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The Emperor's Horse Comes Home

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The clatter of the bolts drawing back was a Gatling-gun rattle. In their makeshift, matchbox stalls the horses stirred, uneasy with remembered fear. Even Rocco, hooves solid on the rough planking of the cattle car, felt cold sweat gather on his withers and the crest of his neck. The bay gelding next to him was tearing great chunks out of the wooden sidings with yellowed teeth, rocking his weight from hoof to hoof as if the mindless repetition would save any of them from the many and brutal deaths of war.

But the wood under their hooves did not vibrate with the thunder of the guns. No planes whined overhead. Pale sunlight, unmarked by smoke, slid through the warped shingles of the cattle car. Rocco, straining against the chain that held him to the stall, could see a station platform, soldiers with gleaming buttons and gold braided caps, a brick building with painted woodwork, a door with a plant pot - he strained - a plant pot, with two limp and straggling pink geraniums. And the air. The air smelled of....

This was not the front. This was somewhere different.

When the grooms began taking down the temporary planking, Rocco was ready.

"All out! All out!" barked the sergeant major at the door.

One by one the horses, unchained, stretched aching legs and were led down the ramp onto the platform. Rocco's ears were pricked, listening, learning, flicking between familiar jingle of artillery harnesses and the hiss of waiting steam trains. Here, shod hooves rang against a stone platform. In other places, there had been the hollow thud of wooden planking or the damp rustle of straw, and the horror of the sucking mud under it. In this place noise echoed, metallic, as if the war-weary horses and their battered train stood in some great steel cathedral unmarred by the thunder of artillery.

The quality of sound warned Rocco, but it was his nose that gave him hope. Drifting past the cattle car came, wreathed in nostalgia, a bittersweet fragrance. It was the scent of fresh-roasted coffee beans, of the sort of coffee that was served in china and came with powidlkipferl or punschkrapfen, strong, dark coffee sipped at little tables by people with time to sit and think. It was Viennese coffee.

For the General on the platform, that flask of coffee was nothing more than his due, although fresh beans were as rare as firewood in a city stripped bare by war. The General had dreamed of this moment for years - since he had been a little boy in an ancestral castle haunted by draughts and martial ancestors - the victory parade, the moment of glory before the Emperor, the chestful of campaign medals, the moustache, the statue...

The Austrians had lost the war, The Empire had collapsed. The Emperor had abdicated. There were no more statues and no more medals. But the general was resolved on his parade. The collapse of the Western Front, the German surrender, the Austrian capitulation, the sundering of the Empire - these had been nightmares of disbelief and dishonour for the Austrian armies of the East, where he had been stationed. For the General, defeat was a lie, demobilisation was an affront, and he was, Gott verdammt, due his parade. And if he had to mobilise his own train and his own soldiers to do it, well, he was not Wilhelm von Saxenstein-Klost for nothing. With satisfaction his eyes passed over the rigid lines of his honour guard, his waiting grey stallion, the flags, the trumpet major, the busy grooms harnessing up the artillery horses... He ignored the missing tiles on the station roof and the grass growing through the cracks in the platform, the old woman selling two left shoes and a handful of dried mushrooms by the unheated waiting room, the protesting station master ... and it was almost beneath his dignity to glance at the sudden disturbance at the cattle car. One of the horses must have taken fright. They were poor stock, anyway, nothing like the polished chargers of the pre-war years: that one was the scruffy bay with the scarred shoulder, spooked by something and shouldering away from the ramp. The grooms snatched at its headstall, the horse reared - and somehow, impossibly, bunched muscled straining, launched itself into a leap that seemed to float over the platform.

"Mein Gott!" muttered the General, startled.

"Scheisse!" exclaimed the groom, clutching for a lead rope already far out of reach.

"Oh," sighed the old woman, who had once seen the Emperor's horses float in the air above the raked sand of the Winterreitschule, that baroque, splendid palace built for a prince which housed, in peace, the dancing white Lipizzaners of the Spanish Riding School.

