The scene was set. The spectacle was set to begin. Maciste felt their frisson of anticipation .. a tremble of excitement from the outside of this ring of spitting torches. From the troops that had been on his back since they’d left camp. Assembled here .. for the show. With Maciste centre-stage.
He felt a shiver of nervousness .. knowing this was not going to be a bit of fun .. for him. Everyone else seemed to be in on what was going down. Only Maciste had been left in the dark.
His suspicions were confirmed. Their sergeant had broken through the ring of light. To cheers from his men. To spirited boozed-up jeers .. which he acknowledged with a playful bow. A show. A joke. But not for the likes of Maciste.
He grabbed Maciste by the jaw. And squeezed. Grinning into his face as the pain turned into a grimace on his face. But it was the sergeant who was centre of his men’s attention. Cheering him on. Downing more booze to welcome the start of the show. Raucous drunken laughter in anticipation of the spectacle that was about to begin.
He held the squeeze .. increasing it more when Maciste tried to shake him off. With a final smirk, still gripping bone-crunching tight, the sergeant twisted his head away. His free hand raised a salute. Drunken roars cheered back .. arms punching the air .. for nothing in particular. Just in anticipation of the promised evening of fun.
“Cause for celebration.”
The sergeant raised his free hand. His grip on Maciste’s jawline crushing, tight.
“The other side of the river …… HOME!”
Cheers went up. Beakers of liquor got raised. Booze got thrown down throats. HOME!
The sergeant continued.
“Booze courtesy of the general.”
Drunken cheers cut through the dark night air. Men raised the cups. Tiradates had the courtesy to raise a hand.
“Grub courtesy of the general.”
Again Maciste heard cheers broke out. But no one had thought to share the stew with him.
“Cause to celebrate.”
Drunken cheers lit up the darkness. Tar-torches hissed. The light flickered. Men were well into their drink, their bellies full with the general’s grub. They were pumped-up, they had got in the mood. Let the show begin.
Maciste caught Tiradates staring at him. His cold calculating stare. He was after something here, that look said. Eager too for the show to begin.
“Where’s the goat-shagger?”
Noise broke out in the half-darkness beyond the torches. Maciste saw movement in the murkiness. The rows of men shifting.
“Git ya stinking arse out here.”
The sergeant growled into the gloom.
“Shift ya fucking-self.”
Nervous Maciste cast his eyes around. He thought HE was the show. Anxious that Menander .. their lackey, the soldiers’ slave .. his friend .. was getting dragged into this.
Uneasy Maciste saw Menander suddenly shoved through the ring of torches. Drunken soldiers slapping at his arse as they shoved him through. Menander too looking uneasy. Anxious. Illuminated within the flickering light.
“On ya fucking-knees.”
The grip still clutched painfully into Maciste’ jaw, it clenched even harder with the sergeant’s contemptuous snarl.
“Ya deaf, Fuck-arse? Shift ya stinking arse.”
The claws dug in even harder. A reminder. Menander was getting dragged into this “bit of fun”. But it was Maciste who was the real target here.
“Down in the fucking-dirt. Where a goat-shagger belongs …….”
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