Of more immediate concern, a real threat to my life, was the fact that I no longer had the net. Still wrapped up in it, but out of my reach and therefore able to extricate himself, Sextus was already halfway towards getting it off. I had to act, and fast. Once he succeeded, and either sliced the net to ribbons, or just kept it from my reach, I was done. I could never take him off the pons with only a trident.
I reached up and stabbed at one of his feet, too fast. I missed, and the prongs drove deep into timber. Cursing myself for a fool, I pulled and heaved, and in no time at all had freed it. Sextus had not been idle, however. He was doing a quick backwards shuffle, sliding each foot one after another along the wood. His sword was jammed into an armpit so that he had a hand to lift off the still-encumbering net.
I chased after, aware that now, if ever, was my chance.
Stab. I had another go at spiking him. I missed, but I did not care, for I saw how scared he was of being hurt. Faster went his shuffle, and his attempt to remove the net stalled. I increased my speed and taking greater care, thrust again. Only one of the prongs sank home, and not deeply, but the barb at its end caught hold. Savagely, I pulled backwards, ripping it out of Sextus’ flesh.
He tried not to scream, but there was no missing the agony in the groan that came from under his helmet. Eager to finish him, I stabbed again and missed.
Heave. Sextus pulled the net up and over the fish crest, and the weight of it came into play, dragging it down and over the front of his shield. It fell, folds draping over both sides of the planking – within my reach. He did not try to pick it up, for that would have allowed me another attempt to stick him in the foot again, but instead beat a hasty retreat along the pons.
Seeing the trail of blood spots he left, the crowd roared.
‘The retiarius will win now!’ I heard a voice cry.
My spirits lifted a fraction.
‘Are you mad?’ came a loud retort. ‘That runt will never beat the murmillo.’
Grabbing at the net, which fell neatly into my grasp, I loped after Sextus. This time as I drew near, however, he was ready. Fierce thrusts of his sword kept me from drawing close. It did not matter, however, for my trident’s reach was greater. Slow, precise, I reached forward and stuck him. All three prongs went in, nice and deep.
Into his uninjured foot.
With gut-fierce pleasure, I wrenched my arm back, and let the barbs do their work.
Blood misted the air. It coated the sand before me.
This time, Sextus could not stop himself from roaring with pain.