Rocco, careful with his hooves and straining every muscle, leapt from the platform. He gained the rail track, took two short, desperately accurate strides on the railway sleepers, and jumped up onto the station forecourt. Soldiers scattered. He swerved past two elderly gentlemen with venerable bowler hats, wriggled past a group of nuns, and plunged through the arches of the entrance hall. And outside - outside, he was in his own city. He could see the sky, clear and blue and empty. He could see the spires of St Stephen's Cathedral, that beloved little cathedral at the heart of Vienna - and therefore, for the people who lived there, at the heart of the world - and the proud arch of the Giant Wheel on the Prater, missing some of its carriages and boarded up but still unmistakably, wonderfully, itself. He could see the decorated onion dome of the Favouriten water tower, and the embellished cupolas of the Karlskirche. The medieval jumble of red tiled roofs, the towers, the spires - it was his own city. Even the pigeons fluttering away from his hooves, thinner and fewer than the ones he remembered, moved with the brazen wariness of city birds. Ahead of him was the Stadtpark, worn at the edges but still green, and beyond that most elegant of roads, the Ringstrasse, which would lead him to the Opera House and the arcades of the Stallburg, to the Riding School, where he and his rider had lived and trained together.

Rocco, alone, was almost home. He arched his neck, shook out his mane, and for the first time in four years, glided into an extended trot as perfectly formed as it was when he and his rider circled the pristine golden sand of the arena of the Riding School.

The Vienna of 1918 was not the Vienna Rocco had known. The guns of the Great War had never shattered the baroque frontages of the palaces along the Ringstrasse. There were no trenches in the city's parks and no shell holes in its streets. But the war had not left Vienna unmarked. Her sons had bled and died in the mud of the Eastern Front or the snow of the Alps. Her daughters were nurses and farmhands and munition workers. Her great palaces were boarded up or stripped bare and crowded with cots for the wounded: her forests had been stripped by city dwellers desperate for firewood, her rose gardens grew cabbages and potatoes, and there were few dogs and cats left within her walls. Her people, torn from all the architecture of empire, turned to the extremes of politics that offer hope to the dispossessed. Their bitterness forced out the last Habsburg ruler, Charles I, and sent him to bitter exile in Switzerland. They dreamed of enough food for everyone, and housing, and education, and many believed that these things should be achieved, not by kings and politicians, but by the rule of the people. They waved red flags in the street and quoted Tolstoy at each other in stuffy cellar meetings. Others clung to the strictures of martial law, believing that nationalism would bring back the old days of glitter and glory. The catastrophe of peace polarised the Viennese, while the war-wounded still shivered in their own minds and the cold comfort of hospital beds, and even the wealthy struggled to find food and fuel.

On the Ringstrasse, there was a hospital that had once been a palace and a long room that had once been a portrait gallery. Now, it was filled with metal cots, and young men who would never see the sun rise over Vienna again, but were learning, doggedly and with courage, to live and work and love again. Here Annika, with her plaits pinned up under the starched white cap Ellen rose early to launder and her feet in the warm and sensible shoes which had cost Professor Julius two months tuition, was snatching a glance out of the window. Annika was a very good nurse, for she would never bring anything but her whole heart to anything she did and to love the young men of her ward was easy indeed, but it was hard sometimes to love mops and swabs and bedpans no matter how grateful those young men, and the mopping and swabbing never ended. Her feet were tired, her heart sore, and it always seemed to her that although her beloved had come from the war, not all of him had come back...

"What do you see?" asked the young man in the bed.

