6 December 1735编辑
Two days ago I should have been celebrating my tenth birthday at my home in Queen Anne's Square. Instead my birthday has gone unremarked; there are no celebrations, only funerals, and our burnt-out house is like a blackened, rotted tooth among the tall, white-bricks mansions of Queen Anne's Square.
For the time being we're staying in one of Father's properties in Bloomsbury. It's a nice house, and though the family was devastated and our live torn apart, there is that to be thankful for At least. Here we will stay, shocked, in limbo - like troubled ghosts - until our future is decided. The blaze ate my journals so beginning this feels like starting anew. That for being the case, I should probably begin with my name, which is Haytham, an Arabic name, which for an English boy whose home was London, and who from birth until two days ago lived and idyllic life sheltered from the worst of the filth that exist elsewhere in the city. From Queen Anne's square we could see the fog and smoke that hung over the river, and like everybody else we were bothered by the stink, which I can only describe ad 'wet horse' , but we didn't have to tread through the river of stinking waste from tanneries, butchers' shops and the backside of animals and people. The rancid streams of effluent that hasten the passages of disease: dysentery, cholera, polio... 'You must wrap up, Master Haytham. Or the lerg'll get you.' On walks across the fields to Hampstead my nurses used to steer me away from the poor unfortunate wracked with coughs, and shielded my eyes from children with deformities. More than anything they feared disease; you can't bribe it or take arms against it, and it respects neither wealth nor standing. It is an implacable foe. And of course it attacks without warning. So every evening they checked me for signs of measles or the pox then reported on my good health to Mother, who came to kiss me good night. I was one of the lucky ones, you see, who had a mother to kiss me good night, and a father who did, too; who loved me and my half-sister, Jenny, who told me about the rich and poor, who instilled in me my good fortune and urged me always to think of others; and who employed tutors and nursemaids to look after and educate me, so that I should grow up to be a man of good values, and of worth to the world. One of the lucky ones. Not like the children who have to work in fields and in factories and up chimneys.
I wondered sometimes, though, did they have friends, those other children? If they did, then, while of course I knew better than to envy them their lives when mine was so much more comfortable, I envied them that one thing: their friends. Me, I had none, with no brothers or sisters close to my age either, and, as for making them, well, I was shy. Besides, there was another problem: something that had come to light when I was five years old.
It happened one afternoon. The mansions of Queen Anne's Square were built so close together, so we'd often see our neighbors, either in the square itself or in their grounds at the rear. On one side of us lived a family who had four girls, two around my age. They spent what seemed like hours skipping or playing blind man's buff in their garden, and I used to hear them as I sat in the schoolroom under the watchful eye of my tutor, Old Mr. Fayling, who had bushy grey eyebrows and a habit of picking his nose, carefully studying whatever it was he dug from the recesses of his nostrils then surreptitiously eating it. This particular afternoon Old Mr. Fayling left the rooms and I waited until his footsteps had receded before getting up from my sums, going to the window and gazing out at the grounds of the mansion next door. Dawson was the family name. Mr. Dawson was an MP, so my father said, barely hiding his scowl. They had a high-walled garden, and, despite the trees, bushes and foliage in full bloom, parts of it was visible from my schoolroom window, so I could see the Dawson girls outside. They were playing hopscotch for a change, and had laid out pall-mall mallets for a make shift course, although it didn't look as if they were taking it very seriously; probably the two older ones were trying to teach the two younger ones the finer points of the game. A blur of pigtails and pink, crinkly dresses, they were calling and laughing, and occasionally I'd hear the sound of an adult voice, nursemaids probably hidden from my sight beneath a low canopy of trees. My sum were left unattended on the table for a moment as I watched them play, until suddenly, almost as if she could sense she was being watched, one of the younger ones, a year or so my junior, looked up, and saw me at the window and our eyes locked. I gulped, and then very hesitantly raised a hand to wave. To my surprise she beamed back. And next she was calling her sisters, who gathered all round, all four of them, excitedly craning their necks and shielding their eyes from the sun to gaze up at the schoolroom window, where I stood like an exhibit at a museum - except a moving exhibit that waved and went slightly pink with embarrassment, but even so felt the soft, warm glow of something that might have been friendship.
Which evaporated the moment their nursemaid appeared from beneath the covers of the trees, glanced up crossly at my window with a look that left me in no doubt what she thought of me - a peeping tom or worse - then ushered the four girls out of sight?
