REPORT A PROBLEM
The white lines slice into my brain. The icy blue fog spreads in every direction. I can sense the earth moving up towards me, something forcing it to be real, or rather, to be real again.
I see a meadow, daisies scattered liberally among long grass, overlooking a small village. Christ, it looks like something from the Stone Age. You don't see this sort of thing in London! That's the last place I can recall before... this.
I become aware of a tree behind me. Craning my neck, I see ripe, juicy apples growing from the branches.
Arlette Ward, 1555, England
I know I'm climbing the tree before I conciously decide to. My eyes are fixed on the fruit it bears. My feet know the quickest footholds, have I climbed this tree before? It certainly feels like it.
My gaze focuses on the biggest apple, nearly fifteen feet above me, a great length for a seven year old, but I'm hungry, and we won't eat for hours.
I have the apple! Nothing can hold back the hungry. Papa always says that, and he always says that many people in England are hungry. I do not understand him.
It's not as easy climbing down. I never worry when I can see what I'm climbing, but I have to feel my way down with my feet. I know a fall from this height would hurt.
Nervously, I descend, my heart slowing greatly as I reach the grass.
I sit against the tree and examine my prize. Lifting the apple into the weak sunlight, I admire the way the light glints off the red surface. It's not long before the temptation gets the better of me.
I gnaw away at the apple, quickly reducing the fruit to a barren core.
I wander back to the village, with nothing to do for nearly the entire day. Papa has "momentarily suspended my lessons while he attends to other business". I really don't mind. I tell him learning Latin is completely useless before almost every lesson, but he just gets this strange smile and tells me it will serve a purpose one day.
As I cross the bridge leading into the village, I see a small group of protestant boys. The Queen doesn't like protestants, but I don't understand why.
Though we don't share a faith, I sense they will not harm me.
As I make towards our house, Papa comes sprinting into view. His clothes are torn and his hair ruffled. Without a word, he scoops me up in his hands and continues on.
I can see the fear in his eyes as he runs. His red scarf brushes onto my face as he runs and I sweep it away. It falls to the cobblestones like a leaf in autumn. An occasional glance over his shoulder determines his pace.
We round a corner, my father's pace increasing as he spots the local stable. He's breathing heavily now and his hands are shaking.
Papa hoists me onto a brown horse. With no idea what's going on, I ask if we're going for a ride.
"Something like that." He laughs as he clambers up behind me.
He untethers the horse, pulling up his hood as he does so.
Papa spurs the horse to go as fast as it can carry us, galloping through the streets. I scream, we can't go this fast without hurting someone! Papa snaps at me, telling me to keep quiet.
We leave the village, heading west on an old road. I ask Papa where we are going. He doesn't know.
We have settled at long last, in London. It's the biggest city I've ever seen! Papa's cousin owns a shipping business in the city. There will be work enough for a man with his education, and we shall finally be safe. I still do not understand from who.
I'm just glad we have a place to live. Three years on the roads, more than a quarter of my life! We moved from town to town, never staying more than a month in one place.
Papa looks like he's aged about thirty years in the last three.
Today is an important day.
It's my twelfth birthday, and the new queen was crowned today. Mary's reign is truly over now!
As a treat, Papa took me to see the procession. We waited outside Westminster Abbey for hours, part of the largest crowd I've ever seen.
We saw the royal carriage, with Elizabeth inside, I even saw her, adorned in more jewels than everyone in the crowd put together, probably. She was under heavy guard. Why, I wonder? Who would want to harm our new Queen?
Papa decided we should leave not long after that.
Father would kill me if he could see me now, but for all he knows, I'm sound asleep at home.
I've been fascinated with Westminster Abbey, ever since I saw the coronation here, and now, scrabbling about on the rooftop, I gain a new appreciation for it.
At two hundred feet high, I know what a fall would do to me, but I have enough confidence in my climbing skills to risk it.
The view was worth it. All of London looks like nothing more than a cloth spread across a dining table from this height.
I am awakened by a crash downstairs, and a pained scream. I'm frightened. Do I even want to know what's down there?
I get out of bed, the cool august air comforting, but not enough to take my mind off the noise downstairs.
I move down the stairs, quietly.
I see my father, face down, dressed in a half-familiar white garb.
"Father?" I ask nervously, trying to turn him over. He's very warm to the touch, and seems to be stirring.
I notice his torn sleeve, blood flowing freely from it, pooling on the flags.
I try, almost in vain, to lift my father. The best I'm able to do is drag him to the kitchen, and lift him to a chair, propping his body up.
I notice the red snailtrail, practically glowing against the cool blue of the kitchen.
He's lost an awful lot of blood. I'm no doctor, but I know I have to do something about his arm. The torn sleeve comes off easily, and I shred it into strips, soaking them in a bucket of water.
