An idea came to mind, and I berated myself for the missed chance. If I had stolen Rust Spot’s sword and shield before the libitinarii had carried them away, I, armed just as Sextus was, might have gained the top of the pons with more ease. The move was illegal, but if it had amused the crowd, I might have got away with it.
I twisted my head, searching for the libitinarii, but they were long gone. My gaze lingered next on the Gate of Death, and the fateful shapes that were Mercury and Charon. As if he had seen me, Charon hefted his hammer. My skin crawled, and I looked away.
The sun beat down on me. Both feet hurt as badly as if someone was holding a torch to them. My thick, dry tongue was stuck to the roof of my mouth. The trident felt as if it were made of lead, and the strands of the net were biting into my palm, so tight was I holding them.
‘Get up here, Midir.’
Glancing at Sextus, I wondered if I had imagined the weariness in his voice. All along, the purpose of my antics had been to tire him out against the moment when I would have to climb the ramp. Maybe it had worked.
I decided to test the theory by running almost to the end of the pons, and, with a couple of sidelong glances, judging his speed. He was slower, I was almost sure of it.
Enough to gamble your life? asked a little devil in my head.
I had no answer, and no other idea of what to do next, so I placed a foot on the ramp, as if about to ascend. I waited until Sextus came to the top. His posture seemed wary, so I put my second foot onto the ramp. He squared his shoulders, and shook his shield, as if preparing to smash its boss into my face. I took a step upward, making sure the hook of my ruse was lodging in his mouth. He shifted a little, and the tip of his sword went back and forth as he prepared to thrust.
Instead of climbing, however, I sprinted with all my might for the far end. This time, I did not look up to see how close he was behind me. I knew I was faster, and less tired. Sand arced into the air as I skidded to a halt. I threw myself onto the ramp, and went up it at top speed. When I reached the top, Sextus was only halfway along the pons. I had done it.
Done it? asked the devil in my head, laughing. You have to fight him now.
I had to move fast too, to keep what little advantage I had. I slid my feet forward, left and right, right and left. I extended my right arm, so my trident threatened Sextus. Jab, jab, I went. I lifted the net, and flicked it back and forth experimentally, looking for the chance to throw it at him.