The urgent knocking of Lady Flora brought me out of my thoughts. I sprung from my bed and crossed the floor in three quick strides.
Flora burst into my pastel-coloured boudoir as soon as I begun to open the door, pushing it open before her. I closed it quickly, turning to her. I knew my face would show my worry.
“There are Crosses downstairs,” Flora began, and she saw me pale. “They're seeking a Flower Girl of your description. You need to get out of here, now. I'm sending them to Kristina.”
I stood still a moment, then turned, ducking into the washing room. In the five years since Miko's death, things hadn't gone well for the Assassin's Brotherhood in London. Someone had killed the Templar Grandmaster, Birch, in retaliation, though no assassin had claimed the kill. Not that the Templars cared.
One-by-one, the people I'd trained with and knew as friends and colleagues had vanished, or their bodies had been found. There were only five of us left, and I was one of them.
“How did they find out about me?” My voice carried into the main room, where Flora – another one of those five – waited fretfully for me.
“George's place was ransacked,” Flora answered. “His journals were in code, but…” She let the words go unsaid. Damn George and his need to write everything down!
My satchel packed, I flung off the diaphanous robe I was wearing, sliding quickly into supple leather pants and a linen shirt. Next came the vest, which I bound tight. Flora handed me my belt with its blades, and then my bracers. Last came my pride, my Assassin's robe, a finely made jacket of the darkest indigo.
“Go, Flora,” I said. “They musn't know about you, but it shan't be that way much longer. I'll loose the pigeons as I leave.”
Flora nodded, going to and opening my door. She peeked into the hallway. Signaling all clear, Flora left one way down the hall, while I went the other. I ascended the set of rickety stairs and came onto the roof of the brothel, the London Flower Garden as we called it, and went to the coop.
I took a moment to scrawl a note – “COMPROMISED, FLEEING” and sketched a quick daisy. Strapping the note to a pigeon, I tossed it into the air and watched it take flight.
Watched it plummet a moment later as a skillfully slung stone picked it out of the air.
“SHIT,” I cursed, and I shooed the other pigeons away. The burst of fluttering feathers drew the attention of those below and occupied the Templars with their slings. I raced along the rooftop, leaping for the neighbouring wall. Using sills and cracked bricks, I hauled my way onto the roof of the neighbouring building, and raced my way away.
Smoke clouded the night sky, blocking the moon and stars, making the race along London's rooftops a perilous task. Stopping wasn't an option, though – I could hear footfalls behind me, shouts and yells. One time, a rock had hit my shoulder, sending me tumbling.
Not like this! I thought to myself in a panic. I am an Assassin. I am not going to be hunted down like a rabid dog!
I regained my footing and continued on, each breath fire in my sore lungs as I tried to evade capture and sure death.
Under me, my foot slid; a bad roof tile broke free and my ankle twisted. I came down on my left knee, my momentum carrying me over onto my hip. Unable to stop, I rolled down the sloping roof, bouncing painfully along the poorly maintained tile, before suddenly, there was nothing below me but air.
I fell into darkness.
A piercing pain in my thigh brought me to consciousness, but somehow, I managed to stay quiet. Hay pricked around me, and I realized that somehow, luckily, I had fallen into a wagon of hay. I heard muffled voices, and the pain in my thigh suddenly withdrew and I realized it had been the head of a spear, checking the stack. It must have just grazed me. Enough to hurt, but not enough to stop the spear to make its owner look.
“Nothing here,” I heard a voice, muffled by the hay. “She must have kept going. She'll be heading for the walls – let's go.”
I laid in the hay, catching my breath, trying to ascertain the severity of my injuries. Scraped palms, a few sprained fingers. Banged up, in general. Grazed thigh. Sprained ankle. Maybe broken? With a groan, I hauled myself out of the hay and hopped down onto the cobbles.
The world exploded into stars as my weight came down on my left foot, my ankle buckling. I crashed to my knees and bit through my lip as I tried to muffle the pain. The flood of coppery tasting blood in my mouth cleared away the stars and I – more cautiously – hauled myself to my feet.
With an awkward hop-run of a gait, I made it off the main road and into the shadows of an alleyway. I'd somehow kept my satchel during the fall, but that was the extent of my luck. The voices had been right – the plan had been to make for the walls, steal a horse and escape into the London countryside.
That was no longer an option, leaving me with an unappealing trek down to the waterfront and the steaming river of shit, the Thames.
But that river was safer than the walls, so long as I didn't fall IN.
