Ruggiero had been gone for a few days when the news came to the villa that groups of rebels attacked the king's government offices in Siracusa and in Catania. The army intervened rather harshly and there were some casualties. All seemed to have been sedated, but the reality was not so. As the news spread, more and more men and youths from the surrounding villages started to join the ranks of discontented people. The first demonstrations were carried out with stones and rods, but now weapons started to appear and the groups were organizing themselves.
Enzo heard the news from don Raffaele during the meal. The young countess Eulalia said it was horrible and that people seemed to have gotten crazy all of a sudden. She said it was all caused by those irreligious people -- if only people attended churches more often... But don Raffaele laughed and made her note that there seemed to be quite a few priests among the leaders of the rebels. The young countess raised her little hand over her mouth, her eyes widened, unbelieving. Enzo got the impression that don Raffaele, even if he didn't say it explicitly, was at least somewhat leaning towards the rebels.
"Come on, Eulalia, think about it -- who are those rebels? There are different kinds - there are those people who have little to lose and much to gain, like the farmhands, and mainly those who can seldom earn their daily pay; then there are those less fortunate merchants, who are paying taxes on top of taxes, milked like cows, without getting anything from the government in return; and last there are those big estate owners, tired of the fetters imposed on them and the privileges conceded to the aristocrats by the king's laws."
"But you, whose side are you on? The side of the order, I hope!" the young wife exclaimed.
"Certainly yes, but which order? Our history is nothing but an alternation of new orders -- the Grecian one succeeded the Roman one, then the Byzantine, then the Arab's, and the Norseman's, the Angevin, the Sswabian, the Spanish one and now that of the Bourbons. But don't worry, even if everything changes again, it will eventually go back to the way like before. Each time, for us Sicilians, just the clothes changed, but under our clothes, we always remained the same, our culture always triumphed, you know this perfectly. Therefore... order, I agree, but not necessarily the present one."
"If I wasn't your wife, I would think you are a rebel too. Are you not aware that if your words went out of this room, you could be accused of treachery?"
Don Raffaele laughed, "Don't worry, they will not go out from here," he said, looking at Enzo.
The boy answered by smiling to his master, and assented with just a light sign of his eyes.
For a few days, nobody talked about the people's rebellion again. Ruggiero came back to the villa to confer with don Raffaele. He stayed there for only four days before going back to Messina, and for the two lovers they were four festive days. Ruggiero was about to leave again when two letters come from Palermo, one for don Raffaele and one for Ruggiero.
The latter one, besides giving news about Petruzzo (who was once "refined", seemed to have gone wild, and merrily passed from one bed to another, contended by many), also mentioned the latest extraordinary events.
"A certain General Garibaldi Giuseppe, coming from the Piedmont and Sardinia Kingdom with a thousand of well equipped infantrymen with light weapons, and all wearing red shirts and carrying flags in three colors, green, white and red..." landed in Marsala. The king's forces couldn't oppose the landing, because when they tried to keep the Piedmonteses' ships in the open sea with their cannons, English ships interposed, and at once Marsala people rebelled against the king's troops, keeping the port.
But the most extraordinary thing was that this maniple of men easily beat the Bourbon's troops both because of the Garibaldians extreme mobility and because they found backing from the picciotti's band who at once put themselves at the complete orders of the Piedmontese general. So in a very short period of time, they conquered not only Marsala and Trapani, but on May 27th, the General triumphantly entered Palermo, almost without striking a blow. The viceroy had to run away in great haste to Naples.
The letter addressed to don Raffaele contained the same news, coming from another source. The letter also said that the Piedmontese general had left his men or else trustworthy Sicilian people in the main cities as his governor of the place along his march to "free Sicily." He promised that when the entire island was "freed" there would be a referendum to decide if they wanted to become an independent nation or to become part of the new and broad Italy Kingdom that would span from the Alps to the Jonian Sea, with Victor Emanuel of Savoy as the king.
With his wife absent, don Raffaele was more explicit -- he said to Ruggiero he had decided to go along with the picciotti, and mainly because now there was somebody coordinating them, giving them the possibility of success.
Ruggiero asked him, "But in your opinion, a Piedmontese king would be better than a Spanish one?"
"Well, I don't know. But just the fact that he doesn't want to just conquer us, that he says he wants us to vote and make our choice, seems to me he is much better than our king, don't you think? Even if he will certainly make it so that the referendum will be in his favor, I guess."
They continued to talk and Enzo listened to them while trying to form a personal opinion. He never considered such kind of problems, he never thought about such national things or politics. But now he did, at least he was in part fascinated by it. Listening to them, he got the impression that don Raffaele cared about what was convenient to do, while he felt that Ruggiero care more about what was right, rather than convenient.
As for himself, to have one king or another didn't seem to make such a difference. About a broader Italy, Piedmont... he didn't have the faintest idea what they were talking about, or where they were. If he asked Ruggiero, maybe he could show those to him on one of the big books in the library... Anyway, both men seemed to think that it would be a good thing, and also convenient, therefore Enzo, in himself, was already thinking that perhaps that Garibaldi could be an honest man. Rumor said he was a blond... like him. This also made him likeable.
Ruggiero went back to Messina. Enzo thought he had to face another period of separation and this made him somewhat in a bad mood, but he hoped Ruggiero would be back soon. Ruggiero told him he would do his best to be back as soon as possible.
Meanwhile news of more disorders and more clashes between the Bourbon's troops and the rebels came to the villa. The news that Garibaldi was marching towards the east gave more strength and courage to the picciotti bands. It was told that Giarre was in the picciotti's hands, but in Catania, it seemed, the king's soldiers were stronger.
Also, groups of picciotti appeared in Nicolosi, mainly people from the neighboring villages. Enzo went there for some errands when he crossed one of the groups. He threw them a glance, almost absentmindedly, then went on his way, when he heard somebody calling him. He turned and saw Alduzzo parting from the group and going towards him with a big smile on his face.
"Enzo! I was just asking myself where Villa Torretta is, so I can come and see you. How are you?"
"Fine. And you? What's up, you became a picciotti too?"
"Sure! We are fighting for general Garibaldi, for a united Italy," the boy proudly answered.
"But, do you know that Garibaldi?"
"No, but Federico Cangemi, our chief, met him. He was in Palermo when the general took the capital."
"Oh, and how is he?"
"So very beautiful! A hero, an angel, a real leader, they say. And all the Garibaldians, did you know, are all volunteers, who come here to help us to overthrow the Bourbon king."
"They wear red shirts," Enzo said, to show his friend he was also somewhat informed, then with some pride added, "and he is blond, like me!"
"Yes. And we will become Garibaldians too. Why don't you come, you too?"
"But... and your wife?"
"My wife? She is at the village. She can't fight, she is a woman."
"No, I mean, if you want to become a Garibaldian, won't you have to leave your wife?"
"Well... I want to go to the Continent with Garibaldi. You know, they say he will go up to Naples and then further north, to conquer all the countries and to give all to his king on a silver tray. I want to go to the north."
"And your wife?" Enzo asked again, amazed.
"Eh! She will remain here, of course. I... I'm not made for a married life, and this is a good opportunity."
"But does she know your decision?"
"God forbid! When she will know about this, I'll already be far from here," Alduzzo said, laughing, then asked again, "Why don't you come with us? You don't have the problem of leaving a wife, do you?
"No, I feel fine here. And then, I really don't like the thought of becoming a soldier. But what are you doing here in Nicolosi?"
"We are preparing to go to free Catania. There are more picciotti's groups gathering in Aci Reale, in Paterno, in Gerbini, in Lentini. We all are waiting for an order, then we will go down all at once on Catania and then goodbye Bourbons! I'm really longing to go fight them!"
