18 Janvier 1771
I send my usual good wishes and inquiries into your health, but will not waste paper or time with small-talk.
Two disturbing facts have come to my attention in the last day or so, things I feel are necessary to bring to your and the Brotherhood’s attention.
You are aware of my wife, Marie, and how I have until recently chosen not to disclose my association with the Brotherhood with her. Unfortunately I must report that this decision was in better judgment than I realized:
The short of it, my old friend, is that it would seem that Marie had ties to the Templar Order. Which sect of the Order, I cannot say, nor can I say with any certainty how deep the connection is; but upon learning about my ties to the Brotherhood (I am uncertain whether she knows I am an Assassin, this was not a conversation so much as it was a shouting-match) Marie was indescribably upset by it. She was so upset that she felt compelled to not only demand a divorce from me, but also to reveal a rather disturbing detail about our son to me before she left:
She said that she had engaged in an affair with a member of the Colonial Templar Rite, a man by the name of Shay Patrick Cormac, and is certain that Arno is not my son; she says that she lied about when she became pregnant so that I would not become suspicious, and indeed, I was completely in the dark; until she revealed this, I had been under the impression that Arno had been born a month or so earlier than he ought to have been.
I do not write you this, my friend, out of a desire to complain or weep onto your shoulder. My immediate concern is that this Shay Patrick Cormac may be aware that he has a son- I also cannot dismiss the possibility that Marie has alerted him of this fact in the wake of our divorce. He may very well also be aware by now that I am an Assassin, or at least that I have ties to the Brotherhood.
I am concerned not only for my safety and the security of the French Brotherhood, but also for Arno’s. It was a disappointment to learn that Arno is not of my blood, but nonetheless I love the child and have every desire and intention to raise him as though he were, and should Cormac come for him I feel obligated to mention that I will cut his throat and hang his body from Notre Dame.
It is with this…
That was as far as Arno got.
He dropped the letter back into the chest and backed away, towards the door of Bellec’s room.
“I’m going to be sick.”
Arno spent the next several hours stumbling down the street, aimless and not especially concerned with anything going on around him.
This is insanity.
It couldn’t be true. This had to be a parting blow from Bellec, a final ‘fuck-you, pisspot’ because Arno had opposed his plans. Charles Dorian was his father, and Marie Dorian was his mother, and she had been faithful to his father for the duration of their marriage and Arno was absolutely not the blood-son of the man who had stabbed him in the chest in Paris in 1776.
It’s not true.
Maybe, Arno considered, his mother had lied.
Maybe Marie Dorian had been so upset at learning that her husband was a member of the Assassin Brotherhood that she had chosen to throw out some hurtful lie to dig the knife in deeper before she left. If she had Templar connections, perhaps she’d simply thrown out the first name that had come to mind, and maybe it was all a terrible coincidence.
There’s no way it can be true.
And maybe his mother did have an affair; Arno had never truly known the woman, so he could hardly comment on her character- though, he thought with some small amount of discomfort, her character could not be all that strong if she could stand to be unfaithful to a man like his father. Whatever the case, if his father hadn’t been suspicious, if it was only a month’s worth of time to account for Arno’s conception, then how could Marie be so sure she was right?
I look like my father. I look like Charles Dorian.
But then… What did Shay Cormac look like? Arno didn’t know the man from Adam, and had no way of knowing whether or not he bore any resemblance to the man. For all he knew, he was the spitting image of him, and his resemblance to Charles Dorian was merely a coincidence.
Maybe that’s why he’s dead.
Arno felt nausea rising in his gut again, and for the first time in hours, he stumbled to a halt.
What if his mother had told Shay Cormac that he had a son? What if that was why Arno’s father had been killed? What if Arno had been a step away from being taken by Shay Cormac that day?
A bitter, ugly, hysterical laugh bubbled up:
Goodness, then I might have been raised by a Templar!
Arno became very aware of how badly his feet ached, how heavy his legs felt, and leaned against the side of a building.
I could be a Templar’s son.
Apart from the more obvious fact that said Templar had murdered Arno’s… Well, the man who for all intent and purpose had been Arno’s father, even if they weren’t of the same blood, Arno didn’t know why that fact bothered him so much. He had been disturbed, certainly, when he’d learned of Monsieur de la Serre and Élise’s allegiances to the Templars, but it hadn’t made him physically nauseous the way realizing that he might actually have one for a father did.
A Templar for a father.
A Templar who murdered my father might actually be my blood-father.
Never his real father. He knew who that was well enough.
She came running up to him bracing herself against the wall beside him, panting slightly. “God, I’ve looked everywhere for you.”
