3. Cause to celebrate
For days Maciste had not been out of restraints. Even when granted a few restless hours of sleep .. overnight shoved under the cart he’d been straining to haul all day .. his wrists shackled to a wheel.
He wanted to piss .. he did it there. They had kept him in inescapable chains since leaving. Impossible to rest properly, plagued by discomfort, even exhausted he snatched only the poorest of sleep. Part of Tiradates’ plan. Tire him out. Work him into the ground. Back-breaking hard work. Exhaustion to break the will.
Menander kept him going. The guy was schooled by years of military life. Cloaked in lean muscle made for speed and fighting. But not for the torture of hauling this cart along. Helping him along brought out the strength of will in Maciste.
He did the lion’s share. Roaring with effort to force a wheel out of a rut. It was the might of Maciste’s muscular torso that kept the cart rolling .. keeping the drivers’ whips from snapping at Menander’s back.
Needing to preserve Menander’s strength fortified Maciste. Eventually the fool had to make a move, he had to get himself away. That protective need drew reserves of strength from deep within himself. Digging deep. Keeping at it.
The need to keep Menander strong for his escape gave Maciste the physical and mental strength to persevere .. even when his back screamed out for rest. Menander had to escape. Maciste would join him, he swore that. But first Menander had to get himself out of this mess. Keep up the fight.
He was vicious, he was cruel. But Tiradates was no fool. A worrying foe, not taking No for an answer. He’d had his men at Maciste every waking minute of these exhausting days. Any sign of fight-back only made things worse. And it was Menander, “the goat-shagger”, that paid the price.
Even token resistance from Maciste only tightened the screw. On him at every chance. Out to crush Maciste’s spirit. Grind any sign of gutsiness into the dust. Out to break his will. Tiradates was fixated, determined. Not someone to under-estimate.
Yet .. after all he had been put through, after the exhaustion, the beatings, the blackmail, threatening to chop off Menander’s head .. still Maciste’s resolve to stand up to this bastard of a general remained firm. He was not someone to buckle under. These ordeals at the cart had done nothing to dampen that vow. These days of frustration had only made him impatient for the chance. He’d kill the man .. the first chance he had.
Something was up tonight. As soon as they had set up camp, unusually Maciste had been roped beneath this tree. Not shackled to the cart, brought out where the soldiers were enjoying a feast. Plenty of booze. He was to spend the night, it seemed, in the company of the troopers that had been on his back these past days. Suspicious. That had to mean something. He doubted they were throwing a surprise party for him. Or, second thoughts, perhaps they were …..
Fires had been lit. Stew-pots bubbled away. The smell of cooking meat knotted tight in his near-empty gut. His guards had done their duty. Time to relax. There seemed to be plenty of booze. Was this normal? Was it like this for this guards every night when he was chained to the wheel of the cart? Maciste doubted it. He suspected something was up. And he was to play a major part in it.
Now as darkness was falling, every soldier was well into his cups. Observing Maciste realised Menander was being used as their slave. Is this how he’d been used these past nights? Had that been why he’d not managed to get away? Constantly at the call of a dozen troopers. Maciste watched as they demanded Menander refill their beakers. Kicked at him to go them more stew from the pot.
His spirits gave a lurch as Maciste watched the soldiers pawing at Menander. Groping his arse. Slashing across the face. Worryingly Maciste saw Menander was not swatting them away, playing the part. Like he was some fawning slave. They barked, he jumped. They demanded extra grub, he ran to get it. And then disgusted Maciste watched them mauling Menander when he brought the booze back. Hands clutching at Menander’s near-naked backside. Clasping him tight by the throat when he refilled their cups. A hand jabbed between his legs. Molesting him.
Quickly Maciste was having to re-evaluate. Had he been missing something? What had been happening to Menander? Maciste chained out of the way under the cart. And Menander …. Made to do what? His thoughts were struggling through his anger to catch up with what he was seeing. He felt his blood begin to race at the thought.
But just as worrying ….. Menander was letting it happen. Maciste realised this was routine, this HAD been happening every day .. for days. Menander had come to accept this. Maciste sensed disgust as a Parthian hand groped Menander between the legs. Menander didn’t swat it away. Annoyance with his friend flushed through his blood, Menander was letting this happen. Putting up no fight. He was letting these Parthian morons feel him up. Molest him. Humiliate him.
What had become of the proud manly prince? Letting himself get groped? Like Menander had accepted this life? Slave to these uncouth morons. Given to this helplessness? A slave. Groped. Victim of mean-minded coarse Parthian troops. What had happened to the man?
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