A/N: I promised this story would not be abandoned. I meant it. We're coming to the end. If it feels like there is too much to resolve, worry not! There is a sequel to be entitled "Do Right By Him" and posted on both ff and ao3 under my penname. There is one more chapter after this one and then an epilogue that acts as the prologue for the sequel. Once again, I want to thank everyone who took the time to review. Grad school is incredibly time consuming, but you reviews gave me the motivation to ignore my home for at least a little bit each day and write. So, thanks for that, I need the breaks. J Happy reading!
Pairings: None (canon Homesteader pairings, past Haytham/Ziio)
Chapter 15: The Edge of a Knife
Connor waited until midafternoon, when Haytham typically left for a long walk, to descend into the basement. The war was over for him, he was not naïve enough to believe that he would be completely healed in time to help in the fighting again. As it was he could feel the end approaching. It was the same feeling he got when hunting, the tight knot of tension behind his eyes that told him when to release the string of his bow to achieve the most humane kill shot. By the time he was ready to truly fight again all would be said and done and it would be a new world. Connor could honestly say that he did not care who won; any fondness he had felt for the revolutionaries had burned away in his confrontation with General Washington. Both groups held no love for his people, he knew that now. They would have to make their own way in the world. For the first time he was glad they had left. They would be safer far away from the colonies.
Briefly, he thought about trying to find them. He thought of going back and sitting by the fire with the children he grew up with. They would have paired off by now, found the person they wished to spend their life with. He would have to tell Chagwalet that it was he who had killed Kanen; that he was the reason that Kanen would never be the father of her children, the reason they would never grow old together as they had planned. The thought was terrible. The separation between he and his people had never felt larger.
"Well, son, I must say this is delightfully creepy." Connor jerked violently. He gripped the small stack of paintings tighter against his chest. How had Haytham found the entrance to the basement? Connor was positive he had slid the hidden door shut behind him as he descended. It had been a difficult task, to balance on the top step while gripping the handrail with one hand and pulling the door shut with the other. He was sure that Haytham had not been in the house when he opened the door, nor had he heard its distinctive scrape since he had been down here.
Haytham ignored the poleaxed look on his son's face and strode forward. He took the stack of paintings from Connor's hands.
"I love the ambiance," he continued, "What is that you've decorated the walls with? Mold? Obviously the decorators in London are missing out." The first few paintings elicited little emotional reaction, though the red 'x' through each face was startling and harsh. Then he reached Charles.
Lee's face stared up at him. He was young in the painting, and even in the static image Haytham could see the enthusiasm for life that had drawn him to trust in the younger man all those years before. He drew in a ragged breath through clenched teeth.
"Where did you get these?"
"Achilles helped me acquire them when I was old enough to begin working to dismantle your organization." Haytham could hear how uncomfortable Connor was saying that to him. He didn't care. The buried hurt of his friend's death at the hands of his son had been uncovered by the painting. Let Connor be uncomfortable, he deserved it.
No, that was unfair. Yes, Connor had killed Charles Lee. But, the killing was hardly unprovoked. They had been fighting a war and Connor happened to win. Besides, he was still paying for his victory. With this thought in mind he shoved his own hurt down.
He forced himself to set the paintings down and leave the basement without another word. He had no desire to ruin everything because he could not overcome his grief. Connor stared after him.
Marceline Mercereau nee Cooper had met John Mercereau when she was a blushing girl of fourteen and he a strapping young lad of seventeen. He had rented the room above her family's general store. In the evenings he would come buy a bun from her. She still remembered the soft smile he would send her way and the shy tilt of his head. Even back then he had entertained big dreams. Dreams she wanted to help him achieve. When she was seventeen he asked for her hand and she agreed with all her heart and soul. The next year, when she was months pregnant with their first child, John bought his first carriage and opened his business.
The next twenty-five years were nothing short of bliss. Of course, there were hard times. Life in the colonies was never easy and John was often gone on business. But they had each other and that was all Marceline could ever want from life.
