Jerusalem; July, 1191
Blood soaked the floor of Solomon's Temple as foreign voices echoed from its vaulted ceiling. Swords gouged ancient plaster from the walls and struck sparks from stones carved a thousand years before.
Kadar’s sword fell from his hand as he sprawled on dusty stone. Pain danced down his spine and pinned him as easily as a knife. Above him a mailed knight raised his sword. Kadar watched in bitter disbelief as the blade descended in an arc that would end beneath his ribs.
Someone shouted. The knight staggered, raising his sword to deflect a slender blade that angled for his eyes. Steel flashed in the torchlight as the throwing dagger ricocheted away, its falling clatter lost within the cacophony of battle that filled the chamber.
The reprieve was temporary. Kadar did not recall whose blow ripped open his side. Darkness fell as swiftly as the slam of a door.
He woke screaming.
Kadar had not been an Assassin fida'in for long. He'd thought himself gravely wounded when the dais cut and cauterised his finger so he might more fully wield his Order's blade. He felt far worse now. Bright lines of agony crawled across his skin. He tried to rise, and the pain engulfed him, charring every thought and movement until there was little left but ash.
"Here," somebody said. "Drink this. It may help."
Kadar felt the rim of a pottery cup touch his mouth. He drank in desperation. After a while he found that he could blink and breathe without pain. He turned his head carefully, wincing, and saw an old man in a dark robe sitting by his side. The stranger held a small clay oil lamp in one hand. His skin was wrinkled and pale as vellum in the golden light.
"Can you speak?" he asked Kadar in accented Arabic.
The words caught in Kadar's throat like bones. He choked. A weight pressed upon his chest with each cough. Every word was an effort. "What did you give me?" he asked once he could speak.
The old man bent down and placed the lamp on the floor with a hollow tap. "I shall take that as assent," he said. "The medicine I gave you should help numb the pain. How do you feel?"
Kadar could not have described how he felt to his own brother, never mind a Franj from the lands across the Roman Sea. He shook his head mutely. The pain flared. He dug his nails into the straw ticking of the mattress and rode it out.
"How do you feel?" the old Franj repeated.
"I thought I died," Kadar said.
The old man smiled. "Not quite," he said, "but almost." His hand rose to touch a large wooden cross that hung around his throat. The movement drew Kadar's eye. He peered into the gloom behind the Franj and saw the corpse.
The man lay on a bier a few steps from Kadar's cot. His cheeks were sunken; his face relaxed and inhumanly grey. There was a subtle taste of corruption to the air. Kadar grimaced. The Assassins followed Islamic burial customs, if little else. Corpses were interred before they began to spoil. The Crusader practice of lying in state came from colder climes.
"Why is he here?" he asked.
"Our brother was killed during the fight in the Temple," the Franj said without censure. "Several men were wounded. I tend to them in our infirmary. The room is small and the men within are less kindly disposed towards you than Tayyib here. He shall do you no harm."
"Tayyib?" Kadar asked in surprise.
The old man tilted his head towards the corpse.
Kadar peered closer. He expected the corpse to be a northman like the doctor, but beneath the dead man's deathly pallor his skin was darker than Kadar's own. His heart beat a swift tattoo within his chest. He tensed his limbs, felt something inside his right leg rip, and gritted his teeth. ""You're all Crusaders. He wasn't. Why do you keep his body here to rot?"
"Regardless of our origins, we are all Templars here together," the man said reprovingly. "In life Tayyib served our cause. In death we honour his body."
"What do you want with me?" Kadar said. "I'm an Assassin."
He regretted the words as soon as he had spoken. He had fought as an Assassin fought, wearing the sash, robes and hidden blade of a fidai'in. He had fallen carrying a sword. The Templar could not have failed to notice.
"Oh child." The old man smiled sadly. "That's not for me to answer."
"What is this place? What happened to my brothers?" Kadar added the plural at the last moment.
"So many questions," said the old man. He smoothed his blood-stained black robe and settled onto his stool. "Let us begin with simple answers. You can call me Garnier. What is your name?"
It took Kadar a moment to decide that he would answer. His name was no great secret. "My name is Kadar," he said.
"Excellent." The old man looked pleased. "As I said, I am Garnier de Naplouse. I am a Frankish knight and by God's grace a doctor of the Knights Hospitaller. We found you bleeding out on the floor of our great Temple. Following some discussion the decision was made to spare your life. You are still within Jerusalem."
Kadar was disinclined to trust anything the doctor told him, but Garner's explanation seemed reasonable enough. He could hear the mournful keen of a muezzin somewhere outside the walls, backed by a muted chorus of hawkers, barking dogs and crowing roosters. The muezzin's cry told Kadar that he was not in Masyaf. He could not distinguish the sounds of Jerusalem at night from any other place, but it seemed logical that he was still there.
"I thought there were no Franj in Jerusalem," he said. "Salah ad-din made them leave four years ago."
Garnier smiled. "The Temple is our stronghold here. Did you think we would abandon it so easily?"