That look the nurse maid gave me I'd seen before, and I'd see it again, on the square or in the fields behind us. Remember how my nurses steered me away from the ragged unfortunates? Other nursemaids kept their children away from me like that. I never really wondered why. I didn't question it because ... I don't know, because there was no reason to question it, I suppose; it was just something that happened and I knew no different When I was six, Edith presented me with a bundle of pressed clothes and a pair of silver buckles shoes. I emerged from behind the screen wearing my new shiny buckled shoe, a waistcoat and a jacket, and Edith called one of the maids, who said I looked the spitting image of my father, which of course was the idea. Later on, my parents came to see me, and I could have sworn my Father's eyes misted up a little, while Mother made no pretence at all to simply burst out crying there and then in the nursery, flapping her hand until Edith passed her a handkerchief. Standing there I felt grown-up and learned, even as I felt the hotness in my cheeks again. I found myself wondering if the Dawson girls would have rather considered me rather fine in my new suit, I quite the gentleman. I'd thought of them quite often. I'd catch sight of them from the windows sometimes, running along their garden of being shepherded into carriages at the front of the mansions. I fancied I saw one of them steal a glance up at me once, but if she saw me there were no smiles and wave that time, just a shadow of that same look worn by the nursemaid, as though disapproval of me was being handed down, like an arcane knowledge. So we had the Dawson at one side; those elusive, pigtailed, skipping Dawson, while on the other side we had the Barretts. They were a family of eight children, boys and girls, although again I rarely saw them; as with the Dawson, my encounters were restricted to the sight of them getting into carriages, or seeing them at a distance in the fields. Then, one day shortly after my eighth birthday, I was in the garden dragging a stick along the crumbling red brick of the high garden wall. Occasionally I'd stop to overrun stones with a stick and inspect whatever insect scuttled from beneath - woodlice, millipedes, worms that wiggled as though stretching out their long bodies - when I came upon the door that led on to a passage between our home and the Barretts'. The heavy gate was paddled with a huge rusting chunk of metal that looked liked it haven't been opened for years, and I stared at it for awhile, weighing the lock in my palm, when I heard a whispered, urgent, boyish voice.
'Say, you. Is it true what they say about your father?' It came from inside the gate, although it took me a moment or so to place it - a moment in which I stood shocked and almost rigid with fear. Next I almost jumped out of my skin when I saw through a hole in the door a blinking eye that was watching me. Again came the question.
'Come on, they'll beckoning me in any minute. It true what they say about your father?' Calming, I bent to bring my eye level with the hole in the door. 'Who is this?' I asked. 'It's me Tom, who lives next door.' I knew Tom was the youngest of the brood, about my age. I'd heard his name being called. 'Who are you?' he said. 'I mean, what's your name?' 'Haytham,' I replied, and I wondered if Tom was my new best friend. He had a friendly looking eyeball at least. 'That a strange sort of name.' 'It's Arabic. It's means "young eagle".' 'Well, that makes sense.' 'How do you mean, "Make sense"?' 'Oh, I don't know. It just does somehow. And there's only you, is there?' 'And my sister,' I retorted. 'And Father and Mother.' 'Pretty small sort of family.' I nodded. 'Look,' he pressed. 'Is it true or not? Is your father what they say he is? And don't even think of lying. I can see your eyes, you know. I'll be able to tell if you're lying straight away.' 'I won't lie. I don't even know what "they" say he is, or even who "they" are.' At the same time I was getting an odd and not altogether pleasant feeling: that somewhere existed an idea of what constituted 'normal', and that we, the Kenway family, were not included in it. Perhaps the owner of the eyeball heard something in my tone, because he hastens to add, 'I'm sorry if I said something out of turn. I was just interested, that's all. You see, there is a rumor, and it's awfully exciting if it's true...' 'What rumor?' 'You will think it's silly.' Feeling brave, I drew close to the hole and looked at him, eyeball to eyeball, saying, 'What do u mean? What do they say about Father?' He blinked. 'They say he used to be a -' Suddenly there was a noise behind him, and I heard an angry male voice call his name: 'Thomas!' The shock sent him backwards. 'Oh, bother,' he whispered quickly. 'I've got to go, I'm being called. See you around, I hope?' And with that he was gone and I was left wondering what he meant. What rumors? What were people saying about us, our small family? At the same time I remembered that I had better get a move on. It was nearly midday - and time for my weapons training.