Then the war started. The Mercereau's carefully did not voice an opinion one way or another on the matters of taxes, tea, and independence to any save their closest companions. If the loyalists believed them to be loyal, or at worst neutral, they would continue to patronize the Flying Machine. The same held true for the colonial rebels.
The war was a strangely profitable time for the couple. People did not want to be on the road for longer than they had to when skirmishes could break out anywhere at any time. It meant that she saw her husband very rarely, but they lived in relative comfort (save for the lack of sufficient quantities of tea and sugar).
Of course, war was never a good thing. Luckily they had been spared the loss of a child or even close friends. Her husband had returned from a trip nearly a month previously with a full bag of coins and a vaguely haunted look on his face. He had not wanted to explain what had happened but, upon some cajoling, eventually told her of a strange young man covered in blood carrying an older man who seemed gravely injured. John had been less disturbed by the blood or injuries than by the grave look in the boy's eyes. He had said it was like looking in the eyes of a man returned from a massacre. Even a month later she shuddered at the thought. To think of her own son looking that way made her feel positively ill.
Currently Marceline was in the kitchen preparing a pot of coffee for John and the man who had just appeared on their doorstep. She wished the strange man would go away. John did not seem to sense the same vile intent off the newcomer as she did.
"Can you go anywhere except Philadelphia?" The man's voice rasped from the parlor.
There was a brief pause and Marceline knew that John was thinking of the strange young man and his companion before, "No, Philadelphia is all we do."
"That's a shame, can you direct me to someone what can?" The visitor asked, "I've lost track of a friend of mine. I know he took a carriage from New York but I don't know where he went. I was hoping to find the service he used."
Marceline gathered the small pitcher of milk and the taller carafe of coffee on a tray with two cups and reentered the parlor. The visitor did not glance up as she set the tray on the small central table but John cast a gentle smile of thanks her way. She returned the expression.
The visitor prepared a cup of coffee for himself. John did the same.
"I'm afraid I can't-"
"It's just that I'm so worried about him. I think he was injured and, well, it's kind of my responsibility to look out for the lad."
John looked at Marceline, she shook her head minutely. Something about this man rubbed her the wrong way.
But, John had that look in his eye that said he was going to ignore her advice. Normally that might bother her, but she had no real reason to distrust the man seated before them. When she put aside her feelings, the man did seem quite genuine in his worry….
"I can't take you there," John apologized, "But if you can arrange different transportation I can give you directions to where I dropped your friend."
The visitor smiled, "Thank you sir, you've really set my mind at ease."
It was taking far longer than he wanted to admit to find out where the assassin lived. Birch ruefully decided that it had been far too long since he had left his plush office and actually done something for himself. In the old days he would have found out such information in far less time, in fact in the old days he would have discovered the information and immediately left to take care of the issue. He despised the aging process. Furthermore, he had no idea when it had happened to him. It seemed he had been promoted to Grandmaster only yesterday.
With a soft groan he twisted to stretch his aching back. The chorus of pops that greeted him deepened his scowl.
"Mr. Birch, sir, are you hale?" The raspy voice disturbed the silence he had previously enjoyed.
That was another thing, Birch thought, Haytham's failure in the colonies meant that Reginald was forced to rely on those who he could quickly hire. Had the Colonial Rite still existed he could have simply stepped into Haytham's position and taken up the reins of leadership and already had the resources and manpower he needed. Now though he was obligated to either do everything himself or rely on those he did not know or trust to get the job done.
"Perfectly," he said. He had no desire to complain of his aches and regrets to the help, furthermore it would be in no way appropriate. "Why are you here?"
"We found something, sir."
Clipper had to suppress a multitude of emotions as he approached Washington's tent outside Yorktown. He had heard so much good about General Washington from the time he was a child and the general was only a captain.
But, he knew so much more now than he had then. Now he knew that the men who burned the villages of Connor's people and the people like him were no heroes. He had seen the look in Connor's eyes when he sat before a campfire and the scars on men his own age who would have been only children when the war was happening. If there was one thing in the world that Clipper could not stand it was soldiers hurting children in the name of a war in which they had no part. But his disgust with the man's actions could not fully override his childhood admiration. The two emotions warred within him, slowing his steps and churning in his gut.