Kadar did not know what to think. "Then I am in the Temple? What of my brothers?"
"Nearby." said Garnier. "As for your companions, one at least is dead." He frowned. "The other has escaped."
Kadar fought a wave of elation for a moment before he realized the true meaning of Garnier's crisp words. Malik was skilled, but Altaïr was a master. He was far faster than Malik, and possessed uncanny second sight. Altaïr would have been the one to return to Masyaf. If Altaïr had returned, then-
Malik was dead.
Kadar's heart howled a silent lament. His eyes searched for weapons. Garnier's oil lamp might produce a painful burn, but nothing more. He saw the gleam of oiled leather at the doctor's waist as Garnier shifted and realised that the Templar wore a sword loosely belted over his robes.
The old man had a weapon. All Kadar needed was an exit. His whole body tensed, sending a ripple of pain coursing over his muscles.
Garnier cocked his head. He seemed not to have noticed Kadar's discomfort. "Here I think comes one who can provide the answers that you seek." He rose from Kadar's bed and called into the dark "De Sable? Is that you?"
Kadar did not wait for reinforcements. He swung his legs across the bed and lunged for Garnier's sword.
He did not get far.
Kadar should have swung across the bed, yanked the Templar's blade from its sheath and slit the old man's throat from ear to ear in the space between one breath and another. As it was, merely rising left him in a cold sweat. His right leg was wrapped in heavy bandages, forcing him to swing the limb from the hip rather than bend his knee, and his left leg could not bear his weight alone. He lurched from the bed and fell heavily to the floor.
Crippled, he thought. I'm crippled.
He doubled over, fighting nausea.
"Don't be foolish." Garnier said crisply. "You're far too weak to stand." He saw Kadar's hand still stretched towards his blade and raised his eyebrows. "Is revenge all your kind can think of?"
"You killed my brother," Kadar snarled. Vomit rose in his throat and he had to take a deep breath in order not to disgrace himself.
"You killed our men," snapped Garnier. "One lies in this very room!"
"Tayyib died in Templar service," said a deep voice from behind Kadar. "Fighting for peace. His sacrifice shall be remembered."
The voice sent a chill down Kadar's spine. He raised his head as the speaker stepped into the light. He was a tall man, and well-favoured, with broad shoulders built for Templar armour. Mail glinted at his neck and wrists. His white surcoat was blazoned by a scarlet Templar cross. From Kadar’s lowly vantage, de Sable’s head seemed to touch the ceiling. He seemed as solid as a tower, and, like a tower, Kadar had no hope of fighting him alone.
Kadar had expected hostility at best; torture at worst. De Sable paid him little heed.
"Has he been awake for long?" he asked Garnier.
"Not long," said Garnier. "His wounds are grievous, though- I hope-not permanent. And I think that he shall serve our purpose. The first word from his mouth was a question."
"We shall see," de Sable said with the casual arrogance of a man used to command. He turned to Kadar. "How do you feel, Assassin?"
"What do you want with me?" Kadar asked. He did his best to project more confidence into his own voice, but found it a pale projection of De Sable's own booming tones. He was helpless here. He had no weapons, not even his hard-learned Assassin skills. He doubted he could even rise without assistance. "Why did you bring me here?"
"That depends upon you," said de Sable. He crouched down opposite Kadar, his mail whispering martial music as the links slid over one another like silk. His head towered several hands-breadths above Kadar's own. "You're here because Garnier likes experiments -and I have no objection if you may serve our cause. Tell us of the Assassins, boy."
Kadar’s head swam with unaccustomed pain. "I'll tell you nothing," he spat.
"What do we think we are?"
"You're Crusaders," Kadar said. "Invaders. War-makers. Infidels."
De Sable rocked back on his heels. He cradled the lamp in mailed hands, and the bright spark of the wick danced before Kadar's eyes. "We are both Franks, but we're members of a far greater Order. Bound in blood, much like your own brotherhood. We are Templars, and we work to bring peace."
Kadar shook his head doggedly, his movements painful and heavy. Bright agony kindled in his leg. "So you say."
"My lord," Garnier protested. "He has not the strength. Philosophy can wait."
"He needs to learn our ways. No doubt the old man has fed him only lies."
"Yes, but not now," said Garnier. He hastened around the bed. Kadar heard the clink of glass upon a pottery before Garnier reappeared with a full cup in his hands. He offered the drink to Kadar, who shook his head. Refusing took his last scrap of strength.
Garnier's thin lips tightened. "You should drink."
The shadows danced and flickered as Kadar’s sight dimmed. He blinked, but his vision grew no sharper.
"Leave him be," de Sable said as he stood. Shadows draped him like a cloak. "Before I go, there's something he should know about the Assassins." His hoarse voice echoed round the vaults. "Know this, boy. Your master Al Mualim was until very recently a member of our brotherhood. Now he hides within his eyrie, where he schemes to keep our treasures for himself and sends his hounds against us. What do you say to that?"
Kadar had no words. He succumbed, and fled into the dark.