"Flowers," said Annika. She smiled. "There's a window box on the balcony. It has tulips in it, the kind with stripes - red and yellow stripes, and the petals are just-" her hands opened "-falling. Like confetti." The stonework was dusty, the windows boarded, but the lintels still flourished with chubby cupids and bouffant ribbons, and the pale sunlight struck colour from the faded paints. "There's some people with flags...I'm not sure, could be the Decembrists again...There's a woman with a red scarf and a little white dog," she said, and leaned to see, for there were many protests but few dogs in the Vienna of 1918. "One of the kind that look like pompoms," she added.

The dog yapped, and lunged forward, the scarf tangled in the lead, the woman clung onto her hat, and around the corner, stepping out across the cobbles as if he led a parade, came a horse. He was a dusty horse, with a scar on his shoulder, too thin, as all the horses left in Vienna were too thin, but this horse carried himself as if he carried the Emperor. There was a soldier attached to his lead rope, being dragged along the cobbles like a recalcitrant lapdog, and behind him ran a couple of small boys and a small girl in a pinafore, and a little man with a very large moustache and a great many medals on his uniform, and a group of soldiers who could not seem to make up their minds if they should be marching or walking, and a man with a flag... Annika leaned out of the window.

"What is it?" asked the man in the bed next to her.

"It's a horse," said Annika, starting to smile, as the horse arched his neck and the General waved his arms. "A procession." The dog was alive all over with excitement. There was a confused patter of drums, as if people were playing two different tunes at once. And the horse - there was a familiar grace to the way the horse moved, just as if he had once been one of the Emperor's white horses, although this horse was brown.

The man in the bed said, "Well, that makes a change from protesters."

Then the horse shook his mane, so that Annika could see his intelligent dark eyes, and the sensitive curve of his nose. His coat was a rich shade of brown, the colour of chocolate, and his mane and tail were darker, while he had a tiny white star no bigger than a coin between his eyes...

"Rocco," Annika breathed, absolutely certain. "Rocco." It was like a miracle. It was like Christmas. It was like her birthday, that best of birthdays, when she had looked down onto the raked sand of the Riding School and the white horses had danced for her... "I have to go!" Annika cried, walking as fast as she could down the ward, the ribbons on her cap flying. "I have to go! Tell Matron I'm sorry!"

There were a great many protests in Vienna, in those turbulent months after the war. There were protests against the war, and protests against the peace. There were protests by the civil servants, who now had no Empire to run and no pension fund and no chance of medals or statues, and protests about the lack of food, and the closing of the schools, and the banning of rucksacks because everyone who could was stealing wood to keep themselves alive. There were protests by teachers and protests by tram drivers and protests by soldiers. There were protests by Leninists, who thought there should be an immediate revolution in Vienna, and protests by Trotskyites, who thought there should be an immediate revolution across the world, and protests by Austro-Marxists, who thought that socialism and nationalism could be combined. There were protests by the Leninists against the Marxists and the Marxists against the Trotskyites....

There were so many protests that Pauline had forgotten what she was protesting about. There was never enough food. There were not enough houses, or schools, or trams. Sometimes it seemed to her that every day there was less of everything, and the only thing that could be done was join another revolutionary committee or write another pamphlet or stitch another flag. Believing in the rule of the people and the rise of the proletariat was all very well, Pauline had began to think, but she wished the proletariat would be a little more co-operative and rise a little faster so that they could all start rebuilding and there would never be potato soup for tea again... And surely, Pauline thought, everyone actually wanted the same things? It didn't seem to her that important if it was Vienna alone among the European capitals who raised the red flag, or if every city should become socialist at the same time...

Today, though, this particular march had managed to secure the services of the Grand Revolutionary Orchestra so that they were accompanied with the rattle of the drums, none of the banners had come unstitched, and no-one had to be prompted to the words of the Internationale. All was going smoothly, until they came to the end of the Kartner and facing them, marching down the Schubertring, was another march, with different banners, and the Consort Revolutionaire with their flutes and cymbals. The clash of ideologies seemed inevitable. Pauline's march was speeding up. They were singing louder. Beside Pauline, Josef had loosened a cobble from the street...

