He was shattered. Maciste felt totally done in after this journey. But he knew he had to get a fix on his location, important to observe what went on here. It seemed he’d arrived. His destination. Hellgate.
They’d whipped away the blindfold when they got started again .. after a night’s sleep. For his captors only. Sleeping upright .. arms trapped above his head .. muscles cramped from lack of movement. Little-or-no sleep again for Maciste. Exhausted. Wearing him down.
This was Hellgate, then. His first sight of what the Parthian emperor had in mind for him. He could barely concentrate .. after the way he’d been transported here. Weakening him .. that was part of their plan .. done in so he was easy pickings.
But still the fighter in him snarled back. Ordered him to focus. Get a grip. Take in every detail of where he’d finished up. The way in was the way out. Concentrate! His life could depend on it.
He’d not given it much thought, Maciste had acted on impulse. Surrendering to the enemy like that …. That at least gave some hope of a future. Menander’s fight back was not going well, the Parthian invaders had the upper hand. Their general Tiradates had crashed through the land using fear tactics, taking the innocent hostage. Maciste knew, if he hadn’t acted, young prince Menander would have surrendered ….. Ending any chance of their fight-back succeeding.
Maciste had presented himself to the Parthian general. As the young prince, he had surrendered himself. Tiradates had swallowed the bait. But he was not one to respect a leader surrendering. Maciste taken prisoner. Enslaving him. Badly abused, appallingly treated, worse than the general’s dogs.
Since that rash surrendering Maciste had been paying for his impulsiveness. Now the Parthian emperor had ordered Maciste to this living hell. To break in the “rebel prince”. To break him in like a wild stallion. By force to crush his will. That emperor was under Maciste’s deception, he thought he was dealing with Menander and not some mercenary soldier. But for Maciste it worked out just the same. Committed to Hellgate .. to have the shit tortured out of him.
They’d removed his blindfold after days of darkness .. to taunt his sight with the hell-house they’d brought him to. Seen from the ridge above narrow ravines .. inescapable cliffs steep on the sides .. that relentless sun overhead. The heat soaked up by the rock. No chance of a breeze getting through. Scorching hot. A baking oven at the best of times. At noon, that sun overhead, an inferno. Burning the strength out of the near naked men Maciste saw hammering with picks at unforgiving rock.
They must have known he was there. One single cart drawn by oxen passing along the valley floor. Yet not one of the muscular physiques acknowledged his arrival. Heads down, swinging pickaxes like nothing else counted in the world. The clang of metal against hard rock echoing back to Maciste and his ox cart passed them by .. unobserved. Heads down. Not daring to risk a look.
Nearly two days it had taken, Maciste could see the sun was beginning to settle in the western sky, bringing to an end his third day pinned to this post. Nothing to eat. Water severely rationed. Exposed to a cruel sun all day. Never released from the stake. He’d pissed himself standing up. Spent fitful nights failing to rest.
Worn down by hunger, exhausted by dehydration. For countless hours fixed almost immovable, every muscle burning with fatigue, joints and tendons screaming out for lack of movement. Torture. Every boulder that the wheels had hit had torqued through his physique like a donkey’s kick. And in the hours trapped against this stake, traversing a pitilessly barren wilderness, the wheels must have crashed over boulders a thousand times. He was done in. Battered, bruised, stiff. Part of their plan. Entering Hellgate .. a mere shadow of his former self.
Nearby a whip cracked in the air. Maciste saw a near-naked muscular form twist in pain. One of the men had paused, he’d rested his hammer on the floor and wiped his brow as Maciste’s cart passed him by. Curious .. or the man just wanted to write the sweat from his eyes. But for his hesitation he paid with it with a couple of stinging lashes across his back. Quickly the hammer was raised, the body shuddering with shock as an iron head slammed mercilessly into an unforgiving boulder.
They were all solidly muscled, Maciste observed. Powerful shoulders, broad muscled backs. Bodies made muscular by a pitiless regime of hard work. Torsos striped by stinging welts. The muscles in their midriffs stood out like statues of gods .. because they looked starved. Every muscle in their etched torsos was defined by starvation, not by strength.
Filthy-dirty, dishevelled. Worked into the ground. This was Hellgate. This was Maciste’s destination. His home .. till Vologases decided otherwise.