Oliver Bowden /
An Original Novel Based on the Multiplatinum Video Game from Ubisoft1862, and with London in the grip of the Industrial Revolution, the world’s first underground railway is under construction. When a body is discovered at the dig, it sparks the beginning of the latest deadly chapter in the centuries-old battle between the Assassins and Templars. Deep undercover is an Assassin with dark secrets and a mission to defeat the Templar stranglehold on the nation’s capital. Soon the Brotherhood will know him as Henry Green, mentor to Jacob and Evie Frye. For now, he is simply The Ghost. **
Oliver Bowden /
1789: The magnificent city of Paris sees the dawn of the French Revolution. The cobblestone streets run red with blood as the people rise against the oppressive aristocracy. But revolutionary justice comes at a high price... At a time when the divide between the rich and poor is at its most extreme, and a nation is tearing itself apart, a young man and woman fight to avenge all they have lost. Soon Arno and Élise are drawn into the centuries-old battle between the Assassins and the Templars—a world with dangers more deadly than they could ever have imagined.About the AuthorOliver Bowden is a pseudonym for an acclaimed novelist.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.12 SEPTEMBER 1794On my desk lies her journal, open to the first page. It was all I could read before a flood tide of emotion took my breath away and the text before me was splintered by the diamonds in my eyes. Tears had coursed down my cheeks as thoughts of her returned to me: the impish child, racing through the hallways of the great Palace of Versailles; the firebrand I came to know and love in adulthood, tresses of red hair across her shoulders, eyes intense beneath dark and lustrous lashes. She had the balance of the expert dancer and the master swordsman. She was as comfortable gliding across the floor of the palace beneath the desirous eye of every man in the room as she was in combat.But behind those eyes lay secrets. Secrets I was about to discover. I pick up her journal once again, wanting to place my palm and fingertips to the page, caress the words, feeling that on this page lies part of her very soul.I begin to read. EXTRACTS FROM THE JOURNAL OF ÉLISE DE LA SERRE9 APRIL 1778iMy name is Élise de la Serre. My father is François, my mother Julie, and we live in Versailles: glittering, beautiful Versailles, where neat buildings and grand châteaus reside in the shadow of the great palace, with its lime-tree avenues, its shimmering lakes and fountains, its exquisitely tended topiary.We are nobles. The lucky ones. The privileged. For proof we need only take the fifteen-mile road into Paris. It is a road lit by overhanging oil lamps, because in Versailles we use oil lamps, but in Paris the poor use tallow candles, and the smoke from the tallow factories hangs over the city like a death shroud, dirtying the skin and choking the lungs. Dressed in rags, their backs hunched either with the weight of their physical burden or of mental sorrow, the poor people of Paris creep through streets that never seem to get light. The streets stream with open sewers, where mud and human effluent flow freely, coating the legs of those who carry our sedan chairs as we pass through, staring wide-eyed out the windows.Later we take gilded carriages back to Versailles and pass figures in the fields, shrouded in mist like ghosts. These barefooted peasants tend noble land and starve if the crop is bad, virtual slaves of the landowners. At home I listen to my parents’ tales of how they must stay awake to swish sticks at frogs whose croaking keeps landowners awake; how they must eat grass to stay alive; how the nobles are exempt from paying taxes, excused from military service and spared the indignity of the corvée, a day’s unpaid labor working on the roads.My parents say Queen Marie Antoinette roams the hallways, ballrooms and vestibules of the palace dreaming up new ways to spend her dress allowance while her husband King Louis XVI lounges on his lit de justice, passing laws that enrich the lives of nobles at the expense of the poor and starving. They talk darkly of how these actions might foment revolution.My father had certain “associates.” His advisers, Messieurs Chretien Lafrenière, Charles Gabriel Sivert, and Madame Levesque. “The Crows,” I called them, with their long black coats, dark felt hats and eyes that never smiled.“Have we not learned the lessons of the Croquants?” says my mother.Mother had told me about the Croquants, of course. Those peasant revolutionaries of two centuries ago.“It would appear not, Julie,” Father replies.There is an expression to describe the moment you suddenly understand something that had previously been a mystery to you. It is the moment when “the penny drops.”As a small child, it never occurred to me to wonder why I learned history, not etiquette, manners and poise; I didn’t question why Mother joined Father and the Crows after dinner, her voice raised in disagreement to debate with as much force as they ever did; I never wondered why she didn’t ride sidesaddle, nor why she never needed a groom to steady her mount, and I never wondered why she had so little time for fashion or court gossip. Not once did I think to ask why my mother was not like other mothers.Not until the penny dropped.iiShe was beautiful, of course, and always well dressed though she had no time for the manner of finery worn by the women at court, of whom she would purse her lips and talk disapprovingly. According to her they were obsessed with looks, status, with things.