Tiradates had had the ropes to the prisoner removed. The frown of suspicion on the arsehole’s face only served the general’s purpose. Keeping the fool guessing. Wondering why. The general did not waste time.
“A precious prize like you .. it needs to be kept safe.”
Tiradates nodded at his sergeant.
Maciste glared at the enemy general.
His anger peaked with a thick leather collar thrown at his feet. Leather embossed with metal studs. The sight of it made Maciste’s blood boil. It would have incensed any free man.
A slave collar. That shameful statement dumped at his feet. NO WAY! He’d been used as a slave before. The memory did not sit well. Fury boiled within him. He felt the soldiers’ grasp on his upper arms tighten. In frustration Maciste’s eyes slitted to hate.
“Pick it up, fuckhead.”
The sergeant snarled indicating the heavy collar with his head.
“Get it on.”
Maciste clenched his teeth in anger .. seeing Tiradates smirking.
“You know what we do with prisoners,” the sneering general asked?
Rhetorical question. Of course, Maciste knew, he had seen lines of captured men led away, shuffling in leg irons. Maciste glared, he knew this collar for what it was. A thick leather collar, rings at the back .. to secure the hands .. make the body vulnerable to every attack. Turning the proud soldier into a helpless slave.
A slave collar. That went against the grain. Maciste had watched as men were rounded up in villages and marched away. Into hard labour. Their fall-from-grace .. their freedom wrenched away from them .. symbolised in that slave collar around their necks. Pinning their hands to the collar in the scruff of their necks. And before family and friends, the invaders had marched them in shame off to hard labour. And a slow death.
“Slave of the Empire.”
Tiradates mocked as if reading Maciste’s thoughts. Seeing his future through those memories. Marched away and never to return.
“Heavy-duty. Mines. Quarries. Slave galleys.”
Maciste felt Tiradates’ eyes all over his muscular body.
“By the looks of you .. made for the life.”
Tiradates scoffed over Maciste’s fall from grace.
“Most don’t last long.”
His smirk lightened his face.
“Likes of you, though …. I reckon they’d make some exception.”
A lifetime on some slave gang As good as dead, disappeared. Dispensable. Maciste a slave.
He wasn’t destined for the quarries, Maciste knew. He was being taken to the emperor. And Vologases would have his own ideas about ending the life of a captive Prince Menander. But that collar was a symbol. And it was a sign for every sadistic Parthian soldier .. telling him what to do to this muscled enemy prince.
Tiradates was goading him with talk of a lifetime in slavery. Vologases would plan Maciste’s fate to be shorter. And agonisingly more painful. But as a symbol of his downfall Tiradates was mocking him .. sticking him in this collar. Some pitiable slave. If Maciste had harboured any thoughts of his submission being honourably recognised .. treated as a prince surrendering .. that hateful collar had just put a choking grip around his throat and throttled off any such hope.
“Sergeant,” Tiradates snapped at his officer. But his eyes hadn’t left off taunting Maciste.
“He’s wasting my time. The collar.”
Maciste bristled. If they thought they were going to put him into that …..
No slave, not him. Staying in role, how would Menander react? He had come as a commander of an army. He had come to surrender. Offered himself up .. in honourable exchange for hostages .. to end the fighting.
But … get real! That was history, no point in arguing anymore .. this cheating general had made himself clear. Maciste was his prisoner, he could bleat on about being treated as a prince .. Tiradates was not listening. Maciste had put his own head in the noose. And Tiradates was not letting go.