那是一个下午。安妮女王广场的房子都建的很近，所以我们经常能看见我们的邻居们。反正不是在广场上，就是在房子后面的那片空地上。我们的一侧住着四个女孩，其中两个年龄和我相仿。她们经常花数小时的时间在花园里玩跳绳或是捉迷藏人，而我经常能听到他们的嬉闹声，在家庭教师的课堂上，在他警惕的目光下。我的家庭教师，老弗莱因先生(Old Mr Fayling)，有着浓密的灰色眉毛，总喜欢抠鼻子，并认真地研究自己从鼻孔深处挖出来的东西，然后偷偷地吃下去。
Mr. Digweed came to see me this morning. He knocked, waited for my reply then had to duck his head toenter, because Mr.
Digweed, as well as being balding, with slightly bulging eyes and veiny eyelids, is talland slim, and the doorways in our
emergency residence are much lower than they were at home. The wayhe had to stoop as he moved around the place, it added to
his air of discomfiture, the sense of his being a fish out of water here. He’d been my father’s gentleman since before I
was born, at least since the Kenways settled in London, and like all of us, maybe even more than the rest of us, he
belonged to Queen Anne’s Square. What made his pain even more acute was guilt—his guilt that on the night of the attack
he was away, attending to family matters in Herefordshire; he and our driver had returned the morning after the attack. “I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me, Master Haytham,” he had said to me in the days after, his face pale and drawn. “Of course, Digweed,” I said, and didn’t know what to say next; I’d never been comfortable addressing him by his surname; it had never felt right in my mouth. So all I could add was “Thank you.” This morning his cadaverous face wore the same solemn expression, and I could tell that, whatever news he had, it was bad. “Master Haytham,” he said, standing before me. “Yes . . . Digweed?” “I’m terribly sorry, Master Haytham, but there’s been a message from Queen Anne’s Square, from the Barretts. They wish to make it clear that nobody from the Kenway household is welcome at young Master Thomas’s funeral service. They respectfully request that no contact is made at all.” “Thank you, Digweed,” I said, and watched as he gave a short, sorrowful bow then dipped his head to avoid the low beam of the doorway as he left. I stood there for some time, gazing emptily at the space where he’d stood, until Betty returned to help me out of my funeral suit and into my everyday ones. One afternoon a few weeks ago, I was below stairs, playing in the short corridor that led off the servants’ hall to the heavily barred door of the plate room. It was in the plate room that the family valuables were stored: silverware which only ever saw the light of day on the rare occasions Mother and Father entertained guests; family heirlooms, Mother’s jewellery and some of Father’s books that he considered of greatest value—irreplaceable books. He kept the key to the plate room with him at all times, on a loop around his belt, and I had only ever seen him entrust it to Mr. Digweed, and then only for short periods. I liked to play in the corridor nearby because it was so rarely visited, which meant I was never bothered by nursemaids, who would invariably tell me to get off the dirty floor before I wore a hole in my trousers; or by other well-meaning staff, who would engage me in polite conversation and oblige me to answer questions about my education or non-existent friends; or perhaps even by Mother or Father, who would tell me to get
off the dirty floor before I wore a hole in my trousers and then force me to answer questions about my education or non-existent friends. Or, worse than any of them, by Jenny, who would sneer at whatever game I was playing and, if it was toy soldiers, make a malicious effort to kick over each and every tin man of them. No, the passageway between the servants’ hall and the plate room was one of the few places at Queen Anne’s Square where I could realistically hope to avoid any of these things, so the passageway is where I went when I didn’t want to be disturbed. Except on this occasion, when a new face emerged in the form of Mr. Birch, who let himself into the passage just as I was about to arrange my troops. I had a lantern with me, placed on the stone floor, and the candle fire flickered and popped in the draught as the passage door opened. From my position on the floor, I saw the hem of his frock coat and the tip of his cane, and as my eyes travelled up to see him looking down upon me, I wondered if he, too, kept a sword hidden in his cane, and if it would rattle, the way my father’s did.
“Master Haytham, I rather hoped I might find you here,” he said with a smile. “I was wondering, are
you busy?” I scrambled to my feet. “Just playing, sir,” I said quickly. “Is there something wrong?” “Oh no.” He laughed. “In fact, the last thing I want to do is disturb your playtime, though there is something I was hoping to discuss with you.” “Of course,” I said, nodding, my heart sinking at the thought of yet another round of questions concerning my prowess at arithmetic. Yes, I enjoyed my sums. Yes, I enjoyed writing. Yes, I one day hoped to be as clever as my father. Yes, I one day hoped to follow him into the family business. But with a wave of his hand Mr. Birch bade me back to my game and even set aside his cane and hitched up his trousers in order to crouch beside me. “And what do we have here?” he asked, indicating the small tin figurines. “Just a game, sir,” I replied. “These are your soldiers, are they?” he enquired. “And which one is the commander?” “There is no commander, sir,” I said. He gave a dry laugh. “Your men need a leader, Haytham. How else will they know the best course of action? How else will they be instilled with a sense of discipline and purpose?” “I don’t know, sir,” I said. “Here,” said Mr. Birch. He reached to remove one of the tiny tin men from the pack, buffed him up on his sleeve and placed him to one side. “Perhaps we should make this gentleman here the leader—what do you think?” “If it pleases you, sir.” “Master Haytham”—Mr. Birch smiled—“this is your game. I am merely an interloper, somebody hoping you can show me how it is played.” “Yes, sir, then a leader would be fine in the circumstances.” Suddenly the door to the passageway opened again, and I looked up, this time to see Mr. Digweed enter. In the flickering lamplight I saw him and Mr. Birch share a look. “Can your business here wait, Digweed?” said Mr. Birch tautly. “Certainly, sir,” said Mr. Digweed, bowing and retreating, the door closing behind him. “Very good,” continued Mr. Birch, his attention returning to the game. “Then let us move this gentleman here to be the unit’s leader, in order to inspire his men to great deeds, to lead them by example and teach them the virtues of order and discipline and loyalty. What do you think, Master Haytham?” “Yes, sir,” I said obediently. “Here’s something else, Master Haytham,” said Mr. Birch, reaching between his feet to move another of the tin soldiers from the pack then placing him next to the nominal commander. “A leader needs trusted
