Authors: Oliver Bowden
Tags: #Fiction, #Media Tie-In, #Action & Adventure, #Historical
Internal dispatch sent to George Westhouse of
London, decoded from the original:
Please relay immediately to Ethan Frye: Jayadeep Mir in The Darkness.
The door closed behind them. Torches bolted to the
walls lit stone steps down to a second door.
Ahead of Ethan was the meeting-room custodian,
Ajay. Like Ethan, his cowl covered his head as though to acknowledge the grim nature of their
business here in this dark, cold and unforgiving place. In addition, Ajay wore a curved sword at
his belt and Ethan had caught a glimpse of his hidden blade as he opened the door. Yes, Ajay
would do his duty if needs be. With regret, for sure, but he would do it.
They called this place The Darkness. A series of
small chambers beneath Amritsar’s main Brotherhood meeting room. Nominally the rooms were
designated for document storage or as an armoury, but their crepuscular atmosphere and cell-like
design ensured rumours constantly swirled around about what might have taken place there in the
past: plots hatched, enemies interrogated. It was even said that a baby had been born in The
Darkness, though few gave the story much credibility.
Today, however, The Darkness would earn its
reputation. Today The Darkness had a guest.
Ajay led Ethan through a second fortified door
and into a dimly lit stone corridor beyond, doors lining either side. At the passage end, he
unlocked a door inset with
nothing but a tiny viewing hole, then stood to
one side, bowing slightly to allow his visitor inside. Ethan stepped over the threshold into a
small chamber that, whatever its previous function, had been repurposed as a cell, complete with
a wooden cot.
Out of respect for Ethan, Ajay laid his lantern
at the Assassin’s feet before withdrawing and closing the door behind him. And then, as
light glowed on the forbidding dark stone of the room, Ethan gazed upon his former pupil for the
first time in over six years, and his heart broke afresh to see him laid so low.
Jayadeep sat cross-legged in a corner among the
dirty straw that covered the cell floor. He’d been here for weeks, while Ethan had made
the lengthy crossing from England to India. As a result, his new living quarters were none too
fresh and he’d no doubt been in better health too, but even so Ethan was struck by the
boy’s looks. In the intervening years he had matured into a handsome young man, with
intense, piercing eyes, dark hair that he would occasionally reach to brush from his eyes, and
flawless chestnut-coloured skin.
He’ll break some hearts
, thought Ethan, gazing
at him from the doorway.
First things first, though.
The Assassin put a fist to his nose and mouth, as
much to replace the stink of the cell with the familiar scent of his own skin as to register his
dismay at his former pupil’s predicament. The possibility that he himself could have done
more to prevent the situation sharpened his regret, and the look in Jayadeep’s eyes as he
turned his gaze from contemplating his lap to finding his old tutor in the
doorway, a penetrating, heart-wrenching stare of gratitude, relief, sorrow and shame, only
sharpened it further.
‘Hello, master,’ said Jayadeep
It wasn’t particularly pleasant, but Ethan
took a seat beside Jayadeep, the two men together again, circumstances so different this time,
the smell of jasmine a memory of an ancient and now unattainable past.
Ethan reached a hand to pluck at the rags
Jayadeep wore. ‘They stripped you of your robes then?’
Jayadeep gave a rueful look. ‘There’s
a little more to it than that.’
‘In that case, how about we start with you
telling me what happened?’
The boy gave a short, sad snort. ‘You mean
you don’t already know?’
Ethan had arrived in Amritsar to find the
Brotherhood in mild disarray, a more than usually visible presence as they worked to nullify the
repercussions of what had taken place. So, yes, of course he knew the story. But even so …
‘I’d like to hear it from the
horse’s mouth, as it were.’
‘It’s difficult for me to talk
Jayadeep sighed. ‘Your training had shaped
my mind and body into a series of responses and reactions, into combinations of attack and
defence, calculations, forecast and prognostication. I was ready to go into action in all but
one respect. You were right, master, I lacked the heart. Tell me, how did you know?’
Ethan said, ‘If I were to say to you that
it all came down
to the difference between a wooden training kukri and the
real thing, would you believe me?’
