The Assassin fell limp in Haytham’s arms with a moan. The man gave a weary sigh as he gently repositioned her in his hold. Her robes were completely ruined: dried blood and grime stained the white cloth and tears littered across her body. She was now deathly still when moments ago she had been shaking with exhaustion.
Poor thing. Haytham truly pitied her. He did.
With a grunt of effort, he slipped his free arm under her knees and lifted her. His stallion was still shifting in place, obviously displeased being forced into the sudden sprint. When he neared the animal, he gently dropped the Assassin’s legs to snatch the horse’s reins. Quickly receiving the message, the beast went still.
Assured the horse wouldn’t be any trouble, Haytham thought how to get the Assassin onto the saddle. He certainly wasn’t going to toss her over and tie her up like some sort of packaging. Instead he had another idea.
Carefully as he could as to not inflict any more harm, he lifted the girl onto the saddle, sprawling her body across the horse’s neck. The stallion twitched, but made no movement. Haytham followed her up by placing a foot in a stirrup and heaving himself up with a grunt. Although the girl was unconscious and exhausted, he knew she was still an Assassin, meaning she would remain deadly nonetheless. He pulled out a rope and lifted her body, moving on to tie her hands to the horn of the saddle. To prevent her from falling into an awkward position or off the horse altogether, Haytham wrapped an arm around her midsection and the other gripping the reins. The Assassin’s head was slumped on his shoulder, hood still obscuring her face. The Templar ignored the blood still seeping from her wounds.
Assured they were both settled, the Grandmaster gave the horse a gentle squeeze to the sides and soft whistle. The stallion trotted off into the night.
Haytham Kenway ignored that the night was now deadly silent as he approached two men. Charles Lee was still on his freckled mare while the other was a plump man with graying brown hair. Benjamin Church. He sat upon a dark brown gelding, looking bored. Charles meanwhile sparkled with interest when he noticed his leader was actually successful in catching the runaway Assassin. Benjamin, however, snarled with disgust at the sight.
“What is that?” he spat.
Haytham nearly rolled his eyes. “I believe she’s an Assassin, Benjamin.”
“What she’s doing here?”
The Grandmaster halted his horse in front of his men. “I’m bringing her with us.”
Charles raised his eyebrows and Benjamin curled his lip in an angry sneer. “Why? You should’ve killed her.”
Haytham ignored the flush of anger in his chest of having his authority challenged. Although Church had seemed a loyal and faithful man when they first met, the senior Templar had been noticing he had become more unreliable and aggressive over the years. But that was a matter for another time. For now there were more important things and Benjamin still did what he was told.
“I believe she may be of use to us,” Haytham answered him, his tone light. “Unless you think otherwise?” He gave the surgeon a sharp raise of an eyebrow, inviting him to say more. The Grandmaster’s sharp gaze noticed with pleasure the man clenching his jaw, receiving the message.
“No, sir,” he grumbled reluctantly.
“Excellent. Now, take her back to headquarters and tend to her wounds.”
Benjamin shot up straight and looked like someone had slapped him. “What?”
“I need her alive and well. And I rather have someone I trust care for her.”
Haytham honestly didn’t have much faith in Benjamin’s surgeon skills, knowing full well how he overpaid customers for very little treatment. However, he knew it would take longer to hire another doctor—especially since the Templar Order was preoccupied—and he needed the girl treated as soon as possible. Church would have to do until he could find more proper care.
Benjamin gave a growling sigh and looked more than displeased. However, knowing another verbal refusal would land him in uncharted waters, he reluctantly agreed. “Fine…”
The man however refused to share his horse (the animal probably couldn’t hold them both with his weight, anyway), so a nearby group of mercenaries was called over. One agreed to secure the Assassin as Haytham had, so the men quickly transferred the prisoner. After another brief conversation and everyone settled, Benjamin and his men disappeared into the night. Haytham meanwhile steered his stallion around to turn towards Charles.
“Shall we be off, then?” he invited.
Charles gave an obedient nod. The two comrades then trotted off towards their own destination.
Achilles Davenport sat on a comfortable leather chair in the upstairs study of his home. However, he was far from comfortable as he sat rigidly. He had never felt more weary and aged than he had now, his bones sore and his mind foggy. However, he forced himself to look strong, sitting straight and eyes narrowed in a stern expression. He had to look strong for the men around him, watching him. But they were not friends. These men were Templars.
Staring past his enemy Achilles noticed the broken and overturned items in the room, mostly fallen books and old antiques. Eyeing the small wreckage made him horribly aware of the condition of the rest of manor: the insides ruined with blood and destroyed furniture. They had simply placed him here because it was the cleanest room in the house. It was the result of when the mercenaries stormed the homestead, only to be greeted with defending Assassins.
Achilles tightened his grip on his knee as images of Assassins falling with sprays of blood flashed across his vision. Where were they all? How many had died? How many had died protecting him?
