Day of the Caesars by Simon Scarrow

Day of the Caesars by Simon Scarrow

Author:Simon Scarrow
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Headline
Published: 2017-10-12T09:50:11+00:00

Chapter Twenty-Two

The crash and roar of falling masonry woke Cato, and he sat up with a start, head thick with sleep and a dull ache. He yawned and took a deep breath, and instantly began coughing as an acrid sensation burned his gullet. The room was dark, but a rosy hue glimmered around the thick woollen hanging covering the small window that overlooked the square. At once the drowsiness fell away, and Cato covered his mouth as he rose from his bedroll and crossed the room, tripping over his boots and bundled cloak and barely managing to remain on his feet. Now his eyes were smarting, and he narrowed them as he reached for the makeshift curtain with his spare hand and drew it aside. A bright red glare flowed into the room along with a blast of hot air, and he recoiled. Now he could see the thin trails of smoke curling in under the door.

‘Oh shit,’ he muttered. He snatched up his cloak, sword belt and boots, and then hesitated. In the corner of the room was the bucket of water he paid for daily. He picked it up, with the cloak resting over his arm.

Moving to the door, he lifted the latch and cautiously opened it. The landing was thick with smoke, and as he hurried to the top of the stairs, he could see a lurid glow below. The doors of two of the other apartments were open. The heat rising up towards him was stifling. He started heading down, but got no further than the floor below before he was forced to stop. Here there were more open doors, and he ducked into the nearest to escape the fierce heat.

There was only one room, and three bedrolls took up most of the floor space, together with a small chest, lying open with what remained of the occupants’ valuables still inside. Cato glimpsed a crudely carved figure of a gladiator. On the other side of the room was a large shuttered window, and he rushed over and opened it. Smoke billowed past, lit from beneath. A small, rickety-looking balcony looked out over the square, and he carefully stepped out on to the narrow strip of boarding. The main blaze was to his right, and as he craned his neck, he saw that most of the heart of the building had already collapsed, spilling burning timbers into the square, along with bricks and chunks of plaster. The fire had spread to the adjacent tenement blocks. A crowd of onlookers stood at a distance, their faces lit up by the flames as they watched in horrified awe.

‘Look!’ a voice cried out. ‘There’s still people inside!’

The gasp of the crowd was audible even above the roar of the flames, but no one moved to help. Cato did not blame them. What could they do to save him? He must look to himself. The balcony was almost fifty feet above the street and he dared not let himself drop that far.


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