‘I would think it was part of the story.
But just part.’
‘You would be right, Jayadeep. For the
truth is that I saw in your eyes something I have seen in the eyes of men I killed; men whose
very own lack of heart in combat was a weakness I recognized and exploited in order to plunge my
blade into them.’
‘And you thought you saw it in
‘I did. And I was right, wasn’t
‘We thought you were wrong. Father believed
I could be instilled with the mettle needed to be a killer. He set about showing me the way. We
practised and rehearsed with live subjects.’
‘Putting an animal to the sword is very
different to –’
‘I know that now.’ The words came out
sharply. A little of the old master–pupil interaction returned and Jayadeep lowered
fearful eyes in apology. ‘I know that now, master, and believe me I regret it.’
‘But you and Arbaaz felt that you were
ready to take the life of one of your own species, to take from a man everything he ever was and
everything he ever will be, to leave his family grieving, to begin a wave of sadness and sorrow
and possible revenge and recrimination that might ripple throughout the ages? You and your
father felt you were ready for that?’
‘Please, master, don’t make this more
difficult for me. Yes, you are right, in the face of what you say, our preparations might seem
dreadfully feeble, but then again, what Assassin can claim differently? Everything is theory
is put into practice. And my turn came to put theory into practice.
For my blooding I was to kill an Indian Templar by the name of Tjinder Dani. A man we believed
was making plans to establish a Templar outpost in the city.’
‘And what was to be the method of his
Inwardly Ethan cursed. A garrotte. Of all things.
You didn’t need a huge amount of skill to use a garrotte, but you needed resolve, and what
Jayadeep had was plenty of skill but not so much resolve. What the hell had Arbaaz been
Jayadeep continued. ‘Under cover of
darkness, myself and Father rode out to the street where Dani kept his lodgings. One of our
agents had bribed a nightwatchman for the key, and in the street we took possession of it,
thanked and paid the man and sent him on his way.’
, thought Ethan. It gets
‘I know what you’re thinking. I could
have picked the lock.’
‘You are an excellent lock-pick.’
‘The information given to us by the agent
was that the Templar Dani was expecting an attack and thus was accompanied by bodyguards during
the day. Our enemies were relying on the fact that a daytime attempt on his life would have
resulted in a public confrontation. A street skirmish involving multiple Assassins and Templars
was to be avoided at all costs. For that reason it was decided to make a night-time incursion,
and for that reason we assembled as much information as possible regarding the target’s
‘And it was you who
did this, was it?’
‘Yes, and I learnt that Dani barred his
door and laid traps at night, that an invasion either by the door or the window would result in
alarms being activated. So, you see, the key given to us was not to the door of Dani’s
room, not even to his lodgings, but to the warehouse next door, where I was able to make an
unobtrusive entrance. There were three men stationed in the street, looking for all the world as
though they were providing security for the warehouse, but I knew them to be Templar guards, and
their job was to see to it that no Assassin scaled the walls of either the lodging house or the
warehouse. It was clever. They had the outside of the buildings covered while inside Dani had
his room secure. It would take a measure of stealth and guile to get inside. I have both.
‘I waited in the shadows, taking strength
and reassurance from the knowledge that not far away my father waited with our horses, ready for
our escape. At the same time I measured the movements of the guards as they carried out their
‘I had been there on previous nights, of
course, timing just as I was on this occasion, and what I’d learnt was that the guards
coordinated their movements to prevent anyone having the opportunity to scale the walls. Under
their robes they carried crossbows and throwing knives; they kept a safe distance from one
another so as to prevent a quick double-kill, so taking out one of them would alert the others.
I had no reason to suspect that they were anything but supremely competent. That is why I had
the key, Ethan.’
‘The key was to the warehouse?’
‘Yes. I had greased
the keyhole myself that very morning, and now I counted, I timed, and I made my move when the
moment was right. I streaked across the apron behind the warehouse and to the rear door, where I
thrust the key into the lock. The sound was muffled, a well-oiled click that, even though it
sounded to my ears like a gunshot, was in reality just another indistinguishable night noise,
and then I was inside. I locked the warehouse door behind me but took the key. This was to be my
escape route also.
