Assassin's Creed: The Secret Crusade Page 82

When he had wrested control of the Order from Abbas, Altaïr’s first task was to send for his journals: the Master’s work was to be a totemic force in the rebuilding of the Order, essential for providing the foundations to stop the rot at Masyaf. Under Abbas’s corrupt reign they had had none of the skills or training of old: the Brotherhood had been Assassin in name only. Altaïr’s first task was to restore the discipline that had been lost: once again the training yard echoed with the ring of steel and the shouts and curses of the instructors. No Mongol would have dared a skirmish then.

But just as the Brotherhood had been restored in name and reputation, Altaïr decided that the base at Masyaf should no longer exist and removed the Assassin crest from the flagpole. His vision for the Order was that the Assassins should go out into the world, he said. They should operate among the people, not above them. Altaïr’s son Darim arrived home in Masyaf to find just a few Assassins left, most of whom were occupied in the construction of the Master’s library. When it was complete, Darim was dispatched to Constantinople to locate my brother and me.

Which brings us to our entrance into the story, some eighty years after it began.

‘But it is not over yet, I feel,’ Maffeo said. He stood waiting for me. We were due to see the Master in the main courtyard. For what was surely the last time, we wound our way through the fortress to the courtyard, led by Altaïr’s faithful steward, Mukhlis.

As we arrived I thought, What sights it has seen, this courtyard. Here was where Altaïr first saw Abbas, standing in the dead of night, pining for his stricken father. Here was where the two had fought and become enemies; where Altaïr had been shamed in front of the Order by Al Mualim; where Maria had died, Abbas, too.

None of this would have been lost on Altaïr, who had gathered most of the Assassins to hear what he had to say. Darim was among them, with his bow, the young Malik, too, and Mukhlis, who took his place beside the Master on the dais outside his tower. Nerves fluttered like moths in my stomach and I found myself taking short, jagged breaths to try to control them, finding the background noise of battle disconcerting. The Mongols, it seemed, had chosen this moment to launch another of their attacks on the castle, perhaps aware that its defences were temporarily depleted.

‘Brothers,’ said Altaïr, standing before us, ‘our time together was brief, I know. But I have faith that this codex will answer any questions you have yet to ask.’

I took it and turned it over in my hands, in awe of it. It contained the Master’s most important thoughts, distilled from decades of studying the Apple.

‘Altaïr,’ I said, barely able to form words, ‘this gift is … invaluable. Grazie.’

At a sign from Altair, Mukhlis stepped forward with a small bag that he handed to the Master.

‘Where will you go next?’ asked Altaïr.

‘To Constantinople for a time. We can establish a guild there before returning to Venice.’

He chuckled. ‘Your son Marco will be eager to hear his father’s wild stories.’

‘He is a little young for such tales. But one day soon, sì.’ I grinned.

He passed the bag to me and I felt several heavy objects inside it shift.

‘A last favour, Niccolò. Take these with you, and guard them well. Hide them if you must.’

I raised my eyebrows, implicitly asking his permission to open the bag and he nodded. I peered inside, then reached in and removed a stone, one of five: like the others it had a hole in its centre. ‘Artefacts?’ I asked. I wondered if these were the artefacts he had found during his exile at Alamut.

‘Of a kind,’ said the Master. ‘They are keys, each one imbued with a message.’

‘A message for whom?’

‘I wish I knew,’ said Altaïr.

An Assassin came hurrying into the courtyard and spoke to Darim, who moved forward. ‘Father. A vanguard of Mongols has broken through. The village is overrun.’

Altaïr nodded. ‘Niccolò, Maffeo. My son will escort you through the worst of the fighting. Once you reach the valley, follow its course until you find a small village. Your horses and provisions are waiting for you there. Be safe, and stay alert.’

‘Likewise, Master. Take care of yourself.’

He smiled. ‘I’ll consider it.’

And with that the Master was gone, already barking orders to the Assassins. I wondered if I would ever see him again as I shouldered the bag of strange stones and held the priceless codex tight. What I remember then is an impression of bodies, of shouting, of the ringing of steel, as we were hurried to a residence, and there I huddled in a corner to scribble these words, even as the battle raged outside – but now I shall have to go. I can only pray that we will escape with our lives.

Somehow I think we will. I have faith in the Assassins. I only hope that I am worthy of Altair’s faith. In that respect, only time will tell.

1 January 1258

The first day of a new year, and it is with mixed emotions that I wipe the dust from the cover of my journal and begin a clean page, unsure whether this entry marks a fresh beginning or acts as a postscript to the tale that precedes it. Perhaps that is for you, the reader, to decide.

The first news I have to impart I deliver with a heavy heart. We have lost the codex. That which was given to us by Altaïr on the day of our departure, entrusted to our care, is in the hands of the enemy. I shall always be tortured by the moment that I lay bleeding and weeping in the sand, watching the dust kicked up by the hoofs of the Mongol attacking party, one of whom brandished the leather satchel in which I kept the codex, its strap cut. Two days out of Masyaf, with our safety assured – or so it had seemed – they had struck.

Maffeo and I escaped with our lives, though only just, and we took a little solace from the fact that our time with the Master had given us, if not the learning we might have taken from the codex, the faculties to seek out and interpret knowledge for ourselves. We resolved that soon we should go east and retrieve it (and thus, alas, delay my earliest opportunity to return to Venice and see my son Marco), but that first we should attend to business in Constantinople, for there was much to do. Ahead of us lay at least two years’ work, which would be even more demanding without the wisdom of the codex to guide us. Even so, we decided that, yes, we had lost the book, but in our heads and hearts we were Assassins, and we were to put our freshly acquired experience and knowledge to good use. Thus we have already chosen the site for our trading post, a short jaunt north-west of Hagia Sophia, where we aim to supply the highest quality goods (but of course!). Meanwhile, we shall begin to spread and disseminate the creed of the Assassin, just as we pledged to do.

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies