What the hell was Menander thinking? Every night Maciste was shackled to the cart. Leg irons to one wheel, wrists fettered to the other .. no chance of escape. Piss lying where he was. And then Menander was hauled away with Parthians. Serving them food, getting them drink. Used as their slave.
This time was Meander’s chance to get away. Not fettered to a cart, free to move. Maciste kept laying it out for him. Go for a piss. Head for the trees, take a dump. And get the hell out of here.
But every morning, at first light, Menander was dragged back to join Maciste. Another day struggling with their overloaded torture cart. Why the hell hadn’t he got away?
Maciste risked another lash from their drivers across Menander’s shoulders. What the hell was holding him back, he hissed? But Menander shook his head. He didn’t answer. He covered his reluctance .. grunting at another crimson stripe slashing down his back.
He was no coward .. Maciste knew that. Menander could be cunning. He could manipulate his escape. If he wanted to ….. Surely he wasn’t staying .. because of Maciste? Sticking by his side? Unwilling to leave him behind?
Menander could not be that short-sighted. He had a fight to carry on ……
Trudging on, day and night, worked to exhaustion. Shattered by the time the sun was overhead. Back on fire with pain .. head swimming with lack of water .. muscles at screaming pitch. Hard to carry on. Hard not to give in to dismay. Although every fibre of his being prickled against giving in to that. Every bit of his strong male body fought against giving in to despair. Hearing another crack of the lash above his shoulders, it would be easy to give way under the force of his oppressors’ heel pressing down on his neck. Becoming increasingly hard to fight back and believe in himself. Believe he could still prevail.
Maciste had been toughened by a school of a thousands of hard knocks. The harshness of this treatment was not entirely unfamiliar. He had always welcomed exposing his body to the most demanding challenges. Refusing to give in when his strength failed him, when the muscles of his legs were screaming at him to stop. Forcing his body through the pain. Battling against back-breaking demands.
Yet the drudgery of hauling the cart demanded all his strength. Keeping up the fight as they wore down his strength of mind. They were working him into the ground. When oxen rested in the heat the day, his overseers cracked the whip over his head and ordered him on.
Times happened by the end of the day when his strength barely knew he was putting one foot in front of them other. Muscles of his back screaming out .. begging for rest. The muscled power of his strong legs thumped barely conscious into the dirt with the weight of an elephant’s trudge. His shoulders trapped for an eternity in tortured spasms were tight-knotted and cramped. Exhaustion totally overwhelming. And never .. not for one instant was there ever any let-up. Their insatiable demands breathing down his neck every waking moment.
And yet still a stubbornness fuelled the pumped muscles of his arms. A bloody-mindedness turned to steel down the peaked muscles down his aching backbone .. NEVER .. he would not be beaten. Not by these Parthian dogs.
Exhaustion was often total. His body on the brink of collapse .. even his prodigious strength depleted. But his strength of will was stronger still, still find the reserves to fight. They had NOT worked him into the ground, they wouldn’t. He had NOT been worked into the dirt. What had not worked him to death him had only made him strong.
At the end of the day, he did collapse. Shackled to the cart. Then … when his tormentors had let him be .. eating their fill .. knocking back the beer .. after Maciste had managed to grab a few tortured hours of snatched sleep .. THEN, partly refreshed .. then Maciste remembered himself. He remembered his pride.
Damn them! To hell with them! Night-times, inescapably shackled to the cart, he’d re-confirm himself to this fight. He asserted his warrior-spirit. They would NOT work him to death. He’d keep up the struggle.
Besides …… Tiradates had sworn, he was taking his prisoner to his emperor .. for Vologases to have the final say. There Maciste’s real torments were meant to begin. Tiradates would keep him alive .. till then. Tiradates could not afford for Maciste to die of hard work. He was Vologases’ private preserve. His precious back had not been struck once.
Tiradates’ plan for him. Not worked to death. But daily worked till he dropped.
Maciste swore with all the strength in his guts. Maciste, pumped up with the spirit of a lion-warrior … he swore .. he would never drop.
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