“They wouldn’t know an idea if it hit them between the eyes, Élise. Promise me you’ll never end up like them.”Intrigued and wanting to know more about how I should never end up, I used my vantage point at the hem of Mother’s skirt to spy on these hated women. What I saw were overpowdered gossips who pretended they were devoted to their husbands even as their eyes roamed the room over the rims of their fans, looking for unsuspecting lovers to snare. Unseen, I would glimpse behind the powdered mask, when the scornful laughter dried on their lips and the mocking look died in their eyes. I’d see them for what they really were, which was frightened. Frightened of falling out of favor. Of slipping down the society ladder.Mother was not like that. For one thing she couldn’t have cared less about gossip. And I never saw her with a fan, and she hated powder, and she had no time whatsoever for charcoal beauty spots and alabaster skin, her sole concession to fashion being shoes. Otherwise, what attention she gave her comportment was for one reason and one reason only: to maintain decorum.And she was absolutely devoted to my father. She stood by him—at his side, though, never behind him—she supported him, was unswervingly loyal to him, backing him in public even though behind closed doors they would debate and I would hear her cooling his temper.It’s been a long time, though, since I last heard her debating with Father.They say she may die tonight.iShe survived the night.I sat by her bedside, held her hand and spoke to her. For a while I had been under the delusion that it was me comforting her, until the moment she turned her head and gazed at me with milky but soul-searching eyes, and it became apparent that the opposite was true.There were times last night when I gazed out of the window to see Arno in the yard below, envying how he could be so oblivious to the heartache just feet away from him. He knows she’s ill, of course, but consumption is commonplace, death at the doctor’s knee an everyday occurrence, even here in Versailles. And he is not a de la Serre. He is our ward, and thus not privy to our deepest, darkest secrets, nor our private anguish. Moreover, he has barely known any other state of affairs. For most of his time here. To Arno, Mother is a remote figure attended to on the upper floors of the château; to him she is defined purely by her illness.Instead, my father and I share our turmoil via hidden glances. Outwardly we take pains to appear as normal, our mourning mitigated by two years of grim diagnosis. Our grief is another secret hidden from our ward.iiWe’re getting closer to the moment that the penny dropped. And thinking about the first incident, the first time I really began to wonder about my parents, and specifically Mother, I imagine it like a signpost along the road toward my destiny.It happened at the convent. I was just five when I first entered it, and my memories of it are far from fully formed. Just impressions, really: long rows of beds; a distinct but slightly disconnected memory of glancing outside a window crowned with frost and seeing the tops of the trees rising above billowing skirts of mist; and . . . the Mother Superior.Bent over and bitter, the Mother Superior was known for her cruelty. She’d wander the corridors of the convent with her cane across her palms as though presenting it to a banquet. In her office it was laid across her desk. Back then we’d talk of it being “your turn,” and for a while it was mine, when she hated my attempts at happiness, begrudged the fact that I was swift to laughter and would always call my happy smile a smirk. The cane, she said, would wipe that smirk off my face.Mother Superior was right about that. It did. For a while.And then one day Mother and Father arrived to see the Mother Superior on what matter I have no idea, and I was called to the office at their request. There I found my parents turned in their seats to greet me, Mother Superior standing from behind her desk, the usual look of undisguised contempt upon her face, a frank assessment of my many shortcomings only just dry on her lips.If it had been Mother alone to see me, I should not have been so formal. I would have run to her and hoped I might slip into the folds of her dress and into another world out of that horrible place. But it was both of them, and my father was my king. It was he who dictated what modes of politeness we abided by; he who had insisted I was placed in the convent in the first place. So I approached and curtsied and waited to be addressed.My mother snatched up my hand. How she even saw what was there I have no idea, since it was by my side, but somehow she’d caught a glimpse of the marks left by the cane.“What are these?” she demanded of the Mother Superior, holding my hand toward her.I had never seen the Mother Superior look anything less than composed. But now I would say that she paled. In an instant my mother had transformed from proper and polite, just what was expected of a guest of the Mother Superior, to an instrument of potential anger. We all felt it. Mother Superior the most.She stammered a little. “As I was saying, Élise is a willful girl and disruptive.”“So she’s caned?” demanded my mother, her anger rising.Mother Superior squared her shoulders. “How else do you expect me to keep order?”Mother snatched up the cane. “I expect you to be able to keep order. Do you think this makes you strong?” She slapped the cane to the table. Mother Superior jumped and swallowed and her eyes darted to my father, who was keeping watch with an odd, unreadable expression, as though these were events that did not require his participation. “Well, then you are sorely mistaken,” added Mother. “It makes you weak.”She stood, glaring at the Mother Superior, and made her jump again as she slapped the cane to the desk a second time. Then she took my hand. “Come along, Élise.”We left, and from then on I have had tutors to teach me schoolwork.I knew one thing as we bustled out of the convent and into our carriage for a silent ride home. As Mother and Father bristled with things left unsaid, I knew that ladies did not behave the way my mother had just done. Not normal ladies, anyway.Another clue. This happened a year or so later, at a birthday party for a spoiled daughter in a neighboring château. Other girls my age played with dolls, setting them up to take tea, only a tea for dolls, where there was no real tea or cake, just little girls pretending to feed tea and cake to dolls, which to me, even then, seemed stupid.Not far away the boys were playing with toy soldiers, so I stood to join them, oblivious to the shocked silence that fell over the gathering.My nursemaid Ruth dragged me away. “You play with dolls, Élise,” she said, firmly but nervously, her eyes darting as she shrank beneath the disapproving stare of other nursemaids. I did as I was told, sinking to my haunches and affecting interest in the pretend tea and cake, and with the embarrassing interruption over, the lawn returned to its natural state: boys playing with toy soldiers, the girls with their dolls, nursemaids watching us both, and not far away a gaggle of mothers, highborn ladies who gossiped on wrought-iron lawn chairs.I looked at the gossiping ladies and saw them with Mother’s eyes. I saw my own path from girl on the grass to gossiping lady, and with a rush of absolute