‘Or so I thought at the time. But of course
I was wrong about that.’
The boy’s head dropped once more to his lap
and he wrung his hands, tortured by the pain of the wretched memory.
‘The warehouse was empty. All I saw on the
stone floor was a long slatted table and some chairs. Possibly it was to have been used by the
Templars for some reason. In either case the idea of it needing an exterior guard was laughable.
Of course they hadn’t bothered to post a guard inside, but even so I stayed silent as I
made my way up steps and then ladders to the roof of the building. Once outside, I stayed in the
shadows and took my neckerchief from round my neck. You ask about my Assassin’s robes,
but, in fact, I never wore them. I was wearing then what I’m wearing now. If by some
chance I’d been discovered by the warehouse guards, they would have taken me for a street
boy of no consequence, given me a slap and sent me on my way. Had they investigated more
thoroughly they would have known that I differed from a street urchin in only one respect
– that I had in my pocket a coin.’
Ethan was nodding sagely. He
knew the weapon. The coin is wrapped in the neckerchief, the neckerchief used as a
, a kind of garrotte. The coin chokes the victim’s windpipe, crushing his
larynx, hastening death and preventing him from crying out. It is one of the most basic but
effective of the Assassin’s tools. Ethan began to understand why Arbaaz had selected it.
He even began to understand why Arbaaz had chosen Jayadeep for the job. ‘Continue,’
‘I made the jump easily. And then, staying
in the shadows of the lodging-house roof and wary of the guards who still patrolled below, I
crept towards the hatch I knew to be in the ceiling of Dani’s room. I had brought grease
with me, a dab of it behind my ear, and I used it on the hatch, which I opened as carefully as
possible, before letting myself down into the dark space below.
‘My breath was held and my heart hammered.
But as you had always taught me, the presence of a little fear is to be welcomed. Fear makes us
careful. Fear keeps us alive. There was nothing so far about my mission to give me cause for
worry. Everything was going to plan.
‘Now I was in Dani’s room. I could
see the traps he had placed at his door and at the window. A pulley system attached to a ceiling
bell that hung not far from the hatch I had just used to make my grand entrance.
‘And there in bed was my target, a man
about whom I had learnt a great deal in the weeks leading up to the assignment. My breathing
became heavy. My temple seemed to throb as though the vein there was beating in time to my
increased heart rate. This was my nerves worsening –’
Ethan stopped him.
‘While you were learning about Dani he was also becoming a human being in your eyes,
wasn’t he? You had begun to think of him as a person rather than as a target, hadn’t
‘In retrospect, you’re right. I
‘Who could have seen that coming?’
said Ethan, regretting his inappropriate sarcasm immediately.
‘Perhaps it would have been too late, even
if I had. Too late for second thoughts, I mean. There was no going back. I was an Assassin in
the room of a slumbering man. My target. I had to act. I had no choice but to go through with
the job. The issue of whether or not I was ready had ceased to be relevant. It was not a
question of being ready, it was a question of action. Of kill or fail.’
‘And looking around, I think we all know
what happened there.’ Again, Ethan regretted his flippancy, remembering that when this
conversation was over he would pull himself to his feet, brush the straw from his backside, call
for the custodian and leave the boy alone in this dark and damp place. No, this was no time for
smart remarks. Instead, he tried to imagine the scene in the room: the darkened lodging house, a
man asleep – did a man ever look so innocent as when he was asleep? – and Jayadeep,
his breath held, wringing his neckerchief in his hand as he gathered his nerves ready to strike,
the coin rolled into the neckerchief, and …
The coin falling from the neckerchief. Striking
‘Your garrotte,’ he said to Jayadeep.
‘Did the coin fall from it?’
‘How did you know? I
didn’t tell anybody that.’
‘Visualization, my dear boy. Haven’t
I always taught you about it?’
Across the boy’s face came the first hint
of a smile since Ethan had entered the room. ‘You did. Of course you did. It’s a
technique I use constantly.’