The Assassin Mentor couldn’t help but be reminded of when his family, his wife and son, had died. He had pleaded with them to stay with him, never leaving their side. He did that for each of them. First his son, Connor, had been claimed by typhoid fever. But before the father could truly mourn, his dear wife, Abigail, attracted the same disease. Achilles had done everything in his power to save her, but she too wasn’t strong enough.
The Assassin had never cried so much in his life. Never had his soul been so empty and so broken. But he had still been the Mentor back then, so he knew he couldn’t be seen by the other Assassins like that. He compromised by locking himself in the manor and refusing to speak to anyone. When he finally came back out, he could tell by the look of his comrades he had done a poor job of hiding his distraught. The Mentor was broken from his somber thoughts by a noise.
Achilles jolted awake and stared toward the direction of the source. The thud of heavy boots—more than one—neared the entrance of the study. The Assassin could already tell by the stride it was someone of authority. And by the Templars’ of the room stiffening posture, he was correct. Even though, he was still unprepared to see the man that walked through the threshold without hesitation.
Achilles felt himself bristling and he forced himself to suppress a snarl. He narrowed his eyes to slits as he glared at the British noble. The Templar made a show of pretending not to notice as he moved confidently around the room for a moment. But finally the man met the Assassin’s gaze, giving a dark and cold glare of his own. The Grandmaster was standing tall and composed, arms tucked behind his back in a regal manner. He knew he had won.
Still, the Templar stared at his prisoner through narrowed eyes. Achilles did the same. The two men stared at each other, leaders of their own organizations that were placed on opposite sides of the political field. Two mortal enemies that should never meet anywhere except on the battlefield. Achilles knew well the Grandmaster could see past his defenses and see the old, broken man he was. Still, Haytham stared at him as if he expected him to grow the wings of their symbolic eagle and fly away.
The old man was so distracted with his staring contest he almost failed to notice another figure entering the room. Almost.
Achilles snapped his neck towards the person to make sure he wasn’t hallucinating. He was not. The man was tall and broad-shouldered, almost larger than Haytham even though he was well a decade younger. A pitch-black coat with red accents cloaked his body, a large collar almost obscuring his face. He was armed to the teeth, a weapon hanging from almost every part of his body. The man had his raven-black hair tied back and owned just as dark piercing eyes. The black fur of untrimmed whiskers could be seen across his cheek. Achilles recognized him instantly. Shay Cormac. Traitor to the Assassins.
The young man had entered the room and immediately found the closest wall to lean on, firmly pressing his back to it. He crossed his arms over his heart and pressed his chin to his chest, glaring at the floor. Achilles twitched his eyes. The Mentor could still clearly remember their fight on that night. However, the Assassin pulled his gaze away and looked back to Haytham when the man spoke.
“It has been a long time, Mr. Davenport,” the Grandmaster finally started formally.
Achilles almost raised an eyebrow. He hadn’t remembered ever meeting Haytham Kenway face-to-face in his life. But then the Assassin realized the man was simply looking a way to start the conversation. He followed along.
“It has,” he said simply. “And call me Achilles.” There was no point in formalities now.
“As you wish,” Haytham confirmed. He took a step and tilted his head toward a chair. “May I sit?”
Haytham sat, settling much more comfortably than Achilles was. The room went still. The Mentor wanted the silence to drag out. He wanted to say nothing. But his curiosity got the best of him.
“Where are my Assassins?” he blurted.
Haytham shifted and Achilles swore he almost shrugged. “Most are dead. Some captured. Some escaped. But they all have the same fate.” The Templar tilted his head. “We have complete control over the entire premises. We have helped ourselves to your armory and supplies, your fleet in the harbor is destroyed, and everyone who lived here is gone.” Haytham crossed his legs and placed his hands on the armrests. “Your Brotherhood is dead, Achilles. The Templars are the victors.”
The bluntness of the statement was equal to a fired cannonball hitting the aging Mentor. He felt the large hole manifest in his chest, reopened from the death of his family. And this time it would never close. Dead… All of them. Gone. Their entire cause. Their dream of one day bringing freedom to this land shattered. But that’s all it ever was. A dream.
The shock of the revelation was quickly being replaced by cold fury, though.
“Why?” Achilles demanded, his voice raised. Haytham simply tilted his head curiously. “Why tell me this? To gloat of your spoils?”
The Assassin knew Kenway has a harsh man, but Achilles never imagined he would be this arrogant.
“That was not my intention, Mentor, I apologize,” the Templar explained, though it was more formal than sincere. “I simply wanted you to know the truth—”
“If that is so, then tell me of your plans,” Achilles interrupted. “Do you wish to kill me as well?!”
Suddenly the Mentor felt the urge to lunge over and strangle the bastard. To share the same hurt and pain he was feeling—although it would be far too little. Although a cruel logic argued even in his younger days it would be a challenge. And at his age now, getting up would be a task. So the defeated Assassin was forced to sit there and stew, trying to suppress the trembling of anger.