I feel invisible, like I'm stuck in a limbo between the past the future. Around me the grown-ups hold tense conversation. Their faces are drawn and the ladies weep. Fires are kept lit, of course, but the house is empty apart from the few of us and what possessions we saved from the burnt-out mansion, and it feels permanently cold. Outside, snow had started to fall, while indoors is a sorrow that chills the very bones.
With little else for me to do but to write my journal, I had hoped to get up to date with the story of my life so far, but it seems there's more to say then I'd first thought, and of course there have been other important matters to attend to Funerals. Edith's today. 'Are you sure, Master Haytham?' Betty had asked earlier, with her forehead creased in concern, her eyes tired. For years - along as I could remember - she had assisted Edith. She was as bereaved as I was. 'Yes,' I said, dressed as ever in my suit and, for today, a black tie. Edith had been alone in the world, so it was the surviving Kenways and staff who gathered for a funeral feast below the stairs, for ham and ale and cake. When that was over. The men from the funeral company, who were already quite drunk, loaded her body into the hearse for taking to the chapel. Behind it we took out seat in our mourning carriages. We only needed two of them. When it was over I retired to my room, to continue with my story... A couple of days after I'd spoken to Tom Barrett's eyeball, what he'd said was still playing on my mind. So one morning when Jenny and I were both alone in the drawing room together, I decided to ask her about it. Jenny. I was nearly eight and she was twenty-one, and we had as much in common as I did with the man who delivered the coal. Less, probably, if I thought about it at least the man who delivered the coal and I both like to laugh, whereas I'd rarely seen Jenny smile, Let alone laugh. She has black hair that shines, and her eyes are dark ... and well, 'sleepy' is what I'd say, although I'd heard them described as 'brooding', and at least one admirer went to far as to say she had a 'Smokey stare', whatever that is. Jenny's looks were a popular topic of conversation. She is a great beauty, or so I'm often told. Although not to me. She was just Jenny, who'd refused to play with me so often I'd long since given up asking her; who whenever I picture her was sitting in a high-backed chair, head bent over her sewing, or embroidery - whatever she did with that needle and thread. And scowling. That smoky stare her admirers said she had? I called it scowling.
The thing was, despite the fact that we were little more than guest in each other's lives, like ships sailing around the same small harbor, passing closely but never making contact, we had the same father. And Jenny being twelve years older than me knew more about him than I did. So even though I'd had years of her telling me I was too stupid and too young understand; and once even too short to understand, whatever that suppose to mean - I used to try to engage her in conversation. I don't know why, because, as I say, I always came away with nothing wiser. To annoy her perhaps. But on this particular occasions, a couple of day or so after my conversation with Tom's eyeball, it was because I was genuinely curious to find out what Tom had meant.
So I asked her: 'What do people say about us?' She sighed theatrically and looked up from her needlework. 'What do u mean, squirt?' she asked. 'Just that - what do people say about us?' 'Are you talking about gossip?' 'If you like.' 'And what would you care about gossip? Aren't you a bit too -' 'I care,' before we got on the subject of me being too young, too stupid or to short. 'Do you? Why?' 'Somebody said something, that's all.' She put down her work, tucking it by the chair cushion at the side of her leg, and pursed her lips. 'Who? Who said it and what did they say?' 'A boy at the gate in the grounds. He said our Father was strange and that Father was a ...' 'What?' 'I never found out.' She smiled and picked up her needlework. 'And that's what set you thinking, is it?' 'Well, wouldn't it you?' 'I already know everything I need to know,' she said haughtily, 'and I tell you this, I couldn't give two figs what they say about us in the house next door.'
'Well, then tell me then,' I said. 'What did Father do before I was born?'
