Assassin's Creed: The Secret Crusade Page 41

Altaïr saw a door in the wall open and more knights come pouring through. Five at least. At the same time there was a hail of arrows from above, and one knight was spinning and falling, the shaft protruding from his neck. Altaïr’s eyes shot to the ramparts where he saw Templar archers. On this occasion their aim had favoured him. He was unlikely to be quite so fortunate next time.

The second of the two bodyguards came forward and he swiped with his blade, slicing at the man’s neck and sending him down in a spray of blood. He turned to de Sable, who came forward swinging his broadsword hard enough to send Altaïr stumbling back, only just able to deflect the blow. Suddenly there were reinforcements, and he was trading blows with three other knights, all in full-face helmets, and finding that he was now standing on Majd Addin’s final resting place. There was no time to enjoy the moment, though: from above came another hail of arrows and, to Altaïr’s delight, a second knight was speared, screaming as he fell. The effect on the remaining Templars was to send them into disarray and they scattered a little, less frightened of Altaïr than they were of their own archers, just as de Sable began screeching at the bowmen to stop firing on their own men.

And Altaïr was so surprised that he almost dropped his guard. What he had heard was not the unmistakably male French tones of Robert de Sable but a voice that surely belonged to a woman. An English woman.

For a heartbeat he was taken aback by a mixture of bemusement and admiration. This … woman, the stand-in sent by de Sable, fought as bravely as any man, and wielded a broadsword just as adeptly as any knight he had ever encountered. Who was she? One of de Sable’s lieutenants? His lover? Keeping close to the cover of the wall, Altaïr felled another of the knights. Just one left. One more, and de Sable’s stand-in. The last Templar had less appetite for the fight than she did, though, and he died, thrashing on the point of Altaïr’s sword.

Just her now and they traded blows, until at last Altaïr was able to get the better of her, sliding the blade into her shoulder at the same time as he swept her legs from beneath her and she crashed heavily to the ground. Scurrying into cover, he pulled her with him so that they were both out of sight of the archers. Then he leaned over her. Still wearing the helmet, her chest heaved. Blood spread across her neck and shoulder but she would live, thought Altaïr – if he allowed her to, that was.

‘I would see your eyes before you die,’ he said.

He pulled off the helmet, and was still taken aback to be confronted by the truth.

‘I sense you expected someone else,’ she said, smiling a little. Her hair was hidden by the chainmail coif she wore, but Altaïr was entranced by her eyes. There was determination behind them, he saw, but something else too. Softness and light. And he found himself wondering if her obvious skills as a warrior belied her true nature.

But why – whatever command of combat she possessed – would de Sable send this woman in his stead? What special abilities might she have? He placed his blade to her neck. ‘What sorcery is this?’ he asked cautiously.

‘We knew you’d come,’ she said, still smiling. ‘Robert needed to be sure he’d have time to get away.’

‘So he flees?’

‘We cannot deny your success. You have laid waste our plans. First the treasure – then our men. Control of the Holy Land slipped away … But he saw an opportunity to reclaim what has been stolen. To turn your victories to our advantage.’

‘Al Mualim still holds the treasure and we’ve routed your army before,’ replied Altaïr. ‘Whatever Robert plans, he’ll fail again.’

‘Ah,’ she said, ‘but it’s not just Templars you’ll contend with now.’

Altaïr bridled. ‘Speak sense,’ he demanded.

‘Robert rides for Arsuf to plead his case, that Saracen and Crusader unite against the Assassins.’

‘That will never happen. They have no reason to.’

Her smile broadened. ‘Had, perhaps. But now you’ve given them one. Nine, in fact. The bodies you’ve left behind – victims on both sides. You’ve made the Assassins an enemy in common and ensured the annihilation of your entire Order. Well done.’

‘Not nine. Eight.’

‘What do you mean?’

He removed his blade from her neck. ‘You were not my target. I will not take your life.’ He stood. ‘You’re free to go. But do not follow me.’

‘I don’t need to,’ she said, pulling herself to her feet and clasping one hand to the wound at her shoulder. ‘You’re already too late …’

‘We’ll see.’

With a final glance at the ramparts, where archers were hurrying to new positions, Altaïr darted off, leaving the cemetery empty, apart from its corpses old and new – and the strange, brave and entrancing woman.

‘It was a trap,’ he exclaimed to Malik, moments later, the time it had taken him to make his way from the cemetery to the Bureau, his mind working furiously as he did so.

‘I had heard the funeral turned to chaos … What happened?’

‘Robert de Sable was never there. He sent another in his stead. He was expecting me –’

‘You must go to Al Mualim,’ said Malik, firmly.

Yes, thought Altaïr, he should. But there was that insistent feeling again. The one that told him there was yet more mystery to uncover. And why did he think it somehow involved the Master? ‘There’s no time. She told me where he’s gone. What he plans. If I return to Masyaf, he might succeed … And then … I fear we’ll be destroyed.’

‘We have killed most of his men. He cannot hope to mount a proper attack. Wait,’ said Malik. ‘Did you say she?’

‘Yes. It was a woman. Strange, I know. But that’s for another time. For now we must focus on Robert. We may have thinned his ranks, but the man is clever. He goes to plead his case to Richard and Salah Al’din. To unite them against a common enemy … Against us.’

‘Surely you are mistaken. This makes no sense. Those two men would never –’

‘Oh, but they would. And we have ourselves to blame. The men I’ve killed – men on both sides of the conflict … men important to both leaders … Robert’s plan may be ambitious, but it makes sense. And it could work.’

‘Look, brother, things have changed. You must return to Masyaf. We cannot act without the Master’s permission. It could compromise the Brotherhood. I thought … I thought you had learned this.’

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