They had to be laughing their heads off. Best laugh they’d had in years, the gods couldn’t believe their eyes. Two sworn enemies. Condemned to the same fate. Tortured alongside. Other circumstances .. they’d have been tearing each others’ guts out. The loathing was mutual. Each blamed the other for the troubles they were in. Each claimed the right to put right past wrongs. Each thought himself justified to beat the other to death.
But the bad luck of the gods had thrown them together. Sharing the same tortured lot. Each would suffer the same fate. And suffer together. The stupidity of mankind .. thinking man had any say in the matter. In the lap of the gods. Best laugh the gods had had in years.
Maciste jerked out of his stupor. Tiradates had cried out loud, shrill. Maciste twisted his head over at his old foe. A thwack from behind had sent Tiradates swinging forward. Hit by that pole from behind. Wielded two handed by a brawny solder .. stripped to the waist for action .. the sweat of effort running down him.
Like Maciste, Tiradates was pulled up off his feet .. only a bit off the ground. But enough for his whole bodyweight to be grinding agonising pain out of his shoulders joints. Similarly Maciste himself felt his whole body gripped in a crush of searing pain. Muscles already tortured into exhaustion from their hours on that cross .. they were again taking all the punishment.
Tiradates had jerked forward under the force of the blow, twisting off the pain. The thwack too much, the relentless torturing beyond bearing. Crying out as he swung. Swinging right into the path of another strike from the front. Slashed by that willowy cane. Cutting across his midriff. The searing heat taking Tiradates’ breath away. The force bending him in two .. legs flying up. Then crashing back down. The jarring move jolting pain out of every tortured muscle.
His cry .. first harsh with surprise .. then a yelp as the cane took a sharp nip out of his battered flesh .. his cry descended into a groan of despair. Body convulsed. Arms pulling on the ropes overhead .. instinct yanking like a madman .. as if desperate to claw his way out of this. As if there was anywhere to run!
He’d not descend into that despair, Maciste swore that to
himself. They were the enemy. Despair meant he’d given up hope. That frenzied mob of fiends out there ..
beyond the blur of his vision
.. baying for his blood .. they
were the hated Parthian horde. That was
the enemy he’d been fighting against.
The invaders, the conquerors, the oppressors. He’d joined Menander’s fight for the money. His fight had later become one of conviction. Now he was their prisoner, no running away .. nothing else for it, he had to face up to them.
Now it had become personal. His fight against them all. He could not win. But he’d go down fighting. They had his body .. captured, tortured. But he’d not surrender his soul. The fighting spirit that was Maciste would battle on. To the agonising end.
The emperor would not make it easy. He’d not let Tiradates off lightly. Vologases had planned for his general the
worst of deaths. Payment for the
disappointment. For Tiradates’ failures.
For the loss of trade. For loss of face. Tiradates would get the worst imaginable.
And Maciste’s own fate had been thrown in with his. Tiradates wouldn’t get off easy. And neither would Maciste.
Another smash into Tiradates’ back. Another searing smack of the willow across
his muscled front. Tiradates sent
swinging. Spinning. Contorted.
No blood! Maciste noticed suddenly there was no blood.
Vologases had ordered them thrashed. But no blood. They were being bludgeoned. They had been brutally thwacked. Beaten with sticks. Battered by canes. But no blood.
Maciste understood for the first time.
The chilling thought. There’d be
no blood loss.
Vologases had ordered them battered. Beaten out of their skin. But they’d not be weakened by loss of blood. Like that, death would be too close. That would make their dying too easy. This dying was to be as long .. as protracted .. as agonised .. as painful as the emperor could make it.
“Wake up, dog!”
A punch to his straining belly made Maciste yell out. Momentarily he must have passed out. Fazed out this grinding pain. That thought had gone through his head .. the best way to deal with these Parthian ordeals .. give in to the pain .. let himself black out. That way he could defy his enemy. Deny this fiendish mob the sight of him failing to beat their pains.
“No sleeping on the job!”
Any ideas of passing out and hiding his pains when it got
that far .. such folly was being dispelled. From behind, a soldier had him gripped by the
hair. The tug pulled his head right
back. Through the tension in the hand,
Maciste got some warning. But he had no
defence. No protection against the
punch. A knuckled fist hammered into his
lower back. Maciste gasped. He pulled upright, yanking on the ropes .. his shocked
body, suspended, racked with the force of the blow.
“Your turn! Dog!”