Jenny did smile, sometimes. She smiled when she had the upper hand, when she could exert a little power over someone - especially if that someone was me. 'You'll find out,' she said. 'When?' 'All in good time. After all, you are his male heir.' There was a long pause. 'How do you, mean "male heir"?' I asked. 'What's the difference between that and what you are?' She sighed. 'Well, at the moment, not much, although you have weapon training, and I don't.' 'You don't?' But on a reflection I already knew that, and I suppose I had wondered why it was that I did sword craft and she did needlecraft. 'No, Haytham, I don't have weapons training. No child has weapon training, Haytham, not in Bloomsbury anyway, and maybe not in all of London. Nobody but you. Haven't you been told? 'Told what?' 'Not to say anything.' 'Yes, but...' 'Well didn't u ever wonder why - why you're not supposed to say anything?' Maybe I had. Maybe I secretly knew all along. I said nothing. 'You'll soon find out what's on store for you,' she said. 'Our lives have been mapped out for us. Don't you worry about that?' 'Well, then, what's in store for u?' 'She snorted decisively. 'What? Is in store for me is the wrong question. Who? Is in store would be more accurate.' There was a trace of something in her voice that I wouldn't quite understand until much later, and I looked at her, knowing better than to enquire further, and risk feeling the sting of that needle. But when I eventually put down the book I had been reading and left the drawing room, I did so knowing that although I had learnt almost nothing about my father or family, I'd learnt something about Jenny: why she nevered smiled; why she was always so antagonistic towards me. It was because she'd seen the future. she'd seen the future and knew it favored me, for no better reason than I was born male.
I might have felt sorry for her. Might have done - if she hadn't been such a sourpuss.
Knowing what I now knew, though, weapons training. The following day had an extra fission. So: nobody else had weapon training but me. Suddenly it felt as though I were tasting forbidden fruit, and the fact that my father was my tutor only made it more succulent. If Jenny was right and there was some calling I was being groomed to answer, like other boys trained for the priesthood, or as blacksmith, butchers or carpenters, then good? That suited me fine. There was nobody in the world I looked up to more than Father. The thought that he was passing on his knowledge to me was at once comforting and thrilling. And, of course, it involved swords. What more could a boy want? Looking back, I know that from that day on I became a more willing and enthusiastic pupil. Every day, either at midday or evening meal, depending on father's diary, we convened in what we called the training room but was actually the game room. And it was there my sword skills began to improve I haven't trained since the attack. I hadn't had the heart to pick up a blade at all, but I know that when I do I'll picture that room, with its dark, oak-paneled walls, bookshelves and the covered billiard table which have been moved aside to make space. And in it my father, his bright eyes, Sharp but kindly, and always smiling, always encouraging me: block, parry, footwork, balance, awareness, anticipation. Those words he repeated like a mantra, sometimes saying nothing else for the entire lesson at a time, just barking the commands, nodding when I got it right, shaking his head when I did it wrong, occasionally pausing, scooping his hair out of hid face and going to the back of me to position my arms and legs. To me, they are - or were - the sight of and sign of weapon training: the bookshelves, the billiards table, my father's mantra and the sound of ringing... Wood. Yes, wood. Woods training swords we used much to my chagrin. Steel would come later, he'd say, whenever I complained. On the morning of my birthday, Edith was extra specially nice to me and Mother made sure I was given a birthday breakfast of my favorites: sardines with mustard sauce, and fresh bread with cherry jam made from the fruit of the trees in our grounds. I caught Jenny giving me a sneering look as I tucked in but paid it no mind. Since our conversation in the drawing room, whatever power she'd had over me, slim as it had been, had somehow been made less distinct. Before that u might have taken her ridicule to heart, maybe felt a little silly and self- conscious about my birthday breakfast. But not that day. Thinking back, I wonder if my eighth birthday marked the day I became a man.
So no, I didn't care about the curl of Jenny's lip, or the pig noises she made surreptitiously. I had only eyes for Mother and Father, who had eyes only for me. I could tell by their body language, tiny parental codes I'd picked up over the years, that something else was to come; that my birthday pleasures were set to continue. And so it proved. By the end of the meal my father had announced that tonight we would be going to White's Chocolate House on Chesterfield Street, where the hot chocolate is made from solid blocks of cocoa imported from Spain.
