I spent the next two days at the bureau, entirely superfluous to the operations going on in Jerusalem. Malik had set Harun on me again—as though I needed a watchdog, as though I would be foolish enough to run when the world would tear me to pieces if I tried—but the novice trailed after me so earnestly that I could not bear send him off. He was sweet, for what little that was worth.
"I'm sorry," he told me one afternoon, while I was sunning myself in the courtyard like the lady of leisure I almost was.
"For what?" I asked him.
"For—" Harun made a helpless gesture with his hands. He was only two or three years younger than I, but somehow, at the moment, that seemed so terribly young: cautious and uncertain and naïve in equal measure, and I tried and tried to remember how I had felt, when Masyaf had sent me off to marry Talal—
I couldn't remember.
"For your friend," he said, finally. "She was always kind to me, even though I'm just a novice, and—well, I'm sorry about—you know."
"Oh," I said. "Thank you."
There must have been something in my tone, or in my expression, because Harun gave me a quick look and snapped his mouth shut. I was grateful.
Another word, and I would have slapped him.
For his own part, Malik stayed in the shopfront, going over accounts and letters and doing everything else that needed to be done to maintain our presence in Jerusalem, while Altair went out on patrol with some of the other men. New safehouses were found; new contracts were brokered, the injured assassins that had been given rooms at the bureau were moved out to more comfortable lodgings. The bureau emptied again.
Everything was returning to normal already—as though nothing had happened, as though it were just another mission come to an end—and what did the world care for what I wanted? The sun set and the moon rose, and the air grew sharp and cool with the promise of rain, and everyone who was not yet dead lived on.
At night, Malik consulted with messengers and informants. He did not invite me to join them; I went up to the roof instead, and listened to the wind sighing across Jerusalem, and watched the endless wheeling of the stars.
On the morning of the third day, Malik came to find me in his study.
"Isra," he said.
I glanced up from my book. We hadn't spoken in days; he had sent Harun if he needed to pass on a message, and now he was watching me, wary and aloof. "I half expected to find you gone," he remarked, finally.
"You've had Harun hounding me for the past two days," I said, "and there's a novice guarding the courtyard, and you've paid at least three street urchins to lurk on the corner in case I should go slipping by. I don't know what they teach the men of Masyaf, but I learned not to overestimate my abilities."
The words came out sharper than I'd intended. Malik's mouth went flat.
"It would be foolish of you to go," he snapped.
"Of course," I agreed.
"I've sent someone else."
"It would be a waste if you hadn't."
He gave me a look, narrow-eyed. "You are being very reasonable."
"I could cry, if you like," I offered. "Wail and weep and rend my clothes. Declaim my lamentations to the heavens. Shall I?"
Malik scowled at me. "Come on," he said, jerking his head towards the door. "Downstairs. Farid has news that you should hear."
I followed him as he stalked out. Farid was waiting for us in the common room, and he rose as we entered, and bowed most solicitously to us both. "Isra," he said. "I did not have a chance to deliver my apology in person earlier—"
"Just tell her what you told me a moment ago," Malik snapped.
"It was the—ah, house of pleasure," Farid said. "The proprietress went to the Templars, as the rafik suspected—"
"As the rafik suspected?" I demanded.
"As the rafik informed me," Farid said, frowning. "In any case, she sent a messenger to the captain of the regent's personal guard, as one of the girls saw—nothing unusual, of course, the men are occasional customers—but now we know that Majd Addin follows the Templar's creed—"
"I never liked that woman," Malik snorted.
"Why?" I asked, sweetly. "Because she is a whore?"
"Because she betrayed us!" he snapped.
"But you could not have known of that before," Farid pointed out. "She has served us for many years—"
"Yes, yes, we all know you've been paying for more than just information at the Rose," Malik said, testily.
Farid snapped his mouth shut, his shoulders tensing, and shot him a narrow-eyed glare. So tempers were running high all around. I took a deep breath, and wished for my head to stop pounding; it had been difficult to think, these past few days.
"Farid," I said. "This girl of yours—"
"She is not mine," he said.
"—you've been using her as an informant?"
He opened his mouth, shut it, glanced at Malik. He said: "Yes."
"And what does she think of the proprietress?"
A shrug. "She does not pay them enough," he said. "She gives them too much work. She takes all the best gifts for herself. The usual, I should think."