"How did you become a warrior, Alduzzo?"
"Well, it's a worthy cause, and then, this really is life -- free like the air!"
"Are there anybody else from our village?"
"Not in my group. But I heard that Rosario and his brother Tano joined the Aci group."
Enzo nodded. He was less amazed about Tano and his brother than about Alduzzo. They chatted a while longer, then Enzo said goodbye to his friend, finished his errands and went back to the villa. He noticed that many people were bringing baskets of food and even some hunting guns with cartridges, gunpowder, and pellets to the picciotti. It seemed that this time it was for real. But the king's soldiers would be a tough nut to crack, he thought.
More days passed. The picciotti left Nicolosi towards Catania. For some days, Enzo didn't hear about them. But he didn't have any news about Ruggiero either-- don Raffaele said that possibly the roads were blocked, by the picciotti or by the king's troops. They had to wait and see the result of the confrontations along the span of road from Catania to Messina, and then communications could resume.
Enzo was worried, he had a strong desire to try to reach Messina, but to do that, he had to leave the villa against his master's will. He was tempted to do it, but he still had not decided yet. At home, there was a certain tension between the young countess and don Raffaele, as it became more and more clear that they were oriented to the opposite sides. Also, no news from Catania either.
Then, about ten days after his meeting with Alduzzo, on one evening, a group of picciotti showed up in front of the villa's gate. They were ragged, some were wounded. They said they were chased by the Bourbons and asked for help -- food and weapons, before climbing the Mongibello to hide. Don Raffaele ordered his servants to care for the wounded and to give them provisions, even though he was hesitant about the weapons.
Enzo met Alduzzo again. He was not wounded, just terribly tired, but determined to fight, more than ever. They were talking when Salvatore came, somewhat out of breath, to tell them that the Bourbons were in Nicolosi and were going up towards the villa, fully armed, including two mules drawing a light field gun.
Federico Cangemi said that his men could manage to escape to the mountain, but he was worried about the wounded men. What to do? He didn't want them to fall into the Bourbons' hands, but he couldn't carry them with the group either. At this point, the young countess said they had to surrender, but don Raffaele said they had to try to hide in the mountain. Following a short, animated discussion between the husband and the wife, the young countess asked for her gig to be prepared and said she wanted to go back to her family, until things were settled -- she didn't want to risk being thought as an accomplice to those "bandits".
Don Raffaele didn't oppose her leaving -- a gig with three women on it and a driver would not run any risk. When the countess left, don Raffaele helped the picciotti to organize to run away. But at that point, master Leo came and said that the captain of the king's troops was at the gate asking to be received by don Raffaele. There was a moment of panic. The healthy ones could escape through the park, but what about the wounded ones?
Then Enzo took the master aside and told him, "Forgive me, don Raffaele, do you know about the secret hideout in the cellar?"
The man looked at him, clearly he did not understand, then Enzo said, "There is a big secret room -- we could hide the wounded men there, with provisions and somebody to care for them."
"Do you know how to get there?"
"Then do as you said. Hurry. I'll try to slow down the soldiers' coming."
Federico Cangemi ordered three of his men to stay there with the wounded men, while those able to run were crossing the park. One of those who had to stay with the wounded was Alduzzo. Enzo took up one of the wounded, helped by the others and followed by those able to walk, carrying provisions, and led them into the cellar. They went downstairs to the room with the shelves, now filled with hundreds of bottles of very good wine. Enzo made the bolts system slide, and lit the passage with his lantern, then made all the picciotti enter the secret room. He explained to Alduzzo that he would signal problems to them through the well opening or the hidden door, then carefully closed the door, pushed back the shelves, and went upstairs again.
He was just back to the first floor, when he heard that don Raffaele was entering the villa, followed by a group of soldiers, while the others completely surrounded the Villa. Enzo made an imperceptible sign to his master to let him know that all was in order.