And then, between them, came a horse. A recognisable horse. It was not white, but the arch of its neck, its powerful legs and muscled hindquarters, the grace of its carriage and the proud flag of its tail were absolutely familiar. For a moment, everyone drew back. "Do you remember..." they said to each other, thinking of birthdays and parades and the proud, handsome riders on the famous white horses of the Imperial Riding School. They sighed. Their eyes grew misty, remembering Vienna before the war...

"The Emperor's Horse!" shouted an incautious Bolshevist. "It's the Emperor's Horse!"

"We don't have an Emperor!" hissed a Trotskyite.

"We don't want an Emperor!" shouted an anarcho-communist. "Vienna for the people!"

"No more Tsars!" shouted a small gentleman from Chechnya with a very bushy moustache and a monocle.

Flags were brandished. Flutes were piped. The drummers rattled their sticks. And when everyone realised that there was a general - an old-style Austrian general with a multifold family tree and a chocolate-box castle - behind the horse, tempers flared even higher. "No recidivism!" screamed an elderly librarian. "Down with the aristocrats!" shouted a historian.

Between them, the horse, surrounded on all sides, hesitated. His ears were swiveling, trying to make sense of the noise. Pauline could see the whites of his eyes. She was not a woman who knew much about horses - it had been long years, a lifetime, since Zed and Rocco - but she knew a great deal about fear. "You're scaring him," she said quietly. And then, "Please. Be quiet!"

The horse was shivering, nostrils wide, and the soldiers behind him seemed to have got hold of some sort of net: they were advancing stealthily through the crowd...

Pauline took a firm grasp of her courage and filled her lungs. "He's the people's horse!" she shouted. "The People's Horse!"

She kept shouting, as loud as she possibly could, and beside her Josef too started to shout, and Mariella, and Herr Gaston... and then, between the banners and the drums, a very quiet and elderly gentleman slipped forward and held his hand out to the horse. He did not reach for the headstall. He let the horse sniff his open palm, and he was whispering something soothing and quiet. The horse's ears came forward. He was listening.

"Quiet there, my handsome boy," the little old man was saying. His hands, knotted with rheumatism and chapped with cold, were very gentle on the horse's nose, on his neck, on his withers... "He is a Lipizzaner," said the little old man. "One of our own. And he is going home."

"What did you say?" said the General, who was irritated and outflanked and slightly deaf. "What did you say?"

"He has the brand of the stud at Zverno." the little old man said. "Where else would he be going, but the riding school? Quiet, now. Ignore these people. We'll go home together, son, yes?"

"The People's Lipizzaner!" shouted Josef, overhearing. "Home from the war!"

But Pauline, tears stinging her eyes, had come forward to touch Rocco's soft nose. He pushed at her hand, very gently, and she thought she could see recognition in his dark eyes. "It's Rocco, isn't it?" she said. There was a kernel of joy unfurling somewhere in her middle, as if she was truly part of a fairytale. There were so many boys who did not come home, Stefan's older brothers, the Egghart's manservant Leopald... but Rocco had.

The little old man smiled at her. "Our Rocco? Roccoco Florain Devanya? I think so," he said. He put his hand on Rocco's back, but did not pick up the lead rope. "Come on, then," he said. "We'll go together."

There were very few places in Vienna where one could play a concert harp, but the grand salon of the Kistenhaus was one of them. The von Kistens themselves had long since departed, the furniture and the mirrors and lamps sold, but the acoustics remained. The sound of a single harp string rang through the whole of the space as cleanly as the snap of an icicle falling: an arpeggio was a splintered crescendo of joy... It was here, in this dusty room, where Professor Gertrude found sustenance. She had taught all through the war, grimly clinging to the music that had surrounded her city, teaching the intervals and structures that made beauty out of noise. Children, ancient choristers, pimpled recruits too young to grow moustaches and equipped with battered bugles...the Professor had taught them all, grimly contributing as best she could to the inexplicable war which had engulfed her city. But now - now! - just when every good Viennese should be turning again to the sweet melancholy of a Strauss waltz or the glissandos of Vienna's own genius, Mozart...