Later that day I stood with Edith and Betty fussing around me, dressing me in my smartest suit. Then the four of us were stepping into a carriage at the kerb outside, where I sneaked a look up at the windows of our neighbors and wondered if the face of the Dawson girls were pressed to the glass, or tom and his brothers. I hoped so. I hoped they could see me now. See us all and think, 'There go the Kenway family, out for the evening, just like a normal family.' The area around Chesterfield Street was busy. We were able to draw up directly outside of White's and, once there, our door was opened and we were helped quickly across the crowded thoroughfare, and inside. Even so, during that short walk between the carriage and the sanctuary of the chocolate house, I looked to my left and right and saw a little of London red in tooth and claw: the body of a dog lying in the gutter, a derelict retching against some railings, flower seller, Beggars, drunkards, urchins splashing in the river of mud that seemed to seethed on the street. And then were inside, greeted by the thick scent of smoke, Ale, perfume and of course chocolate, as will ass hubbub of piano and raised voices. People, all of whom were shouting, leaned over gaming tables. Men drank from huge tankards of ale; women, too. I saw some hot chocolate and cake. Everybody, it seemed, was in a state of high excitement. I looked at Father who stopped short, and sensed his discomfort. For a moment I was concerned he'd simply turn and leave, before a gentleman holding his cane aloft caught my eye. Younger than my Father, with an easy smile and a twinkle that was visible even across the room, he was waggling the cane at us. Until a grateful wave, Father acknowledged him and began to lead us across the room, squeezing between tables, stepping over dogs and even one or two children, who scrambled at the feet of revelers, presumably hoping for what ever that may fall off the gaming tables: pieces of cake and maybe coins. We reached the gentleman with the cane. Unlike Father, whose hair was straggly and barely tied back with a bow, he wore a white powdered wig, the back of it secured in a black silk bag, and a frock coat in a deep, rich red color. With a nod, he greeted Father then turned his attention to me and made an exaggerated bow. 'Good evening, Master Haytham, I believe that many happy returns of the day are in order. Remind me please of your age, sir? I can see from your bearing that you are child of great maturity. Eleven? Twelve, perhaps?' As he said this he glanced over my shoulder with a twinkly smile and my Mother and Father chuckled appreciatively. 'I am eight, air,' I said, and puffed up proudly, as my father completed the introductions. The gentleman was Reginald Birch, one of his senior property managers, and Mr Birch said he was delighted to make my acquaintance then greeted my mother with a long bow, kissing the back of her hand. His attention went to Jenny next, and he took her hand, bent his head and pressed his lips to it. I knew enough to realize what he was doing was courtship, and I glanced quickly over to Father, expecting him to step in. Instead what I saw was he and Mother looking thrilled, though Jenny was stony-faced, and stayed that way as we were led to a private back of the chocolate house and seated, she and Mr Birch side by side, as the White's staff began to busy themselves around us. I could have stayed there all night, having my fill of hot chocolate and cake, copious amounts of which were delivered to the table. Both Father and Mr Birch seemed to enjoy the ale. So in the end it was Mother who insisted we leave - before I was sick, or they were - and we stepped out into the night, which if anything had become even busier in the intervening hours. For a moment or so I found myself disorientated by the noise and the stench of the street. Jenny wrinkled her nose, and I saw a flicker of concern passed across my mother's face. Instinctively, Father moved closer towards us all, as if to try and ward off the clamour.
A filthy hand was thrust in front of my face and I looked up to see a beggar silently appealing for money with wide, beseeching eye, bright white contrast to the dirt of his face and hair; a flower seller tried to bustle past Father to reach Jenny, and gave an outraged 'Pi' when Mr birch used his cane. to block her path. I felt myself jostled, saw two urchins trying to reach us with their palms out.
Then suddenly my mother haves cry as a man burst from within the crowd, clotges ragged and dirty; teeth bared and his hand outstretched, about to snatch my mother's necklace. And in the next second I discovered why Father's cane had that curious rattle, as I saw a blade appear from within as he span to Protect Mother. He coverer the distance to her in the blink of an eye, but before it cleared its scabbard, he changed his mind, perhaps seeing the thief was unarmed, and replaced it, ramming it home with a thump and making it a cane once more again, in the same movement twirling it to knock the ruffian's hand aside. The their shrieked in pain and surprise and backed straight into Mr Birch, Who hurled him to the street and pounced on him, his knees on the man's chest. and a dagger at his throat. I caught my breath. I saw Mother's eyes widen over Father's shoulder. 'Reginald!' called Father. 'Stop!' ' He tried to rob you, Edward,' said Mr Birch, without turning. The theif snivelled. The tendons in Mr Birch's hands stood out and his knuckles were white on the handle. of the dagger. 'No, Reginald, this is not the way,' said my father calmly. He stood with his his arms around Mother, who had buried her face in his chest and was whimpering softly. Jenny stood close by at one side, me at another. Around us a crowd had gathered, the same vagrants and beggars who had been bothering us now keeping a respectful distance. A respectful, frightened distance. ' I mean it, Reginald,' said Father. 'Put the dagger away, let him go.' 'Dont make me look foolish like this, Edward,' said Birch. 'Not in front of everybody like this, please. We both know this man deserves to pay, if not with his life then perhaps with a finger or two.' I caught my breath. 'No!' commanded Father. 'There shall be no bloodshed. Reginald. Any association between us will end if you do not do as I say this very moment.' A hush seemed to fall on everybody around us. I could hear the thrift gibbering, saying over and over again, 'Please sir, please sir, please sir...' His arms were pinned to his side, his legs kicking and scraping uselessly on the filth-covered cobbles as he lay trapped. Until, at last, Mr Birch seemed to decide, and the dagger withdrew, leaving a small bleeding nick behind. When he stood he aimed a kick at the thief, who needed no further encouragement to scramble to his hands and knees and takes off into Chesterfield Street, grateful to escape with his life.
