Strategically killing the emperor would be the best
strike. If Maciste got his hands on the
tyrant’s throat, he’d not let go …. whatever.
When the tyrant was dead, successors to the throne would fight among
themselves. Their enemies would take
advantage and strike. Oppressed peoples
would rise up.
But unless the man got tempted off his throne and descended to plant a mocking kiss on Maciste’s cheek, the chances of that happening .. with Maciste’s leg irons, armed guards .. Maciste’s chances were as good as nil.
But Tiradates … proud before his emperor .. preening for capturing the rebel prince .. even if he’d got the wrong man ….. Maciste’s mind was already judging what he had to do to get within striking distance. Killing the emperor was strategically invaluable. But impossible. Killing Tiradates was possible. AND personal. The brute owed. If that was to be Maciste’s final act of bravery alive …… the satisfaction would more than compensate.
The chancellor gestured at the prisoner in his nakedness. Stood proud despite being surrounded by his
enemy and in chains.
“THIS? The rebel Menander?”
Tiradates nodded. He bowed obsequiously towards the emperor on his throne.
“My honour to offer to my lord emperor the life of the former prince. Menander.”
His hand gestured at the muscled enemy leader stood bound and humiliated before Vologases’ court.
Maciste was surprised when the emperor spoke for the first
time. In a growl. Directed not at him, the prisoner. At Tiradates, the preening general.
“Then how do you account for the facts? That the rebel Menander has raised an army? And annihilated our Parthian forces? Taken back control?”
Both Maciste and Tiradates could only stare at the
emperor. On Vologases’ throne, his eyes
blazing in fury. Tiradates was confused,
he couldn’t answer. Maciste was
elated. Speechless. The chancellor helped out.
“News has arrived. The rebel slaughtered every Parthian you left behind. He has taken the province back.”
The chancellor could see Tiradates was still lost for words. He rubbed his rival’s nose in his own shit.
“In your arrogance .. in your haste to claim the credit .. you left the province virtually unguarded .. just a token force of administrators. Mainly pen-pushers in charge. The rebel Menander took advantage. Every Parthian left behind …. butchered.”
Haughtily the chancellor pointed at Maciste.
“The rebel Menander? HIM? You sure of that?”
Tiradates found his tongue.
“An imposter. THIS is
Menander. He told me so.”
It was the emperor who scoffed. Loudly. Harshly.
“He told you so?”
He mimicked Tiradates’ outburst. Every word heavy with sarcasm. Full of contempt. Maciste heard sniggers in the court.
Terror in his eyes, Tiradates pleaded.
“My lord emperor, why would anyone surrender in that rebel’s name? It would mean certain death. Why would anyone surrender?”
The emperor fixed Tiradates with a look of rage. His hand lifted. His finger pointed out Maciste.
Vologases snarled at Tiradates.
“Something you don’t understand.”
His general was dumbfounded still.
“Loyalty. Above personal fame.”
The emperor’s gaze scorched fury into his general.
“Incompetent fool! Who would volunteer?”
The emperor paused. Then he snarled. His hand shot out like a lance at Maciste. But his contemptuous glare remained on his general.
Slowly his head turned. To the prisoner in chains. To the imposter. Stood in naked shame before this court. This muscled arrogance had made a fool of all
of them. The emperor’s head snapped back at Tiradates. His hand fingered his general.
“Seize the traitor.”