Internationale. The Internationale, over and over again, beaten out on saucepans without a trace of rhythm, whistled on flutes with no attention to the grace notes, hesitating and out of tune - oh, it was too much! And, unable to bear the discordance a moment longer, Professor Gertrude caught up her music case and stomped out into the street...

On the corner, where the grand avenue of the Karntner Strasse met the elegant parade of the Karntner Ring, stood the Hapsburger Museum. It was a regal building, decorated with acanthus leaved columns and lotus blossomed lintels, and if one looked at it from the outside one could be forgiven for thinking it a structure of echoing halls and golden ballrooms. But inside, generations of Viennese collectors had stuffed it with cases of puffer fish and turtles, dinosaur eggs and Javanese masks, crumbling pottery and the fragments of Ionian marble statues...and stone. Sample after sample of stone, glittering, gleaming, striated, variegated... and carved.

"And this," said Professor Emil, "is an example of an archaic Kouous." He gestured. "This rigid stance - Franz, what are you doing?"

"It's a procession, sir!" said Franz, squeezing past a cabinet with three hoplite helmets and a collection of Madagascan beetles to force open the sash window. A cloud of dust billowed from the casing, setting over five small boys and the professor.

To Professor Emil, when he considered the matter, politics were as irrelevant as a butterfly. Now the Persians, there was an Empire for you... But for a moment, he remembered Annika's face as she watched the Lipizzaners of the Riding School, and thought of these small boys, who would never thrill to the blue and gold uniforms of the Hussars as they marched through the Helden Platz.

"Well, perhaps-" Professor Emil said. But the rest of the sentence was lost to an empty room, as his class clattered out of the gallery and down the stairs. "Well," sighed Professor Emil, thinking of his unfinished notes on the tinctures of Leonardo...He glanced out of the window, already composing his introduction -

And there, down in the street, was Annika. Annika transported, her face glowing, her head bare, her plaits positively dancing, arm in arm with Pauline, a Pauline who was herself flushed and laughing. They seemed to escorting....a horse...? And were surrounded by some of those awful people who kept posting notices up on the institute doors about the oddest of meetings, although today they were waving placards and banners. There was a small group of soldiers, and a remarkably disciplined brass band composed of three soldiers in dress uniform, a number of young people in red jumpers with drums, and - was that Gertrude? Conducting?

For one horrible moment of the nostalgia Professor Emil had long since decided was useless to pursue, he wished for his stomach powders, for a restful glass of warm fresh milk and honey, for all the small luxuries of the pre-war years which had not seemed like luxuries at all at the time...and then he clapped his hat on his head, and thundered down the august marble staircase of the museum to stand with his family.

So, joyfully, with music, the procession turned into the colonnaded elegance of the Stallburg, that street of Royal Palaces, where Haydn had lived, where the Magic Flute had been performed, where the white Lipizzaners beloved of the Emperors had lived and worked. Banners flying, they sung across the cobbles, under the shadow of the intricate, extravagant dome of the Michaeltrakt, and then - then, they stopped. Not all at once, for not everyone remembered at the same time, and some of them were more reluctant to let go of that dream of Old Vienna than others...

They had come to the entrance to the palace which had once housed princes, and had then become the home of the Riding School, and there they had halted.

The gates were barred. Grass had crept under the shadow of the wood, and moss had begun to colonise the doorposts. There was a sign, but it was so faded the words were almost unreadable. "Order of the Emperor..."

The Emperor who had issued that order was long dead.

Rocco still had one hoof on the stone slabs of the entranceway, but he was standing stock-still. Not even his tail twitched, although there was a small and over-excited small dog with a limp and bedraggled red leash very near his hocks.