lieutenants, does he not?” “Yes, sir,” I agreed. There was a long pause, during which I watched Mr. Birch take inordinate care placing two more lieutenants next to the leader, a pause that became more and more uncomfortable as the moments passed, until I said, more to break the awkward silence than because I wanted to discuss the inevitable, “Sir, did you want to speak to me about my sister, sir?” “Why, you can see right through me, Master Haytham,” laughed Mr. Birch loudly. “Your father is a fine teacher. I see he has taught you guile and cunning—among other things, no doubt.” I wasn’t sure what he meant so I kept quiet. “How is weapons training going, may I enquire?” asked Mr. Birch. “Very well, sir. I continue to improve each day, so Father says,” I said proudly. “Excellent, excellent. And has your father ever indicated to you the purpose of your training?” he asked. “Father says my real training is to begin on the day of my tenth birthday,” I replied. “Well, I wonder what it is that he has to tell you,” he said, with furrowed brow. “You really have no idea? Not even a tantalizing clue?” “No, sir, I don’t,” I said. “Only that he will provide me with a path to follow. A creed.” “I see. How very exciting. And he’s never given you any indication as to what this ‘creed’ might be?” “No, sir.” “How fascinating. I’ll wager you cannot wait. And, in the meantime, has your father given you a man’s sword with which to learn your craft, or are you still using the wooden practice batons?” I bridled. “I have my own sword, sir.” “I should very much like to see it.” “It is kept in the games room, sir, in a safe place that only my father and I have access to.” “Only your father and you? You mean you have access to it, too?” I coloured, grateful for the dim light in the passageway so that Mr. Birch couldn’t see the embarrassment on my face. “All I mean is that I know where the sword is kept, sir, not that I would know how to access it,” I clarified. “I see.” Mr. Birch grinned. “A secret place, is it? A hidden cavity within the bookcase?” My face must have said it all. He laughed. “Don’t worry, Master Haytham, your secret is safe with me.” I looked at him. “Thank you, sir.” “That’s quite all right.” He stood, reached to pick up his cane, brushed some dirt, real or imaginary, from his trousers and turned towards the door. “My sister, sir?” I said. “You never asked me about her.” He stopped, chuckled softly and reached to ruffle my hair. A gesture I quite liked. Perhaps because it was something my father did, too. “Ah, but I don’t need to. You’ve told me everything I need to know, young Master Haytham,” he said. “You know as little about the beautiful Jennifer as I do, and perhaps that is how it must be in the proper way of things. Women should be a mystery to us, don’t you think, Master Haytham?” I hadn’t the faintest idea what he was talking about but smiled anyway, and breathed a sigh of relief when I once again had the plate-room corridor to myself. Not long after that talk with Mr. Birch I was in another part of the house and making my way towards my bedroom when as I passed Father’s study I heard raised voices from inside: Father and Mr. Birch. The fear of a good hiding meant I stayed too far away to hear what was being said, and I was glad I’d kept my distance, because in the next moment the door to the study was flung open and out hurried Mr. Birch. He was in a fury—his anger was plain to see in the colour of his cheeks and blazing eyes—but the sight of me in the hallway brought him up short, even though he remained agitated. “I tried, Master Haytham,” he said, as he gathered himself and began to button his coat ready to leave. “I tried to warn him.” And with that he placed his cocked hat on his head and stalked off. My father had appeared at the door of his office and glared after Mr. Birch and, though it was clearly an unpleasant encounter, it was grown-up stuff, and I didn’t concern myself with it. There was more to think about. Just a day or so later came the attack.
It happened on the night before my birthday. The attack, I mean. I was awake, perhaps because I was
excited about the next day, but also because I was in the habit of getting up after Edith had left the room to sit on my windowsill and gaze out of my bedroom window. From my vantage point I’d see cats and dogs or even foxes passing across the moon-painted grass. Or, if not watching out for animals, then just watching the night, looking at the moon, the watery grey colour it gave the grass and trees. At first I thought what I was seeing in the distance were fireflies. I’d heard all about fireflies but never seen them. All I knew was that they gathered in clouds and emitted a dull glow. However, I soon realized the light wasn’t a dull glow at all, but in fact was going on, then off, then on again. I was seeing a signal. My breath caught in my throat. The flashing light seemed to come from close to the old wooden door in the wall, the one where I’d seen Tom that day, and my first thought was that he was trying to contact me. It seems strange now, but not for a second did I assume the signal was meant for anyone but me. I was too busy dragging on a pair of trousers, tucking my nightclothes into the waistband then hooking my braces over my shoulders. I shrugged on a coat. All I could think of was what an awfully splendid adventure I was about to have. And of course I realize now, looking back, that in the mansion next door Tom must have been another 4=one who liked to sit on his windowsill and watch the nocturnal life in the grounds of his house. And, like me, he must have seen the signal. And perhaps Tom even had the same thought as I did: that it was me signalling him. And in response did the same as I did: he scrambled from his perch and pulled on some clothes to investigate . . . Two new faces had appeared at the house on Queen Anne’s Square, a pair of hard-faced former soldiers employed by Father. His explanation was that we needed them because he had received “information.” Just that. “Information”—that’s all he’d say. And I wondered then as I wonder now what he meant, and whether it had anything to do with the heated conversation I’d overheard between him and Mr. Birch. Whatever it was, I’d seen little of the two soldiers. All I really knew was that one was stationed in the drawing room at the front of the mansion, while the other stayed close to the fire in the servants’ hall, supposedly to guard the plate room. Both were easy to avoid as I crept down the steps to below stairs and slid into the silent, moonlit kitchen, which I had never seen so dark and empty and still. And cold. My breath plumed and straight away I shivered, uncomfortably aware how chilly it was compared to what I’d thought was the meagre heat of my room. Close by the door was a candle, which I lit and, with my hand cupped over its flame, held to light the way as I let myself