Our carriage driver had recovered his wits, and now stood by the door, urging us to hurry to the safety of our courage.
And Father and Mr Birch stood facing one another, their eyes locked. As Mother hurried me past, I saw Mr Birch's eyes blazing. I saw my Father's gaze meet him equally, and he offered his hand to shake, saying' Thank you Reginald. On behalf of all of us, thank you for your quick thinking.' I felt my Mother's in the small of my back as she tried to shove me into the carriage, and craned my head back to see Father, his hand held out to Mr Birch, who glared at him, refusing to accept the offer of accord. Then, just as I was bundled into the carriage, I saw Mr Birch reach to grasp Father's hand and his glare melt away into a smile - a slightly embarrassed, bashful smile, as though he'd just remembered himself. The two shook hands and my father awarded Mr Birch with a short nod that I knew so well. It meant thatwrithing had been settled. It meant that no more need be said about it. At last we returned home to Queen Anne's Square, where bolted the door and banished the smell of smoke and manure and horse, and I told Mother and Father how much I enjoyed my evening, thanked them profusely and assured them that the commotion in the street afterwards had done noting to spoil my evening, while privately thinking it had been a highlight. But it turned out the evening wasn't over yet, because as I went to climb the stairs, my father beckoned me follow him instead, and led the way to the games room, where he lit a paraffin lamp. 'You enjoyed your evening, then, Haytham,' he said. 'I enjoyed it very much, sir.' 'What was your impression of Mr Birch?' 'I liked him very much, sir.' Father chuckled.'Reginald is a man who sets great store by appearance, by manners and etiquette and edict. He is not like some, who wear etiquette and protocol as a badge only when it suits them. He is a man of honor.' 'Yes, sir,' I said, but I must have sounded as doubtful as I felt, because he looked at me sharply. 'Ah,' he said, ' you're thinking about what happened afterwards?' 'Yes, sir.'
'Well - what about it?'
He beckoned me over to one of the book shelves.He seemed to want me closer to the light and his eyes to star at my face. The lamplight played across his features and his dark hair shone. His eyes were already kindly but they could also be intense, as they were now. I noticed one of his scars, which seemed to shine more brightly in the light. 'Well it was exciting sir,' I replied; adding quickly, 'though I was most concerned for Mother. Your speed saved her - I have never seen anybody move so quickly.' He laughed. 'Love will do that to a man. You will find that out for yourself one day. But what of Mr Birch? His response? What did u make of it, Haytham?' 'Sir?' 'Mr Birch seemed about to administer severe punishment to the scoundrel, Haytham. Did you think it was deserved?' I considered it before answering. I could tell from the look on Father's face, sharp and watchful, that my answer was important. And in the heat of the moment I suppose I had thought the thief deserved a harsh response. There for an instant, brief as it was, when primal anger wished him harm for the attack on my mother. Now, though, in the soft glow of the lamp, with Father l looking kindly upon me, I feel differently. ' Tell me honestly, Haytham,' prompted Father, as though reading my thoughts.' Reginald has a keen sense of justice, or what he describe as justice. It's somewhat. . . Biblical. But what do you think?' 'At first I felt the urge for . . . revenge, sir. But it soon passed, and I was pleased to see the man granted clemency,' I said. Father smiled and nodded, and then abruptly turned to the bookshelves, where with a flick of his wrist he operated a switch, causing a portion of books to slide across revealing a secret compartment. My heart skipped a beat when he took something from it: a box, which he handed to me and, nodding, bade me to open. ' A birthday present, Haytham,' he said. I knelt and place the box on the floor, opened it to reveal a Leather belt that I plucked quickly away, knowing that beneath would be a sword, and not a wooden play sword but a shimmering steel one with an ornate handle. I took it from the box and held it in my hands. It was a, short sword and, though, shamefully, I felt a twinge of disappointment about that, I knew at once that it was a beautiful short sword, and it was my short sword. I decided at once that it would never leave my side, and already reaching for the belt when Father stopped me.