"We'll get you home," said the old man, who must have, once, worked behind those gates. "Someone will have a key. We will find it."

Rocco dropped his nose, gently and swiftly, on the old man's shoulder. Then he spun round, neatly as a spun coin, and stared over the roofs of the palaces, towards the small spire of St Florian's. As Viennese churches went, St Florian's was not a large church, and it had a small spire, oddly fat at the bottom and oddly spindly at the top. It was a very distinctive spire, though, and Annika, who had herself learned to recognise it from every street in her city, caught her breath.

And Rocco swished his tail, arched his neck, and strode along the Herrengasse with a gait that positively swung him down the street. His eyes had brightened. He swung past the Michaelerplatz, where long ago the Roman Legions had kept the same discipline and drills as the Hapsburg Hussiers, and the Demel Konditorei, which sold the best eclairs in all of Vienna, and the Naglergasse with its baroque frontages and sly, pink putti. By the time he got to the Keller Strasse, he was nearly trotting, eager as a colt, and it was clear only iron discipline kept the perfect form of his elegant strides and the exact placement of his hooves. Every muscle strained. His companions were nearly running to keep up, muttering, "Where is he going?" "I told you - all the Emperor's Horses are white!" "I said we should have called the guard..."

But Annika and Pauline and Professor Gertrude and Professor Emil were hurrying just as fast as they could, too, because they knew what was waiting for Rocco once he had gone up the avenue, and rounded the corner into the Brenner Square with its fountain and its statute, where long ago Ellie and Sigrid had brought the baby Annika, and the boy Zed had brought his beloved, stolen horse Rocco, where both of them had found a home.

Although the Vienna where Annika and Zed had lived was almost gone, was hidden, could be found only in shadows and faded scents. The bakery where the apprentices had brought water for Rocco and éclairs for Zed was closed, and no clouds of vanilla sugar perfumed the air in front of the plate glass windows at the cafe, through which children should have been able to see the majestic luxury of a layered Esterhazytorte, or a seductive cream-filled Kardinalschnitte. There were no little newspaper stalls, no second-hand bookstalls, no gypsy accordionist with his gentle fingers and flashing smile. No shaded tables with lingering philosophers and tiny coffee cups, no composers sending notes drifting from the garrets, no musicians trotting past the manuscript seller to exacting, daily practice. The chestnut trees under which Rocco and Zed had ridden were gone, even their stumps dug out, and so too the bench where Pauline and Stefen had once sat out all night, on the shortest and sweetest of leaves, under the tiniest sliver of the newest of moons....

"Do you think-" Pauline whispered to Annika.

"I think so," said Annika, bright with a hope so joyous she could not stop laughing. "Oh, Pauline..." And she held Pauline's hand very tightly, for surely such joy could only be shared.

And then Rocco turned the corner, and stopped.

He had been so sure.

But when he turned past the church, into the little square, so there was no-where else left to go, Rocco froze. He put his foreleg down, very carefully. He thought of the long parade of the Ringstrasses and its parks, where every tree had been stripped of branches and the soil bare of grass, the boarded up riding school and the barred door to the stables. Yet somehow, he had expected the square to be the same, and it was not. The houses seemed smaller and shabbier, slumping against each other, paint faded and windows dark. There were no flowerpots on the balconies. There was no statue, no pigeons, and only a dry bowl where there had been a fountain and goldfish. There was a church, but there were no flowering trees in the churchyard, and the clock on the tower was stopped. There was a cafe on the corner, but the windows were hidden by blinds and no little tables clustered on the pavement. The square was empty.

In that moment, Rocco came close to loosing all hope. He had fought for so long to come home. He'd been so close. But the home he had come back to was not home. And if there was no home, no rider -

But the square was not empty. A large, scruffy three-legged dog was bounding across it, barking hysterically. There was a washing line tangled around its middle, so that behind it dragged three flowered pillowcases, a tablecloth, and thirteen napkins, and behind them tumbled willy-nilly the wicker basket out of which the washing had come, while a trail of wooden clothing-pegs sprung free with every leap and bounced across the pavement. The dog was a very hairy dog, grey of muzzle and energetic of tail, and by no means discommoded by his missing leg.