out into the stable yard. And if I’d thought it was cold in the kitchen, then, well . . . outside, it was the kind of cold where it felt as if the world around you was brittle and about to break; cold enough to take my cloudy breath away, to give me second thoughts as I stood there and wondered whether or not I could bear to continue. One of the horses whinnied and stamped, and for some reason the noise made my mind up, sending me tiptoeing past the kennels to a side wall and through a large arched gate leading into the orchard. I made my way through the bare, spindly apple trees, then was out in the open, painfully aware of the mansion to my right, where I imagined faces at every window: Edith, Betty, Mother and Father all staring out and seeing me out of my room and running amok in the grounds. Not that I really was running amok, of course, but that’s what they’d say; that’s what Edith would say as she scolded me and what Father would say when he gave me the cane for my troubles. But if I was expecting a shout from the house, then none came. Instead I made my way to the perimeter wall, began to run quickly along it towards the door. I was still shivering, but as my excitement grew I wondered if Tom would have brought food for a midnight feast: ham, cake and biscuits. Oh, and a hot toddy would be most welcome, too . . . A dog began barking. Thatch, Father’s Irish bloodhound, from his kennel in the stable yard. The noise stopped me in my tracks, and I crouched beneath the bare, low-hanging branches of a willow, until it ceased as suddenly as it had started. Later, of course, I’d understand why it stopped so abruptly. But I didn’t think anything of it at the time because I had no reason to suspect that Thatch had had his throat cut by an invader. We now think there were five of them altogether who crept up on us with knives and swords. Five men making their way to the mansion, and me in the grounds, oblivious to it all. But how was I to know? I was a silly boy whose head buzzed with adventure and derring-do, not to mention the thought of ham and cake, and I continued along the perimeter wall, until I came to the gate. Which was open. What had I expected? I suppose, for the gate to be shut and for Tom to be on the other side of it. Perhaps one of us would have climbed the wall. Perhaps we planned to trade gossip with the door between us. All I knew was that the gate was open, and I began to get the feeling that something was wrong, and at last it occurred to me that the signalling I’d seen from my bedroom window might not have been meant for me. “Tom?” I whispered. There was no sound. The night was completely still: no birds, no animals, nothing. Nervous now, I
was about to turn and leave, return to the house and to the safety of my warm bed, when I saw something.
A foot. I edged further out of the gate where the passageway was bathed in dirty white moonlight which gave everything a soft, grubby glow—including the flesh of the boy sprawled on the ground. He half lay, half sat, propped up against the opposite wall, dressed almost exactly as I was, with a pair of trousers and nightclothes, only he hadn’t bothered to tuck his in and it was twisted around his legs, which lay at strange, unnatural angles on the hard, rutted mud of the walkway. It was Tom, of course. Tom, whose dead eyes stared sightlessly at me from beneath the brim of his hat, skewwhiff on his head; Tom, with the moonlight gleaming on blood that had sheeted down his front from the gash at his throat. My teeth began to chatter. I heard a whimper and realized it was me. A hundred panicked thoughts crowded into my head. And then things began to happen too quickly for me even to remember the exact order in which they took place, though I think it started with the sound of breaking glass and a scream that came from the house. Run. I’m ashamed to admit that the voices, the thoughts jostling in my head, all cried that one word together. Run. And I obeyed them. I ran. Only, not in the direction they wanted me to. Was I doing as my father had instructed and listening to my instincts, or ignoring them? I didn’t know. All I knew was that though every fibre of my being seemed to want me to flee from what I knew was the most terrible danger, in fact I ran towards it. Through the stable yard I ran, and burst into the kitchen, hardly pausing to acknowledge the fact that the door hung open on its hinges. From somewhere along the hall I heard more screaming, saw blood on the kitchen floor and stepped through the door towards the stairs, only to see another body. It was one of the soldiers. He lay in the corridor clutching his stomach, eyelids fluttering madly and a line of blood trickling from his mouth as he slid dying to the floor. As I stepped over him and ran for the stairs, my one thought was to reach my parents. The entrance hall, which was dark, but full of screams and running feet, and the first tendrils of smoke. I tried to get my bearings. From above came yet another scream, and I looked up to see dancing shadows on the balcony, and, briefly, the glitter of steel in the hands of one of our attackers. Meeting him on the landing was one of Father’s valets, but the skittering light stopped me from seeing the poor boy’s fate. Instead I heard and through my feet felt the wet thump of his body as it dropped from the balcony to the wooden floor not far away from me. His assassin gave a howl of triumph, and I could hear running feet as he made his way further along the landing—towards the bedrooms. “Mother!” I screamed, and ran for the stairs at the same time as I saw my parents’ door flung open and my father come surging out to meet the intruder. He wore trousers, and his suspenders were pulled over his naked shoulders, his hair untied and hanging free. In one hand he held a lantern, in the other his blade. “Haytham!” he called as I reached the top of the stairs. The intruder was between us on the landing. He stopped, turned to look at me, and in the light of Father’s lantern I could see him properly for the first time. He wore trousers, a black leather-armour waistcoat and a small half-face mask like the kind worn for a masked ball. And he was changing direction. Instead of going up against Father, he was charging back along the landing after me, grinning. “Haytham!” shouted Father again. He pulled away from Mother and began to run down the landing after the intruder. Instantly the gap between them closed, but it wouldn’t be enough, and I turned to escape, only to see a second man at the foot of the stairs, sword in hand, blocking my way. He was dressed the same as the first, although I noticed one difference: his ears. They were pointed, and with the mask gave him the look of a hideous, deformed Mr. Punch. For a moment I froze, then swung back to see that the
grinning man behind me had turned to meet Father, and their swords clashed. Father had left his lantern
behind, and it was in the half dark that they fought. A short, brutal battle punctuated by grunts and the chiming of sword steel. Even in the heat and the danger of the moment I wished it had been light enough to watch him fight properly. Then it was over and the grinning assassin was grinning no more, dropping his sword, tumbling over the banisters with a scream and hitting the floor beneath. The pointy-eared intruder had been halfway up the stairs but had second thoughts and wheeled around to escape to the entrance hall. There was a shout from below. Over the banisters I saw a third man, also wearing a mask, who beckoned to the pointy-eared man before both disappeared out of sight beneath the landing. I glanced up and in the low light saw a look pass across my father’s face. “The games room,” he said. And, in the next instant, before Mother or I could stop him, he’d leapt over the banister to the entrance hall beneath. As he jumped my mother screamed, “Edward!” and the anguish in her voice echoed my own thoughts. No. My one, single thought: he’s abandoning us. Why is he abandoning us? Mother’s nightclothes were in disarray around her as she ran along the landing towards where I stood at the top of the stairs; her face was a mask of terror. Behind her came yet another attacker, who appeared from the stairway at the far end of the landing and reached Mother at the same time as she reached me. He grabbed her from behind with one hand while his sword hand swept forward, about to draw the blade