Time to think, an endless day when thoughts could assail him .. and not always the most useful. Abandoned to himself, locked in a blindfold, Maciste could turn in on himself. He could find his inner strength. Find his strength of mind.
He used his isolation to strengthen his iron will. But swishing in that slipstream of that strength came the demons of doubt to torment. Taunting him that all had deserted him. He had NO ONE to turn to. All on his own. His future .. Hellgate .. surviving, getting through this in one piece .. not breaking under pressure …… it was all down to him. Him alone. Deserted. Friendless.
That took some strength of mind. Could he face the ordeals promised him – with no one to give him a re-assuring look? Even as he and Menander had undergone Tiradates’ cruel tortures, there had been some strength to gain. From suffering together. A strength from looking into each other’s eyes.
And now? Surrounded only by those who meant him harm. Extreme harm. Meant to break his will. Vologases’ cocksucker, Tiradates had mocked.
He was hungry, hardly anything to eat these days on the cart. He got water, as much as he wanted. But only when they felt like it, when they remembered …. Which did not seem often enough, stuck inside this darkness .. nothing to think about, nothing to see. Sweltering hot, head fried under a blistering sun.
Maciste felt totally abandoned – for the first time. He knew he was tough. His life’s training had made him resilient, hard. Life as Menander’s general ….. always on the run. Enduring hardship like a second skin. But there had always been others around. He had had something to prove, to others. He had led by example ….. if he endured, his men would endure.
And now? The only human beings around were those who would laugh as he cried out in agony. Who got off on seeing him struggle. Getting a hard-on when they made him break down and cry. Could he cope with that? Totally abandoned by any who loved him?
Not a soul around who respected him. Looked up to him. Had he ever been that abandoned before? Totally alone. No strength to be found but what was nurtured in his own soul. His soul under pressure, his spirit being squeezed.
Hungry, parched, deserted. Keeping him weak. Breaking his spirit. Muscles cramped, barely moving the last days. Agonising when the cart shuddered off a rock. The arms above his head racked with pains .. stuck there, unable to move. Was he already there? In hell? It felt like this blindfolded journey had long since already entered the gates of hell.
Hellgate! Could it get any hotter in hell? The sun burning down, scorching. Hell …. had he ever been in a place like that before? His half-brother had once consigned him to the brutal life of a quarry-slave. But they were making Hellgate out as much worse. Was his spirit giving in to their threats? To be crushed inescapably in the stranglehold of others who only took pleasure in torturing him? Making him cry out. Yelling out with joy when the pain became too much. How would he cope with that?
Damn it! His own fears were getting to him, undermining him. Locked inside the blindfold with nothing but his fears …! It was working. They WERE getting to him. No! Damn it, he was undermining himself! Damn it! He was a warrior. The heart that beat within his might-muscled chest .. that was the heart of a fearless warrior.
It beat with a force that had helped him stand up to Tiradates, even as he was mocked for being sent to their hell. That was a warrior’s soul. In him beat firm the heart of a warrior’s spirit. The power of the warrior beat strong in his veins. Damn it! They’d not get to him. He’d prevail. Even if it cost him his life. Better that than being condemned as their slave.
Gates of hell? Maciste had no concept of what that might mean .. he was realistic enough to guess it was not just some jibe. The messenger had returned from Vologases. It had been the Emperor’s express command that had ordered Maciste taken there. To be broken, they’d said. To be crushed to the Parthian’s’ will. That could only mean the worst.
So be it. He’d seen them in hell first.
Taken to their concept of hell. To be broken. For his will to be annihilated. From royal prince to snivelling slave. Ripped away from everything he had once treasured as his own. His pride, his life, his strength of mind. Stripped of everything. Abandoned. Forgotten. The sun setting on his life.
And then when he was just a shell of his former self, when there was nothing manly left of him .. just a husk, a slave …… That was when Vologases would summon him. To gloat. To torment him. Before whatever agonising execution the Parthian came up with.
Something like that was his fate …. that was what his own demons whispered to him in his blindness. That was how his own fears tormented him on this damned cart. In this hell.
NO! Fuck them! Over his dead body. Better dead than that.
Maciste told himself he’d not let them get to him, these fiends. He knew the power of negative thoughts. These cretins knew what they had done in blindfolding him, in keeping him trapped in agonising cramps for days. The torments of hell had already begun. With his own fears demoralising him. He knew their power to disable him before they reached the gates of hell. NO, he swore. They would not get to him.
Damn it! When that time came, he’d looked at the gates of hell and spit in its face.