And behind the hairy dog came a woman in an apron which fastened tighter than it had done before the war, hobbling in a pair of clogs that had been mended so many times they had to be padded with three pairs of socks. Her hair was tumbling about her ears, she was clutching a pillowcase and a handful of clothes-pegs, and she was muttering - for there was a baby in the little tumble-down house by the church: there was always a baby in the little tumble-down house by the church, and this one was especially vulnerable, being a refugee from Galicia -"Hector! Hector! What on earth are you doing!"

Hector had achieved such momentum that he had to utilize both bottom and tail to slow down, which is difficult to attain when your first instinct is to lick every inch of your very own horse all over, and to achieve terminal velocity with your tail, wriggling every inch of your body, and tell the whole world of the square that Rocco had come home with a fusillade, a barrage, a morning cockcrow of barking.

"Oh, Hector!" exclaimed Pauline, as Hector managed to slobber all over her fingers in passing. "You ridiculous hound!"

But to Rocco, Hector was a miracle. Because behind Hector was Ellie, stock-still now in the middle of the square with one hand over her mouth and her eyes already wet, and behind Ellie was Professor Julius, a little stooped, stumbling out of the house with his geology hammer still in his hand,, and Sigrid, even thinner than she had been before the war, and behind Sigrid came, bellying out of the kitchen, the smell of cabbage soup. But this was Vienna, and the kind of cabbage soup that came out of the professors' kitchen was made with good chicken stock and beans and the tiniest trace of butter so that the smell was warm and comforting and not at all as if there was nothing else in the pantry to cook except cabbage. And behind Sigrid - behind Sigrid, as frozen in the doorway as Rocco was in the street, crookedly balanced between a padded crutch and his white-knuckled grip on Stefan's shoulder - a Stefan who was stockier than he had been, and had a streak of white hair in his fringe, although his smile was the same and it was lighting up his face - behind Sigrid was Zed.

Rocco took a step forward. Then another one. He was trembling all over. Halfway across the square he remembered he was a Lipizzaner, and did his very best to lift up his feet and carry his head as if he was still the Emperor's Horse, as if Zed was on his back and the chandeliers were glittering and the crowd holding its breath. And all of a sudden he was that horse. He floated across the cobblestones as easily as if he had never pulled a gun carriage in his life, as if the scars on his shoulder and his hocks were as much a badge of honour as his glittering harness had been. Behind him came Annika and Pauline and Hector, the groom, the old woman from the railway station, the Trotskyites with their banner and the Leninists with theirs, three off-duty nurses and a lady doctor, two nuns, the General and half his soldiers, Professor Gertrude and her makeshift baton, Professor Emil and his students, several forcibly retired civil servants, a few refugees, a lawyer, a butcher and his wife, a psychologist with his notebook and an artist with a sketchbook, a puppeteer, a journalist...

Across the square, Jacques rushed, for the first time in weeks, to set out his cafe tables. There was a single pot of coffee grounds left, and a tin of vanilla wafers... At the bookshop, Herr Koblitz had lifted the blinds and was hastily tucking the London edition of Das Kapital into the window along with Tolstoy, Freud and Polanyi....

Rocco, at last, had come home. Very carefully, because he could see that Zed was not yet steady on his feet, he dropped his head onto Zed's shoulder. After a moment, he could hear the clatter of the crutch dropping onto the cobbles, and Zed's arms closed around his neck, holding on so tightly Rocco could feel Zed shaking. He whickered gently, but his Zed, his confident, self-assured rider, was sobbing into his mane. That was alright, Rocco thought fondly, and closed his eyes.

Everything was as it should be.