"You can search all over my house as you please, if you don't believe my word!" don Raffaele said to the captain, in a standoffish tone.
"It is not that I don't want to believe you, don Raffaele, believe me. If you say they went up the mountain, it could really be so. But we have to carry on our duty, just to be sure. No offense, don Raffaele..."
"So, do your blessed duty. I just hope you will not make too much... fuss!"
"Your wife the countess said they came here asking for food and weapons..."
"But I didn't give them! My weapons, you can check them if you like, are all at their place. They went away, they couldn't do anything else. Anyway... search the villa. I just hope you will be over soon, as I feel somewhat tired, and would like to go to sleep soon."
Enzo admired the calmness and self-control that his master showed. The servants, lined behind their master, showed their support in silence. Not one of them would talk -- "I saw nothing, I heard nothing, I know nothing," was what everybody agreed.
The soldiers started to carefully search all the rooms inside the villa, looking for any possible hideout. Now the sky was darkening and the search had to be carried out with the light of lanterns. Don Raffaele showed to be calm. He just had a vaguely bored look. Enzo was at his side. He didn't worry either, as it was practically impossible for the soldiers to find the hideout in the cellar. But if they did find it... Well, it was better not to think about that.
The soldiers had finished searching the villa, when shots were heard from the outside, and people shouting and a soldier running towards the villa, calling the captain -- the villa was surrounded, outside its encircling wall, by an unknown but certainly large number of picciotti, who came with the protection of darkness. The captain gave orders to his soldiers surrounding the villa in the garden to come inside and wait at the windows.
Don Raffaele vehemently protested, "You can't turn my home into a blockhouse! You can't..."
"Withdraw to your rooms or else I'll have you under arrest! I can, and I really can, my dear don Raffaele! Even more so as you are suspected to have helped the rebels!"
"Helped them? If I helped them they would not be here to turn my home into a battle field!" don Raffaele said with sarcasm. The discussion was interrupted as an intense fusillade begun from the windows and from the outside.
Don Raffaele said to the servants that gathered around him, "Hurry up, everybody in the cellar!"
They ran downstairs. Enzo was asking himself if he had to tell the master where the secret room was, but he thought that was not the right moment. His decision was confirmed when don Raffaele, taking him aside, said, "Hush! The fewer people know where they are, the safer they are."
"But the villa..."
"Whoever wins in the end will pay me back in some way... if not with money, at least with honors. It is not as bad as it seems that they are fighting right here..."
The fight lasted all night long. Around forty soldiers were barricaded inside the villa, and they didn't know how many picciotti were outside. Enzo asked himself why Ruggiero didn't tell the master about the secret room. Anyway, now it turned out to be providential in some way. The fact that his friend Alduzzo was also hiding inside, and the arrogance of the captain of "li'l Francis" soldiers, now made Enzo decidedly lean towards the picciotti's side. So politics are for simple people -- the reasons for a choice are often personal and contingent rather than deeply ideological.
All of a sudden, they heard the rumble of the field gun and it was evident it was not only from the two that belonged to the Bourbons. The villa was hit and trembled to its foundation. Enzo worriedly looked at his master, but the man, differently from the servants, seemed not to worry. They didn't have many risks in the cellar. Even if the villa above them collapsed, blocking the way out, there was always the well passage to reach the surface, although it was hard to climb, Enzo thought. But his master didn't know that. How could he be so relaxed? Didn't he fear that they could remain trapped down there?
From time to time, gunshots could be heard in the underground cellar. The fusillade was rattling, but it seemed to be farther away. No shouts or screams were heard down there, and no voices. Enzo wondered what the picciotti hidden in the secret room could feel. What was his friend Alduzzo thinking at that moment?
