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The Subject Tonight Is Love

Chapter Text

May peace be upon you, in the name of our Creed.

Yesterday I killed Yusuf al-Asad, Madj Addin's captain of the guards, for reasons I made known to you in my last message. Al-Asad was a vicious man, a tyrant, and a threat to the safety of the Order in Jerusalem. The city is a better place without him.

Al-Asad's replacement is a man named Abd-ul-Rahman. I believe he may easily be persuaded to our cause.

I did this with the assistance of my predecessor's informer, the lady Nusaybah bint-Khadijah al-Yerusalem, wife of Rashid ibn Sinan, the weapons merchant, who lives at the Bab Ariha gate.

Malik shook his head. He scoured the parchment to remove the last line and wrote instead:

I received your last letter ordering the death of the self-styled Regent of Jerusalem, Madj Addin. He is a powerful despot who is well protected by his guards, and a more difficult target than those who have passed before. No doubt you are aware of this.

I shall await Altaïr's arrival, and your command.

Safety and peace,

Malik al-Sayf, rafiq of Jerusalem.

The 10 th day of Sha'ban 587, called by the Franj August, 1191.

Malik rolled up the letter and tucked it into his sleeve as he walked outside into the court. He found it easy enough to capture a pigeon from the flock drinking at the fountain. It was an entirely different matter to fasten the letter to its leg with one hand. Malik had never had found a reliable way of securing the messages without the pigeon squawking and messing itself. Pigeons were more trouble even than novices-and Malik considered novices a great deal more trouble than they were worth.

When at last he had fastened the message around the pigeon's leg, he threw the pigeon with rather more force than was strictly necessary into the lapis-blue sky and watched as the relieved bird flew north to Masyaf. When the pigeon had vanished he lowered his gaze and saw a empty oil-lamp of black clay next to the roof entrance to the Assassin's Bureau. His mind returned to the words he had erased from the letter, and then to the ones he hadn't even considered mentioning.

Once al-Asad was dead, I returned to the Bureau and lay with a woman for the first time since I entered Jerusalem.

Assassins were not forbidden all pleasure, as long as they followed the Creed, but Malik knew that Al Mualim disapproved of such attachments.

He felt as if he stood above a very long drop, the toes of his boots dangling over a void. He suppressed the feeling with an effort and began to clean pigeon feathers from the tiled floor of the Bureau courtyard. The feathers were persistent and Malik briefly entertained the thought of summoning a novice to clean for him before he dismissed the idea out of hand. He'd only have to clean the place again once the novice had finished, and he hated to think what Altaïr would say if the other Assassin found a dropped ring or ankle-bracelet among the cushions in Malik's bureau. Gossip travelled faster than the swiftest pigeon. Better to do things properly, the first time.

He worked as the sun sank from zenith to cast diamond-shaped shadows sharp as knife-blades across the Bureau floor and the heat reduced to something approaching tolerable. There was a simple harmony in mindless labour. Malik wished he could organise his own mind half so easily. He found a silk veil, fine enough to pass through a ring, and tucked it into his sleeve. A faint fragrance clung to the silk that troubled Malik's mind further.

She is only an informer.

The Assassins collected information from many people for a few reasons; money, or favours, or fear, or a sense of loyalty. Malik was sure that Nusaybah hadn't helped him due to any of those reasons and certain that she hadn't slept with him because of them.

And, he thought wryly, I am not so foolish to think myself irresistible. If I-if we-are to continue on this path, I must tread carefully.

He paused in his cleaning to survey the room. Each discarded item-the empty oil-lamp, the crushed pillows, the forgotten scarf-left by chance, or on purpose?- spoke of a different pleasure. When was the last time he had given himself completely to pleasure instead of duty? He couldn't remember.

Yet Malik could recall, with the utmost clarity, the smell of her warm hair, the smile she'd given him when her robes finally fell open to reveal a body honed as a blade, the near-silent gasp she'd given when he-

He hastily turned his mind to other matters. It was a strange situation he found himself in, wondering if he had taken leave of his senses when at the time he'd never felt so completely in command of them.

Like leaping from a tower, he thought as he dragged the rugs across to make a small carpeted island in one corner of the courtyard.

Even Hassan i-Sabbah had descendants, so presumably he must have coupled at some point in his life. I have done nothing wrong-unless she is false. And if she is false, I will find her out. I know more about spies than I do about women--and more about women than I did before last night.

Yet still little enough. As with so many things.

He chased the pigeons out through the trellis on the roof and surveyed his work. It would do.

It will have to, thought Malik. He sent out for tea and dates from the Street of Bad Food and fetched a ledger, an ink-pot and a quill from the next room. Once the food arrived he wrapped a rug around the teapot to keep it warm before he began to work, turning page after page as the shadows lengthened and the evening sun turned the courtyard into a glory of pale yellow stone.