certainty realized I didn’t want that. I didn’t want to be like those mothers. I wanted to be like my own mother, who had excused herself from the gaggle of gossips and could be seen in the distance, alone, at the water’s edge, her individuality plain for all to see.iiiI have had a note from Mr. Weatherall. Writing in his native English, he tells me that he wishes to see Mother and asks that I meet him in the library at midnight to escort him to her room. He urges me not to tell Father.Yet another secret I must keep. Sometimes I feel like one of those poor wretches we see in Paris, hunched over beneath the weight of expectations forced upon me.I am only ten years old.11 APRIL 1778iAt midnight, I pulled on a gown, took a candle and crept downstairs to the library, where I waited for Mr. Weatherall.He had let himself into the château, moving like a mystery, the dogs undisturbed, and when he entered the library so quietly that I barely even heard the door open and close, he crossed the floor in a few strides, snatched his wig from his head—the accursed thing, he hated it—and grasped my shoulders.“They say she is fading fast,” he said, and needed it to be hearsay.“She is,” I told him, dropping my gaze.His eyes closed, and though he was not at all old—in his mid-thirties, the same age as Mother and Father—the years were etched upon his face.“Mr. Weatherall and I were once very close,” Mother had said before. She’d smiled as she said it. I fancy that she blushed.iiIt was a freezing-cold day in February the first time I met Mr. Weatherall. That winter was the first of the really cruel winters, but while in Paris the River Seine had flooded and frozen, and the poverty-stricken were dying in the streets, things were very different in Versailles. By the time we awoke, the staff had made up the fires that roared in the grates, and we ate steaming breakfast and wrapped up warm in furs, our hands kept warm by muffs as we took morning and afternoon strolls in the grounds.That particular day the sun was shining although it did nothing to offset the bone-chilling cold. A crust of ice sparkled prettily on a thick layer of snow, and it was so hard that Scratch, our Irish wolfhound, was able to walk upon it without his paws sinking in. He’d taken a few tentative steps, then on realizing his good fortune, given a joyous bark and dashed off ahead while Mother and I made our way across the grounds and to the trees at the perimeter of the south lawn.Holding her hand, I glanced over my shoulder as we walked. Far away our château shone in the reflection of sun and snow, its windows winking, then, as we stepped out of the sun and into the trees, it became indistinct, as though shaded by pencils. We were farther out than usual, I realized, no longer within reach of its shelter.“Do not be alarmed if you see a gentleman in the shadows,” said Mother, bending to me slightly. Her voice was quiet. I clutched her hand a little tighter at the very idea and she laughed. “Our presence here is no coincidence.”I was six years old then and had no idea that a lady meeting a man in such circumstances might have “implications.” As far as I was concerned, it was simply my mother meeting a man, and of no greater significance than her talking to Emanuel, our gardener, or passing the time of day with Jean, our coachman.Frost confers stillness on the world. In the trees it was even quieter than on the snow-covered lawn and we were absorbed by an absolute tranquility as we took a narrow path into the depth of the wood.“Mr. Weatherall likes to play a game,” said my mother, her voice hushed in honor of the peace. “He might like to surprise us, and one should always be aware of what surprises lie in store. We take into account our surroundings and cast our expectations accordingly. Do you see tracks?”The snow around us was untouched. “No, Mama.”“Good. Then we can be sure of our radius. Now, where might a man hide in such conditions?”“Behind a tree?”“Good, good—but what about here?” She indicated overhead and I craned my neck to gaze into the canopy of branches above, the frost twinkling in shards of sunlight.“Observe everywhere, always.” Mother smiled. “Use your eyes to see, don’t incline your head if at all possible. Don’t show to others where your attention is directed. In life you will have opponents, and those opponents will attempt to read you for clues as to your intentions. Maintain your advantage by making them guess.”“Will our visitor be high in a tree, Mama?” I asked.She chuckled. “No. As a matter of fact, I have seen him. Do you see him Élise?”We had stopped. I gazed at the trees in front of us. “No, Mama.”“Show yourself, Freddie,” called Mother, and sure enough, a few yards ahead of us a gray-bearded man stepped from behind a tree, swept his tricorn from his head and gave us an exaggerated bow.The men of Versailles were a certain way. They looked down their noses at anybody not like them. They had what I thought of as “Versailles smiles,” hoisted halfway between bemused and bored, as though constantly on the verge of delivering the witty quip by which, it seemed, all men of court were judged.This man was not a man of Versailles, the beard alone saw to that. And though he was smiling, it was not a Versailles smile; instead, it was soft but serious, the face of a man who thought before he spoke and made his words count.“You cast a shadow, Freddie.” Mother smiled as he stepped forward, kissed her proffered hand then did the same to me, bowing again.“The shadow?” he said, and his voice was rough, uncultured, the voice of a seaman or soldier. “Oh, bloody hell, I must be losing my touch.”“I hope not, Freddie,” laughed Mother. “Élise, meet Mr. Weatherall, an Englishman. An associate of mine. Freddie, meet Élise.”An associate? Like the Crows? No, he was nothing like them. Instead of glaring at me, he took my hand, bowed and kissed it. “Charmed, mademoiselle,” he rasped, his English accent mangling the word “mademoiselle” in a way that I couldn’t help but find charming.Mother fixed me with a serious expression. “Mr. Weatherall is our confidant and protector, Élise. A man to whom you may always turn when in need of help.”I looked at her, feeling a little startled. “But what about Father?”“Father loves us both dearly, and would gladly give his life for us, but men as important as your father need shielding from their domestic responsibilities. This is why we have Mr. Weatherall, Élise—that your Father need not be troubled by those matters concerning his womenfolk.” An even more significant look came into her eyes. “Your father need not be troubled, Élise, do you understand?”