His situation became clearer. And desperate. His legs had been secured, other thugs had worked on his arms. Above his head, Maciste saw rough iron bands being clasped around his wrists. Thick evil-looking manacles the width of a man’s hand. Again that ominous grating sound of metal on metal that promised he’d never get out of that manacle by himself.
A length of chain dangled off the wrist cuff. Strong, thick links. Unbreakable by even the strongest of men. On his legs too, he now envisaged the restraints, pinning him down by stakes to the hard earth. Legs trapped in place, stakes, manacles, chains. Keeping him on his back, over this huge burning rock.
A tug on his arms. Strong hands were hauling on his arms, stretching his body across the boulder. Scraping his back over the stone. Stretching him, grinding his bare back into the rough rock. Flattening him into the stone with this stretch.
Movement at his side made Maciste look over. His tormenter, that Parthian general had come to leer.
“In case you were under any illusions …..” Tiradates started.
“Stretch him more. Pull ya morons ….”
The sergeant’s voice broke through. The pull on Maciste’s hand manacles yanked harder. His features twisted slightly as his open armpits groaned at the sustained strain. But grimly he faced this Parthian general. Who had stooped to using innocent women to achieve his ends.
“ … if you hoped you were about to die ….”
Tiradates continued as Maciste’s body was being stretched tighter over this rack.
“More, ya motherfuckers. Go for it. Stretch this turd …”
Maciste groaned as the tugging yanked at his elbows, the pulling tore strain out of his armpits. His back was flat against the boulder, it felt almost like fused into the burning rock. He saw his ribcage lifted to the sky, the muscles in his belly felt they were being pulled down towards his backbone.
“Now hold this arsehole right there. Get hammering, pricks.”
Obeying the sergeant’s harsh tone, knowing their general was looking on, one started hammering stakes into the earth. Smashing metal stakes into iron-hard earth behind Maciste’s head. Held down so there was no let-up in the pull on his arms. Securing him. Pinned flat to a burning stone. The stretch was already making it hard to breath.
He wasn’t going to show it but already strain was scoring its trail through his elbow joints painfully twisted backwards. He could feel a pulling in his belly .. muscles pressing up into his lungs. Hauled by the arm-chains, the manacles were digging painfully into his wrists.
But Maciste wasn’t going to let on, he concentrated where the action was. That scumbag of a general.
“ if you thought you might be allowed to die…?”
Maciste saw him shrug.
“ ….. sorry to disappoint. There’s no dying here. Not for you …. Not here. Not yet.”
Maciste was due to be brought before their emperor. To suffer the wrath of the empire for Menander’s rebellion. They’d not let him die.
The hammering continued, the strain on his arms gnawed at his elbows. His shoulder joints had joined in. And the sweat was running. His body was being fully stretched over this hot rock. Like they were forcing his backbone in through the heat of the burning stone. His head now hung back, his skull forced against the hot surface beneath.
“You might wish to die ….,” the general explained.
Maciste could no longer raise his head. Totally immobilised by these chains on this rock. He could just glance at this hated enemy.
“Correction, sir .. if I might ….”
It was the sergeant’s voice he heard .. interrupting his general.
Maciste heard the sergeant chuckle.
“No fucking doubt about it, sir. This arsehole IS sure gonna wish he was dead ….”
Laughter above his head. The soldiers had stopped hammering, Maciste was fully secured. Painfully and immovably stretched. On a rack .. heated over a grill-stone.
“Promise you, sir,” the sergeant continued. “Fucking make sure he does.”
Maciste saw above him Tiradates nod. The soldiers had his prisoner secured.
“Maybe you ARE gonna wish it, slave. But it’s not going to happen. Your death belongs to the hands of Vologases. When. How.”
Maciste saw the general’s head scan the soldiers at his feet. His head turned to those above Maciste’s trapped head. Maciste saw the warning scowl.
“These men …. they know. They know better than to let that happen. Make no mistake.”
The threat sounded ominous. Chilling. But Maciste knew better than to show it. He would show himself strong, whatever happened. It was not out of weakness that he was here, he reminded himself. He was here out of strength. He had sacrificed himself. To save others. To prevent Meander acting rashly. His act had always been a risk. He’d known Vologases would deal with him cruelly if he got his hands on “the prince”. It was just starting earlier than planned.
“Die …. and they know I’ll have their balls.”
Maciste saw the general scowl a warning at his men.
“And a slave knows his place.”
Tiradates’ sneered down at Maciste .. stretched out .. The heat beginning to work on him .. sweating.
“And right now .. SLAVE .. this is yours. To sweat like a pig. To suffer under the sun. At the behest of the empire.”
Tiradates cast a long glance the length of Maciste’s straining body. Muscle stretched, belly sunk in. Body pressed inescapably to the burning stone.
“And this slave gets delivered. To the emperor .. intact.”
Maciste heard that warning to the soldiers. As well as a promise to Maciste. Delivered intact .. for things worse to come.