It was hard to tell how long the fight lasted. But after a rather long time, the weapons became silent at last. They were all tense and they could hear nothing but the deep silence. Evidently everybody was wondering who won now that the wild clash had ended. Don Raffaele decided to go up and check. Enzo wanted to go with him -- he had to insist repeatedly but in the end the master allowed him to accompany him. The stairway was not obstructed, the door opened without any problem. After opening it, don Raffaele waited a few seconds, then peeped out with prudence. Enzo's heart was beating rapidly.
"We can go," the young man said and went out, and Enzo followed him.
The room on the first floor was filled with smoke and dust. There were dead soldiers near the windows. They went, moving along the wall, to the door leading to the entrance hall. The entrance door didn't exist any more, just a pile of rubble and dust. One of the flights on the scissors stairway had collapsed and the statue in its center was lying on the floor, broken into pieces. From the kitchen's door came a thick smoke curtain. There were also dead soldiers there. Enzo make the sign of the cross. They were climbing on the still standing stairs when a sinister cracking sound was heard and a part of the wall towards the studio started to collapse. The bending stopped momentarily and the two ran, Enzo going down and don Raffaele going upstairs, then a span of the wall collapsed on the stairway. Enzo heard the man's scream, then a cloud of dust and flakes blocked his eyesight.
Enzo shouted the master's name but didn't get any answer. He called again, when he heard shouts and voices behind his back. He turned just in time to face a group of picciotti with their guns aimed at him. "Don't shoot, don't shoot!" Enzo yelled.
Federico Cangemi appeared from the back, "Don't soot!" he ordered and went near Enzo.
The boy recognized him, "Don Raffaele... help me, the wall collapsed on him. Hurry up!" he shouted.
Federico gave some orders. While his men were going up the stairs that were covered with the half collapsed wall pieces, he asked the boy, "My other men?"
"They are safe, don Raffaele hid them. Rescue him, now, I beg you!"
"My picciotti are taking care of him. Take me to my men."
"Come," Enzo said, and led him to the underground cellar.
He told the servants they could safely go upstairs, and to go help rescuing the master. When everybody was out, he took Cangemi to the shelves room and signaled through the secret door to the people hidden inside the hideout, than made the bolts slide aside and made the shelf pivot. Two men appeared at the opening, and with them there was Alduzzo, their weapons ready. They recognized their chief, who entered.
Alduzzo went out, "The Bourbons?" he asked.
"How did you manage?"
"Picciotti from the other villages came, so we came back. We were lucky," Cangemi answered.
Alduzzo enthusiastically embraced Enzo, holding him tightly against himself and slapping his back merrily. Meanwhile, the men were coming out from the hideout. While Alduzzo went back to help the wounded people to stand up, Enzo ran upstairs again. He arrived in the hall just in time to see the servants taking the lifeless body of the master downstairs.
"Is he... alive?" he asked worriedly.
"Yes, he just lost his senses... but he is in a rather terrible state," Francesco answered.
"Gerolamo, Rocco, go to check if there is a working coach at the depot, and attach the horses -- we have to take don Raffaele to a doctor at once. Meanwhile, go around the villa and put out any fire that you see. Try to salvage as much things as you can, put them in the still usable rooms. You, Luciano, stay by don Raffaele's side..."
Enzo continued to give orders, and even though he was the youngest, everybody readily obeyed. Luckily, the depot was untouched and so was the stable, so it was possible to get the two-horse coach ready in a short period of time. The master was brought in the coach, with Francesco and Luciano driving it, while Menico assisted at don Raffaele's side. They started towards Nicolosi to look for a doctor. Enzo, helped by Giovanni, Mario, Lorenzo, Gerolamo, Nunzio, Rocco, master Leo, Sante and Salvatore, took care of the villa.
It was really in bad shape. The three or four fire points were eliminated and they started to gather everything that could be salvaged from the damaged rooms. Meanwhile, the picciotti were rescuing their wounded men, both the ones hidden in the underground and the others wounded during the previous battle. Santa and Nunzia went to fix some food and drink for all the men.