“That’s odd,” Arno croaked, sliding down the wall until he was sitting. “I’m quite certain I’ve been just about everywhere in Paris today.”
She fixed him with a fierce look. “That’s not funny.”
Arno’s laughter was dark and hollow. “It’s funnier than that fucking letter was.”
Élise’s anger faded into something somber. “Arno, I…” She struggled for a moment. “I know this is shocking. But is it really the end of the world?”
Later on, Arno would look back on that moment and understand that Élise had only said what she felt, and what she felt was that there were bigger and more important things to be horrified by than realizing that your father wasn’t actually your father.
But in that moment, Arno was still reeling from it all, and every ounce of energy he thought had been drained away from his long walk through the city came back in a tidal-wave of rage.
“He murdered my father!” Arno bellowed, leaping to his feet as several passers-by turned to stare. “And now I find out that he is my, my-?” He waved his hands wordlessly at Élise, trying to convey the depths of his distress and failing. “How would you feel? How would you feel, Élise?”
“I imagine it would be something similar to believing that your childhood friend had murdered your father, and I managed to endure,” Élise retorted.
She was only saying what she felt.
But she didn’t understand.
One may have many friends in their childhood, and those friendships might end for any number of reasons. But a person’s parents were not so easily replaced, and the realization that Arno was not a Dorian, that the man he had cried for at night after his death, the man who had raised him, was likely not his blood-father invoked a terrifying uncertainty in Arno: He might not be the son of Charles Dorian.
So who was he now?
“You’re right, Élise: It doesn’t matter,” Arno snapped at her, but without any sort of conviction, internal or otherwise, behind it. “It doesn’t matter at all.”
It never will.
And for a while, it didn’t.
For three years, the realization that he was very likely not Charles Dorian’s did nothing but distress Arno considerably. Nothing else about his life or situation changed as a result of it.
Other things, though… Other things changed.
There was the Revolution, the Reign of Terror, the death of King Louis and Queen Marie Antoinette, there was Arno being sacked from the Brotherhood and Robespierre and Bonaparte and Germain and, and…
…There was Élise.
Misery was becoming a grand old acquaintance of Arno’s.
He retreated to Franciade and lost himself in a bottle. Actually, he lost himself in several bottles, to such an extent that the days blended into one another and all he was aware of was the enduring sense of dread and grief. Like time, they all melted into one mass of unpleasantness that fueled his drinking binges.
Unlike the episode following his dismissal from the Brotherhood, Arno was not combative or violent in his misery this time around; he simply sat at a corner-table in the tavern he’d come to frequent and mope. The innkeeper was content to keep serving him as long as he didn’t cause trouble, and Arno kept to himself until he either passed out, or dragged himself to his room. The routine was fairly consistent.
And then one night, it wasn’t.
It was night, and Arno was deep into his cups. In fairness, he did little more than drink these days, and so getting deep into his cups wasn’t difficult in the slightest. But he’d achieved a state of near incoherency, the sort that came not terribly long before unconsciousness, and if Arno were capable of feeling much of anything at the moment, he’d be pleased.
So badly impaired was he that Arno did not notice the man who’d walked up to his table until he spoke.
“Hello, lad,” A rough voice said.
Arno looked- or rather, swayed- his head to the left.
A tall, broad man with dark, graying hair was standing near the table, arms folded behind his back. “Mind if I sit?”
Arno blinked at him, brain moving too sluggishly to process the words efficiently. “Hmm?”
After a moment, the man delicately took a seat beside him. Had Arno had any of his faculties at that moment, he might have noticed the careful distance the man placed between them, or the wary looks he gave to Arno’s arms (he wore nothing but a plain white shirt). The man sniffed, looked around, and then said, “You are Arno Dorian, correct?”
“Mm?” Arno hadn’t fully understood the question, he’d simply heard his name, and in his confusion he’d thought someone was asking for him.
The man took the agreeable hum as confirmation.
“Ah, good. That’s… That’s good.”
And for a time the man didn’t speak, and Arno, still not entirely aware of his surroundings, was content to ignore him and keep drinking. The few times his mind was capable of processing his surroundings, the man registered as only another face in a crowd that happened to be closer to him than the others.
Then, “We need to talk, lad.”
Arno had now progressed to the stage where his head became unbelievably heavy, and it was becoming harder to summon the effort to keep himself upright. He could barely hold his mug, never mind a conversation.
When he received no visible response, the man sighed. “Well, I suppose it’s as good a time as any to introduce myself: Name’s Shay Cormac. I… Think you know of me.”
The name managed to penetrate, if only somewhat. The full implications of Shay Cormac sitting beside him escaped Arno, but there was enough stress and tension attached to that name that something managed to click in his mind.
