Jason Leos crouched behind the stone column, quickly swiping away a trickle of blood stinging his left eye. The stirred dust settled onto the blood soaked sands of the arena in the sudden pause from the last skirmish, tigers occupied with feasting on the fallen slave. To his left he counted one, two, three tiger corpses. The two at the body of the fallen slave were the last then.
Of the six slaves released the arena an hour ago, only he and a coltish young woman remained. She shied around a similar column across the arena, chest heaving and hastily wiping her blade on the torn sleeve of her peasant smock. She had killed the last tiger, before their companion had fallen to the beasts.
So, it was now two on two.
Jason glanced up at the Archon’s balcony, shaded from the western sun by a large striped canopy. Finely dressed ladies and gents could be seen, sipping on iced beverages and being attended to by large feathered fans as the elite enjoyed an afternoon of sport.
He darted out from his hiding place and quickly scooped up the discarded sword from one of the grizzly remains and keeping the stone columns between him and the tigers, made his way to the girl. The tigers paid him little attention, focused as they were on their fourth meal of the hour.
Reaching the girl, he crouched down beside her.
Up close the girl was little more than a child, her stringy brown hair falling into large round eyes. She tossed her head to clear her sight and murmured “Thanks.” She glanced at him out of the side of her eyes and said “So what do we do now?”
“I think one has to become bait and the other come in for the kill.” She nodded in understanding.
“I will be the bait” she whispered “I can move faster than you I think.” She looked around, her eyes surveying the scene. “They will call the game once they are down to one tiger, right?” Jason nodded.
Jason flexed his hard muscles and rolled his tight shoulders. Long hours at a chisel had hardened his form and sculpted his body into the shapes he carved day by day.
“You ready?” he asked.
“Yeah, I guess.” She glanced at him, taking in his taut form, evaluating more than their chances for success. “Just be there for me ok? I really don’t want to die here.”
Jason grinned at her. “Me neither. We will make it. What’s your name, by the way?”
“Jenna. Jenna Tasso.” She stuck out her slim hand and he took it.
“Well Jenna, let’s go earn out dinner.”
Nodding, brandishing her short knife, she darted out from behind the column and started yelling at the tigers. One raised its head; muzzle covered in gore and fixed her with a glare that promised retribution. It lashed its tail, clearly annoyed with the interruption by the noisy prey before it.
Jenna picked up a rock and threw it at the tiger. Her impeccable aim bounced off the head of the closest cat, bringing it to its feet with a roar. The other tiger lifted its head and snarled at its companion, shifting to crowd out the other tiger and take possession of the kill.
Jenna began to run, waving her arms and shrieking, heading for the columns that encircled the arena. The tiger bounded to its feet, focused on the girl. She darted between two columns and was lost from view in the deep shadows of the overhang. Wooden animal cage doors lined the curved wall, connected to the kennels below by a sloping stone floor. A small door to the right of the kennel doors was used as the slave entrance door. There was no door handle on the arena side. Slaves were not expected to need one.
The din of the watching crowd’s conversation faded as they realized the impromptu intermission was done and the show had started again.
Cheers for the tigers rose as they saw the female tiger in pursuit of the lone female slave. Jenna ran hard along the colonnade, breath coming in short gasps, listening desperately for the sound of pursuit or a roar of triumph from the massive animal.
There. The tiger was closing fast, claws clicking on the stone tiles, a bound or two away. She ran out of colonnade and turned to see the expanse of arena where she knew she would die. She dropped hands to knees, lungs heaving, gasping for air. With a roar of triumph, the tiger’s putrid breathe hot on her neck, it launched itself toward her waiting back.
At that moment a form dropped from the ceiling behind her onto the back of the airborne tiger. Jason had shimmied up between the two end columns to ceiling height, holding himself in place by sheer brute strength, back and right foot on one column, left hand and left foot wedged on the other, sword in hand. He willed Jenna to run swift and sure, to bring the tiger to him.
Muscular arms drove the recovered sword into the neck of the tiger, which dropped to the ground short of its leap and rolled with the combined force of their momentum. Jason was flung away from the tiger, landed with a tucked roll, then scrambled to his feet and ran back to where the tiger staggered to its feet.
He drew the sword out and stabbed the beast to boot, through the chest with his full weight behind the sword thrust. The tiger thrashed a couple of times then lay still. Jenna collapsed to the ground, exhausted limbs abandoning her efforts to remain upright.
English idiom; “To Boot”…”Besides, in addition. For example, ‘It rained every day and it was cold to boot.’ …This expression has nothing to do with footwear. Boot here is an archaic noun meaning “advantage” and the idiom has been broadened to include anything additional, good or bad (Circa AD 1000).”
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