He reached for the crystal, squinting at it through his spectacles and turning it over in his fingers. This ornament or whatever it was . . . well, to him it was no ornament.

He placed the papers and crystal back into the satchel and crooked a hand for El Tiburón, who stepped forward and took the satchel. With that, Torres reached for my hand to shake, pumping it vigorously as he spoke.

“It is a pleasure to meet you at last, Duncan,” he said. “You are most welcome. Come, gentlemen.” He motioned to the others. “We have much to discuss. Come . . .”

We began to move away from the terrace, all friends together.

Still no word about the bloody reward. Shit. I was getting deeper—deeper into something I wanted no part of.

TWENTY-NINE

We stood around a large table in a private room inside the main building: me, Torres, El Tiburón, DuCasse and Rogers.

El Tiburón, who remained at his master’s shoulder, held a long, thin box, like a cigar box. Did I imagine it, or were his eyes constantly on me? Had he somehow seen through me, or been alerted? “Sir, a strange man in robes was looking for you at the fortress earlier.”

I didn’t think so, though. Apart from him, everybody else in the room seemed relaxed, accepting drinks from Torres and chatting amiably while he made his own. Like any good host, he’d ensured his guests were holding full glasses first, but I wondered why he didn’t have staff to serve them, then thought I knew the answer: it was the nature of our business in this room. The atmosphere might well have been relaxed—at least it was for the time being—but Torres was sure to post a sentry, then close the door with a gesture that seemed to say, Anything said in this room is for our ears only, the kind of gesture that was making me feel less reassured with each passing moment, wishing I’d taken note of the line in the letter about my support for their “secret and most noble cause.”

I must remember that next time I’m considering becoming an imposter, I thought—give noble causes a wide berth. Especially if they’re secret noble causes

But we all had our drinks so a toast was raised, Torres saying, “Convened at last and in such Continental company . . . England, France, Spain . . . Citizens of sad and corrupted empires.”

At a wave from Torres, El Tiburón moved across, opened the box he held and placed it to the table. I saw red-velvet lining and the gleam of metal from inside. Whatever it was, it looked significant and indeed proved to be, as Torres, his smile fading, the natural gleam of his eyes replaced by something altogether more serious, began what was obviously a ceremony of some importance.

“But you are Templars now,” he was saying. “The secret and true legislators of the world. Please hold out your hands.”

The convivial atmosphere was suddenly solemn. Drinks were set down. I shuffled quickly to the side, seeing that the others had placed themselves at intervals around the table. Next I did as I was asked and proffered my hand, thinking, Templars—so that’s what they were.

It seems odd to say now, but I relaxed—I relaxed in the belief that they were nothing more sinister than a secret society. A silly club like any other silly club, full of deluded, pompous fools, whose grandiose aims (“the secret and true legislators of the world” no less!) were hot air, just an excuse for bickering about meaningless titles and trinkets.

What were their petty concerns? I wondered. I found I didn’t care. After all, why would I? As a pirate I’d renounced all law but pirate law; my freedom was absolute. I was governed by rules, of course, but they were the rules of the sea and adhering to them was a matter of need, for survival rather than the acquisition of status and the peacocking of sashes and baubles. What were their squabbles with the Assassins? I wondered, and found I couldn’t give a fig about that either.

So yes, I relaxed. I didn’t take them seriously.

Torres placed the first ring on DuCasse’s finger. “Mark and remember our purpose. To guide all wayward souls till they reach a quiet road.”

A second ring was placed on Rogers’s finger. “To guide all wayward desire till impassioned hearts are cooled.”

Hot air, I thought. Nothing but empty, meaningless statements. No purpose other than to award their speaker unearned authority. Look at them all, lapping it up, like it means something. Silly men so deluded by a sense of their own importance that they were unable to see that it extended no further than the walls of the mansion.

Nobody cares, my friends. Nobody cares about your secret society.

Then Torres was addressing me, and he placed on my finger a third ring, saying, “To guide all wayward minds to safe and sober thought.”

Sober, I thought. That was a laugh.

I looked down at the ring he’d put on my finger and suddenly I was no longer laughing. Suddenly I was no longer thinking of these Templars as a silly secret society with no influence outside their own homes, because on my finger was the same ring as worn by the East India Company’s ship captain Benjamin Pritchard, the same ring worn by the man in the hood, the leader of the group who burned my father’s farmhouse, both of whom had warned me of great and terrible powers at work. Suddenly I was thinking that whatever squabbles these people had with the Assassins then, well, I was on the side of the Assassins.

For the moment, I would bide my time.

Torres stood back. “By the father of understanding’s light let our work now begin,” he said. “Decades ago, the council entrusted me with the task of locating in the West Indies a forgotten place our precursors once called The Observatory. See here . . .”

On the table before him were spread out the documents from the satchel, placed there by El Tiburón.

“Look upon these images and commit them to memory,” added Torres. “They tell a very old and important story. For two decades now I have endeavoured to locate this Observatory. It is a place rumoured to contain a tool of incredible utility and power. It houses a kind of armillary sphere, if you like. A device that would grant us the power to locate and monitor every man and woman on Earth, whatever his or her location.

“Only imagine what it would mean to have such power. With this device, there would be no secrets among men. No lies. No trickery. Only justice. Pure justice. This is The Observatory’s promise and we must take it for our own.”

So that, then, was where I first learnt of The Observatory.

“Do we know its whereabouts?” asked Rogers.

“We will soon,” replied Torres, “for in our custody is the one man who does. A man named Roberts. Once called a Sage.”

Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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