'No haytham,' he said, 's it status in here, and us not to be removed or even used without my permission. Is that clear?' He had already collected the sword from me and already placing it in the box, placing the belt on top and closing it.
'Soon you will begin to train with this sword,' he continued. ' There is much for youmto learn, Haytham, not only about the steel you hold in your hands, but also the steel in your heart.' 'Yes,Father,' I said,trying not to as confused and disappointed as I felt. I watched as he turned and replaced the box in the secret compartment, and if he was trying to make sure that i didnt see which book trigger the compartment,well,then,he failed. it was the King James Bible.
There were two more funerals today, of the two soldiers who had been stationed in the grounds. As far as i know, Father's gentleman, Mr Digweed, attended the service for the captain, whose name I never knew' but nobody from our household was at the funeral for the second man. There is so much los and mourning around us at the moment, it's as if there simply isnt room for anymore, callous as it sounds.
After my eighth birthday, Mr Birch became a regular visitor to the house and, when not squiring Jenny on waks around the groumnds, or taking her to town in hhis carriage, or sitting in the drawing room drinking tea and sherry and regaling the women with tales of army life, he held meetings with Father. It was clear to all he intended to marry Jenny and that the union had Father's blessing, but there was talk that Mr Birch had asked to postponed the nuptials; that he wanted to be as prosperous as possible so that Jenny should have the husband she deserved, and that he had his eye on a mansion it Southwark in order to keep her in the manner she was accustomed. Mother and Father were thrilled about that of course. Jenny less so. I'd occasionally see her with red eyes, and she developed a habit of flying quickly out of rooms, either in throes of angry tantrum or with her hand to her mouth, stiffling tears. More than once i have heard Father say,'She'll come round,' and on one occasion he gave me a side look and rolled his eyes. Just as she seemed to wither under the weight of her fututre, I flourished with anticipation of my own. The love I felt for Father constanly threatened to engulf me with its sheer magnitude; I didnt just love him, I idolized him. At times it was just the two of us shared knowledge that was a secret from the rest of the world. For example, he'd often ask me what my tutors have been teaching me, listening intently, and then say,'why?' Whenever he asked me something, wehter it was about religion, ethics or morality, he would know if i gave the answer by rote, or repeated it parrot fashionand he'd say, ' well, you've just told me what Old Mr Fayling thinks,' or, 'We know what a centuries-old writer thinks. But what does it say in here, Haytham?' and he'd place a hand to my chest. I realize now what he was doing. Old Mr Fayling was teaching me faccts and absolutes; Father was asking me tomquestion them. This Knowledge given to me by Old Mr Fayling - where did it originate? whop weilded the quill, and why should i trust that man? Father used to say ' to see differently, we must frist think differently ', and it sound stupid, you might laugh, or i might look back on this in the years to come and laugh to myself, but at times I felt as thoug i could feel my brain actually expand to look at the world Father's way. He had a way of looking at the world that nocody else had, so it seemed; a way to looking at the world and actually challenging the very idea of truth. Of course, I questioned Old Mr Fayling. I challenged him one day during scripture and earn myself a good ole whacking across the bottom, along with the promise to inform my Father in which he did. Later Father took me into his study and, after closing the door, grinned and tapped the side of his nose saying ' Its often best, Haytham, to keep your thoughts to yourself, Hide in plain sight.' So i did. And i often find myself looking at other people around me, trying to look inside them as though i might be able to divine how they looked at the world, the Old Mr Fayling way or the a Father's way. It has been over a year since i last spoke to Tom, i wanted to have a friends besides from the tutors and maids, i was hopping it beTom but however now that can Never be... Since they are burying him tomorrow.
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 adorable.” “‘Was,’ sir?” “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.