In a corner of Burbekka, where lines of washing fills the narrow alleys with the smell of wet dog and hungry children play on cracked steps, there lives an old man with a scar across his eye.
His house is the one crushed between the old Wassemeijer building and the city wall. A small house, with a grey blanket serving as a door and white porcelain cat on the steps leading up to it.
The old man had found the porcelain cat on the dump near Williamson Street. The cat’s name is Smith.
In the morning, before the sun rises, the old man and Barnaby sits on the porch. They don’t talk. Smith, because porcelain cats are even less given to mindless chatter than their real life counterparts, and the old man because he has much to think about.
He drinks his morning tea, smokes a cigarette he begged from a soldier yesterday, and thinks.
Sometimes, on the city wall, he hears the guards go by. They come in drips and drags, sometimes on the hour, sometimes on the quarter, in groups of three and two and five. In his day, such a lack of discipline would have been severely punished.
For a moment, his fingers tighten on his mug, but he forces himself to relax. To take a long drag from the cigarette. His days are long gone and misty. They should stay that way.
That specific morning, as a group of rowdy soldiers pass on the wall, the old man hears the sound of hooves in the street.
Through the dense fog of the early morning, a large black animal comes into sight.
The man on his back sits very tall, the plume on his helmet a deep red. A row of bells tinkle on his horse’s bridle.
The old man stands up slowly.
“The Vircingeri are readying for war,” the man says. “We need you, your majesty.”
The old man looks at Smith, and at has half-empty teacup, and sighs.