"She must have known that the guard was a Templar, at least," I murmured. Majd Addin held his secrets close, but it would not be inconceivable that she knew that his personal guard was an enemy of the Assassins. Captain to the guards of Saladin's regent—still a position of power and wealth, still something that the Templars would find acceptable for infiltration—suggestions whispered by the man dedicated to protecting your life could be taken very well, indeed. "And she could have told us, but didn't—I presume you would have had him followed, if you had known?" This last remark to Malik.
"Of course," he said, scowling.
"So she has betrayed us."
Malik rolled his eyes. "I would have thought that much was obvious."
"Are you going to kill her?" I asked.
He shrugged. "On the one hand, she has been selling our secrets to the Templars, and taking our coin all the while; on the other hand—metaphorically speaking, of course—the Crimson Rose is profitable in more than just gold, and I would be loathe to shut it down—"
"Then leave her there," I said. "Have someone to watch her. One of the other girls." I glanced at Farid. "Would yours do it?"
"It would be dangerous—"
"Farid," Malik growled.
The other man shut his mouth and nodded. "I can convince her."
"Then do so," Malik said, and dismissed him with a nod. He waited until Farid had left before turning back to me. "If this is another of your plots—" he began.
"It could give us the Grand Master of Jerusalem," I said.
And with him, the Templar that had killed Sarai—
Malik must have known what I was thinking, because his lips thinned.
"Isra," he said, finally. "You cannot be so careless."
As though he had forgotten what he himself had been like, only a scant handful of months past; as though he had forgotten his rage and loss and bitterness, and how all his silences had been sharp as thorns, drawing blood whenever anyone ventured too near. As though he had any right to lecture me.
So I wanted this Alexander dead. Had he wanted anything less, when it had been Kaddar lying in the dust?
As though he had been any less careless himself—
No. There was no point to arguing with him. I was only some girl, pretty and fragile and defenseless; how could I possibly be so silly as to think I could go seeking justice? Of course I should leave such things to the men. Of course I should hide myself away, like a coward, because the only virtue that mattered was my chastity and that was long since gone.
"All right," I said.
Malik looked deeply skeptical. "Really?"
"I'll do my best," I said, shrugging. "Was that all?"
"No," said Malik. He reached into his robe, pulled out a scrap of parchment too small to be a letter— "I have our orders from Al Mualim regarding the fate of Majd Addin and William of Montferrat…"
Al Mualim wanted the Grand Master dead, the regent of Jerusalem and the governor of Acre both, and he wanted their executions as public as possible. He wanted to teach the Templars a lesson. He wanted to strike fear into the hearts of our enemies, Crusader and Saracen both.
And if this Alessandro could not be eliminated during the course of our actions against Majd Addin, then I was to have the full resources of the Jerusalem bureau to hunt him down afterwards, wherever he might go.
There are rumors about the Assassins, and I know full well what they say: that the Master is a false prophet, promising us visions of paradise if we should give him our lives; that the Master is a charlatan, fooling us into loyalty with clever tricks of smoke and mirrors; that the Master is a cold and heartless puppet-master, his faithful servants only tools to be discarded when their usefulness comes to an end. This is not so. They do not understand.
I was seven years old when Al Mualim brought me to Masyaf. He has asked much of me in service, but he was the one who molded me, as clay, through all the long years of my training; he was the one who took in an impertinent young girl and made something of her, so that she might serve his will. A master craftsman is not careless or uncaring with his tools.
He had given me what I most wanted in the world—and I was not ungrateful. I would see the Templars driven from Jerusalem, and I would see this Alessandro dead.
A/N: ...I'm not dead? Sorry guys, I've caught a bad case of Can't Finish Anything Ever. For some reason I thought it would be a great idea to start like five different projects over the summer, and absolutely nothing got done. Please don't get your hopes up for speedy updates, either; I haven't abandoned the story, but for all intents and purposes it's going to look that way for a while, so put this on your alert list or check back in a year or two, whichever suits you better (that was a joke, I will try to update but no promises).
On the bright side, check out the awesome new fanart I got from Le-Feline over at deviantaart (link on my profile page).
Thanks to everyone for your reviews, as always! The alerts popping up in my inbox really helped remind me that I should be working on this thing. And, you know, cheered me up in general, so I really appreciate it! And if you are dying for something to read, may I suggest the AC one-shots I have up? They are short but interesting (I hope!) and do not require you to remember plot points from five months ago.