A frantic slave rushed to him. "Where in Venus' name have you been? The Master of the Games is furious. The emperor is coming through the passage that leads to the Baths of Titus and the lions aren't in place. The Master says that if you don't. . ."
Carpophorus didn't wait to hear the rest. The emperors had had three underground passageways built for their convenience, connecting the Colosseum with the palace, the baths, and the Lateran hill.
You never knew which one they'd use. As Carpophorus raced down the passageways he shouted to the slaves in the lower level to open the cell doors.
Immediately came the clang of the iron gratings being flung back and the slaves in the upper passageway fired their straw and thrust it down the holes.
From below came roars, snarls and strangled gasps as the burning straw fell into the cells, then the crash of the grills being slammed shut followed by the creak of the barrier being pushed forward and fresh snarls from the desperate animals.
The lions were being herded onto movable platforms like freight elevators that would take them up inside the inner barrier in the arena.
As the lions from each line of cells were pushed onto the platforms by the movable barrier behind them, the slave gang boss gave the signal, the slaves started turning the windlasses, and the animals were hoisted up inside the line of artificial rocks above them.
A slave watching from an opening in the podium wall gave Carpophorus a running commentary on what was going on above. "The emperor's coming into his box. He's stopped to speak to the Lady Livia. Now he's waving to the crowd. Now he's talking to that pinheaded kid he takes around with him. Now he's getting ready to sit down."
Carpophorus ran out through the Gate of Death and dived into an opening in the plaster boulders. The lions were in the cages prepared for them, the movable platforms composing the cage floors. Now the lions had to be sprung out of these cages into the arena when the signal came.
Meanwhile, the Jewish prisoners had been introduced by another elevator into the model of the city which they had once called home.
When Domitian gave the signal for the afternoon games to begin, the Jews opened doors in the sides of the model and stepped out into the glare of the arena.
As Carpophorus had directed, they had been covered with animal skins. The captives were greeted by boos, insulting shouts, and cries. "Circumcised dogs! Traitors! Now see if your God can save you. Let out the lions!"
The backs of the cages in the artificial hill were movable and could be pushed forward to force the lions out into the arena.
Doors were opened among the rocks and as the cage backs were shoved in, the lions began to pour onto the sand. Carpophorus watched anxiously through a peephole.
The lions slunk rather than walked into the area or ran with great leaps along the sides of the inner barrier, looking for some way to escape.
Several of them jumped up, hung to the plaster rocks for a few seconds with their claws, and then fell back. Occasionally a lion running around the circle would suddenly turn and bump into the lion following.
There would be angry snarls, lightning-like blows with the great paws and then the contestants would back away from each other to resume their anxious pacing. A few of them approached the crowd of people standing in the middle of the arena, studied them for a moment, and then turned away.
The children still with the group had begun to cry and several of the women had fainted. Some of the men were trying to sing a hymn but their voices faltered at the sight of the terrible beasts around them and the sound died away.
sA lioness circled the group nervously, unsure what to do. Carpophorus saw the old rabbi step forward and move his hands slightly as he had been instructed to do. The lioness only backed away.
A young male with an orange mane had been scratching in the sand, either trying to find water or because he scented blood under the clean sand which bad been spread over the arena after the last of the Meridian; had been dragged out. He looked up and snarled at the rabbi.
The rabbi took a few steps forward. After all, Carpophorus reflected, there was no reason why he shouldn't want to get the business over. What the people were suffering now was far worse than death.
The lion crouched down. Carpophorus watched the animal's tail. The man swayed slightly from side to side. Suddenly the tip of the lion's tail began to twitch.
It's coming, it's coming, thought Carpophorus. Another step forward will do it. Why don't you take another step, you fool? He was tempted to shout to the man but restrained himself. His voice might frighten the lion.
Then he saw the lion gather himself together for the charge, digging in with his claws to get better traction. The rabbi swayed again.
So sudden was the lion's attack that he was on the man before Carpophorus saw him leave the ground. The rabbi fell and a scream went up from the crowd.
The lion grabbed the man by the waist and ran with him as easily as a cat carrying a mouse, trying to find some secluded spot where he could eat in peace. A young black-maned lion from Nubia rushed forward and seized the man by the head. The women screamed again.
At the scent of blood, the other lions became restless. A lioness charged the closely packed group, bounded into the air and came down in the middle of them, striking blindly left and right.
Two half-grown males, possibly her cubs, followed her. The crowd scattered like sheep when a collie rushes into their midst. The lions lashed out at them as they passed, more in fear than from hunger.
A scream and a woman was down. Another scream and a child fell, his head smashed by one fearful blow. A full-grown male reared up and seized one of the men. The man's whole head vanished in the jaws.
A woman was dragging herself across the arena with a half-grown cub clinging to her leg. The cub was shaking his head and growling, trying to pull the woman down.
Roman Events: Those about to Die, Chapter Eight, Part 5 is next.
Roman Events: Those about to Die, Index or Table of Contents