Assassin's Creed: The Secret Crusade Page 76

And this was it, said the gossips – at least, this was a precursor to it. Even Fahad wouldn’t dare send men into the village when it enjoyed the protection of the Assassins: he would have to ask the permission of the Master. Even Fahad would not have dared make the request of Altaïr or Al Mualim, but Abbas was a different matter. Abbas was weak and could be bought.

So it was that the envoy returned. On the outward journey he had looked serious, if disdainful of the villagers who watched him pass, but now he smirked at them and drew his finger across his throat.

‘It seems the Master has given Fahad his blessing to come into the village,’ said Mukhlis, later that night, as the candles burned down. He sat at the bedside of the stranger, talking more to himself than to the man in the bed, who had not regained consciousness since the battle at the waterhole. Afterwards Mukhlis had manhandled him over the saddle of his second horse and brought him home to Masyaf in order that he might be healed. Aalia and Nada had attended to him, and for three days they had wondered if he would live or die. Blood loss had left him as pale as mist and he had lain in bed – Aalia and Mukhlis having given up theirs for him – looking almost serene, like a corpse, as though at any moment he might have departed the world. On the third day his colour began to improve. Aalia had told Mukhlis so when he returned from market, and Mukhlis had taken his usual place on a chair by the side of the bed to speak to his saviour in the hope of reviving him. He’d got into the habit of recounting his day, occasionally talking of significant things in the hope of exciting the patient’s unconscious mind and bringing him round.

‘Abbas has his price, it seems,’ he said now. He looked sideways at the stranger, who lay on his back, his wounds healing nicely, growing stronger by the day. ‘Master Altaïr would have died rather than allow such a thing,’ he said.

He leaned forward, watching the figure in the bed very carefully. ‘The Master, Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad.’

For the first time since he had been brought to Mukhlis’s home the stranger’s eyes flicked open.

It was the reaction he’d hoped for, but even so Mukhlis was taken aback, watching as the patient’s cloudy eyes slowly regained their light.

‘It’s you, isn’t it?’ whispered Mukhlis, as the stranger blinked, then turned his gaze on him. ‘You are him, aren’t you? You’re Altaïr.’

Altaïr nodded. Tears pricked Mukhlis’s eyes and he dropped from his seat to the stone floor, grasping one of Altaïr’s hands in both of his own.

‘You’ve come back to us,’ he said, between sobs. ‘You’ve come to save us.’ There was a pause. ‘Have you come to save us?’

‘Do you need saving?’ said Altaïr.

‘We do. Was it your intention to come to Masyaf when we met?’

Altaïr thought. ‘When I left Alamut it was inevitable I would find myself here. The only question was when.’

‘You were in Alamut?’

‘These past twenty years or so.’

‘They said you were dead. That the morning Maria died you threw yourself from the citadel tower.’

‘I did throw myself off the citadel tower,’ Altaïr smiled grimly, ‘but I lived. I made it to the river outside the village. By chance Darim was there. He was returning from Alamut, where he had found Sef’s wife and children. He retrieved me and took me to them.’

‘They said you were dead,’ said Mukhlis again.


Mukhlis waved a hand that was meant to indicate the citadel. ‘The Assassins.’

‘It suited them to say so, but they knew I was not.’

He disentangled his hand from Mukhlis’s grasp, pulled himself to a sitting position and swung his legs out of the bed. He looked at his feet, at their wrinkled old skin. Every inch of his body sang with pain but he felt … better. His robe had been washed and replaced on him. He pulled his hood over his head, liking the feel of it and breathing in the scent of the clean cloth.

He put his hands to his face and felt that his beard had been tended. Not far away were his boots, and on a table by the side of the bed he saw his blade mechanism, its new design gleaned from the Apple. It looked impossibly advanced, and he thought of the other designs he had discovered. He needed the assistance of a blacksmith to make the objects. But first …

‘My pack?’ he asked of Mukhlis, who had scrambled to his feet. ‘Where is my pack?’

Wordlessly, Mukhlis indicated where it sat on the stone at the head of the bed and Altaïr glanced at its familiar shape. ‘Did you look inside?’ he asked.

Mukhlis shook his head firmly and Altaïr looked at him searchingly. Then, believing him, he relaxed and reached for his boots, pulling them on, wincing as he did so.

‘I have you to thank for tending me,’ he said. ‘I would be dead by the waterhole were it not for you.’

Scoffing, Mukhlis retook his seat. ‘My wife and daughter cared for you, and I must thank you. You saved me from a grisly death at the hands of those bandits.’ He leaned forward. ‘Your actions were those of the Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad of legend. I’ve told everyone.’

‘People know I’m here?’

Mukhlis spread his hands. ‘Of course. The whole village knows the tale of the hero who delivered me from the hands of death. Everybody believes it was you.’

‘And what makes them think that?’ asked Altaïr.

Mukhlis said nothing. Instead he indicated with his chin the low table where Altaïr’s blade mechanism shone dully, wicked and oiled.

Altaïr considered. ‘You told them about the blade?’

Mukhlis thought. ‘Well, yes,’ he said, ‘of course. Why?’

‘Word will reach the citadel. They will come looking for me.’

‘They will not be the only ones,’ said Mukhlis, ruefully.

‘What do you mean?’

‘A messenger from the father of the man you killed visited the fortress earlier.’

‘And who was the man I killed?’

‘A vicious cutthroat called Bayhas.’

‘And his father?’

‘Fahad, leader of a band of brigands who roam the desert. It’s said they are camped two or three days’ ride away. It’s from there the envoy came. They say he was asking the Master’s blessing to come to the village and hunt the killer.’

‘The Master?’ said Altaïr, sharply. ‘Abbas?’

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