I swab the deep cut spanning most of Father's arm. There is too much blood.
I need to stop the bleeding. From some forgotten corner of my mind comes the procedure. A tourniquet will shut off the blood flow. I reach for my father's belt.
I pause a moment. The belt is unfamiliar, adorned with a sharp, oversized silver buckle resembling the letter A. Unusual, but barely moreso than the hooded white garment he wears now.
I deftly remove the belt, tightening it around his shoulder. It seems to be working!
I wipe his forehead with another of the damp rags, attempting to bring him back to the land of the living. His eyes flutter.
"What?" Father spits the word out weakly. From the looks of him, it caused him more pain than whatever mangled his arm.
"Don't speak." I tell him.
"Arlette, get to your uncle's warehouse, have them send for me." He says.
"I can't leave you. You'll die in this state!"
"Do you think you can treat my wound?" He counters "I'll die here, with you here or not!"
He has a point. I kiss his forehead and hand him a rag.
"I'll be five minutes." I promise him, before dashing for the door. It's a ten minute run to the warehouse.
I run faster than I've ever ran. The streets are obviously deserted, save for the substantial criminal element of London. I'm too fast for them anyway. They couldn't touch me if they wanted to!
As I sprint, jump and climb across London, a single doubt gnaws at my mind. Why did Father send me to his cousin's warehouse? It's hours before dawn. Why would anyone be there? I pray to whatever god there is that I'm not abandoning my father to act out a delirious command.
I arrive at the warehouse, barely enough energy left to rap on the door.
Straining my ears, I hear voices from behind the door. Thank God!
The door cracks open just an inch, and a pair of eyes look out, before the door swings open and I'm pulled in.
My uncle Walter stands before me, his bushy black beard and sharp eyes poking out of white robes similar to the ones I found Father wearing.
"What are you doing here lass?" Walter asks,"Did Thomas send you?".
"Yes." I pant, almost doubling over. "I found him near dead in our house. He told me to get you."
The colour seeps out of him quickly.
"Matthew, William! Get over here!" Walter calls, summoning two men, also dressed in white, to his side.
"Do you know Markham Street?" He asks.
"Yes sir." The younger of the pair nods.
"Tom lives at No. 97. He's there now, and dying, by all accounts. Get over there and do what you can for him. As soon as you think he'll survive the journey, bring him back here." Walter orders. They leave as quickly as I arrived.
"What's going on here?" I ask. I need answers.
Walter smiles, puts an arm around me and guides me off into a corridor.
We enter his office, a sparse room, nothing but a desk, two chairs, and more bottles than a brewery.
Walter fills a glass with light brown liquid and sets it before me.
"Whisky." He says "Drink up. Believe me, you're certain to need it."
I do as he says, he joins me, taking a large swig straight from the bottle. He licks his lips and sets the bottle down, keeping it within arm's reach.
"Right, answers. Where do we begin?"
"Why was my father lying in a pool of his own blood, for a start?"
"He's an Assassin."
"He's an Assassin. We all are here. Fuck, you are too, if only by blood." Walter continues, clearly enjoying himself. "And by Assassin, I don't mean common cutthroat. Assassins kill to protect the masses from those who would threaten their free will, and believe me, those people exist. Mostly in the form of the Knights Templar, a lovely little underground order that want to unite humanity by enslaving them." He pauses in his ravings to take another glug of whisky. "You see, it's been going on since the dawn of man. Two orders, locked in combat!"
"You are mad, Walter."
"Sometimes I think I must be mad to continue with this, but I assure you, I'm not." Walter tells me slowly "I have books, documents, that prove it all."
"A madman can still write a book." I retort, not sure what to believe.
"That's not enough to prove it, eh? How's this: You sometimes see things through a blue sheen, see things more clearly than others, see things that aren't quite there. But when you talk to others about it, they don't have a clue what you mean." Walter smirks, judging from my open mouth that he's touched on something.
"How did you know that?" I ask.
"We all see it. It's an ancestral talent, a gift of the blood." Walter says.
There's a lull in the conversation, neither of us really knowing what to say, before we hear a familiar voice calling to us from the front door of the warehouse. Walter's men have returned with Father!
I rush out to meet them. The two men carry Father's unconscious body between them, as carefully as they can.
"We'd do well to get him in a bed" The younger man, Matthew tells me "I'll take care of him, I promise."
I stay with the Assassin's as they take my father to a bed and tend him. I'm assured he will survive, but he remains stuck in a slumber, halfway between life and death. Matthew tells me all we can do is watch him, he'll either deteriorate or wake up.
Walter tells me that I should sleep here, at least for tonight. Father was wounded confronting a pair of suspected Templars, and Walter seems convinced they would have the skill to trail him back to our house as he fled. I don't complain. I'm just glad Father has survived the night.
