“This arsehole .. this is the prick we were told about ….. ”
Maciste assumed this was the head slavemaster. And Maciste was being honoured with a personal introduction. Being presented to the assembled guards .. the thugs commissioned to watch over Kheir’s prize prisoner.
“ .. told we had summat to look forward to …..”
Maciste had been left at his stake as the day drew to an end. The suffering slaves had unloaded the cart. Then, still abandoned, he watched them herded off in the direction of a high fenced wooden stockade. Home-from-home for the night, he assumed.
Sometime later another band of exhausted men shuffled into sight. About forty he reckoned. Filthy, bedraggled, most in just rags. From the shoulders on them, these were work slaves. And they’d been here some time. All were muscled, all lean, strongly built though signs of being underfed. Living off a diet of crippling hard work and meagre rations. Hell-gates’ other inhabitants.
Later .. the place had gone quiet, only guards around .. from his stake, Maciste caught the smell of food in the distance. Food to keep the slaves alive. His stomach cramped at the smell. It was probably shit. But it’d fill his empty belly. He doubted those men returning from their punishing labours feasted much on prime meat. But it didn’t matter, nothing much had met his stomach in days. Anything in his belly would stop these griping pains.
Calm around, the slave camp had settle down for the night. Men locked inside the stockade too exhausted for anything but sleep. Slaves worked into the dirt now locked away, the guards lounging around with their beers. Indifferent to him. Just another fucking animal to push around. Again Maciste’s senses lurched wildly at the thought of liquid. How long was it since he’d known a drop of water? No wonder he was feeling weak.
Maciste was used to dealing with rough men .. from his time with the military. He was comfortable in the company of uncouth soldiers, he’d enjoyed their bravado, their brash manly sense-of-humour. He let their coarse language and foul habits pass over his head. They were invaluable in a fight.
But these thugs lounging around were not soldiers. Hired hands. Guards. He’d seen what they were capable of .. wielding a branding iron. Hired more for their thuggery than service to any cause. He’d seen them bully these newly arrived slaves. Heard them laughing through their tortured branding.
Big and brawny, men prone to pushing their weight around. Who got off on showing who held the whip hand. And as he had observed in the short time here, not given to taking any second thoughts about sticking it in. Maciste at the stake was vulnerable .. enough reason for sadists like these to get the itch to thwack that club in end-first. And when a slave was being crushed by the agony of a red-hot iron .. their screams were a perfect excuse to keep it eating up human flesh. Brutes, beasts. Savages.
He’d been fetched from his post when the slaves were locked away for the night. The guards had assembled still swigging back their beers outside of their huts. The same pair that had worked him over before enjoyed the honour of leading their princely prize over to their mates.
“Remember? We were warned.”
The head-guard gave a mock bow. He was sarcastically introducing Maciste to his new minders.
“Distinguished company joining us.”
Maciste felt a great relief to have some freedom of movement again. Free from that stake. But freedom was not something granted here. They quickly set the tone.
“On your knees, arsehole.”
Maciste was stood now between mud-brick huts. Surrounded by maybe a dozen hostile guards. All looking him over. Like he was from some other planet. Maybe he was for them. How often did they get a prince for company? When did they last play host to a rightful king? Or have the pleasure of playing host to a prince near-naked, surrounded by enemies. Sent to them for safe-keeping? Sent for them to dish out — how at Kheir put it? – never-ending punishment? Little wonder they looked at him intrigued.
Maciste gave them something to look at. He’d pulled himself up to his full height. Sucked in his belly and lifted up to their eyes a hard muscular chest. He gave them a man not easily intimidated.
A hand from behind grappled in Maciste’s hair.
A club thwacked him across the back of the knees. A push on his scalp forced him to his weakened knees. And got Maciste’s blood boiling.
His head was pulled backwards. Looking up into the guard’s snarling face. That club only inches away from Maciste’s face. It’d take only one split second to crack it across Maciste’s nose.
“I tellya to do summat .. you do it .. fucking fast.”
That hand in Maciste’s hair shoved his head forward. Right in front was the other brute. Tapping his club into the palm of his hand.
“Hands behind your head, arsehole.”
Back to that position again, the way these guards seem to like seeing a prisoner. Submissive, vulnerable to the thwack of a club. Everything in Maciste’s blood was screaming out for him to lash out, fight back, not put up with this. But the thinker in his head reminded him, they’d just beat the shit out of him. And he’d finish up as ordered just the same. Morons like this were just looking for the slightest excuse. Yes, he needed to fight back. But Maciste needed to fight smart.
Reluctantly, though not showing a single sign of worry on his face, Maciste did as told.
“And every fucking time I lower mysen to open my gob to ya .. you do just fucking that. Hands behind ya fucking head. Got that, arsehole?”
Maciste got it. He didn’t like it. Everything in his nature was screaming NO! But his plan had to be first to get the lay of the land. Lie low. See how things worked here. And then get the hell out of here. Not getting the hell beaten out of him unnecessarily .. so he couldn’t think straight. If that meant eating their shit a few times .. Maciste would show them, he could eat shit. When it suited.
The head-man was grinning down at this fallen prince. On his knees in their dust. Made to do as told. Hands submissively behind his head.
“This arsehole-here joins us with special instructions.”
He wiped his lips after slurping long on a big flagon of beer. For the sake of it, he gave a loud belch. Long, manly, uncouth.
“Orders straight down from the king.”
Looking as if he gave a shit about the king, his eyes passed from guard to guard. Making sure he had their attention.
“So listen up, ya fucking drunken pricks .. ya better listen. ORDERS OF THE KING.”
He belched again. Deliberately. Someone sniggered.
“This one-here .. our once-princely guest .. he’s in for special treatment …..”
“Orders of the king.”
The whole assembly stood to mock-attention.
“Orders of the king.”
Together they shouted it out. Belched. And laughed.