I attacked and he defended, and for a few moments the passageway rang to the sound of clashing steel. Both of us were tired by then; the battle no longer had the urgency it had once had. For a moment I wondered if it might simply peter out; if there was any way that the two of us would simply turn, walk away and go in our separate directions. But no. There had to be an end to this. I knew it. I could see in his eyes that he knew it too. This had to end here.
“No, Father . . . you have given up—and you would have us all do the same.”
And then there was the thump and shudder of a cannonball strike nearby and stone was cascading from the walls. It was near. So near. It had to be followed by another. And it was. All of a sudden a gaping hole was blown in the passageway.
I was thrown back by the blast and landed in a painful heap, like a drunk sliding slowly down the wall of a tavern, my head and shoulders at a strange angle to the rest of me. The corridor was full of dust and settling debris as the boom of the explosion slowly ebbed away into the rattle and clatter of shifting rubble. I pulled myself painfully to my feet and squinted through clouds of dust to see him lying like I had been, but on the other side of the hole in the wall made by the cannonball, and limped over to him. I paused and glanced through the hole, to be greeted by the disorientating sight of the Grand Master’s chamber with its back wall blown out, the jagged stone framing a view of the ocean. There were four ships on the water, all with trails of smoke rising from their cannons on deck and, as I watched, there was a boom as another was fired.
I passed by and stooped to Father, who looked up at me and shifted a little. His hand crept towards his sword, which was just out of his reach, and I kicked it skittering away over the stone. Grimacing with the pain, I leaned towards him.
“Surrender, and I will spare you,” I said.
I felt the breeze on my skin, the passageway suddenly flooded with natural light. He looked so old, his face battered and bruised. Even so, he smiled, “Brave words from a man about to die.”
“You fare no better,” I replied.
“Ah,” he smiled, showing bloodied teeth, “but I am not alone . . .” and I turned to see two of the fort’s guards come rushing along the corridor, raising their muskets and stopping just short of us. My eyes went from them to my father, who was pulling himself to his feet, holding up a restraining hand to his men, the only thing stopping them from killing me.
Bracing himself against the wall, he coughed and spat then looked up at me. “Even when your kind appears to triumph . . . still we rise again. Do you know why?”
I shook my head.
“It is because the Order is born of a realization. We require no creed. No indoctrination by desperate old men. All we need is that the world be as it is. This is why the Templars can never be destroyed.”
And now, of course, I wonder, would he have done it? Would he have let them kill me?
But I’ll never have my answer. For suddenly there was the crackle of gunfire and the men span and dropped, taken out by sniper fire from the other side of the wall. And in the next moment I had rushed forward and, before he could react, knocked Haytham back to the stone and stood over him once again, my blade hand pulled back.
And then, with a great rush of something that might have been futility, and a sound that I realized was my own sob, I stabbed him in the heart.
His body jerked as it accepted my blade, then relaxed, and as I withdrew it he was smiling. “Don’t think I have any intention of caressing your cheek and saying I was wrong,” he said softly as I watched the life ebb out of him. “I will not weep and wonder what might have been. I’m sure you understand.”
I was kneeling now, and reached to hold him. What I felt was . . . nothing. A numbness. A great weariness that it had all come to this.
“Still,” he said, as his eyelids fluttered and the blood seemed to drain from his face, “I’m proud of you in a way. You have shown conviction. Strength. Courage. These are noble traits.”
With a sardonic smile he added, “I should have killed you long ago.”
And then he died.
I looked for the amulet Mother had told me about, but it was gone. I closed Father’s eyes, stood and walked away.
2 OCTOBER 1782
At last, on a freezing night at the frontier, I found him in the Conestoga Inn, where I entered to find him sitting in the shadows, his shoulders hunched forward and a bottle close at hand. Older and unkempt, with wiry, untamed hair and no trace of the army officer he had once been, but definitely him: Charles Lee.
As I approached the table he looked up at me, and at first I was taken aback by the wildness of his red-rimmed eyes. Any madness was either suppressed or hidden, though, and he showed no emotion on seeing me, apart from a look that I suppose was relief. For over a month I had chased him.
Wordlessly, he offered me a drink from the bottle, and I nodded, took a sip and passed the bottle back to him. Then we sat together for a long time, watching the other patrons of the tavern, listening to their chatter, games and laughter which they carried on around us.
In the end, he looked at me, and though he said nothing, his eyes did it for him, and so I silently ejected my blade and, when he closed them, slid it into him, under the rib, straight into the heart. He died without a sound and I rested him on the tabletop, as though he had simply passed out from too much drink. Then I reached, took the amulet from his neck and put it around my own.
Looking down at it, it glowed softly for a moment. I pushed it underneath my shirt, stood and left.
15 NOVEMBER 1783
Holding the reins of my horse, I walked through my village with a mounting sense of disbelief. As I’d arrived, I’d seen well-tended fields but the village itself was deserted, the longhouse abandoned, the cook fires cold, and the only soul in sight was a grizzled hunter—a white hunter, not a Mohawk—who sat on an upturned pail in front of a fire, roasting something that smelled good on a spit.
He looked at me carefully as I approached, and his eyes went to his musket, which lay nearby, but I waved to say I meant no harm.
He nodded. “If you’re hungry, I’ve got extra,” he said genially.
And it did smell good, but I had other things on my mind. “Do you know what happened here? Where is everyone?”
“Gone west. Been a few weeks since they left. Seems some fella from New York was granted the land by Congress. Guess they decided they didn’t need approval from those that lived here to settle.”
“What?” I said.