Haytham, meanwhile, cared little for the outburst, continuing on in a leveled voice and a shake of his head. “No, actually. Instead I have a proposition.”
“Out with it.”
The Grandmaster leaned forward slightly. “I’ve been told you have a talent for recruiting young minds…” Achilles’s eyes flickered to Shay Cormac, who still hadn’t moved a muscle. “So I know if we leave tonight, there it a large possibility you will just rebuild your Order.”
The Assassin’s gaze went back to the Templar. “So you are going to kill me…”
“No. Or rather, I have no desire to. Instead, I propose this: remove yourself from the Assassin Brotherhood, and the Templars will never bring harm to you ever again.”
Achilles felt himself bristling. “And why would I agree to that?”
“Because you have no reason to fight. Although it was done by your word, you had little to do with your Order’s actions. So why should you take blame for them? And I know of your wife and son—Abigail and Connor—which I am sorry hear that, by the way.” Achilles’s chest twisted at the mention of his loved ones. Haytham seemed to notice he struck a soft spot, so he continued on in a softer tone. “What will you do, Achilles? Recruit another army just for us to cut it down again? We both know you can’t take much more.”
Achilles’s heart twisted again. He was right… He would recruit more Assassins only for more than half of them to die, only to be replaced by others who would eventually die. What was the point of that? Life was not fair… He and his Assassins were supposed to free the minds of the people and make everyone stand as equal. But how could it be equal when some were chosen to live and others to die?!
Achilles licked his lips, his mouth suddenly feeling dry. He still felt like he should resist. “And if I refuse your offer?”
“Then I shall kill you right now and this entire homestead will burn,” Haytham threatened, not missing a beat. “No one will remember you.”
No one will, anyway, the Assassin noted bitterly. But Achilles found himself considering it. He could easily refuse. Let the Templars kill him. They were making it very clear he had no reason to live, anyway. But he knew that would give his enemies too much pleasure. To watch everything he worked so hard for to be wiped off the face of the earth.
And then the two tombstones resting on the edge of the hill burned into his mind. What of his family’s graves? What of his body? What of the manor that he—a Negro—took pride of having to himself? He didn’t care if no one remembered him—but could he really accept everything he knew being wiped from existence?
No, he couldn’t do that. If he lived, at least he would have some pride of his possessions and would have the memory of what it once was. Even if it would haunt him. Achilles knew it was selfish. Not to mention cowardly. But hell—didn’t he have a right to be?! In this life full of lies and disappointment, couldn’t he live with just a few pleasures, even if they were small and meaningless to others?!
Goddamn, why was life this unfair?! Achilles’s hands made a fist.
“What you say if I no longer serve the Brotherhood and send men to fight you, then you will allow me to keep my life and all of my possessions?”
Haytham nodded. “You have my word.”
Achilles Davenport refused to look his enemy in the eye. The hole in his chest widened to his stomach. His voice aged by a decade, becoming strained and hoarse. It would stay that way for the rest of his life. “Then I have no choice… but to except your offer…”
Haytham Kenway grinned under his hat. It had worked. He had won. He had defeated the Assassins and broke the will of their Mentor. It was over. The Templars would rule. He couldn’t hide the lightness in his voice.
“It’s settled then,” he purred. He got up a bit too merrily. “I will remove my men from the property by morning.” Achilles eyes were shadowed, but Haytham didn’t care as his own regained their frigid sternness. “However, I will schedule scouts to come check on your little manor and they will report directly to me. If we find you speaking with another Assassin, we will return with the same force used tonight. If we find you training a recruit, we will kill them personally and send you their head.” The former Assassin didn’t move, causing the Templar to tilt his head. “Do we have an agreement?”
“Yes,” Achilles snapped. He wanted this done with. He no longer wanted to be told the “truth.” All he wished for right now was to go back to his solitude and never return. Haytham’s conditions were unnecessary.
“Very well.” Haytham shifted his hat. The man deemed a handshake to seal the deal would be too much to ask, so he carefully prepared his leave. “We best be off, then. Thank you for your hospitality, Achilles, we’ll leave it to yourself now. Good fortune to you.”
He swore he heard the old man grunt. The Templar ignored him as he glanced at his associate.
The Irishman glanced up without moving his head.
Without a sound, the Templar pushed himself off the wall and exited the room. At the mention of the name, Achilles bore daggers into ex-Assassin’s back, but the man didn’t spare him a glance. At a signal from Haytham, the others Templars in the room collected themselves and filed out of the room. The Grandmaster waited patiently as they shuffled away, arms behind his back.
Words still on his tongue, he turned to Achilles. “You brought this upon yourself,” he chided, almost in a scolding tone. “We only reacted to it.”
The man walked to the threshold of the room, but placed a hand on the frame before leaving, looking back. Achilles was watching him, but eyes narrowed and cold hatred burning his eyes. But his gaze was still dulled with the rest of his body shriveled. Haytham Kenway made sure to make his last words count.
“Do not disappoint me.”