It was breaking dawn by the time I reached the river, sweat beading my pallid skin. Pain had taken its toll on me – I'd had to stop and retch a few times as nausea overwhelmed me. Still, I was still alive.
I could get out of the city. I could come back.
I slid into the light crowd, limping alongside the children and fishmongers who were making their way to the river. I listened to gossip, nearly tripping as I heard about the murder of a madam and the ladies in her brothel. All found dead, butchered.
Grief washed over me, but a stabbing pain in my ankle reminded me of how that had nearly been my fate. London was lost. But London wasn't the only place I could go.
I prowled the waterfront until I found the barge I wanted, and I handed over a few coins in exchange for a discreet ride downriver.
I sat at the prow of the brig, watching the white cliffs of Dover retreat behind us. The blue water of the Atlantic Ocean was beautiful, reflecting the unusually clear skies. I settled in, sitting out of the way, to watch until land was gone.
My accommodations were basically a small closet with a hammock; below me was stored barrels of water and hard tack. Only a fat coin purse had gotten me aboard the the Folly, and the Captain and crew had made it clear the less they saw of me, the better.
That suited me fine. I hauled myself into my hammock and settled myself in, drawing the old blanket around me. It was a far cry from the luxuries I had accumulated at The London Garden; I missed the lush pastels of my boudoir. Heck, I even missed the jewel-toned silks I had traded out shortly after a talk with a client about whether or not I'd ever venture to the colonies.
That, of course, brought my thoughts to Haytham Kenway. The Templar who had killed Miko and had found refuge in my arms, in my bed, in my body…who had invited me to join him in the colonies.
I had laughed then, saying I would never give up my luxuries to travel to the colonies, but here I was, doing just that. Oh, surely I had enough coin to re-establish myself in comfort once I reached York across the sea, but at the same time, I knew it wouldn't have the refinement of civilization.
Still, it was an adventure. It took me far away from the pain of losing Flora, the other men and women who had died in the past several years. London – Britain altogether – held nothing but heartache and broken memories.
By the time I heard gulls, I was ready to leap overboard and swim for shore. In the long months, I had come to yearn for dirt under my feet like I'd once yearned for the luxuries of the Garden. After months aboard the Folly, I was starting to think I should have just given the Templar Grandmaster a blowjob.
Still, when I heard the gulls I geared up. Over the months I'd had time to mend and clean my Assassins' garb and I dressed now as I was. A survivor of the London Brotherhood. I shoved the rest of my gear in my satchel and headed above deck, quickly getting out of the way of the men scurrying back and forth as they made ready to dock.
York – by some called New York, to differentiate between York in Britain – stretched out before us. It looked so adorably homely, it looked wonderful. It looked like it wasn't a brig on the ocean. I would have been excited by an outhouse.
I made my way to the Captain and handed over the remainder of my fare.
“Been a pleasant voyage,” I lied to the man, whose beard twitched as he heard the untruth in my words.
“Know you a place I can lodge until I figure out my plans?”
He listed a few places, and I took care to memorize them. I had to figure out the lay of the land before I decided where I was going. Was I was going to get in touch with Achilles Davenport, the leader of the Colonies' brotherhood? Or was I just going to say fuck it all and forget about Assassins and Templars?
When we docked, I disembarked as quick as I could and began cutting my way through the crowd. I wanted to get on solid land, away from the ocean and the docks, as quick as could be. I still limped slightly – the ankle had likely been broken and hadn't healed quite right – but the ache was something I could work through.
I got away from the harbour, relaxing as the sea was left behind. I paused to ask directions of a small group of women, who looked askance at me but still gave me a few suggestions on how to find the first of the rooming houses recommended to me.
I ducked through an alleyway and was making my way through when sudden crackling caused me to spin around, blade unconsciously inhand as I came into a ready crouch. By the time I realized the crackling bangs were a distraction, I barely had time to register the sudden, swooping shadow that came down atop me, slamming me into the ground.
The breath knocked out of me, I laid on the ground beneath my attacker; I felt him shift off me, and I rolled, kicking out my feet. I caught him off-guard and in the shin, and his leg buckled and he crashed down.
On me, elbows jabbing into my stomach. I let out a gasping OOF and shoved at the dark-haired assailant, rolling him off me and lumbering to my feet.
“Back off,” I warned. “You don't wanna be picking a fight with me.”
My attacker brought himself to his feet; he wore a long and dark leather jacket, salted from use at sea. His dark hair was pulled back in a neat tie and he was clean-shaven, though a shadow was forming. I met his eyes, taking in the scar that seemed to cut right through his right eye – just missing the orb itself, as it seemed he had full view.
