or burned away. Years of betrayal and slaughter have seen to that.