Animals were treated better. The oxen got fed. They got regular stops. Halts were made at streams for them to drink. But one particular pair of manly oxen were getting kingly treatment. A royal prince had taken their place. Sweating, hauling a weighted cart along .. back-breaking effort.
The whip lashed out if their efforts faltered. Catching Menander every time. Ironically Maciste’s broad back was too prized to mark. THAT was Tiradates’ gift to his emperor. Falsely thinking the whip was sparing the back of the captive prince. Paradoxically the real prince was taking the heat. Sweat mixed painfully with the stripes burning down Menander’s back.
Made to haul that cart under the cruelty of a blistering sun. Tortured by sweltering humidity. Endlessly punished by the strength-sapping savagery of the heat. The cart had been loaded up with all kinds of junk .. only important thing that mattered, it weighed.
Moment-by-sweltering-moment, Maciste’s broad chest was tested as he leant into the bar against which he strained. The muscles across his shoulders ached, tortured by endless straining work .. to make any progress, his torso forced to lean forward at an angle .. heaving against the ponderous weight of the cart. Hour-after-hour. The pitiless heat of the sun. No drink, no food. His back screamed .. ached like mad. Shamefully reduced to tasks barely suited to a beast.
Maciste had known the hardships of a soldier’s life. He’d laboured as a slave .. condemned to penal labour by his own step-brother. But this pitiless drudgery of hauling a huge weight under the cruel sun .. it could never come easy .. even to a man of his prodigious strength.
At noon the soldiers rested, got in the shade. Grub out, slaking their thirst. Spinning yarns of conquests made, women laid. But all day that stupid human ox-cart had been slowing them down .. falling behind.
Best the stupid ox-slaves carried on, put some distance in, the troops would soon catch them up.
The minders complained. They’d welcome a break too.
“We’re marching.” Their sergeant growled at them. “You get to fucking ride …….”
He sneered into the shattered face of his captive prince-slave .. lording it over Maciste’s evident fatigue. Craving drink and a break.
“And get a fucking move-on! Work the fucker.”
Exhausted, parched, hungry .. the pair of human oxen was whipped into carrying on. By resentful minders seated on their cart. Plodding on, the stony path tearing at bare feet. Wheels catching over difficult terrain. Stumbling on .. sweat running .. parched with thirst.
Ever vigilant .. the minders on the cart never slacked in encouraging the human ox-pair on. Their whips from behind finding the target .. stinging at Menander’s muscled back in the shimmering heat of the day.
On and on. Endless toil. Sweat cutting through the dirt on their broad chests, they pulled their overladen cart. Hour-after-endlessly-tortured hour. Maciste getting ever closer. His every step bringing him closer to the talons of his enemy, that ruthless emperor, that Vologases.
Maciste couldn’t let that happen. THAT would be the end. In the clutches of the emperor, worse than these tortures awaited. With every step he trudged Maciste knew he was getting closer to a tortured end to his life. Vologases would squeeze him for every coin this fight-back had cost. Bleed every drop of blood from his body for the effort spent crushing the resistance to Parthian rule. Break bones for every humiliation endured. Trudging with a heavy heart at each captive step, Maciste was getting ever closer to torture in the hands of a pitiless enemy. And release in an agonising death.
The thick muscled strength in his thighs knotted with every laboured step forward. Forcing strength into his legs, fighting against the burden he pulled. His back was a permanent band of screaming straining muscle, knotted-hard as he forced his spirit to keep trudging on. A beast of burden, treated worse than the ox he had replaced. And every step brought him closer to even worse.
He had to get away. But first Maciste had to solve the problem of Menander.
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