He was up for the fight too. Head so low behind his shield I could barely see his eyeholes, he came at me. Punch. He tried to hit me with the iron shield boss. About to try and net-catch the crest of his helmet, but forced to retreat unless I wanted ribs broken, my poor effort landed the weighted strands on the front of his shield. The lumps of lead clattered off the wood, and the net dropped.
Sextus, wily as a fox, stamped on it, with one foot and then the other. Terrified that I would lose it to him, being unable to rip it free from under his entire body weight, I went on the attack again.
With a loud cry, I raised my trident high.
Sextus’ eyes rose, following it.
Instead of aiming at his head, I changed my grip a little and rammed the trident steeply downward, at his leading foot.
The prongs missed by less than an inch.
Wary of a second strike, he shuffled back a step, and I was able – just – to whip free the net again.
Again I flung it, and this time my aim was better. Right over his helmet the net landed, the weights pulling it down on either side of him behind his shield. I wrenched as hard as I could. Catching the fish crest as I had intended, the net pulled his head towards me, and he staggered. Elated, starting to believe that I could topple him from the pons, I did it again.
I had badly misjudged Sextus’ strength and determination. Hunching his shoulders, disregarding the net draped over him, he came at me like a charging bull. It mattered not that his sword was tangled in the mesh, or that his head was trapped. Hit me hard enough with the shield, or better still, its boss, and I would go tumbling down on my arse, maybe even to the sand below. Either way, I would lose control of the net, and possibly the trident as well.
I had one choice.
Fingers tightly gripping my trident – without that, I was lost – I stepped to my right, off the pons.
I landed standing, the impact jarring my heels. My left arm was wrenched hard, and then snap, the thong attaching my wrist to the net parted.
Sextus, who had been pulled off balance by my fall, was now released by the breaking of the thong. He swayed towards me, and then away, towards me and then away, but then to my dismay, regained his balance.
Panic bubbled up in my chest. The trick I had used to reach the top of the pons might work again, but it was unlikely that the audience would approve. Rather than laugh and applaud as I ran up and down, forcing Sextus to follow, they would shout and jeer. Even if I then managed to win, they would not be happy about the way I had gone about it, exhausting my opponent rather than beating him with skill.
How Caligula might react to my continued clowning I did not want to imagine.