He looked at me. Not long ago, I had said to myself that my words would never have any effect on him, yet here I was trying anyway. And maybe I was wrong—maybe what I said was getting through.
At the brewery, it became apparent that we needed a disguise for Connor, his Assassin’s robes being a little on the conspicuous side. Procuring one gave him a chance to show off again, and once more I was stingy with my praise. When we were both suitably attired we made our way towards the compound, the red brick walls towering above us, the dark windows staring implacably upon us. Through the gates I could see the barrels and carts of the brewery business, as well as men walking to and fro. Benjamin had replaced most of the Templar men with mercenaries of his own; it was history repeating itself, I thought, my mind going back to Edward Braddock. I only hoped Benjamin wouldn’t be as tough to kill as Braddock. Somehow, I doubted it. I had little faith in the calibre of my enemy these days.
I had little faith in anything these days.
“Hold, strangers!” A guard stepped out of the shadows, disturbing the fog that swirled around our ankles. “You tread on private property. What business have you here?”
I tipped the brim of my hat to show him my face. “The Father of Understanding guides us,” I said, and the man seemed to relax, though he looked warily at Connor. “You, I recognize,” he said, “but not the savage.”
“He’s my son,” I said, and it was . . . odd, hearing the sentiment upon my own lips.
The guard, meanwhile, was studying Connor carefully then, with a sideways glance, said to me, “Tasted of the forest’s fruits, did you?”
I let him live. For now. Just smiled instead.
“Off you go, then,” he said, and we strode through the arched gate and into the main compound of the Smith & Company Brewery. There we quickly ducked into a covered section, with a series of doors leading into warehouses and office space. Straight away I set to picking the lock of the first door we came to as Connor kept watch, talking at the same time.
“It must be strange to you, discovering my existence as you have,” he said.
“I’m actually curious to know what your mother said about me,” I replied, working the pick-lock. “I often wondered what life might have been like, had she and I stayed together.” Acting on an instinct, I asked him, “How is she, by the way?”
“Dead,” he said. “She was murdered.”
By Washington, I thought, but said nothing, except, “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Really? It was done by your men.”
By now I’d opened the door but instead of going through I closed it and turned to face Connor. “What?”
“I was just a child when they came looking for the elders. I knew they were dangerous even then, so I stayed silent. Charles Lee beat me unconscious for it.”
So I had been right. Charles had indeed left the physical as well as the metaphorical imprint of his Templar ring on Connor.
It was not hard to let the horror show on my face, although I pretended to be shocked as he continued, “When I woke, I found my village in flames. Your men were gone by then, as well as any hope for my mother’s survival.”
Now—now was an opportunity to try to convince him of the truth.
“Impossible,” I said. “I gave no such order. Spoke of the opposite, in fact—I told them to give up the search for the precursor site. We were to focus on more practical pursuits . . .”
Connor looked dubious but shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. It’s long done now.”
Oh, but it did, it did matter.
“But you’ve grown up all your life believing me—your own father—responsible for this atrocity. I had no hand in it.”
“Maybe you speak true. Maybe not. How am I ever to know?”
Silently, we let ourselves into the warehouse, where stacked barrels seemed to crowd out any light and not far away stood a figure with his back to us, the only sound the soft scratching he made as he wrote in a ledger he held. I recognized him at once, of course, and drew a long breath before calling out to him.
“Benjamin Church,” I announced, “you stand accused of betraying the Templar Order and abandoning our principles in pursuit of personal gain. In consideration of your crimes, I hereby sentence you to death.”
Benjamin turned. Only it wasn’t Benjamin. It was a decoy—who suddenly cried, “Now, now!” at which the room was full of men who rushed from hiding places, holding pistols and swords on us.
“You’re too late,” crowed the decoy. “Church and the cargo are long gone. And I’m afraid you won’t be in any condition to follow.”
We stood, the men assembled before us, and thanked God for Achilles and his training, because we were both thinking the same things. We were thinking: when facing superior strength, wrest from them the element of surprise. We were thinking: turn defence into attack.
So that’s what we did. We attacked. With a quick glance at one another we each released our blades, each sprung forward, each embedded them into the nearest guard, whose screams echoed around the brick walls of the warehouse. I kicked out and sent one of their gunmen skidding back and smashing his head against a crate, then was upon him, my knees on his chest, driving the blade through his face and into his brain.
I twisted in time to see Connor whirl, keeping low and slicing his blade hand around at the same time, opening the stomachs of two luckless guards, who both dropped, clutching at their gaping stomachs, both dead men who didn’t know it yet. A musket went off, and I heard the air sing, knowing the ball had just missed me but making the sniper pay for it with his life. Two men came towards me, swinging wildly, and as I took them both down I thanked our lucky stars that Benjamin had used mercenaries rather than Templar men, who wouldn’t have been so swiftly overcome.
As it was, the fight was short and brutal, until just the decoy was left and Connor was looming over him as he trembled like a frightened child on the brickwork floor now slick with blood.
I finished a dying man then strode over to hear Connor demand, “Where’s Church?”
“I’ll tell you,” wailed the decoy, “anything you want. Only promise that you’ll let me live.”
Connor looked at me and, whether or not we agreed, he helped him to his feet. With a nervous glance from one to the other of us, the decoy continued, “He left yesterday for Martinique. Took passage on a trading sloop called the Welcome. Loaded half its hold with the supplies he stole from the patriots. That’s all I know. I swear.”