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Children of the Goddess

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The sound of drums, raised voices and the ring of metal rose from the valley. The young warrior stood on the ridge and watched the battle below. His horse, Bucephalus, snorted and pawed the ground.

“Easy,” he whispered.

Alexander had come to Egypt seeking an ally against D’roosh. The country’s borders had not been violated in several generations. When Persia attacked, they had been repelled.  

 He wanted to learn why their borders were so secure. Perhaps the Egyptians had tactics he could use.

Even knowing it would be a suicide mission, several hundred of his soldiers had volunteered to attack what appeared to be a weak area of the border. The small garrison had responded, and even outnumbered, the Egyptians were turning his forces back.

The Egyptian chariots created large clouds of dust, making it difficult to see exactly what was occurring. The mounted warriors and some sort of war dog wove through the chaos of the battle.

Alexander squinted, trying to get a clear look at the animals. They were larger than the dogs he had seen used by other armies and their movements were smoother, more acrobatic and nimble than most canines.

Finally, the dust began to clear as his troops retreated and the Egyptians allowed them to leave. There standing in guard positions in front of the chariots were the animals. Easily half the size of the horses with long front legs and sloping backs.

These weren’t war dogs. They were cats! The Egyptians were using cats as part of their army! Perhaps this was the answer he’d been seeking. He would have to learn more about these creatures.

~ * ~

With only a small escort, Alexander approached the Egyptian garrison. Two of his lieutenants stood with the chest of gold and gems he brought with him as recompense for the attack. He intended to explain it away as a group of bored soldiers, offer the gold as an apology and assure the commander the troops who survived would be disciplined.

     He waited at the gates, wanting to give no impression of hostility. It was a short wait, a single person came out to greet him.

“Life and prosperity.” The young man bowed slightly.

“I wish to speak to the commander of this garrison,” Alexander said. “I understand there was an incident two days ago with some of my troops. I have come to offer apologies for their misdeeds.” He inclined his head slightly.

The young man nodded. “Follow me.”

Alexander motioned for the two to bring the chest.

He followed his guide into the stone garrison. The main doors were flanked by statues of Sekhmet, one of two cat goddesses of the Egyptians. He paused to look up at the image. He had previously seen Sekhmet portrayed with the head of a lion. The heads of these figures reminded him more of a leopard or tiger. The two long teeth extending to the bottom of the jaw shocked him.

Scimitar cats? he wondered. He had heard of the elusive predators, had even hoped to hunt one. The idea of Egyptians training them to serve as part of their army caught him by surprise. If this was true, it explained how they had been able to defend their border.

Alexander shivered as the much cooler inside air chilled him. Torches along the wall illuminated the painted hieroglyphics and pictures that told the story of this outpost. Prominent among the images were the scimitar cats and the goddess Sekhmet.

“You are the person known as Alexander of Macedonia?”

He nodded to the garrison commander standing at the head of the long table. Behind the man lounged two of the scimitar cats. The intelligence he saw in their brown eyes unnerved him.

“I am.” Alexander bowed slightly. His battle gear made it difficult and he hoped the other understood the respectful gesture.

“Please, have a seat and refresh yourself. I am Sutekh, cousin to the Pharaoh and commander of this outpost.” He gestured to the water and food on the table.

“First, I come to offer an apology for the misdeeds of some of my soldiers. I want to assure you they were not acting on my orders, but instead were acting on their own.” He motioned to his lieutenants to bring the chest forward.

The commander only nodded as they opened the lid. The gold and gems shimmered in the torch light. “Your apology is appreciated. I too have dealt with bored soldiers who went looking for something to do, so I understand. That you came in person speaks to your honor as a military commander. Please, sit and refresh yourself as I am sure your journey was tiring.”

Alexander nodded to his lieutenants, who also took seats at the table. The glass of water was just cool enough to be pleasant and the meats and nuts still fresh.

He glanced again at the cats and frowned slightly as they stood, turned their backs, and left the room. He wasn’t sure whether to be relieved they had left, or insulted.

“The cats are a gift from Sekhmet.” Sutekh paused and looked directly at Alexander. “We will be preparing for Her festival in three days. I invite you and your officers to join us. Sekhmet is the defender, the destroyer and render.” He made a gesture with his hand. “While we appreciate her power and ferociousness in battle, we also seek to placate her chaos and destructive nature when we are not at war.”

Alexander shook his head. “I will be fighting in Persia soon. Placating the battle lust seems counterproductive.”

“Ah, but by honoring Her, you may also gain Her favor in your battles.” He reached out to scratch the ears of a scimitar cat who had sauntered up sit next to his chair. “It is said you have taken time to honor the various gods of the lands you have conquered or liberated. While Egypt is not one of those, what harm could there be in showing respect to our gods?”

“You speak as one who should sit on a throne.” Alexander raised his glass. “You speak with wisdom and I will gladly accept your invitation. My officers and I will join you to honor Sekhmet.”

Sutekh stood, the cat rubbing against his leg. “You and your officers will be welcomed.”