Far away. I swung about to check the buildings behind me. Sure enough, at the spot I would have chosen was a bowman, standing at a tall casement window. As I watched, he drew back the bowstring and squinted along the line of the arrow. Then, just as the trapdoor snapped open and Connor’s body dropped, he fired.
The arrow streaked above us, though I was the only one aware of it, and I whipped my gaze over to the platform in time to see it slice the rope and weaken it—of course—but not enough to cut it.
I risked being seen and discovered, but I did what I did anyway, on impulse, on instinct. I snatched my dagger from within my robes, and I threw it, watched as it sailed through the air and thanked God as it sliced into the rope and finished the job.
As Connor’s writhing and—thank God—still very much alive body dropped through the trapdoor, a gasp went up around me. For a moment I found myself with about an arm’s width of space all around as the crowd recoiled from me in shock. At the same time I caught sight of Achilles ducking down into the gallows pit where Connor’s body had fallen. Then I was fighting to escape as the shocked lull was replaced by a vengeful roar, kicks and punches were aimed my way and guards began shouldering their way through the throng towards me. I engaged the blade and cut one or two of the sight-seers—enough to draw blood and give other attackers pause for thought. More timid now, they at last made space around me. I dashed out of the square and back to my horse, the catcalls of the angry crowd ringing in my ears.
“He got to Thomas before he could reach Washington,” said Charles despondently later, as we sat in the shadows of the Restless Ghost Tavern to talk about the events of the day. He was agitated and constantly looking over his shoulder. He looked like I felt, and I almost envied him the freedom to express his feelings. Me, I had to keep my turmoil hidden. And what turmoil it was: I’d saved the life of my son but effectively sabotaged the work of my own Order—an operation that I myself had decreed. I was a traitor. I had betrayed my people.
“What happened?” I asked.
Connor had reached Thomas and before he killed him was demanding answers. Why had William tried to buy his people’s land? Why were we trying to murder Washington?
I nodded. Took a sip of my ale. “What was Thomas’s reply?”
“He said that that what Connor sought he’d never find.”
Charles looked at me, his eyes wide and weary.
“What now, Haytham? What now?”
7 JANUARY 1778 (TWO YEARS LATER)
Charles had begun by resenting Washington, and the fact that our assassination attempt had failed only increased his anger. He took it as a personal affront that Washington had survived—how dare he?—so never quite forgave him for it. Shortly afterwards, New York had fallen to the British, and Washington, who was almost captured, was held to blame, not least by Charles, who was singularly unimpressed by Washington’s subsequent foray across the Delaware River, despite the fact that his victory at the Battle of Trenton had renewed confidence in the revolution. For Charles, it was more grist to the mill that Washington went on to lose the Battle of Brandywine and thus Philadelphia. Washington’s attack on the British at Germantown had been a catastrophe. And now there was Valley Forge.
After winning the Battle of White Marsh, Washington had taken his troops to what he hoped was a safer location for the new year. Valley Forge, in Pennsylvania, was the high ground he chose: twelve thousand Continentals, so badly equipped and fatigued that the shoeless men left a trail of bloody footprints when they marched to make camp and prepare for the coming winter.
They were a shambles. Food and clothing was in woefully short supply, while horses starved to death or died on their feet. Typhoid, jaundice, dysentery and pneumonia ran unchecked throughout the camp and killed thousands. Morale and discipline were so low as to be virtually non-existent.
Still, though, despite the loss of New York and Philadelphia and the long, slow, freezing death of his army at Valley Forge, Washington had his guardian angel: Connor. And Connor, with the certainty of youth, believed in Washington. No words of mine could possibly persuade him otherwise, that much was for certain; nothing I could have said would convince him that Washington was in fact responsible for the death of his mother. In his mind, it was Templars who were responsible—and who can blame him for coming to that conclusion? After all, he saw Charles there that day. And not just Charles, but William, Thomas and Benjamin.
Ah, Benjamin. My other problem. He had these past years been something of a disgrace to the Order, to put it mildly. After attempting to sell information to the British, he had been hauled before a court of inquiry in ’75, headed by who else but George Washington. By now Benjamin was, just as he’d predicted all those years ago, the chief physician and director general of the medical service of the Continental Army. He was convicted of “communicating with the enemy” and imprisoned, and, to all intents and purposes, he had remained so until earlier this year, when he had been released—and promptly gone missing.
Whether he had recanted the ideals of the Order, just as Braddock had done all those years ago, I didn’t know. What I did know was that he was likely to be the one behind the theft of supplies bound for Valley Forge, which of course was making matters worse for the poor souls camped there; that he had forsaken the goals of the Order in favour of personal gain; and that he needed to be stopped—a task I’d taken upon myself, starting in the vicinity of Valley Forge and riding through the freezing, snow-covered Philadelphia wilds until I came to the church where Benjamin had made camp.
A church to find a Church. But abandoned. Not just by its erstwhile congregation but by Benjamin’s men. Days ago, they’d been here, but now—nothing. No supplies, no men, just the remains of fires, already cold, and irregular patches of mud and snowless ground where tents had been pitched. I tethered my horse at the back of the church then stepped inside, where it was just as bone-freezing, numbing cold as it was outside. Along the aisle were the remains of more fires and by the door was a pile of wood, which, on closer inspection, I realized was church pews that had been chopped up. Reverence is the first victim of the cold. The remaining pews were in two rows either side of the church, facing an imposing but long-disused pulpit, and dust floated and danced in broad shafts of light projected through grimy windows high up in imposing stone walls. Scattered around a rough stone floor were various upturned crates and the remains of packaging, and for a few moments I paced around, occasionally stooping to overturn a crate in the hope that I might find some clue as to where Benjamin had got to.