“Yes, Mama.”Mr. Weatherall was nodding. “I am here to serve, mademoiselle,” he said to me.“Thank you, monsieur.” I curtsied.Scratch had arrived, greeting Mr. Weatherall excitedly, the two of them evidently old friends.“Can we talk, Julie?” said the protector, replacing his tricorn and indicating that the two of them might walk together.I stayed some steps behind, hearing brief snatches and disjointed snippets of their hushed conversation. I heard “Grand Master” and “King,” but they were just words, the kind I was used to hearing from behind the doors of the château. It’s only in the years since then that they’ve taken on a much greater resonance.And then it happened.Looking back I can’t remember the sequence of events. I remember seeing Mother and Mr. Weatherall tense at the same time as Scratch bristled and growled. Then my mother wheeled. My gaze went in the direction of her eyes and I saw it there, a wolf standing in the undergrowth to my left, a black-and-gray wolf standing absolutely still in the trees, regarding me with hungry eyes.Something appeared from within Mother’s muff, a silver blade, and in two quick strides she had crossed to me, had swept me up and away and deposited me behind her so that I clung to her skirts as she faced the wolf, her blade outstretched.Across the way Mr. Weatherall held a straining, growling, hackles-risen Scratch by the scruff of his neck, and I noticed that his other hand reached for the hilt of a sword that hung at his side.“Wait,” commanded Mother. An upraised hand stopped Mr. Weatherall in his tracks. “I don’t think this wolf will attack.”“I’m not so sure, Julie,” warned Mr. Weatherall. “That is an exceptionally hungry-looking wolf you got there.”The wolf stared at my mother. She looked right back, talking to us at the same time. “There’s nothing for him to eat in the hills; it’s desperation that has brought him to our grounds. But I think this wolf knows that by attacking us, he makes an enemy of us. Far better for it to retreat in the face of implacable strength and forage elsewhere.”Mr. Weatherall gave a short laugh. “Why am I getting the whiff of a parable here?”“Because, Freddie”—Mother smiled—“there is a parable here.”The wolf stared for a few moments more, never taking its eyes from Mother, until at last it dipped its head, turned and slowly trotted away. We watched it disappear into the tress and my mother stood down, her blade replaced in her muff. I looked at Mr. Weatherall; his jacket was once again buttoned and there was no sign of his sword.And I came one step closer to the penny dropping.iiiI showed Mr. Weatherall to her room and he asked that he see her alone, assuring me that he could see himself out. Curious, I peered through the keyhole and saw him take a seat by her side, reach for her hand and bow his head. Moments later I thought I heard the sound of him weeping.12 APRIL 1778iI gaze from my window and remember last summer, when in moments of play with Arno I ascended from my cares and enjoyed blissful days of being a little girl again, running with him through the hedge maze in the grounds of the palace, squabbling over dessert, little knowing that the respite from worry would be so temporary.Every morning I dig my nails into my palms and ask, “Is she awake?” and Ruth, knowing I really mean, “Is she alive?” reassures me that Mother has survived the night.But it won’t be long now.iiSo. The moment that the penny dropped. It draws nearer. But first, another signpost.The Carrolls arrived in the spring of the year I first met Mr. Weatherall. What a gorgeous spring it was. The snows had melted to reveal lush carpets of perfectly trimmed lawn beneath, returning Versailles to its natural state of immaculate perfection. Surrounded by the perfectly cut topiary of our grounds, we could barely hear the hum of the town, while away to our right the slopes of the palace were visible, wide stone steps leading to the columns of its vast frontage. Quite the splendor in which to entertain the Carrolls from Mayfair in London, England. Mr. Carroll and Father spent hours in the drawing room, apparently deep in conversation and occasionally visited by the Crows, while Mother and I were tasked with entertaining Madame Carroll and her daughter, May, who lost no time at all telling me that she was ten and that because I was only six, that made her much better than me.We invited them for a walk and wrapped up against a slight morning chill soon to be burned away by the sun: Mother and I, Madame Carroll and May.Mother and Madame Carroll walked some steps in front of us. Mother, I noticed, wore her muff, and I wondered if the blade was secreted within. I had asked about it, of course, after the incident with the wolf.“Mama, why do you keep a knife in your muff?”“Why, Élise, in case of threats from the marauding wolves, of course.” And with a wry smile she added, “Wolves of the four-legged and two-legged variety. And anyway, the blade helps the muff keep its shape.”But then, as was quickly becoming customary, she made me promise to keep it as one of our vérités cachées. Mr. Weatherall was a vérité cachée. Which meant that when Mr. Weatherall had given me a sword lesson, that became a vérité cachée as well.Secrets by any other name.May and I walked a polite distance behind our mothers. The hems of our skirts brushed the lawn so that from a distance we would appear to be gliding across the grounds, four ladies in perfect transport.“How old are you, smell-bag?” whispered May to me, though as I’ve said, she had already established our ages. Twice, in fact.“Don’t call me smell-bag,” I said primly.“Sorry, smell-bag, but tell me again how old you are.”“I’m six,” I told her.She gave a six-is-a-terrible-age-to-be chortle, like she herself had never been six. “Well, I am ten,” she said haughtily. (And as an aside, May Carroll said everything haughtily. In fact, unless I say otherwise, just assume she said it haughtily.)“I know you are ten,” I hissed, fondly imagining sticking out a foot and watching her sprawl to the gravel of the driveway.“Just so you don’t forget,” she said, and I pictured little bits of gravel sticking to her bawling face as she picked herself up from the ground. What was it Mr. Weatherall had told me? The bigger they are, the harder they fall.