across her exposed throat. I didn’t stop to think. I didn’t even think about it at all until much later. But in one movement I stepped up, reached, plucked the dead attacker’s sword from the stair, raised it above my head and with two hands plunged it into his face before he could cut her throat. My aim was true and the point of the sword drove through the eyehole of the mask and into the socket. His scream tore a ragged hole in the night as he span away from Mother with the sword momentarily embedded in his eye. Then it was wrenched out as he fell against the banister, toppled for a moment, sank to his knees and pitched forward, dead before his head hit the floor. Mother ran into my arms and buried her head in my shoulder, even as I grabbed the sword and took her hand to make our way back down the stairs. How many times had Father said to me, on his way to work for the day, “You’re in charge today, Haytham; you look after Mother for me.” Now, I really was. We reached the foot of the stairs, where a strange quiet seemed to have descended over the house. The entrance hall was empty now and still dark, though lit by an ominous flickering orange glow. The air was beginning to thicken with smoke, but through the haze I saw bodies: the assassin, the valet who was killed earlier . . . And Edith, who lay with her throat open in a pool of blood. Mother saw Edith, too, whimpered, and tried to pull me in the direction of the main doors, but the door to the games room was half-open, and from inside I could hear the sound of sword fighting. Three men, one of them my father. “Father needs me,” I said, trying to disentangle myself from Mother, who saw what I was about to do and pulled at me harder, until I snatched my hand away with such force that she collapsed to the floor. For one strange moment I found myself torn between helping Mother to her feet and apologizing, the sight of her on the floor—on the floor because of me—was so appalling. But then I heard a great cry from inside the games room and it was enough to propel me through the door. The first thing I saw was that the bookcase compartment was open, and I could see the box holding my sword inside. Otherwise, the room was as always, left just as it had been after the last training session, with the covered billiard table moved and space made for me to train; where earlier that day I’d been tutored and scolded by Father. Where now Father was kneeling, dying. Standing over him was a man with his sword buried hilt deep in my father’s chest, the blade
protruding from his back dripping blood to the wooden floor. Not far away stood the pointy-eared man,
who had a large gash down his face. It had taken two of them to defeat Father, and only just at that. I flew at the killer, who was caught by surprise and without time to retrieve his sword from my father’s chest. Instead he span away to avoid my blade, letting go of his sword at the same time as Father dropped to the floor. Like a fool I continued after the assassin, forgot to protect my flank, and the next thing I saw was a sudden movement out of the corner of my eye as the pointy-eared man danced forward. Whether he meant to do it or mistimed his blow, I’m not sure, but instead of striking me with the blade he clubbed me with the pommel, and my vision went black; my head connected with something, and it took me a second to realize it was the leg of the billiard table. I was on the floor, dazed, sprawled opposite Father, who lay on his side with the sword handle still protruding from his chest. There was life in his eyes still, just a spark, and his eyelids fluttered momentarily, as if he were focusing, taking me in. For a moment or so we lay opposite one another, two wounded men. His lips were moving. Through a dark cloud of pain and grief I saw his hand reach
for me. “Father—” I said. Then in the next instant the killer had strode over and without pausing bent and pulled his blade from Father’s body. Father jerked, his body arched with one last spasm of pain as his lips pulled away from bloodied teeth, and he died. I felt a boot on my side that pushed me on to my back, and I looked up into the eyes of my father’s killer, and now my killer, who with a smirk raised his sword two-handed, about to plunge it into me. If it gave me shame to report that my inner voices had commanded me to run just a few moments before, then it gives me pride to report that now they were calm; that I faced my death with dignity and with the knowledge that I had done my best for my family; with gratitude that I would soon be joining my father. But of course it was not to be. It’s not a ghost who writes these words. Something caught my eye, and it was the tip of a sword that appeared between the killer’s legs and in the same instant was driven upwards, opening his torso from the groin up. I’ve realized since that the direction of the strike had less to do with savagery and more to do with the need to pull my killer away from me, not push him forward. But savage it was, and he screamed, blood splattering as he was split asunder and his guts dropped from the gash to the floor and his lifeless carcass followed suit. Behind him stood Mr. Birch. “Are you all right, Haytham?” he asked. “Yes, sir,” I gasped. “Good show,” he said, then span with his sword up to intercept the pointy-eared man, who came at him with his blade flashing. I pulled myself to my knees, grabbed a fallen sword and stood, ready to join Mr. Birch, who had driven the pointy-eared man back to the door of the games room when suddenly the attacker saw something—something out of sight behind the door—and danced to one side. In the next instant Mr. Birch reared back and held out a hand to prevent me coming forward, while at the doorway the pointy-eared man had reappeared. Only this time he had a hostage. Not my mother, as I at first feared. It was Jenny. “Get back,” snarled Pointy-Ears. Jenny snivelled, and her eyes were wide as the blade pressed into her throat. Can I admit—can I admit that at that moment I cared far more for avenging my father’s death than I did for protecting Jenny? “Stay there,” repeated Pointy-Ears man, pulling Jenny back. The hem of her nightdress was caught around her ankles and her heels dragged on the floor. Suddenly they were joined by another masked man who brandished a flaming torch. The entrance hall was almost full of smoke now. I could see flames coming from another part of the house, licking at the doors to the drawing room. The man with the torch darted to the drapes, put his flame to them, and more of our house began to burn around us, Mr. Birch and I powerless to stop it. I saw my mother out of the corner of my eye and thanked God she was all right. Jenny was another matter, though. As she was dragged towards the door of the mansion, her eyes were fixed on me and Mr. Birch as though we were her last hopes. The torch-bearing attacker came to join his colleague, hauled the door open and darted out towards a carriage I could see on the street outside. For a moment I thought they might let Jenny go, but no. She began to scream as she was dragged towards the carriage and bundled in, and she was still screaming as a third masked man in the driver’s seat shook the reins, wielded his crop and the carriage rattled off into the night, leaving us to escape from our burning house and drag our dead from the clutches of the flames.
