Hello Brother,

Are you enjoying your time in Damascus? Pity that you couldn't stay here with the Master and I; I've learned some things he tells me are usually only for the older students. I'll show you when you get back if I can get someone to unlock the knife case. Al Mualim doesn't want me throwing them around, but the head trainer got them for me the other day when I asked him very nicely after beating up a couple of his novices. He says I've got natural talent.

The nest of eagles on top of the tower has fledged. The eaglet fell out of the nest at first and ended up on a thatched roof, screaming its head off.

The Christians had a holiday today, but there wasn't as much food as at Eid so I trained in the courtyard with the knives instead, and hit most of the targets and a rat.

Al Mualim was not present for most of the day, but called me up to his office as the sun was setting. He put the rat down on the table and told me to pick it up.

"What is this?" he asked.

"A rat," I said.

"An innocent," he said, and set me to transcribing the most boring old texts he could find. I know it's a backhanded compliment: I killed something for him, and that's important. But he just had to use the excuse to scribe the Creed into our malleable young brains again.

So as long as he wanted me transcribing I am going to send a letter to you instead. I have to hurry up so as not to let anybody know I am wasting pigeons, but I wanted to tell you how things were going, and hope they are as interesting where ever you are, brushing horses or getting tea for the Dai of Damascus.

Altair


Hello Brother,

It was a pleasant surprise to get your letter; I was not sure you had taken the time to remember how to read and write in between all that knife-throwing. Dai Faraj has me recording which of our brethren come into the bureau and whether they succeed on their missions. It is about as interesting as your new job, although I do get to hear some stories of the local women.

There was very little evidence of the Easter celebration here: I heard some churches had lye thrown at the walls.

Did the eaglet survive its fall?

Say hello to Kadar for me, if you aren't too busy transcribing.

Safety and peace,

Malik


Malik,

Funny you ask about both eaglets of Masyaf, seeing as Kadar picked the other up and held it until his fingers were bleeding from more places than I could count and the bird had probably acquired a taste for grubby boys. He tossed the thing into the air, though, and it flew off with as much wobbly grace as a drunk.

I patched Kadar up, though—another useful skill I've acquired. To learn about poisons you have to learn about herbs, the Master says, and one is as useful as another.

I am sorry your time has been so uninteresting. When you come back I will have a lot to tell you.

Altair


Altair,

You let Kadar pick a wild eagle up? He caught it? I am both proud of him and mystified by your stupidity. But that is no different from the usual. Do not mock the oh-so-interesting work I am doing when the very fact that you are still writing to me shows that either Al Mualim caught you doing something else you oughtn't have done, or he was really angry about that rat.

One of the boys (that's what Faraj calls the assassins) nearly got killed, today—a guard got lucky and tossed him in a river. The weight of his weapons sunk him down and he lost a pile of gold's worth of equipment, but he came back to the bureau alive and damp.

Have you learned to swim yet? I am sure Al Mualim would not forget that in his list of very advanced things to teach you.

Malik


Malik,

I have passed over swimming lessons and put them out of mind. If a man cannot hold up the weight of his own armor he is weak.

Kadar is healing nicely and tried to scrawl his name at the bottom of the page even with his hands bandaged up. It's that splatter that looks like it might say "kleeve".

Altair


Altair,

You are confusing the concept of honor with the concept of bullheadedness. A decent swimming lesson might save your life one day.

Malik


Malik,

Swimming is unimportant. Al Mualim has released me from my servitude among the scrolls and said he would practice jumps and rolls with me this afternoon. I will be lurking on rooftops again in no time and unable to have time to write to you. Forgive me.

Altair


Altair,

You sound as if not receiving letters from you signals the end of days. Do not imagine that I have gone into mourning.

Malik


Malik,

I did not imagine that you would go into mourning, but simply that you might feel that you had lost an important contact in Masyaf. You are so far away from the center of the assassins' world.

Your considerate brother,

Altair


Hello Brother,

Now you are wasting pigeons.

