Beast of burden
“What are you ….? Who are you,” Tiradates had turned on Maciste.
Triumphant at making his stuck-up awkward prisoner bend to his will.
”Let me hear it.”
Impatient at Maciste’s silence, he snarled.
“Talk up, slave!”
Tiradates was rubbing Maciste’s face in the sweat of his defeat. Maciste was angry .. beaten, again. Trapped by his duties to others. Furious at having to admit defeat. Even so, only moments after giving in over Menander, Maciste felt his bloody-mindedness resurfacing, furious that this damned general was intent on making Maciste voice his defeat. And his fall into slavery.
Trapped because the threat was still hanging over Menander’s head. That sergeant still had hold of him by the scalp, his sword at the ready. Tiradates was squeezing every bit of humiliation out of Maciste’s predicament.
“No prince now … are you?”
Insistent Tiradates goaded Maciste. He was going to hear him say it. Or Menander got it in the neck..
“What are you …?”
Despite himself, despite the real prince being there on his knees, at risk of being slaughtered before his eyes, still Maciste found it hard to get the words over his lips.
“Sergeant. DO IT!”
What was happening? What had he done to infuriate the gods? They had turned their back on him. Everything was going wrong. Tormented, Maciste yelled back.
Smirking, provoking Maciste with smug satisfaction all over his face, Tiradates raised an eyebrow. Well? Waiting.
“WHAT are you, then …?” he repeated.
The sadistic leer on his lips was saying he was running out of patience. And he only had to give the signal …..
“Soooo……? Say the word. WHAT are you?”
Maciste knew Menander’s life depended on him crawling. He crawled.
Maciste spoke the dread word. Quietly, as if only to himself, almost whispered. Feeling a metallic bitterness on his tongue. A sickening gut-wrenching taste.
“Can’t hear you. WHAT did you say? What are you?”
Maciste glowered. Feeling sick to the pit of his stomach.
“A slave,” he answered. His reply full of rancour. He couldn’t speak louder. It would sting like hell. Worse for Menander being there .. to hear him speak that hated word. Maciste’s shameful confession of how far his rash actions had taken him.
The general sat up in his saddle. Towering in triumph over this scene of humiliation.
Rage poured out of Maciste’s eyes. A quick glance at Menander on his knees settled it. And that ever-present threat. But still Maciste struggled to get the bitter word over his lips. He swallowed.
Maciste thought he’d throw up at saying the word.
Maciste had got it over his lips once. The second time tasted less bitter.
Furious he felt lashed across the face by Tiradates’ triumphant smirk.
“And whose? Whose slave are you, dog?”
Grim-faced Maciste glared his fury up at this enemy general. Swearing in his heart-of-hearts, one day he’d kill this man.
“Vologases’ ….,” Maciste struggled over the words.
But Tiradates insisted.
“The empire’s slave. Say it, dog. Whose slave are you?”
Tears threatened to well up in Maciste’s eyes. Tears of rage. He got himself together. He did not believe these words. It was just an act. He was NO slave. But … saying it .. uttering those fateful sounds .. they brought him perilously close to reality. Saying it, he became the empire’s slave.
Gods, where are you? Is there no justice? Maciste cursed them. He cursed his fate. He was trapped. By his own mistakes. By Menander turning up. By the gods having a belly-laugh at this earthly fool.
“Vologases’ slave,” Maciste said. “The empire’s slave.”
He’d got it over with. He’d got the hateful words out. But the words came out like a sharp blade had sliced out his tongue.
“Well …..” Tiradates sat triumphant on his mount. “ …. Vologases’ slave. Time to go meet your master.”
Tiradates indicated the cart. Ordered the beast of burden to get to work. A rush of success flushed to his loins. It was a good win.
“Shift your arse. Slave of the empire.”
Triumphant Tiradates squeezed off a victory salute in his loins.