(And now I have reached the age of ten I wonder if I am arrogant like her. Do I have that mocking tone when I talk to those younger or lower in status than I? According to Mr. Weatherall I’m overconfident, which I suppose is a nice way of saying “arrogant,” and maybe that’s why May and I rubbed up against each other the way we did, because deep down we were actually quite similar.)As we took our turn around the grounds, the words spoken by the ladies ahead of us reached our ears as Madame Carroll said, “Obviously we have concerns with the direction your Order appears to want to take.”“You have concerns?” said Mother.“Indeed. Concerns about the intentions of your husband’s associates. And as we both know, it is our duty to ensure our husbands do the right thing. Perhaps, if you don’t mind my saying, your husband is giving certain factions leave to dictate his policies?”“Indeed, there are high-ranking members who favor, shall we say, more extreme measures regarding the changing of the old order.”“This concerns us in England.”My mother chortled. “Of course it does. In England you refuse to accept change of any kind.”Madame Carroll bridled. “Not at all. Your reading of our national character lacks subtlety. But I’m beginning to get a feel for where your own loyalties lie, Madame de la Serre. You yourself are petitioning for change?”“If change be for the better.”“Then do I need to report that your loyalties lie with your husband’s advisers? Has my errand been in vain?”“Not quite, Madame. How comforting it is to know that I enjoy the support of my English colleagues in opposing drastic measures. But I cannot claim to share your ultimate goal. While it’s true there are forces pushing for violent overthrow, and while it’s true that my husband believes in God-appointed monarchy, indeed, that his ideals for the future encompass no change at all, I myself tread a middle line. A third way, if you like. Perhaps it won’t surprise you to learn that I consider my belief to be the more moderate of the three.”They walked on some steps and Madame Carroll nodded, thinking.Into the silence my mother said, “I’m sorry if you don’t feel our goals are aligned, Madame Carroll. My apologies if that makes me a somewhat unreliable confidante.”The other woman nodded. “I see. Well, if I were you, Madame de la Serre, I would use my influence with both sides in order to propose your middle line.”“On that issue I shouldn’t like to say, but be assured your journey has not been in vain. My respect for you and your branch of the Order remains a steadfast as I hope it does in return. From me you can rely on two things: firstly that I will abide by my own principles, and secondly that I will not allow my husband to be swayed by his advisers.”“Then you have given me what I want.”“Very good. It is some consolation, I hope.”Behind, May inclined her head to me. “Have your parents told you of your destiny?”“No. What do you mean, ‘destiny’?”She put a hand to her mouth, pretending to have said too much. “They will do, perhaps, when you turn ten years old. Just as they did me. How old are you, by the way?”“I am six.” I sighed.“Well, perhaps they will tell you when you are ten, as they did me.”In the end, of course, my parents’ hand was forced, and they had to tell me my “destiny” much earlier, because two years later, in the autumn of 1775, when I had just turned eight years old, Mother and I went shopping for shoes.iiiAs well as the château in Versailles, we had a sizable villa in the city, and whenever we were there, Mother liked to go shopping.As I have said, while she was contemptuous of most fashions, detesting fans and wigs, conforming to the very minimum of flamboyance when it came to her gowns, there was one thing about which she was fastidious.Shoes. As I’ve said, she loved shoes. She bought silk pairs from Christian in Paris, where we would go, regular as clockwork, once every two weeks, because it was her one extravagance, she said, and mine too, since we always came away with a pair of shoes for me as well as her.Christian was located in one of Paris’s more salubrious streets, far away from our villa on the Île Saint-Louis. But still, everything is relative and I found myself holding my breath as we were helped out of the comfortable and fragrant-smelling interior of our carriage and into the noisy, surging street, where the sound was of shouting and horses’ hooves and a constant rumbling of carriage wheels. The sound of Paris.Above us women leaned from windows across folded arms and watched the world go by. Lining the street were stalls that sold fruit and fabrics, barrows piled high with goods manned by shouting men and women in aprons who immediately called to us. “Madame! Mademoiselle!”My eyes were drawn to the shadows at the edges of the street, where I saw blank faces in the gloom, and I fancied I saw starvation and desperation in those eyes as they watched us reproachfully, hungrily.“Come along now, Élise,” said Mother, and I picked up my skirts just as she did and trod daintily over the mud and excrement beneath our feet and we were ushered into Christian’s by the owner.The door slammed behind us, the outside world denied. A shop boy busied himself at our feet with a towel, and in moments it was as though we had never made that perilous crossing, those few feet between our carriage and the door of one of Paris’s most exclusive shoe shops.Christian wore a white wig tied back with a black ribbon, a justaucorps and white breeches. He was a perfect approximation of half nobleman, half footman, which was how he saw himself on the social ladder. He was fond of saying that it was in his power to make women feel beautiful, which was the greatest power a man possessed. And yet to him Mother remained an enigma, as though she was the one customer upon whom his power did not quite work. It didn’t, and I knew why. It was because other women simply saw the shoes as tributes to their own vanity, whereas Mother adored them as things of beauty.Christian, however, hadn’t yet reached that conclusion, so every visit was marked by him barking up the wrong tree.“Look, Madame,” he said, presenting to her a pair of slippers adorned with buckles. “Every single lady through that door goes weak at the knees at the mere sight of this exquisite new creation, yet only Madame de la Serre has ankles pretty enough to do them justice.”