Slowly, Arno started to rise from his seat.
Shay watched him warily as he did, taking another quick glance at the usual places Arno might have kept a weapon to make sure he wasn’t armed.
Arno stood up perfectly straight for a moment, and stared at Shay with a gaze that wasn’t especially focused, but wasn’t entirely glazed either.
He took one step toward Shay.
Arno stumbled, smacked his head on the table, and passed out.
In the darkness, his dreams were tangled and confused things, fleeting images and bursts of sound and color.
But two words persisted:
When he woke next, Arno’s head was throbbing.
Thankfully, it was throbbing on a pillow instead of a table- or grass and dirt.
Aside from the lump that he could feel on the side of his head without even touching it, Arno felt strangely well-rested, which meant that he’d probably been asleep for a good, long while (all the better, since Arno had had one long hangover since coming to Franciade).
He laid quiet and still for a few minutes, pestered by the banging in his skull and trying to piece together where he was and where he’d been when he’d last been-
Arno sat bolt-upright in bed, and that was a terrible mistake: Now it felt like someone was bashing the side of his head with a hammer.
“Easy, lad, don’t overdo it.”
Arno turned and looked, and yes, the man sitting in the chair near the door was, in fact, the same man who had come to the tavern and identified himself as Shay Cormac. Even with the alcohol’s filter over his memory, the man’s build, clothing, and accent had found purchase in Arno’s mind.
The moment, the confrontation, had finally come.
And Arno was in too much pain to face it properly.
For his part, the Irishman didn’t seem especially alarmed by Arno’s waking. He was flipping through a book that Arno didn’t recognize, and judging from the way his eyes were moving, he did seem to be actually reading it instead of simply pretending to in order to lure the young Assassin into a false sense of security.
Well, he wasn’t attempting to murder Arno in cold blood- and he’d certainly had the opportunity- so that was encouraging.
“Cormac,” Arno rasped.
“You can call me Shay, if you like.” He looked up, and his expression was somewhat… Sad? “You need to go easy on the drinking, Arno,” Shay said quietly. “I’ve seen men your age pass out and choke on their own vomit. That’s a bad way to die.”
There was something about those words that ignited something hot and ugly in Arno’s gut. Later, when he’d had a chance to reflect on them, he would realize that Shay had sounded far too much like a father gently chastising his son for Arno to be even remotely comfortable with.
As such, and without enough composure to even attempt to filter his words, Arno struck back with force: “More or less so than having a blade shoved into your heart?”
Shay’s eyes shut. He closed his book, not bothering to mark the place, and let out a slow breath. “For what it’s worth to you, Arno,” He said slowly. “I am sorry that I killed your father.”
“No you’re not.”
“I do regret that I had to kill your father, but I don’t regret that I did my job, if that clarifies things any.” Shay leveled a somber, yet surprisingly non-judgmental look at Arno. “You know how it is, boy: You know it’s not always personal.”
Arno wanted to scream, wanted to throw something at Shay, wanted to get his bracer and blade and shove it right where Shay had shoved his into Charles Dorian’s chest. But at the same time, the weight of the realization that that would not solve anything at all, that Charles Dorian would still be dead and Shay Cormac would still more-likely-than-not be Arno’s blood-father, was crushing.
In truth, Arno had no idea what he wanted in that moment, aside from a pressing desire to get ragingly drunk or go back to sleep.
Eerily, Shay seemed to read his mind. “You can go back to sleep, if you want. If I meant to kill you, I would’ve already.”
Arno’s breathing was fast and shallow for a moment as he debated his retort. “You’re a Templar.”
“And you’re an Assassin,” Shay said patiently, re-opening his book. “The war rages on, but that hardly means we need to fight it right now.”
“I’ve already picked a side in that particular war, thank you.”
“’M not here to convert you, Arno,” Shay sighed, clapping the book shut again. “I’m too old to be convincing anyone of anything without the aid of something sharp, and I’ve no intention of doing that to you.”
“Then what are you here for?”
Shay looked to him again, and his gaze was pointed. “I think you already know the answer to that. But since you’re concussed and still a bit drunk, I’ll clarify: I wanted to meet you.”
Arno slumped back against the pillow, and couldn’t figure out what was more disturbing: The fact that Shay Cormac had, in fact, hunted him down under the idea that Arno was his son, or the fact that they were speaking to one another like they’d known each other for years.
Shay waited, anticipating a continuation to the conversation. When it didn’t come, he sighed again and went back to his book.
After that, silence.