Even though we buried Father today, the first thing I thought about when I awoke this morning didn’t
involve him or his funeral, it was about the plate room at Queen Anne’s Square. They hadn’t tried to enter it. Father had employed the two soldiers because he was worried about a robbery, but our attackers had made their way upstairs without even bothering to try to raid the plate room. Because they were after Jenny, that was why. And killing Father? Was that part of the plan? This was what I thought as I awoke to a room that was freezing—which isn’t unusual, that it should be freezing. An everyday occurrence, in fact. Just that today’s room was especially cold. The kind of cold that sets your teeth on edge; that reaches into your bones. I glanced over to the hearth, wondering why there wasn’t more heat from the fire, only to see that it was unlit and the grate grey and dusty with ash. I clambered out of bed and went to where there was a thick layer of ice on the inside of the window, preventing me from seeing out. Gasping with cold, I dressed, left my room, and was struck by how quiet the house seemed. Creeping all the way downstairs, I found Betty’s room, knocked softly, then a little harder. When she didn’t answer, I stood debating what to do, a little concern for her gnawing at the insides of my stomach. And when there was still no answer, I knelt to look through the keyhole, praying I wouldn’t see anything I shouldn’t. She lay asleep in one of the two beds in her room. The other one was empty and neatly made up, although there was a pair of what looked like men’s boots at the foot of it, with a strip of silver at the heel. My gaze went back to Betty, and for a moment I watched as the blanket covering her rose and fell, and then decided to let her sleep on, and straightened. I ambled along to the kitchen, where Mrs. Searle started a little as I entered, looked me up and down with a slightly disapproving gaze then returned to her work at the chopping board. It wasn’t that Mrs. Searle and I had fallen out, just that Mrs. Searle regarded everybody with suspicion, and since the attack even more so. “She’s not one of life’s most forgiving sorts,” Betty had said to me one afternoon. That was another thing that had changed since the attack: Betty had become a lot more candid, and every now and then would drop hints about how she really felt about things. I had never realized that she and Mrs. Searle didn’t see eye to eye, for example, nor had I any idea that Betty regarded Mr. Birch with suspicion. She did though: “I don’t know why he’s making decisions on behalf of the Kenways,” she had muttered darkly yesterday. “He’s not a member of the family. Doubt he ever will be.” Somehow, knowing that Betty didn’t think much of Mrs. Searle made the housekeeper less forbidding in my eyes, and while before I would have thought twice about wandering into the kitchen unannounced and requesting food, I now had no such qualms. “Good morning, Mrs. Searle,” I said. She gave a small curtsy. The kitchen was cold, just her in it. At Queen Anne’s Square, Mrs. Searle had at least three helpers, not to mention sundry other staff who flitted in and out through the great double doors of the kitchen. But that was before the attack, when we had a full complement, and there’s nothing like an invasion of sword-wielding masked men for driving the servants away. Most hadn’t even returned the following day. Now there was just Mrs. Searle, Betty, Mr. Digweed, a chambermaid called Emily, and Miss Davy, who was Mother’s lady’s maid. They were the last of the staff who looked after the Kenways. Or the remaining Kenways, I should say. Just me and Mother left now. When I left the kitchen, it was with a piece of cake wrapped in cloth handed to me with a sour look by Mrs. Searle, who no doubt disapproved of me wandering about the house so early in the morning, scavenging for food ahead of the breakfast she was in the process of preparing. I like Mrs. Searle, and since she’s one of the few members of staff to have stayed with us after that terrible night, I like her even more, but even so. There are other things to worry about now. Father’s funeral. And Mother, of course. And then I found myself in the entrance hall, looking at the inside of the front door, and before I knew it I was opening the door, and without thinking—without thinking too much, anyway—letting myself out on to the steps and out into a world clouded with frost.
“Now, what in the blazes do you plan to do on such a cold morning, Master Haytham?”
A carriage had just drawn up outside the house, and at the window was Mr. Birch. He wore a hat
that was heavier than usual, and a scarf pulled up over his nose so that, at first glance, he looked like a
“Just looking, sir,” I said, from the steps.
He pulled his scarf down, trying to smile. Before when he’d smiled it had set his eyes twinkling,
now it was like the dwindling, cooling ashes of the fire, trying but unable to generate any warmth, as
strained and tired as his voice when he spoke. “I think perhaps I know what you’re looking for, Master
“What’s that, sir?”
