Then, a noise—footsteps from the door—and I froze before darting behind the pulpit just as the huge oak doors creaked slowly and ominously open, and a figure entered: a figure who could have been tracing my exact steps, for the way he seemed to pace around the church floor just as I had done, upturning and investigating crates and even cursing under his breath, just as I had.
It was Connor.
I peered from the shadows behind the pulpit. He wore his Assassin’s robes and an intense look, and I watched him for a moment. It was as though I were watching myself—a younger version of myself, as an Assassin, the path I should have taken, the path I was being groomed to take, and would have done, had it not been for the treachery of Reginald Birch. Watching him—Connor—I felt a fierce mixture of emotions; among them regret, bitterness, even envy.
I moved closer. Let’s see how good an Assassin he really is.
Or, to put it another way, let’s see if I still had it.
“Father,” he said, when I had him down and the blade to his throat.
“Connor,” I said sardonically. “Any last words?”
“A poor choice.”
He struggled, and his eyes blazed. “Come to check up on Church, have you? Make sure he’s stolen enough for your British brothers?”
“Benjamin Church is no brother of mine.” I tutted. “No more than the redcoats or their idiot king. I expected naïveté. But this . . . The Templars do not fight for the Crown. We seek the same as you, boy. Freedom. Justice. Independence.”
“But . . .”
“But what?” I asked.
“Johnson. Pitcairn. Hickey. They tried to steal land. To sack towns. To murder George Washington.”
I sighed. “Johnson sought to own the land that we might keep it safe. Pitcairn aimed to encourage diplomacy—which you cocked up thoroughly enough to start a goddamned war. And Hickey? George Washington is a wretched leader. He’s lost nearly every battle in which he’s taken part. The man’s wracked by uncertainty and insecurity. Take one look at Valley Forge and you know my words are true. We’d all be better off without him.”
What I was saying had an effect on him, I could tell. “Look—much as I’d love to spar with you, Benjamin Church’s mouth is as big as his ego. You clearly want the supplies he’s stolen; I want him punished. Our interests are aligned.”
“What do you propose?” he said warily.
What did I propose? I thought. I saw his eyes go to the amulet at my throat and mine in turn went to the necklace he wore. No doubt his mother told him about the amulet; no doubt he would want to take it from me. On the other hand, the emblems we wore around our necks were both reminders of her.
“A truce,” I said. “Perhaps—perhaps some time together will do us good. You are my son, after all, and might still be saved from your ignorance.”
There was a pause.
“Or I can kill you now, if you’d prefer?” I laughed.
“Do you know where Church has gone?” he asked.
“Afraid not. I’d hoped to ambush him when he or one of his men returned here. But it seems I was too late. They’ve come and cleared the place out.”
“I may be able to track him,” he said, with an oddly proud note in his voice.
I stood back and watched as he gave me an ostentatious demonstration of Achilles’s training, pointing to marks on the church floor where the crates had been dragged.
“The cargo was heavy,” he said. “It was probably loaded on to a wagon for transport . . . There were rations inside the crates—medical supplies and clothing as well.”
Outside the church, Connor gestured to some churned-up snow. “There was a wagon here . . . slowly weighed down as they loaded it with the supplies. Snow’s obscured the tracks, but enough remains that we can still follow. Come on . . .”
I collected my horse, joined him and together we rode out, Connor indicating the line of the tracks as I tried to keep my admiration from showing. Not for the first time I found myself struck by the similarities in our knowledge, and noted him doing just as I would have done in the same situation. Some fifteen miles out of the camp he twisted in the saddle and shot me a triumphant look, at the same time as he indicated the trail up ahead. There was a broken-down cart, its driver trying to repair the wheel and muttering as we approached: “Just my luck . . . Going to freeze to death if I don’t get this fixed . . .”
Surprised, he looked up at our arrival, and his eyes widened in fear. Not far away was his musket, but too far to reach. Instantly, I knew—just as Connor haughtily demanded, “Are you Benjamin Church’s man?”—that he was going to make a run for it, and, sure enough, he did. Wild-eyed, he scrambled to his feet and took off into the trees, wading into the snow with a pronounced, trudging run, as ungainly as a wounded elephant.
“Well played,” I smiled, and Connor flashed me an angry look then leapt from his saddle and dived into the tree line to chase the cart driver. I let him go then sighed and climbed down from my horse, checked my blade and listened to the commotion from the forest as Connor caught the man; then I strode into the forest to join them.
“It was not wise to run,” Connor was saying. He’d pinned the driver against a tree.
“W–what do you want?” the wretch managed.
“Where is Benjamin Church?”
“I don’t know. We was riding for a camp just north of here. It’s where we normally unload the cargo. Maybe you’ll find him th–”
His eyes darted to me, as if looking for support, so I drew my pistol, and shot him.
“Enough of that,” I said. “Best be on our way then.”
“You did not have to kill him,” said Connor, wiping the man’s blood from his face.
“We know where the camp is,” I told him. “He’d served his purpose.”
As we returned to our horses, I wondered how I appeared to him. What was I trying to teach him? Did I want him as brittle and worn as I was? Was I trying to show him where the path led?
Lost in thought, we rode towards the site of the camp, and as soon as we saw the tell-tale wafting smoke above the tips of the trees, we dismounted, tethered our horses and continued on foot, passing stealthily and silently through the trees. We stayed in the trees, crawling on our bellies and using my spyglass to squint through trunks and bare branches at distant men, who made their way around the camp and clustered around fires trying to keep warm. Connor left, to make his way into the camp, while I made myself comfortable, out of sight.