This is fanfic for "The Secret Crusade", an Assassin's Creed novel which to my knowledge isn't out yet. The wiki, though, says that Malik gets jailed and framed for the death of Altair's son.
And wordswithout said "After all the crap [Malik] goes through someone has the nerve to throw him in prison? They'll be haunted by Kadar! Although I guess he'd be a pretty friendly ghost…."
Except this isn't really about Kadar.
They say he's a friendly ghost. The one who walks around in white robes talking. He says "mother" or maybe it's "brother" or maybe the prison guards just don't want to say they hear "mother" in the evenings. He says "you betrayed all of us" and the "you" echoes like it's plural.
There's another ghost too, in the Ibn' LaAhad cote, screaming in the night like rumpled-feather eyases and broken pen nibs bleeding ink. He can't even think of Malik as dead- dead for nothing, dead for lying men- but the mapmaker insists on haunting him. Maybe he's relatively friendly. Altair wakes up to images of ink. He knows by rights it should be images of the killer throwing Malik's decapitated head at his feet. Maybe it was ink staining the burlap sack, blood-ink eking through the little holes in the rough cloth intercepted from the spy. He's not in there, Altair thought when he saw the bag and did his work and later the bag was kicked over in the fighting and he saw the head. Malik is not there, in the places the dead go.
He's in the jail and in the bureau and in Altair's rooms talking about betrayals he couldn't possibly have known about unless he'd mapped it all out first.
He remembers when Darim and Sef and Malik all played together, the baby-fat children pulling on the assassin's robes.
Darim's name means "short steps". He walked early as a child but toddled, like his feet were too small for his rapidly-growing body. When Altair showed him how to run he followed, but still those small steps tottering girlishly.
Sef's name means "yesterday". Maria liked the sound of it; Altair liked the length of it. It was good to yell. "Right! Now! Sef!" "Darim" was harder to yell; it fell into itself a bit on the last syllable, "Dariiiiim" almost cracking his voice. Therefore Darim got yelled at less. Maybe that explained why Sef was the better-behaved child.
But the point was that short steps and yesterday followed the mapmaker around the courtyard of Altair's house, shouting things. They'd started wanting stories and then they'd just started wanting to try battle cries out on him, and because none of them scared him or even made him turn his head they just all started yelling for the fun of it, the younger ones chorusing from inside the house.
Altair respected loud children.
It was so hot that he was almost chilled, and thankful for the white robes that flapped in the wind. But the children ran in and out from the shadowed house like the heat couldn't move fast enough to hit them.
But that was then, and now ghosts are calling from jailhouse walls scrawling white lines while his children are crouching hiding knives, their faces as grizzled as Kadar's in the last temple moment. But no. Malik did not –
(Sef drags at Malik's coattails. "Wait for me! Wait for—for Allah!" Slashing with his fingers at Malik's legs, imaginary knives. Altair's missing finger prickles but Malik laughs.)
Malik did not kill him.
(Yesterday did, but yesterday cannot be plotted on a map. Maybe on a cell wall.)
Altair imagines the scene sometimes. Swami gloated enough—Altair knows that he talked to Sef before he died. Swami said, "Your father wanted this," and then stuck the blade in and Altair, well, he knows anatomy and how it can be torn up far too well not to know exactly how his son looked when he died and how pale the skin got, so—
When he finds Swami, when he chases down the last hiding place and brings the murderer kicking out of his home, Altair rolls him over a wall for no good reason except to hear the crack at the bottom. And then Altair hackles over Swami and says, "Sef's father wanted this."
The ghosts still come. Revenge can't play in the yard like memories.
Altair has other sons but he finds himself thinking of the cool thickness of the jailhouse stone and what it must have looked like for Malik for so long, while Altair was finding plains and fur-clad human monsters.
And in the end it isn't Swami's death that brings him peace. It isn't even Abbas's death. It's climbing over the jailhouse walls picking cells and imagining exactly how he would escape them. Wondering why Malik didn't. Wondering if Malik had a plan after all.
Because streets are just roads to Altair, but Malik has an eagle's eye view tacked to the walls of his bureau and maybe he's memorized the lines. Maybe he's taught his eyases how to fly well enough.
What did you learn, Sef, what have I taught you and did Swami unteach it?
Darim and Maria look at him and make things simple. He remembers that he has a house and a family and an Order. He has everything that he once wanted.
Altair walks around the inside of the walled courtyard in the home where he raised his children.
It is not a fortress.
Maybe Malik is peaceful, somewhere. Whatever god of sand or scrub or name exists out there, maybe it ordered things right. Maybe Sef is alive in some time or some mind. Maybe someone is telling all stories and mapping all things.
After all, everything is permitted.