When he was still ten steps away from the tent flap two men appeared, one on either side. They held their muskets with a competence Clipper was unaccustomed to seeing in colonial soldiers.
"I come with a message for the General," Clipper forced the words through a tight throat, hoping against hope that his fear did not show on his face. He clenched his fists by his sides, desperately wishing he had disarmed himself before approaching the man who was, arguably, the most important single person in the colonial war effort.
The taller of the two men took one look at him and laughed.
"Boy, if ye wanna join up, yer local militia's the place to start, not the general of the whole damn outfit!"
Clipper fought not to show his relief. They thought he was a would-be colonial soldier, not a British assassin come to kill the general, as was his initial worry. An idea struck him.
"I'm already enlisted, sir." He stood a little straighter. It wasn't really a lie, after all, he was a soldier of a sort. "I bring a confidential message from my commander for the general. It was too sensitive to be written out."
The shorter man narrowed his eyes, casting a shrewd look over Clipper that left him feeling far more exposed than his companion's attention had. He tried not to look away from the searching gaze. Finally, the man spoke.
"Cooper, inform the general he has a visitor."
Without looking away from Clipper the shorter man snapped, "Go!"
Cooper went. As soon as he disappeared into the tent the man spoke again, "Were it not for the fact that I have a standing order to allow a 'strange, heavily armed young man' in to see him you would already be in chains. You are clearly no militia-man."
Clipper swallowed. He wished he was on a roof somewhere far away, safe and hidden. The desire filled him, crushing any words he might have found to defend his lie. He opened his mouth, unsure what was about to come out…
"He says ye may enter," Cooper said as he exited the tent. He held the flap open. Clipper gratefully fled from the soldier's piercing gaze. He skidded to a stop just inside the tent.
General Washington sat behind a simple wooden desk. Papers were scattered about in semi-organized piles, their edges fluttering in the breeze from Clipper's hasty entrance. He did not look up immediately, giving Clipper the opportunity to gather himself and observe the man. The general he had so idolized as a youth was a handsome man, that much even Clipper could tell. He was bent over the papers in a way that suggested substantial height and his shoulders were broad. The uniform of his station rested easily on him, obviously well-made and cared for despite the rough times the colonial army had faced.
When Washington looked up his eyes widened ever so slightly. "You are not who I expected to see standing there," the general put down his pen. "Who are you?"
Clipper swallowed, "Clipper Wilkensen, sir." Washington continued to stare, blank-faced, "I'm one of Connor's men."
Recognition dawned. "Oh, my sources told me he had been killed."
The dispassionate way he spoke of one of Clipper's greatest fears cleared the last of the hero worship from his eyes. The man before him, while a brilliant general and leader of men, was just that – a man. Perhaps he had changed since the last war, perhaps he was better than he had been, but in the end he was the cause of the nightmares Connor would never admit to having. Clipper found he could not forgive Washington that.
"He was not." Clipper barely managed to say the word, "killed. I bring a message from him."
For the first time Clipper felt like he had Washington's full attention.
"Why does he not bring it himself?"
Of that Clipper was not sure. Yes, Connor was injured, gravely so. But that had never been enough to stop the assassin before. All he knew was that Connor had asked him to accomplish a task and he would do so.
"Never mind," Washington sounded so very weary as he spoke, "You damn assassins are always so secretive." He sighed deeply, running two fingers along his brow. "What's the message?"
Clipper imagined himself back on the porch of the Davenport manor. Connor sat across from him, a faint grimace on his face and a soft breeze ruffling his hair. He told Clipper the message he wanted him to deliver in an emotionless voice. It was a tone Clipper had never before heard from the other man. He did not like it. He repeated the message exactly as he had heard it.
"He wishes me to tell you that due to his injuries in the pursuit of the traitor Charles Lee he will not be able to continue to aid the war effort. He deeply regrets this outcome," Washington snorted softly, a bitter look on his face that Clipper realized perfectly matched the expression Connor had worn not three days previously.