What was Arno to do? He wasn’t a fool: Shay had been a Templar for at least the duration of Arno’s lifetime, which was decades more experience than Arno had as an Assassin. If he even reached for his bracer or sword, Shay would notice and stop him, and regardless of the… unusual situation in which they found themselves, he still wasn’t entirely willing to believe that Shay wouldn’t hurt him.
It wasn’t always personal, after all.
Arno watched Shay as he read. If he had to guess, Shay was probably in his fifties at least, sixties at most. His hair was graying in patches, but the rest was black. His eyes were dark brown… Roughly the same shade as Arno’s from the looks of it, but that seemed to be the end of the more obvious resemblances. Upon learning that Shay might be his father, Arno had wondered at what physical resemblances he might have to him, but he didn’t see much.
Curiosity was churning in Arno’s gut as surely as the anger and the distress was. For all of the hurt and rage he felt at Shay for killing his father, for being involved in the Templars to a much darker extent than Élise ever was, there were questions Arno had burning at the back of his throat, questions he needed answers for.
“So,” Arno muttered slowly. “How did… How did this happen?” He gestured vaguely between Shay and himself.
Shay hesitated, eyes freezing on the page he’d been reading. When he’d shut the book again and looked up, he seemed no more comfortable discussing it than Arno was. “Well,” He drawled, rolling his eyes to the ceiling. “Your mum and I-”
“Wait,” Arno cut him off, eyes squeezed shut against the images that were starting to pop up in his mind. His head hurt even worse now. “Never mind. I honestly don’t think I want to know.”
Shay shrugged. “Fair enough.”
“How did you find me?”
“Wasn’t especially difficult,” Shay said. “I was told Dorian’s son had been taken in by Francois de la Serre and went from there.” He paused. “I was an Assassin once too, boy. I can gather information just as well as you can. The end of it is that I’d found someone who’d said you’d gone to Franciade to drink your misery away after the death of Mademoiselle de la Serre.”
The entire reason for Arno’s little sabbatical came back in a rush, and the weight of that misery settled in on him like a cloud.
Shay noticed. “Seems you’ve had a run of bad luck with love, lad. I know the feeling.”
“Do you?” Arno grunted, more as a challenge than an actual question.
Shay looked away, stared at the wall with an expression Arno couldn’t decipher. Then he said, “Let’s simply say that not everyone’s reacted so well as you are to learning their father’s a Templar.”
Arno had to think about that statement for a moment or two in order to understand the full implications of it. Once he did, his eyes widened, surprise temporarily pushing the gloom aside. “Oh.”
Shay snorted. “I can’t be the first person you’ve known to engage in a bit of-”
“Of course not,” Arno snapped, blushing even harder when he recalled the Marquis de Sade and some of the absolutely blasphemous things he’d written (Arno had read some once, out of sheer curiosity, and vowed never to do so again; a Benedictine sodomizing a goat was actually one of the tamer scenarios the Marquis had come up with). “I’m just… Surprised, given… This situation.”
Shay chuckled. “I’m not the first man who’s taken women for lovers to do it either.” Another pause. “Don’t get me wrong- your mum was a gem.”
“I wouldn’t know,” Arno said flatly.
Shay winced. “Right, sorry.”
A possibility occurred to Arno just then. “Any idea where she is?” Even as he said it, Arno realized that Marie Dorian would be less willing to meet with him than Shay, given that she’d abandoned him and divorced his father just for knowing that Charles Dorian was associated with the Assassin Brotherhood; she’d probably disown Arno for becoming one of them.
But Shay shook his head. “We met last in 1774, when she dropped in to let me know that you’re my, er, son.” He stumbled over the last few words; they hadn’t come right out and acknowledged it until he’d said it out loud. “But I haven’t seen her since. She hasn’t written you? Come to visit?”
“Not a once.” It had occurred to Arno that she could very well have died of illness or some other calamity, and was indeed, as a child, easier to consider than that his mother simply hadn’t wanted him anymore (doubly painful when he considered that he wasn’t Charles’s son, but Shay’s, which might have made a difference if she’d only left because of Charles’s alliance to the Brotherhood). “I suppose my next question is what took you so long to seek me out?”
Shay’s shrug was more half-hearted now. “Templar business, mostly.” His gaze slid to meet Arno’s. “Nothing personal. How long have you known?”
“Three years, thereabouts.”
“Who told you?”
“No one. Well- My father wrote a letter to someone. He said my mother had told him.” My father. Technically Arno’s father was sitting but a few meters away.
“I imagine you didn’t react well?”
“How would you?”