“Too frivolous, Christian.” My mother smiled and with an imperious wave of the hand swept past him to other shelves. I cast an eye at the shop boy, who returned my look with an unreadable gaze, and followed.She chose briskly. She made her choices with a certainty that Christian remained bewildered by her. I, her constant companion, saw the difference in her as she chose her shoes. A lightness. A smile she cast in my direction as she slipped on yet another shoe and admired her beautiful ankles in the mirror to the accompanying gasps and bleats of Christian—every shoe an exquisite work of art in progress, my mother’s foot the final flourish in order to make them complete.We made our choices, Mother arranged for payment and delivery and we left, Christian helping us out onto the street where . . .There was no sign of Jean, our coachman. No sign of our carriage at all.“Madame?” said Christian, face creased with concern. I felt her stiffen, saw the tilt of her chin as her eyes roamed the street around us.“There’s nothing to worry about, Christian,” she assured him, breezily. “Our carriage is a little late, that is all. We shall enjoy the sights and sounds of Paris as we await its return here.”It was beginning to get dark and there was a chill in the air, which had thickened with the first of the evening fog.“That is quite out of the question, Madame, you cannot wait on the street,” said an aghast Christian.She looked at him with a half smile. “To protect my sensibilities, Christian?”“It is dangerous,” he protested, and leaned forward to whisper with his face twisted into a slightly disgusted expression, “and the people.”“Yes, Christian,” she said, as though letting him into a secret, “just people. Now please, go back inside. Your next customer values her exclusive time with Paris’s most attentive shoe salesman as highly as I do, and would no doubt be most put out having to share her time with two strays awaiting their negligent coachman.”Knowing my mother as a woman who rarely changed her mind, and knowing she was right about the next customer, Christian bowed acquiescence, bid usau revoir and returned to the shop, leaving us alone on the street, where the barrows were being removed, where people dissolved into shapes moving within the murky fog.I gripped her hand. “Mama?”“Don’t concern yourself, Élise,” she said raising her chin. “We shall hire a carriage to return us to Versailles.”“Not to the villa here in Paris, Mama?”“No,” she said, thinking, chewing her lip a little, “I think I should prefer that we return to Versailles.”She was tense and watchful as she began to lead us along the street, incongruous in our long skirts and bonnets. From her purse she took a compact to check her rouge and we stopped to gaze in the window of a shop.Still as we walked she used the opportunity to teach me. “Make your face impassive, Élise, and do not show your true feelings, especially if they are nerves. Don’t appear to hurry. Maintain your calm exterior. Maintain control.”The streets were thinning out now. “At the square they have carriages for hire, and we shall be there in a few moments. First, though, I have something I need to tell you. When I tell you, you must not react, you must not turn your head. Do you understand?”“Yes, Mama.”“Good. We are being followed. He has been following us since Christian’s. A man in a tall felt hat and cloak.”“Why? Why is the man following us?”“Now that, Élise, is a very good question, and that is something I intend to find out. Just keep walking.”We stopped to look into another shop window. “I do believe our shadow has disappeared,” she said thoughtfully.“Then that’s a good thing,” I replied, with all the naivety of my unburdened eight-year-old self.There was concern on her face. “No, my darling, it’s not a good thing. I liked him where I could see him. Now I have to wonder if he really has gone or, as seems more likely, he’s sped on ahead to cut us off before we can reach the square. He will expect us to use the main road. We shall fox him, Élise, by taking another route.”Taking my hand she led us off the street, first onto a narrower highway, then into a long alleyway, dark apart from a lit lantern at each end.We were halfway along when the figure stepped out of the fog in front of us. Disturbed mist billowed along the slick walls on either side of the narrow alley. And I knew Mother had made a mistake.ivHe had a thin face framed by a spill of almost pure white hair, looking like a dandyish but down-at-the-heel doctor in his long black cape and tall shabby hat, the ruff of a shirt spilling over his collar.He carried a doctor’s bag that he placed to the ground and opened with one hand, all without taking his eyes off us as he took something from it, something long and curved.Then he smiled and drew the dagger from its sheath, and it gleamed wickedly in the dark.“Stay close, Élise,” whispered Mother. “Everything’s going to be all right.”I believed her because I was an eight-year-old girl and of course I believed my mother. But also because having seen her with the wolf, I had good reason to believe her.Even so, fear nibbled at my insides.“What is your business, monsieur?” she called levelly.He made no answer.“Very well. Then we shall return to where we came from,” said Mother loudly, taking my hand and about to depart.At the alley entrance a shadow flickered and a second figure appeared in the orange glow of the lantern. It was a lamplighter; we could tell by the pole he carried. Even so, Mother stopped.“Monsieur,” she called to the lamplighter cautiously, “I wonder if I might ask you to call off this gentleman bothering us?”The lamplighter said nothing, going instead to where the lamp burned and raising his pole. Mama started, “Monsieur . . .” and I wondered why the man would be trying to light a lamp that was already lit and realized too late that the pole had a hook on the end—the hook that they used for dousing the flame of the candle inside.“Monsieur . . .”The entrance was plunged into darkness. We heard him drop his pole with a clatter and as ours eyes adjusted I could see him reach into his coat to bring something out. Another dagger. Now he, too, moved forward a step.Mother’s head swung from the lamplighter to the doctor.“What is your business, monsieur?” she asked the doctor.In reply the doctor brought his other arm to bear. With a snicking sound a second blade appeared from his wrist.