Walter leads me to a room in the back of the warehouse, with a small bed and a heavy oak desk.
"Here." Walter says, handing me a very thin book "Get some sleep first, but you might like to read this. It's concerning our order."
Walter turns to leave, but I catch his arm.
"I want to help you and Father." I say bluntly "Train me to be one of you."
Walter is silent for the briefest of moments, before replying,
"I was hoping you'd say that, we need the extra hands. See me in the morning and we'll begin."
I could never sleep after all this. Luckily, I don't have to. By the light of a lone candle, Walter's short book reveals a lot of information, pertaining to the history of the Assassin's order. The more I read, and the more I reflect, the more sense it all makes. The way Father often disappeared into the night, offering little in the way of excuses, the faint childhood memories of him wearing the same white robes I saw tonight.
I've poured over the thin tome twice by the time dawn's. I rise from the bed and blow out the candle.
As I venture out into the warehouse, seeking Walter, it dawns on me how this entire building must be used more for housing a few Assassins than it is for the actual shipping of goods.
I hunt around for Walter, not taking long for me to detect him.
He greets me with a nod and a smile. He seems calmer, and altogether much more sober than last night.
"Are you ready to begin?" Walter asks. I nod back. "Excellent. Catch!" He says, throwing me a wooden training sword. I deftly catch it. He lifts his own and charges at me.
Walter helps me up off the floor.
"Do you know what your chief mistake was there, lass?" He asks, resting his mock longsword point first on the ground.
"No." I sigh.
"You let yourself get knocked over."
"Thanks. I'll try not to do that again."
I catch my breath as quickly as possible and we resume my training.
"Look, stand like this." Walter instructs, moving his feet further apart than his normal stance. I mirror him.
Over the next couple of weeks, we spend dozens of hours training until i gain an elementary understanding of how to wield a sword.
Father returned home with me today.
Walter and I had made sure to verify it was safe beforehand. We inspected the house, under scrutiny it appears undisturbed. Sweeping the streets and rooftops nearby revealed no watchers.
The wounds my father sustained earlier this month were by no means fatal, but his arm will likely never recover to it's former strength and quickness. We both know he'll never fight again, but neither of us would ever admit it.
I'm glad to be back in my own bed, but my instruction with Walter is still far from over.
When I arrived at the warehouse, Matthew passed me a note from my uncle.
As part of my training, I was to head to the North Gate of London Bridge. Once there, I was tasked with traversing the bridge, to meet Walter at the Stone Gateway, the southern end of the bridge.
The note also mentioned Walter had hired several mercenaries, who would be spread across the bridge. Walter had told them to stop a woman of my description.
Initially, I was skeptical I could learn anything from such a strange task. I soon learned otherwise.
Reaching the Northern Gate, I paused to consider my task.
I was to somehow traverse the bridge, without the mercenaries spotting me. I mentally parsed through my options.
I could simply swim, though, I would not jump into the Thames were I on fire, and climbing the bridge would draw too much attention.
Luckily, men searching for someone are, ironically, easy to spot themselves. I spied a mercenary not too far from me, his eyes scanning the bridge. I noticed his tendecy to pass over the larger crowds.
I attached myself, lamprey-like, to a crowd and began to move.
There was a certain knack to it. Nodding your head to a conversation you had no part in, quietly laughing at jests not meant for you.
I smiled as I passed a mercenary unnoticed, and another! I was almost as good as invisible.
London Bridge is nearly a thousand strides across, but I passed it unopposed, arriving at the Stone Gateway in good time.
Only when I saw Walter did I remember the grim function and reputation that this place bore.
My uncle leant on a wall, staring grimly at one of over a dozen human heads mounted on pikes.
"Anyone you knew?" I ask tactlessly as Walter looks at a dead man's head.
"Yes, in fact." Walter leads me to a pedestrian alcove, where we seat ourselves. "He was a nobleman, a friend of our order."
I apologize. He tells me it doesn't matter, and we begin to discuss today's exercise. He is impressed, he tells me.
"I have something for you." He tells me, taking a small wooden box from his bag.
He opens the box to reveal a bracer, complete with retractable blade. It bears the silver symbol of the Order. I will bear it with pride.
The preceding months have focused most heavily on combat training. Swords, daggers, crossbows. Walter has taught me how to kill a man silently with the hidden blade, and disappear into the crowd, though I have yet to put it, or any of my new skills into practice yet.
Today, he teaches me the art of the throwing knife.
I have practiced on a bullseye, moved to different distances and elevations. Walter on occasion swings the bullseye from a rope slung over the rafters, giving me a moving target.
Walter tells me my training is nearing completion.
The Tip Jar