This is the prologue to a story that's been stewing in my head for more than two years now. I haven't written any more than this and I expect that it will continue to stew in my head for quite a while yet.
The moon shone down icy bright over the city of London that night, its pale, cold glow bathing the buildings and streets in a blanket of pearly-white light. A wet mist hung over the entire city, clouding lights, muffling sound, and covering every surface with a thin coating of dewy water droplets.
It was nearing midnight, the busy sounds of the city gone, replaced by the more nocturnal sounds of the wind down empty streets and stray dogs nosing around for scraps of food in narrow alleyways. Cats hissed and fought each other in the distance, and the small flutter and shrill squeak of bats could occasionally be heard as they swooped down from attics and church steeples in their nightly search for food.
Somewhere, there was a steady tapping sound, as though someone were hitting a stick against a rock, and the sound bounced down between the walls of the close buildings. It did not seem out of place, but rather as though it were meant to be, keeping all of the other noises in tempo.
Down a long, dark street, a shadow stirred and there was a gentle clicking of worn boots against the ground. A moment later, the source of the tapping was revealed as a figure emerged from between the buildings and into the fey moonlight.
The man was a poor, blind beggar who was known to everyone around simply as Old Rook. He was poorly clad, as one would expect a beggar to be, his hair untidy, long, and silver with age. His skin was rough and wrinkled, his brow furrowed by many years and trying times, but a faint smile still hovered about his lips, not quite happy, but bittersweet. Rook’s eyes stared blindly and unblinkingly into the dense fogbanks, but he navigated his way with surprising ease, his feet taking him on paths that he had worn nearly as much as he had his boots. He carried a slight, wooden cane with him that he used not so much for direction, but to tap rhythmically against the ground, conducting the symphony of night sounds all around him.
Old Rook the beggar wandered through the still, but not-so-silent city, adding the sound of his own footsteps to the familiar nighttime noises. He wiped away a few drops of condensation that had formed on his forehead and hitched up the tattered leather bag that he carried on his shoulder as he turned a corner onto a broad cobblestone street.
Suddenly the tapping stopped and Rook froze. He cocked his head to the side like a squirrel that has detected a nearby predator and listened, his sightless eyes closed and his face lined with concentration. Here was a noise that did not belong to the usual nightly harmony. A sharp, but quiet sound, high-pitched, desperate, yet peaceful — the cry of a baby.
It came from around a bend not too far away and Rook started toward it, cane outstretched, ears listening intently.
On the street corner in a pool of liquid white moonlight was a small bundle wrapped in soft cloth, the quiet, gurgling cries emanating from it. A curious dog had ambled over and was sniffing and nuzzling the bundle with its wet, black nose. It’s ears pricked up and it gave a small yip as Rook drew near.
“Shoo, shoo,” said Rook quietly to the dog, waving his hand in its general direction for it to go away. The dog took no notice and merely looked hopefully up at Rook, panting loudly, tail wagging fast.
“I haven’t got any food,” said Rook. “I scarce get enough for myself, never mind the likes of you. You might as well clear out. Go on, shoo, shoo!”
The dog made no move to go away, but Rook gave up trying to negotiate with it and instead bent down and felt around on the ground until his hand came across the small bundle. He picked it up in his rough, dirty hands and held in up to his face. He could not see it, but he could tell what it was from the smooth, incredibly soft skin; from the whimpering cries and the tiny hand that reached up to grasp Rook’s thumb.
The beggar’s face broke into a broad smile and he caressed the infant’s head with his gnarled old hands.
“What are you doing out here all alone, eh?” Rook whispered, stroking the baby child’s short hair, feeling the face he couldn’t see with his callused fingers. “This isn’t a fit place to be for one so young as you.”
The baby kept on crying.
“Sh, shh. It’s alright now,” said Rook softly. “It’s alright.”
Under Rook’s quiet assurances and his gentle rocking, the little baby was pacified. It’s wails settled to a soft cooing and the night was still and silent again.
As Rook rocked the baby in his arms, humming quietly, something fell from the blanket that swaddled it and fluttered to the cobblestones. Holding the child carefully in one arm, Rook stooped and retrieved the fallen item.
It was a slip of paper, wrinkled and damp from the moist air. Rook felt it with his hands. The old beggar could not read it, but he knew what it meant. This newborn child had been abandoned. It had been left by a parent who did not want it or could not take care of it. Rook held the infant close, comforting it from what it did not yet know, lamenting in what it could not yet grieve.
“You poor child,” whispered the old man, "left for doing nothing more than what you couldn’t help — for merely existing.”
Rook held the baby to his chest with one hand, while he picked up his cane once again with the other. He tapped it against the ground, slowly, quietly as he could, so he would not wake the baby that was drifting off to sleep against his shoulder. Like a tattered wraith, he set off through the dark city. The dog followed, tail wagging.
He walked for some while, still holding the baby and listening to the noises that echoed all about him. Somewhere, distantly, a clock announced the arrival of the midnight hour with chiming shouts as Rook turned onto a shabby street where the buildings were so close together they blocked out the moonlight. He walked down the street until he came to a particularly ramshackle hut made of old wood and an odd assortment of this and that. He pushed aside the door, which was made from a torn and dirty blanket, and stepped into the shack’s cramped interior.
Rook set the baby down on his cot and then sat down on the only other piece of furniture in the room: a three-legged stool. Rook stared at the infant with unseeing eyes. This was where the child would live for the first years of his life, though Rook didn’t know it at the time. This abandoned child would be loved by someone similarly abandoned.