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Unexpectedly the tension on his arms gave way. His arms dropped down. Losing not one second of a chance, Maciste righted himself. He tore himself upright.
In an instant he almost wished he hadn’t. His instinct to right himself gave the crowd the full sight of him .. tears of pain streaked in the dirt on his face. His torso glistening in the sun .. the sweat of pain shimmering. His skin blotched-red from the flames alive in his flesh.
And what shocked his eyes most ….. If he had been greeted by a jeering mob .. rejoicing at seeing their prince get brought down a peg .. that he might have understood. If he had heard protests at their prince being unjustly abused .. infamously called a traitor .. at that his heart would have jumped for joy.
But the sight that met his eyes .. down in the square, crushed-in tight to watch this act of his shaming .. what Maciste saw .. there was nothing. No emotions. No reactions. There was a deadness in the faces looking up at him. No joy, no shock. Like the life had been sucked out of the crowd. Dead. Empty husks.
Shocked Maciste saw himself as their dead gaze now saw him. A man in his full-grown muscular prime. Proud warrior’s shoulders on him. Broad manly chest. Legs thick with fighting muscle. And yet they had witnessed him beaten like some unruly brat. Thrashed on his bare backside. Some snotty-nosed kid having his bare arse spanked. The most undignified punishment for a proud fighting man. Done to make him look small .. powerless. The warrior-prince plummeted from his great height. Brought in rags, then stripped of those. Down in the dregs. Beaten. Useless. Worthy of a degrading punishment.
Accused of treachery. A crime he did not commit. But from the looks of the dead faces surrounding him, no one was going to jump to his defence. In that vision of dead faces, Maciste grasped the truth. He was on his own. No one would be coming to his rescue. This was all down to him now .. living with this sudden nightmare.
And with a backside that burned like hell. Sweat running off him. His proud chest rising and falling as he struggled to catch his breath. A vicious beating. A cruel unjustified thrashing. He shook his head to loosen a tear of pain in his eye. Abandoned, friendless. But not beaten.
One woman in the front, he spotted her suddenly, she had her hand to her mouth, eyes wide-open in shock. Suddenly Maciste felt his own nakedness. He flushed at the thought of this indignity. Naked, beaten, shamed. His princely indignity forcibly put on show. His own nakedness had never concerned him .. but this crowd could never have expected to see their prince like this. He felt his blood boil.
Pain, anger, confusion — a heady mixture of powerful emotions raged through his blood. Struggling to cope with this madness. But resolved. Maciste was not done-for yet.