Malik


Altair,

Damascus was covered in fog this afternoon. The beads of water gathered on every flagstaff and cobblestone. The ocean had invaded. It would have been hazardous to climb today, but my mission was on the streets anyway. (You would have climbed. You might have fallen.)

I was practicing maps. I know the streets well here, but it is one thing to know where to turn and another to know how to diagram every fruit-seller and nameless ally. There is one sign for a road wide enough for a cart and another without.

Look at me, assuming you care. There is a whole colloquium of old men with beards who care, but I am also busy at the bureau. One cannot be a master assassin and a master cartographer.

Be well.

Malik


Altair,

How are things at the bureau? I assume that you have not been writing because of all the thrilling escapades, or perhaps because you have forgotten where the pigeons are. My map is almost complete. My next project will be to draw one of the rooftops, creating my own symbols for the walkways and hiding places we use. Watchtowers, guard posts, narrow leaps—am I forgetting anything?

Malik


Altair,

I feel like I need two lifetimes sometimes. If only people could live more than once, or be granted a view into what they might have been. The same man who is an assassin today might have been a scholar in some other time if only one small part in his life changed.

Malik


Malik,

You're babbling like a poet. A woman poet.

Altair


To Altair Ibn-La'Ahad, novice in Masyaf,

Greetings, novice. It has come to my attention that your correspondence caused my apprentice some consternation. You owe me one antique plate. Malik ought to learn to control his emotions, and I will advise Al Mualim that you ought do the same. I will have words with the master of the bureau.

Go with Allah.

Dai Faraj


Malik,

Tell your master that normal people don't use words like "consternation".

Altair


Altair,

Weeks of waiting and that is what you send me? I no longer care whether you are still well, or indeed have all your limbs.

Malik


Altair,

I thought the work would be more difficult as I grew older and closer to being an assassin, to being tasked with lives, but it seems that we still both have time enough to wait.

Malik


Malik,

I had a bout of sickness. It kept its distance as I went about my normal activities such as combat practice and night scouting, but eventually the spirits overcame me. I have been lying in my room, attended by a steady stream of ignorant, frightful doctors. They say the fever was deadly. The dreams were, at least, entertaining. Kadar moved in and out, and I was not always sure whether he was in the dream or in the room.

There were glimpses of darkness, of things strange to behold—bloodied swords, flying machines, people in white coats and tall towers. I tried to climb them, but the sides were too slick. Al Mualim says to disregard dreams.

Your idea of mapping the streets above the streets could prove useful for initiates in the future. Do you plan on attending to more cities than Damascus?

Enclosed is some coin to go toward the plate. Do not tell Dai Faraj.

Altair


Altair,

Kadar wrote to me some about your illness and your dreams. The coin is much appreciated.

Malik


Malik,

Kadar won't tell me what he heard while I was asleep. I boxed his ears, but he'll be a good assassin one day; he slipped up the cliff like a cat and lurked like he was about to drop on me.

(I hope this pigeon makes it. It is terribly mangy. Al Mualim complains that I tire out the birds too much, and insists I use the older ones so that emergency assignments are more guaranteed to find their destinations. )

Altair


Altair,

He said you mentioned names. Mine and his and a nonsense word you kept repeating. He writes it like "Desmond", but you know how his handwriting is.

Malik


Malik,

If you are being truthful, I can with equal truth say that I have no memory of what this word means. Dreams surely mean nothing. The real world goes on without them.

Altair


Altair,

It could be argued that dreams go on without the real world as well. Soon we will have the opportunity to debate all we wish; Faraj is sending me back to Al Mualim's bureau, as I have completed his documentation and requested to be returned to Masyaf to continue work on my training maps.

Malik


Malik,

I trust this letter finds you in time. If you have already passed beyond the gates of Damascus, no matter. I simply wish to say that all this nonsense about dreams will be beaten out of you soon enough. We leave philosophy to the scholars here. The maps, however, could come in handy. Maybe you might mark on them the places where an assassin might get the best view of the city, so that those unused to mapmakers' signs can see their paths with their own eyes.

Be well.

Altair