"Are the rest of you still willing to help you fellow country-man?"
Clipper wanted to point out that Connor's fellow country-men had been run off by Washington's (and, admittedly, his own) and that he really had no obligation to help the colonials at all. Furthermore, he disliked the casual dismissal of Connor's wellbeing. He stood a little taller.
"I cannot speak for my compatriots, sir," he kept his voice as even as possible, "I myself am still working directly for Connor and cannot abandon my sworn duty."
That was not technically a lie. He would always be Connor's man first. If the assassin were to tell him to attend to Washington's orders he would of course do so. But, Connor wanted him to return to Dobby after this. Besides, all Clipper really wanted to do was flee the man's presence, not enlist himself to work for him.
Washington sighed, "I would attempt to force your hand," he admitted, "But, I doubt I would be successful. Damn secretive and stubborn you lot. Fine, leave. If you ever change your mind the people of America could use your skills."
Clipper nodded his assent and turned on his heel. He left the tent with a far more sedate pace than he had entered.
Reginald could not help but turn up his nose when he arrived in the tiny village his informant told him belonged to the Assassin. It was positively dismal. The only sign of civilization was the whitewashed Inn. He was genuinely surprised that the inn appeared to have actual glass windows. The shine of the sun on the glass seemed out of place given that the town was no more than a single dirt path lined on either side by homes. He could just barely see the top of a water mill from where he stood. They hadn't even bothered to clear a true road to the village, instead relying on the narrow wagon path that diverged from the main road in the region. Birch understood that the Assassins preferred to be isolated from the rest of society when they were not doing their work (it was one of what he believed to be their great weaknesses, how could you understand the intricacies of the effects of their actions when they were not there to see it?) but this seemed excessive. At least the Assassins in the Caribbean had a full town on their little island.
He could not imagine being an assassin for this reason alone. Reginald Birch was a man who enjoyed the finer things in life, he always had. When he was younger he was far more willing to get his hands dirty and live roughly than he was now-a-days. But, if it would rid him of the damn colonial assassins then he was willing to do whatever was necessary.
He straightened his shoulders and entered the Inn. This would all be over before sundown if he had any say in the matter.
Yorktown and Washington – The Siege of Yorktown took place between September 28th and October 19, 1781 (Connor and Haytham had their final confrontation at some point very soon after the Battle of the Chesapeake, which was September 5thm 1781 and about three weeks have passed in this story). General Washington and the French army troops laid siege to Yorktown, Virginia. Yorktown was held by General Lord Cornwallis. The British had ground troops and a navy at their command. General Lord Cornwallis made several large blunders in his defense of the city, but the greatest of these was to withdraw troops back from some outlying defensible points which were then captured by the Americans and used to great effect throughout the campaign. General Lord Cornwallis' surrender to the French/Americans would prove to be the last big defeat of the British in the war. After this the British and American began negotiations to end the war. The French provided the navy and the American provided the ground troops (a pattern throughout the course of the war after the French agreed to help the Americans screw over the British). It has been said that if Washington planned all the events that took place during this campaign then it would be an example of some of the greatest military strategy ever evidenced, however, it is unclear whether or not he actually planned it or just took advantage of multiple opportunities created for him by Cornwallis' mistakes.
Whitewashing (the paint-like substance, not the practice) - Folk knowledge says that pioneer women invented whitewash to cover the dirt walls of their homes on the plains of the American West. This is untrue. It is far older than the expansion of the American colonies/states. It is an extremely cheap form of paint still used today in farming applications (on barns and trees, etc.) It has mild antiseptic qualities due to the lye and is useful for maintaining a clean environment in dairy barns. It is made up of slaked Lye, chalk, water, and possibly an additive for color or durability depending on the recipe your local village used. For example, in Suffolk, England it was common to color the paint-like substance with pig's blood creating a distinctive color named after the region 'Suffolk Pink'. It is considered a sign of poverty since it is so very cheap to make (though in colonial times this would not have been as salient as it is today since paints were harder to attain in general and whitewash was the norm).