Enzo sat down for a moment to catch his breath and Alduzzo sat at his side. "What are you going to do, now?"
"I don't know. If only don Raffaele could recover soon... Or if Ruggiero was here..."
"We will take our wounded men down to the village, then all the other men will go to Messina -- it seems that general Garibaldi has arrived there."
"To Messina? I would like to go..."
"But here, the villa..."
"Why do you have to care for it? It doesn't belong to you, does it?"
"No, but..." Enzo said thoughtfully. He had a strong desire to go to Messina, to meet his man again.
They ate something then started to work again. Enzo looked at master Leo -- after all, he took care of the villa when it was not used... couldn't he do it again in his absence? Then he would come back with Ruggiero who would take everything in his hands until the master had recovered. He went to the cellar again to shut the secret door, even though at least some of the picciotti now knew where it was. Then he went upstairs. He was feeling tired, terribly tired.
He called master Leo, "Listen, I need some rest. Can you take care of everything while I lie down for a while?"
The man nodded in assent. He was the oldest of the servants, both for his age and for the number of years of service. Therefore he was the most appropriate person to take care of the house. Enzo went to the small tower -- happily, it was intact. Instead of going to his small room as usual when Ruggiero was not there, he went to the room on the fifth floor. He closed the shutters so that the room was in half darkness. He took off his shoes, jacket, waistcoat, trousers and shirt, and lay down on the wide bed, wearing only his underwear.
He was worn out. He fell to a deep sleep almost at once. And he dreamed. He dreamed that Ruggiero was back, approached his bed, smiling at him, and started to caress him, at first lightly, then in a more and more intimate way. He dreamed he was aroused and that his man slipped his hand under his underpants and caressed his hard and straight member, always looking in his eyes and smiling at him invitingly. He dreamed he was shuddering with pleasure, he was quivering... And then he woke up.
Alduzzo was sitting on the bed's edge, his hand slipped under his underpants, and was gently masturbating him. Enzo tried to sit up, but his friend pushed him back on his chest, cunningly smiling, "Let me do it... I came here to look for you, but then saw you had such a hard-on! Don't you like it?"
"We are friends, aren't we? Don't give me that look... Nobody can see us..."
"But..." Enzo, dazed, tried to protest.
"You'll see, I'll make you enjoy it... even better than a girl could. Have you already done it with a girl?"
"No... but stop it..."
"And... with a man?" his friend asked, continuing to masturbate him.
"And you?" Enzo asked, holding back his breath -- that hand was more than pleasurable.
"Yes, and many times. And I like it, more than with my wife. And I like you..." he said with a sensuous voice, teasing his nipples through the light undershirt. Enzo shuddered and emitted a pleasure moan. "I like you too much, Enzo... I have fancied... this for a long time! You like it, don't you?"
"And did you ever do it with a man?" his friend asked him again, forcing down his underpants to his mid thighs.
"Yes..." the boy almost whispered.
"You have a really beautiful handle, Enzo... Make me some room, go on."
Enzo told himself he had better not, but moved aside -- he was too aroused to resist him. His friend smiled and he returned the smile, somewhat ashamedly. "You touch me now, go on," his friend urged him, driving Enzo's hand between his legs.
Enzo felt he was fully aroused. He seized it through the clothes, felt it with his hand and emitted a light sigh. In a short while, they were both naked and brushing against each other. Alduzzo was well shaped, hot, and full of lust.
Enzo didn't think any more, and just let himself immersed in those sensations that he hadn't felt for too long. Their excitations had reached the top and Enzo was thinking about offering himself to his friend, when instead Alduzzo offered himself to Enzo, "Fuck me, go on! Let me feel your beautiful handle. Slip it all inside me, fuck me, Enzo, go on!"
Enzo for a short moment felt amazed, but his friend eagerly guided him inside himself, and Enzo, for the first time in his life, penetrated a male.