He ducked, trying to avoid the net, and pulled back his leg.
Awkward, because both arms were held out in front of me, I powered forward, straight at him. Terrified in case he reached up and slid his blade into my side, I half turned, and managed to batter my left shoulder into his shield. The twisting movement dragged on my net, which had fallen over his helmet. That pulled Sextus’ head forward a fraction, so his eyeholes were directed below the rim of his shield.
Off balance, momentarily unable to see, he staggered back a step. His right arm came up, flailing. Air moved close to my left hip as he swept his blade up and down, blind, desperate to find my flesh.
I dropped my trident and let go of the net – it was time to gamble all – and grabbed the top of his shield with both hands. Wrench. I tugged down as hard as I could.
Sweet agony blossomed in my left side. He had cut me. My knees almost buckled, so intense the was pain, and it would only get worse. Frantic, I stamped up and down, trying to find one of his feet. I landed a good strike on one, because he cried out. Knowing I could not let up my assault for even a heartbeat, I pulled on his shield again. Then, remembering his missing finger, I pulled it sideways, then heaved it back the other way.
He groaned, and suddenly, the full weight of the shield was in my grasp. He had let go.
Holding in a scream of my own – the pain in my side was fast-becoming unbearable, and he still had his sword – I pushed the shield at Sextus, hard as I could.
Up came his helm, wrapped still in the net. Even with the tiny eyeholes, our gaze met. And then he was falling backwards. He slammed down on his back, the shield on top. Incredibly, he did not let go of his sword. Before he could lunge at me with it, I took a step back. Lifting my foot high, I stamped with all my strength on his worst-injured foot.
He mewled like a babe ripped from the tit. His blade dropped from nerveless fingers, and he sagged back on the timber, making no further attempt to fight.
Mistrustful – he might yet have a last ruse planned – I drew my dagger and stabbed one of the prong holes in his foot. He screamed, louder.
‘Off the pons,’ I shouted. ‘Now!’
He reached up to the shield, and sent it tumbling to the ground.
Pitiless, I shoved the dagger a little further into the wound. ‘You too!’
He half-rolled, awkward, and dropped, landing close to his sword.
I was taking no chances. Leaping down as gently as I could, hissing at the pain from my side, oblivious now to the burning sand, I retrieved my trident. I paced back to Sextus, unsurprised that he had picked up his sword. As I knew myself, nothing fired a man’s determination more than the desire to live. His effort came to naught, however, as I pricked at his wounded feet. He flung the blade away. I kicked it beyond his reach.