October 15, 2011

Moon and Fire


Moon and Fire
by Patricia La Barbera

The soldiers did not bother to tie me up. They left me in the belly of the ship with many of my parents' possessions. I saw my mother's jewelry, gold bowls, and vases. The sword with the jewel-encrusted handle that my father, the king, had held to defend us lay on a pile of gold coins. Moon and Fire, my leopards, languished in a cage.

At night, I lay down next to them, and Fire reached to me, the claws of one paw curling around my hair, just like he did at home. But home was no more. The Romans killed my family as I watched. The leader of the army stopped a soldier from killing me. He pointed to my eye, which has a slit of black instead of a circle. My father had been delighted when I was born and declared that I was an oracle. I wanted to make him happy, so I learned the art of ambiguity very early. Sometimes even I believed I could see the future, but I never saw this happening. Because of my amber cat's eye, he gave me Moon and Fire when they were eight weeks old.

When the ship landed, I watched the leopards leave me on a cart after they were auctioned. They slowly became smaller as they advanced down the road, and the last of my previous life disappeared. I cried, and the soldiers told me that leopards were worth more than the daughter of a king. From that day on, I craved one more independent act.

They brought me to the Colosseum, and threw me in the dark cellar. The lions that killed the Christians and fought with the gladiators looked out of their cages at me. I don't think I imagined the look of resignation that I saw in many of them. No doubt believing I had some power over animals, the soldiers made me care for them.

Every night I dreamed of my mother's eyes and my father's laugh, how happy I had been with my five brothers and Moon and Fire. In my dreams I was still the daughter of a king. But each morning I'd awaken to scrape dung and feed the lions their victims.

For a while, some rich women of Rome visited me, a curiosity. They asked me to prophesy for them and left me with a trinket, which one of the guards always took. Rich people are fickle, though, and in time no one came to visit.

Each night I dreamed my wonderful dreams. But first, before I fell asleep, I thought about one more independent act. I was still the daughter of a king.

Time passed slowly. One day, many years from when I was captured, I knew I would die soon. The cats were roaring and restless. With arthritic fingers, I opened one of the cages and walked inside. I was old and sick, and the beasts were hungry.


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Patricia La Barbera, MFA, has had poetry and prose published in various magazines. She is also an editor. Her mystery novella is titled The Celtic Crow Murders. Ideas for her stories emerge from words, dreams, and pictures. She lives in Florida with her husband.


Cats! said...

Wonderful story, Patricia!