Maciste watched with a smile in his heart as Tiradates was dragged half lifeless from the court. Menander’s fight with the empire had been political. The Parthians had invaded, Menander had struggled to force the Parthians out. At first, for Maciste the issue was financial. He was a mercenary, he sold his sword for money.
In time Maciste’s fight was also one of conviction. Bound to Menander and his cause. But with Tiradates it had become personal. The cruelty shown to the women hostages .. Tiradates’ deceits .. the abuses dished out to Menander during their journey here .. the humiliations and tortures Maciste had endured .. all that had made this revenge on Tiradates personal. Maciste’s words had stuck it to his foe. Tiradates was done for. Destroyed.
But Maciste’s whiff of victory was to be short lived. Tiradates’ removal caused loud chatter among
the nobles. But no sooner had the great doors
shamed shut on Tiradates’ fate than a booming gong called the court to silence.
The gaze from the throne reminded Maciste his fate was still dire. The emperor stared at him in a long hostile silence. The whole throne room was tense with stillness. Wondering what Vologases was making of this.
A long slow perusal from the throne travelled the length of
Maciste’s form. He felt the look on the
muscled breadth of his chest. A detailed
appraisal of the might in his muscular belly framed by powerful arms clamped in
Maciste was brought abruptly to remembering that he too was slave to the empire.
Vologases leaned back in his throne ..
seemingly relaxed, curious.
“Mercenary, you say? The rebel’s general?”
Was he about to offer Maciste a job? Replacing Tiradates? Maciste dismissed such thoughts. But he could not read what was going on in the Parthian’s head.
“You foiled the idiot. Tricked him into believing ….”
Vologases again was shaking his head at Tiradates’ incompetence. But it was not praise for Maciste’s skills Vologases had in mind.
“All your own idea?
Volunteered. Despite the risks?”
Vologases again swept his gaze slowly the muscular length of the near-naked prisoner. A long pause before he continued.
“This plot was all yours ….?”
Vologases’ mouth twisted into a snarl. Turning it on Maciste. On his knees still, in chains, close guarded. Maciste nodded .. acknowledging the truth. And feeling his elation at Tiradates’ downfall rapidly deflating. His own doom was coming.
“A plot which cost a fortune. Could not have cost me more if you and that
cretin had planned it together. Carried
it out together …..”
Maciste did not acknowledge his role, he was beginning to feel Vologases’ wrath turn in his direction. He had left out a lot of details. Just to stick it to Tiradates. But he could see the blame was now heading his way. His own fate was on the line.
“In effect you ARE the cause of it all ……”
Vologases went silent. Maciste could sense the anger building up. The thoughts going around in the emperor’s head.
“Your plotting lured that traitor into stupidity.”
He scowled. Maciste prepared himself for the worst.
“The province lost. Good men butchered ……”
Maciste added in his head …. loss of face .. the shame of Meander’s rag-tag army beating off the mightiest empire. The shame! And Vologases had decided where the blame lay.
Maciste saw him pause. He could almost hear the workings in Vologases’
“A fine pair. One a traitor. One a plotter. Two sides of the same coin.”
Vologases was not one to miss a trick. He was going to use this catastrophe to make a point. Any who plotted against his rule …… THIS was what they could expect.
“A rebel’s reward is crucifixion. A plotter …..
THAT has to be more. Much more.”
His finger pointed at the doors through which Tiradates had been dragged.
The hand turned on Maciste.
Vologases’ eyes creased even tighter.
“Two sides of the same coin.
Vologases paused. Glaring at Maciste. Then pronouncing sentence on the pair of them, his eyes took in the whole assembled court.
“Traitor. Plotter. They shall share the same fate.”