“On your knees.”
The captain gave Maciste a shove. Taking his orders from his master on the throne.
Maciste gave his brother a glare. Refusing to kneel before this boy who had stolen his father’s throne.
Hands grabbed Maciste from behind. A grip grabbed in the top of his scalp. Pressing him down. A foot kicked in the back of his knee. But Maciste resisted. When his leg had stopped wobbling, he shoved sideways .. losing the grip in his hair. But a sharp jar from the hilt of a sword smacked him in the back of the neck. Hard. Jolting him forward. Before he could find his feet again, the grips of his arms were wrestling him to the ground. Maciste fought back .. jarring his head upwards to dislodge the grips. Without warning a club appeared from nowhere. He took a hard thud in the belly. Losing his breath. The grips on his arms struggled their way back. Another smack with the club robbed Maciste of wind. Collectively, overcome by weight of muscle, his stepbrother’s soldiers wrestled the rightful king to his knees.
A hand twisted in Maciste’s hair. Holding his struggling down. But forcing his head up to face his younger brother lounging disrespectful on the throne.
“You have no right.”
Maciste snarled at the effrontery of his stepbrother.
“That throne is rightfully mine.”
“Want to try and take it back?”
Maciste’s arms were tied down in chains. Surrounded by foreign soldiers. Held down on his knees. The leg irons they’d forced him into had a short chain. Kheir had enjoyed watching his slow gait the full length of this great Hall. Maciste had to shuffle humiliatingly into this great Hall. Mincing like some girl .. the heroic young warrior .. his heavy irons clanking in the empty echoing space. Shuffling the whole length of the Hall while Kheir was watching his approach .. gloating from the throne.
Down on his knees. .. forced into this act of submission. .. an act he did not mean. .. a submission he had no intention of showing. Maciste wanted to break Kheir’s neck. But no way would he get to his damned brother on the throne before soldiers cut Maciste down. Kheir was shaking his head. Maciste felt his temper rising. .. frustrated.
Kheir snorted. In contempt for the stupidity of a brother whose throne he had so easily taken from him. Robbing the rightful king.
“It seems my stinking arse is here. And you … well, look at you…. “
Kheir snorted his disdain for his stepbrother.
“You look every bit the king.”
Dressed in peasant’s rages. Surrounded by hostile spears. In chains. Forced to submit to his stepbrother. Robbed of his throne.
“Don’t you now? Eh?”
Maciste was forced to look up at the usurper lounging on his father’s throne. Himself clad only in the soiled breeches they’d forced him into.
“And talking of arses ….”
“I gather you are complaining of a sore backside …”
He chortled .. deliberately .. to get Maciste’s temper up.
Maciste glared .. his anger as fiery as the memory of that shameful thrashing.
Angry but impotent .. for now. Surrounded by enemies .. In his own palace. In chains in his father’s great Hall. What could he do? What could he say? Except by getting his hands around that traitor’s neck, how could he put things right? Since his arrival at the port .. since he’d been jumped and brought here a prisoner .. now dragged into the presence of his own stepbrother .. the only troops he’d seen were from his stepmother’s lands. It was like his own kingdom had been invaded.
“Where are my father’s generals?”
Maciste still found it hard to grasp his father was dead and he himself had inherited the throne.
“Many fell on their own swords. Men who find themselves incapable of taking sound advice .. they tend to meet a bloody end.”
Murdered. His stepbrother had had the ruler’s leaders expunged. And only his mother’s kinsmen were in control. Maciste suspected Kheir’s mother’s hand in all of this. Was Maciste the only legitimate one from the ruling class left?
“How did my father die?”
Maciste refused to acknowledge his stepbrother’s assertion to be his father’s son .. claiming Maciste’s father for his own. His father? Maciste had to ask the question .. but he was already suspecting the worst.
“Men. Riddled through with a frailty. All born with a terminal illness. Called death.”
In his darkest thoughts in that stinking pit underground Maciste had got increasingly convinced. Kheir .. or his conniving mother .. had had his father murdered. He wouldn’t put such a crime past them.
“But that is not the point …”
Kheir wriggled in eagerness on his throne.
“Point is …. “
Kheir was hungrily leaning forward on the throne. His agitated gaze all over his prisoner-brother’s strong body.
…. what do we do about this … inconvenience?”
His hand gestured at Maciste. His older brother. The warrior prince. Strong and athletic. Hero of the people. Powerful, muscular. But forced to kneel before him. And thrown into chains!
“How best to dispose of this little wrinkle in our plans?”