Roman Times and Events: Those about to Die, Chapter 07, Part 5 of 6

(by Daniel P. Mannix)

The water level in the area was dropping rapidly, because the sluice gates had been opened and the water was pouring out even more swiftly than it had flowed in.

All the hippos were dead now or in their death agonies and many of the crocs had been finished off by the harpooners.

The lead man in the dugout had landed on the mountain and was giving orders to the others. They lifted the nets and began to wade into the water which was now not much above their waists. The crowd grew silent, sensing that something unusual was about to take place.

The water was now so clouded by blood that it was impossible to see through it but the men prodded about with long poles.

Then they raised a shout. Splashing through the muck, they made a circle with the net and then began to drag it up the slope of the mountain.

There was a violent underwater explosion and a great crocodile reared up in the center of the net. The men dragged it ashore and their leader, stepped forward.

The croc was thrashing about fiercely, striking at the men with his great tail and snapping his jaws together with a report that could be heard in the topmost tier of seats.

Watching for his chance, the Egyptian made a sudden plunge and, landing on the reptile's back, locked his arms around the saurian's neck.

The most sincere of all applause—a great gasp—went up from the crowd. Never had they seen anything like this. The croc began to roll and it was all the Egyptian's assistants could do to keep him from going back into the water.

One man made the mistake of grabbing the gigantic creature by the tail and was knocked unconscious.

Gradually the Egyptian locked his legs around the reptile and then, getting a half nelson on him, slowly turned him over.

Then he quickly grabbed the croc by the muzzle, holding his jaws shut At this incredible feat of strength, the crowd shrieked with astonishment and delight.

With the crocodile still on its back, the man carefully let go the jaws and then ran one hand down the animal's belly.

He stood up, holding his hand palm down toward the reptile and making mystic passes in the air with the other. The huge creature lay motionless while the crowd held its breath. Then the Egyptian turned to take his bow.

He got his applause, full scale, although there were many who touched their amulets and made the sign of the evil eye, muttering, "Black Magic!"

When the applause had died down, the Egyptian turned and touched the crocodile with his foot. After a kick or two, the reptile rolled over and turned on the man with open mouth, but the men with the net were ready.

The saurian was quickly swathed in the meshes and dragged out of the now dry arena while the slaves rushed in with teams of mules to remove the dead hippos and crocodiles.

Carpophorus had managed to persuade the doctor to let him get up so he could see the completion of this performance.

Shaky from his emotional outburst as well as from loss of blood, he walked slowly to the Gate of Death, putting his hand against the wall occasionally to support himself. No one paid any attention to him.

The gladiators for the next turn were warming up by swinging their weapons and practicing cuts at each other, blocks and pulleys were being fastened to the artificial mountain preparatory to pulling it from the arena, cages were being brought up to secure the animals still inside the great structure, slaves with wheelbarrows of dry sand were trying to force their way through the mob coming in from the arena, and the Master of the Games was directing the organized chaos.

Carpophorus managed to force himself forward, occasionally losing his temper and cuffing a slave who jostled him, until be could see the upper tiers of seats and part of the awning framed in the curve of the gateway.

Now that he was almost out of the tunnel, the full force of the crowd's yells reached him. Curiously, while fighting himself, Carpophorus never heard the crowd; he was always too intent on the business at hand.

But he knew that the high-pitched cries meant the mob was really being carried out of itself and eagerly pushed his way forward.

He was first conscious of the odor of the damp sand mixed with the stench of the disemboweled animals. The venador was accustomed to the smell of death but this was the first time he smelled it in conjunction with dampness.

He saw the Egyptian wrestle the crocodile and was deeply interested, but with his technician's trained eye, he also saw that it was not nearly as dangerous as it seemed to the crowd.

Although he had never seen crocodile wrestling, he knew that it had been exhibited in the Roman arena at the time of Augustus—in the Bestiarii School the teacher had read accounts of the feat from Pliny and Strabo.

He watched attentively while three more of the Egyptian's team wrestled crocs after they had first been caught in nets, each time to tremendous applause.

When the Egyptians finally withdrew and the gladiators marched in, led by a band, Carpophorus made a point of meeting the Egyptian in the dressing room and handing him a cup of cooled wine.

Roman Events: Those about to Die, Chapter Seven, Part 6 is next.

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