Maciste again felt crestfallen when he saw Menander being shoved back to the cart next day at dawn. It was some time before the driver’s bullying gave them some time to themselves .. a chance to talk. Still having to keep their heads down and put their backs into hauling the waggon along .. Maciste protective of the lash across Menander’s back for every time they were disciplined.
Finally curiosity overcame caution.
“You were supposed to get away,” Maciste hissed annoyed.
Menander’s presence only inhibited his own efforts to break free. First Maciste had to be sure the fight back under Menander could continue.
The two of them had hit it off .. despite the difference in age. Something they shared in common. Maciste too had been robbed of his own throne. Since forced to wander .. in self-imposed exile .. making a living out of selling his sword. That mutual fate had formed a bond .. as well as the fact that he got the feeling he was replacing Menander’s older brother. Butchered by these Parthian hordes.
Now it seemed they had something else in common. Both suffering from making rash decisions. Both condemned to Parthian slavery. Both had to escape. But Menander first.
“Escape?” Menander hissed back.
“Not a chance in hell,” he whispered back. “They were on my back every minute. Serving them food. Keeping them filled up with booze. Running here, bawled to go there .. not a chance of disappearing.”
THAT … and much else besides. Menander wasn’t telling the full truth. He wasn’t fully sure why. Why was he so ashamed? Had he had any choice? Embarrassed before his older friend that he’d allowed the enemy to walk all over him? That they had treated him so appallingly? Forced into things he’d never thought possible.
Was he really worried about how Maciste might react? Telling him the full story. Fearful he’d turn against him? Despise him for what he’d let happen .. had to let ….. More likely .. Maciste would lose his temper. Lash out. Make things worse. In his fury blurt something out. Reveal which was really who. Risk blowing both their covers.
Menander felt at a loss. He knew he ought to confess. He wanted to tell. Need to unload the aching in his gut.
But he couldn’t be certain. He was sure Maciste would lose it. They were sitting in their own shit up to their necks. If Menander confessed what was aching in his heart .. Maciste would blow his top.
All because Menander couldn’t keep his mouth shut? Couldn’t keep his own counsel? Couldn’t live with his own shame? Didn’t want to suffer in silence? Because he couldn’t eat humble pie and keep his shame to himself. Talking up, Menander might be making a disaster out of an already desperate mess.
“Every single minute .. breathing down my neck.”
It had been far worse. Infinitely more shaming than he was letting on. Menander was grateful when above him the whip cracked. He grimaced as the bite of leather spasmed the muscled broadness of his straining back.
“You two pigs gonna do some fucking work?”
Another sting bit a chunk of pain out of Menander’s shoulder. He hissed. He bit his tongue. In silence the pair sweated on with their weighty load.
The animals had made him serve them alright. That first night .. and every night ever since. Maciste had been shackled to the cart. And Menander was hauled away to “service” the Parthian slobs.
It hadn’t taken long .. that very first night .. no time before one of the Parthian morons had made a grab for him.
“How about seeing this goat-shagger arse?”
Without thinking, Menander had thrown his food in the fool’s face and shoved him away. In an instant the soldier was up, he had retaliated. His mate had tripped Menander up. The pair of them had him down on his back, a hand around his throat, a punch to his face.
Luckily all the others soldiers around thought it hilarious. Laughing at the goat-shagger who thought he might have some rights. Laughing it off. Toyingly insistent the peasant get his come-uppance. Menander paid for his cheek by serving the rest of them arse naked.
And getting pawed as he passed.
And as the drink got passed around, the ribald jokes turned more serious. The groping more oppressive. The threats more menacing.
“Reckon this fucking goat-shagger owes, don’t you’s?”
It was the one speaking that Menander had thrown the food at.
“Shift that arse over here, goat-shagger. Bend over. Grab your feet.”
Menander eyed him back. Uncertain he was hearing straight. Unsure that the Parthian moron planned what his words implied. Hoping not. Unsure how he’d react. But one look confirmed he knew exactly what the enemy meant. The soldier was up on his feet. Fist clenched as tight as his threatening mouth.
“Not telling you again, fuckhead.”
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