He saw a quick motion through the slit in the barrier. Then the lion gave a roar of pain and shot forward.
Carpophorus braced himself, swaying slightly backward to give his forward thrust more power but the desperate animal jumped straight over his head and vanished into the mass of animals.
Carpophorus cursed and turned to find another victim. He saw a leopard crouching on the sand and approached him. The leopard watched him with unblinking eyes and then the venator saw the big cat gather himself together for the spring. Carpophorus hated leopards; they were much too quick.
A lion was far easier to handle, but this leopard had been the animal nearest to him and he didn't want the crowd to see him avoid it. He watched carefully from the side of his shield waiting for that lightning-like charge.
As always with leopards, no matter how cautious he was, the charge caught him unexpectedly. One moment the cat had been crouching on the sand. The next instant it was on his shield biting at the boss and trying to get a hold on the smooth bronze with its hind legs.
Fortunately an animal could not distinguish between a man and his shield and would continue attacking the shield for some seconds without trying to reach the man.
Carpophorus plunged his sword into the leopard's body three times before the mortally wounded cat fell back on the sand, kicking in its death throes.
Carpophorus swung around to find his next quarry. Near him, one of the other venatores had succeeded in
blinding a lion by throwing a cape over his head and was giving him the death stroke.
Another man had a wolf pinned to the sand with his pike and was leaning on the shaft to press the spearhead home, avoiding the snapping jaws of the dying animal.
Two of the armored venatores were slowly approaching a tiger from opposite sides, the tiger whirling around in an effort to watch both men at the same time.
A young venator, wild with excitement, flung his javelin and pierced the tiger through the body. Under the circumstances, it was an utterly foolhardy thing to do and Carpophorus, even while the javelin was in the air, knew what would happen.
He sprang forward but before he could reach the combatants, the tiger had given a great bound and landed on one of the two armed venatores.
The great cat weighed over five hundred pounds and the man went down as though hit by a poleaxe. Instantly the tiger grabbed the man's head in his jaws and crunched the skull, the venator's bronze helmet cracking like tin as the long fangs went through it.
"Spearmen! spearmen!" shouted Carpophorus at the top of his lungs while trying to distract the tiger's attention.
A venator armed with a spear ran up and tried to drive it through the tiger's shoulder but the cat sprang back, striking at the spearhead with his paw. Then he spun around in a circle, biting at the javelin in his body.
Carpophorus shouted to the armed venator, "Take him on the other side while I move in from here!" The venator nodded and circled the tiger. Capophorus snapped to the spearman, "All right, we'll keep him busy until you get a chance to use your spear but don't take all day about it." Settling his shield, he came in toward the tiger.
The tiger had stopped biting at the javelin and was facing Carpophorus. His hindquarters were slightly raised so he could bring his rear legs under him and get the maximum spring for his bound.
Carpophorus moved slightly to the right to give the spearman a better chance. The tiger's eyes followed him, but the cat did not change its position.
Then, without any more intimation than the leopard had shown, the tiger charged. Carpophorus dropped to one knee to receive the shock, covering himself with his big shield.
The tiger hit the shield like a battering ram, knocking it out of the man's hand. Then he grabbed Carpophorus' right shoulder with his teeth and started to drag him across the arena.
Roman Events: Those about to Die, Chapter Six, Part 7 is next.
Roman Events: Those about to Die, Index or Table of Contents