The year was any number, real or imaginary, and though the city had a name, it was always called something else. It was a holiday, though just what holiday, no one knew. Men and women in masks danced ignorantly across streets and bridges to joyous songs that repeated endlessly. There was laughter and food, a great deal of wine, and color, such glorious colors, on every corner.
There was also a boat in the water, a boat among all of the other boats. Small, this boat was neither painted nor gilded, nor ornamented in any way, and that made it very different indeed.
Though the crowd did not care to examine the strange boat, it was under constant observation: a cat, black with a healthy sprinkling of lone white hairs, followed the boat until it came to rest. An orphan boy, a friend of the cat, followed the animal and so was the first to see what it carried.
The orphan boy and the sprinkled cat watched, at a distance, as the occupants stepped onto dry land. The man was dressed only in black, white, and red; his female companion, only green, black, and blue. She was a blonde; his hair was black. They could have been anyone.
She, the woman, purchased a dress from a dress seller on the streets and paid in local currency. She spoke with incredible fluency. He, the man, joined the celebration in dance. He twirled between partners with perfect form. By the time she, the woman, and he, the man, met together again by their boat, word had traveled: there were strangers in their midst. Foreigners. Spies? Most likely.
The holiday crowd became a mob with the twist of a mouth, out for the blood of the invaders. Yet where to find them, the ones who spoke so convincingly, who danced so perfectly? Not with the dress seller, nor with the dancer. Gone was the boat, the man, the woman. Gone, too, was the sprinkled cat, though only one worried about that.
The violence, however, was not gone. Not, at least, until a man and woman were found. He was dressed only in green, black, and blue; she only in black, white, and red. He was a blond; her hair was the darkest brown. The dress seller and the dancer swore on their mothers' graves that these were the two. They were hung in a square for all to see. A boat, a painted and gilded boat--their boat! the mob screamed--was set ablaze and sunk with stones.
That settled, the holiday was born anew. With fresh joviality, more food was served, wine poured, and music played than even before. Within the hour, the man and the woman were forgotten together with the purpose of the new celebration. The pair on the gallows were invisible to all but the carrion and the thieves who stole flesh and gold alike. Even the executioner could not recall his last charges.
No, only the little orphan boy, the friend of the sprinkled cat, the one who could see the true spies as they cavorted drunkenly with the natives, knew to look across the water. There, lurking on the horizon, was the silhouette of a little boat, with a cat settled upon the bow. The boat was still, unmoving, and the orphan boy obligingly accepted the invitation. He turned his back on the celebration and passed the city limits. The boat was waiting, and soon, he was seated behind the woman and next to his only friend, the sprinkled cat. The cat purred and settled between them. The man pushed off, and they were sailing for the next horizon.