Titus raced down the narrow streets, sand flying from his sandals. Behind him, a dozen voices yelled in angry Egyptian, footfalls pounding after his own.
This was one more for the list of things not to do on leave. Don’t upset the local gods. Don’t stray too far from the other legionaries. And now, don’t try to cheat Egyptians at dice.
He ducked around a corner, dived through an open doorway and shut the door behind him. Hopefully they’d run on past.
The basket hanging from his hand shook, a dozen dormice quivering in terror. They’d looked so plump and tasty, it had been impossible not to push his luck. After a decade in the legion, you got a good meal when you could.
Feet ran toward the door. Wiping the sweat from his palm, Titus gripped his dagger and got ready to fight.
The footsteps slowed as they passed the door, angry shouts replaced by some sort of debate.
A purr made Titus look down. At his feet sat a black cat.
It purred louder, and looked meaningfully from Titus to the basket of mice.
“Ssh.” Titus waved a hand at the cat.
Unimpressed, it meowed loudly.
The receding footsteps hesitated, then headed back toward the door.
Silently cursing the local houses, their thin walls and their cat-tolerating household gods, Titus glanced around the room. There was nowhere to hide, but two doors leading out. Which way to go?
The cat pawed at the basket, looked up at Titus, and then scampered out the left hand door.
“Hope you know your way around.” Titus was no coward, but he’d always been more of a follower than a leader. When in doubt, it was usually best to go with someone smarter than him.
He hurried after the cat.
They ran through the house, past a pair of bemused looking children, and out into an alleyway. The angry voices followed as the cat led him down the twisting back streets, through a bustling market, and up the steps of a temple. A curtain closed behind them, and Titus looked around for a safe place to hide.
Instead he saw cats. Statues of cats. Pictures of cats. Live cats hanging from the furniture, the lamp stands and even the pair of priestesses stood by the altar.
Every pair of feline eyes looked his way. As the dormice shook with panic, every voice in the room was raised in a meow, a chorus so loud it would be heard streets away.
It was a simple shrine. A single room with a single door and no windows. Shouts approached the temple steps, blocking the only way out.
Titus drew his knife. Wanting his other hand free, he dumped the basket on the altar. The black cat looked up at him again.
“Go on then.” Reluctantly, he unlatched the basket lid. “They’re no use to me now.”
Fat felines descended on the mice, snapping with teeth and slashing with claws. They left one untouched, quivering at the foot of a cat-headed statue.
The temple curtain was flung aside and a dozen men stormed in, pointing, shouting and waving knives at Titus.
A hundred furred faces turned their way, and the temple echoed with angry hissing.
The men hesitated, staring from the cats to Titus and then back again. The man who had owned the dormice stared at the altar and shouted. As the hissing rose his companions grabbed his arms and dragged him out the door.
Titus watched them go, then turned with a sigh to see his dormouse dinner disappear in a frenzy of teeth and claws.
As his stomach rumbled, the black cat turned back and deposited a tiny rodent tail at his feet.
“Thanks for sharing.” Titus stooped and stroked the cat. Just to be on the safe side, he mumbled a prayer.
Behind the altar, a cat-headed statue purred.
* * *
This week we’re back in my Gods of Rome setting, along with a familiar black cat, and Titus, one of the characters from Ocean Gods, Roman Blades. If you like fantasy action and adventure then you can get that story for only 99c on Kindle. And if you’d like to receive stories like this one straight to your inbox every week then you can get that, along with a free e-book, by signing up to my mailing list.