Maciste glanced sideways at Tiradates when he cried out. The blow from behind arched his back. The force threw a foot forward. Maciste winced. He stole a quick look behind Tiradates. The guard who’d lashed out was brawny, solid, packed. All muscle. Like the one standing in front of himself. A willowy cane dangling from his hand. Probably there was another burly thug stood right behind Maciste too.
He soon found out. A thwack from a pole slammed across the middle of his back. Unstoppable, the force of the blow jarred him forward. His own pained grunt like Tiradates was drowned out by the cheers of the mob. It had begun. What they had been waiting for.
The captain of the guard waited for the cheering to cease. Maciste was controlling his heart rate. He too had been kept waiting a long time. Now the flogging had begun, his nerves were crackling like mad. It was the tiredness, he told himself. Worn down. Drained of strength.
“A pair of traitors.
Condemned by the emperor.
Sentenced to death.”
Cheers went up from the mob crowded into the square. Ominously a cry went up. “Death for traitors .. ain’t good enough.” Suddenly the message spread like wildfire.
The mob were screaming. Fists shaken. Eyes ablaze with the fire of hate. At the front, men pushed against the thin line of soldiers holding them back. Surging forward .. a lurch of hate.
The captain shouted across the cat-calling. Slowly the jeering lessened.
“This one ….
His hand directed the seething mob’s hate at Tiradates.
“ …. honoured by his emperor to lead an army .. lost a province. Total incompetence.”
As if on signal, Tiradates suddenly cried out. Maciste glanced sideways. In rapid succession, his back was thwacked by a half-dozen blows. A sturdy pole .. wielded two handed. Thwacked across his enemy’s lower back.
Tiradates was thrown around .. buffeted by punishing thuds. In rapid succession. Body-breaking. Hard. By the end his legs had broken under him. He sagged off the overhead rope.
“THIS one ……”
The captain pointed at Maciste. His prisoner steeled himself. He’d seen what was coming. But there was so much jeering at the sight of Tiradates beaten and knocked off his feet that Maciste’s denouncement had to wait.
He stood .. hands gripping at the bonds above his head. Fortifying his resolve. Tiradates was no weakling. Well-built, obstinate, tough. Maciste had been jostling with a strength of mind just as determined as his own. But he’d see the man broken by that first initial attack.
Maciste warily eyed the surge of the mob at the front. Looking like they could not be stopped. Jostling against the thin line of soldiers .. all that was holding them back. They’d be on him in a flash. Would that be so bad, his thinking self questioned. Strung up like this while a firestorm of fists broke his body apart. Kicked, punched, beaten to death. Was that any worse than the death Vologases had planned for him? The Parthians were masters in the art of slow dying. And on that cross Maciste had had a taste of that today.
The captain’s hand gestured at Maciste. Slowly the jeering stilled.
“This one ……”
The jeering was giving way, in anticipation. A brief announcement. Then another traitor would get a battering .. knocked off his feet. It had quietened enough.
“Plotted to undermine the empire’s triumph. Rebel scum.”
There was no warning. No tell-tale nod from the captain. A body-breaking pain broke across Maciste’s back. His body arched. He felt himself whipped around .. losing his footing. But before he could react, another blow took his breath away. Exploding in the small of his back. His innards burst into agonising flames. He cried out. Unstoppable. Pain exploding in his head.
Breath-taking. Again stunning burst of agony exploded across his back. a Again. And again. Hard. Harder. Body-crippling.
Water. Thrown in his face. Another bucket-load. Maciste came back to full consciousness. Legs broken under him. Strung-up, stretched out. Water streaming off his hair. Panting. He’d collapsed, hung dangling off his ropes. His body rocking hard as it gasped in air. Body-breaking blows. Dumbfounded. He’d nearly passed out.