“Assassin,” she said with a smile as he moved in. The lamplighter was close now too—close enough for us to see the harsh set of his mouth and his narrowed eyes. Mother jerked her head in the other direction and saw the doctor, both blades held at his side. Still he smiled. He was enjoying this—or trying to make it look as though he was.Either way, Mother was as immune to his malevolence as she was to the charms of Christian, and her next move was as graceful as a dance step. Her heels clip-clopped on the stone as she kicked out one foot, bent and drew a boot knife, all in the blink of an eye.One second we were a defenseless woman and her child trapped in a darkened passageway, the next we were not: she was a woman brandishing a knife to protect her child. A woman, who by the way she’d drawn her weapon and the way she was now poised, knew exactly what to do with the knife.The doctor’s eyes flickered. The lamplighter stopped. Both given pause for thought.She held her knife in her right hand, and I knew something was amiss because she was left-handed, and presented her shoulder to the doctor.The doctor moved forward. At the same time my mother passed her knife from her right hand to her left, and her skirts pooled as she dipped and with her right hand outflung for balance slashed her left across the front of the doctor, whose justaucorps opened just as neatly as though cut by a tailor, the fabric instantly soaked with blood.He was cut but not badly wounded. His eyes widened and he lurched backward, evidently stunned by the skill of Mother’s attack. For all his sinister act, he looked frightened, and amid my own fear I felt something else: pride and awe. Never before had I felt so protected.Still, though he had faltered he stood his ground, and as his eyes flicked to behind us, Mother twisted too late to prevent the lamplighter’s grabbing me from behind, a choking arm around my neck.“Lay down your knife, or . . .” was what the lamplighter started to say.But never finished, because half a second later, he was dead.Her speed took him by surprise—not just the speed with which she moved but the speed of her decision, that if she allowed the lamplighter to take me hostage, then all was lost. And it gave her the advantage as she swung into him, finding the space between my body and his, leading with her elbow, which with a yell she jabbed into his throat.He made a sound like boak and I felt his grip give, then saw the flash of a blade as Mother pressed home her advantage and drove her boot knife deep into his stomach, shoving him up against the alley wall and with a small grunt of effort driving the blade upward, then stepping smartly away as the front of his shirt darkened with blood and bulged with his spilling guts as he slid to the floor.Mother straightened to face a second attack from the doctor, but all we saw of him was his cloak as he turned and ran, leaving the alley and running for the street.She grabbed my arm. “Come along, Élise, before you get blood on your shoes.”vThere was blood on Mother’s coat. Apart from that there was no way of telling she’d recently seen combat.Not long after we arrived home messages were sent and the Crows bustled in with a great clacking of walking canes, huffing and puffing and talking loudly of punishing “those responsible.” Meanwhile, the staff fussed, put their hands to their throats and gossiped around corners, and Father’s face was ashen and I noticed how he seemed compelled to keep embracing us, holding us both a little too tightly and a little too long and breaking away with eyes that shone with tears.Only Mother seemed unruffled. She had the poise and authority of one who has acquitted herself well. Rightly so. Thanks to her, we had survived the attack. I wondered, did she feel as secretly thrilled as I did?I would be asked to give my account of events, she had warned me in the hired carriage on the way back to our château. In this regard I should follow her lead, support everything she said, say nothing to contradict her.And so I listened as she told versions of her story, first to Olivier, our head butler, then to my father when he arrived, and lastly to the Crows when they bustled in. And though her stories acquired greater detail in the telling, answering all questions fired at her, they all lacked one very important detail. The doctor.“You saw no hidden blade?” she was asked.“I saw nothing to identify my attackers as Assassins,” she replied, “thus I can’t assume it was the work of Assassins.”“Common street robbers are not so organized as this man seems to have been. You can’t think it a coincidence that your carriage was missing. Perhaps Jean will turn up drunk but perhaps not. Perhaps he will turn up dead. No, Madame, this has none of the hallmarks of an opportunistic crime. This was a planned attack on your person, an act of aggression by our enemies.”Eyes would flick to me. Eventually I was asked to leave the room, which I did, finding a seat in the hallway outside, listening to the voices from the chamber as they bounced off marble floors and to my ears.“Grand Master, you must realize this was the work of Assassins.”(Although to my ears, it was the work of “assassins” and so I sat there thinking, Of course it was the work of assassins, you stupid man. Or “would-be assassins” at least.)“Like my wife, I would rather not leap to any false conclusions,” replied Father.“Yet you’ve posted extra guards.”“Of course I have, man. I can’t be too careful.”“I think you know in your heart, Grand Master.”My father’s voice rose. “And what if I do? What would you have me do?”“Why, take action at once, of course.”“And would that be action to avenge my wife’s honor or action to overthrow the king?”“Either would send a message to our adversaries.”Later, the news arrived that Jean had been discovered with his throat cut. I went cold, as though somebody had opened a window. I cried. Not just for Jean but, shamefully, for myself as well. And I watched and listened as a shock descended on the house and there were tears to be heard from below stairs and the voices of the Crows were once more raised, this time in vindication.Again they were silenced by Father. When I looked out the windows, I could see men with muskets in the grounds. Around us, everybody was jumpy. Father came to embrace me time and time again—until I got so fed up I began wriggling away.vi“Élise, there’s something we have to tell you.”And this is the moment you’ve been waiting for, dear reader of this journal, whoever you are—the moment when the penny finally dropped, when I finally understood why I had been asked to keep so many vérités cachées, when I discovered why my father’s associates called him Grand Master, and when I realized what they meant by Templar and why “assassin” actually meant “Assassin.”They had called me into Father’s office and requested that chairs be gathered by the fire before asking the staff to withdraw completely. Father stood while Mother sat forward, her hands on her knees, comforting me with her eyes. I was reminded of once when I had a splinter and Mother held me and comforted me and hushed my tears while Father gripped my finger and removed the splinter.