Beast of burden
“Caught last night. Snooping …”
Maciste recognised the sergeant’s voice. Stood behind. He made to turn, then he thought better of it. Best not get too close to the thief. This prisoner was nothing to him. Just blackmail.
“ ….. – scavenging for food. Last time the fucker will try that ….”
Behind Maciste heard scuffling. Soldiers forcibly shoving the poor unfortunate thief towards their general.
Maciste had stood firm. Refusing to take on the ox’s task, his broad muscled back vulnerably taking their whips. Aware an army of strength was marching off. He was at the centre of a tiny pocket of resistance, his own, him alone making a stand. An island of defiance in a moving sea of soldiers returning home in triumph. He had turned his head away from them, ignoring the movements. Turning his head away too, as if refusing to acknowledge that general on his horse. And avoiding weakening his determination by eye contact with their thief.
He had his feet planted firm. Legs strongly planted on the earth. Looking resolute. Jaw set, looking into the distance as if around there was nothing noteworthy to see.
Inside he was trembling. Deep-down, under this show of strength his insides were quaking. Hours he’d been tortured. Kept stretched to the extreme. No water, no food, burning up under a cruel sun. He’d lost track of how long, a chilled nightmare, an ordeal that had fused into a living hell in his body.
It was taking all this strength to stand here and look strong. Unmoved. His guts quivered, his legs threatening to wobble. It was a wonder he didn’t collapse. But he made his body obey his will. Had he ever felt this bad?
But a furtive sideways glance told him this show of defiance had to be. The sight of that smug general on his horse … Maciste could not give in. Not to that, not to this treatment. This Parthian was an animal .. worse. Ostensibly Maciste was a warrior-prince surrendering to the enemy. Undoubtedly “Prince Menander” would be killed, his head cut off, Maciste accepted that, that went without saying. But he was not to be treated like a slave. No dog. Maciste was certainly no ox.
He had to make a stand. Assert his strength of will. Or they’d walk all over him. And he could not afford for his body to let him down. As much as anything, this was a war of minds. Where his will led, his body would be made to follow.
“A prince, you say…?”
Tiradates was now addressing Maciste. Reluctantly Maciste half-turned his head that way. Acknowledging the general was talking.
“Not some slave, you say? Not some ox?”
The damned general was scoffing, Maciste fought down the useless raging in his blood. Such emotions would get him nowhere.
“ But princes … don’t just have rights. Titles bring responsibilities. For decisions ….. For actions”
Maciste saw the poor unfortunate dragged into his vision. Kicks felled the man to the dirt. Then dragged up by soldiers onto all fours.
“Off with his head.”
Tiradates snapped out the order. Telling the sergeant to draw his sword.
“The stubborn ox will not work. This thief pays the price.”