“The way home?”
I thought about it and realized he was right. The trouble was, I had lived the first ten years of my life
being shepherded around by parents and the nursemaids. Though I knew that Queen Anne’s Square was
near, and even within walking distance, I had no idea how to get there.
“And were you planning on a visit?” he asked.
I shrugged, but the truth of it was that, yes, I had pictured myself in the shell of my old home. In the
games room there. I’d pictured myself retrieving . . .
“It’s too dangerous to go in the house, I’m afraid. Would you like to take a trip over there anyway?
You can see it, at least. Come inside, it’s as cold as a greyhound’s nostril out there.”
And I saw no reason not to, especially when he produced a hat and a cape from within the depths of
When we pulled up at the house some moments later it didn’t look at all as I had imagined it. No, it
was far, far worse. As though a giant God-like fist had pounded into it from above, smashing through the
roof and the floors beneath, gouging a huge, ragged hole into the house. It wasn’t so much a house now as
a ravaged representation of one.
Through broken windows we could see into the entrance hall and up—through smashed floors to the
hallway three flights up, all of them blackened with soot. I could see furniture that I recognized, blackened
and charred, burnt portraits hanging lopsided on the walls.
“I’m sorry—it really is too dangerous to go inside, Master Haytham,” said Mr. Birch.
After a moment he led me back into the carriage, tapped the ceiling twice with his cane, and we pulled away. “However,” said Mr. Birch, “I took the liberty of retrieving your sword yesterday,” and reaching beneath his seat he produced the box. It, too, was dusty with soot, but when he pulled it to his lap and opened the lid, the sword lay inside, as gleaming as it had been the day Father gave it to me. “Thank you, Mr. Birch” was all I could say, as he closed the box and placed it on the seat between us. “It’s a handsome sword, Haytham. I’ve no doubt you’ll treasure it.” “I will, sir.” “And when, I wonder, will it first taste blood?” “I don’t know, sir.” There was a pause. Mr. Birch clasped his cane between his knees. “The night of the attack, you killed a man,” he said, turning his head to look out of the window. We passed houses that were only just visible, floating through a haze of smoke and freezing air. It was still early. The streets were quiet. “How did that feel, Haytham?” “I was protecting Mother,” I said. “That was the only possible option, Haytham,” he agreed, nodding, “and you did the right thing. Don’t for a moment think otherwise. But its being the only option doesn’t change the fact that it’s no small matter to kill a man. For anybody. Not for your father. Not for me. But especially not for a boy of such tender years.” “I felt no sadness at what I did. I just acted.”
“And have you thought about it since?”
“No, sir. I’ve thought only of Father, and Mother.”
“And Jenny . . . ?” said Mr. Birch.
“Oh. Yes, sir.”
There was a pause, and when he next spoke his voice was flat and solemn. “We need to find her,
Haytham,” he said.
I kept quiet.
“I intend to leave for Europe, where we believe she is being held.”
“How do you know she is in Europe, sir?”
“Haytham, I am a member of an influential and important organization. A kind of club, or society.
One of the many advantages to membership is that we have eyes and ears everywhere.”
“What is it called, sir?” I asked.
“The Templars, Master Haytham. I am a Templar Knight.”
“A knight?” I said, looking at him sharply.
He gave a short laugh. “Perhaps not exactly the kind of knight you’re thinking of, Haytham, a relic of
the Middle Ages, but our ideals remain the same. Just as our forebears set out to spread peace across the
Holy Land centuries ago, so we are the unseen power that helps to maintain peace and order in our time.”
He waved his hand at the window, where the streets were busier now. “All of this, Haytham, it requires
structure and discipline, and structure and discipline require an example to follow. The Knights Templar
are that example.”
My head span. “And where do you meet? What do you do? Do you have armour?”
“Later, Haytham. Later, I’ll tell you more.”
“Was Father a member, though? Was he a Knight?” My heart leapt. “Was he training me to become
“No, Master Haytham, he was not, and I’m afraid that as far as I’m aware he was merely training you
in swordsmanship in order that . . . well, the fact that your mother lives proves the worth of your lessons.
No, my relationship with your father was not built on my membership of the Order. I’m
pleased to say that
I was employed by him for my skill at property management rather than any hidden connections.
Nevertheless, he knew that I was a Knight. After all, the Templars have powerful and wealthy
connections, and these could sometimes be of use in our business. Your father may not have been a
member, but he was shrewd enough to see the worth of the connections: a friendly word, the passing on of
useful information”—he took a deep breath—“one of which was the warning about the attack at Queen
Anne’s Square. I told him, of course. I asked him why it might be that he had been targeted, but he scoffed
at the very idea—disingenuously, perhaps. We clashed over it, Haytham. Voices were raised, but I only
wish now I’d been even more insistent.”
“Was that the argument I heard?” I asked.
He looked sideways at me. “So you did hear, did you? Not eavesdropping, I hope?”
The tone in his voice made me more than thankful I hadn’t been. “No, Mr. Birch, sir, I heard raised
voices, and that was all.”
He looked hard at me. Satisfied I was telling the truth, he faced forward. “Your father was as
stubborn as he was inscrutable.”
“But he didn’t ignore the warning, sir. He employed the soldiers, after all.”
Mr. Birch sighed. “Your father didn’t take the threat seriously, and would have done nothing. When
he wouldn’t listen to me, I took the step of informing your mother. It was at her insistence that he
employed the soldiers. I wish now I had substituted the men for men taken from our ranks. They would not
have been so easily overwhelmed. All I can do now is try to find his daughter for him and punish those
responsible. To do that I need to know why—what was the purpose of the attack? Tell me, what do you
know of him before he settled in London, Master Haytham?”
“Nothing, sir,” I replied.
He gave a dry chuckle. “Well, that makes two of us. More than two of us, in fact. Your mother knows
next to nothing also.”
“And Jenny, sir?”