“Élise,” he began, “what we are about to say was to have waited until your tenth birthday. But events today have no doubt raised many questions in your mind, and your mother believes you are ready to be told, so . . . here we are.”I looked at Mother, who reached to take my hand, bathing me in a comforting smile.Father cleared his throat.This was it. Whatever dim ideas I’d formed about my future were about to change.“Élise,” he said, “you will one day become the French head of a secret international order that is centuries old. You, Élise de la Serre, will be a Templar Grand Master.”“Templar Grand Master?” I said, looking from Father to Mother.“Yes.”“Of France?” I said.“Yes. Presently, I hold that position. Your mother also holds a high rank within the Order. The gentlemen and Madame Levesque who visit, they too are Knights of the Order and, like us, they are committed to preserving its tenets.”I listened, not really understanding but wondering why, if all these knights were committed to the same thing, they spent every meeting shouting at one another.“What are Templars?” I asked instead.My father indicated himself and Mother, then extended his hand to include me in the circle. “We all are. We are Templars. We are members of a centuries-old secret order committed to making the world a better place.”I liked the sound of that. I liked the sound of making the world a better place. “How do you do it, Papa?”He smiled. “Ah, now, that is a very good question, Élise. Like any other large, ancient organization there are differing opinions on how best to achieve our ends. There are those who think we should violently oppose those who oppose us. Others who believe in peacefully spreading our beliefs.”“And what are they, monsieur?”He shrugged. “Our motto is, ‘May the father of understanding guide us.’ You see, what we Templars know is that despite exhortations otherwise, the people don’t want real freedom and true responsibility because these things are too great a burden to bear, and only the very strongest minds can do so.“We believe people are good but easily led toward wickedness, laziness and corruption, that they require good leaders to follow, leaders who will not exploit their negative characteristics but instead seek to celebrate the positive ones. We believe peace can be maintained this way.”I could literally feel my horizons expand as he spoke. “Do you hope to guide the people of France that way, Father?” I asked him.“Yes, Élise, yes we do.”“How?”“Well, let me ask you—how do you think?”My mind went blank. How did I think? It felt like the most difficult question I had ever been asked. I had no idea. He looked at me kindly yet I knew he expected an answer. I looked toward Mother, who squeezed my hand encouragingly, imploringly with her eyes, and I found my beliefs in words I myself had heard her speak to Mr. Weatherall and to Madame Carroll.I said, “Monsieur, I think our present monarch is corrupted beyond redemption, that his rule has poisoned the well of France and that in order for the people’s faith to be restored in the monarchy, King Louis needs to be set aside.”My answer caught him off guard and he looked startled, casting a quizzical look at Mother, who shrugged as though to say, Nothing to do with me, even though they were her words I was parroting.“I see,” he said. “Well, your mother is no doubt pleased to hear your espouse such views, Élise, for in this matter she and I are not in full agreement. Like you she believes in change. Myself, I know that that monarch is appointed by God and I believe that a corrupt monarch can be persuaded to see the error of his ways.”Another quizzical look and a shrug and I moved quickly on. “But there are other Templars, Papa?”He nodded. “Across the world, yes. There are those who serve the Order. Those who are sympathetic to our aims. However, as you and your mother discovered today, we have enemies, too. Just as we are an ancient order hoping to shape the world in our image, so there is an opposing order, one with as many adherents sensitive to their own aims. Where we hope to unburden the good-thinking people of the responsibility of choice and be their guardians, this opposing order invites chaos and gambles on anarchy by insisting man should think for himself. They advocate casting aside traditional ways of thinking that have done so much to guide humanity for thousands of years in favor of a different kind of freedom. They are known as Assassins. We believe it was Assassins who attacked you today.”“But, monsieur, I heard you say you weren’t sure . . .”“I said that purely in order to quench the warlike thirst of some of the more vocal members of our Order. It can only be Assassins who attacked you, Élise. Only they would be so bold as to kill Jean and send a man to kill the wife of the Grand Master. No doubt they hope to destabilize us. On this occasion they failed. We must make sure that if they try again, they fail again.”I nodded. “Yes, Father.”He glanced at Mother. “Now, I expect your mother’s defensive actions today came as a surprise to you?”They hadn’t. That “secret” encounter with the wolf had seen to that.
Oliver Bowden /
Penguin Group US /
Enter a world of mysticism, machinations, and murder in which the mighty and noble do whatever is necessary to protect their supremacy, where rebellion grows in the darkest streets and alleys, and where those with the power to kill have the power to change the world...
Oliver Bowden /
Penguin Adult /
Niccolò Polo, father of Marco, will finally reveal the story he has kept secret all his life - the story of Altaïr, one of the brotherhood's most extraordinary Assassins. Altaïr embarks on a formidable mission - one that takes him throughout the Holy Land and shows him the true meaning of the Assassin's Creed. To demonstrate his commitment, Altaïr must defeat nine deadly enemies, including Templar leader, Robert de Sable. Altaïr's life story is told here for the first time: a journey that will change the course of history; his ongoing battle with the Templar conspiracy; a family life that is as tragic as it is shocking; and the ultimate betrayal of an old friend.