I could well imagine. I thought of the young man I’d first encountered all those years ago in Boston Harbour, how he’d gazed up at me with such awe, yet looked down on everybody else with disdain. Ever since he had been passed over for commander in chief of the Continental Army, his resentment towards Washington had, like an open wound, festered, growing worse, not healing. Not only had he talked ill of Washington on any available occasion, denigrating every aspect both of his personality and leadership, but he had embarked on a letter-writing campaign, attempting to win Congress members around to his side. True, his fervour was inspired partly by his loyalty to the Order, but it was also fuelled by his personal anger at having been overlooked. Charles might well have resigned his commission with the British Army and to all intents and purposes become an American citizen, but there was a very British sense of elitism to him and he felt keenly that the commander-in-chief position was rightfully his. I couldn’t blame him for bringing his personal feelings into it. Who among those Knights who had first assembled at the Green Dragon Tavern was innocent of it? Certainly not I. I’d hated Washington for what he’d done at Ziio’s village, but his leadership of the revolution, though sometimes ruthlessly clear-eyed, had not been tarred by brutality, so far as I knew. He had chalked up his fair share of success, and now that we were surely in the closing stages of the war, how could he possibly be thought of as anything but a military hero?
The last time I’d seen Connor was three years ago, when he left Washington and me alone together. Alone. Completely alone. And though older and slower and in near-constant pain from the wound at my side, I’d had the opportunity finally to exact revenge for what he’d done to Ziio, to “relieve him of command” for good, but I’d spared him because I was already beginning to wonder then if I was wrong about him. Perhaps it is time to admit that I was. It’s a human failing to see the changes in yourself while assuming everybody else remains the same. Perhaps I had been guilty of that with Washington. Perhaps he had changed. I wonder, was Connor right about him?
Charles, meanwhile, was arrested for insubordination following the incident during which he swore at Washington, then brought before a court-martial and finally relieved of duty, and he sought refuge at Fort George, where he has remained ever since.
“The boy is on his way here,” said Charles.
I sat at my desk in my room in the West Tower of Fort George, in front of the window overlooking the ocean. Through my spyglass I’d seen ships on the horizon. Were they on their way here? Was Connor in one of them? Associates of his?
Turning in my seat, I waved Charles to sit down. He seemed swamped by his clothes; his face was gaunt and drawn and his greying hair hung over his face. He was fretful, and if Connor was coming then, in all honesty, he had every right to be.
“He’s my son, Charles,” I said.
He nodded and looked away with pursed lips. “I had wondered,” he said. “There is a family resemblance. His mother is the Mohawk woman you absconded with, is she?”
“Oh, absconded with her, did I?”
“Don’t talk to me about neglecting the Order, Charles. You’ve done your fair share.”
There was a long silence and, when he looked back at me, his eyes had sparked to life. “You once accused me of creating the Assassin,” he said sourly. “Does it not strike you as ironic—no, hypocritical—given that he is your offspring?”
“Perhaps,” I said. “I’m really not sure any more.”
He gave a dry laugh. “You stopped caring years ago, Haytham. I can’t remember the last time I saw anything but weakness in your eyes.”
“Not weakness, Charles. Doubt.”
“Doubt, then,” he spat. “Doubt hardly befits a Templar Grand Master, don’t you think?”
“Perhaps,” I agreed. “Or perhaps I’ve learnt that only fools and children lack it.”
I turned to look out the window. Before, the ships had been pinpricks to the naked eye, but now they were closer.
“Balderdash,” said Charles. “Assassin talk. Belief is a lack of doubt. That is all we ask of our leaders at least: belief.”
“I remember a time you needed my sponsorship to join us; now, you would have my position. Would you have made a good Grand Master, do you think?”
There was a long pause. “That hurt, Charles.”
He stood. “I’m leaving. I have no desire to be here when the Assassin—your son—launches his attack.” He looked at me. “And you should accompany me. At least we’ll have a head start on him.”
I shook my head. “I think not, Charles. I think I shall stay and make my final stand. Perhaps you’re right—perhaps I have not been the most effective Grand Master. Perhaps now is the time to put that right.”
“You intend to face him? To fight him?”
“What? You think you can talk him round? Bring him to our side?”
“No,” I said sadly. “I fear there is no turning Connor. Even knowing the truth about Washington has failed to alter his support. You’d like Connor, Charles, he has ‘belief.’”
“So what, then?”
“I won’t allow him to kill you, Charles,” I said, and reached to my neck to remove the amulet. “Take this, please. I don’t want him having it, should he beat me in battle. We worked hard to take it from the Assassins; I’ve no desire to return it.”
But he snatched his hand away. “I won’t take it.”
“You need to keep it safe.”
“You’re quite capable of doing that yourself.”
“I’m almost an old man, Charles. Let’s err on the side of caution, shall we?”
I pressed the amulet into his hands.
“I’m detailing some guards to protect you,” he said.
“As you wish.” I glanced at the window again. “You might want to hurry, though. I have a feeling the time of reckoning is near.”
He nodded and went to the door, where he turned. “You have been a good Grand Master, Haytham,” he said, “and I’m sorry if you ever thought I felt otherwise.”
I smiled. “And I’m sorry for giving you cause to.”
He opened his mouth to speak, thought better of it, then turned and left.
It struck me, when the bombardment began and I began to pray Charles had made his escape, that this might be my final journal entry; these words, my last. I hope that Connor, my own son, will read this journal, and perhaps, when he knows a little about my own journey through life, understand me, maybe even forgive me. My own path was paved with lies, my mistrust forged from treachery. But my own father never lied to me and, with this journal, I preserve that custom.