“Ah, the equally inscrutable Jenny. As frustrating as she was beautiful, as inscrutable as she was
“A turn of phrase, Master Haytham—I hope with all my heart at least. I remain hopeful that Jenny is
safe in the hands of her captors, of use to them only if she is alive.”
“You think she has been taken for a ransom?”
“Your father was very rich. Your family might well have been targeted for your wealth, and your
father’s death unplanned. It’s certainly possible. We have men looking into that possibility now. Equally,
the mission may have been to assassinate your father, and we have men looking into that possibility also
—well, me, because of course I knew him well, and would know if he had any enemies: enemies with the
wherewithal to stage such an attack, I mean, rather than disgruntled tenants—and I came up with not a
single possibility, which leads me to believe that the object may have been to settle a grudge. If so then
it’s a long-standing grudge, something that relates to his time before London. Jenny, being the only one
who knew him before London, may have had answers, but whatever she knew she has taken into the hands
of her captors. Either way, Haytham, we need to locate her.”
There was something about the way he said “we.”
“As I say, it is thought she will have been taken somewhere in Europe, so Europe is where we will
conduct our search for her. And by ‘we,’ I mean you and I, Haytham.”
I started. “Sir?” I said, hardly able to believe my ears.
“That’s right,” he said. “You shall be coming with me.”
“Mother needs me, sir. I can’t leave her here.”
Mr. Birch looked at me again, in his eyes neither kindliness nor malice. “Haytham,” he said, “I’m afraid the decision is not yours to make.” “It is for Mother to make,” I insisted. “Well, quite.” “What do you mean, sir?” He sighed. “I mean, have you spoken to your mother since the night of the attack?” “She’s been too distressed to see anyone but Miss Davy or Emily. She’s stayed in her room, and Miss Davy says I’m to be summoned when she can see me.” “When you do see her, you will find her changed.” “Sir?” “On the night of the attack, Tessa saw her husband die and her little boy kill a man. These things will have had a profound effect on her, Haytham; she may not be the person you remember.” “All the more reason she needs me.” “Maybe what she needs is to get well, Haytham—possibly with as few reminders of that terrible night around her as possible.” “I understand, sir,” I said. “I’m sorry if that comes as a shock, Haytham.” He frowned. “And I may well be wrong, of course, but I’ve been dealing with your father’s business affairs since his death, and we’ve been making arrangements with your mother, I’ve had the opportunity of seeing her first-hand, and I don’t think I’m wrong. Not this time.”
Mother called for me shortly before the funeral.
When Betty, who had been full of red-faced apologies for what she called “her little lie-in,” told me, my first thought was that she had changed her mind about my going to Europe with Mr. Birch, but I was wrong. Darting along to her room, I knocked and only just heard her tell me to come in—her voice so weak and reedy now, not at all how it used to be, when it was soft but commanding. Inside, she was sitting by the window, and Miss Davy was fussing at the curtains; even though it was daytime it was hardly bright outside but, nevertheless, Mother was waving her hand in front of her, as if she were being bothered by an angry bird, rather than just some greying rays of winter sunlight. At last Miss Davy finished to Mother’s satisfaction and with a weary smile indicated me to a seat. Mother turned her head towards me, very slowly, looked at me and forced a smile. The attack had exacted a terrible toll on her. It was as though all the life had been leeched out of her; as though she had lost the light she always had, whether she was smiling or cross or, as Father always said, wearing her heart on her sleeve. Now the smile slowly slid from her lips, which settled back into a blank frown, as though she’d tried but no longer had the strength to keep up any pretence. “You know I’m not going to the funeral, Haytham?” she said blankly.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Haytham, I really am, but I’m not strong enough.”
She never usually called me Haytham. She called me “darling.”
“Yes, Mother,” I said, knowing that she was—she was strong enough. “Your Mother has more pluck
than any man I’ve ever met, Haytham,” Father used to say.
They had met shortly after he moved to London, and she had pursued him—“like a lioness in pursuit
of her prey,” Father had joked, “a sight as bloodcurdling as it was awe-inspiring,” and earned himself a
clout for that particular joke, the kind of joke you thought might have had an element of truth to it.
She didn’t like to talk about her family. “Prosperous” was all I knew. And Jenny had hinted once that they had disowned her because of her association with Father. Why, of course, I never found out. On the odd occasion I’d pestered Mother about Father’s life before London, she’d smiled mysteriously. He’d tell me when he was ready. Sitting in her room, I realized that at least part of the grief I felt was the pain of knowing that I’d never hear whatever it was Father was planning to tell me on my birthday. Although it’s just a tiny part of the grief, I should make clear—insignificant compared to the grief of losing Father and the pain of seeing Mother like this. So . . . reduced. So lacking in that pluck Father spoke of. Perhaps it had turned out that the source of her strength was him. Perhaps the carnage of that terrible evening had simply been too much for her to take. They say it happens to soldiers. They get “soldier’s heart” and become shadows of their former selves. The bloodshed changes them somehow. Was that the case with Mother? I wondered. “I’m sorry, Haytham,” she added. “It’s all right, Mother.” “No—I mean, you are to go to Europe with Mr. Birch.” “But I’m needed here, with you. To look after you.” She gave an airy laugh: “Mama’s little soldier, uh?” and fixed me with a strange, searching look. I knew exactly where her mind was going. Back to what had happened on the stairs. She was seeing me thrust a blade into the eye socket of the masked attacker. And then she tore her eyes away, leaving me feeling almost breathless with the raw emotion of her gaze. “I have Miss Davy and Emily to look after me, Haytham. When the repairs are made to Queen Anne’s Square we’ll be able to move back and I can employ more staff. No, it is me who should be looking after you, and I have appointed Mr. Birch the family comptroller and your guardian, so that you can be looked after properly. It’s what your father would have wanted.” She looked at the curtain quizzically, as if she was trying to recall why it was drawn. “I understand that Mr. Birch was going to speak to you about leaving for Europe straight away.” “He did, yes, but—” “Good.” She regarded me. Again, there was something discomfiting about the look; she was no longer the mother I knew, I realized. Or was I no longer the son she knew? “It’s for the best, Haytham.” “But, Mother . . .” She looked at me, then away again quickly. “You’re going, and that’s the end of it,” she said firmly, her stare returning to the curtains. My eyes went to Miss Davy as though looking for assistance, but I found none; in return she gave me a sympathetic smile, a raise of the eyebrows, an expression that said, “I’m sorry, Haytham, there’s nothing I can do, her mind is made up.” There was silence in the room, no sound apart from the clip-clopping of hooves from outside, from a world that carried on oblivious to the fact that mine was being taken apart. “You are dismissed, Haytham,” Mother said, with a wave of her hand. Before—before the attack, I mean—she had never used to “summon” me. Or “dismiss” me. Before, she had never let me leave her side without at least a kiss on the cheek, and she’d told me she loved me, at least once a day. As I stood, it occurred to me that she hadn’t said anything about what had happened on the stairs that night. She had never thanked me for saving her life. At the door I paused and turned to look at her, and wondered whether she wished the outcome had been different.