Another silence endured after that, where Shay looked anywhere in the room but at Arno, and Arno tried to form the thousands of questions he knew he should be asking. Because there were so many, weren’t there? But the only ones Arno could think of were too… They were too personal. They were questions like ‘what were your parents’ names’ and ‘do you have siblings’ and ‘where were you born’. It occurred to Arno to ask why Shay had gone from being an Assassin to a Templar, but surprised himself by considering that one could just as easily become disillusioned by the Assassins as they could by the Templars, he supposed.
Still, the fact that Shay had committed to the Templar cause for twenty-plus years, knowing what the Templars had done, gave Arno pause. He was curious- rightfully so, in his own opinion- but he didn’t want to give Shay the impression that he was growing on him. When they parted, Arno may not be an Assassin (as far as the French Brotherhood was concerned) but he was not a Templar and never would be, and Shay was.
“Well, you’ve met me now,” Arno muttered. “Am I everything that you just ever dreamed of in a son?”
The old Templar gave him an odd look. “I can’t very well say, now can I? I’ve just met you. I barely know you from Adam.”
“Do you intend to know me better?” Arno asked warily.
“Not if you’d have me stay away,” Shay said calmly. “I’ll not force you. I imagine knowing what I am to you has caused you enough distress already.”
That wasn’t exactly untrue. “I won’t be a Templar,” Arno said quietly. “Even if by some circumstance I no longer find myself aligned with the Brotherhood, I won’t ever be a Templar. Not after everything I’ve seen.”
“Then you also understand that if you and I cross paths during business hours that things may get ugly?”
“That I understand too.”
Arno knew that Shay was a Templar, but in this moment, his mind (and maybe his heart as well) deceived him: The quiet, weary man in front of him did not seem especially dangerous or cold-hearted. The man in front of him, the man who had leant half of himself to Arno’s very being, did not look like he would be willing to kill Arno if they met under the wrong circumstances.
But Arno had been wrong about these things before.
“What I want,” Arno said. “Is to sleep this bloody banging in my head away. I’ll make any decisions about what I want and don’t want from you after that.”
Shay nodded. “Alright then.” He stood, lifted a back he had hung over the back of his chair, and put the book inside. “I’ve my own room at the end of the hall. I’ll be out for the rest of the day, and return in the evening. I’ll be in town for a time, so make your decision at your leisure.”
“Mhm, right.” Arno was vaguely distracted by how tall Shay was; the man was easily six feet. Why couldn’t he have gotten an extra inch from him?
Shay began to sling the bag over his shoulder, and then stopped. He turned to look at Arno. “Given how this might be one of our last benign interactions, might I impose upon you for something?”
The promise of sleep was making Arno less attentive. Without thinking, he said, “Yes, fine.”
Shay paused. After a moment, he set the bag down and hesitantly paced over to the bed. Arno’s senses sharpened more at the proximity, and he was outright nervous when Shay sat down on the bed right next to him. It occurred to Arno that this was probably why Shay had chosen to sit so far away from the bed, so as not to spook him. The old Templar met Arno’s eyes with a similar sort of nervousness.
And then, before Arno could inquire as to what this was about, Shay leaned in and engulfed him in a firm hug.
To say that Arno was surprised would be something of an understatement; indeed, the sudden, unexpected contact had sent him into a sort of shock.
“If I’d a chance to raise you,” Shay mumbled. “I’d have loved you with all that I am, Arno. And Assassins and Templars aside, I’m sorry that anything I’ve done has brought you grief or harm.”
Arno’s shock continued, but there was a deep rip that opened somewhere inside him; something raw and agonizing that screamed with every breath he took, some deep, ragged scar that had been half-sealed only to be torn open again. He might have pushed Shay away in a panic if his brain and body were in sync with one another.
If Shay was put off by the fact that Arno did not return the embrace, he gave no sign. After a long moment, he released Arno with a small, sad smile and stood up. “When you’re feeling better,” He said. “You’re welcome to come find me.”
Then he grabbed his bag and left without another word.
The shock seeped away minutes after Shay had left, but that strange inner pain persisted. Arno lowered himself further, settled in, and tried to breathe in spite of the agony that hindered him.
I’d have loved you with all that I am.
Arno was not accustomed to being hugged, or to being told that he was loved so plainly by anyone but Élise.
Not since his father- not since Charles Dorian, the man who would forever be Arno’s father, not because they were of blood, but because he had raised Arno with all of the tenderness and love required of a real father.
And now Shay, the man who might have played that role in a different life, had made it clear that he wanted to know Arno better.
Might this not be the end of Arno’s identity as the son of Charles Dorian, but the opportunity to know better what and who he had come from?
You’re welcome to come find me.
I might, Arno thought dazedly, as he pushed the uninjured side of his head into the pillow.