3. Cause for celebration
It had the feeling of a show. Darkness had fallen. Torches had been lit. In a rough semicircle. With Maciste roped to a tree branch at the flat end. And beyond the spitting tar-torches were assembled the troopers who’d been assigned to keep him under watch.
They were drunk. The booze had run freely. They’d eaten their fill and swilled it down with strong beer. Menander had been constantly on the run from one group of Parthian scum to the next .. filling their cups, getting obscenely groped. Before getting rescued by bad-tempered curses from more soldiers demanding a refill.
A feeling of expectancy. A prickle of nervousness down Maciste’s spine. They had him uselessly roped here for a reason. For some show. Bellies full, boozed-up, the Parthians had drifted over .. standing outside of the ring of lights .. some jostling for position to get the best look. All still knocking back the booze, the harder stuff now.
Strong booze and a helpless enemy .. a toxic combination. Maciste illuminated by light .. centre-stage .. centre of their boozed-up attention. The enemy shouldering their way forward to get a better view of him. Here to enjoy a spectacle. And Maciste knew in his gut who was to play the major part.
A sudden movement. A change of mood. A barrel had been rolled into the centre, outside of the crescent of spitting lights. Up-ended. And then suddenly Tiradates appeared. The troops moved ungainly out of his way. Giving him space .. not wanting to be too close.
Seated on the barrel .. accepting a large beaker of booze .. the general wasted little time with greeting his troops. Immediately his gaze was turned on Maciste. The flickering lights dancing on his muscular torso .. arms pinned to the branch behind ….. under that cold scrutiny Maciste knew how vulnerable he was.
Anything was up for grabs. Any whim that came into Tiradates’ head. And from everything Maciste had gone through these past days, there was no doubt that something would. His guts open to a barrage of fists. His back inviting the thud of a club. Exposed to the worst this mean-minded general could come up with.
A show, definitely a show. Maciste put out on show. The guest of honour had turned up. Let the spectacle begin. He sensed an impatient shifting in the mood of the boozed-up troops beyond the flickering torches. Time to get on with it. Maciste felt like a performer who did not yet know his lines. Ignorant of the role he was to play. But everyone else here did.
A shiver of expectancy prickled in Maciste’s guts. Tiradates locked eyes with him. And there was not a shred of ease to be taken from those eyes. A gaze that swept over his powerfully built physique.. Taking in the muscular strength of his lifted chest .. the unbroken rock-like power in his flat belly. A torso hardened to iron by days of unstinting back-breaking work. Was Tiradates assessing what this physical might would be like when he’d finished with it? How pain and brutality would change the attitude of this helpless captive “prince”?
It was a cold calculating look. A gaze that demanded something .. the only one who didn’t know was Maciste. A stare angry that Maciste had played this general up? A menace for refusing to buckle down .. anger that Maciste could still find the strength of will to stand up to his captors? Tiradates’ eyes carried a message …. Things were going to change.
Maciste returned his look. NO WAY. No change. Maciste was not one to give in to threats. Not to THIS Parthian dog.
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