“Well, you aren't familiar to me at all,” he purred, his Irish brogue making me narrow my eyes. That, and the Templar's Cross he wore proudly across his chest. I settled into a combat crouch, loosing my hidden blades with a snick.
With shock, I saw my attacker do the same; the horror on my face must have shown through, as he graced me with a bitter smirk.
“You'll be giving those back to me, now,” I said. “I'll lay them to rest with the men and women you've killed for them, Templar.”
We circled each other in the narrow alleyway.
“Killed for them?” He asked. “They were mine, until I realized the mistake I made calling myself an Assassin.”
I thought of all the people in London who had died. George. Maisie. Flora. Miko. Kristina. And I gazed out at this man, who had turned his back on us and had come to kill me.
“Traitor,” I hissed.
“Yes,” he replied. “But my qualms aren't with you. You aren't one of Achilles' people. Get out of here. The Colonies belong to the Templar Order.”
I laughed, a bitter sound. “The Colonies belong to no one. People aren't property. You'll have to kill me, Templar.”
The Irishman sighed, then lunged for me.
“I was afraid you'd say that, lass,” he said, his hidden blade coming for my throat. I ducked away, and the two of us circled, trading blows back-and-forth. He was assessing me, sounding out my abilities. I was doing the same.
Any hope I had that I would come out on top of the conflict died within moments of that assessment. I was in a losing position. Hampered by my satchel on my back and my blasted ankle, I was no match for this hale, healthy man. I think even had I been unencumbered and uninjured, it would have been a losing match.
I could only hope that he'd stumble, or somehow slip up. Give me an opening to escape.
Instead, it was me who tripped, coming down hard on the ground. I looked up just in time to see the Irishman's fist, then…nothing.
“Are you sure, Shay?” The voice cut through the darkness, bringing me through to an unpleasant consciousness. My whole body ached, but especially my head. I couldn't open my right eye; it was swollen shut.
The familiar feel of my bracers was gone from around my wrists; my weapons were gone from my belt.
“Absolutely,” I heard the Irishman's lilting voice. “She's not one of Achilles' Assassins. Londoner, I think. She just came in off the Folly, so as I'm told.”
His companion's raucous voice cut through the harbour's sounds easily; I could see why it woke me.
“Well then, off to Boston?”
I realized then the swaying wasn't just my head. I was back on a ship. I fought down a surge of nausea.
“Aye, Gist. Set sail for Boston. The Grandmaster'll want to meet the lass before making decisions.”
My berth on the Morrigan was actually larger than it had been on the Folly, and nicer appointed. I had a real bed, not a swaying hammock.
It was still a prison, bringing me from one death to another. I could tell we sailed near land as I could always hear gulls in the background and after a week, I knew I'd have to escape soon or just accept defeat and die.
I had torn my sheets into strips and braided it tight, then braided three braids into one hardy rope. When a sailor came in with my lunch, I flung myself at him, slipping the noose over his head. I dropped, using my weight to strangle him.
I stole through the belly of the Morrigan, keeping to shadows. I found my way to the port side of the ship, looking through a cannon port. Outside, I could smell wisps of smoke, see fishing boats. Above, I could hear the flurry of activity that came with sailing into port.
We must be there…
A hand grabbed my shoulder, hauling me back and spinning me around. I came face to face with the Irishman.
I didn't think; I lunged forward, covering his mouth with mine. I already knew I couldn't beat him in a fight; I could only hope he'd be a fool of a man who would react with his hormones to a yielding, soft female body.
I broke from his mouth, only to drag my lips down his chin, his jaw.
“You caught me,” I whispered to him. “You aren't going to let me die a virgin, are you?” I kissed down his neck, my face burying itself in the collar of his salty, leather jacket. I could feel his pulse racing beneath my lips.
“Lass, if you're a virgin, I'm a Saint,” the Irishman's voice drawled. He shoved me away, grabbing my arm and using it to spin me so my back was to him.
He marched me back to my prison and with a shove, sent me inside. There was an explosion of pain and stars, and the world went dark.
I laid on my stomach on my bed, surrounded by lush jewel-toned silks and satins, naked and lazy with the afternoon's golden sun streaming in through one of the London Garden windows. My feet were up in the air, ankles crossed, and my hair tumbled haphazardly along my shoulders and back.
My head was laid on my forearms, crossed under me, as I luxuriated in the comfort of my companion and the heady lethargy that came after a powerful orgasm.