Mr. Birch accompanied me to the funeral, a small, informal service at the same chapel we had used for Edith, with almost the same number in attendance: the household, Old Mr. Fayling, and a few members of staff from Father’s work, whom Mr. Birch spoke to afterwards. He introduced me to one of them, Mr. Simpkin, a man I judged to be in his mid-thirties, who I was told would be handling the family’s affairs. He bowed a little and gave me a look I’m coming to recognize as a mix of awkwardness and sympathy, each struggling to find adequate expression. “I will be dealing with your mother while you are in Europe, Master Haytham,” he assured me. It hit me that I really was going; that I had no choice, no say whatsoever in the matter. Well, I do have a choice, I suppose—I could run away. Not that running away seems like any kind of choice. We took carriages home. Trooping into the house, I caught sight of Betty, who looked at me and gave me a weak smile. The news about me was spreading, so it seemed. When I asked her what she planned to do, she told me that Mr. Digweed had found her alternative employment. When she looked at me her eyes shone with tears, and when she left the room I sat at my desk to write my journal with a heavy heart.
We depart for Europe tomorrow morning. It strikes me how few preparations are needed. It is as though
the fire had already severed all my ties with my old life. What few things I had left were only enough to fill two trunks, which were taken away this morning. Today I am to write letters, and also to see Mr. Birch in order to tell him about something that occurred last night, after I’d gone to bed. I was almost asleep when I heard a soft knocking at the door, sat up and said, “Come in,” fully expecting it to be Betty. It wasn’t. I saw the figure of a girl, who stepped quickly into the room and shut the door behind her. She raised a candle so I could see her face and the finger she held to her lips. It was Emily, blond-haired Emily, the chambermaid. “Master Haytham,” she said, “I have something I need to tell you, which has been preying on my mind, sir.” “Of course,” I said, hoping my voice wouldn’t betray the fact that I felt suddenly very young and vulnerable. “I know the maid of the Barretts,” she said quickly. “Violet, who was one of those who came out of their houses that night. She was close to the carriage they put your sister in, sir. As they bundled Miss Jenny past her and the carriage, Miss Jenny caught Violet’s eye and told her something quickly, which Violet has told me.” “What was it?” I said. “It was very quick, sir, and there was plenty of noise, and before she could say any more they bundled her into the carriage, but what Violet thinks she heard was ‘Traitor.’ Next day, a man paid Violet a visit, a man with a West Country accent, or so she said, who wanted to know what she’d heard, but Violet said she’d heard nothing, even when the gentleman threatened her. He showed her an evil-looking knife, sir, out of his belt, but even then she said nothing.” “But she told you?” “Violet’s my sister, sir. She worries for me.” “Have you told anyone else?” “No, sir.” “I shall tell Mr. Birch in the morning,” I said. “But, sir . . .” “What?” “What if the traitor is Mr. Birch?” I gave a short laugh and shook my head. “It isn’t possible. He saved my life. He was there fighting the . . .” Something struck me. “There is someone who wasn’t there, though.”
Of course I sent word to Mr. Birch at the first opportunity this morning, and he reached the same conclusion I had. An hour later another man arrived, who was shown into the study. He was about the same age my father had been and had a craggy face, scars and the cold, staring eyes of some species of sea life. He was taller than Mr. Birch, and broader, and seemed to fill the room with his presence. A dark presence. And he looked at me. Down his nose at me. Down his wrinkled-with-disdain nose at me. “This is Mr. Braddock,” said Mr. Birch, as I stood fixed into place by the newcomer’s glare. “He is also a Templar. He has my total and utmost trust, Haytham.” He cleared his throat, and said loudly, “And a manner sometimes at odds with what I know to be in his heart.” Mr. Braddock snorted, and shot him a withering look. “Now, Edward,” chided Birch. “Haytham, Mr. Braddock will be in charge of finding the traitor.” “Thank you, sir,” I said. Mr. Braddock looked me over then spoke to Mr. Birch. “This Digweed,” he said, “perhaps you can show me his quarters.” When I moved to follow them, Mr. Braddock glared at Mr. Birch, who nodded almost imperceptibly then turned to me, smiling, with a look in his eyes that begged my forbearance. “Haytham,” he said, “perhaps you should attend to other matters. Your preparations for leaving, perhaps,” and I was compelled to return to my room, where I surveyed my already packed cases then retrieved my journal, in which to write the events of the day. Moments ago, Mr. Birch came to me with the news: Digweed has escaped, he told me, his face grave. However, they will find him, he assured me. The Templars always catch their man and, in the meantime, nothing changes. We still depart for Europe. It strikes me this will be my last entry at home here in London. These are the last words of my old life, before my new one begins.