Maciste could only cough the word out. His chest was on fire. His throat burned, his windpipe crushed. The painful clenching on his windpipe had gone. Like a madman he had to grasp at air. Like a glutton he swallowed the biggest gulp of life-restoring air.
In-between his gasping, Maciste shot out the word. The denial expelled over a throat that had been seared in fiery embers. Burning, stinging. Tears of pain jerked at Maciste’s eyes with the effort to defy. Yet pride demanded he bawl back his response.
Manliness had hold of him. Coughing had him temporarily overwhelmed. His bound body shook with the force. The effort of beating back the coughing racked through his body. But warrior-pride gave him no choice.
“NEVER! NEVER! NEVER! NEVER!” Coughed and gasped up into the impassive face bent over him.
The face above his, staring expressionless down into his defiance .. it gave no sign of any response. Like it knew otherwise. Desperate to make his point, insistent, Maciste bawled up into the cold expressionless face.
The look that accepted his insolent response did not react. No response. Just looked down into Maciste’s flushed and angry face. Experience had taught him otherwise.
“Bend the knee in thanks …YOU WILL!”
The fool jabbered on. Maciste was paying him no heed. No more to be said. He had made his point.
The droning went on as if Maciste had remained silent. As if this victim did not exist. The look looming over his face swallowed Maciste’s defiance unabashed.
“… hang the head in respect … YOU WILL!”
The confidence that dominated over Maciste’s face was written with another truth. A truth based on experience. How many had defied at first? How many had kept that up?
He was wittering-on as if Maciste had not snarled back his contempt.
Maciste had made his position clear. But this sucker was not listening. Setting out the indebtedness by which a Emperor’s slave was grateful to live. Maciste acknowledged to himself .. they had everything on their side. Every moment, every twist of agony. And what had Maciste got? His strength of will. All they had left him with. And like hell was he surrendering that.
“… kiss its Master’s arse … YOU WILL!”
Like Maciste did not exist … talking to himself …
“… suck his royal dick if commanded … Guaranteed. YOU WILL!”
Maciste did NOT exist …
“NEVER!” Maciste hissed back his contempt.
Maciste had got his breath back. He snarled back in heated defiance. With all the fury his racked body could muster. But in the gaze above his face, directed into his eyes – nothing reacted. No response. Supreme confidence in what he knew. In what was going to happen. How things would turn out.
If Maciste had wanted any confirmation, that face above his was spelling it out. Prince Menander was no more. Nor was the imposter Maciste. Menander, the uncrowned king of his people had evaporated like the morning mist with the sun. All this devil looming down above Maciste saw – a slave. And the lowest of the lowest at that. The most abject of all slaves. Condemned to Hellgate. Sentenced by the emperor to breaking. His will broken, shattered. A broken will .. gift of Maciste’s enemy.