Beside me, equally as naked, laid Haytham Kenway; he trailed a finger down my spine and I felt my lips curve in a lazy smile.
“Are you sure you have to go on the morrow?” I asked, my voice making it clear I wished he was not leaving. He had returned to London about a year after our first encounter, shocking me – after all, he should be dead!
He had taken my shock as surprise to see him back in London, and I let that stand. I was still alive, so the Templar didn't know I was an Assassin. Apparently I had made an impact on him.
“I'm sure,” he said. “Business in the Colonies can only wait so long. I've already tarried overlong here.”
I felt his lips on my shoulder and his hand on the curve of my ass. His roughened palm against my smooth skin was an amazingly erotic experience, and I felt a stab of lust tickle the back of my knees.
Tarried overlong, he said; paid for a full week of my company, he meant. A full week in which we'd explored dozens of carnal adventures, as well as cultural ones. He had squired me around London, taking me to operas and to eating houses, treating me like a Queen. And then we would return here, to my boudoir, where he'd strip me of everything he'd made me and reduce me to base moans and screams.
“I wish you pleasant sailing then, though I hate to see you leave,” I said.
He chuckled, kissing the nape of my neck.
“There's nothing pleasant about sailing,” he murmured. “It's long, tedious and you run out of things to do quickly. And the food – if you can call it that.”
I stretched and purred to him, “You're making a very convincing argument for me to go with you, Haytham.”
I felt his hand shift on my back as he sat up.
“The question is, will I arrive in Boston safely, or will another Assassin come for me?”
His hand pressed down on my back and I felt the prick of a blade. I held very, very still.
“I don—” I started to say, but he cut me off.
“I had wondered how the Assassins knew which ship I would be on,” Haytham said, his voice coldly contemplative. There was no trace of the loving man I'd known this past week. “I killed Miko, met with Birch, and then came here. From here, I went to the Providence. And the only one…was you.”
I stayed silent. What could I say?
“Did you regret it?”
I sighed and let myself relax into the bed; whatever was coming was coming, and I may as well be comfortable.
“Did I regret sending word?” I asked, rhetorically. “No. You killed my mentor.”
I felt him shift, and continued my thought aloud.
“But when I saw you again, I found I wasn't unhappy. And I have been happy this week, Haytham. Happier than I've any right to have been.”
His hand and the blade left my back, and I rolled onto my side before sitting up. He was off the bed now, pulling on his pants. It made me painfully sad to see him shutting down the little paradise we'd made for ourselves this past week. An escape where there were no Assassins, no Templars.
He pulled on his shirt, his dark hair disheveled as it came through the top. He slicked it back with his hand, before looking over at me.
“Come with me to Boston,” he invited. “Leave the Brotherhood behind. We could bring order and civilization to the colonies, together.”
I stared at him. Betray the Brotherhood?
“You know I can't do that,” I answered him, my heart hurting. I tried to cover it up. “Leave behind my luxuries? Never.”
That brought a ghost of a smile to his lips as he fastened his jacket. I tried to not cry, but I know my eyes shone with tears.
“If you change your mind, you know where to find me,” he said, stepping into his boots and setting his hat on his head. And with that, the Templar left – left me alive, left me longing, left me suffering.
The next week, I changed my colour scheme from jewels to pastels, trying to banish Haytham Kenway from my heart, mind and boudoir.
When I woke, I found myself strapped to a chair. My hood covered my head again, giving me the dignity of a captured Assassin. I wondered if that had been an accident, or if Shay had given me that respect despite my attempt to escape.
I heard muted voices outside the room, which smelled of lumber and sawdust and horses. I heard the creak of a hinge, and multiple footsteps. Most stopped a distance away, but one set kept coming.
I felt fingers on my chin, gripping it tightly. Though the bruises had healed during the sail, the grip was tight and unforgiving. The hand tilted my head up, and I could see my captor clearly.
Haytham Kenway. He was the Grandmaster?!
My face was still mostly obscured by the hood and I saw him frown as he tried to place my face.
“Any last words, Assassin?” He asked; I was sent back to that day when he had asked me about my role in the attack on the Providence – his voice was so cold. Several things raced through my head at the question, from witty to snarky to pleading and in the end…I just spoke.
His eyes widened and I saw his nostrils flare as he sucked in a deep breath; his other hand came up and tore back my hood, revealing my face. He breathed my name softly, so quietly I could barely hear, and released me to turn and speak to the others.